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Overly revered or under-appreciated? British culture appraised, part 1

I don’t have a snappy intro for this blog. Just one simple thought: You people in the UK don’t seem to properly appreciate or value what you have in your own country, and I’d like to point out to you exactly where you’ve got it wrong. 

I know this because, although I live here, I come from another country – America. With my outsider’s perspective, I can see what you cannot, or will not see. I’m sure that if you moved to America, and lived there for a dozen years or so, you too would view things with a point of view different from that of the locals. A bit like those vampires in movies that walk the earth for a thousand years, watching humans repeat all their mistakes over and over again through history, I sit here in my adopted country watching you Britons, again and again let go of things that have real value, while you treasure things that are quite useless. Witnessing this is my gift, and my curse.

If I sound a bit bitter, that’s because I am.

Your idiotic Brexit vote proves that at least 52% of you have no idea how good you have it. That’s the most obvious example, but it’s by no means the only one. I’ve seen it before – remember the Routemaster buses? They were things of beauty – big red national treasures that were symbols of the country. They were uber-efficient, beautifully-designed and they were fun to travel on. You had a bus that was fun. Who ever heard of such a thing? Well you had it, but you didn’t appreciate it. 

The EU declared their open-back design – which made them so convenient to hop on and hop off of – to be unsafe. You made a tiny bit of a protest, but then you threw your hands up in the air and declared “Well it’s health and safety and the EU isn’t it? Let’s get rid of them.” Led by your then-mayor Boris Johnson, you disposed of all of your beloved Routemasters and replaced them with horrible new ‘Routemasters’ that nobody likes, that cost far more to manufacture, and are uncomfortably hotter than Hades inside. No more fun bus. 

Then, around 15 years later, as if to make up for his mistake, Mr Johnson had another bright idea: ‘let’s keep these awful new buses, but let’s get rid of the EU!’ And you followed him once again and you casually jettisoned another thing that you should have held onto dearly. No more EU prosperity. 

I want to help. 

I want to guide you. 

I want to show you what you have that is of real value.

And to point out to you that which you have which you esteem too much: 


 

Overly revered and overrated: Radio 4

Red FM RDS/DAB digital radio 150, Roberts, 01709 571722

British people listen to the radio. Not internet radio. Not satellite radio. Radio radio. Like Fred Flintstone would have in his house. And if that’s not strange enough, many British people think prehistoric radio is better than television and the internet. They see it as somehow less vulgar. King of all aspirational radio stations in the British psyche is Radio 4, the BBC’s “Speech based news, current affairs and factual network.” 

You see, radio is old, and British people like old things. And old British people really like old things. So all the old people who only like old things listen to good old Radio 4 which consists of old people talking to old people about old things, with other old people listening in on their old radios. And all that oldness combines to create something that is seen as quintessentially British, and thus beloved. 

But things get old and die for a reason – it’s the natural order of things. Not so for Radio 4, which creaks along as a kind of undead national institution that resolutely refuses to acknowledge the modern world. As a result, this leaves listeners with programmes such as:”Things that are called Jazz that are not Jazz: Why are so many things called jazz?” which is a real programme that is actually being broadcast today, just as I write this. Why, Radio 4, why indeed? 

 

Overlooked and under-appreciated: 6 Music

bbc-6-music-might-get-axed-absolute-radio-to-the-rescue

If you’re American, you know that radio sucks. Pandering DJs playing crap, generic pop music with loads of commercials. Something you listen to in your car only if your bluetooth isn’t connecting to your mobile phone. But imagine if that weren’t the case? Imagine a world where there was a radio station that played an eclectic mix of new music:  indie, punk, electronic, hip hop and more. Imagine further that there were no advertisements of any kind. Let’s go even deeper into this fantasy: picture in your head DJs who didn’t pander, who actually loved music, and could mostly play whatever they wanted, without mandated corporate playlists. In this dream, perhaps in the distance, you can make out the hazy image of actual musicians and rock stars, like Jarvis Cocker and Iggy Pop, spinning records, and introducing you to new bands, or older acts that you may have missed out on.

Well, my Yankee friend, you don’t need to pretend, you just need to move to the UK, because all of the above exists in the real world – on BBC 6 Music – the radio station of your dreams. Unfortunately, hardly anybody here listens to it, and 6 music is more Cinderella than belle of the ball – every few years, they threaten to yank it off the air.   


 

Overly revered and overrated: Jeremy Clarkson and Top Gear

clarkson

Maybe I’m not a fair judge, as I’m not a car person, but I think there is empirical evidence that former Top Gear host Jeremy Clarkson is vastly overvalued in British society. Clarkson is known for saying outrageous things, and he’s insulted gay people, black people, Indian people, just about everyone except for rich, white entitled men. Which is fine, if you like that sort of thing. Maybe there’s value in being an insufferable bigot and entitled jackass – it seems to work for Donald Trump. But the reason I think Clarkson’s an overrated loser, and that I’m amazed at the worship heaped upon him, is in the public reaction to his firing. 

Let’s go over the story: While at work on Top Gear, Mr Clarkson called one of his employees a “lazy Irish c*nt” and beat him up, sending him to the hospital for the ‘crime’ of the employee not having arranged for Mr Clarkson the exact hot dinner that Mr Clarkson had really wanted. You couldn’t imagine a more open and shut case for someone’s sacking. But many British people didn’t agree. There were huge protests and much anger at the BBC over his firing – by people who apparently believe that you should have the right to be able to thrash your employees as much as you like if you are the host of a popular TV programme. Instead, many were angry at the BBC. Mr Clarkson has no discernible talent, except exuding unearned privilege. 

 

Overlooked and under-appreciated: The BBC

bbc

The BBC in fact is under constant threat, and not just from Jeremy Clarkson supporters. There are frequent campaigns, usually funded by the country’s right wing politicians and newspapers to defund it, to strip it of its most successful assets, or to censor it. I know, for the most part, British people do value the BBC, but not nearly enough.

I love the BBC. And you, Britain, you need the BBC. The way I see it, without the BBC, the UK loses its very soul. Without the BBC, Britain becomes a corporate plutocracy, governed by Rupert Murdoch or whatever other loathsome oligarch comes to replace him when he dies off. Without the BBC, children’s programmes become hyperactive advert vehicles for sweetened breakfast cereals and garish toys. Without the BBC, news programmes become sound-bite theatres, filled with talking heads reciting overused talking points, a place where blatant untruths go unchallenged. Without the BBC, the radio becomes an empty echo chamber of generic pop music with songs indistinguishable from commercials. Without the BBC, Britain loses its credibility and identity, only to find them replaced by celebrity worship and a culture of attention deficit hyperactivity that takes over completely, just as they have in much of the rest of the world. Without the BBC, Britain isn’t Britain, it’s basically Italy, but without the good food and weather. Protect it, for your own sakes. 


  

Overly revered and overrated: British libraries

library

Britain is a society which values reading and literature. But they don’t seem to have figured out how to share the books themselves, because the libraries here kind of suck. Yes, even compared to America, which despite its reputation here for illiteracy has far better local libraries.

I suppose there are a few good libraries here – the British Library in London is ugly on the outside, but pretty amazing within. But pretty much every other library I’ve been to in the country has been… shit. Sorry for the vulgarity, but since I don’t have a good local library, my communications skills have atrophied. Yes, I am not capable of coming up with a better, more appropriate word than.. shit to describe libraries here. Yes – even that one in Birmingham, which is the inverse of the British Library, amazing on the outside, but rubbish on the inside. Apparently, you really can’t judge a book by its cover. Which I would know if there were any books worth borrowing from my shit local library. 

 

Overlooked and under-appreciated: British book stores

daunt

You know how in America, it seems that every book store has closed down and been replaced by a Walmart selling rifles and spare tractor parts? It’s not nearly as bad over here. The book shops that have survived the Amazon.co.uk onslaught in the UK are actually kind of amazing, especially compared to their American equivalents like Barnes and Noble. My personal favourites: Daunt and Hatchard’s. There’s also Foyle’s, Waterstones and others – and those are just the chains. Beyond that, there still exists, in every town and city, several independent booksellers, virtually every one a delight.


  

Overly revered and overrated: These actors

freeman

Benedict Cumberbatch: Worst Khan ever. 
Martin Freeman: Why does he have to be in every movie? He’s literally the only British actor on the planet who can’t do a passable American accent. 
Simon Pegg: I agree Shaun of the Dead is amazing, but have you noticed that every one of his films is just a tiny bit worse than the previous one? And he’s in a lot of films. 
Helena Bonham Carter: All that wild-eyed over-acting and those showy hair styles aren’t fooling anybody. 
Stephen Fry: In other countries, people are proclaimed national treasures because they are fathers of their nations, or great inventors or philanthropists. Mr Fry is a God amongst men here, just for hosting a little chat show with quiz questions thrown in. 
Gemma Artreton: Despite herculean efforts by British publicists and magazine writers – like “fetch,” – she’s just never going to happen. 

Overlooked and under-appreciated: These other actors

bean

Hugh Laurie: He should offer lessons to Martin Freeman on how to do an American accent.
Tom Hardy: He’s like the anti-Simon Pegg, he gets a little better in every film. 
Sean Bean: British people just don’t appreciate him – they kill him off in every film or TV show he’s in. 
Christopher Eccleston: Only 1 season as Dr Who? He was the only Dr Who that ever gave the impression that he could actually kick someone’s ass. 
Gillian Anderson: She’s great in everything she does, but is seen as American (she has roots in both countries). 
Chiwetel Ejiofor: Unpronounceable, unmissable. 
Kelly MacDonald: She was in Trainspotting and No Country For Old Men. Now she seems to have disappeared. How can Helena Bonham Carter get so many roles, and not Kelly MacDonald? Is it the hair? Should she go “big” on the hair? You people like that, do you?


 

Overly revered and overrated: Black cab drivers

taxiDid you know that in order to qualify for a black cab license, British drivers have to take a driving exam known as “the knowledge,” which is widely seen as the most difficult in the world, requiring 3 years of intensive study, and memorisation of some 25,000 street names and hundreds of routes?

Well of course you know that. Everyone knows that piece of knowledge. But did you also know that all of that work can easily be replaced by a £40 GPS system? Of course, you know that too. You know who doesn’t know that? The people who license London taxi drivers. As for the cabbies themselves, I think on some animal level, they can sense that they have become overpriced and obsolete, but they can’t quite express how they feel about it. So instead they grunt and bark about traffic, immigrants and Uber drivers. 

Overlooked and under-appreciated: Veterinarians

dog_hatThis is supposed to be a nation of animal lovers, but you’d never know that from looking at veterinarians, and their salaries. Average pay for an experienced vet here is £41,000. Not bad, right? But that’s after an education that is more intense, more expensive, and far more competitive to get into than becoming a human doctor. And vets in the UK, unlike in America, don’t even get the privilege of being called a ‘doctor.” They’re just animal carers. The average pay for a vet in the USA: $88,000. 

Does it mean Americans love their cats and dogs more, that they are willing to pay their veterinarians more? Yes. Yes it does. You British people don’t deserve healthy animals.  

 

 

Part 2, with more examples of things under-appreciated and/or overrated coming soon … 

 

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1 thought on “Overly revered or under-appreciated? British culture appraised, part 1

  1. Wait, I’m confused. The EU butts into the design of British buses, they ruined everything, and you’re arguing for more EU in everyone’s lives? Isn’t this the case against EU meddling?

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