Madonna and Phelps: American Culture on Full Display

Liberals often obsess over how the United States is viewed globally. Like elementary schoolchildren praying to be accepted by the ‘in’ crowd, they insecurely wait for Obama’s election and the restoration of their ‘cool’ status. U.S. foreign policy would show more deference to our allies, and presumably our enemies. Our warmongering would end. And finally, we would pass our mantle of the world’s most egregious polluter.

But routinely absent from their concerns and arguments about anti-Americanism worldwide, is the impact our culture has had on the image of the United States. In the Pew Global Attitudes project of 2007, 47 countries were asked about our culture, ideas and customs.

Pew asked:

Which of the following phrases comes closer to your view? It’s good that American ideas and customs are spreading here, OR it’s bad that American ideas and customs are spreading here?”

Europeans answered definitively. They consider the spread of American ideas and customs damaging to their respective cultures. Eighty-one percent of French, seventy-six percent of Spanish, and fifty-nine percent of Italians reject American culture, and in looking at last week’s news coverage in Italy alone, that notion is entirely understandable. Photos of our gold medal winner celebrating by stuffing dollar bills in the thong of a Las Vegas stripper appeared in last week’s Corriere della Sera. And Sunday, it was reported in every major Italian newspaper, that our own queen of pop had dedicated her unfortunate hit ‘Like a Virgin’ to the pope in Rome over the weekend.

Today, the story appeared in the English language press. From London, The Times reported:

At her Sticky & Sweet concert on Saturday night, attended by 60,000 fans at the Olympic Stadium in Rome, Madonna introduced the song Like a Virgin — one of her earliest hits — with the words “I dedicate this song to the Pope, because I’m a child of God”. She added: “All of you are also children of God.”

That she was invited back to Rome is amazing. Two years ago, she staged a mock crucifixion at Rome’s Olympic stadium.

As for Michael Phelps, it isn’t my place to judge his behavior, but, in the context of examining how we are perceived abroad, it is a fair question to raise. Couldn’t he have arranged for his own stripper? Or, better yet, couldn’t he have held on a while longer, until the level of scrutiny on him had waned, before hitting the Vegas strip?

For many abroad, their only window into American culture comes through our films, television shows, and our music and pop icons. Sadly, last week, two of our most accomplished performers gave an ugly view, and validated the conclusions of many abroad who enjoy our entertainment but reject its influence.

As Americans, we shouldn’t just strive to move down the list of the largest environmental polluters. We should endeavor to dethrone ourselves, and end our reign as King of cultural polluters.

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