Fulbright teaching stint in Indonesia persuades a historian that America's cultural diplomacy is in tatters
QUOTE: My dialogue with Indonesians often became surreal. "Is there grass in Texas?" I was regularly asked of my home state. Obviously Indonesians — having seen far too many old Westerns — supposed that Texas, with some of the most heavily populated urban areas in America, was a veritable wasteland of sagebrush and dust. Indonesians also seemed obsessed with the prevalence of what they called "free sex" in America. Someone finally explained to me that they meant the tendency of Americans to engage in sex before marriage or after divorce — whereas in Indonesia such activity is forbidden, in theory if not in practice. And since many Indonesians in my audiences had seen Michael Moore's Bowling for Columbine, they were convinced that students in American high schools were heavily armed, just waiting for the opportunity to open fire.
But it was their questions about Moore himself that left me truly befuddled. I was asked continually if the Bush administration had subsidized Moore's movies, including Fahrenheit 9/11. Eventually I realized that such a question revealed an entirely different set of ideas about the relationship between government and culture. Since Indonesians believed that movies, plays, and novels could scarcely exist without the political and financial support of the state, it was hard for them to imagine the existence of a "private" sector in the arts, or the absence of an American ministry of culture.
comments powered by Disqus
- Kissinger Memo from 1972: Make the North Vietnamese think Nixon and I are crazy
- How Much U.S. History Do Americans Actually Know? Less Than You Think.
- Ice cream cone named after Adolf Hitler on sale in India sparks anger in Germany
- Expressing Outrage over Attacks on Cultural Heritage of Iraq, General Assembly Unanimously Adopts Resolution Calling for Urgent Action
- Isis Palmyra demolition has begun with ancient God Lion statue destroyed
- Robert S. Wistrich, Scholar of Anti-Semitism, Dies at 70
- NYT hosts debate including Eric Foner: How Americans should remember Reconstruction
- William Leuchtenburg says historians and the media have been too hard on Obama
- Hugh Ambrose, historian who helped develop WWII Museum, dead at 48
- Historian discounts claim that Churchill and other British PM's were gay