It was 3 a.m. in Paris and a deep-voiced woman in knee-high leather boots was whispering in my ear at the bar.
“You’re American?” She asked, making the “can” sound like “cain” in that very French way. “Have you ever read ‘50 Shades of Grey?’”
Now, I may just look like the kind of person who enjoys novels about sadomasochism—I don’t, for the record—but I couldn’t help but wonder about the first part of the question.
What did my being American have to do with it?
How is America viewed by the international community based on the media we produce?
And more generally, how do we compartmentalize different groups of people because of how the media tells us to see them?
The United States is the second largest producer of films worldwide, after India’s Bollywood, and the vast majority of popular music artists are from the U.S. or U.K.
This overwhelming amount of media means our country has a lot of influence over what people locally and internationally are watching.
Now don’t get me wrong, I like “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” as much as the next person—that’s actually true; I really, really like that show—but what I don’t like is the potential for our country to fall into a American stereotype based on our media.
I mean, are we all seen as over-weight, over-sexed gun-loving flag-wavers?
America has its faults, and trust me, I acknowledge them, but it seems harsh to judge us all in such broad strokes. The most common questions I received about my home country while abroad were about guns.
Who did I know that owned a gun, do I own one, who do I know who had been shot? I’ve never even held a gun, and while some of my friends have, none of them have ever been hurt by one.
Poor little suburban white girl, right?
I don’t use this example to show you how mean Europeans are by labeling me as a violent American, but to show the dangers of allowing media to inform us about other social groups.
Stereotyping can run rampant in a world where most of our information is entertainment and people make assumptions about others based purely on the ideas someone else put in their head.
America definitely has a fascination with violent media. I think the clearest example is in the reverse-censorship of “A Clockwork Orange,” a novel by the British Anthony Burgess written in 1962.
When Burgess brought it to an American publishing house he was convinced to omit the last chapter, when the main character see’s the error of his ways and gives up his life of crime.
Boring, right? That’s what the publishers thought, and the novel was distributed in America with an ending that left the protagonist reveling in his wanton ways.
The film inspired a movie by Stanley Kubrick and created a cultural phenomenon that, when interpreted by some, seems to glorify rape, robbery and murder.
I’m not saying that films like “A Clockwork Orange” should be banned or censored.
But I think it’s telling that even 51 years ago Americans were thought of as a violence-loving people.
Our media has only become more bloody in the years since then and there is no way to say that this level of violence doesn’t have an effect on us.
The point is, however, individuals are more than just the sum of our parts. I can like “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” and both versions of “A Clockwork Orange” and still be an American.
In that same way people from all different countries and all different areas of the world can have their own unique personalities.
I think if we all made an effort to be more conscious about how we allow media to influence us, we would all be a little bit less like the French woman who labeled me as an American sex-freak.
“No I haven’t,” I responded, taking a sip from my drink. “But have you read the latest Nicholas Sparks? Now there is a writer worth discussing.”
Olivia Marovich / News editor
Olivia Marovich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org