An Issue to Savor

By Kramer, Gina | The Humanist, July 1999 | Go to article overview

An Issue to Savor


Kramer, Gina, The Humanist


I'm well acquainted with the look: the sidelong glance with raised eyebrows from the mailman as he quizzically hands me the several hundred pages that comprise the most recent edition of a magazine devoted solely to foreign policy; the furrowed brow, perplexed stare, and tentative "Oh ... that's nice" that inevitably follows my declaration of a fascination with all events current and foreign. Yes, in a nation that likes to consider itself quite tolerant of quirks, idiosyncrasies, and differences among its citizens, my willingness and desire to plunge headfirst into this seldom-explored topic marks me as a bit odd, straying a few steps too far from the mainstream.

In a country seemingly consumed by political scandal and economic uncertainty, eaten away by controversies over issues ranging from the trivial to the crucial--a crusade to improve education, the specter of an uncensored Internet, declining morality in society, maintaining security in an armed world--what morsel of time, interest, and concern remains on the brimming American plate? All too often, the response seems clear: our glut of national problems creates a collective feeling of indigestion and, in its wake, apathy, leaving only the most meager of crumbs devoted to international concerns and friendships. Yet as some prophets with a rare palate for the global picture now announce, this situation begs immediate diagnosis in plain layperson's terms: we all suffer from a dangerous case of inflicted ignorance that jeopardizes our security, threatening upset the table of foreign relations, while turning the minds of our allies and enemies alike toward a viewpoint that not stomach the United States' peculiar brand of self-absorption.

Living in a country perhaps most pointedly (and accurately) labeled as the "land of the infomercial," I join millions of other consumers in admitting to occasionally watching these perpetually entertaining displays of brash hucksterism and the latest marvel. Behind every money-back guarantee and too-good-to-be-true promise, however, lies a surprisingly serious theme: inflated ideas often conceal a disappointing reality. Just as your average insomniac desperately hopes that, just maybe, this time at least, those knives will really live up to their late-night television reputation and cut through both steel tomatoes, so, too, do many of us cling to the belief that, maybe, this time around, isolationism will prove effective. In life as in marketing, however, those wonder blades never do slice like they're supposed to, and that seemingly ingenious and simple theory never approaches a coherent and effective policy.

Even though it was tried often and proven impractical before both World Wars I and II and in many other eras, becoming self-contained still seems to many a magic pill to reduce the budgetary waistline, shed our need for military interventions, drop excess worries from our national plate. And in past decades, we have been remarkably convincing salespeople of this concept to one another. Searching for evidence of our success? Just open most any magazine or newspaper and wade through pages of local news, sports scores, horoscopes, television reviews, and cartoons in what resembles a mission impossible: to locate and read the international page. A local newspaper I read daily generally devotes all of three-quarters of one page to summarize the thousands of events that had the misfortune to occur beyond U.S. borders. Time magazine itself reports that last year only one foreign news story graced its cover--a substantial decline from only a decade ago, which saw nearly a dozen such issues. While a fascination with domestic laws, politics, crime, and celebrities seems understandable and even normal, clearly the public doesn't digest a balanced or healthy diet.

When looking for a scapegoat, however, the media can't assume all the credit, because disappointing sales spur editors conscious of the bottom line to abandon the "stale" foreign coverage in favor of juicy national items. …

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