Why we are fixated with the USA downunder

I got a message on Facebook yesterday “Graham, I just want to ask you why you get so interested in American politics. It seems crazy to us, so I wonder why do you care so much?”

A while later I was told that a co-worker arrived at a clients yesterday 11/6 USA time and was greeted with a hug and a “YESSS OBAMA won”, then shown the champagne corks! They had friends come over and had pizza and champagne celebration… these people are anthropologists and international film makers.

So YES we care a lot down under. As the election results became obvious my Facebook feed became frenetic with friends from around the globe celebrating in the main, but a few unhappy with the news. Two minutes earlier I had posted on Facebook “4 mOre years!” I had four computer screens open and two tablets updating various news feeds and although the majority were giving an 82-88% prob to Obama, Fox New was holding hard to a 92% win for Romney. Having read Nate Silver earlier , I was sure that it was Obama. Sure enough within a minute of my posting “4 mOre years”, the networks were claiming an Obama win. One USA Facebook friend, an Obama supporter, though remained unsure posting the newspaper picture from yesteryear of Dewey defeats Truman.

So why do Australians and many others around the world take such an interest in the USA Presidential Election.

Firstly, it has been featured in our news coverage for the past two years. We get almost as much TV and radio coverage of the leadup, party nominations and withdrawals, caucuses, primaries and nominations as our own local politics at local, state and federal levels.

So our media feeds it to us. But some background. I came to Australia in 1966 as a 7 yo from the UK. Ties with the motherland were still strong. We loved the USA for their aid in WWII, but the ANZAC tradition and our love for the Queen dominated.

But, over the next 10 years, the landscape changed. Vietnam, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Sesame Street, Batman, Superman, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Easy Rider, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Mash, Woodstock and an increasing range of USA TV shows and the golden arches intruded into the Australian, and the global landscape.

Our diggers fought and died alongside US troops in Vietnam. We laughed at Monty Python mocking Americans:

Shut up! Shut up you American. You always talk, you Americans, you talk and you talk and say ‘Let me tell you something’ and ‘I just wanna say this’, Well you’re dead now, so shut up.

Youtube blocked by Universal pictures :(

But we were entertained and brainwashed with Star Wars and ET, et al. Elvis, Frank Sinatra, Neil Diamond, and so many other singers were in our record collections.

Seriously though, the cold war and the slow rise of China also meant that we counted on the USA as a good friend and ally. Our cars in the main were Ford and General Motors Holden before Toyota and Mazda became the car du jour.

I first learnt to use a personal computer on a Tandy TRS80, before becoming a proud owner of a UK ZX80. But Apple and IBM and IBM clones soon dominated the computing field. We looked to the USA as the tech developer of the world.

Alongside TV and Movies, Time magazine, Life and Newsweek also informed us of the American way. We enjoyed voyeuristic coverage of the Clinton years. And then watched the conservative win of President Bush.

Come 9/11 and we all became Americans. 373 non USA citizens died – 11 Australians – of the 2,752 death toll. The Australian Prime Minister was in the USA at the time, and stood alongside President Bush. We awoke down under on 12/9 to endure a day of repeated loops of the twin towers. Many Australians were traumatised, as the idiot box suspended normal programming to ‘keep us up to date’ with what had happened 12 hours earlier. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq moulded our relationship into a deeper friendship. We learnt more about America.

Secondly, the rise of the internet, blogs, bulletin boards and chat rooms led to international friendship with strangers who became close friends sharing joys and sorrows, hopes and fears. We care about you guys! And thus fed almost 24/7 news coverage by our media, our USA friends on social media, and our close ties we invest time in keeping track of the election coverage and results.

I noted in my blog of my first overseas trip in 2004, how little was unfamiliar and strange to me. TV and movies have shown anyone in their home the wider world. From the experience of airtravel to the sights and sounds of other countries. We know New York, Texas, California, Florida and other states from our TV’s and Movie viewing.

I and many others have lived vicariously through Sean Pauls’ blogging of his travels. I still remember vividly flying across Mongolia and seeing the sparse settlements that I had seen in photos…

The world is now a small place. The internet allows instant access to news. I posted a picture here of Felix Baumgartner landing within seconds of his feet touching the ground. A freeze of the live feed on youtube, a screen capture and the post was done, as I had already started creating the post. No waiting for the nightly news or the picture in tomorrows newspaper…

So we follow events in the USA in the immediate moment. We love Americans and wish you well. Your choice of President will impact globally. I still do not fully understand the Nobel Peace Prize award, and have some disdain for the multitude of drone attacks the past year. We have moved beyond gun ownership and the death penalty down here, and our electoral system has drawn some admiration from your current ambassador. So we have our differences.

Personally as a loud and proud Roman Catholic, I am pro-life; but am so disillusioned that so much energy is expended against abortion whilst it is ok to send young men off to die in wars, and the incarceration statistics for the USA seem so huge. Although the recent murder of Jill Meagher in Australia has me rethinking how we treat known offendors, with multiple rape offenses. No links due to Australian judicial process.

Recently our Prime Minister has noted how fixated the Australian media is with the USA and called for more coverage of our Asian neighbours. It was somewhat amazing to read the Chinese preference for Romney. We believe Hope and Change are still possible.

I guess our common language, our democratic processes and similar culture is more palatable to support your Democrat POTUS. Gee, y’all we even have Costco down here now!

But show us Aussies some pity. It’s less than a year now until our next Federal election. So the avalanche of politics on the internet and TV will continue for us!

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