Sunday, May 03, 2009

Leaving America

I have never been so sorry to leave America. I want to stay. I realised this a couple of days ago when Brian Williams wrapped the NBC news. The grand, pompous music played over a helicopter shot of the State of Liberty. There was then a brutal cut from this rhapsody to some brilliantined sleazeball plugging an upcoming Hollywood gossip show. Historically, foreigners writing about America have concentrated on the sleazeball - for Evelyn Waugh in The Loved One, for example, the sleazeball was Los Angeles funeral rites. What is most instantly exotic about this country is its crude, greedy, sentimental populism. But to see only that is to miss the point of the NBC news sign-off. Far more profoundly exotic, to the British at least, is the combination of this populism with the nation's destiny-laden sense of self. Contrast the way - to pick one apparently trivial example among millions - the hacks at presidential press conference stand when the Prez enters with Gordon Brown's horrible, nationally-shaming video. Contrast further the way Obama - or, indeed, any president - must use a certain high solemnity and grandiloquence when addressing national issues. This is a nation that believes in itself. Britain mislaid that belief surprisingly quickly after 1945. The sub-text of Republican attacks on Obama - including those that claim he is a closet socialist - is that he is betraying this sense of self. Absurd as this may sound coming from a party that betrayed its own sense of self so conclusively, I have some sympathy. There is a future danger that America may lose its distinct identity and become just another nation that believes nothing, though I don't think Obama embodies this danger. Relative decline may turn out to be the real culprit. It will be a sad day when - if - it happens.
Anyway, that's a roundabout way of saying God Bless America. And so I return to buggered-up Blighty.


  1. "Destiny'laden sense of self" -- yes, that's right. We are a narcissistic nation, because our mindset is perennially that of the adolescent. Americans are mostly forward-looking and hopeful, as well as self-centered, insensitive and unpredictable (particularly so when it comes to sudden rages & aggressive behavior). I'm glad you'll miss being here and this nation has grown on you.

    The reason you DON'T despise us is because you are not an Englishman in the tradition of Evelyn Waugh. Far from forgiving the many sins of Americans, he looked down his nose at us as jumped-up peasants. By the way, when my husband was an undergrad at UCLA he worked at the pet hotel next to the pet cemetery; he was a night watchman, and one night a dog went barking mad. Allan tried to calm it down and was bitten for his pains. The hound belonged to Vincent Price, so it's probably a good thing my husband didn't turn into a werewolf.

    Next time you cross the pond, visit Philly. I can't say it enough, Bryan A.!

  2. We loved having you, Mr. Appleyard. You are welcome to visit anytime.

    I hope you had the privilege of visiting us in our food pantries, job lines/career fairs and homeless encampments also.

  3. Fortunately the Prime Minister is not the head of state so there is no reason to respect the office. I know Blair and Brown have made vainglorious attempts to puff the office they hold to the equivalent of head of state (all the nonsense about first lady etc) but it ain't so.
    When you get back Bryan, you will find that several members of the government and many members of parliament (in both houses) have been exposed for having their snouts in the trough - apologies to real pigs.
    It must be very refreshing to be in the US where ordinary citizens have a chance of being listened to. No such luck here of course where the outlook getsmore bleak by the day,

  4. You know Britons and Americans have an unspoken understanding.They think we are eccentric well spoken stiff shirts who incline towards complaining about everything,including them.Its a cliche of course,but then isn't that the point.

    They have more belief in us than we do.Yet despite this esteem,we routinely put down our American cousins.
    I do it,unashamedly so,but with a knowing ambivalence that despite the 22 miles that seperates us from the rest of Europe we have a greater fondness for our friends across the Atlantic.
    Its almost against our national pride to admit it,but it is true none the less.
    For example when I recently saw President Obama's wife talking to some of our school children on their recent visit,it brought a tear to my eye.This was,however you explain it something special and I found it very uplifting.

    Soon after of course I recoverd my countenance and went back to a more sober and critical attitude.That night like many others,it happened to be my continuing dislike of the avalanche of American television shows that regularly invades our shores.

  5. Just like Tinkerbell in Peter Pan it's all about belief, Bryan. Belief and will. I too love the USA, but I still believe in old blighty for all it's faults.

    And you've missed some beautiful weather while you've been away. The English countryside is lovely at this time of year. We may not have have towering mountains, or grand canyons but the British countryside is varied, but moderate and dependable. Just like it's people.

  6. The 'God Bless America' I second. It reminds me of three pieces seen today that are either intrigued by or wary of humanity's fierce religiosity. Micklethwait and Wooldridge's intelligent look at the world evangelical revival in the Times yesterday. Michael Gove on Swine flu criticising 'Old Testament plague' mentality in some modern thinking. And in line with that a full-on account of environmentalism as modern religion in an August debate down under by Ian Plimer, found after Amazon alerted me that the Aussie geologist's just released a book on global warming called Heaven and Earth.

  7. As it happens, Susan, I am at this moment sitting in Philadelphia airport. Bizarre travel arrangements meant no direct flight from LA. But just sitting here for an hour or two before flying to London.

  8. Welcome home! I hope you do not have swine fever....

  9. Bottom up or top down? its the choice Blighty will be making in the next few years, once and for all, we can put it off no longer...can we?

  10. Could you be more specific Sean?

  11. Adolescent Narcissism does predominate here in Los Angeles so my wife and I are off to Heathrow and the UK Wednesday for nearly three weeks looking for a change. A first trip and hopefully we will experience the hidden rules of English behavior.
    Many years ago, at the now gone World Trade Center in New York, I received an indelible impression of a British tourist confronting two young punks that were cutting in at the elevator line. "What do you think you are doing, we are all queued up here so go back to the end of the line." The punks cowed and did as they were told.

    I don't know if you had an opportunity to connect with Arthur DeVany (who lives in Utah) while you were here? Art's evolutionary fitness perspective is a high note as many modern diseases are essentially the result of metabolic disorders (inflamation, obseity, high BP, Cardiovascular, loss of lean muscle and so forth).

    We plan to visit A former Mr. Britian - no drugs (Ian Duckett) in Leeds where he works in motivating folks on your side of the pond. Looking forward to London, Edinburgh and a couple of nights in tents on the Isle of Skye, too.