From "Fifty Shades of Grey" to "Three Stooges," America still baffles the world

The Three Stooges are reborn, Americans design fashion for concealed weapons, and readers line up for “Fifty Shades of Grey.” The world scratches its head. Photo: E.L. James on "Fifty Shades of Grey" book tour AP

BORDEAUX, May 17, 2012 — It is rare to see ourselves as others see us, and maybe that’s just as well. It can be a shock. But American expatriates, now numbering 5.2 million, live daily with this clarity of vision, like it or not.

So when I flew into Boston from my home in Bordeaux the other day, I was hit over the head with promotional TV spots for the new movie “The Three Stooges,” a work of homage to a comedy team so unfunny as to scarcely qualify for the term. Only in America, where a return to childhood seems to be the best hiding place for stressed-out adults, could so much money be wasted on “knucklehead” slapstick. 

The Los Angeles Times, striving to support its local industry, strained to find redeeming features in the film, finally advising moviegoers to “shut down the thinking side of their brain” while watching it. The film took in just under $10 million its first weekend. 

Knuckleheads At Work

The Three Stooges 2012 movie poster

Like any visitor from Mars would be, I was next brought up short by the running saga of President Obama’s security men getting in trouble with hookers. This story, which gives new meaning to the words “secret” and “ service,” plays simultaneously to the sanctimonious and the envious. But in a strange way it connects with Moe, Curly and Larry.  President Obama called the offending agents “knuckleheads.” Had he been watching the movie? Oh God, I hope not.

Martians aside, no other country on our planet has such a love affair with guns. Owning one is not enough. A friend tells me her boss at the office has “about three guns” for each member of his family. He has a wife and three children. That sounds like 15 guns.

At least he will be stylishly dressed when he decides to use one of them. The men’s fashion industry is proud to advertise new lines of clothing with extra pouches sewn in to hold concealed weapons — guns, knives, you name it.  One jacket has front pockets so you can warm your hands while secretly pointing your pistol at someone, anyone.

About seven million Americans are now licensed to carry concealed weapons. That figure could easily be doubled to include the unlicensed gun-toting Second Amendment buffs. Europeans shake their heads and many simply stay home.

Americans Unzipped

What are Americans reading? A librarian friend south of Boston tells me more than 450 people are on the waiting list in her network for “Fifty Shades of Grey.” Meanwhile, for the busy reader, The Daily Beast has helpfully excerpted the best “naughty bits.”

In our era of information glut, aren’t we supposed to depend on old-fashioned print media to get it right? Then what were the New York Times deskmen smoking when they identified on page one Senator Harry Reid as Speaker of the House? John Boehner would have choked on his mocha smoothie if he had read that, which he probably didn’t, because, as all good Republicans know, you can’t believe anything the Times says.

The best Republican comment came from Romney’s wife in a radio interview a couple of weeks ago. Asked if she didn’t think her husband was a bit stiff to be challenging the Charmer-in-Chief in November, she said yes, it’s about time to “unzip him and let the real Mitt out.”

And finally, Islamic sensibilities have intimidated most European countries so thoroughly that any mention of Mohammed is discouraged — to avoid giving offense. God help anyone who might draw a picture of him.

The U.S. seems slightly less spooked by the bearded ones, however.  One teacher in the Boston suburbs saw no problem with sixth-grader’s project on understanding Islam. The girl created a cow called Moo-Hamed and provided a fine drawing of the Prophet as her illustration.

And the world scratches its head.

Michael Johnson is an American journalist and writer based in Bordeaux, France. He also writes for the International Herald Tribune and American Spectator.


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Michael Johnson

Michael Johnson is a American journalist and writer based in Bordeaux, France. He also writes for the International Herald Tribune and American Spectator.


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