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Wednesday, September 18, 2002

The Cry of the Culture Vulture

In this Telegraph column, Janet Daley says, among other things, that she got a flood of mail about her previous week's column. That column, it appeared, was about being an American in Britain on September 11, and about her disgust at the constant cries of "You deserved it!". The mail she received was overwhelmingly positive, and writer after writer assured her that those people did not represent the real Britain. Excellent news.

But I wanted to read this column for myself, to discover exactly what she said that inspired so much mail. Google was no help at all, but by sheer cunning I hunted it down. It says, in part:

Let me make one thing clear. Almost every American who has chosen to live permanently outside the United States knows its weaknesses. There is little that can be said about the gaucheries and fatuities and selfishnesses of Americans that I cannot recite myself.

After all, I decided to leave - and living in cynical, wicked old Abroad has taught me even more about what it is possible to despise in America's childlike, sentimental culture.

Hey Janet? Roll that up tightly and insert in your ass, using a firm, upward motion, OK? Hope that was gauche, fatuous, and childlike enough for you. Not to mention despicable.

(It gets better from there, but then it would have to, wouldn't it?)

What is with these people? Why, Janet, why on that day of all days, in that column, did you feel it necessary to make that remark, devoting two whole paragraphs to it? Why is always culture that's these people's bugaboo? And not only that, it's a certain type of culture, namely whatever culture they don't like. They constantly compare the worst of the US with the best of Europe. (How, oh how, could we ever hope to produce the sorts of things that win the Turner Prize?)

But leave that alone: just what the hell does this have to do with anything? One might, plausibly, focus on American foreign policy in any calculation of "desert", but she dismisses that with vigor later on. So why this pre-emptive attack on the culture?

This is some sort of obsession, isn't it? I'm guessing---I don't know, obviously---that many of the people Janet spoke to cited American culture, rather than American actions, as the justification. There really are people who think that the very very worst thing about the US is its culture. The towers deserved to fall, not because of US support of Israel, or CIA coups in South America, but because of McDonalds. Britney Spears will be the first American tried for war crimes in the ICC. Some day, in downtown Los Angeles, there will be shrine to the victims of Pauly Shore, with a gallery of stills from his career, and a quiet, restful theater where the survivors can view Ingmar Bergman films in grateful reflection.

I've met a few such people, but I always thought they were confined to virtual existence on Usenet newsgroups.


Vision fading...sea of red...must...maintain...control...

Gaucheries. That makes me think of the times I've had Europeans smirk at the way I eat (one-handed, like most Americans) while across from me they are shoveling food into their mouths with both hands, using the backs of the shovels.

But enough of this. Stay in Britain, Janet. If you do not belong there, you belong nowhere.

I, on the other hand, shall carry on with my childish and sentimental celebration of all things American, like Wienermobiles and patriotic snack foods and escapist films and architectural vegetables and loud and colorful life.

Here's a question I keep asking Niles, and I'll ask it here:

Have I said, yet, how very good it is to be back home?