Watching the Defective

by has for some months been part of a nutritious media breakfast, serving daily doses of U.S.-focused news and commentary from abroad to an America unwholesomely satisfied with the view from up its own ass. And now that Katrina has plunged us deeper than ever into the warm, fecal waters of national self-examination, it’s especially refreshing to step away to perspectives so distant, at times, as to render exotic even such familiarly American phenomena as, for instance, screwed-over black people. “There are some interesting and heart-wrenching stories about this race, which they call ‘Negro,'” explained analyst Dr. Shahram Mohammednejad last week to viewers of the Iranian News Network’s Katrina coverage. “Surely you know that up to 50 or 60 years ago, blacks had to sit at the back of the bus. Martin Luther King’s mother was the first to have the courage to sit at the front. That started a revolution. [King] was eventually assassinated by the CIA.”

As such B-minus homework suggests, of course, the risk of a site like Watching America is that the average American know-nothing might come away from it confirmed in his belief that foreigners know even less. Indeed, given the quantity of unabashed conspiracy theory on display here (the CIA/Mossad/Freemasons blew up the World Trade Center, says one Arab talking head after another; the Nicole Kidman vehicle The Interpreter is part of a plot to destabilize the Mugabe regime, says the Zimbabwean state press), you half suspect the site itself of conspiring to make non-Americans look asinine. But what then to make of the incisive, knowing critiques relayed from Taiwan, from France, from Mexico? “[If] the United States didn’t exist it would have to be invented, so that other countries would find it harder to conceal their own defects and inconsistencies,” writes one Parisian daily. And the fact that that’s supposed to be a defense of the U.S. (from pro-American Le Figaro) suggests just how indefensible we’ve become.

This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on September 13, 2005

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