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when the wolf comes home

not exactly political

Ordinarily I avoid non-Americans' comments on America as much as possible, and especially in an election year, but this morning I heard a radio discussion that was absolutely fascinating -- it's related to a series that BBC 4 is doing about American History (called America, Empire of Liberty). I have no idea whether people outside the UK can access Radio 4 programs, since they seem to be linked to BBC iPlayer, but if you can, it's here (or here) and I totally recommend it.

Basically, the reason it was great was the dynamic -- Justin Webb (the BBC's American correspondent) would ask his panel (all historians) some question about American history or culture, and Susan Castillo and David Reynolds would say something fairly neutral in response. Then Shelby Steele would say something really positive about America, and Howard Zinn would say something really negative, and Steele and Zinn would argue about whether America is a force for good or for evil in the world until Reynolds or Webb would cut them short by saying, "you do realize how incredibly American you both are?" And I would not be surprised if Webb cut power to their microphones once or twice.

And what I love about this is hard to put into words, but it encapsulates this weird sort of double-vision and double-blindness that I think you get when you live for a long time outside the US -- the special things about American cultural and political beliefs that Americans don't really notice, and that non-Americans don't always understand. And Webb and Reynolds, who see American from the inside and the outside, do notice those things -- the things that make Steele and Zinn much more like each other than they would happily admit.

(Yes, still pregnant. Getting tired of that, really.)

Comments

Your post has good timing- one of the new girls in my program is from Turkey, and listening to her talk about how she decided to study here instead of in the UK, and what she likes about America, really made me feel better after too many days in the graduate lounge with a lot of cynics. (Who are also oddly obsessed by Sarah Palin, but that's a post all its own)
Sometimes, you really do need that outsider perspective, I think -- I think otherwise we get bogged down in self-analysis.
This sounds absolutely fascinating.

I wish they'd do programs like that in America.
I think that good debate on the radio is something Radio 4 do really, really well -- I have no idea how the series itself would compare to the usual PBS stuff, but the debate was wonderful -- and according to the poster below, one can hear it outside the UK.

BBC iPlayer outside of UK

"I have no idea whether people outside the UK can access Radio 4 programs, since they seem to be linked to BBC iPlayer"

You can.

James (BBC)

Re: BBC iPlayer outside of UK

Thank you! That's good to know.
You've been noticed.
Holy crap! Thanks for the tip!
Heh, after I posted that comment I felt like a complete stalker!

Still, it's really cool when that kind of thing happens.

Re: people outside the uk listening to the bbc stuff, there are two ways to go about listening to the bbc raadio shows. one is direct through the bbci player, which doesn't let those outside of the uk use the service and the second is the 'listen again' feature, which to my knowledge doesn't block anyone. You usually find the listen again links on the bbc online pages for radio shows.

I hope that's clear?

in reply to your actual entry, i've noticed something similar in an american expat that i'm friends with. She really misses the U.S, but by living in the U.K she has an unbiased view of both cultures which many americans don't have. Alot of Americans have this rose-tinted view of U.K society formed through watching too many period dramas. Of course, the reverse is true, and i'm certainly guilty of having a deep affection for america that probably has no bearing on what america is actually like!

Long, rambling comment. Apologies!
Thanks for the tip on listening to BBC radio -- I know I've listened online in real time before from Canada, but I've never tried to use listen again or iplayer while outside the UK.

Alot of Americans have this rose-tinted view of U.K society formed through watching too many period dramas. Of course, the reverse is true, and i'm certainly guilty of having a deep affection for america that probably has no bearing on what america is actually like!

Ha! I think this is very true -- we think we know something about other countries because we watch a lot of their television, but of course American TV is just as unreliable as British TV in this kind of thing.

I do think that living in other countries for a long time is a great opportunity, though, even if it can be wearing -- I was so ignorant when I first moved to the UK, and at least in my case it took a long time to even figure out what my blind spots were! And I'm sure there are plenty I still don't see.

(Anonymous)

Listen again link on America series

The week one discussion with Webb, Reynolds, Zinn, Shelby and Castillo sounds great. I couldn't find the listen again link. Any suggestions?

(Anonymous)

BBC Radio

I'm an ex-pat Brit living in the USA, and listen to BBC radio all the time using the listen again feature on the BBC website - its my lifeline to 'home'! I enjoy my local public radio, but it lacks the diversity of Radio 4 - which is a wonderful source for news, discussion, drama, history and current affairs.

Re: BBC Radio

Radio 4 is a national treasure, I swear. Whenever I'm not living in the UK, I try to substitute whatever the local radio news is (NPR or CBC) but it's never as good!
Did you notice that a link to this post made the BBC front page today? Just thought I'd let you know! (The link goes from http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/thereporters/justinwebb/2008/09/lotta_sense_on_palin.html to this journal entry).
I seem to have missed the link -- but they do usually link to whatever Webb's latest entry is, don't they? And the comments are certainly... interesting, I guess.
when the wolf comes home

July 2014

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