A Foretaste of Markovits

On the strength of the essay I linked to a few weeks ago, I ordered Andrei Markovits’ Uncouth Nation: Why Europe Dislikes America.

I did not know that before Markovits published this book in English, he published Amerika, dich hasst’s sich besser (G) in German (the title, roughly, "America, Hating You’s Much Better" is a pun on Goethe’s "America, You Have it Better." An amusing essay of the same name as Markovits’ book is here (G)).

I will try to consume Markovits’ book in the next few days and post thoughts, but here’s a quotation to whet your appetite:

If anti-Americanism has been part of the condition humaine in Europe for at least two centuries, it has been since 9/11 tht the rise of a hitherto unprecedented, wholly voluntary, and uncoordinated conformity in Western European public opinion regarding America and American politics occurred. I would go so far as to characterize the public voice and mood in these countries as gleichgeschaltet, comprising a rare but powerful discursive and emotive congruence and conformity among all actors in state and society. What rendered this Gleichschaltung so different from those that accompany most dictatorships was its completely voluntary, thus democratic, nature. . . .

Here, in short, is the book’s overall argument: Ambivalence, antipathy, and resentment toward and about the United States have comprised an important component of European culture since the American Revolution at the latest, thus way before America became the world’s "Mr. Big"–the proverbial eight-hundred-pound gorilla–and a credible rival to Europe’s main powers, particularly Britain and France. In recent years, following the end of the Cold War and particularly after 9/11, ambivalence in some quarters has given way to outright antipathy and unambiguous hostility. Animosity toward the United States migrated from the periphery and disrespected fringes of European politics and became a respectable part of the European mainstream. These negative sentiments and views have been driven not only–or even primarily–by what the United States does, but rather by an animus against what Europeans have believed America is.

Markovits promises to investigate the extent to which anti-Americanism plays a part in an otherwise commendable "discourse that favors the weak" later in the book.

This, to me, is an often-overlooked contextual factor. If you track Europe’s media, you will notice that they’re more adventurous and worldly than the mainstream American media. One day of watching or listening a week or two ago brought me stories about from genital mutilation in Nigeria, the Naga peoples of northwest India, and Japanese Shinto rituals. Of course, you can find plenty of reporting like this in the United States, but almost none of it in the mainstream news sources that most Americans get their world-view from.

The crusading European reporter delivers the perspective of the weak, the oppressed, the marginalized, and the outsider. Many also highlight outsiders in their own societies, as the innumerable documentaries about German heroin addicts, welfare recipients, immigrants, prisoners, and mentally ill people I’ve seen demonstrate. If you conceive of your mission as a reporter as highlighting underdogs and outsiders who would otherwise struggle and die in obscurity, then you may very well take exactly the converse attitude towards an "overdog." That, in my view, helps explain the shape of media coverage of the U.S., which in turn is an important factor driving anti-Americanism.

That’s what I think. What Markovits thinks, I promise to report toute de suite.

German Words of the Week: Dissen & Cruisen

I’m listening to the radio this morning, and a woman’s talking about the new edition of the Pons publishing house Woerterbuch der Jugendsprache (Dictionary of Youth Language). Some nice examples can be found here (G): Solarium = chick-toaster; coin-operated Mallorca. Fat guy = Sidewalk-tank, Puddingsteamer, Double-Whopper. Weakling: Teletubbyzurueckwinkler – "guy-who-waves-back-at-the-teletubbies."

Two of my favorites were dissen and cruisen (G), which means just about exactly what they mean in English. Now, as we all know, when you want to express a wish or an "irreal" proposition in German, you have to do weird stuff to the verb, like add a -te at the end, change the vowel, or sprinkle a few umlauts over the vowels. As always, the irregular verbs get the weirdest conjugations.

A friend and I derive strange joy from trying to imagine how this mysterious Konjunktiv II Präteritum transformation would look for new German words. Any guesses? I’d guess dissen would be conjugated regularly, so it would just get a -te. But cruisen has a ‘u’ in it, so maybe, in my little fantasy-world, it could get its own very special umlaut: "Ich crüiste mit euch gern, muss aber hausafgaben machen."

What do you think? Am I onto something? And if I am, can’t we trademark the Konjunktiv II Präteritum of new German words, so that we get a couple of Euro-cents everytime someone uses them?