Monday, May 3, 2010

Media Monday: A Little Distance

One of the most interesting things about my experience of living outside the US these past few months has been to learn how other people view Americans and American culture. Now, bear in mind that I am in a Western country, a close ally of the US, with a socialist government. We've all heard a lot about how people live in countries like this one--France, the UK, Germany, etc.--both good and bad. For better or worse, people tend to be secular; marry late; have very few children; enjoy a somewhat wild party life; and foster relatively liberal views of alcohol, drugs, and sex. I'm not making a judgment of any of those perceptions, just stating them.

Apparently, many people outside the US think that we Americans are actually the libertine ones. Since I've been here I have seen some pretty wild behavior. Women regularly wear clothes reserved in the US for members of the oldest profession. Walking down the street can be like a glimpse into what the British call a "lad mag" (like GQ or Maxim) between the overpowering sexuality of the women and the hot-off-the-runway clothes worn by the men. It's like nothing I have ever witnessed in the US in the country or the city (including New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco). So why do those in my midst think that they are the conservative ones? The answer is simple, and they'll tell you all about it:

American digital media.

Americans love the party life. On screen. It's glamorous, exciting, wealthy, beautiful, uninhibited--everything we think we want--but as long as it stays on the movie screen or the television, it's safe too. You don't have to worry about STDs, violence, or a broken heart when you live vicariously through a movie star. We Americans know, for the most part, that it's all fake. We have real America in our own lives and right outside our front door. But if your only experiences of American culture are Survivor, Nip/Tuck, and the latest summer blockbuster, you'd have a different perspective too.

From the foreign perspective, Americans are overly competitive, obsessed with our bodies, promiscuous in the extreme, and unimaginably wealthy (as in we "all live in Beverly Hills"--a local friend once asked us how many servants we had back in the States!). They also see us as childish, in part because we have the incredible luxury of a 5-day work week (here the work week takes up 6 days), but also because this culture (and many European cultures) view slapstick comedy, science fiction, animation, and computer/video games as childish. They don't understand when Americans balk at the idea of movies like American Pie being for kids. When it comes to sexuality, some think that American pornography is a realistic depiction of American sexual behavior (another friend here was shocked to learn otherwise).

Unfortunately, given the elements of our culture that Americans choose to export, it is increasingly easy for me to understand why other cultures look down on ours and have a poor opinion of Americans overall. So how is this relevant for Media Monday on the Asperger Society Blog?

As parents, we are responsible for how our children acquire culture. We teach them values, behaviors, belief systems, social skills. This is especially true for parents of Aspies, since those with AS often have trouble learning these things from experience. And we all know we have our work cut out for us with all of the other influences competing with our own, from school to soccer to the Internet.

So here's a thought experiment for you this week:

  1. Make a note (mental or on paper) of what your child views (Internet, games, television, movies, print media), especially in terms of images.

  2. If you had no other experience of American culture, what messages would those exposures on your list send about beliefs, values, social mores, and behaviors?

  3. How do those messages mesh with your actual beliefs, values, social mores, and behaviors?

  4. Are any of the messages found in item 2 reflected in your child's behavior?

You will not necessarily find a correlation between media exposure and your child's behavior (positive or negative), but if you do, it might reflect whether your child has difficulty distinguishing reality and fantasy.


  1. The role models on TV and in popular culture affect all children (and adults), not just the ones recognized as Aspies. Thanks for another very insightful post.

  2. You're absolutely right! Everyone absorbs the input to which they are exposed. That's how we acquire culture.