It seems to me that Europe is getting a bad rap Stateside. Oh, their populations are dying out. Oh, they’re being taken over by Muslims. Oh, they’re sissies who get their army provided by America. Oh, the EU is … wait, why don’t we like the EU again? I either forgot, or never knew in the first place.
I just have a couple of completely superficial observations to make, neither of which is an actual rebuttal of the above criticisms. But first off, I just got done watching a movie with Juliette Binoche, whose work I always admire. Now, Binoche is certainly beautiful enough for Hollywood standards, but she’s in her forties now, and I notice that she (and many other comparable actors, male and female) is not retouched or made up in European cinema, nor are these people relegated to sinister/aged/otherwise marginal roles. This is even more the case for Daniel Auteuil. Honestly, I don’t think he’s a bad looking guy at all, but can you even imagine an American film with him in top billing? It’s no wonder he doesn’t work over here; he’d be cast as a villain with twenty lines, twelve of which would be sinister cackles. And yet both are fantastic actors, capable of working in something like the daunting Michael Haneke’s Cache and also much lighter fare, such as Chocolat or The Valet.
All of this is to say that the conditions for stardom seem to be much less superficial and destructive in Europe than in the States. I even read somewhere that public intellectuals like Foucault were treated like stars in France. That’s quite a tall order in a nation where Angelina Jolie serves the point of both Foucault and Gandhi, but still. Perhaps we could start with the airbrushing cult. Couldn’t a semi-intelligent magazine, like (say) Vanity Fair, run a series of photographs of someone who is beautiful, truly and unaided, but perhaps has (gasp) some crow’s feet untouched by Botox?
Here’s another bit. Senator Kit Bond (R-Mo.) recently said, in opposition to the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act, that “nobody in their right mind” believe we can get half our power from wind and solar or “drive a fleet of golf carts” (from an article in Salon). Are you absolutely positive, Senator? Is ownership of an Escalade, a Durango, and a Hummer part of what makes us, essentially, Americans?
Well, probably, at least for now. However, I have been seeing more Smart Cars on the roads, and with the current price-per-barrel of crude, I’m not surprised that the Smart is gathering steam. I had to laugh when I read this review by Salon’s Machinist blog, especially the bits where people ask silly questions like “can it go on the highway?” or “does it run on gas?” I’ve never been all that surprised by the Smart, since I saw absolute droves of them in Italy, Germany, and France during my semester abroad in 2005. Obviously, the Smart isn’t for everyone — large families, construction contractors — but what would be wrong with it for single people, couples without children, etc.? Well, one problem is that our infrastructure does in fact favor a fleet of aircraft-carrier-sized vessels. Everything is so far apart in America that road trips require large gas tanks and plenty of storage space, and the trains and low-budget airlines that Europeans use for long-distance travel either don’t exist or are extremely difficult to get to. The Smart car is built for city driving, but nobody lives in cities here. Instead, our enlightened zoning laws have given us neighborhoods like mine, in which you can’t throw a rock without hitting any one of a host of identical Starubckses and banks, but have to drive twenty minutes to get to a CD shop, an independent coffee house, or the public transit station (and that’s without traffic, which is to say, never).
All of which is to say, we should abolish our zoning code and allow people to build things where they live. New Urbanist communities are a step in the right direction, but as of yet, they’re all pristine yuppie havens in which the cheapest store is Banana Republic and the cheapest sandwich is $9.95. In other words, most people are priced out of them. We need to let these ideas get carried out to ordinary people if we want to see any sort of progress on the pollution/environmentalism issue. Otherwise, people just can’t live without their monstrous oil-burning frigates.