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#26 America, I'm done
There is a thought I have every time something new and awful happens in America. It’s a Disney villain masquerading as the fun dad of the free world. Or it’s Gotham City.
It’s funny because I used to be sweaty palmed and heart-eyed about America, kind of like having a crush on Jaffar or Lord Farquaad.
The cooler, turtle necked version of me lives in New York and drinks putrid diner coffee, ya know?
My love for the states was hardly surprising, because like most Australians my age, I was a foie gras goose, fed on a steady and almost singular diet of American pop culture. This is despite not having a television my entire childhood. The Backstreet Boys, 10 Things I hate About You, Britney Spears, Friends, Seinfeld, The Simpsons, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, Forest Gump, The OC and my first M15+ movie, Titanic. American culture found a way to leak beneath my front door, spreading like ink on silk.
And on a spring Tuesday in grade 5, my teacher wheeled one of those portable TVs into our classroom and we watched the planes crashing into the twin towers, over and over and over again.
The point is as a kid, America felt like home but better. It was the place where the movies were made, where New York City shimmered on a shared global horizon, replete with steaming grates, yellow cabs and pretzel stands. The Statue of Liberty just as familiar to me as Uluru or the Sydney Opera House.
This land is your land, and this land is my land. From California to the New York island…
And perhaps there is a bitterness there, that another country feels like it’s a part of me and yet once when I was camping in California, it took three different shop assistants and a charade performance on my behalf, for me to successfully purchase a bag of ice. “You said what? Oice? Ohhhh, you mean aissss!”
It’s kind of like that person at a party who grins like a shark and says, “it’s so nice to meet you!” even though you’ve met them three times before. And you smile weakly and feel small and inconsequential.
A blurry photo of 22 year old me in Seattle. Absolutely in love with the joint.
Travelling through Europe, I see that America’s cultural supremacy is tentacled and noxious and saturates the fabric of life far beyond little old Oz. Starbucks will sell you a Triple, Venti, Half Sweet, Non-Fat, Caramel Macchiato at the Prague Castle. In the picturesque old town, right next to the Charles Bridge built in 1357, a McDonalds heaves with tourists wearing I <3 Prague shirts, carrying yellow plastic bags full of little plastic magnets. Europeans speak English with an American lilt. It’s shocking when you consider that no other country has this kind of all-encompassing monopoly on our attention, our language, our art and our purse strings.
The problem with all of this of course, aside from the homogenous, globalising effect it has on cultures and the havoc huge American corporations wreak on small developing nations, is that we have positioned America culturally above us. We look up to America whether we like it or not, it has become the benchmark for what it means to be brave, wild and free. And through its seemingly innocuous teachings on how to live well (drink Starbucks and slay all day) we are groomed to see American ideals as the norm.
This is very bad, because America is a place where terrible things keep happening. Small children are shot down in their classrooms by rifles designed to explode the human body in war. Too often the shooter is a solitary 18-year-old. And yet any kind of gun reform still seems like an impossible dream for parents who want to send their children to school and not worry that they will die learning their ABCs.
A defamation trial centred around abuse is televised because a Hollywood celebrity wants to punish his ex-wife with “global humiliation”. We read his texts about burning and fucking her corpse. We read more of his texts, punctuated with terms like “waste of a cum guzzler” and “overused flappy fish market”. He wins and the baying crowds call the defendant a whore, a liar, and a psycho. They want to microwave her baby, they think the whole thing is funny, hilarious and wildly entertaining.
Meanwhile liberal Hollywood is silent and polite.
America is the only wealthy country in the world (actually the wealthiest, with a GDP in 2020 of about 20 trillion dollars, compared to Australia’s 1.3 trillion) without a national program for paid parental leave.
There is no universal healthcare system, but a country like Brazil with a GDP of around 1.4 trillion and a population of 212 million, has universal healthcare. That the wealthiest nation in the world has such callous disregard for the health of its own people, is both bleak and baffling, but this piece in the New York Times Magazine suggests it has a lot to do with race.
Capital punishment is allowed in 27 of 50 states. College students are crippled by loans. After serving one term as president in 2020, Donald Trump, a man with widely publicised allegations of sexual misconduct and financial fraud made against him, received a record-breaking level of support, with 74,222,958 votes.
And now in 2022, the absolute constitutional right to safe and legal abortion has been overturned.
It’s not that other countries aren’t mired in their own pain and bullshit; I live in Australia where we treat First Nations people with contempt. Australia, where at least 20 women have been killed by their partners this year alone. A place where childcare is dizzyingly expensive but early childhood educators are underpaid. A place that treats asylum seekers like criminals, and criminals like animals. Where a house is an investment, not a basic human right. It’s far from perfect. But you can’t buy an AR15 as a rite of passage when you turn 18 and you can get an abortion (at least for now).
Earlier this week I read a news article titled, What Overturning Roe V Wade Means for Australia and in it, pro-abortion advocates expressed their fears about how the SCOTUS decision in the states might reignite the debate about abortion here. Jeopardising my reproductive rights as an Australian person with the potential for an unwanted pregnancy.
A stone is thrown, and a ripple blooms 15,000 kilometres away.
This is exactly what I’m afraid of as we continue to consume America like a Netflix series, shovelling popcorn into our mouths and dissecting the plot twists. We hyper focus on this one country while it eats itself alive; our placards painted with its pain, our screens awash with its relentless brutality.
And each backwards step saturates our worldview, from the personal to the global, from art to politics, food and language.
So, in a small internal protest of my own, I’m breaking up with America. I am moving it from the place in my mind that is reserved for things I love. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not breaking up with individual American people, I still love them. I passionately want things for them; gun free schools and streets, reproductive rights, paid parental leave, universal healthcare. I’m not turning my back on them. Not even the ones who couldn’t understand me when I asked, “can I please have a bag of ice?”
No, I’m breaking up with my own flawed concept of America as a really great place. I’m burning the love notes I penned in my thumpy red heart of hearts. I’m gathering up all the sharp fragments of my stupid little dream about how I might one day live there, in New York or Santa Fe, and I’m putting them in the bin. Not the trash can. The bin.
If America was an old friend, I would say to her, we need to talk.
If she was my sister, I would say, you make everything about you.
But America is an old love gone bad, so I’m saying, I’m done.
I’m done. I’m done. I’m done.
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