Five Great British Things The Americans Improved

Uncle Sam

My what a strong reaction we had to the last blog, Great British Things The Americans Ruined! Still we have a little more work to do before our story is done (otherwise it just looks like we’re trying to stir up trouble). So, here’s the final installment for now. Five things which started out life in the U of K, but came back remarkably stronger after prolonged exposure to American influences.

1: Movies

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KUekt1T0Vac

Due to the pioneering work of a lot of people all over the world at roughly the same time, it’s not immediately clear who invented movies. It was either William Friese Greene, whose 1889 patent for putting pictures onto celluloid film is the first in history, or Eadweard Muybridge, whose 1878 flick-book of a moving horse wowed 19th century New York. Both British, since you ask. But it’s kind of obvious that the movies have become the classic American artform (in the English-speaking world, at least). The scale of the American landscape, the abundance of natural light, and a little bit of snake oil salesmanship have all created an unassailable industry of astonishment and wonder, as this clip of Stan (British) and Ollie (American) perfectly illustrates. Just because some films are rubbish, it doesn’t make that statement any less true. And now you’re pushing the boundaries of what’s possible on television too. To which I say this, keep it up!

2: The Clash

“I’m so booooored of the U! S! A!” yelled Joe Strummer on the Clash’s first album. This, despite being sonically in thrall to the Ramones, was the band’s mission statement of the time. Having seen the world a bit by the time of their third album, the band release “London Calling,” a transparent love letter to all forms of American (and Caribbean) music, from R&B to rock, New Orleans jazz to the blues, with some spiky lyrics about The State Of Things just so everyone could still tell who it was. It becomes Rolling Stone’s album of the ’80s, despite being released in the UK in 1979. Oh and their version of Bobby Fuller’s “I Fought The Law” is astounding too. Other British bands may have based their entire career on American song, but few did so with as much understanding and passion.

See also: The Rolling Stones, Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac, the Bee Gees.

3: Novels

The Grapes of Wrath

Before American writers got their hands on the form, the novel could be described as either a compilation of serial chapters, soap operas in text form, as published in magazines — like the works of Charles Dickens — or a gothic construction aimed at telling long, disturbing psychological stories about the rules for courtship or people falling into poor circumstances in unfriendly terrain (Austen, Bronté, Shelley). And in a lot of ways, it still is. However, once Herman Melville, Mark Twain, Wharton, Fitzgerald, Faulkner, Steinbeck and the rest got their hands on it, a new construct for excellence in the form emerged. Now we have the Great American Novel: a benchmark which works as much because the novels themselves are great as it does because they are American.

4: Christian Bale

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WTOL7Cvw1bE

You’ve seen Empire of the Sun, right? You’ve seen that slightly hoity toity little kid running around Shanghai scavenging for food with that little slappable face of his. That’s Christian Bale. You’ve also seen him as Batman in The Dark Knight, or Patrick Bateman in American Psycho, and that is also Christian Bale. See what you did? You took a sweet kid and you made him into a FIGHTING MACHINE (and the bane of all lighting technicians the world over). And you’re doing something very similar to Jamie Bell too, if The Eagle is anything to go by.

5: Etiquette

During the Victorian era, the British led the world in the subtle art of how to ensure you fit in to any social situation. We had a knife and fork for every serving at every meal, we had a class barrier that makes the Berlin Wall look like an open stable door, and we had rules about everything that everyone had to know and obey. Now we have Facebook.

Now everyone knows exactly how to react to someone attempting to start an argument, to someone putting up too many self-absorbed updates about how they are feeling, to someone posting endless videos of cats being cute into their feed. We also know the right way to announce a formal change in our personal circumstances and how to rally around a friend in need in as public a manner as possible. For better or worse, Facebook is America’s gift to the world of interpersonal communication.

Any other examples? Tell us here.

Fraser McAlpine

Fraser has been writing and broadcasting about music and popular culture for over 15 years, first at the Top of the Pops website, and most recently for the NME, Guardian and MSN. He also wrote BBC Radio 1's Chart Blog and reviews albums for BBC Radio 2.

He is Anglophenia's current resident Brit, blogging about British slang and running around the Mall taking snaps of the crowd at the Royal Wedding, as well as reigniting a childhood passion for classic Doctor Who and cramming as much music in as he can manage.

Fraser invites you to join him on Twitter: @csi_popmusic

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