Thursday, 6 September 2012

Amerika ist wunderbar

You can always rely on the United States to do the right thing, once they've exhausted all other options. (Winston Churchill) 
Last week, Clint Eastwood was filmed talking to a chair as if it were Barack Obama. This seemed like a good time to address a request from Will about what the UK honestly thinks of the US. If anyone from the CIA or some such is watching, please don't declare war on the UK because of what I'm about to say in this video. I'm just one person who happens to live here.

I'm going to tell you a little bit about the last time I was in the United States. It was the end of October 2004, just a couple of weeks before the presidential election between George W. Bush and John Kerry. I was touring Washington D.C. and New York with my school choir, and it was a really exciting time to be there.
Along with a few of my friends, I got in a lift - sorry, an "elevator" - in the hotel in Maryland where we were staying, along with a family of fellow guests. They noticed us talking amongst ourselves in our clear-cut London private school accents and asked where we'd come from, and then said, without a trace of irony: "Welcome to America, the greatest country in the world."

They then proceeded to ask us, among other asinine questions, whether we knew the Queen. So, for starters, if anyone in the US is watching: in 2010 it was estimated that 62,262,000 people were living in the United Kingdom. As much as I'm sure she wishes it were otherwise, Her Majesty does not have time to be on first name terms with all of us.

One of the main things that struck me, particularly whilst watching TV in the US, was how little foreign affairs coverage there is. And any time someone on the Internet discusses a problem on an international scale, they almost invariably use only US statistics to back up this claim. No wonder these people don't know how things work in other countries. No-one tells them. Apparently, only the royal wedding and the Olympics are of any interest in the States. Wars? Famine? Natural disasters? Nah. Boring. Change the channel.

Apparently, in the greatest country in the world, you are old enough to drive a car and own a firearm before you are old enough to drink alcohol or have consensual sex. Call me a hippy, but this speaks to me of somewhat skewed priorities.

America has many fine qualities - excellent innovators, beautiful landscapes, fantastic writers, entertainers and musicians - but these qualities are not unique to the United States by any means. Furthermore, I imagine that the greatest country in the world might have free public healthcare for everyone, a reasonable and accessible social welfare system, a minimally biased and non-discriminatory police force, and a national minimum wage.

I'm not claiming that the UK is the greatest country in the world by comparison, by the way - our healthcare and social welfare system is being thrown to the dogs by the present government, and the Metropolitan police are currently being sued by a boy who has been stopped and searched fifty times between the age of 14 and 17, ostensibly just because he is black. And our national minimum wage isn't actually enough to live on.

The US claims to do everything bigger and better than everyone else, kind of like the Motorhead of nations. And one of the areas in which it more than delivers in this promise is the arena of political debate, which brings me conveniently back to the image of Clint Eastwood addressing a full polemic to a chair.
I do not understand how political debate works in the United States of America. I keep waiting for the Republican candidates to pull off their rubber masks and reveal that they are John Cleese and Terry Gilliam, and the whole thing has been the world's longest running Monty Python sketch. I can fathom no other way to make sense of the presidential race. I mean, they're running with family values as a key electoral strategy, and they're putting forward a serial adulterer, a man who shares his name with a by-product of unprotected gay sex, and a Mormon.

What does being gay have to do with family values, by the way? I address the whole world when I ask this question. I know that "gay" is shorter and easier to spell than "paedophile", but they don't even remotely mean the same thing. On a side note, "paedophile" comes from the Greek word "pais" and is spelt p-A-e-d-o-p-h-i-l-e.

The UK certainly isn't perfect, but honestly, you couldn't pay me enough to live in the US. And believe me, living in the US would be a really sensible thing for a fledgling opera singer like me to do. Why?

Well, first off, look at me for a second (that's me there, in the left hand sidebar, with the frog on my head). Where do you think I'm from? If you answered "the UK", you're correct. If you answered "Italy", you are also correct. Other answers to this question have, in the past, included France, Spain, Portugal, Greece, the Middle East, South America, No, I don't know either. Now, let's take the fact that in states like Arizona, I can legally be stopped and asked for my papers at any time, because I talk funny and I look like I might belong to an ethnic minority.

Not an attractive prospect, you might say.

Second, you may have noticed that I'm female bodied. In the United Kingdom - and, for that matter, in much of mainland Europe - I can see a qualified gynaecologist for free. I can get an abortion for free, if I need to. I can get any number of medical treatments, many of which are impacted in no way whatsoever by my possession of a uterus, for free. There are systems in place to protect me from sexual harrassment and discrimination in the workplace. They are imperfect, but they exist.

From several human rights activist points of view - feminist, racial, gay, disability, and transgender - the US feels like the UK's poor cousin. And I will stress, once again, that the UK has a long way to go before we can really say that everyone is equal.

Look, America, there's an awful lot of cool stuff going on where you are. We really want to like you, but you don't half make it hard sometimes.

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