August 19, 2002
Sally Field Syndrome

The United States is the only major nation I know of that doesn't want to be loved, doesn't want to be feared, really doesn't even care about being respected. More than anything else, we seem to want to be liked. It'll probably surprise anyone who is on the outside looking in, but whenever we hear that some country or another doesn't like us, well, it kind of hurts our feelings, and always surprises us.

The causes of this phenomenon are many. We've only been a real world power for about sixty years; just a fraction of the time European countries owned that title, and just a blip on the radar screen compared to China or the Muslim empires. Naiveté plays a real role, and this tends to drive most of the rest of the world bonkers. From the point of view of, say, a Frenchmen, Americans as a whole are impossibly ignorant of how the world really works. They regularly elect the most ridiculous people to lead them, and seem to want only to bleat in their loud voices, take pictures of things they can't possibly understand, and grin at the rest of the world.

People in the United States, those who don't travel abroad or who don't follow international news and history very closely (i.e. most of the country), also don't understand that the folks who represent us in the international community are usually people with the scruples of a rabid weasel on crystal meth. Yup, you guessed it, businessmen and marketeers.

Nearly every awful thing people in the rest of the world associate with America can be laid directly on the doorstep of big business and marketing. They've built deadly-dangerous polluting plants, knowingly employed slave labor, even overthrown whole governments a few times, all in the name of making a buck. I often wonder why some of these people don't just explode when the words "business ethics" are spoken out loud.

Of course, it isn't all our fault. The French recently protested the presence of listening devices on military bases in Europe. It took some digging, but ultimately they were upset because we clued everyone (not just our own businessfolk) into their schemes to bribe government officials of other countries into signing defense contracts with them. A lack of ethics is something our ancestors brought over with them on the boats that dropped them off.

There are also a lot of people who hate the United States because they aren't us. It's not that the United States builds better products, runs its economy more efficiently, or makes better use of the natural talents of its citizenry. That's not why we're on top, no sir. It's because we cheat, we steal, we conspire with (or are being manipulated by) the global Jewish/Imperialist/Catholic/Atheist/British/French/Belgian (pick any two) cabal that really runs the world. That's why we're in charge. All the United States needs to do is join us so "with our combined strength we can end this destructive conflict and bring order to [the world]." Failing to recognize this self-evident truth is just further proof of how soft and decadent we are, and it's just a short hop from there to flying airplanes into buildings.

It's these people who bother me the most by far, mainly because it shows just how stupid the rest of the world can be sometimes. We don't like our businesspeople any more than you do. In fact, we're tossing their soulless little diamond-studded asses into jails as fast as we can grab them. Ask Kathy Lee Gifford what happens when you get caught with your businesses' sweat shops showing.

Unfortunately it's way more important for you to understand us than for us to understand you. It's not fair, but there it is. You should take heart though; because when it comes right down to it we're not really all that hard to understand. We want people to play fair but work hard; we want underdogs to win and overlords to have a heart of gold; and as obnoxious as it sounds we really do want everyone to be happy. Our biggest problem is the world is a very large, very busy place, and our "ethically challenged" representatives can be very, very sneaky. That's where the media comes in.

The US media is probably our saving grace. Trust me, that frightens us almost as much as it frightens you. These unpredictable self-righteous arts-and-crafts majors have a love/hate relationship with their own country not even they completely understand. That we allow them to run about willy-nilly and report to the world whatever happens to catch their fancy literally beggars the imagination of most dictatorships. But when they do manage to get traction on something that matters, they can change the opinion of an entire nation.

Feeling oppressed? Want us to help? Look to Martin Luther King. By using the media, and by sticking to his non-violent methodology even when it got innocent people killed, he placed black people in the public mind as underdogs, people working hard against oppressive bosses. He held up a mirror and showed that while the north may have treated black people like second-class citizens, the south treated them like animals. As hard as it is to believe, most of the nation didn't know that. It was a situation that the media would not allow to be ignored, because it was wrong. And so things changed1

You don't have to even be American for us to pay attention. One of the greatest tragedies of the latest uprising in Israel was that until the Palestinian leadership got impatient and greedy and righteous and started strapping bombs to kids, we were actually listening to them. We really were2.

Because, ultimately, that's all it takes... getting our attention. Sometimes even bad guys can work the system. Afghanistan was, is, a damned dangerous place, and most of our news monkies didn't want to go anywhere near it. Someone in the Taliban got the bright idea of putting out daily news releases outside their embassy in Islamabad, and suddenly they were getting front page stories and prime-time news specials about how many "innocent Afghanis" the United States was blowing to bits. The common citizenry of the United States aren't the only ones who are naive about the rest of the world, and hell they all had deadlines to make, so until Pakistan closed that embassy down the Taliban got all the free publicity it wanted.

So listen up world. Stop treating us like the enemy. We're not. We're ignorant, we're reactionary, and we're naive, but, as a nation, we're not the bad guy. Unfortunately, a nation is made up of people, and we know far better than you we have grain silos full of individual bad guys (and girls) itching to run around loose and cause trouble. It's your job to drag a press monkey or two over and get them to shine a light on your particular American troll. They'll nearly always scatter like the roaches they are, and the ones too arrogant, stupid, or slow to do so will be squashed presently.

Because a nation that just wants to be liked by the world has to like itself first.

Posted by scott at August 19, 2002 05:56 PM

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That's all good and great, but why's it called the Sally Field Syndrome? What has she got to do with it?

Posted by: Dustin on March 20, 2006 11:37 AM

A reference to a famous oscar-awards speech she made in, as I recall, 1981 or so. "You like me, you really like me!"

Posted by: Scott on March 20, 2006 11:47 AM
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