Thursday, February 02, 2006

No Place Like Home

Americans: We're uglier than I'd thought

by Carla Diana

NEW YORK, July 23, 1997 -- I used to think that [Image]
American and European cultures were basically the
same thing, except that over there they had better food
and a predisposition for languages. I was wrong. After my
six month sojourn in Rome, returning to the States was
both comforting and frightening. No other group of people
is willing to put as much work into being constantly
entertained and pampered as we are.

Consumer electronics are a big part of our cushy cocoon.
The home theater craze happening here is not nearly as
big in Europe, where open squares, outdoor cafes and
public events are a central part of daily life. We
construct our environment from the inside out, filling
our homes with entertainment devices and designing
pedestrian-unfriendly roadways outside our doorsteps and
individual, manicured lawns. Building communities and
supporting public happenings are nowhere near as
important as cultivating the insular American dream of
the private house. On a typical day, my housemate looks
up from her video-game screen to see me in shorts and
running shoes and says, "Are you actually going out to
the world now?"

My first American social event this summer was a barbecue
on July 4 (a day when the sky is, in fact, the limit).
Taking a break from outdoor activities I stumbled upon a
group of people sitting in front of a projection TV,
another group fighting over a computer keyboard, and a
final few in the game room clustered around a TV set and
camcorder, watching a videotape. I looked a little closer
at the video and suddenly realized it was filmed that
day. I was actually at a party indoors watching a
videotape of the same party.

Sure, it's easy to be snide, but I'm having trouble
remembering why I was into all this stuff in the first
place. I've returned to the maintenance of not only my
two cats, but my computers, stereo, phone, caller ID, air
conditioners, and three VCRs which my boyfriend keeps
methodically and maniacally running simultaneously
throughout the day. The computers have caught viruses
from one another; the universal remote has lost all its
programmed codes; the car battery's dead; and the phone
inevitably rings as soon as the food hits the dinner
table. Sigh! I feel like my neglected appliances have
banded together to make me pay for my six-month absence
with a litany of headaches. Maybe that 40-hour backlog of
"ER" and "Dr. Katz" tapes that were recorded while I was
away will help me recover.

Entertainment may be the artery-clogging byproduct of our
sedentary lifestyle, but no one does it better than the
U.S. Our movies, music and television programs are
distributed throughout the globe so that teenage Italian
serenaders strum Nirvana songs and Simpsons-watching
Australian five-year-olds advise their fathers not to
"have a cow." In a culture that brings us something as
decadent as John Woo's "Face-Off" (chock full of large
explosions, an Orwellian prison complex, and the piece de
resistance, the isolated flesh of John Travolta's face
floating flaccidly in a vat of liquid) you'll never be
left asking "where's the beef?" We may be guilty of
sequestering ourselves in our living rooms but we are
united in our pursuit of entertainment, collectively
watching the white Bronco ride off into the sunset.

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This column is an etown.com exclusive.

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