King's Evangelical Divinity School

3 March 2010

Blog From America 11 (random observations)

Flying to Minneapolis tomorrow and driving across Michigan today. In the meantime, I thought I'd share some random observations of American life, culture and chatting with people while travelling over the past two or three days. First, I thought it was only in the UK where all too frequently one comes across five or six workmen at roadworks standing around sipping tea and watching a solitary worker dig a hole with a pickaxe. But it happens here too! I suspect the tea has been replaced with the ubiquitous weak coffee Americans drink by the gallon, and they probably chat about "those Dodgers" rather than "the United", otherwise the frustration you feel after sitting in a long queue of traffic for half an hour then pass the work crew responsible for the delay is exactly the same.

Television isn't up too much. News is highly parochial, very much soundbite-driven, while the number of adverts is ridiculous. Sometimes adverts breaks are literally just a few minutes after the last one, usually with no warning. You come to the end of a scene of a programme you're watching, then the very next second you're trying to work out why someone is talking about buttermilk biscuits and how this relates to the film's murder plot. Plenty of sitcoms and other stuff Americans do well (and badly), but news analysis and quality documentaries are few and far between. So yesterday evening I ended up watching Mexican TV instead, which was interesting. They broadcast their version of Candid Camera or You've Been Framed, where this fellow was stopped by a couple of Mexican policemen, they engineered a fight with a passerby, and then all chaos erupted. The fight became real, the actor policemen had to pretend to draw their guns and stop the victim from swinging out. When they finally told him he was on film it was a complete anticlimax, so angry and despairing was the target of the joke, and it took a good five minutes to calm the chappie down. Only then did the laughing begin, by which stage it wasn't that funny. 

The economic situation has hit parts of this country pretty bad. I've spent the last week or so in the Midwest, sometimes referred to as the Rust Belt. A former industrial heartland, it fell on hard times some decades back, hence the nickname. But this latest economic downturn appears to have affected disproprotionately this area. Visiting Toledo, Ohio (my wife's home town) I noted various businesses and restaurants which had closed. I've also noted a great deal of support ebbing away from Obama's presidency. Meanwhile, the health care issue is a hot topic here. I assumed many poorer folk would have been sympathetic to a change which brings the government into health care, but actually I've met and spoken with various working class people who don't want Obama's health care reforms. When pressed, two reasons in particular are cited. First, people fear a loss of choice in the provision of their health care. Currently, the health insurance companies have the final say over which procedures you can have. But people fear the government would limit the  procedures they are currently entitled to. Actually we've seen this in the UK with people being denied life-saving drugs because they are too expensive. Second, and more generally, people simply don't want the government involved in the provision of health care. Many people do not see this as the government's job, and this view is in keeping with an American tendency towards smaller government, compared with the UK political system which is broadly (though weakly) collectivist. Of course, there are others here who take a different view, but I'm simply explaining why I've learned so many people strongly oppose Obama's plans for health care reform.

Finally, Monday's USA Today had an opinion piece on liberal Protestantism in the U.S. and its impact on society and social change in the twentieth century. Clearly, the author writes from this angle and I believe his view that a decaying liberal Protestantism will undergo a transformation and survive by reinventing itself is fundamentally flawed. After all, the religious movements enjoying the greatest success here are conservative Catholic and Evangelical churches. Nonetheless, the article is interesting and worth reading. It can be found here.


Anonymous said...

"...ubiquitous weak coffee Americans" I'd have you know that I drink a strong solid home made espresso every morning ;-)

Are you going to make it to California at all? I would love to spend some time with you if at all possible.


Calvin L. Smith said...

Glad to learn of another American who likes properly strong coffee (I've met a few).

Would love to get to CA (been some years since I was there), but unfortunately not on this current trip. Having itinerated the US yearly in the late 80s and early 90s, but since working on other things and thus only visiting the US every two or three years to speak at one or two churches and venues, I'm now beginning to work towards developing a regular speaking visit to the US at various churches, so we'll see what transpires. Speaking invitations gratefully sought.

Rev'd Christopher B. Smith said...

I like soundbite news - it's almost as good as soundbite theology, a technique my son says I am good at! I also like American coffee, and what is so good is that they don't charge for a refill.
Be good to see you home.