Jealousy is a terrible emotion. It does nothing good for the soul, doesn’t get you what you want, and makes you feel unworthy of your own life, the most precious gift you ever received. And this is from someone that got a musical saw for his birthday, so believe me, I know what I’m talking about.
However, there’s nothing wrong with watching how other people do things and secretly wishing you could do that as proficiently. Everyone who has ever watched someone play boogie-woogie piano wishes they make their fingers dance in a similar fashion. And it’s the same with ballroom dancing, being cool, flying an airplane, performing the Heimlich maneuver, and preparing perfect sushi.
So, here’s a very personal, envious view of five things at which America excels:
Originally I had intended this one to be “optimism,” because America is a very can-do nation, certainly compared to Britain. However, your news media outlets do paint a very bleak picture of What Is Wrong With Our Great Nation, on a fairly constant basis, so maybe it’s not so much about looking on the bright side, and more about being personally sure of yourself. Or maybe it’s about ignoring news media. In any case, you are builders of great things, writers of great novels, great songs, makers of great movies. Yours is a heritage – cultural and social – which is still being written as you go along, and that’s always exciting to bear witness to. By contrast, everyone in Britain thinks everything is worse than it has ever been ever, so what’s the point in trying? We may have the heritage and culture, going back thousands of years, but that can be as much a burden as it is a delight. Just think, with your chutzpah and our hangups, we could go to the MOON! And then complain about the weather.
The American contribution to 20th Century music is incalculable in range and influence. Without even taking into account any subsequent offshoot genres, any nation would be proud to have come up with jazz, blues, country, rock ‘n’ roll, soul, hip hop, or techno on its own. You did ‘em all! They are the genesis of all modern music, without which there would be very little worth dancing to in the world. And you’re astonishing at the Broadway musical too. We’ve had our moments, don’t get me wrong, but only because you gave us all such an astonishing boost.
Again, this could be down to confidence, or hubris, but Hollywood is still the cultural hub around which show business revolves. That’s not necessarily a good thing, but it’s still true, and it’s to do with the hierarchy of media to which we all subscribe. Put simply, it goes like this:
Internet < Newspapers < Magazines < Radio < TV < Movies < Hollywood movies.
So, you can be huge on the internet, but it won’t matter unless the print media get on board. This piques the curiosity of radio producers, and if you’re photogenic enough and your story has an immediately understandable hook, you may get on TV. Get enough people talking about your story, and you can sell the movie rights. Get the film made, and successful, and you’re a Hollywood PLAYA.
Why else is the Academy Awards the biggest point of validation in any creative person’s career? It’s because Hollywood rules all. Again, this might not be a terrifically healthy state of affairs, but it’s how things are. London can only DREAM of being what Hollywood is.
We genuinely cannot pull off a decent superhero, try as we might. We don’t really have the Good Man archetype the way American storytelling does. All of our cowboys would’ve had grey hats, and so Captain Britain was a far more complex character than Captain America, because he had to embody both British lionheartedness AND the capacity to see the value in a diplomatic solution. So our best comics depicted either a bleak view of the here-and-now, or a dystopian view of the future, or characters pretending to be American anyway. So yes, we have V For Vendetta and Watchmen and a host of astonishing comic book ideas from 2000AD, but we also had Dan Dare (Buck Rogers meets Biggles, essentially) and Judge Dredd (a despotic cop in an American mega-city). Not a Superman among them.
The sole exception to this is that our Dennis The Menace is TONS better than yours. We do snotty kids rather well.
5: Sincerity (or ‘Unsarcasm’)
And this might be the key to the problem of superheroes too. In any community it’s important to have dreamers, and it’s important to have doers. You need people who can speak to a higher purpose, and you need people who can provide the ladder by which these heights can be attained. Speaking in incredibly broad terms, Americans tend to be the people who say “we are all going to come together as one, and if we put our backs to the grindstone and our spines into spasm, we can one day build Stonehenge…on MARS!” and British people tend to be the ones going “oh BRILLIANT. That’s exactly what the world needs, some pointless crusade to make a daft thing happen in a place which is doing PERFECTLY FINE as it is, thank you very much.” It’s just you won’t hear about that because they’ll be saying it under their breaths, while drawing up the plans for the rockets. It’s not a national characteristic we’re proud of, unless you’re out of the room, in which case it is.
Fraser McAlpine is British. This explains a lot.