'In Europe, if you go to a fancy dinner party and talk about how the Chinese have slitty eyes and are loud, chances are you would not be invited back," says Andrei S. Markovits, author of Uncouth Nation: Why Europe Dislikes America. "But at the same dinner party no one would think twice about someone saying Yanks are dumb, fat, ugly, uncouth, and on and on. It's a form of prejudice [they] tout." On Wednesday, May 16, Markovits, a professor of comparative politics and German studies at the University of Michigan Ann Arbor, will lecture on "Understanding the Rise of Anti-Americanism in Europe" at UCSD.
Markovits argues that, in Europe, the word "American" is often used pejoratively, or "whenever you want to say that something is bad, cheap, uncouth, inauthentic, artificial, but yet also dangerous. What makes it so threatening is that there is a certain form of attractiveness to it; it's alluring. You hate it, and you know it's cheap, and yet somehow you can't quite resist. It's seductive, like pornography."
Markovits stresses that negative sentiments and views of America are driven not only by what America does but by what America "is." In his article "Western Europe's America Problem" written for The Chronicle of Higher Education, Markovits explains that in the German language, amerikanische Bedingungen, or "American conditions," almost always refers to something "at once negative and threatening."
Markovits continues, "In Britain, 'Americanization' and 'American-style' also have an almost exclusively negative connotation -- often with the adjective 'creeping' as a telling modifier in front: 'the creeping Americanization of the car's feel for the road,' 'the cult of guns fueled by creeping Americanization through violent films,'" and so on.
The professor's research revealed that the concept of Americanization connotes "every kind of deterioration in the European world of work." American terms such as "flexibility," "mobility," and "working vacation" have become pervasive in the European business culture. "Yet, rarely, if ever," writes Markovits, "have I read anything about a purported 'Japanization' or -- of increasing relevance -- 'Chinazation' of European work life."
According to Markovits, America has become the face of globalization and modernization, ideologies that represent a potential future for a Europe characterized by homogenization. "Europe in many ways is much more modern than America. The fear is not based in reality; it's an identity issue. If you use a euro, does that mean you are less German? Greeks and Finns do not feel European, but they feel European towards something else, and what is the something else? America. Emotionally, their identity is that they are 'not American.'"
European politicians often exhibit disdain for Americanization. "The best example is the debate about the EU constitution in France, where both sides argued using the concept of Americanization. Chirac wanted the EU constitution to pass because only a strong EU could confront America. Those who were anti-EU said all French should vote against it because the EU would be too much like America."
Markovits says that Europeans abhor Americanization in matters of morality ("America's being the purveyor of the death penalty and of religious fundamentalism, as opposed to Europe's having abolished the death penalty and adhering to an enlightened secularism"), work ethics, sports, schools, and holidays (e.g., American children celebrate Halloween instead of All Saints Day and birthdays rather than "name days"). "It's seen as an intrusion of American commercialism taking over."
After writing an article in Spiegel Spezial praising the American college system and its student evaluation of teachers, Markovits received angry letters from German colleagues, one of whom wrote, "We are not, thank God, in America, where universities are just upgraded [secondary] schools." Markovits writes that at a lecture given in 2002, German sociologist Erwin K. Scheuch called for "blocking any attempt to introduce American course credits to German institutions and decried the introduction of performance-oriented salaries, which he said would destroy Germany's 'collegial structures.'"
Markovits says, "What matters to me on a personal level is that I don't like any kind of prejudice, even against the strong or seemingly strong. In the New Statesman, an important British journal, a reviewer said [anti-Americanism] is the only prejudice in Europe which is totally open and even laudable." -- Barbarella
Lecture: "Understanding the Rise of Anti-Americanism in Europe"
Wednesday, May 16
7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
UCSD Main Campus
Info: 858-822-5297 or http://iicas.ucsd.edu/