Two Nations Divided By A Common Language

I’ve always been fascinated by America. It’s a country that seems so romantic in many ways and equally frustrating in others. At times, I feel more responsive to American culture than British. For the most part, this is due to the permeating nature of the former over the latter; American films, music, television are as ubiquitous on our shores as they are in the States. Our city centres are saturated with American companies, McDonalds, Starbucks, none of which are new: global consumerism isn’t reserved to Britain.

However, as US culture bleeds into our own, I find myself oddly drawn to US politics, perhaps more so than British politics. I can comfortably name all of the Presidents from the last century and could probably have a good stab at the centuries preceding it. But, I couldn’t tell you who the Prime Ministers were in the 1930’s or the 1950’s for that matter. As the Republican candidacy has gathered momentum over the past months, I find myself being drawn in once again.

My primary source for the goings-on in US politics is The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Comedy Central’s resident news satire show. Stewart’s show superbly dissects news stories, adding punch lines where necessary, but for the most part letting them flow naturally. Lampooning the style of CNN and other major news networks in the US, Stewart taps into what I see as an underlying sense of absurdity within US politics. If The Daily Show is the perfect parody of CNN, than The Colbert Report (pronounced “col-bare re-pour”) is the perfect parody of Fox News. Hosted by Stephen Colbert, who adopts a deadpan take of Fox News pundits such as Bill O’Reilly, Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity, The Report masterfully turns the Republican propaganda machine’s warped view of reality in on itself for sublime comedic effect. Both shows take developments within American politics and, at times, express their despair at how those in positions of considerable power can be so incompetent.

This has inspired me to wonder why we don’t have an equivalent over here, especially when Stewart is often named the “most trusted name in US news”. Despite the presence of shows such as 10 O’clock Live, we don’t have a daily equivalent which is odd when Charlie Brooker and David Mitchell seem to be the transatlantic heirs of Stewart and Colbert. The broad conclusion I’ve come to is that, for the most part American politics is far more eccentric and British politics too insular and rather dull. American leaders need to be above all things charismatic, but at times are extremely obtuse; British leaders are for the most part intelligent, but rather oddball characters.

Things seem to be clearer in the US. You have the right-wing and the left-wing – or rather centre right – the Republicans and the Democrats, Big Business and the Working Man. However, even this clear division still seems baffling to many in American society. Fox News endlessly complains of the ‘liberal’ bias in the media that elected Obama, a cunning scheme which in reality has encouraged the progressive shift to the right. It all seems so surreal, you can’t help but feel frustratingly drawn in.

In comparison, British politics seems positively dull; broadly speaking, the Conservatives represent the Upper-Middle Class, Labour represent the Lower-Middle Class and the Liberals are somewhere in-between. Our political scandals involve MP’s bending the rules ever so slightly, cooking the books; compared to US political scandals, The Lewinsky Trial, Cheney’s hunting ‘accident’, Katrinagate, British scandals hardly seem to qualify. As the American political system so ardently focuses on the needs of the people, it feels fascinatingly intimate, whereas British politics is so distant and removed from people’s everyday lives it feels totally uninspiring.

I feel at times that I romanticise US politics. The charisma of the leaders and the unbelievable nature of the whole entity often disguises that the system is also dysfunctional and easily manipulated. I even feel disloyal to British politicians, who, mostly, are intelligent and competent in their jobs. Nonetheless, I think I’ll always be more drawn to US politics than British. 

Ben James

One Comment
  • A compilation of news and opinion articles about Stephen Colbert.
    29 March 2012 at 18:27
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