Thoughts on the “American Culture” Debate: Abnormal Summit, episode 37

Something that I have posted before in my facebook page just want to share here.

I love the show, 비정상회담 (abnormal summit or non-summit) and it’s probably the only variety show that I’m still watching. This is one of the memorable scenes because it presents one of many issues that I’m interested in. Had a few discussions with friends and family members regarding this issue and it’s still fascinating to talk about. America the Hollywood.

It all started when Robin (French representative) said that “showing off” is an American culture and Tyler (US representative) intercepted Robin, and asked him: ‘you’re saying the bling bling culture comes from America?’

And then this happened.

[The following is the translated English from Korean. Credits to @southsubs]

Julian (Belgian representative): What happened was, we [Europeans] come from an aristocratic culture. For Aristocrats, hiding your wealth was the common etiquette. So people would hide it in their castle. In fact, in my parent’s generation, the aristocrats would wear dirty clothes. Because wearing your wealth meant you were ‘new money’ and not an aristocrat. In the US, people can easily talk about their wealth. But we really can’t talk about money because Americans have a different concept of money than us. Many Europeans are surprised when they go to the States. Also, in the US, if you go from nothing to becoming successful, there’s the desire to show off.

Ilya (Russian representative): It is from America.

Julian: Because America has many people who became incredibly rich, it became the icon of new money, not saying everyone is like that.

Tyler: Of course there are people who like to show that they have money. If you look at people like Paris Hilton, she buys a Pomeranian puppy for $25,000 but they are characters produced by the mass media. But what foreigners see is of course Hollywood, Los Angeles, Las Vegas or New York. Of course there are people that show off what they have. Surely they must exist in Europe as well –

Robin: You don’t get criticized. If you show off you don’t get criticized [in America]. If you show off like that in France, you get criticized immediately.

Alberto (Italian representative): What Julian wants to say is that in Europe, it’s bad manners to show off your wealth. For Europe, the culture of “showing off” wealth came from America.

Tyler: So you’re saying the change in culture was influenced by America? Then how were you influenced? Are you saying this happened after seeing it in Hollywood movies?

Blair (Australian representative): I thought about it and America had the concept of ‘American Dream’. In those times success was thought to be the result of efforts. So people who succeeded had to show it off, “I succeeded. This is the American Dream”. I think that’s why.

Ilya: What Blaire is saying is right. America had the American Dream. Russia was the same. In the 90s when Russia became a democracy, the American Dream was imported. But the American Dream as Russians see it is to make a lot of money and let everyone around me know just how much. So this is from America –

Tyler: But this… What is the meaning of American Dream is – none of you are American, right? And none of you have parents who immigrated to America. But my father immigrated to America. People who think “I have to go to the US to become rich” is probably few. Also arriving in America is the meaning of American Dream. American Dream isn’t “I made a lot of money so I have to show it off”.

Ilya: That is correct, but Russia’s perspective of American Dream is different.

Tyler: Why is it America’s fault?

Sam (Ghanaian representative): It’s the same for us. American Dream is to make money, come home and show off by wearing bling bling. It’s all because of America.

Zhang Yuan (Chinese representative): I think there must be a reason because before America became number 1 in the world. Europe and China were wealthier back then so when America suddenly grew, we felt a bit of tension. We used to be number 1 but since America became number 1, we have to work hard so that we can later retake the position of number 1. I think we have these thoughts, China and Europe.

Sikyung (host): In America there must be many people in the upper and middle class who also know how to hide their wealth. However, there is this notion ‘capitalism = United States’. Money, success conjure up a certain image about Americans.

Tyler: Have you read ‘The Wealth of Nations?’ Who is the author of ‘The Wealth of Nations’? England. It’s England, it’s Adam Smith.

Hyunmoo (host): Even so, although capitalism originated from England, modern capitalism was developed in America. To say that this was influenced by that American lifestyle is a reasonable point. We’re not saying that all American rich people are like that.

Guillaume (Canadian representative): American Dream seems to have a strong image in LA. Outside LA is very different. There are many humble people –

Julian: I’m saying they can talk about money easily. We don’t talk about money at all normally.

Guillaume: I think that they do that only in LA.

Alberto: What people keep getting confused on – there’s the American Dream that Tyler mentioned – it’s true, I know that very well. In World War II, in some sense, the war ended thanks to America. So poor people encountered American culture for the first time. So many more immigrants began to go to America. We all become like that as we develop. Capitalism didn’t even start there, it started from Adam Smith’s writings. All the countries can’t help but live like this today. We’re not saying that America’s bad.

¦

Basically, about six people agree that:

1. America has a culture of “showing off” i.e. they have the need/desire to show off their wealth

They think that it is a common thing among rich people in America. Julian even compared it with Europe, where “showing off” money is a rare occasion unlike in America. He used an example from his parents’ generation in Belgium where the aristocrats would hide their wealth by wearing dirty clothes.

Blair related this with the American Dream, believing that because of the background of America, people had the need to show off their wealth as a way of showing off the result of their hard work and efforts.

2. Capitalism originated in America

Because the idea of America having a culture of “showing off” they seemed to believe it was reasonable to argue that capitalism came from America and America was the cause of spreading this culture to other countries including Europe.

Tyler’s response:

1. America does not have a culture of “showing off”.

The reason why other people think it is, is because of the false representation of America in the mass media e.g. popular celebrities and Hollywood characters like Paris Hilton (pointed out by Tyler) who had no problem spending a lot of money buying a dog. Tyler argues that there is only a small number of people who act that way and the lavish lifestyle in LA, New York, Las Vegas that are portrayed in the media somehow popularized a certain image of America – including one that the 6 representatives had in mind: wealthy people regularly flaunting their properties and bragging how rich and well-off they are.

Guillaume disagreed by relating to his experience in meeting people in the US and thought many of them were humble, in contrast to what the 6 representatives believed.

2. Capitalism does not originate in America, but from the UK.

As Tyler said, “The Wealth of Nations”, written by Adam Smith, a Scottish moral philosopher and a pioneer of political economy, addresses the issue of how some countries are wealthier than others. It’s highly regarded to have a huge impact on capitalism.

My thoughts on this:

I have my own preconceived notions about America especially back then where my source was MTV, ads, movies and stuff like that — even now, however much I want to say I am not prejudiced, I probably still have my own ideas of what America is. I really have no problem them (the representatives) discussing about their thoughts on America and its so-called culture of showing off, because that’s what the show always does: sharing their views and a general view of the country that they’re representing. This part is totally fine. No one’s view is perfect and free from faults and subjectivity. It is more important that their view reflects the kind of society that they were born to and their cultural lifestyles, that may or may not influence on what they think is normal or abnormal, right and wrong, acceptable or unacceptable.

I’m just saying that their (the 6 representatives) attack on the US, on what they think is the culture, was not sound enough to make a judgment call. It was a criticism on what they believe to be an American culture. While I’m glad that Robin brought up the subject, I was desperately hoping that they would consider what Tyler said into account, not just because he is the US representative, but because of his reasons.

I am by no means pro-America or even pro-some country. However, I find myself supporting Tyler in the whole discussion about the “American Culture”. He is probably the most academic and knowledgeable person in the panel, not because he’s an American, but because it’s who he is. Tyler has always provided examples to either support or reject the motion given. I don’t necessarily agree to everything that he said but I feel most comfortable hearing him speaking (yeah, as if I could understand..well, subtitles did help) because he always gives rational arguments and avoids generalization.

So, do I wish other representatives to have a similar background as his? That’d be another debate, but in this particular case, I kind of wish they do, because it all seems unfair to put the US representative in that position. There is no way you wouldn’t be mad if your country is being accused that way (unless you have no feelings, man), but generalizing to the point where you have to admit something that is not exactly accurate?

Whether America popularized capitalism or not, I think it’s arguable and my cents are probably not enough to offer to this topic. However, solely based on the discussion that they had, I do want to touch on a few things. The 6 representatives were quite convinced that the culture of showing off/bragging was influenced by America because the media says so.

Yeah, that’s the problem, I think. As much as I like to criticize the US (their politics and media etc), I do think it would be unfair to think the Americans are exactly like the ones portrayed in the Hollywood movies. Nor do I think everyone there supports Trump (I really didn’t want to mention his name but), the KKK, capitalism and so on.

Interestingly, some representatives have spoken (previous episodes) how they think it’s unfair that Hollywood portrays e.g. Russians as mafias, Colombia as a dangerous place etc.

I guess, the lack of statistics, data, and actual evidence makes it possible for one to conjure up stories that are believable and convincing. Not to say that I’m always bringing facts and statistics wherever I go but when it comes to serious issues and bringing up claims like this, it’s more than a prerequisite to do so.

And then I was left to wonder:

Is it reasonable to think that the origin of capitalism is in the US based on the media (Hollywood, famous figures on tv, social media, news etc) and few people that you’ve met when these could be false representations of the population?

I think I am reminded again about the danger of relying on these bits and pieces that we cannot be certain, to be true, or perhaps, parts of bigger truths.

Some quotes that I can resonate with, in this particular topic and other ones relating to it:

“I know nothing about Islam so I can’t say anything about Islam.” – Ted

“We make the assumption that everyone sees life the way we do. We assume that others think the way we think, feel the way we feel, judge the way we judge, and abuse the way we abuse. This is the biggest assumption that humans make. And this is why we have a fear of being ourselves around others. Because we think everyone will judge us, victimize us, abuse us, and blame us as we do ourselves. So even before others have a chance to reject us, we have already rejected ourselves. This is the way the human mind works.” – Miguel Ruiz

“I’m for truth, no matter who tells it. I’m for justice, no matter who it is for or against. I’m a human being, first and foremost, and as such I’m for whoever and whatever benefits humanity as a whole.” – Malcolm X

*Abnormal Summit, is a South Korean television program on JTBC. The show features a panel of non-Korean men, living in South Korea, who debate on various topics and “Korean culture, through the eyes of a foreigner,” in a talk show format, in the Korean language.
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