>> People from the East Coast (especially New England) or the Midwest seem to be more similar to the British than, for example, Texans or Californians. <<
Oh, I'm sure you're right. I generally think that New England is probably as different from Texas as Britain is from Greece (not that I'm saying that Greece is like Texas).
I agree with everything that Easterner said, especially with regards to the literature. In my experience, America literature and films tend to be more about entertainment, whilst European literature and films tend to be more about social comment (this is a large generalisation, but it's what I've noticed).
One issue related to this which I don't very often see discussed would be whether Britain has more in common with Canada, Australia, New Zealand or South Africa (considered individually) than with other European countries. Likewise, France/Québec, Spain/Argentina and Portugal/Brazil are examples of other similar comparisons which could be discussed.
>Likewise, France/Québec, Spain/Argentina and Portugal/Brazil are examples of other similar comparisons which could be discussed. [Benjamin]
And have been discussed. That's a major theme of the "Latin" stuff that has been dominating the forum for months. A couple of those threads may have been deleted, but there were hundreds of posts about the sense of kinship among Latins and sense of alienation from "Anglo-Saxons" and "Germanics".
>In short, when it comes to humour, you are more likely to find Americans making fun of or laughing at others, while most Europeans, including the British, are rather good at making fun of themselves. [Easterner]
Actually Americans are put down (your claim is an example) and ridiculed continually by foreigners -- on internet forums, in books, and in movies. From what I've seen, Europeans make fun of Americans far more than Americans make fun of them. When I first got on the internet, and went to the early bulletin boards in various foreign countries, I was amazed at how many posts I came across that ridiculed Americans, using the most simplistic of stereotypes, and almost never contested by the foreigners reading the posts. Americans sometimes ridicule other nationalities too, of course, but in educated circles ridiculing foreigners is usually considered politically incorrect (unless you count immigrants who make fun of themselves). Uneducated persons make some jokes about foreigners, but mostly they just ignore them. Americans are more isolated. They aren't preoccupied with foreigners the way some Europeans seem to be with other nationalities. On this forum who has been doing most of the ridiculing of other groups of people? Very rarely has it been Americans. Mostly it's been Europeans or persons from other parts of the world.
Now on to the part that says, "more likely to find Americans making fun of or laughing at others". Though Benjamin agreed with "everything" you said, you could hardly be more wrong. Are you familiar with American prime-time TV? A good bit of it is humor and satire. About 95% of that makes fun of Americans. Only 5% -- if that much -- makes fun of others. Just a few of thousands of examples from the beginning of TV to current shows: the Honeymooners (Jackie Gleason -- made fun of big city Americans), I Love Lucy (that show also made fun of Desi Arnaz, a Cuban immigrant, but in general his status was greater than that of Lucy, who was portrayed as a scatterbrain), the Andy Griffith Show (made fun of small town Americans), Saturday Night Live (late night show that ridicules everything), the Simpsons, Seinfeld, Family Guy, Raymond, South Park. Check any TV guide, and you will see Americans making fun of themselves every night of the week!
>> And have been discussed. That's a major theme of the "Latin" stuff that has been dominating the forum for months. A couple of those threads may have been deleted, but there were hundreds of posts about the sense of kinship among Latins and sense of alienation from "Anglo-Saxons" and "Germanics". <<
Interestingly, the French do not always seem to view themselves as 'Latin'. I was watching a French breakfast programme on the television a few months ago, where they were discussing the stereotypes which people from other European countries though of the French. They did not go through all countries and they grouped certain countries together. One group of countries was called 'les pays latins' (literally: the Latin countries) and included Italy, Spain, Portugal and (bizarrely) Greece. I interpreted that as an indication that the view that France is a 'Latin' country is not universal in France.
>> Americans are more isolated. They aren't preoccupied with foreigners the way some Europeans seem to be with other nationalities. <<
Because most Americans probably have far less contact with 'foreigners' (I hate that word) than what most Europeans have, for reasons which should be obvious.
Correction: should read 'which people from other European countries HAVE of the French'
On this forum at least most of the French seem to be identifying themselves strongly with the Latins.
>I have spoken to several American people recently who are rather unhappy with the climate of (relative) intolerance there, and would actually be happier if they lived in Europe. [Easterner]
That -- and probably their political opinions as well -- are mostly idle talk. How many of them actually leave? You'd think from your description of their response that the United States consisted of a monolithic establishment that's crushing these pitiful little dissidents. Actually the country is split virtually in half. "Dissidents" make up a large part of the government itself, control most of the educational and entertainment establishment, as well as most of the mainstream news media. Persons who "would actually be happier if they lived in Europe" have the freedom to attack their political opponents (including members of the government), and they do so continually, ruthlessly -- portraying them as being both stupid and evil. Yet strangely enough, some of them believe that they themselves should remain above reproach. Sorry, that's not the way it works in a free country. Both sides get to criticize here. I caution you to realize that with them you're getting just one side of the story. Political animosity can cause otherwise intelligent persons to say all kinds of nonsense. Take what they say with a grain of salt.
"Because most Americans probably have far less contact with 'foreigners' (I hate that word) than what most Europeans have, for reasons which should be obvious. "
Um, because Europe is far away?
>> Should they? <<
I should've hoped so. Almost wherever you are in Europe, another country isn't generally very far away. In the United States, it's a long way to another country unless you live close to the Mexican or Canadian border. I understand that it's quite normal for Americans to have never been outside of their country, whilst it seems to be quite unusual now for British people (and presumably other Europeans, or at least other Western Europeans) to have never been abroad. I assume that the size factor is the main reason for this.
But then again, we know how class-ridden Britain is, so my perception of what 'most British people' will do or will have done may be vastly different from yours if you're from a very different socio-economic background.
[Not a typical story, unusual even for earlier generations]
An elderly cousin of mine, who died towards the end of the past century, lived in South Carolina within a hundred miles of the Atlantic Ocean and within two hundred miles of the Appalachian Mountains. Yet she reached her late eighties without ever having seen either the ocean or the mountains. Some friends who had a car then made a point of taking her to see them both, now just a few hours away by car. As a child, she'd traveled to town in a wagon drawn by a mule (and was embarrassed because the richer folk had carriages). She'd gone to see movies throughout her life, of course, and watched TV, including cable TV, but her contact with the outside world -- even in this country -- was very limited. (I should add that it wasn't that she lacked curiosity. Personal obligations made it difficult for her to travel until, finally, she outlived them. :-)
>American literature, largely speaking, has somehow produced less satyrists than has Europe, with the exception of Mark Twain and some other, less well-known authors. [Easterner]
You're comparing a large number of literatures, in some cases going back nearly a millennium with a single literature going back just a couple of hundred years (written during most of that time by a population much smaller than that of Europe). When Rabelais and Cervantes were writing, there was no United States.
You mention Twain. Twain isn't just a satirist that the United States happened to produce. He's a person who wrote almost entirely humor and satire (some of it extremely sardonic). Yet he's commonly accepted as the country's greatest novelist, with the possible exception of Melville (who wrote some humor himself, e.g., Bartleby, a favorite of mine). Twain, by the way, is one of the most quoted writers on the internet, if I recall correctly, behind only Shakespeare.
I suspect that you're just more familiar with European writers than you are with American ones. Americans have criticized themselves often, using both gentle humor and more biting satire. I could name thousands of examples if I were to resort to listing obscure persons, but that would prove nothing. The list I'm about to give consists only of persons who are relatively famous in this country. Starting at the beginning and in only approximately chronological order, there were Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Paine (English born), both internationally famous. They wrote non-fiction that contains satire (political, social and, in the case of Paine, some incidental religious satire in his Age of Reason). Washington Irving: one of the best known of the early American writers. His most famous works contain humor and satire, though relatively gentle. Edgar Allen Poe: a good bit of biting ridicule in his critical works. Joel Chandler Harris: satire of human foibles and Southern society, most notably through animal stories in the manner of Aesop.
Thomas Nast: cartoonist, specifically political satire. Henry James: moved to the UK, so maybe he should count as British. He wrote The Bostonians, which satirized several 19th-century American social movements. Ambrose Bierce: The Devil's Dictionary, full of cynical definitions. H.L. Mencken (of interest to linguists because of The American Language): in one of my previous posts in this discussion I used the term 'Bible Belt', a term popularized by Mencken, who produced searingly bitter satire aimed at middle America and especially the South. Edgar Lee Masters: Spoon River Anthology, a series of poetic epitaphs satirizing life in small-town America.
Sinclair Lewis: Nobel Prize -- satires of American values (Main Street, Babbitt) and of corrupt evangelists (Elmer Gantry). Alas, in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech Lewis ignored the satire and abundance of serious critical works that had preceded him and helped perpetuate the myth you're repeating by saying, "in America most of us - not readers alone but even writers - are still afraid of any literature which is not a glorification of everything American". Lewis said that despite the fact that he himself was very popular (in my opinion more popular than his talents justified -- his literary reputation hasn't held up very well. Despite his Noble Prize I'll bet that most of the readers here have either not heard of him, or are just vaguely familiar with the name.) Twain, as Lewis well knew, did not glorify "everything American" and yet he's America's most enduringly popular novelist.
American satirists often complain about American intolerance while they themselves are tolerated -- and make lots of money off their denunciations of it. :-) Obviously when the attacks are serious and bitter, those who are attacked will criticize back. That's not intolerance. That's freedom of speech. Contrast this with Europe (and, if I'm not mistaken, with your own country Hungary) where for a good part of the last century much of the political satire of the government and social establishment was underground or had to be done very carefully. Many Europeans didn't have the freedom that people had here -- the freedom to satirize their political leaders openly the way Americans can, and have been able to do without interruption since the 18th century.
Presidents revered now, such as Jefferson and Lincoln -- with big memorials in Washington -- in their time were ridiculed mercilessly by their political opponents. This contrasts with places where there were dictators who insisted that people revere them while they were in power, and who built memorials to themselves. Then when they lost power, those memorials were torn down.
[See Shelley's poem Ozymandias. Also I believe an ancient Greek was asked once why there wasn't a statue of him, and he replied, "I'd rather people ask why there isn't a statue of me than why there is." :-) Or something to that effect.]
More satire of Americans and of the establishment: Joseph Heller: Catch-22, satire of the military and bureaucracy in general. It influenced Mash, the popular TV show about the Korean War with similar themes. Kurt Vonnegut: Slaughterhouse-Five, another satire of the military. Saul Bellow: Nobel Prize, Canadian born, The Adventures of Augie March, picaresque novel. J.D. Salinger: Catcher in the Rye, satire of American society as seen through the eyes of a teenager (modern counterpart of Huckleberry Finn). Philip Roth: Portnoy's Complaint, satire of Jewish-American life and other things. Woody Allen: movies, satire mostly concerning life in New York.
James Thurber: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, some satire, mostly gentle humor. Garrison Keillor: raconteur and story writer, radio show, A Prairie Home Companion, satire of upper Midwest. Jean Shepherd: raconteur and story writer, radio show, satire mostly of American life as seen from a blue collar perspective. Robert Benchley: humorous and satirical essays. Neil Simon: satirical playwright and screenwriter. Tom Wolfe: various kinds of satire, mostly big-city related (The Bonfire of the Vanities, Radical Chic & Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers). John Kennedy Toole: unfortunately died very young but produced A Confederacy of Dunces, set in the South.
I'm sure I've left out some important American satirists. Those are just names that popped into my head, supplemented by some checks of the net, especially to get the titles of the works right. Also a list of famous American writers who seriously -- rather than satirically -- criticized the United States would be even longer. Americans are self-critical, very self-critical. They're more critical of other Americans than they are of themselves, of course, but that's true of Europeans too, true of human beings. Genuine self-deprecation happens but not often. When people criticize the group to which they themselves nominally belong, I suspect that in most cases the underlying message is, "But aren't I as an individual insightful and noble for being able to see the truth about us (really 'them') and having the honesty to say it?" :-)
I greatly appreciate your exhaustive comments. I now admit I have some wrong concepts about American culture, doubtlessly influenced by the fact that I have no first-hand contact with it, and maybe the fact that I have talked (through the Internet) to people with largely (and strongly) anti-Republican sentiments, so I may have a largely stereotypical idea of modern US society as well. As a matter of fact, from what I read ABOUT Americans and BY Americans, and from actual contact with people from the US, I concluded that they are less prone to question or criticise their own values, but that may have put me on a generalised track that leads into a cul-de-sac (with of course always a chance that you can back out of it).
I have read books by some of the authors you have listed (I actually meant Washington Irving, Bierce and Salinger without mentioning them), but you have given me a load of extra-curricular reading sufficient for a long time to come. Our own curricular reading (one term of American literature at university) somehow seemed to focus on the chiefly non-satirical stream of American literature (authors like Emerson, Thoreau, Whitman, Hawthorne, Melville, and others, who of course were deeply critical about some established American values, but with a more philosophical than a satirical focus), with of course the above-mentioned authors included nonetheless. And I admit that I was more familiar with writers like Thackeray, Dickens, G. B. Shaw and Joyce to come to the wrong conclusion that British literature had a more marked satirical "bite" on the whole.
>>American satirists often complain about American intolerance while they themselves are tolerated -- and make lots of money off their denunciations of it. :-) Obviously when the attacks are serious and bitter, those who are attacked will criticize back. That's not intolerance. That's freedom of speech. Contrast this with Europe (and, if I'm not mistaken, with your own country Hungary) where for a good part of the last century much of the political satire of the government and social establishment was underground or had to be done very carefully. Many Europeans didn't have the freedom that people had here -- the freedom to satirize their political leaders openly the way Americans can, and have been able to do without interruption since the 18th century.<<
You are right about this. This is why, in cae of Eastern Europe, satire and criticism has had to be clad into a "subtler" garb, which, by the way, did a lot of good to literature as a whole, because it had to learn to "dance while in bonds" (an expression by an eminent Hungarian poet), leading to new perspectives in expression. Now that there is more freedom of speech and basically no ideological restraints (although some authoritarian instincts of political leadership dating back to Communist times still persist), I feel that some formerly respectable authors or public figures in general have "corrupted" themselves by openly taking sides with a particular political party or ideological standpoint, and the quality of their publihed works has also deteriorated (I mean SOME, not ALL, of course). This may be due to the formerly suppressed frustrations having been let loose all of a sudden, which should remind us that authors are not saints but humans as all the rest. It will take another generation (already emerging) of authors and thinkers to let go of this inheritance, I guess.