Julia Stiles in Save the Last Dance

The Americans

A touching response and homage to the American coming-of-age film. Teenage virginity is a heavy burden. Please help.

Etienne

France's Etienne responds to Kirby’s earlier pheature on European film.

Who is like the Europeans?

Who would not be like the Americans?

To the Europeans, living is an art.

To the Americans, living has a meaning.

You could say that the Europeans celebrate life.

Americans earn a living. That is the meaning of life.

Europeans seldom work.

Americans know that working hard is the answer.

They drink wine all day until the sun goes down and then they drink coffee.

They drink Buds out of the bottle and eat juicy hamburgers; afterwards they get drunk and talk about their new SUVs.

Everything that Europeans say is meaningful.

Americans like to small talk.

They don’t speak, preferring instead to mime, unless they are asked to discourse on the nature of existence.

They have big voices, and like to speak their minds out.

Europeans begin forming complex narratives about the nature of existence during early childhood.

Americans are either bullies or bullied during childhood.

They eat melted cheese with their bare hands.

They eat fluorescent food from 7-Eleven.

They are all, of course, atheists.

Naturally, all of them live in the fear of the gods.

Europeans practically glow with good health.

Americans show bright white teeth thanks to milk and cookies. Some of them are fat, but it is beyond their will.

They consume rare steaks at noon and swallow whole wheels of triple-cream cheese at the day’s end.

They eat numerous hot dogs in New York, or full cows in Texas.

They wash down their meals with gallons of young wine and beer consumed directly from the casks.

Once I saw an American drink wine. But he was from Europe.

They smoke several packs of unfiltered cigarettes during every meal.

Once I saw an American smoke. But he was from New York City.

They smoke as they chew their steak and the taste of the smoke mingles with the steak and the wine.

New York City is the only place where Americans can pretend to be Europeans. Here they are allowed to speak with an English accent—but only if they are in a café, wearing a beret, and listening sadly to existentialist poetry.

For Europeans, life is a celebration.

For Americans, life does not come cheap.

Europeans have an intense connection with the land of their nascence.

Americans have a "stars and stripes" flag on their front porch.

They work the earth and enjoy the fruits of the earth and make love to the earth and make love to each other upon the earth.

They have trouble making love and finding mates because they work too much or do not know how to dress properly at weddings. Most of the time they wear blue tuxedoes and people make fun of them, except for the girl of their dreams.

They tend to have enormous families even though they are cautious during intercourse and take RU-486 immediately following every meal.

They have enormous cars. Plenty of food in it. With hunting and fishing gear and even a canoe. Oh yes, and a dog too. Sometimes even a child.

European women wash down whole bottles of RU-486 with young wine and carouse in the streets in search of mimes and men with creative facial hair.

Blondes from America have sex with their high school’s quarterback, later regret it, and end up marrying the nerd with the golden personality and a huge earnings potential.

They dance the night away in clubs that open at six in the morning and don’t close until mid-afternoon.

They party in frat houses and have fake IDs to drink light beers straight from the keg.

For Europeans, clubbing is a cultural event.

For Americans, getting drunk is one of the surest ways to get laid.

Europeans have so much je ne sais quoi that they make screwing a mime into a cultural event.

Americans think Jerry Lewis is so funny that they still use him as their primary cultural export to France.

At autumn harvest festivals, onlookers cheer as mimes writhe in silent ecstasy while being devoured by existentialist sluts hopped up on RU-486.

Over the years, Americans have started to think that Jerry Seinfeld is well-dressed.

Europeans invented culture.

Americans own culture through AOL-Time Warner.

Europeans make movies about things nobody else can understand.

Americans make movies about things anybody can understand.

Although they invented every genre of music, they choose to listen exclusively to eighties techno.

Although they invented every genre of music, they choose to listen to country music (for white Americans) or rap (for African-Americans).

Europeans know something nobody else knows.

Americans do not have a clue. Yet they find it sufficient.

Because they are celebrators of life, Europeans have created complex ceremonies for each of life’s milestones.

Because life is hard, Americans have tough initiations into adulthood. This is how it goes and you cannot escape unless you are a wuss.

No such milestone is as exalted as the famous "Coming of Age." When young Europeans reach their thirteenth year, they are captured on 35mm being seduced, toyed with, and eventually overcome in love by a distant relative. Even in a rural village, a European father will scrimp for years to pay production fees and directors’ exorbitant salaries in order to capture the tender moments when his teenage daughter is deflowered in the bread closet by her cousin, Gaerta, then six months pregnant. He will work closely with the art director and production team to address such issues as the quality of light in the bread closet: it must be vibrant yet subtle—intense and confusing, as if reflected by a spoon. Gaerta’s hands should appear strong, almost masculine as they make their way darkly into the folds of the daughter’s austere, black frock.

Needless to say, America is a big country, the biggest one in the world. So becoming an adult has diverse paths and ceremonies. In Texas, receiving your first gun means you are a man and can hunt for food or Mexicans. But the most interesting way of leaving childhood is in the suburbs. There, becoming a man means having sex. American girls also want to have sex, but not that much—they can wait until after the wedding. Or the end of a roadtrip, losing their virginity to a handsome guitar player. Or during prom night. And with pretty much anybody. Well, having sex is not much of a problem for girls in the suburbs.

In a nearby city, another young European is depicted in the urgent moments of childhood’s end. Sasha hails from a wealthier, noble family. His father, a successful vintner, has hired Jean-Jacques Annaud himself to film Sasha lying nude on a divan, fashionably glossed lips slightly parted as his robust Spanish aunt and two swarthy male cousins look on in anticipation. Annaud is a master of his craft. Sasha’s expression is breathlessly androgynous and his skin appears taut and dewy, like a young grape on the lee side of a hillock. Nothing happens during the film yet everything is implied. Sasha’s father is pleased.

For guys it is a different story. Girls all get laid during prom nights, but none of the boys do. I am pretty sure American girls are importing European boys for the occasion. American boys have to have sex with an apple pie, because in the U.S. that is the closest to making love (whereas Europeans prefer prostitutes). Anyway, they are all pretty stupid, because they desire the cheerleaders who do not care about boys who are not rich and playing football. And they don’t see the foreign correspondent or the not-too-good-looking-girl-who-is-a-model-with-some-make-up-on-and-a-new-hairdo who are totally willing to give it up. What a waste of time.

Upon completion of the film, the parents of a young debutante feast and revel nightly and con mucho gusto as they await the final step in the coming-of-age process: the screening of the film in America (or, if the picture goes directly to video, which is usually the case, the first rental). But over the years, this final rite has become increasingly difficult to perform on account of a saturated market. American consumers are saying "Stop! We have a limited demand for this sort of product."

Funnily, Europeans seem to never get enough of these soft sex movies. At first, they make offensive remarks about American culture, but after a while, they start enjoying it. Most of the time, they watch movies from America in big empty theatres where it is forbidden to eat popcorn or talk to your neighbors. Then they try to do it as they see it done in the movies, see that it doesn’t work, and then go to a Woody Allen film to forget the pain.

The tragic result of every unwatched coming-of-age movie is a European youth doomed to remain thirteen years old indefinitely—

Obviously, the Americans are young forever. Later, they go to high-school reunions where nobody has changed physically or mentally. And it all happens again.

An apple blossom paralyzed by a late frost
An origami crane crumpled in a child’s palm
A tiger that leaps as if to kill, but only leaps as if
A dog that lifts his leg to pee and then decides not to . . .

Nobody likes us, they’re all jealous
They think we’re dumb, they don’t get it
For in the world, there is only us
And if you’re them, you’re dead meat . . .

The parents of these unfortunates are bound by tradition to feast and revel every night, in some cases until their bloated, cirrhotic demise. Their children are doomed to remain permanently thirteen, permanently confused.

Hence Americans never grow up. And when there is a war going on, they have the experience of playing Cowboys and Indians. Actually, one American is worth twenty warriors of any tribe. Maybe fifty Englishmen, who are mostly gay.

Siblings of these trapped souls are left to weather life’s trials without the shelter that comes from numbers, like solitary baobabs on the pampas.

Most of the time, Americans like to gather in big malls and eat ice cream while talking about sex.

For Europeans unable to complete puberty, the situation is grave indeed.

For the Americans who cannot get laid, life is a bitch.

They need your help.

They need your help.

They must taste the subtle wine of old age if they are to fully celebrate life.

They must taste the "whatever this European stuff is called." Hey, let’s have a trip to Europe, dude! And France too! I heard French chicks are hot. No, dude, they’re lesbians. And they don’t shave. Really, dude? Man, this sucks, we’re never gonna score! OK, let’s go to Tijuana.

Help them celebrate.

Send your donations.

How can they continue to celebrate when they cannot drink the wine of old age?

How can they be cool if they do not have sex before college?

They need to drink that they might celebrate.

It is either fake IDs or dating older people.

The wine is in your hands.

Their virginity is too heavy a burden for their shoulders.

The wine is in your local video store.

Their stories are all over the video stores.

Give them the wine.

Send back Lafayette. And lots of Moulin Rouge girls.

Rent their movies.

Stop reading. Books are bad.

Apply your ears to their ecstatic cries.

Why not rent the entire Carrot Top collection? I have been told the Voice calls it "an elegiac celebration of American youth in the dawn of the 90s."


If you are inspired to respond to this appeal, Etienne suggests you consider the following American exports:

  • Anything with Freddie Prinze Jr., Julia Stiles, Reese Witherspoon, Sarah Michelle Gellar, or any blonde you can think of (Gwyneth Paltrow works, too)

And more seriously:

  • Anything with Michael Alexander or Clint Howard.
posted by editor ::: October 10, 2002 ::: pheatures ::: (2) Comments