I have a love/hate relationship with America and Americans. I find it the most advanced of countries and the most backwards of countries. I find the American people the most open and tolerant of people as well as the most narrow minded and quick to take offence. They are at times arrogant, welcoming, prejudiced, honest, receptive, biased, racist, intelligent, parochial, self-righteous, knowledgeable, broad-minded, accepting and suspicious. I console myself with the thought that they probably donít know what to make of me either.
I love the pride they take in being American and the real fervour of their patriotism. I also have difficulties with the arrogance this assumption of divine supremacy produces and the implication that everybody else is a lesser being for not being American. It must be hard being a Canadian.
Similarly the aggression with which they have exported their culture is the reason why English has become the lingua franca of international business Ė a lesson that truly hit home one day when I attended a meeting attended entirely by French suits in a gleaming glass tower block in La Defense to the west of Paris. Entirely in English. Admittedly, they were threatening to sue my then employer for negligence and wanted to make 100% sure I was getting the message as to how annoyed they were, but still it was done entirely in English.
What churl among us could quibble with the notion that The Simpsons is the most valuable cultural artefact of the last ten years? A crudely-rendered cartoon about a working-class everyman, it contains a wealth of philosophical observations and cultural references, ranging from simple pop culture to the highbrow, from the throwaway passing quotation to the full scale extended homage.
And yet the program that best encapsulates the varied aspects of the American psyche for me is NBCís The West Wing. Popular television is forever choosing as its subject matter the rich and powerful (the poor aspire to be them with their wealth, material comfort and ability to influence the course of their own lives; the rich just arenít interested in watching programs about uninteresting poor people). For this reason, the Commander in Chief is a recurrent choice of subject. Unlike Ireland, where the Taoiseach is merely whichever politician squats atop the greasy pole at the moment, in the USA they have a real reverence for their leader.
The West Wing ran from 2000 to 2006, a fictional Democratic regime in counterpoint to the Republican reality, able to treat on many of the same matters but to give an alternative perspective. Itís greatest achievement was perhaps to get commissioned at all Ė how many people would willing consider as suitable Saturday night viewing a program whose signature is the complexity of government administration?