One of my favorite films growing up in Germany was An American Tail, the story of a little Russian mouse who immigrates to America, while being regaled of tales that “there are no cats in America”. Cheesy concept, great movie, bad message.
At the time, the sheer silliness of the idea of “no cats” (i.e. that in America everything was better) made us children all laugh, but in the end it was actually reinforced by the movie. America did have cats, but other than that — everything really was better. America was like the rest of the world, but better. Americans were cooler, richer, better-looking, smarter, faster, taller, and they could even leap buildings in a single bound before they went home to chase buffalo around their ranch.
When I moved to America myself, as a teenager, I was initially skeptical of this. America seemed rather dingy and dirty to me. People here threw their trash out of the window when they drove down the street, sexual perversion had been completely normalized in society, obesity was rampant, the entertainment was full of mindless violence, the people were loudly religious but badly behaved, the news was full of faux-outrage and titillating details about Monika Lewinsky, there was an obsession with guns that I found completely puzzling, and the children at school were taking all sorts of strange drugs that I hadn’t previously even heard of (like Ritalin). I moved to America just in time for Nirvana, and it was a bit of a let-down.
That’s alright. After a few years, I adjusted as best I could and life moved on. I got used to people asking me why Germans stink and mocking me for my interest in bizarre European hobbies like studying history or following the international news. I learned to not listen. But I also never stopped being deeply homesick — despite the incredulity of the Americans around me — and moved back to Europe when I was 18, leaving my parents and sibling behind.
For the next ten years, most of what I learned about America, I learned through American news sources. Not just television news, but also newspapers, magazines, the internet, and books. I assumed that if I could keep track on what was happening in Germany by reading German materials, I could keep track on what was happening in America by reading American materials. Boy, was I ever wrong. The impression I got, of a land of milk and honey, of a land in which there really were no cats, was so far off of the mark as to be laughable.
I’d become rather disenchanted with the good ole USofA after living there, but after 9/11 I felt like I owed them the benefit of the doubt again. I had been a moody teenager. Maybe it wasn’t really so bad. My family was still there and swore that it was great. Let’s move back!
So I’m back now… I’ve been here for nearly five years… and I am preparing to leave again. The disappointment has been all the greater because I fell for the ruse for the second time. How could I be such a fool… twice?
It is easy to be fooled. Most Americans — on both sides of the political aisle — are fooled. It is hard not to be turned into another True Patriot when you are immersed in American marketing, spin, and propaganda. The sheer bizarreness of many American political decisions seems perfectly sane when you’re living in the American Asylum. America has become a place where no dissenting opinion is tolerated; where there is no official free speech restrictions, but say the wrong word and a mob of vigilantes will turn your life into hell.
Where the opposition is loud and passionate, but very intellectually limited. Where the liberals vote for more drones (and more guns) and the conservatives vote for more guns (and more drones), while everyone prances around the fact that the country is impoverished and the women are so degraded that they murder their own unborn children at a rate and in a fashion that I cannot even convince Germans is real.
It’s true — Germans have a reverse-propaganda view of America. The American news reports seem real to them, but the foreign reports of the state of America seem like a farce to them. Americans can’t really be that depraved, violent, fat, perverted, ignorant, or poor… can they? It’s all lies!
Everyone here, regardless of party, fights for the cause of liberty — a veritable dictatorship of liberty. A tyranny of liberty. Enough liberty to blow the entire world to smithereens, incarcerate every woman’s son, and turn every man’s daughter into a whore. And in that Great New World that the Americans are creating… the world that will emerge from the ashes of liberty… there will be no cats.
I’ve decided that I don’t really mind cats that much, so I am returning to Germany next year. There I will make sure to be pleasantly smelly, recycle my cans, conserve electricity, sweep my porch, walk the street without fear, and discuss politics with people who don’t see it as something akin to a football game. I still love America, but I don’t like it very much; sort of like a mother whose son has turned into the town bully.
So I will leave. I will ignore the Americans shouting across the ocean that I just hate them for their freedom. I’m jealous. I’m a coward. I must just like girly-men who don’t run around on the weekends pretending to be Rambo. I just can’t handle the truth!
The truth is: I’ve been here. I’ve seen the cats.