My time abroad has opened my eyes a bit more to the way the world views Americans and America. I’m sad to say that not all of it has been very pleasant to discover, or in some cases, experience firsthand. The majority of it has been based on stereotypes as could be expected. After all, stereotypes are stereotypes for a reason. What worries me the most, however, is that quite possibly a lot of these stereotypes are derived from the American entertainment industry.
I’ve never really contemplated, or had reason to contemplate, how much of an influence America has on the rest of the world until I got to Australia. All of the movies and music university students watch and listen to are of American origin. I’d hoped that they’d play music from local artists, but it’s either from the last few decades or the last few months. The majority of Australian TV includes reruns, rejects, current popular shows or Australian copycat versions. Movies, however, are an entirely different matter altogether. Besides Hollywood, the largest film studios are Bollywood and Wellywood, New Zealand which means that the majority of movie production is from America. This fact is exactly what worries me. Everything Australians and people around the world learn about the United States is through our TV shows, movies and music.
South Park, for example, is a favorite with the Australians. It just astounds me when I’m talking about something from America and one of my Aussie friends will comment that they saw that on South Park. Another example is that the Australians hold the misconception that Americans are all gun owners and packing heat. It makes sense, however; what movie from Hollywood doesn’t have some gun toting character? The list of stereotypes goes on though. Australians also believe that all Americans have an eastern or southern accent when the majority of the United States probably doesn’t, and they hate the way they think all Americans sound like. As for their knowledge of geography, I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard somebody say they’d like to visit New York City, Los Angeles or Las Vegas. That’s all they know of the states for the most part and it’s due to a misrepresentation of the United States from our entertainment and pop culture.
Other instances that show just how little foreigners may know about America are 1) one night our waitress was having a hard time finding the birth date on an ID and she distinctly mumbled something about not being expected to know all thirty states and 2) that Americans go hunting all the time. In Australia, hunting is a foreign concept, which is hard to believe, but hunting seasons and licenses don’t exist at all. That personally touched me because I’ve grown up making yearly road trips back to Kansas for pheasant hunting.
While I know that not all America’s bad rap comes from our entertainment, it’s clearly worrying that it may play a bigger role and have a greater impact than I would’ve thought before I made the 14 hour flight across the Pacific Ocean.