We Are the World
[Sorry, the video for this story has expired, but you can still read the transcript below. ]
ANNE TAYLOR FLEMING: What a joy it was to see the world on New Year’s Day. It was hard not to be enraptured as some invisible curtains seemed to be pulled back from the globe, time zone at a time, East to West, while everyone in turn paused before the momentousness of the dawning of the first day of the first year of the first decade of the first century of the brand new millennium.
From Shanghai to Red Square, to a thronged beach in Rio, the world’s citizens were out in force. Who will ever forget Paris, or Nelson Mandela lighting a candle in the prison cell where he spent almost two decades?
Unless there’s some sort of major upheaval or tragedy somewhere, a massive mud slide or avalanche, we don’t see much of the world. We certainly don’t see it doing a normal, celebratory thing, don’t take its measure country by country, people by people. It’s ironic. We think we’re overdosed with news and images, and in a way that’s true. We do live in a 24-hour-a-day drumbeat of information.
But most of that, when you think about it, is about us Americans- – a crisis here, a shooting there, a crime drop everywhere. Of the three main TV networks, two only got really rolling when News Year’s crept up on the East Coast of the United States– Times Square specifically. It was as if they were saying, “forget the world. America is what matters. That’s all people want to see.”
It’s a strange contradiction. The world has shrunk in many ways, due to the media, access to travel, the Internet, the global economy, all of that. But at the same time America, while has been enjoying its solo superpower status, it has in effect narrowed its vision. We don’t see much foreign news on television, or read much about it in the newspapers and newsmagazines. And what news we do see, be it from Russia or Africa or the Middle East, is almost always refracted through an American lens: “How will it effect us, will we have to get involved?
We will have to send money or troops? Will this or that uprising or problem affect our well being, our economic boom? Will it jeopardize our markets, our ability to place products, make a buck?” In short, while expanding our markets, we’ve contracted our view of the world. America triumphant is America myopic, a global Goliath.
That myopia has cost us before. Out of ignorance of other people and other places, we have sometimes misread international situations. We have jumped too fast too often, listening too rarely to others– arguably in Vietnam or more recently, Somalia– or too slow when faced, for example, with the rise of European fascism, or more recently, Balkan ethnic cleansing. And now we can hear, if we listen, the growing rumbles of resentment about our world dominance and the attitude that comes with it from small countries in Asia; from Europe, France in particular; from Seattle, where the city and country were caught surprised by the agitators at the world trade organization meeting. But will we listen? Will we hear? Will we see?
NELSON MANDELA: I hand this flame of freedom to you.
ANNE TAYLOR FLEMING: What we did see, the millions of us who did turn in on News Year’s Day, was not some techno millennial glitch, but a whole world doing a dance in both local and universal vernacular, a pointed if celebratory reminder that America is not the only kid on this miraculous planet, and that the American way is not the only way, and that in the days and years ahead, we had best remember as much.
I’m Anne Taylor Fleming.