Monday, July 09, 2007
Rebuilding America's Image Abroad
There can be no doubt that America's image throughout the world has declined under the "decidership" of George W. Bush!
Many Americans, while traveling abroad, feel compelled to pretend to be Canadian, just to avoid potential scorn over their connection to the arrogant, imperialist foreign policies of their president.
Clearly, the person who ends up following George W. Bush into the White House will have a monumental task of rebuilding trust and cooperation from the rest of the world.
Having arrived in Europe a little over a week ago, I quickly noticed one of the ways this process could be accellerated.
On my first night in Croatia, I was invited by some friends to meet for a drink at a club where there would be live music. The performer turned out to be a delta blues guitarist named Philadelphia" Jerry Ricks (pictured above.) He was very good, but what stood out the most was the reverence with which most of the audience listened to his two sets.
Typically, in social settings - particularly those involving drinking - Croatians tend to be very warm and friendly. Music is likely to be the background to enthusiastic conversation and laughter. However, for this performance, I heard quite a few "shushes," as anyone interrupting the music was quickly asked to be quiet.
Between sets and after the show, Ricks was surrounded by admiring fans, intent on getting autographs and asking him questions about his music.
Among many other forms of music, I consider myself to be a blues afficionado. I had never heard of Jerry Ricks, although I am quite familiar with many of the greats at whose knees he learned his craft. However, I talked to several people in the crowd who were well aware of him, and just about any other blues legend I could name.
In fact, it seems there is a vast reservoir of love and respect for many aspects of American culture, if not the current incarnation of American politics!
And it occured to me that one of the ways that we, as a country, can start to rebuild our reputation abroad, is to begin to embrace our historic contribution to the arts - particularly music, but also dance, theater, and visual arts.
Instead of "No Child Left Behind" squeezing out funds for the arts and creating a generation with no formal understanding of our artistic history, we should be funding something like "No Artist Left Behind!"
For this is what the world still loves about America, and if we bring the arts back to a prominent place in our own daily lives, we may be able to regain some of what we have lost during the last seven years - when the face of America to the rest of the world has been that of a smirking chimp flipping them the bird!