Exporting American Culture

I was discussing work with my manager today when she quoted a line from a movie. I looked at her expectantly as she tried to figure out which movie she’d quoted. Her eyes lit up and her finger pointed at me as she cried “That Thing You Do, with Tom Hanks!” Oh my. I’d forgotten about that movie. I couldn’t really tell you what the movie was about, especially since I only saw it once at the movie theater….I think. I did in fact own the soundtrack on cassette. Yes, I did type cassette. I’m one of those barely 80s babies who happened to own records, cassettes AND CDs. I had a Fisher Price record player as a toddler, but we also owned an old RCA Victrola that I played my times tables records on in elementary school. “5 x 5 is 25; 5 x 6 is 30; 5 x 7 is….”

I had the opportunity to visit Italy in 1996 via an exchange program sponsored by my high school. That was my first transatlantic flight. The in-flight movie was Space Jam. Yes, a sign of the times. The daughter of the host family assigned to me wrote me a letter before our trip, indicating that she liked urban American culture and rap music. Apparently she was in love with Tupac Shakur. What in the world? Here I was, an African American born and raised in one of the brownest cities in Virginia, the ex-capitol of the confederacy, attended schools where the student body was comprised of at least 90% Black students, and this Italian girl was telling me that she was in love with Tupac Shakur. The funny thing about the situation is I wasn’t. Nothing against my hip hop connoisseurs, but I just wasn’t into hip hop like that back then. I enjoyed my oldies, loved Gospel, and even spent some time savoring classical and jazz, but I didn’t get too excited about hip hop. I was familiar with the top ten at the time, only because students in my classes felt they needed to recreate the radio line up in class…”Wake up, wake up it’s the first of the month…get up get up….” She also expressed an interest in the Black American past time: basketball. She didn’t just choose any team, she loved the Chicago Bulls. And of course she didn’t choose Scottie Pippen or name of another player…she liked Mike. But who didn’t like Mike back then? Mike was everywhere in the mid 90s. With Mike, I could indulge her. After a trip to Wal-Mart, I was pretty proud of my purchasing of a couple of Space Jam/Michael Jordan t-shirts for my new Italian friend. I hadn’t seen the movie myself, but I figured it was a small price to pay to smooth the arrival of someone from another culture. Actually around 1996 I had gotten tired of Mike and as irony would have it, I was stuck with Mike on a six hour flight to Italy.

To be continued……….

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