There’s often an assumption, usually found amongst the residents of the United States of America, that the UK and the US share a broadly similar frame of cultural context. This is, quite frankly, bollocks.
Take a quick look at this story: UK wants music embassy in the US. The key points are scattered through the story, but they come down to (a) virtually no British music is having an impact on the US charts and (b) the US is the most parochial music market in the world, bar Pakistan (which is currently edging the world towards nuclear war and thus is not a country to look up to).
Now, why is this important? Surely the good citizens of the US are entitled to listen to whatever music they want to? Of course they are. Indeed, I listen to quite a lot of American music and enjoy it throughly. The point isn’t that, it’s that many Americans are simply unaware of their degree of cultural isolationism at the moment. The British chart is a mix of British, American and European artists. The US chart is largely US artists. The cultural infulences at work there are purely American.
They are equally unware of the degree of cultural Imperialism that goes on. People outside America don’t mind it that much – they’re quite happy to use good American products that come their way. But the asymmetric nature of the exchange makes some non-Americans uneasy.
Many US writers in Livejournals, Blogs and newspapers are turning their attention to Europe and the rest of the world in a way they haven’t since probably the Second World War. George W Bush has been forced to play a bigger part on the world stage than he would have if left to his own devices. We all remembers some of the simply daft things he said about foreign countries in his election campaign. This change of focus is an inevitable consequence of September 11th, but one that makes the rest of us a little nervous. Why? It’s because suddenly Americans are commenting on things they have very little real understanding of. Sure, there are some well-informed commentators out there saying interesting things. But there’s an awful lot of people espousing a jingoistic belief in the inherent superiority of the American way, without truly understanding the cultures and philosophies of those lands. They haven’t seen their TV, watched their films and listened to their music. They haven’t read their books or skimmed their magazines. They see everything through glasses with the stars and stripes printed on them. Indeed, many seem genuinely surprised when they discover that people hold different views from them and promptly set out to persuade the poor, ignorant natives.
I freely admit that not every American is guilty of this, but there’s enough of them out there to make web browsing an increasingly uncomfortable experience. The really curious thing is that the attitude I’m describing here reminds me powerfully of the attitudes of the British in the 19th Century. Any chance of learning from our mistakes?