Europe was created by history. America was created by philosophy.
– Margaret Thatcher
I hate seeing Americans in Europe. They are out of place. They don’t belong there, and yet they keep on popping up.
But I’m not talking about actual American tourists / travellers. As I personally found them to be great fun, and far less obnoxious as their arguably un-fair cartoon cut-out stereotype that so called real travellers like to talk about.
I’m talking about American actors, musicians and style-icons being shamelessly prostituted as advertising on European souvenirs. Appearing next to the Eiffel Tower; The Coliseum, even in the Gondola filled Venice. Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, and Audrey Hepburn were the worst offenders, or offended – depending how you think about it.
Take for example, this kitsch Marilyn Monroe and Eifle Tower t-shirt. Or an Audrey Hepburn souvenir that we saw in Paris shop window. What is she doing there?!
Breakfast at Tiffany’s is an American produced film; set in New York, America; written by an American, Truman Capote, starring an American actress, Audrey Hepburn as a fictional American prostitute. Now, I am willing to conceded that Audrey Hepburn did star in the B&W film Roman Holiday with Gregory Peck where classic scenes of the couple cruising around on a Vespa in front of the Coliseum and other Roman icons; or Paris when it sizzles (1964). But that hardly means that she is suddenly Italian, or even French!
The equivalent would be to have pictures of Mick Jagger – who starred in a 1970 film about Ned Kelly, the iconic and notorious Australian bushranger and out-law – and have him and his big lips printed all over T-shirts, calendars, and mug-holders alongside Uluru, Sydney Opera House, or posing with penguins from Phillip Island, Victoria.
When looking through the souvenir shops and flea markets while travelling in Granada, Spain, I came across this original Granada boomerang. I didn’t know that the Australian First People had traveled all the way to Spain; or that they discovered how to use blue and green paints; or that the Spanish people had for some reason embraced traditional Australian Aboriginal tools and weapons.
In the 1996 music documentary Hype, director Doug Pray shows that during the early 90s, when the grunge movement was taking off in Seattle, many record labels elsewhere were trying to leverage off this success. Albums, clothing, boots, instruments and amps were stamped with Seattle as a symbol of their street-cred – even if these items had little to nothing to do with this Washington city.
And there are other countless examples of this sort of marketing. Where something that is originally unique is used, shamelessly and out of context, to try to give something else some pizzazz. And in doing so, dilutes the meaning of what was unique first item.
It is a sad thing that marketing tries to leach off word-association value from genuinely unique ideas or images, and pass them onto garden variety products. I find it intensely frustrating how the word Jazz is slapped onto bars and restaurants to make it look cool – when in fact it has nothing to do with jazz at all. Jazz is reduced from being an alternative and potentially raucous art-form, to tame background music at a cocktail bar. It tries to borrow the edgy, mysterious, out-sider jazz ethic and pass that on; rather than generating some panache of its own.
Perhaps this sort of ‘word theft’ is partially what Bob Dylan was so angry about in his 1981 song, singing “You want to water-down love” – disappointed at seeing the radical term ‘love’ of his new Christian faith, being diminished and reduced by televangelists nationwide.
Or maybe we should be thankful that we have Audrey Hepburn next to the Eiffel Tower, and not had to endure Paris Hilton flaunting her name, and herself…