Despite all present-day discord, I remain deeply proud of America. Clearly, now is not our finest hour, but having lived and worked in foreign countries, I know that the U.S. is essentially the …
Despite all present-day discord, I remain deeply proud of America. Clearly, now is not our finest hour, but having lived and worked in foreign countries, I know that the U.S. is essentially the Fonzie of the world. One of the all-time all-American sitcoms, “Happy Days,” stylized this family-friendlier, commercial-television James Dean to epitomize cool. The Fonz personified American style: rebellious, righteous, sexy, suave, and savvy. Viewing America from the outside looking in, I have seen how other countries widely recognize how cool our country really is. Right now, unfortunately, Fonzie is “jumping the shark.”
Jumping the shark is an idiom that describes an absurd attempt to gain relevancy when it has been lost. It is that virtual hand-in-the-face-emoji moment, proving that even the coolest are not impervious to embarrassment. America has had its share of shame, and if we are being honest, America has much to atone for. I prefer to see miracles, though, lately, I see mostly chaos. I’m not blind after all. I know that after the dust settles, progress will be possible. It’s not the beginning of the end. Our show is not canceled, we just need some revision. America’s ratings will rebound.
“America thinks they own the world,” said someone to me when I lived in Greece. Bantering back, “Britain thinks they own the world,” I qualified, “America thinks they are the world.” Easy to do when size matters. American landmass is so vast we barely know our closest neighbors. Our military might is supersized. Although big and tough is enough for bullies, that doesn’t define cool. Arguably, America is a master of influence across generations thanks to Hollywood and the world wide web. Media influence goes far beyond entertainment and style: manipulating politics, power and “free enterprise.” When living in Greece, the same broadcast of CNN I watched for “free” on commercial television, Americans paid for with cable subscriptions. I discovered that virtually all news from our allied cousins—notably Italy, Germany, Greece and the UK—matched each other in story and scope. In contrast to other news outlets, CNN conveyed another news, limiting angles and withholding information. I thought Operation Desert Shield was named for huge swaths of coverage edited from the American view. Ironically, in early ‘90s Europe, CNN was the conservatively stylized “Fox News” of the day. If you ever want to entertain European company, refer to CNN as “liberal media,” they will seriously assume you’re telling a silly joke. Everything is relative.
Media is pervasive. In Belize, where I worked for the U.S. ambassador, even in the thick of the rain forest, I spotted thatched roofs radiating a spooky blue hue into the tropical green night. Amidst jungle calls of toucans and howler monkeys, had I heard frogs croaking “BUD-WEIS-ER” and Elmo soliciting tickles? And how about that Nordic-Trac? Despite lack of roads, plumbing, or electricity, evidently, folks everywhere can have TV. The Reagan Administration reportedly had given Belize cable television for free; this was seen as both gift and curse to locals who assumed the subsequent increase in crime was because people could suddenly “see what they were missing.”
Embarrassment is not the worst thing that can happen. The world, it turns out, will forgive or forget. In 2003, I returned to Istanbul to buy textiles for the shop I had in Narrowsburg. My wholesaler, Mike, named for the Mike Hammer novels he loved as a boy, boasted that two American Senators had stayed at his family’s hotel. Because America is cool. Years ago, my experience had been entirely safe and friendly as a young white western woman working in Turkey. However, everything could be drastically different in the Near East not far past 9/11. At best, I expected some interrogation over an unpopular president: “What are Americans thinking?!” The reception I received surprises me still. During the Iraqi war, in a country that borders on Iraq, these gracious folks were sympathetic to me! “How are you doing over there?” I heard, and “Are you guys okay?” and, “America deserves so much better!” I realized that the world is mostly on our side, despite problematic current events. Cool is a relative concept that is less about what’s going on, or who’s in charge, and more about who we essentially are. Some leaders, however, are cooler than others. When a Turkish friend in the U.S. said to me, “Erdogan is ‘worse’ than Trump,” I asked him how he felt about that. He replied, “Well, he’s not going to live forever!” Some systems, obviously, are cooler than others. Democracy is supercool.
Let us never forget how cool our country truly is. The world already knows it can count on America to do the right thing, “after exhausting all the alternatives.” While policies or behavior may be considered unacceptable, humans everywhere are essentially good, and caring, and very forgiving. Let us forgive others and ourselves also. Let us keep our good humor. When media is in your face, try to look beyond present screens. Toward upcoming episodes. Next season’s line-up. A brand-new series. Let us look forward to a time when America, like Fonzie at his proudest, says waving two thumbs up, “Aaaaaayyyyyyy!