One of the catchphrases we hear a lot these days is something called “cultural imperialism.”
This is the idea that the American media are somehow exerting too much influence in foreign countries, particularly in the areas of media and culture.
I was never very fond of the idea of cultural imperialism because it takes the stance that people in foreign countries aren’t smart enough to figure out what is real and what is fake in American media.
So, I decided to do some informal research while in Rome, Italy, to compare what people actually think with what we think they think.
First, none of the Italians I have talked with believe Americans wear six-shooters, ride around on horses and belly up to bars. Nor do they seem to think all men and women are like Miley Cyrus, Paris Hilton, Charlie Sheen and Alec Baldwin.
They also do not think most Americans live in a swamp or spend all their time dancing with movie stars and sports figures.
What is particularly interesting is that many Americans seem to think the Italians, and the rest of the world, think that way.
In reality, most people in foreign countries know the difference between reality and the often exaggerated worlds of entertainment and advertising.
Of course there are exceptions, just like in the U.S. some people believe every advertisement that comes across the television.
It is not that the people I have talked with in Italy think television portrays how Americans act, but many believe it portrays what U.S. citizens think and believe.
Curiously, this has led to something of a conflict of ideas: Several of the people I talked with commented on how giving and caring Americans are, while at the same time are seen as intolerant of outsiders.
But, you know what?
The very idea of cultural imperialism is, by itself, offensive. What you have is a bunch of self-appointed experts telling other people they are too ignorant to figure things out for themselves. They are saying, “Trust me, you aren’t smart enough to know you are being insulted and have a problem.”
I really have to wonder: Who has the problem? Us or them?