Sofia Loren is perhaps Italy’s most famous actress, known mostly for her effortless elegance that defies her age. She is now 80, considered a timeless beauty and is often photographed looking glamourous and reinforcing the notion that “age is nothing but a number”. I first encountered Sofia Loren through the movies. In the Hollywood feature, “The Talented Mr. Ripley” starring famous American talents of Matt Damon and Jude Law, there is a night club sing song scene. The particular song had a very catchy tune that stuck in my head since. It was sung in Italian and went something like “blah, blah, blah, I’americano” and the other sticky line was “whisky and soda”. The singer was modeled on a younger Sofia Loren, looking quite spectacular in a glittering one piece bathing suit heightened by frills (the recall of a male mind is fascinating). Well, some research revealed that the original scene was from an Italian film “It started in Naples” and starring Sofia Loren. The actual words are “Tu vuo fa I’americano” which translates to “You want to be American”. It was a refrain on Italians blindly imitating American culture. So you want to be a Yankee, drinking whisky and soda, dancing to rock ‘n’ roll, playing baseball and smoking Camel cigarettes, yet still depending on one’s parents for money. The song illustrated the negative effects of Americanization on rural South Italy culture.
Those catchy tunes popped back into my head recently when one of the young interns, I supervise at my place of work asked me for my favourite Joan Rivers quote. I had no idea who she was, until I was shown a picture and remembered where I had seen the face. Joan Rivers is a recently deceased, American TV personality, famous mostly for her scary botox face and witty role as a co-host of a show known as “Fashion Police”. I knew Joan Rivers had died because it was a trending topic on my twitter timeline and my Facebook page. Though, I do not consume enough TV for a man in my line of work, I am always update with the passing away of American celebrities. When the deaths of Paul Walker (famous actor who drove fast cars in movies and ironically died in one) and Robin Williams (comedian who made people laugh and ironically committed suicide) occurred, the outpouring of grief on Kenyan social media space seemed quite genuine.
I have long come to terms with the deep Americanization of our Kenyan lifestyle. While my father’s generation was unapologetically British, our lot sailed to the far West. American tentacles have sunk so deep into our national culture that so called fine line was erased decades ago. You do not even need to subscribe to entertainment news. American celebrities are talked about as if they were real people, living in our neighbourhoods and every minute detail of their lives is broadcast.
Our political system is framed around American democratic values. Our leaders are completely Obama-esque, highly aware of the value of a good public image. We no longer awed by the “Queen’s English”. We prefer coffee to tea, consider twerking a dance style, knock back shots and swear by the dollar.
It is a lot easier to motivate children using American celebrities. Every teenager girl can relate to Oprah Winfrey and Beyonce is the picture perfect caricature of an ideal marriage. The days when celebrities were known for achievement and heroics are over. The dominance of American media is so acute that our real local achievers have been rendered invisible and will remain obscure unless they exhibit a bit of “I’americano and drink whisky and soda”.