Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Lee Greenwood Was Right. I Am Proud to Be An American.

I have been accused from time to time of being an anglophile. That’s wholly inaccurate. It’s true that a lot of things that I like originate from the United Kingdom. Stephen Fry is my leader. I am pretty sure the list of things I would do to James May if allowed ten minutes in a darkened room with him would violate any and all Terms of Use of Blogspot. My entire sense of humor was formed by Black Adder and Fawlty Towers as a kid. I still find the best “Awwwwwwww, snaps!” ever uttered forth to be this exchange from QI on the subject of how beetles (sorry, bugs) were discovered to have the ability to dye food red:

Alan Davies: “Yeah, but how did they find this out. Did someone just start crushing up bugs in their food one day and….”

Stephen Fry: “I think one only has to imagine that one day one of these bugs or beetles crawls in with the maize they are pounding and suddenly they go, ‘Oh, good lord, I love this pink polenta!’”

Alan Davies: (in a Speedy Gonzales accent) “You mean, ‘I love this peeeeenk poleeeeeenta’?”

Stephen Fry: “So you’re assuming this happened after the Spanish colonization of Mexico then, are you?”

Seriously, THAT’S a zinger! But outside of Stephen Fry and James May and lunches consisting of Pimm’s Cups and those sandwiches with corn in them (I don’t know why but they’re good), I’ve been to the UK a lot and it’s not that great. The weather is fun for a day or two then it becomes a total kick to the junk. Everything is expensive. It’s actually a pretty grim place. After only a few days, I find myself missing things like sunshine and reasonably priced anything and non-chicken or kebab storefronts. Here’s what cracks me up though. The smugness of Britons about how trashy, sensationalist and tabloid-y Americans and American culture is. Pot, kettle, you’ve got a lot of mutual darkness to discuss.

Sure, America can lay claim to things like TMZ, Perez Hilton and (though we’ll split the credit/blame for this one with Australia) Fox News. And yes, American press laws allow photos of children, including the children of celebrities, to be published which only encourages ass-monkey paparazzi to chase down and scare kids to get pictures of them which they will then sell to websites who will use the pictures to evaluate whether or not that particular child is hot or not. I will give Britain credit for banning the publication or sale of photos of a celebrity’s child (or any child who is involved in a crime or trial).

But where Britain takes the high road in avoiding some celebrity trash journalism (and one might even argue that’s just down to a much smaller number of celebrities residents in Britain which, in turn, leads them to cover the WAGs of footballers), they have a sub-genre of trashy journalism that never fails to blow my mind. It’s the most manipulative, incendiary and cynical kind of journalism I know of and it happens every day in Britain. It’s the LOOK AT THESE FAT PEOPLE AND OR/IMMIGRANTS AND/OR GENERALLY LAZY PEOPLE ON BENEFITS beast and it rears its head daily in the UK papers. I suppose a comparable issue would be the illegal immigration debate here in the States but the more nationalized health care and public aid becomes in a country, the bigger the font and the larger the target of hatred becomes at those on the receiving end of such benefits.

Here’s just a few recent examples of some clearly un-sensationalized stories about families on benefits.

The one about the mother of triplets

The always restrained Daily Mail called this one “The Real Telly Tubbies”. Classy.

It’s always fun to watch the four horsemen of the trashy UK news apocalypse (The Daily Mail, The Mirror, The Sun and the News of the World) quickly look for any ties between any relevant and perhaps truthful story about suspected terrorists who bent rules or overstayed their visas (which doesn’t get the public too worked up any longer) to the much more sexy “UK TERROR SUSPECT WAS LIVING ON BENEFITS AND PLAYED NINTENDO ALL DAY WHILE YOU WERE OUT WORKING HARD TO PAY FOR HIM TO SIT BACK AND EVENTUALLY TRY TO KILL YOU WITH A BOMB!” story. Now that the boogety-boo of “war on terror” and “extremists” and all those other buzz words that will be to the 2000’s like “dial-up” and “cappuccino” was in the 90’s have lost their edge, the UK press has had to find another way to MAKE EVERYONE REALLY MAD ABOUT THIS BENEFITS THING!

Enter my absolute favorite way to kill two birds with one stone. There’s an underlying issue here which is a completely valid one. There has been an Americanization of the United Kingdom (and the world, for that matter) even in the almost 15 years since I first went to London. A huge part of that has been the explosion of McDonald’s and KFCs (Holy Baby Jesus, they love their KFCs in Britain!) and any other chain that was big enough to take a risk on expanding overseas to provide cheap, deep fried food to the jagged-toothed English masses. This is such a hot button issue with a lot of people in Britain. And it goes beyond the Super Size Me argument here in America. Let’s put it this way: I can destroy a Big Mac with my mouth. But generally I think that fast food is a horrible food option unless it’s eaten as a rare treat or a “eat or die” sort of choice. In England, it goes beyond that. It’s not just an issue of health v. convenience. It’s seen as choosing the evil, awful fat American death burger over your dependable, loving old English grandmother’s home cooking just because it’s cheap and easy. It’s the reverse Benedict Arnold. That sounds dirty. And to them, it is.

So if terrorists/immigrants are not getting the traction they used to, why not use fat people who eat at McDonald’s as the next target of benefits abuse hatred? Doesn’t that make you ANGRY, good upstanding Britons? That’s your money being spent on health costs and housing benefits for these obese people who, on top of it all, got that way not by eating the always healthy staples of the British diet such as scotch eggs and bacon butties but by eating American fast food. Doesn’t that make you livid? Come on, get that xenophobia going! Start getting that mixture of smug superiority and righteous indignation to a rolling boil! It’s these tacky, Burberry-wearing chavs who are too lazy to work and are squandering YOUR hard earned tax pounds! I mean, it was okay when they were spending it at chip shops because that’s good British lard-based fried sustenance.

It kind of makes me proud to be an American when I read these articles because it reminds me that as much as Britain may claim to have finally completed the task of shaking off the shackles of the rigid class system they clung to for so long, they have come nowhere near close to doing so. The implied meaning behind all these articles is not “we’re worried about abuses in the benefits system” but “look at these lower class people and how stupid/gross/poorly-educated/nutritionally retarded/obese/unattractive/lazy they are!” On a weekly basis, I see someone purchasing food with a Lone Star/WIC card at the grocery store and a lot of the time, it’s not the soundest of nutritional choices. It’s white bread or juice boxes or something else containing the words “high fructose” or “hydrogenated” or “enriched”. Do I get morally enraged that, not only am I helping pay for their food but that my money is going towards nutritionally unwise foods? Nope. Because I am from Georgia and there are three foods that I never went more than a day or two without eating during my childhood there: butter sandwiches on white bread, bologna sandwiches on white bread and biscuits in a bowl of buttermilk.

So keep aiming for that whole “transcending classism” thing, Great Britain. Baby steps. Tiny, obese, overfed, benefits-abusing toddler steps.


Ben said...

Its always amusing to hear some limey on his barstool at the Londoner or the Dubliner (they have a flair for cleverly naming bars) say 'In England, blah blah blah' - pontificating about how everything is better over there, and yet they come IN DROVES to live here, Dallas, the armpit of the southwest. Most of these clowns came from London, and quickly forget how an hour's drive out of this international hub of culture and commerce will yield the same type of 'simple folk' that populate our less 'international' cities..
I like alot of things about the UK in general, but c'mon now, any country that spawns Gavin Rossdale has nothing to be smug about!

Cristina B said...


GW said...

Apparently such schadenfreude is not just the province of the English.