How else can we redefine the “Ugly American”? Tweet @MSUMadvocate #uglyamerican#diplomacy
Like many Americans who have traveled outside of the U.S., the “Ugly American” continues to fascinate me. Eugene Burdick and William Lederer explains this idea in their 1958 political novel “Ugly American.”
“A mysterious change seems to come over Americans when they go to a foreign land. They isolate themselves socially. They live pretentiously. They’re loud and ostentatious.”
As citizens of this nation, we know that various countries have a negative perception of what “Americans” are really like. Our own country continuously encourages the growth of loud and brazen people. We are founded on the ideals of individuality. We are a nation of immigrants who choose to leave our native lands in order to live in a way that pleased our personnel preferences, as we are all free to pursue happiness.
Recently, the world media reported on Dennis Rodman’s trip to North Korea. Upon returning to the U.S., Rodman proclaimed that he and supreme leader Kim Jong-un are “friends for life.” Former NBA star Rodman has long been known for his particular behavior whether it is from his athletic ability, fashion choices, or his short-lived marriage to actress and model Carmen Electra. None of these choices, however, seemed to provoke the backlash he is now experiencing from his recent statement. Human Rights Watch criticized Rodman’s visit, stating thousands of people are still imprisoned in slave camps where they suffer horrific living conditions.
Rodman sticks with his convictions claiming that he is not a politician but finds common ground with the North Korean leader in their mutual love of basketball. It is reported that Kim Jong-un wants President Obama to “give him a call.” Rodman supports this notion as he references Obama’s love of the game as well.
(Rodman may be defined as an “Ugly American” by some. His colorful behavoir has been the entertainment of Americans and foreigners alike and is contrasting Burdick and Lederer’s earlier conventional definition of the term.) Although he maintains his idiosyncrasies, his attempt at keeping the cultural lines of communication open between two contentious countries contradicts isolationist practices Americans have previously observed.
Perhaps the solution to modern day diplomacy does not come from deleting the “Ugly American” but by using our loud and brazen individuals to emphasize shared passions between countries. Match these audacious Americans with the thoughtfulness akin to the great patriot Benjamin Franklin.
Our past policies of pushing the American agenda forcefully into countries have continually failed. As citizens of the world we can all agree that we desire all people to live free from persecution, but perhaps this goal will not be achieved overnight. Ensuring the lines of communications stay open is of upmost importance. In the delicate days of the present we cannot risk the breakdown of diplomacy under the very real threat of nuclear warfare.
Let’s be Americans, brave and boisterous but with mindful and careful practices, respecting and learning about other nations’ goals and dreams.
BY APRIL KNUTSON
April, thanks for your mention of my good friend Bill Lederer in an era that has largely forgotten his contributions. Your term “brave and boisterous” describes him perfectly. — Daniel Hecht