Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Maybe Americans aren't losers

In a radical move against the button down establishment narrative, a young lady from a faraway land notices that Americans actually have some good qualities.  This is something that seems to be shared by many from around the world.  It's especially true for those I know from other countries who have lived for some time in the US.  This is important to remember, for among Americans, there is a tendency to want to tear down Americans, treating them as some sort of historical 'also-rans.'

We watched a biography of Walt Disney on PBS a month or so ago.  It was good enough as biographies go.  But it was also interesting.  History is, of course, part art, part science.  There is always an angle, a narrative used to put all the pieces together and get them to make sense.

This particular biography seemed to take Disney and make him a sort of "American type."  That is, the biography constantly emphasized Disney's own lack of originality and creativity.  Mostly he took ideas from others.  If there were grand ideas from Disney studios, then it was almost always someone else in the studio responsible. He was mostly a hard working cheerleader.

And, of course, you had the bigotry. In this case the sexism that existed as the women who worked at Disney were invaluable to the finished products, but were constantly being set in small little corners of the studio, underpaid and treated poorly by the system.  Of course, the employees all were so abused, until the workers of Disney world united and set things in order and made things right.

We didn't see the second part, that was the first.  But it dawned on me what the show had done.  It had made Disney into the modern American type.  For Americans, we are told, are mostly folks who got lucky. Basically dumb and not overly educated, we just happened to hit a moment when industry was all the rage.  So give us a jack hammer and shovel along with our abundant natural resources that we exploited, and we conquered the world.  That was then.  Now it's all science and technology, stuff for smart people.  Hence why Americans are falling behind.  Or at least that is a theory I have seen more than once in journals and media interviews.

The sexism and oppression of the workers is obvious, and Disney took that role as well.  Don't get me wrong.  It was  still a positive portrayal.  But I couldn't help but notice how they fashioned the story of his life to fit with the things we say about Americans: hard working, enthusiastic, but ultimately not overly smart or creative, with a sad history of greed, exploitation of workers, and of course bigotry of some form or another.

So when we see articles like the one above, it's almost like reading someone who suggests the moon landings didn't happen or the Civil Rights movement was a bad thing.  It's that counter cultural.

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