Monday, October 23, 2006

Not Surprised, Just Disappointed

After leaving work early today with a strained back I was beavering away on the internet when I stumbled across the comments thread on a well considered post about the probable official/press lackey US reaction to comments made by State Department official Alberto Fernandez on Al Jazeera this past weekend. One of the first unofficial defenders of the Bushites was linked to in the post, a blog that featured this quote on it's masthead from the BBC's Washington correspondent Justin Webb:

"America is often portrayed as an ignorant, unsophisticated sort of place, full of bible bashers and ruled to a dangerous extent by trashy television, superstition and religious bigotry, a place lacking in respect for evidence based knowledge. I know that is how it is portrayed because I have done my bit to paint that picture, and that picture is in many respects a true one."

Webb's quote comes from the transcript of a broadcast he made for BBC radio at the time of the Terri Schaivo case (the full transcript is here). Setting aside the fact that Webb was offering a mea culpa and explaining that the United States isn't always as simple as he tries to portray and is therefore being taken out of context, it was interesting to note that one of the commenters on the Fernandez post saw the Webb quote on the offending Bushie's blog and wrote:

"Justin Webb got the US right, methinks."

Sigh. There they go again.

Regular visitors here will know that I love my BBC. I have however long been pained by Justin Webb's reporting, not because it doesn't reflect aspects of the truth (there are religious nuts and all manner of kooks here in the States after all- American TV thrives on pointing out how mad many of its potential viewers are) but because he only covers a tiny portion of this country and presents it as the blanket truth. I'm a lefty who dispairs of religion and much of US foreign policy and it still drives me up the wall. I suppose it must be the amateurish smuggness of it all; the way Webb prefers to feed prejudices than tell an interesting and nuanced story without tidy villains dotted throughout.

But Webb isn't the cause; just a symptom. In what might be the longest example in history of having a chip on one's shoulder (unless the Greeks are still angry at the residents of Rome for eclipsing their moment of power) there is a sizable- and relatively educated yet intellectually lazy- segement of British society that revels in asserting its anti-American attitude before all the facts of a story are in. Encompassing everything from fast food (they don't seem to know that Burger King was owned by a British company until 2002) to religious fervour (ignoring the fact that the world's oldest organisation for evangelicals is the British Evangelical Alliance: keeping going for 160 years in an avowedly secular culture is quite impressive) all aspects of low brow culture are extrapolated to blanket this massive and hugely diverse country under a calumny of epic proportions.

It's obvious that I'm not going to change their minds. Like the American creationists they so abhor, these British happy generalisers prefer to think within their self-imposed intellectual strictures. They will never be comfortable admitting that their view of the United States is as infantile and useless a model as the one put about by the Daily Mail on asylum seekers. Therefore I have decided that if I can't beat them, I can at least play their game, and will attempt to use their framework for describing Great Britain:

London: 22nd October, 2006:
One of the first things that will strike a visitor to these shores is the overwhelming presence of the police. The main streets of not just the major population centers but even the smallest village are swarmed with police vans come 11pm (when the majority of the country's pubs shut) in order to deal with the vast armies of drunks spilling from their doors looking for a fight. Ordinary citizens are afraid to walk the streets after dark, lest they be targeted by roaming bands of boozers. Although Britain's booze culture is not the only cause for the deserted streets: a generalized fear of the young and vicious continues even when the bars are closed or the potential assailants are under age.

Yet despite the heavy presence of the law nowhere in Britain do people feel safe, as perverts and hoodlums lurk in every dark corner. Not even schools are free from the menace of stranger danger. And forget about having a pleasant commute; between the phantom train defecators and the happy slapping the chances of you arriving at work unmolested appear slim. Such is the danger Britain's citizens present to each other that wearing a hooded sweatshirt, such a common and unremarkable garment here in the United States, is regarded as such a threat to civil society that even Prime Minister Tony Blair thinks they should be banned in public.

But lest you get the impression that you would be immediately knifed upon arriving at Heathrow airport, I'd like to offer a few grains of reassurance. You are far more likely to be killed by a home grown muslim terrorist than by a hoodie wearing drunken happy slapper covered in poo. The feral youngsters who make Britain such a living hell are too fat to chase you, and in the unfortunate event that you do find yourself cornered by a terrorist, drunk, or young tearaway don't be afraid should they ask where you are from. Even with the endemic anti-Americanism rife in British society, many Britons are so thick that if you told them Minneapolis was just up the road from Windsor Castle they would have to take your word for it as they would lack the means to find out for themselves.

Now could you ask for a more fair and sourced picture of the United Kingdom?


Debbie said...

OOH my turn, Can I make blanket statements and generalizations of Puerto Ricans which would not surprise anyone?
Puerto Ricans eat rice and beans everyday have 10-15 people living under there roofs and jazz dance with switchblades in their pockets whenever they are going to rumble which is quite often.

That was fun.

FlyingRodent said...

I'd like to add that the Scots are all violent drunks who are tight with money.

weasel said...

I think a Puerto-Scot, or MacRican, would be an interesting creature. What a breakthrough battered deep-fried rice and beans would be.

And I have noticed the complete lack of sympathy for my poor back, you buggers.

Margaret Evans Porter said...

I'm awfully sorry about your poor back.

Mondale said...

Yer back's a load of shite Weasel.

I find the scariest thing about being English in America is dropping fantastic generalisations into conversations with people who have never been beyond the boundaries of old London Town.

People, I urge you, next time, travel beyond the brochure.

Weasel, what's with the Great Britain? Why not call it the UK as it should be called, who are you? Norman Tebbit?

weasel said...

ladies and gentlemen, a big hand for Ben Elton.

Margaret, thank you for your kind concern. See Mondale? That's how you express sympathy for my plight.

"I find the scariest thing about being English in America is dropping fantastic generalisations into conversations with people who have never been beyond the boundaries of old London Town."

Are you generalizing, or is your conversation partner? Could you clarify? And really, is that anything to do with being English over being human? People and places elsewhere are likely to fall victim to sweeping generalizations (i.e. New Yorkers rude, Mainers crusty, French are smokers, Spanish are lazy, Germans are tidy and so on). What interests me is the wilfully ignorant bile delivered in spite of the ready availability of the most rudimentary logic checks.

country mouse said...

Hmmm...interesting that you were home early with your sore back and yet instead of laying down flat and resting you were sitting hunched over at the computer. Don't make me regret having to gag over the dirty dishes in the name of being a good, caring wife.

country mouse said...

Wait till they get a load of me - a lady from the colonies wearing a black hoodie....

weasel said...

I wasn't hunched, I promise. And I love you hoodies.

And Mr. Mondale, re: "what's with the Great Britain? Why not call it the UK as it should be called..."

Eh. This time I prefered not to use a Royalist moniker but rather a geographic name (for the uninitiated, "Great Britain" being the largest island in the group known as "The British Isles"; the three countries that make up the "UK" collectively include over 100 other islands. I wasn't counting the Manx etc in my generic distortion).

Mondale said...

I think you'll find (that's always a good opener for a scrap rather than "I always thought" or "it's sometimes known ") that it's 'The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland'.
For God's sake man, you used to live there.

I have always thought'Great Britain' to sound distinctly imperialistic and Tory.

And yes, it's usually me making the genralisations (although not always)

weasel said...

"I think you'll find (that's always a good opener for a scrap rather than "I always thought" or "it's sometimes known ") that it's 'The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland'."

Your point being? I don't think you'll find I'm disputing that. Again (and I have to repeat myself, alas) I'm not using the political name for the country. I'm using the geographic term for the largest island in the British Isles group.

The name "Great Britain", while easily misappropriated by the flag wavers at Tory conferences (as in "Let make Great Britain great again by kicking out the darkies!" that sort of crap), applies to the size of said largest island and also to distinguish it from Brittany (originating when both were Roman provinces). Maybe it makes more sense in French ("Grande Bretagne" or "Big Britain") or German (Gro├čbritannia; same) or Latin ("Britannia major" being used by medieval scribes to differentiate Britain from Brittany, or "Britannia minor").

I'd call you a chap who has an unfortunate propensity to never fully read what someone has written before launching into the fray, but I'd hate to generalise about the character of one of my oldest chums...

Mondale said...

What are you saying about the Darkies? F*ckin racist!

You'd be dead right about that last bit.

Listmaker said...

feel better weasel. last time i had a bad back, i had to miss a mets-yankees game at shea.

you, on the other hand, found time to put together a brilliant little blog entry.

damn you weasel! listmaker beaten again.

Anonymous said...

Sorry about your

Margaret Evans Porter said...

"I wasn't counting the Manx etc in my generic distortion"

No reason you should. There are hardly any true Manx to be found on that rock, these days. Or so it seems to me.

Anonymous said...


oops! I left out the most important word