To say that the US are culturally hegemonic in today’s world is both a very banal thing to say and something that astonishingly many people think is not true. Hans Erik Naess belongs to the latter—and is entirely wrong. According to his logic (which makes him conclude that Hollywood is not American but “transnational” because of how many people from different parts of the globe work there), Barbie dolls are Chinese and Microsoft is Indian.
The American cultural hegemony is not a resentful invention of frustrated Europeans; for me, it’s a rather annoying everyday reality. When I was a child growing up in a small village in a distant land, I had no idea about what life was like in the neighbouring countries, be it to the West or to the East; but when watching TV, I was expecting people to speak through their noses and drink milk straight from cartons just taken from the fridge. It was both completely surreal—no-one around me ever did anything like that—and perfectly normal.
Nothing’s changed since then. Everyone here knows the story of Britney Spears and watches Friends. Why should we? It’s not our reality—it really isn’t, even though we’re so used to “cops from LA” or lesbians from NYC. It’s not even particularly interesting: the US is, surprisingly enough, a culturally poor country. We’ve got so much more to discover around the block, with our close neighbours from who we’re all too often insulated for no good reason. I can quote more American cities than Spanish, German and Irish together—isn’t it sad that my own part of the world is more exotic than the US? The problem with American cultural hegemony is the fact that we’re experts in the grotesque American “culture” but the fact that suddenly we don’t have the time and the energy to know anything else.
The UK is to my knowledge the worst offender. My friend Jon, an Oxford PPE graduate who regularly discusses US political issues, recently told me: “You know that in Belgium, that small country over there, they’ve been without government for 150 days!? Who knew!!” (He had seen an article in the Guardian—the first article in the Guardian about the Belgian community crisis—the day before.) Another time, I was talking to a certain Charlie about how crap the London transport system is (you’ll have noticed it’s one of my favourite topics of all time) and he went, “But if you look at other world cities, it’s actually one of the best!” All of my experience of other cities, be it Paris or Tokyo or Berlin, is that transports are incredibly better than London’s; yet Charlie, a very intelligent person, could only ever compare London in his head to New York, and, following a very English custom, he assumed that UK+US together exhaust “the world”.
In England, people don’t even know how Americanised they are. In France, they do and whinge about it all the time. If only they did it for the right reasons. In France, people whinge not because they’d like to know more about other people than Americans, but because they’d like other people to admire France more. They spend a lot of money promoting French culture abroad; but if you want to counter American hegemony, you should start with your own brain. Every time you read the Spiegel instead of turning on the telly, you’re making the world better.