About a week and a half ago, BBC News America brought in an American athlete for an interview, calling him a typical “all-American man” in the process. It’s not a term that Americans use nearly as much these days, but BBC America still felt comfortable in using it, assuming that all Americans would understand on some unconscious level what an all-American man, hero, boy or girl would mean. The phrase has a variety of implications, and whole groups of people who become excluded in the process.
There are racial — but not necessarily racist — implications to the “all-American” archetype. Of course, the term refers almost always to White men, heroes, boys or girls, especially those with blond hair and blue eyes. You know, like Captain America. Whether it’s been athletes like Roger Clemens, Mia Hamm, Tom Brady, Lindsay Vonn, Mark McGwire, Phil Michelson, or actors like Tom Cruise, Zack Efron, Justin Bieber, Jennifer Aniston, Renee Zellweger, or the Olson twins, all-Americans are essentially the White boy or girls next door. They are allegedly everyday people who’ve managed to become enormously rich, famous and successful individuals.
Somehow, their hard work and talent, like cream in tea or coffee, rose to the top, enabling these individuals to become the archetype all-American. Never mind that hard work for most of the remaining 310 million of us isn’t really an issue, and talent alone needs to be found, discovered, and connected to the powers that be in order for it to rise to the top. But let me not burst that all-American bubble of a myth. Luckily in the past fifteen years, there are a select few of color who may fit that “all-American” moniker, folks like Will Smith or Derek Jeter. Still, Will Smith broke in as a rapper who was anointed as one with great potential by Quincy Jones, while Jeter plays for the New York Yankees, not exactly an under the radar sports team.
Which leads to my other point about the “all-American” myth. No one who grows up a nerd, or a misfit of some sort, or just introverted, gets to be seen as an all-American boy or girl. No one who’s overweight or impoverished or considered unattractive is found by the media as “all-American as apple pie.” Everyone from Bill Gates to Bill Maher, Colin Powell to Whoppi Goldberg, would’ve never made it in this society if we waited for the media to anoint them as “all-American” heroes or success stories.
I must admit, I’ve only watched a few videos by the group The All-American Rejects, but their very name makes my point. Though the use of this term is on the decline, it’s not dying fast enough. We’re a multicultural society, whether those who think that only a select few are “all-American” boys and girls want to acknowledge this or not. Maybe BBC America, or for that matter, the news business in general, should catch up with the rest of our society before they look as if they’re waiting for the next eugenics movement.