American hedonism closes its eyes to death, and has been
incapable of exorcising the destructive power of the moment
with a wisdom like that of the Epicureans of antiquity.

- Octavio Paz
Death is un-American, and an affront to every citizen's inalienable
right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

- Arnold Toynbee
"As long as such self-serving hypocrisy
motivates America's response, Ukraine will
only sink further into needless bloodshed,
and that blood will be on America's head."
In America everybody is of the opinion that he has no social superiors,
since all men are equal, but he does not admit that he has no social inferiors,
for, from the time of Jefferson onward, the doctrine that all men are equal
applies only upwards, not downwards.

― Bertrand Russell
Global Coke
Global Coke
"What those 'racists' are reflexively and rightly reacting
to is the soulless chill as the fire goes out beneath the
melting pot. Those who think America can thrive as a
'cultural mosaic' are worse than fools; they're Canadians."

Global Coke
Two centuries ago, a former European colony decided to catch up with Europe.
It succeeded so well that the United States of America became a monster,
in which the taints, the sickness and the inhumanity of Europe
have grown to appalling dimensions.

― Frantz Fanon
What the United States does best is understand itself.
What it does worst is understand others.

- Carlos Fuentes
Poor Mexico, so far from God
and so close to the United States.

- Porfirio Diaz
"Indeed, everything about the American southland was magical
and exotic to the young Canadian musicians, from the sights
and smells to the drawling manner of speech to, especially, the
central role that music played in people’s everyday lives."

America is a mistake, a giant mistake.
- Sigmund Freud
America is an adorable woman chewing tobacco.
- Auguste Bartholdi
"This is the tone of the China Century, a subtle
mix of Nazi/Soviet bravado and 'oriental'
cunning -- easily misunderstood, and
heard before, in a real enemy, by the West."

Coke and 'America the Beautiful'
Coke and 'America the Beautiful'
"And for the others who argued for English-only
patriotism, I note that there are more than
57 million Americans (about 20% of the nation)
whose first-language is not English...."

Coke and 'America the Beautiful'
"This is the behavior, and the fate, of paranoid
old-world tyrants like Hitler or Saddam, not liberal new-world democracies like America pretends to be."

America is the only nation in history which
miraculously has gone directly from barbarism to
degeneration without the usual interval of civilization.

- Georges Clemenceau
I found there a country with thirty-two religions and only one sauce.
- Charles–Maurice Talleyrand
A people who are still, as it were, but in the gristle,
and not yet hardened into the bone of manhood.

- Edmund Burke
America is the only country ever founded on the printed word.
- Marshall McLuhan
"The removal of racist sports nicknames (and mascots) seems outrageously belated
-- why, exactly, has this civil rights cause
taken so long to gain momentum?"

The atom bomb is a paper tiger which the
United States reactionaries use to scare people.
It looks terrible, but in fact it isn't.

- Mao Tse-tung
They made us many promises, more than I can remember, but
they kept only one; they promised to take our land, and they did.

- Red Cloud
In America sex is an obsession,
in other parts of the world it is a fact.

- Marlene Dietrich
I would rather have a nod from an American,
than a snuff-box from an emperor.

- Lord Byron
One day the United States discovered it was an empire.
But it didn’t know what an empire was.
It thought that an empire was merely the biggest of all corporations.

- Roberto Calasso
Americans are so enamored of equality, they would rather
be equal in slavery than unequal in freedom.

- Alexis de Tocqueville
"No one, I thought, could watch those scenes, of young children slaughtered en masse, and so many parents grieving, without thinking that this, finally, would tip some kind of balance in the country."
If you are prepared to accept the consequences of your dreams
then you must still regard America today with the same naive
enthusiasm as the generations that discovered the New World.

- Jean Baudrillard
I am willing to love all mankind, except an American.
- Samuel Johnson
America, thou half brother of the world;
With something good and bad of every land.

- Philip Bailey
"What can be more powerful than disinformation in the Information Age?"
England and America are two countries separated by the same language.
- Sir Walter Besant
Christopher Columbus, as everyone knows, is honored by
posterity because he was the last to discover America.

- James Joyce
Now, from America, empty indifferent things
are pouring across, sham things, dummy life.

- Rainer Maria Rilke
If the United States is to recover fortitude and lucidity,
it must recover itself, and to recover itself it must
recover the "others"- the outcasts of the Western world.
- Octavio Paz
The youth of America is their oldest tradition.
It has been going on now for three hundred years.

- Oscar Wilde
"America really is, for most Americans, all things considered, a good place to be, and all they really want is for everyone to enjoy the same privilege and pleasure."
When good Americans die they go to Paris;
when bad Americans die they go to America.

- Oscar Wilde
jobs drug dealer
jobs drug dealer
They're nothing more than traffickers; and as the smart traffickers'll tell you, you don't use the merchandise. They are just inoculating their kids with a tech-drug serum, to immunize them against the very merchandise that put the **** bowling alley in their basement.
jobs drug dealer
America is therefore the land of the future, where, in the ages that
lie before us, the burden of the World's History shall reveal itself.

- Georg Friedrich Hegel
America is a large, friendly dog in a very small room.
Every time it wags its tail, it knocks over a chair.

- Arnold Toynbee
Americans always try to do the right thing after they've tried everything else.
- Winston Churchill
The thing that impresses me most about Americans
is the way parents obey their children.

- Edward, Duke of Windsor
Americans are apt to be unduly interested in discovering
what average opinion believes average opinion to be.

- John Maynard Keynes
Europe was created by history.
America was created by philosophy.

- Margaret Thatcher
America is God's crucible, the great Melting-Pot where all the races of
Europe are melting and reforming!... The real American has not yet arrived.
He is only in the crucible, I tell you - he will be the fusion of all races.

- Israel Zangwill
American dreams are strongest in the hearts of those
who have seen America only in their dreams.

- Pico Iyer
America: It's like Britain, only with buttons.
- Ringo Starr
The essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic, and a killer.
It has never yet melted.

― D.H. Lawrence
I have two conflicting visions of America.
One is a kind of dream landscape and the other is a kind of black comedy.

― Bono
The American mirror, said the voice, the sad American mirror
of wealth and poverty and constant useless metamorphosis,
the mirror that sails and whose sails are pain.

― Roberto Bolaño

December 6, 2023

A Tale of Two Talents: The Hierarchies of Cultural Adoption in the "Got Talent" Franchise, by Randa Tawil

A Tale of Two Talents:

The Hierarchies of Cultural Adoption in the “Got Talent” franchise

 Randa Tawil


Jennifer Grout is having a good month. Her startling and beautiful performances on Arab’s Got Talent have gone viral with accolades from the judges and many Arab musicians, and she has recently been the subject of an article in the New York Times about her “courageous” venture into Arabic music. Xiao Wang, on the other hand, a Chinese contestant on “Holland’s Got Talent” received a very different reaction for his masterful performance of Verdi last month. After his rendition of the classic opera piece,  he was told by the judge Gordon Heuckeroth that it was “the best Chinese I’ve had in weeks, and it wasn’t even takeaway!”  Both Wang and Grout transcended cultural lines through music in a way that affirms beauty of the art form, but with soberingly different reactions. That Jennifer Grout is heralded for her extraordinary ability to learn Arabic and bring Arabic music to a wider audience, while Xiao Wang is mocked for his equally extraordinary performance of opera, highlights our very uneven notion of cultural adoption.

The judge’s on Arabs Got Talent immediately remarked how surprised and awe-struck they were at Jessica’s nearly-perfect Arabic accent. “We have for so long imitated the West, and this is the first time that a person who has no link whatsoever to the Arab world, an American girl who does not speak Arabic, sings Arabic songs,” said Najwa Karam, a Lebanese pop icon and one of the judges on the show. Karam’s gratitude towards Grout seems almost humiliating when compared to the reactions of the Dutch judges to Xiao Wang’s performance, after which Gordon shouted, “suplise!”  Both Gordon and Karam were surprised by these performances of cultural exchange, but their reactionse—one of gratitude and one of condescending skepticism– couldn’t be farther from each other.  Grout, a Western woman “deigning” (as written by Mariam Bazeed) to imitate an Eastern culture is heralded, while Wang, an Eastern man imitating a Western culture, is ridiculed.

The notions of the way culture flows is deeply set in the western imagination. Western societies such as France, Great Britain, and the Netherlands colonized most of the world, and an important part of this economic and military enterprise was to devalue the cultures of the indigenous people. As a young Palestinian attending a French Catholic school in Jerusalem, for example, my father was punished by nuns if he spoke Arabic. My mother knows more American songs from her days as a girl scout in Lebanon than I learned growing up in Washington DC. We do not blink an eye at this cultural adoption, and even think of it as “right” and is part of a good education for a non-westerner. Thus there is no gratitude by the Dutch judges that Wang chose a Western song to sing, or that he speaks English fluently. Instead of the judges feeling appreciative or intrigued that he spent the time learning opera, he is belittled by racist Chinese stereotypes. The saddest part of this exchange is that Wang brushes off the comments, brushes off being told he “looks like a scientist” (and what does that mean?) because such responses are less surprising than his mastery of opera.

This is not the fate of Jennifer Grout. Because the West has traditionally only been able to see the East through its own eyes, her embodiment of Arab music has become a source of intrigue by artists everywhere, and even a way to legitimate it as an art form. Her performance has given her exposure, an article in the New York Times, and respect from many notable Arab musicians. While there are some viewers who have told her to “go back to America,” by and large she is being received as a talented singer who has been able to conquer an unconquerable language; nevermind that this feat has been happening in reverse for centuries.

These two artists are both talented, courageous, and treated differently because of the judge’s perceptions of their race. The way these two performers are received in the nations/cultures in which they perform is telling of the ways we accept and view cultural adoption. On both shows, the “foreignness” is something to be addressed, but addressed very differently. The gratitude that is given to Grout, and the gratitude that is expected of Wang, are the real cultural performances worth noting on these two shows.


Tags: Arabs Got Talent, Jennifer Grout, Xao Wang, Holland’s Got Talent, music



“While there are certainly some viewers who have told her to “go back to America,” by and large she is being received as an incredibly talented singer who has been able to conquer an unconquerable language; nevermind that this feat has been happening in reverse for centuries.”

“Both these artists transcended cultural lines through music in a way that affirms the truth and beauty of the art form, but with soberingly different results. That Jennifer Grout is heralded for her extraordinary ability to learn Arabic and bring Arabic music to a wider audience, while Xiao Wang was mocked for his equally extraordinary performance of opera, highlights our very uneven notion of cultural adoption.”


Authors Bio:

Randa Tawil is a writer based in Chicago, Illinois, with work previously published on The Busy Signal. She worked as an innovation consultant in Copenhagen for three years, and now is studying Arabic at University of Chicago,and researches Arab American racial formation in the US.