Five Great American Things The British Improved
As discussed in our previous essay, Five Great American Things The British Ruined, having a good idea is one thing, executing it to the best of its potential is something else.
Sometimes the originators/owners are not able to see what else can be done with the form. And that’s when the developers arrive, turning a silk purse into a… a… SPACE ROCKET before your very eyes.
And here’s five examples:
1: Movie Baddies
It’s tempting to conclude that Americans like British baddies — whether they be Alan Rickman, Hugh Laurie or Simon Cowell — because of the Revolutionary War and everything that lead up to it. The argument goes that you’ve been trained to think we’re despotic overlords because that is precisely what we once were. But actually, we think of ourselves in that way half the time too. We’re well aware that the relationship of our respective national characters is our stern schoolmaster to your hyperactive child. Withering scorn? Sarcasm? Sneering? Eye-rolling? All things we could easily win gold medals at, if we could be bothered to show up to collect them.
Look, case in point. Jason Isaacs in The Patriot, playing an utter rotter:
2: Apple Pie
“Oh the British food, they boil everything, right? It’s so bland, it doesn’t really taste of anything and there’s no texture…” Yeah well, at least we know that the very best garnish for a fruit pie of any description (and this goes for crumbles too) is not cold and frozen, or stiff and creamy, it’s HOT. Creme Anglaise, the French call it, but to us it is simply custard. And lavished upon a steaming pie, it is among the best of all possible culinary endeavours. Try it!
3: Rock ‘N’ Rollers (’60s Division)
The true history of what the British did to rock ‘n’ roll is a bit like a game of dominoes. The Beatles certainly didn’t rescue the form from a hopeless array of wholesome Elvis impersonators (far too much Phil Spector and Motown going on for that), and they didn’t invent guitar and harmony groups who write their own songs (say hi to the Beach Boys). But they were a devastating package; charm and talent and songs and looks and humour and direction and brains, all in Justin Bieber haircuts. They were good at EVERYTHING, they dominated EVERYTHING, and paved the way for EVERYTHING that happened in their wake. You are welcome.
Two words: Rolls and Royce. We did not invent the motor car, and we did not popularize it, but we did develop a reputation for making the very best, and were fortunate enough to do so in a relatively new industry, which means those early reputations can last forever. Never mind that we’ve also made horrendous motor vehicles, when someone is searching for an expression that means “the very best in its field,” they still say “the Rolls-Royce of” whatever it is, and that’s good enough for us.
5: Punk Rock (’70s Division)
Apologies for doing two musical ones, but there’s a difference between what happened in the ’60s and the punk thing. The entwined strands that represent British punk rock start with the British rock press championing American acts like the Stooges and the MC5 in the early ’70s; and then later selling the emerging New York punk rock scene — with the New York Dolls, the Ramones and Patti Smith being particularly influential — to a generation of disaffected Bowie and Roxy Music fans, in a period of intense financial instability. What they then did was to channel that anarchic, blank-eyed energy into actual splenetic rage, and then codify it into rules, insisting anything that came before it was no longer valid. You might’ve had the ideas, but we refined them. You’re Marx, we’re Stalin.
Maybe ‘improved’ is entirely the wrong word in this analogy.
A fair assessment? Tell us here.