“What the World sees in America”

Peggy Nooman, special assistant to President Ronald Reagan and speechwriter for George H.W. Bush has now become a must-read for many in Washington DC and throughout the country with her weekend column in The Wall Street Journal.

She wrote this article a couple weeks back (April 21st) and it definitely makes you think. Not just in the “American” sense, but hopefully in the Christ like sense too. Maybe it’s time to re-evaluate our priorities and the different areas of our impact. To influence an entire culture, rather than just a few pews.

“What the World sees in America”

“Imagine for a moment that you are a foreign visitor to America. You are a 40-year-old businessman from Afghanistan. You teach a class at Kabul University. You are relatively sophisticated. You’re in pursuit of a business deal. It’s your first time here. There is an America in your mind; it was formed in your childhood by old John Ford movies and involves cowboy hats and gangsters in fedoras. You know this no longer applies—you’re not a fool—but you’re not sure what does. You land at JFK, walking past a TSA installation where they’re patting the genital areas of various travelers. Americans sure have a funny way of saying hello!

You get to town, settle into a modest room at the Hilton on Sixth Avenue. You’re jet-lagged. You put on the TV, not only because you’re tired but because some part of you knows TV is where America happens, where America is, and you want to see it. Headline news first. The world didn’t blow up today. Then:

Click. A person named Snooki totters down a boardwalk. She lives with young people who grunt and dance. They seem loud, profane, without values, without modesty, without kindness or sympathy. They seem proud to see each other as sexual objects.

Click. “Real Housewives.” Adult women are pulling each other’s hair. They are glamorous in a hard way, a plastic way. They insult each other.

Click. Local news has a riot in a McDonalds. People kick and punch each other. Click. A cable news story on a child left alone for a week. Click. A 5-year-old brings a gun to school, injures three. Click. A show called “Skins”—is this child pornography? Click. A Viagra commercial. Click. A man tried to blow up a mall. Click. Another Viagra commercial. Click. This appears to be set in ancient Sparta. It appears to involve an orgy.

You, the Kabul businessman, expected some raunch and strangeness but not this—this Victoria Falls of dirty water! You are not a philosopher of media, but you know that when a culture descends to the lowest common denominator, it does not reach the broad base at the bottom, it lowers the broad base at the bottom. This “Jersey Shore” doesn’t reach the Jersey Shore, it creates the Jersey Shore. It makes America the Jersey Shore.

You surf on, hoping for a cleansing wave of old gangster movies. Or cowboys. Anything old! But you don’t find TMC. You look at a local paper. Headline: New York has a 41% abortion rate. Forty-four percent of births are to unmarried women and girls.

You think: Something’s wrong in this place, something has become disordered.

The next morning you take Amtrak for your first meeting, in Washington. You pass through the utilitarian ugliness, the abjuration of all elegance that is Penn Station. On the trip south, past Philadelphia, you see the physical deterioration that echoes what you saw on the TV—broken neighborhoods, abandoned factories with shattered windows, graffiti-covered abutments. It looks like old films of the Depression!

By the time you reach Washington—at least Union Station is august and beautiful—you are amazed to find yourself thinking: “Good thing America is coming to save us. But it’s funny she doesn’t want to save herself!”

My small point: Remember during the riots of the 1960s when they said “the whole world is watching”? Well, now the whole world really is. Everyone is traveling everywhere. We’re all on the move. Cultures can’t keep their secrets.

The whole world is in the Hilton, channel-surfing. The whole world is on the train, in the airport, judging what it sees, and likely, in some serious ways, finding us wanting.

And, being human, they may be judging us with a small, extra edge of harshness for judging them and looking down on them.

We have work to do at home, on our culture and in our country.”

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~ by walkinginhisdust on May 18, 2011.

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