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XX Notes: It’s the American Way and We Can’t Help Watching

Published on: 10 Nov, 2020
Updated on: 12 Nov, 2020

Maria Rayner

Maria Rayner‘s observational, fortnightly column from a woman’s perspective…

We have been lucky this week. Without the popcorn-munching entertainment of the American presidential elections to compete with the national media attention, newsfeeds would have been filled with Lockdown Two. But wasn’t it always thus?

If you, like me, are a child of the early Seventies you will be no stranger to American culture. Even before, Hollywood and the movies imprinted culture from across the pond onto British life. My Dad tells stories of his childhood in wartime Weymouth, following the Yanks and chanting: “Got any gum, chum?”

Saturday morning TV, before the phenomenon that was Swap Shop, was imported: something Scandinavian, maybe Robinson Crusoe, a whole range of cartoons such as Scooby Doo, the Pink Panther or Hong Kong Phooey, followed by Champion the Wonder Horse.

As the Seventies progressed, afternoon TV showed excellent British shows, Grange Hill and Bagpuss, but holiday morning TV was The Monkees or Banana Splits.

On Saturday evenings, there would be The Six Million Dollar Man (or Wonder Woman), the A Team, Dukes of Hazzard or The Incredible Hulk.

All these shows poured American culture into our homes, and came with spin-off toys, the Steve Austen doll or the red Ford Gran Torino with the white stripe, a star of Starsky and Hutch.

And what Sunday was complete without the US cavalry riding across the plains to save a bunch of pioneers who’d come to harm at the hands of hostile “Indians”?

Life imitates art, and playground games mirrored what we watched on TV. By the Eighties, these stereotypes were disappearing, to be replaced by others, the African-American police chief and shows about families, Roseanne or the now discredited Bill Crosby.

I know more about the rivers and landscape of the Midwest from Little House on the Prairie than those a couple of hours drive away in Wales. And more about the legal system “over there” from Miami Vice or Cagney and Lacey.

Fast-forward to now with Netflix and Amazon Prime beaming even more North American shows into our front rooms, train carriages, bedrooms, it’s hard to escape that culture. And I haven’t touched on Disney, but I know more people who pay for its subscription service than Britbox.

Language evolves too and, while I’ve never heard my children refer to sweets as candy, there are other Americanisms they do use: lootenant, rather than ‘lef’, season instead of series, truck not lorry; sometimes even I say movie.

Some would argue (probably son No 1) that this cultural exchange is natural osmosis. English isn’t spoken by accident, the English took it there, as well as baseball, apple pie and the Scouting movement.

When people from Surrey left to find their fortunes in them there hills they named it after home: Wikipedia lists 12 towns called Guildford in the USA, although some of them drop the “d”.

Guilford, North Carolina shares a similar motto with Guildford Courage and Faith or Fortiter et Fideliter.

Wouldn’t it be fun to visit them? I wonder if any Dragon readers have? Please do let us know. Guildford, Baltimore looks nice in the pictures, but Guildford, Montana is bleak.

But a large, powerful nation will always impose its culture, by force or more benign influence, if Apple or the Romans can be viewed as such.

So, while we may not know if our Guildford cousins in Maryland or North Carolina voted for Trump or Biden, our shared language and culture keeps us glued to the TV coverage.

Last December, I went to a Razorlight concert (remember live music?) where they played their chart-topping track America, and while Simon and Garfunkel’s song of the same name may be more authentic, and better musically and lyrically, Razorlight’s is the one that chimes with me: All my life, watching America…

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test 2 Responses to XX Notes: It’s the American Way and We Can’t Help Watching

  1. Tay-Jarl Andessen Reply

    November 10, 2020 at 2:12 pm

    I have visited Gilford in Montana, as a relative has a ranch at nearby Kremlin. Isolated but charming. While taking a few days’ break from the Appalachian Trail I visited Guilford, the preserved plantation house at White Post in Virginia. I’d like to visit some of the Guildfords in Australia.

  2. Jules Cranwell Reply

    November 11, 2020 at 5:45 am

    And let’s not overlook Guildford, Surrey in British Columbia, a suburb of Vancouver. It has an 86ft flagpole.

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