Eyes on US
All eyes are on America. Are we on our best behavior?
December 23, 2020
It’s All Political
On the night of November 3, millions of people around the world were watching the United States on TV with bated breaths, waiting to see how a few thousand votes in Nevada would turn the tide for either of the presidential candidates. Blue to red, red to blue, eyes glued to the percentages seesawing back and forth between Democratic and Republican. Meanwhile, halfway across the world, Nigerian youth were rallying behind the EndSARS movement to protest the barbaric actions of the government-instituted police force, and yet who was paying them attention?
The international attention that America attracts is undeniably significant — abroad, people consume American media and hear about American events. This Americentric phenomenon begs the question of whether that influence is beneficial or harmful.
Social movements that start in the U.S. usually don’t stop at American borders, but spread to other countries and have the potential to trigger international change.
Paly senior Wumi Ogunlade cites the Black Lives Matter movement as an example. “It did not just happen in Minneapolis or the US,” said Ogunlade. “There were protests in the UK, Sweden, and Germany. People heard about what happened to George Floyd, said it was not okay, and decided to stand up against it.”
Ogunlade, who grew up in Nigeria for most of her life before moving to America in high school, says America’s international influence can be attributed to how much the citizens care about their country’s political and social issues. “Because Americans have this love for their country, it makes the world turn and face them, and that is why everyone is interested in America—they show that ‘this is our country and we love it’,” Ogunlade said.
For other countries to receive equal international attention about their country’s injustices, Wumi says that Americans must pay closer attention to problems outside U.S. borders. “Awareness can go a long way. The more people know about what is going on, [the more they can help],” Ogunlade said.
But is the overwhelming focus on America a cause for concern? When Ogunlade lived in Nigeria, she noticed people were often watching American news on news channels like CNN. She expresses disappointment in the lack of political engagement she saw in Nigeria compared to America.
“Here in America, everyone is so involved,” Ogunlade said. “People watch the news and know what is happening even if they don’t care. In Nigerian elections, you don’t see much [voter] turnout. It was maybe 43 percent in the last election.”
However, she has recently realized that Nigerians care more about their country than she originally gave them credit for. After the revitalization of End SARS protests in October, Ogunlade is seeing her home country in a new light. “Seeing how many people turned out to protest and take action even though the government sent armies against them … it shows that people are still out there risking their lives for a better Nigeria,” Ogunlade said. “It makes me think Nigeria still does have a chance; we are going to get there.”
Because Americans have this love for their country, it makes the world turn and face them, and that is why everyone is interested in America—they show that ‘this is our country and we love it.’”
— Wumi Ogunlade
Americans often take the functionality of their democracy for granted because of their ignorance about the hardships dealt with in foreign governments. Having lived in both America and Chile, Paly junior Catalina Silva believes that Americans have a very self-centered perspective.
“Americans think their government is bad when everywhere else it’s way worse,” Silva said. Many Chileans admire the American government for their progressiveness Silva says. “[The U.S. has] a lot of acceptance and variety around body types, sexuality and race so it creates a positive environment. In Chile there’s not a lot of acceptance around that.”
America is sometimes seen as a golden standard of civilization, but given the current state of its political and social environment, many internationally and domestically are recognizing how flawed the current U.S. systems are.
Nancy Pachana, a professor at the University of Queensland, believes that America’s political climate is not as admirable as it appears. “American politics at the moment is deeply embarrassing and [Australians] limit the amount we read about the USA to the bare minimum; it is basically toxic on all levels,” Pachana said.
While other countries used to turn to the U.S. as an example to follow, in recent times this pattern of action has diminished in specific parts of the world. “The positiveness of association with the U.S. has declined, especially in the last two years. The U.S. is becoming a source of concern and negative opinions, especially around COVID-19,” Pachana said.
The positiveness of association with the U.S. has declined, especially in the last two years. The U.S. is becoming a source of concern and negative opinions, especially around COVID-19.”
— Nancy Pachana
The poor handling of the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S. has further hinted at the need for international collaboration—where lesser-known countries share what is working within their borders and encourage others to adopt similar practices. Pachana says that if the U.S. looked to foreign practices of controlling COVID-19 cases they could gain better insight into their own shortfalls.
“Here in Queensland we have had six deaths total since the beginning of the year and 905 deaths in Australia as a whole. We have a little less than one tenth the population of the USA but the math here is clear,” Pachana said.
However this type of communication requires a dismantling of our self-imposed borders and their subsequent status levels which is sure to bring a new onset of troubles. But one way to sever our stifling nationalism and patriotism is to adopt a mindset that focuses on the similarities we have with people who don’t live in our country rather than our differences.
“We are all humans and our skin color and ethnicity don’t make us less human,” Ogunlade said. “We are not that different, yes the culture is different, the way that we live is different but…we are all just teenagers, figuring ourselves out.”
Nancy Pachana: Center of Attention
When Professor Nancy A. Pachana is settling down for a night of relaxation, she, like Bhatt, doesn’t reach for typical media. As an American living in Australia, Pachana has found her lifestyle to have shifted greatly after she left the U.S. in 1997.
“The single biggest change I have noticed in living outside the US is that access to stuff from the rest of the world is so much easier; it’s so much a part of regular conversations,” Pachana said.
Pachana discovered that America no longer appeared to be the center of the world once she left it which allowed her to engage more deeply with international media and government.
Individuals abroad typically have more diverse tastes than Americans living in the U.S. “People you meet casually may be just as likely to be deep in a UK television series, listening to K-pop, reading Scandinavian crime novels or immersed in the Daily Show. It is all much more eclectic,” Pachana said.
That isn’t to say American media has no global influence. Australians have taken great inspiration from American shows and incorporated those styles into their own.
“There is some influence on certain genres, like reality TV, that have been copied in a lot of countries,” Pachana said. Still, Australia has developed a unique identity of their own despite Hollywood’s ostentatious presence threatening to overshadow the international film community as a whole.
“The Australian film industry is very strong in its own right and Australians are great consumers of music and movies from all over. No one country stands out,” Pachana said.
Anaya Bhatt: Home of the Immigrants
Crashing on her couch after a long day, Paly junior Anaya Bhatt takes out the remote, opens up Netflix and heads right over to her favorite Bollywood film Kal Ho Naa Ho. With both her parents being U.S. immigrants from India, Bhatt is constantly exposed to the culture even though her family’s home state of Gujarat is over 8,000 miles away.
Second generation immigrants in the U.S. are in a unique position as non-Americans living in America, and the media they consume often reflects their mixed identities. “I’ve grown up listening primarily to Bollywood music and watching Bollywood movies,” Bhatt said. “I’ve found that my Indian friends also watch a lot of Bollywood movies and listen to [Bollywood] music [because] the music and films are very integrated into the culture.”
Bhatt notices that her friends who have immigrated more recently are able to connect better with their outside culture compared to longtime American citizens. “When all of your living relatives have been born in America, it is difficult to connect with other cultures, even your own history,” Bhatt said.
Bhatt hopes other Americans will branch out and learn about foreign cultures. “People in the U.S. tend to think the world revolves around them,” Bhatt said. “People here believe that everyone is up to date on our policies and politics and that everyone speaks or should speak English.”
Bhatt believes much of the American identity is self-centered, but recognizing how this country is built on immigration is critical. “As generations pass, we shouldn’t forget our ancestors are from around the world nor should we ignore other countries,” Bhatt said. “Because much of the world is American-centric, we should be setting a better example.”
Listen to the favorite international songs from the people we interviewed on the playlist below!