When Free Means “Like Me”

There is more than one reason that Americans fail to understand that people in other countries have their own values and agendas and aren’t just itching to become just like Americans. In addition to thinking of the rest of the world as immigrants, popular art in the US is extremely insulated. There are more TV series and movies available now than any one person (or a team of 10 people) could ever watch but many or most Americans are almost never exposed to popular art from other countries.

No matter how much immigrant or foreign talent is found in American popular art, it’s all representing a single set of cultural values (that are not necessarily even the same values found at ground level, we’re talking about an idealized symbolic representation here).

The only thing they have in common is they all want to slap you….

One of the reason I like movies and TV series from other cultures, and one reason I actively seek them out, is that they can be harder to figure out than stuff from America which is extremely formulaic. This is largely because there are often different sets of cultural values in play and so the stories work out in unexpected (for me) ways. This is not to be confused with actually understanding the cultures that produce them. I’m assuming these are no more realistic than American fare but it does make them more interesting and helps keep the idea that “people are not all the same” firm in my mind.

One almost never ending subtext of American popular art is that everybody (or every good person) has similar values and that conflicts in values that arise between people are because one person (or one side of the conflict) has the wrong values that must eventually be changed for the conflict to end. At the individual level this isn’t so bad, people have lots of wrong ideas and the world keeps on spinning. It’s when these types of ideas form a big part of foreign policy that we all end up stupider and worse off.

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