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Every high school has one: the student who loves old books and Brief Encounter, the bookish prig with the cut-glass accent who considers him or herself to be a cut above everyone else. The slightly pompous loner with the withering stare — the Fake Brit.
These are the people who turn down peanut butter in favor of quince preserves, who turn down Mountain Dew in favor of tea in a bone-china cup and saucer, the people who say things like this: “I don’t fit into the bad side of American psychology. The British are much more intelligent and civilized than the Americans.” (actual Gwyneth quote.)
It’s a fairly insecure place to put yourself; against the interests of most of your classmates – Doctor Who fans notwithstanding – and relying on long-dead novelists and pasty-faced indie bands from miles away to back you up in a fight, so you have to feel a certain sympathy for the L.A.-raised, New York-schooled Gwyneth Paltrow during those awkward teenage years. As delightful as she seems now, with her British husband and their British life, in during the hair-metal and hip hop years she must’ve stood out like a cricket bat on a football field.
And her mum’s just as bad (or good, let’s not be damning). Blythe Danner is Pennysylvania Dutch, she’s not not even from NEW England, let alone Olde Englande. And yet she’s always brought in to play these haughty women from well-to-do backgrounds. The daughter of old money with a love of decorum. If she played any more middle-class British, she’d have a butler called Jeevus and a milquetoast son called Jasper in every role.
Gwyneth is so Fake Brit she even won an Oscar for a film about Shakespeare, and given that Academy Awards are often given to lead actors who choose to make their job harder by portraying an unfortunate affliction, it does speak volumes about how Hollywood sees the Brits as a nation, and the accent as a workplace hazard. Meryl Streep, this also applies to you:
Even her success in the Iron Man franchise betrays her Fake Brit status. She plays Pepper Potts, as an uptight, loyal butler/PA/enabler who cannot reveal her true feelings for her charismatic boss, the bullish and brash millionaire Tony Stark. It’s a neat metaphor for the ‘special relationship’ between our two great nations – even though there’s no suggestion that Pepper actually is British – hidden in the middle of an all-action superhero movie.
Naturally, through all this she remains entirely charming. Fake Brits and real Brits do at least have this in common.
See more posts by 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