Singer Tony Bennett has hopped on the bash-the-U.S. bandwagon, though in not directly political fashion, but rather in a nose-in-the-air snobist artsy “caviar wishes and champaign dreams” elitist sorta way.

The 80-year-old crooner says that America is culturally behind the rest of the world. Somewhere around here I have a CD of Tony’s that I bought while I was trying to expand culturally outward from Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd (it didn’t work and the phase lasted about as long as J-Lo’s first two marriages) that is this close to being smashed to bits and left for dead in a Sturgis port-o-san.

Bennett said that the United States has contributed nothing but jazz music to the world of art and culture.

Says Tony:

“I have traveled around the world to Asia and Europe. They show you what they have contributed to the world. The British show you theatre, the Italians show you music and art, the French show you cooking and painting, and the Germans show you science.”

Maybe the U.S. would have more time to develop culturally if it weren’t engaged a couple times per century in sending potential artists overseas to die in the process of protecting the theater, music, art, cooking and painting from the science.

I think this is where the jazz came from. Jazz is scattered, improvised, jumpy and occasionally wild and disjointed. Jazz is most likely a mix of many different genres that, just as they were begun, the artist was called off to war, and by the time he got back he forgot what he was doing and built upon the first piece with something completely different. Four or five cycles of that and you’ve got a hell of a jazz piece.

Yes, Tony, we Americans don’t have fifteen theaters in every town and don’t drink tea with our pinky extended. Sure we can name The Three Stooges but not the three branches of government (it’s an understandable confusion since the two are most interchangeable), and when we hear “Homer” we think “Simpson” and not “Iliad“, but we have one gigantic contribution to the world: freedom. But it goes beyond that, because Bennett’s statement is just plain wrong.

By the way, we always read about how Americans can’t name this or don’t know that, but have you ever read a similar poll concerning another country? You never read a story with the headline “Italians can name more contestants on Grande Fratello than members of the Court of Cassation.” Of course, as a culturally devoid American, if there are such pieces in foreign magazines and newspapers, I would be unaware of them.

Bennett may wish that America was as bright and cultured as, say, France, but ironically it was a French traveler in the 1830′s named Alexis de Tocqueville, who wrote in his book, “Democracy in America,” that democracy “can only exist until a majority of voters discover that they can vote themselves largess out of the public treasury.”

A Frenchmen warned the United States about the possibility of ending up like…well, France, and we didn’t listen. To that end, Mr. Bennett, we are indeed slowly turning into your beloved Europe.

Culturally, however, we’re not Europe, we’re uniquely American, and America is comprised in no small part of immigrants who were apparently looking to escape European theater, music, art, cooking, painting and science and looking for one thing: opportunity. In America they found that opportunity, and they came up with their own brand of theater, music, art, cooking, painting and science, the latter of which has saved countless lives.

Robert Goddard, Jonas Salk, George Washington Carver, Alexander Graham Bell, Eli Whitney, Samuel Morse, Dr. Jarvik, the Wright brothers and countless others would be fascinated to learn that America has contributed nothing to the world of science.

Robert Johnson would be surprised to hear that American blues isn’t considered a cultural contribution to the planet, perhaps because it’s origins can be traced back to west Africa, a nation that didn’t make Bennett’s “most cultured” list (“Reverend Jackson, white courtesy phone…”).

Norman Rockwell, Ansel Adams, Andy Warhol, John Singer Sargent, Augustus Saint Gaudens, Jackson Pollock, Mary Cassatt and the countless others have obviously contributed nothing to the world of art in Tony Bennett’s opinion.

Let’s not forget the poets who added zero to world culture, like Emily Dickenson, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Robert Frost, Edgar Allen Poe, Carl Sandburg, Walt Whitman, Mark Twain and other meaningless American scribes.

The list goes on and on.

I’ll conclude with this: what is a cultural contribution to America? Taking a stage and singing songs that the vast majority of which somebody else wrote?

Tony, your heart may be in San Francisco, but your head is up your cultured ass.


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