Whenever I visit other countries, I am always interested in seeing what they think about Americans and what they typically associate with our country. Some people say the Statue of Liberty, the White House or other historical landmarks that help comprise the American fabric, but invariably, I hear more references to American popular culture than anything else.
I remember riding in a cab in Preston, which is in Northern England. The driver asked me where I was from, and I told him that I was from Dallas. Immediately he started telling me about his elderly grandmother and how her favorite television show was “Dallas,” and on and on and on.
He asked me if I lived on a ranch and rode a horse. I explained to him that Texas was actually quite modern, just like the rest of the country, and while there was still a good portion of the state where ranches were prevalent, Dallas was not one of them.
It did get me to thinking, though, about American popular culture and just exactly how far its reach extended. Here was a taxi driver in England who had emigrated to that country from Pakistan, and still, he knew about and loved the television show “Dallas.”
On another occasion, I was in Italy, visiting Rome as part of a trip with my Diocese. We met two young women who asked where we were from, and when we told them, they almost immediately launched into a song, as my daughter later informed me, by Britney Spears.
They even had their own little dance that went along with the song. I saw all sorts of examples of American popular culture while I was over there, from sneakers and jeans to CDs by American artists to Coca Cola and other distinctly American products.
I asked a man once in France, who was quite friendly and interested in that fact that I was from Texas, what people in Europe found so interesting about American popular culture, and he told me that, while it may sometimes seem as though other countries don’t care for American culture, the reality is that they really like it and try to emulate it anyway they can.
It got me to thinking about how our country is portrayed to the rest of the world, and I realized that it is through American popular culture. When many of us think of England, we think of Stonehenge, the Queen or Buckingham Palace, or if it is China, it is communism, the Great Wall or its massive population.
It seems that when most people outside of the United States think about our country, they think of our musicians, actors and products. If that is true, is that really a bad thing?