Monday, July 2, 2007

What it means to be an American

This is the title of an essay by James Baldwin, one of his very best.

You may ask, why are you addressing this in a blog ostensibly dedicated to Italy? Because, as you may have heard, and as I found out as a half-Italian American in twenty years in Europe, there is no better way to reveal your own identity than by going outside it. Talk about the compare and contrast questions we had in school...

The Fourth is also upon us. No better time then to initiate a dialogue on one of my most important experiences in the Bel Paese, the experience of anti-Americanism. Over the course of many posts, I will be exploring this phenomenon, which I find pervasive, dangerous and untenable.

For starters: how not to be an American. And here we come to another regolamento dei conti (organized crime-speak for settling accounts). Ray Drake of Davids Medienkritik, a German-American blog whose purpose is to expose and fight anti-Americanism in the German press, got severely bent out of shape by my playful but accurate comparison of one of his posts to the mindset of one Benito Mussolini. He censored the post, and then invited me to start my own damn blog if I wanted to make such "slurs" upon his character (such as it is). So there you go, Ray.
Davids Medienkritik is undoubtedly useful in bringing out a particularly virulent and unexpected form of anti-Americanism, the anti-Americanism of Germany. But he does it in the wrong way, the way of counterpropaganda. The opposite of propaganda is not counterpropaganda, but the truth. In the absence of the truth, which is a tall order, let us have the conditions and the mindset to allow a free dialogue. These are absent from DMK. There is an ultimately alienating phony consensus and sameness. It is no coincidence at all that the blog has an unmistakably right-wing drift. This impairs its credibility and its efficacy.
Better to go with Baldwin, and his subtle and soul-searching ideas on being an American. Sorry that I'm not able to provide a link for this essay; apparently not everything is on the Internet.