Thursday, August 31, 2006

Banana Hammocks

Okay, here's something that's been really getting on my nerves, and it doesn't have anything to do with my scary redneck neighbors. One of my weekly traditions is reading The Week, a magazine that distills the major news issues of the week into a concise, clear analysis. Reading The Week and Newsweek generally makes me feel better about the fact that I don't read the newspaper, watch the evening news, check out the BBC's website, or indulge in any of the other addictive behavior that makes my friend John Murray feel so superior.

Anyway, one of the regular sections in the week is "Best Columns: Europe." On a good day (or in a good Week), this section will give me a glimpse into the interests and concerns of other countries--you know, the kind of stuff that Americans never hear about because it generally doesn't concern us. However, I've noticed a disturbing trend lately. Every couple of weeks, this section reprints a column in which some European journalist bashes American society.

Let me be really clear here. I'm not talking about bashing King George II, or any of his myriad foreign policy disasters. For that matter, I'm not talking about attacking any of the craven, idiotic crimes that Congress has recently perpetrated. No, I'm talking about attacking mainstream, normal Americans.

I'm not even really against attacking the average american. After all, even a cursory glance through my posts (hey, at this point, there's only enough for a cursory glance!) will demonstrate that I don't have any problem with critiquing some of my fellow citizens. I guess my problem is with Europeans attacking Americans. Maybe I look at Americans the way a boy might look at his retarded dog--it's okay to make fun of him as long as I'm the one making the jokes. Maybe I just feel like the Europeans are kicking us when we're down.

What kind of things have set me off? Well, this week it was "Where a Man Can Strut His Stuff," an article by Milan Obradovic for "Stern" magazine (Okay, am I the only one who finds delicious irony in a German magazine titled "Stern"?). In this article, Obradovic bitches about the fact that American beachwear is too prudish. Apparently, as a German living in Los Angeles, he is annoyed because American beachwear doesn't "show the faintest outline of male genitalia." He feels that our trunks are "neither comfortable nor hygenic, not to mention completely uncool." He also complains about the fact that women aren't allowed to go topless, which he finds ironic, given the fact that "in obesity-plagued America, many men have breasts just as large as women's, yet those ugly saggers are on proud display while the women's must be hidden."

Where to begin? I guess that my first problem with this is his criticism of bathing suits. I LIKE American bathing suits. I like having pockets, not to mention having protection against sand, sharp rocks, and, yes, the roving eyes of some of my fellow bathers. For that matter, while I am inclined to agree that topless, or even nude, beaches beaches are a good idea in concept, my experience with them has run hot and cold. To be honest, some of the things that I've seen on topless beaches have convinced me that sometimes it's better to catch a hint of flesh rather than unrestrained gobs. If you catch my drift.

My next problem is that I have to wonder why Obradovic feels obliged to throw in his little attack on American...avoirdupois. In my travels in Germany, I have seen a fair number of generously-sized people. I mean, it's not as if Obradovic comes from Ethiopia, in which case I think he might have room to criticize. Okay, admittedly, Americans tend to be...beefy, but as someone who's fighting his own personal battle of the bulge, the last thing I need is to get a body critique from some bratwurst-muncher who wants to show off his dick in public. For that matter, his judgmental comments are exactly the reason that many people feel obliged to cover up on the beach. (Admittedly, I'm a little defensive about this, not just because of my own body issues, but also because Americans are my people and...well...I get to make fun of them, not some random German!)

While we're cutting on Obradovic, it's also worth asking why he is living in the United States if he has such problems with our bathing customs. If it's that big a deal, why doesn't he pack up his man-thongs and catch a flight back to the land of shnitzel and sheisse video? The answer is clear: because his accent gets him laid in LA, and he can play cool cultural criticism games. Let's face it, in Germany, he's just another asexual, wiry whiner with mother issues and a confused self-image.

In recent months, I've seen lots of articles like this. One actually criticized American soccer fans because we weren't rowdy enough! Come on! When's the last time you saw someone catch shit because he was too well behaved?!?

I've got a theory about why all this anti-American static has been pouring out of the newspapers of Europe. Well, actually, I've got two theories. The first is that we left ourselves open for it. Electing George Bush to two terms of the Presidency was, to be honest, the kind of idiotic move that one usually associates with long-term alcoholism or blunt head trauma. Come on, admit it, we committed the electoral equivalent of proposing to a two-dollar whore. Better yet, we did it twice.

The second reason for this wave of anti-Americanism is the internal problems that Europe has been facing. After years of criticizing us for our racial policy, Germany, France, and Italy have had to deal with their own immigrant problems. As they negotiate the tricky waters of inclusion, they have stumbled on the traditional method of dealing with internal strife: they've found an external enemy that they can chastise. Still, I'm not sure that laughing at prudish American bathing suits is going to clear up Germany's problem with its Turkish citizens.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

My Neighbors: Moving In

Looking over yesterday's post, I realized that some background information is in order. Clearly, you need to know about my neighbors.

Having lived in Southwest Virginia since the early 1990's, I have grown used to the prejudice of my family and friends who live up North. I'm sure you can imagine the kinds of comments I get about my...idyllic...pastoral...genteel region. With that in mind, I'm loath to talk about my neighbors, as they exemplify the kind of knuckle-dragging, banjo-player-on-the-porch, inbred stereotypes that already plague rural areas. Still, my interactions with the folks next door have gone a long way towards developing my current dislike of humanity, and are vital for any further discussion.

That having been said, I promise that everything I write on this subject will be absolutely true, with a minimum of editorializing.

My first interactions with my neighbors came after I had lived in my house for a few months. This was my fault, as I began to fear them almost as soon as I moved in. First off, they were Linkouses. In the New River Valley, where I live, a few local families have managed to make the transition from mountain living to relatively modern life. In the case of the Linkouses, they seem to have survived through a combination of huge land holdings and an extended clan that is roughly the size of Italy. Around here, one is rarely more than a few hundred yards from a Linkous, the grave of a Linkous, or an edifice named after a Linkous. As far as I can tell, the Linkii (as I like to call them) have managed to persevere through sheer size and entrenchment.

In my neighborhood, the Linkouses seem to make a living by selling land from time to time and making hay in their fields. My next-door neighbors (who I didn't realize were Linkouses until I'd lived here for a few months) used to own the house I live in, but chose to sell it and move into a prefab trailer home on a quarter-acre lot with their two children. On the day that I moved in, I got my first glimpse of the young Linkous, James. James was, I shit you not, walking up the front path of his house, carrying a dead opossum and yelling "Hey, Ma! Look what I kilt!"

This brings up my first problem with the Linkii. The noise. While I'm sure that James and the rest of his family are capable of expressing themselves quietly, I have never actually seen them do so. Whatever they do--be it talking, arguing, recreating, or even relaxing, they do it loudly. Later on during move-in day, I heard the loud booming of what I later came to recognize as a high-powered rifle. Rushing upstairs, I asked my girlfriend what it was. She told me that my neighbor was shooting across the rural highway situated about fifty yards from the front of his house. To this day, I have never ascertained what he was shooting at or why he felt the need to play Charles Whitman. I guess that I just have to accept this as one of those weird things that make life interesting.

The same goes for their decision the following week to shoot skeet in their backyard. It's worth reiterating here that their yard is only about a quarter-acre large. This means that the backdrop for their skeet shooting was the road that runs behind our houses and the cow pasture on the other side of the road. On the day they shot skeet, I got my first inkling of what would later become a very common feeling. I was simultaneously annoyed at their lack of consideration, terrified by their total stupidity, and ashamed at the fact that I was becoming a kill joy.

This feeling returns every July, as I am repeatedly awakened from sleep by the sounds of gunfire, explosions, and whistles. It's like a cross between a Latin American wedding and the WWII shelling of London. However, while their patriotic pyromania is a particularly galling outpouring of their need for sound, it is hardly the only example. Every day, Linkous, pater and fils, will station themselves a few feet apart and yell a conversation back and forth across the lawn. I'm sure there's a reason that they can't walk a little closer to each other, but I can't imagine what it is. Listening to them declaiming their respective monologues, I am reminded of some particularly bad Swedish existentialist plays I saw when I was an undergraduate in college.

Anyway, enough ranting. More later.

The World's Youngest Blog

Excuse me while I pause for a second, enjoying being the proud father of the world's youngest blog. As soon as I hit the "publish post" button, my little blog will begin; within seconds, it will be old news, and the youngest blog will be the product of some mouth-breather who herds goats in Iowa.


Well, I guess I should state a purpose, or something. Long story short, I found myself getting old this year. I think it was sometime around the middle of July, when my inbred next-door neighbors launched into night twelve of their annual month-long celebration of Independence day. As my baby daughter woke from a sound sleep, I threw open the windows and yelled "Goddamn it, go to bed!" into the Virginia night. At that moment, I faced a terrible realization: I had turned into the cranky neighbor. I had become the guy whose house you tiptoe past, the guy you avoid at Halloween, the guy who mumbles under his breath about those damn kids.

Okay, perhaps I'm overdoing it. However, there's no getting around the fact that my tastes seem to be getting a little more conservative, and my complaints are arriving more frequently. I find myself bitching about t-shirts, lyrics, movies, and various other detritus of pop culture. Worst of all, I used the word "smutty" the other day as a pejorative term. I remember when I used to consider it a compliment.

Anyway, I find that I feel the need to talk out a few of these little changes. I don't particularly expect this to be of interest to anyone else, but I can't believe that I'm the only one going through a minor culture shock.

Thursday, August 17, 2006


Technorati Profile