Smoky Mountains Sunrise

Friday, June 12, 2009

Britain to America: ‘Don’t Let This Happen to You!’

From Big Hollywood
By Charles Winecoff

When I was a kid, American Idol wasn’t even a twinkle in Simon Cowell’s eye. No, instead of Adam Lambert’s girly warbling, we listened to wrinkled pacifist Walter Cronkite rattle off the US body count as we ate our TV dinners. (Thank God for I Love Lucy re-runs.)

But Vietnam wasn’t the only war raging. There was a culture clash going on too, right in the privacy of our own home: the ’60s counterculture - seen in everything from Easy Rider to The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour - versus our deeply ingrained Anglophilia. In other words, a tug of war between “social justice” and the Social Register.
Decades before it became cool to diss the Queen with an iPod, the Royals represented everything Americans were not, and never could be: educated, sophisticated, multi-lingual, above carrying cash - and worldly enough to know one doesn’t clean one’s antiques (think no housework). Growing up in our comfy, middle class, anti-war household, I never knew if I was supposed to say “burn, baby, burn!” or “sod off, yank.”

This dichotomy took a psychic toll, which came to a head when I did my part for the revolution by proudly shoplifting a ballpoint pen from our local Lamston’s (”the establishment”). To my amazement, my parents were not pleased. Instead of a gold star, I received a verbal barrage of uncharacteristic cliches (”Do you think we send you to the best schools so you can steal?” ) that left me even more confused.

As I came of age, I often felt like an unsocialized, feral child who had been raised by animals, left to learn civilized human behavior on my own, from scratch - a nice, white casualty of the rootless, rudderless, barbaric peace movement.

A few years later, when I was old enough to know better, President Bill Clinton was caught with his pants down; it never even occurred to me that the public outcry might have something to do with the fact he had lied about his abuse of power. I believed as I was taught, that it was “just about sex” - those evil Republicans again, trying to stop ”the first black President” from, as one friend put it, “being himself.”

I assumed the Clinton scandal was a purely American phenomenon, just another sleazy export of our junk culture that was (I was told) the cause of so much violence and hatred around the world (from the innocent peasants who chose to import it). We had always been, and would always be, the proverbial “ugly Americans.” How our classy progenitors over there on the British isles must be shaking their heads. In 200 quickie years, America had amounted to little more than a wasteland of cheeseburgers and fat asses.

But after I entered the work force, I began to see, little by little, chinks in the mythic armor. British tabloids, for instance, were far more salacious than our National Enquirer (which, at this point, boasts a higher record for accuracy than The New York Times). And wasn’t it the UK that unleashed frumpy, passive-aggressive Neely O’Hara wannabe Susan Boyle on us? This was a far cry from the days of Noel and Gertie - or even Tom Jones and Petula Clark!

No, my fellow Americans, the British Empire ain’t what it used to be. The tables have turned. As British film critic Cosmo Landesman puts it in Peter Whittle’s new book, Private Views: Voices from the Front Line of British Culture, ”In the old days the Americans would export rubbish to us, now it’s the British who export rubbish to the Americans.”

Citing “the whole Pop Idol thing” that brought American Idol to our shores - insensitively (to Muslims, that is) right after 9/11 - Landesman blames the herd mentality of today’s reality TV generation on ”an attempt to democratise culture that began in the 1960s, generated by people of the Left. And many of those people on the Left are now horrified. Big Brother is their child….” (But I thought Leftists were supposed to be so “smart.” Janeane Garofalo, are you listening?)

Rest assured: Private Views is about cultural decline in England, not the USA. The book offers 17 refreshingly articulate interviews with writers, artists, and even a politician - but, thankfully, no actors or singers - that prove you’re not dreaming. All conducted by Whittle, the founder and director of a London think tank called The New Culture Forum, these lively chats explore the current crisis of British national identity, which has been gradually undermined by multiculturalism, and examine the UK’s own rift between Left and Right, particularly in the arts. (BIll O’Reilly, eat your heart out.)

Private Views gives a much-needed morale boost to Americans struggling with their own national inferiority complex. As North Carolina-born, expatriate novelist Lionel Shriver points out, “Europeans use the United States to feel morally superior. They’re under the illusion that what drives European politics is virtue, and what drives American politics is self-interest.” That’s a lie our own media drives home every chance it gets - capitalism has failed! - in the ongoing effort to bludgeon us into national healthcare submission.

But is it true? Shriver thinks not. “Europeans are great on talk,” she says, ”but they don’t put their money where their mouth is. They don’t put their troops where their mouths are. They’re big on diplomacy, because diplomacy is cheap.” Ouch.

Meanwhile, even in erudite England, it’s not the trailer trash who are turning into pod people; it’s the privileged spawn of the Orwellian university system. Leftwing groupthink is just as prevalent and palpable in the rarefied art galleries and theatres of London as it is in New York or Hollywood. Just like us, Britain’s lads and laddettes are media-driven lambs, addicted to texting, Twitter and “telly.”

According to Landesman, “the dumbing down isn’t among the masses: the dumbing down is among the smart people, the cultural people, who should know better.” Standards? Don’t kid yourself. Says Landesman, “the new criterion is no longer good or bad: it’s what’s hot and what’s not.”

Read the rest of this entry >>

1 comment:

Mab said...

I like the way this Winecoff guy thinks!