Back in 1989, I told my dear old Mother that I was leaving England to live and work in the United States. Her response? “That’s nice, darling. Make sure you don’t get shot.”
I managed that, at least. Never even came close to being shot. I got my nose bloodied once or twice — but who doesn’t? My time in America was, on the whole, peaceful, happy, and fulfilling.
I found Americans to be a civilized people, renowned for their easy-going generosity and acceptance of strangers like myself.
I knew what to expect before I arrived, because I’d seen it all in the movies. American men were characters played by Jimmy Stewart. American women were an ever-changing cast of film-star beauties. To this British child, some 65 years ago, America was clearly the most desirable place on Earth. Naturally, it was my ambition to visit America as soon as I could get the chance.
America’s film and music industries were almost entirely responsible for how the United States was perceived throughout the rest of the world. That image was largely positive, though rather over-simplified. Westerns like Shane and High Noon seem to be out of fashion these days, but way back in the 1940s and ‘50s they were very big, and the philosophy behind them still permeates American society. Their plots were similar: Bad men with guns threaten a small town in the West. A good man arrives with another gun and shoots the bad guys. Then, after the righteous slaughter, “The End” rolls up on screen and everybody goes home happy.
I am told many Americans still believe gun violence can only be solved by more guns, but the rest of the world nowadays looks on in horror as Americans wring their hands over the latest mass shooting and do nothing to stop the slaughter. Somehow, someone forgot to shut off the projector, and Americans can no longer tell real life from an endless cowboy shoot-em-up movie.
Back in England, when I was a child, we accepted this idea of rough but fair cowboy justice, just as many Americans did. To us, the United States was a great golden place with no poverty, no food and petrol rationing, no serious problems. Superman lived in America, where else? The idea of the Man of Steel living in Great Britain was absurd. Nothing super ever happened there. “Dismalman” would have been more like it.
But American films let us watch as handsome white couples boarded sleek luxury trains to Los Angeles, their luggage loaded and meals served by smiling, anonymous black people. Children were almost all sweetly mischievous boys who lived in neat houses with loving Moms and Dads. Priests played basketball with ghetto boys, with nary a whisper of scandal. But that was a long time ago.
If someone knows where Superman is these days, please let him know that when America doesn’t feel like home any more, he can always come and stay at our place.
Patrick O’Gara, a former Blade editor, was a journalist all his working life. He now lives in Northern Spain with five dogs, two cats and eight hens, and a tolerant American wife. Contact him at:firstname.lastname@example.org.
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