Everything is awesome! Especially the internet

Please, let us not stereotype boorish, ignorant Americans

Joe Kernen: geographically and politically challenged

Joe Kernen: geographically and politically challenged

 

The internet is awesome. Look, it’s a cat in a bucket. Ha ha! This man lost an eye after falling off a donkey. Is that lady really performing La Marseillaise through her bottom? Priceless. Oh man! Check out this interview with a representative of IDA Ireland on CNBC’s breakfast business show. It’s the bomb. Sorry?

Allow us to blow our own trumpet. It was Tom Lyons, The Irish Times’s senior business correspondent, who first spotted the week’s least likely viral video. If we pretend you don’t yet know about it then we can have fun going over the details one more time.

Martin Shanahan, head of the Industrial Development Agency, had joined CNBC’s Squawk Box to discuss our nation’s reputation as a good place to do business. The interview went swimmingly for the first seven minutes. Then somebody called Joe Kernen plopped himself stinkily into the conversation. It was rather as if, some hours after Christmas dinner had ended, your juiced-up uncle suddenly awoke and began bellowing incoherently at the television. “Why is Steve McQueen wearing a dress? What’s wrong with the Black and White Minstrels anyway?” That sort of thing.

Kernen, a regular contributor to Squawk Box, began by shouting out the names of Irish golfers. Then, puzzled by references to the euro, he opined: “You have pounds anyway, don’t you, still?”

Depths of ignorance

Extraordinary performance

“Northern Ireland should be the one not using the pound,” he said.

“I’m not sure I follow your logic,” Shanahan said, his diplomatic genius now stretched to breaking point.

“Because they wanted to break away like Scotland.”

Huh? Wha? Nurse, the screens!

Within 24 hours of Lyons highlighting the interview, the video had colonised whole constellationss of social media. By now there is almost certainly a Kernen rap on YouTube. So, why do we find this appalling display so diverting?

Part of the appeal is tied up with Martin Shanahan’s supernatural sangfroid. I was not alone in longing for him to respond to Kernen’s bemusement with a slice of aggressive disingenuousness. “Does the US not use the peso?” he might have said. “Mexico and the United States are right up there in the same place. Right?” But his cool, unflustered professionalism is more impressive still.

Of course, we all love to burnish our own supposed brilliance by savouring the ignorance of others. One can admire University Challenge contestants when they correctly name the birthplace of Martin Heidegger, but it’s much more fun to watch them mistake the Rolling Stones for the Bee Gees.

There is an even less edifying reason for the video’s popularity.

Most of us have long given up on the deployment of gross stereotypes concerning a certain type of American. This is the nation that gave us Saul Bellow, Susan Sontag and Duke Ellington. The nation swells with geniuses in all fields. You will find as much enlightened thought in Chicago as you will in Paris or Stockholm.

Yet, some awful people (not you or I, of course) still like to believe that too many Americans conform to one particularly horrible template: loud, right-wing, ignorant of geography, just a bit boorish. Might Kernen turn out to be a considered liberal when away from his Squawk Box? Fear not. In 2011, working with his 11-year-old daughter, he wrote a book entitled Your Teacher Said What?!: Defending Our Kids from the Liberal Assault on Capitalism. Last year, he got in trouble for doing an unamusing cod-Indian accent when discussing the rupee .

None of this excuses the way some people (again, not you or me) have celebrated how Kernen seemed, last week, to exemplify all the worst traits of the Ugly American.

They should be ashamed of themselves.

Now, let’s watch a video of Maya Angelou reading a poem.

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