The TV-series Homeland, about CIA-agent Carrie Mathison, recently aired an episode which played partly in Amsterdam. It was interesting to see Amsterdam through a Hollywood lens. Our men weren’t portrayed as overly aggressive, we women not as utterly submissive. Nor was our country seen as a destitute plane of nothingness where nothing will ever grow. Our children not as starving and needing help from people with a different skin color. And our youth not as drug and gang criminals.
Still, it’s in the details. And the details were just off. As one guy tweeted afterward: “What was up with the knocking on the door? Don’t they think we have door bells?” And that’s exactly how sensitive these things are.
We all watch American TV series – and not just in Amsterdam. When people visit the US for the first time, they will say: “It felt strangely familiar.” And for people like me it is easy to come and visit. We buy a ticket, we get a visa, fly over for a few weeks, and then gladly return to our own country, where we talk among our friends on how Americans can’t eat with fork and knife, on how big many Americans are, and how rare it is to see people walk or bike over there.
Did you know Americans make only for 4% of the world’s population? There are 7.3 billion people on this planet and some 319 million of them are Americans. I looked it up because I had read somewhere that 9% of all people are white (never mind the most obvious questions: how does one count these things? And why on earth would one want to?). It made me realize that for an astonishing large part of the world population, the US is simply off limits. That’s a scary thought for someone who expects to be allowed anywhere anytime.
Only 4%. You wouldn’t have guessed if you consider all the American TV shows and media stating that if someone is the best in New York, he’s the best in the world. Actually, I loathe such statements. It makes me aggressive. And I’m always surprised, just as I was when I watched Homeland the other night, at how strong that feeling is. Generally, I like the passion of Americans to be passionate about something and to strive and do better, and I love the American journalists we invite to come to Amsterdam and that have made me into a better journalist today.
But when made into a caricature, it just feels like the other person is utterly, utterly uninterested in who you are. I guess in the end, we all want to be seen as the persons we are.