Australia: America’s lacky or just good friends?

Luke Thompson

In an episode of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” the $100 first question asked for the capital of Australia. Perhaps a little difficult for a first question by the show’s standards, but hardly unreasonable for some contestant who, at least supposedly, wants to be a millionaire. Right? Well, even with four options to choose from, the contestant didn’t know, so he decided to poll the audience and subsequently went with the audience’s overwhelming choice, Sydney. Don’t feel too bad if you would have made the same mistake. The correct answer, Canberra, got only 2 percent of the vote. We State-siders are a bit infamous for our tendency to remain cheerfully oblivious of the other 5.75 billion or so people on the planet. At its most ambitious, this column will attempt to provide a somewhat painless way to help remedy this, at least in the down under department. But don’t worry, you won’t learn anything new just yet. I have all semester to prattle on about meat pies, dijeridos and all those other unique pieces of Australiacana, but here I’d like to give perhaps the best explanation of the country that I can in a short time. I’ll do this by telling you that you basically already know what Australian life is like. Understandably, much is said about the fantastic diversity of human life across the globe. In fact, expect a column or two from me with the “viva la difference” theme. But, here I’d like to set the record straight. The fact that Australians eat Vegemite does not justify the perception that living there constitutes a completely different way of living. In all the important ways, the Australian lifestyle is exactly the same as the American one. But wait a minute, you say. You’ve seen Crocodile Dundee, and you happen to know that not only are Australians different from Americans, but, in fact, they are so much different that their submersion in U.S. society results in a multitude of hilarious cultural clashes (i.e. the radical discrepancy in our conceptions about what does and does not constitute a knife). Much of what you probably think you know about Australia is going to have to be unlearned. First of all, the behavior of people like Steve Irwin, the Crocodile Hunter, Crocodile Dundee and all other people with the word “crocodile” in their name is considered freakish here, just like it is in the States. Secondly, keep in mind that despite the fact that Australia is situated on the opposite side of the world, this does not result in a Star Trek-like “reversed polarity” or Superman “Bizarro World.” Yes, the water spirals down the drain in the opposite direction, and the sun casts your shadow the other way, but people don’t wear shoes on their hands and, chances are, no where on Australian shores will you run across your evil doppelganger. Finally, dingoes rarely, if ever, eat babies, Tasmanian devils are unspeakably disappointing in real life, and there are absolutely no “bootings” for convicted criminals (yes, they’ve all seen that Simpsons episode, and they hate it). So, what is Australia if it isn’t home to the crocodile wrestling, Fosters guzzling, kangaroo riding weirdos we see on TV from time to time? Well, in most ways it’s like the good old USA. Chalk this up in part to the fact that Australia has been thoroughly Coca-Colonized—conquered by the American juggernaut of commercial imperialism. A huge proportion of the products and services we use are just as prevalent down under, even ones we may consider obviously and uniquely American. America Online and American Express are two obvious examples. In one of our most recognizable cultural icons, we are even outdone by the Aussies. There are more McDonald’s per person here than in any place in the world. Media follows the same pattern. On Saturday nights, catch “Australia’s Funniest Home Videos” (the theme song is just the same: “Australia, Australia, this is you!”). But, Australians don’t even need to change the name to latch on to our culture. The success here of “American Pie,” “American Beauty,” and “American Psycho” is evidence of that. Even, “Any Given Sunday,” Oliver Stone’s football drama, recently did big money here at the box office and the Australian Broadcasting Company has been airing the Ken Burns documentary series “Baseball” despite the fact that the sports at the center of these works are basically non-existent in Australia and quintessentially American. In foreign affairs, Australia has backed the United States on basically everything since World War II. The Chinese government recently accused them of being America’s lackey. It is one of the only nations on earth that supports the U.S. missile defense system. Ideologically, Australia prides itself on being a more egalitarian alternative to the English class society from which it derived – a place where everyone is given equal footing. Of course, in reality this ideal frequently is not manifest. Sound like any other country you know? Standard of living, personal freedom, social norms? They’re all about the same as ours, really. In “Pulp Fiction,” Vincent Vega quips, “It’s the little differences” about living abroad. “Little” indeed. Perhaps disappointingly, Australia offers basically the same lifestyle as the United States. Viva la equivalence! Luke Thompson is a senior in English from Fort Dodge.