Tuesday, May 10, 2011

European Obamamania: a Bad Romance

Is there really a self-desecration dividend for America? Andy Markovits, scolar and observer of European anti-Americanism doesn't seem to think so.
The massively positive reaction to the appearance of Barack Obama on the international political stage, however, seems to have run directly counter to this massive anti-Americanism. Indeed, Obamamania, as enthusiasm for Obama has been aptly termed, spread rapidly throughEurope and the world seemingly negating the previously widely extant anti-Americanism.

Thus, his being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize nary one year after having been elected President and barely ten months into holding this uniquely important office, testifies to this man’s singular popularity among the world’s publics, but most notably—and importantly— West (or, actually, in this case North) Europe’s political and cultural elites who, after all, comprise the crucial decision makers that choose the recipients of this prestigious prize. Crudely put, had Barack Obama been less
beloved by Norwegian, other Scandinavian and West European elites—and had George W. Bush not been as reviled and disdained—Obama would not have won this award so early in his presidential incumbency.
Then, I noted that the more societies in Europe detested the United States, the more they "loved" Barack Obama.

This remains true, to an extent. But the global popularity of Obama's passive-aggressive view of the United States is growing increasingly less useful to him, and as was predicted, not useful to the people of the United States.
At first sight, this seems to contradict the notion of widespread anti-Americanism;
the German print media as well as pundits have been quick to predict that European anti-Americanism will soon or may already have come to an end. Our purpose in this article is to question such assumptions, rebut such statements, and present them as wishful thinking at best or—more likely—post hoc self-exculpatory statements designed to minimize a continuously extant anti-Americanism.
And the beat goes on.
Thus, for example, while in the context of the war against Iraq the engagement of the United States has been denounced as too aggressive, in the context of the long-lasting wars conducted in Lebanon, the American reaction was criticized as being to meek and timid. Once again, we have a fine manifestation of what Markovits has termed the “damned if you do, and damned if you don’t” syndrome that is so crucial to the logic of any prejudice, that of anti-Americanism included. Critics regard America as being too cowardly and self-interested by not preventing the genocide in Rwanda, and by rescuing the Bosnian Muslims and their brethren in Kosovo way too late. Yet, at the same time, often the very same critics blame America for being the actual culprit by exhibiting too much aggression even against bullies of the Slobodan Milosevic variety. One even hears criticism of America’s passive-aggressive character, meaning that in its very passivity, America exhibits a sort of arrogance that is de facto aggressive.
So has it ended, or just created new group-emotional opportunities and contrivances?
Notable in the case of anti-Americanism is, for example, the externalization of problems existing within European societies by projecting them onto the United States. Using America as a scapegoat for global troubles, Europeans obscure their own responsibilities regarding social, economic and political problems besetting the world thus being to make America the sole culprit while at the same time establishing Europe’s moral superiority vis-à-vis its American rival. Dan Diner identifies anti-Americanism as a general way of rationalizing complex and misconceived social processes defining all aspects of modern societies. “Resistive reactions to emblems of an incriminated time—modernity—convert into emblems of a denounced place—America. ”Accordingly, anti-Americanism—like all prejudices—facilitates the substitution of a clear-cut explanation for a more nuanced understanding of the intricate structure of modern societies. By so doing, it offers a mindset leaving anti-American attitudes ever more resistant to rational arguments, differentiated interpretations, and empirical facts that point into an opposite direction.
Returning to the cheap, opportunistic notion that they would tacitly compare European high-culture that few Europeans understand and partake in, to what they perceive as American low-culture that they do, Obama's presence in Europeans' view has done little that is it was assumed it would.
Turning to the data depicting Germans’ views of America’s cultural influence, the negative not only exceed the positive but also remain steady and unchanged from the pre-Obama days. Thus, 36 percent view America’s cultural influence as negative, only 16 percent as positive. As can be expected, Germans rate America’s culinary influence as particularly horrid: 52 percent regard America’s export in this realm as the absolute worst U.S. contribution to world culture. Showing yet again the abysmally low regard Germans (and other Europeans for that matter) accord American high-brow culture such as art/architecture and literature, only 3-7 percent believe that this aspect of American culture has any global influence, indicating yet again that there exists little, if any, knowledge of, let alone respect for, American culture beyond its mass aspects which, though disdained and hated by Germans, remains avidly consumed by them. This patent contradiction, even hypocrisy, has never stopped a large percentage of Germans to express negative attitudes about America and things
American without shame and any social sanctions. It has not done so prior to the election of Obama, and will not do so during his incumbency.
At best, the resentment looks like "something to think" and fill time with that will convince those "critics" that their opinion is meaningful and relevant to the world in a way that no-one else on earth can. The delusion that they may judge drives much of this.

It's actually an expression of helplessness, and a sign that precious shared-views were received as irrelevant. Like someone who only knows one song on the guitar, playing it over and over, and playing it louder isn't proof of a broad and serious repertoire.