British Disease


It doesn't take more than a

cursory glance at late-night

television to grasp the rather

obvious fact that the United

States remains a subjugated

colony of Great Britain. In the

particularly arid patches of the

tube's vast wasteland—betwixt,

say, the final In the Heat of

the Night rerun of the day and

the next eagerly anticipated

reunion of Mama's Family—the

American patriot is likely to be

confronted not only by

infomercials yammering on about

the relative advantages of

homemade chocolate pasta ("a

great desert pasta") or the

mostly reversible side effects

of the newest breakthrough in

fat-blocking technology. He or

she is also likely to be

accosted by brown-toothed shills

with English accents, touting

the latest space-age solutions

to credit card

fraud and semen stains in

delicate clothing.

Look, there's a bow-tied Brit

frenetically explaining in the

Queen's English precisely how

the Rocket Chef vegetable slicer

pays for itself halfway through

the first 2-pound bag of

carrots. Switch the channel and

you'll encounter the reformed

Borstal Boy extolling the

portable Red Devil Grill's

ability to bake pineapple upside

down cake with an exuberance

usually reserved for reciting

Rupert Brooke's poetry or

kicking French soccer fans in

the face. Just try to avoid

Audrey, that ubiquitous,

post-menopausal Mary Poppins, as

she pedantically explains the

Iron Quick and Fat Free Express

"systems" to her uncomprehending

stateside stooge.

How bad is the situation? In an

age where the sun has

definitively set on the British

empire, US TV nonetheless

regularly airs Slender Secret, a

diet infomercial featuring

doughboy Robin Leach, whose

chest-to-waist ratio confounds

traditional mathematics even as

it conforms to standard UK

morphology. That the pear-shaped

parasites' only credential to

speak authoritatively is their

British accents simply drives

home the point that Americans

reflexively genuflect whenever

they believe themselves to be in

the presence of the English.

Champagne kisses and caviar

dreams indeed.

Signs of cultural occupation are

everywhere: There's the

Teletubbies invasion, one of the

most gruesomely successful

attacks on national sovereignty

since the Redcoats burned DC

during the War of 1812; the high

praise ritually accorded Rhodes

Scholars, as if winning a

fellowship named for one of the

most outspoken racists in

history and routinely given to

protean geniuses such as Kris

"Jesus Was a Capricorn"

Kristofferson should garner a

response other than dismissive

laughter; the fact that Madonna,

who rose to stardom by grunting

like the unapologetic Motor City

hussy she was, now affects an

English accent; stores sincerely

called Ye Olde Shoppe in every

corner of the contiguous United

States and, likely, in Alaska

and Hawaii; the esteem

inexplicably conferred on

editorial starfucker Tina Brown;

the growing use of Britishisms

such as "bloody" and "cheers,"

even by natives of Brooklyn, New

York; wannabe Spice Girl Gwyneth

Paltrow pretending to be a royal

subject in films such as Emma, Shakespeare in

Love, and Sliding Doors; the

continued brisk sales of

so-called English muffins; the

recent anointing of Shakespeare

as the "inventor of the human"

by bovine critic and New Yawk

native Harold Bloom; and on and


To be sure, Anglophilia of all

stripes is hardly a new

phenomenon. In the early days of

the colonies, artists and

businessmen in particular

regularly returned to Mother

England to hone their skills, to

make contacts, and to search for

more and better whores. (As

colonial diaries filled up with

disappointed entries, such as

"endeavored to pick up a whore

but could not find one," London

newspapers carried

advertisements along the lines

of, "Wanted. A Woman [with]

bosom full and plump, firm and

white, lively conversation and

one looking as if she could feel

delight where she wishes to give

it.") During the 19th century,

boring, flatulent novelist Henry

James bemoaned the provincialism

of America, headed east across

the pond, and eventually

achieved his lifelong dream of

becoming an Englishman (an

aspiration that indelibly marked

him as quintessentially

American). In a bid to erase his

scandalous birth and childhood

in St. Louis, Missouri, T. S.

Eliot became a British subject

in 1927 and a devoted member of

the Church of England. The

modernist poet H. D. fled the

New World for the Old and became

a different type of British

subject: She entered into a

golden shower-infused liaison

with eminent sexologist Havelock

Ellis—a relationship that

concisely sums up the

traditional cultural

relationship between England and

its former charge.

Give these Benedict Arnolds

their due: At least Great

Britain was in some way great

when they supplicated themselves

like so many peasants. England's

post-World War II history—the

high points of which include

30-plus years of the Dr. Who

television series, a bulimic

princess who inspired perhaps

the worst best-selling song of

all time, and more than a decade

of Roger Moore playing Agent 007

– should have been more than

enough to erase any illusion of

national cultural superiority.

Certainly, the parallel

experiences of Brit Hugh Grant

(caught with a hooker in Los

Angeles) and American Eddie

Murphy (caught with a

transvestite hooker in Los

Angeles) should indicate who's

currently blazing trails.

And yet the cultural

mercantilism continues: We ship

over raw blues, for example, and

see them returned as finished

products played by heroin


professor of rockology Eric

Clapton. We give them T. S. Eliot

gratis; they send back Cats. We

kill a Beatle; they export


However, there are signs that

the relationship is finally

righting itself, especially as

the United Kingdom slides into

Third World status and becomes

more openly a colony of France

and Germany. Austin Powers:

International Man of Mystery,

the brainchild of Canadian (that

is to say, US citizen) Mike

Myers, not only physically

abused English icon Michael York

but suggested that the British

are, in fact, twits with rotten

teeth. Tony Blair openly rose to

power by pursuing a less

testosterone-heavy version of

Bill Clinton's politics

(reversing the terms of exchange

by which Ronald Reagan won

office by pursuing a less

testosterone-heavy version of

Margaret Thatcher's). And

Princess Di memorabilia are

starting to go south on the

Bradford Exchange.

Whether such promising trends

augur a wholesale revision of

centuries' worth of cultural

imperialism remains to be seen.

But whenever Massachusetts-born

Emeril Lagasse beats Robin Leach

in the ratings on the Food

Network, whenever a Beach Boy –

even Al Jardine, fer chrissakes

– outlives a Beatle, whenever –

God help us all—Hanson

outsells Oasis, every real

American should stand up and say

the Pledge of Allegiance. And

whenever infomercials, which

will doubtlessly emerge as the

quintessential American art form

of the 21st century, are purged

of their English-accented

barkers, the United States will

finally earn the title of the

world's only superpower. After

all, the ability—and

willingness—to unilaterally

and indiscriminately bomb

foreign countries means precious

little indeed if your citizens

feel themselves somehow inferior

to the likes of Prince Charles.

Nick Gillespie is editor-in-chief of reason. This story originally appeared in Suck, and can be viewed in that format here.