Why Are Americans So Obsessed With British Culture?
From those cute phone booths to the Queen, we Americans adore all things England.
Over two centuries ago, Americans fought a bloody war to gain independence from overbearing British rulers. It was a long, drawn-out fight that ended with many deaths on both sides. One would think that there would be some grudges harbored, but since the Revolutionary War, the United States and Great Britain have formed a very positive bond thanks to the partnership that arose during World War II.
Today, many Americans idolize British culture. You don’t need to search far for evidence of this. Just look at the obscene amount of news coverage for the upcoming royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.
What fuels this obsession with the Brits? We looked at some of the common reasons for Anglophilia.
The Intelligent, Sexy British Accent
The British accent holds a certain sway over the United States. It has been called sexier, more pleasant and more intelligent than the American accent. This refers only to the posh British accent, because some regional variants, like cockney, have negative connotations because of their association with the working class.
An attractive accent alone doesn’t explain the American infatuation with Brits. As many linguists point out, the evaluation of an accent is closely tied to the evaluation of the speaker. Therefore, it’s better to look at the British people and ideas Americans are most obsessed with.
The Long, Storied History of England
The United States is a very young country with only a few centuries under its belt, and because of that, it lacks a lot of history. People read plenty about the American Revolution and the Civil War, but the British can just walk outside and point to a doorknob that predates George Washington. To extend our lineage, people often trace the United States’ history back across the pond. Whether it be the strong interest in Neville Chamberlain and Winston Churchill, or the much older fascination with King Arthur, England acts as the entryway to European history for many Americans. It’s our way of connecting ourselves to a much longer story arc.
The Glamorous British Monarchy
Of all the things Americans like about Great Britain, the monarchy is definitely the most ironic. After all, the United States fought a war to say “No more kings!”
Over the past few decades, Americans have grown a strong affection for the royals. While Kate Middleton and Prince William have been the center of attention for several years, our fascination peaked unmistakably in the days of Diana, Princess of Wales. Diana, the wife of Prince Charles, was termed the “people’s princess” for her extraordinary popularity and work to fight world hunger, and her life attained mythological status when she died tragically in a car crash in 1997. The cult of personality around Lady Di is as strong as ever today, with the 2017 biopic Diana, Our Mother: Her Life and Legacy being just the latest in a long series of movies, books and articles about her life.
The current reigning monarch, Queen Elizabeth, the longest-reigning ruler of England ever, has inspired less obsession. She is seen more as an adorable old lady. That changed when Netflix unveiled The Crown, a dramatic period piece that plans to cover all seven decades of Elizabeth’s time in power, with each season looking at a single decade. Notably, if The Crown plans to end in five years like it mathematically should, the showrunners must be hedging their bets on the longevity of the queen.
The monarchy has almost no power these days, having slowly weakened ever since the beheading of King Charles I in 1649. What makes them so popular in the United States, then, especially considering it’s a nepotistic system that enabled atrocities to occur across the world in the cruel colonial days of England? Well, today, perhaps the closest analog to the royal family in the United States are the Kardashians, in that they’re famous for being famous. People pay attention to them not when something political happens, but when someone is pregnant or getting married. This is not to say that the British family is far more central to the identity of the United Kingdom, with their centuries of history behind them. It’s only to comment on the rabid media coverage that makes light of historical ancestry and thrives on scandal.
On a final note, the British monarchy is interesting because for most people alive today, it has been helmed by only one person, and Elizabeth seems to do her best to stay out of political affairs. There’s no telling if the tides will turn when a new king is crowned. Next in line is her son, Charles, Prince of Wales, who is far more controversial than his mother. It’s possible that people will try to abolish the monarchy once and for all once the Queen passes.
The British Arts, From Music To Drama And Beyond
A huge amount of the culture Americans consume comes from the United States itself, but one of the favorite artistic imports in this country is British music (Rolling Stones, David Bowie, Adele), television (Doctor Who, Downtown Abbey, Monty Python) and drama. There is the advantage of lacking a language barrier, but that in itself doesn’t account for all the Anglophilia. It may be that the cross-pollination of American and British culture has made it perfectly natural that Americans would admire a mix of people from both.
The British Invasion and the birth of rock ‘n’ roll mark the most notable instance of British culture invading the United States. The Beatles reached a level of fame previously unheard of, but they owe a lot of their notoriety to the Americans who inspired them, especially the black musicians whose songs they covered on their early albums. It went further than just covers, because the Beatles also tended to imitate American pronunciation, especially by pronouncing the “r”s at the end of words. Since the Beatles first started doing this, British musicians seem to have continued in the line of copying Americans, up to and including Adele. This isn’t to say that all great British musicians were just successfully copying American cool, but it seems like a large number of famous artists Americanized themselves to a certain extent to obtain international appeal.
Shifting the view to another realm of culture, the British have quite a hold on the dramatic arts. The United States may be the home of Hollywood, but Hollywood is addicted to British actors, from Laurence Olivier to Helen Mirren to Idris Elba. You can also tell there’s a British preoccupation in show business because so many theater companies in the United States insist on spelling their name with the British “theatre.” There are plenty of explanations that contribute to this British monopoly in the stage arts: the British accent blinds us to what is comparatively mediocre acting; the Classical actor training in England is just better and more rigorous than the Method acting in the United States; and, of course, England is the birthplace of William Shakespeare, which alone adds prestige to the entire country. It’s unlikely that British actors are just naturally better than Americans, but their influence continues to have a massive effect on American film, theater and television.
The Delicious British Food
Well, perhaps that’s a little harsh. If The Great British Bake Off shows us anything, it’s that Americans love a good Queen Victoria sandwich. On a side note, the show is called The Great British Baking Show in the United States because Pillsbury owns the rights to “bake off.” Arguably, the love the show has inspired is not because of the food, however, and is instead thanks to the charismatic hosts and the way they say “soggy bottom.”
Do They Love Us Back?
The good news is that our obsession with the British is not unrequited. Their love of us just manifests in different ways. There is no British analog to the tea-drinking, Doctor Who-watching Anglophiles of the United States, but only because American culture has so saturated England. They love New York City, they love our sports, they love our Trader Joe’s. The special relationship between Great Britain and the United States ensures a continued trade of ideas and people for many years to come.