Eye on the United States

Anti-U.S., Go Home!

Anti-U.S. demonstrations in Paris
Some 2,000 people protest U.S. President George W. Bush's trip to Paris, May 26, 2002 (Photo: AFP).

As I lazily lounged in a hotel room the other evening, the remote control in hand, I watched the finale of the Eurovision competition. Throughout the Continent, 25 stations were broadcasting this entertainment event that was supposed to illustrate the diversity of European song. For once, it was not some petition by intellectuals waging war for “cultural exceptionalism”; instead, here were refrains, languages, and living expressions! I was even more surprised to discover that, of 25 participants, 22 had chosen—without the least explanation—to present their song in English (only Turkey, Switzerland, and France were exceptions). Afterward, for the vote presented live from each European capital, 24 announcers out of 25 chose to present in English, as if nothing could be more natural.
Had the announcers been forced to accept this common rule? Quite the opposite; they seemed rather proud to be using this pidgin. Only the French announcer persisted in expressing herself in her native tongue.

Still, that evening, the European peoples seemed united by collective acceptance of being members of a subjugated province—through music that could not possibly have been more undifferentiated in its variety, speaking a poorly mastered language as if they were 300 million slaves, stringing together only the language’s most rudimentary expressions.

In this context, the French resistance appeared, yet again, to be an unbearable manifestation of arrogance, while the small former communist nations frenetically adopted the new style.

Hardly had I recovered from that awful evening, when I was even more astonished to see, in the next day’s news, the insolent candor with which some demonstrators were denouncing the visit of George W. Bush to Paris. While I was observing Europe once more voluntarily transforming itself into a caricature of America, angry Frenchmen were denouncing the domination of Yankee power and its hegemonic tendencies.

Though one group was imitating, and the other denouncing, it looked to me like two phenomena that complemented each other: Europe is becoming a place where you continually have to dress up like a zombie from Detroit’s ghettos to look normal, but where, if that weren’t enough, you have to put up with nationalist rants that continually paint the Americans as the bad guys and us as the victims.

For years now, Europe has been adopting the worst of America (fast-food, obesity, the merchandising of public services, organized leisure, and the dictatorship of the shareholders…), all the while developing a keen resentment toward that model. But let’s be serious: Does Eurovision point to some American intent to exert domination or to Europeans’ intent on Americanization? Was it the U.S. government or the French government ([Laurent] Fabius was prime minister at the time) that fought to build Euro Disney at the very gates of Paris? Was it America that decided to align the exchange rate of the euro with that of the dollar, even gracing the symbol of the euro with two small bars (to make a European “dollar”)? Is it America that is handing over our public services to financial rating agencies? Is it American hegemony that imposes announcements in English on the Mediterranean TGV (when, formerly, the language of the country of destination was used on each rail line)? Is it America that forbids multilingualism in a Europe that is supposedly united, where not a single young German now learns Italian, or a young Spaniard French?

The Asterixian vision of the division of the world, advocated by the anti-Bush demonstrators, is itself an embodiment of globalization. The political elites have clearly understood the advantage of this kind of double-dealing, which consists of spreading an American-style worldwide organization while cultivating a feeling of identity and a kind of propaganda based on themes of “specificity” and even the European “exception.”

While denouncing the homogenization of the world, we are letting Europe act like a homogenizing machine (today, countries wishing to join the European Union must reform their agriculture according to the industrial model). While denouncing the American ghettos, we have allowed the growth of ghettos that are no better. Although we denounce the dialectics of good and evil (post-Sept.11), our own political and intellectual elite resorts to the same kinds of divisions to settle hastily (without reflecting too much) the question of the far right.

The more we play “follow the leader,” the more we protest, reducing our vision of America to a caricature of what we have borrowed from it. Certain French intellectuals no longer hesitate to denounce the “country of McDonald’s and [Disney]” instead of seeing, as did Breton and Lévi-Strauss, the vitality of America. Europe tends to forget that the United States is a diverse and contradictory nation, that you can find there not just
fanatical flag-wavers but also critical citizens, the first to denounce this sub-Americanization accepted by the whole world.

We might be concerned about the flags displayed in American windows. But we should also ask ourselves why no European flag encourages the same identification for immigrants drawn to our countries in search of less miserable living conditions.

Europe does not really exist; it is as attached to [the American] model as the Third World. Instead of illustrating its diversity of languages and cultures, it endeavors to rub them out, but it fails when it is a question of putting forth energy, a thrust forward, a common political vision and plan.

And we wonder how we can come out of this regressive sickness? We must really build Europe, shuffle up the cards, and throw ourselves into the venture, with all the risks it involves.