Lifestyle & Belief

British views of America: anonymous and uncensored


This American Life creator, Ira Glass, is America's favorite radio nerd. But some people in Britain don't want to know about his show.


Michael Buckner

As the Anglo-American love-in at the White House draws to a close, I thought it would be worth flagging some British views of the U.S. from below stairs.

Every day the Guardian runs an editorial called "In Praise Of …" which does just that. In one paragraph it extols an individual or group for making society and culture a little bit better. Today's In Praise of … is about the public radio program, "This American Life." It praises Ira Glass and his crew for, " … storytelling as a public service, in which the way listeners are told things is treated as of comparable importance as what they are told. The result is enchanting, and makes one wonder why the BBC offers nothing similar."

That's pretty unexceptionable - although a bit unfair to the Beeb which does a fair amount of that kind of story telling (I provide some of it), although not packed into a single weekly program.

The reason I am telling you about this is the comment string below the editorial. It speaks volumes about a significant segment of British public opinion on America. Hostile is a fairly inadequate description:

Gosport 27 is the first commenter this morning: "Why do we need to copy the Americans? can't we just do something original ourselves."

6ofclubs: "I think we're all quite fine the way we are thank you very much."

Roachclip: "There are many things that Americans do that we don't. Unfortunately they get fewer by the day, and we're worse off because of it. What we don't need are our national newspapers encouraging the take-over."

Nyewasright: "Everything that's shit in the world is American."

Now, The Guardian's comment trolls are famous for being the most rabid in the British newspaper universe. They are aided and abetted by the paper's misguided policy on anonymity and some pretty lax editorial monitoring. But on other days and other American stories you will find similar invective - without the curse words - at most British papers. the very conservative, Daily Telegraph, for example.

Nor is it America that comes in for stick in the comment string. Class war is never far from the surface in any argument in Britain.

BushedCrutler writes:  "What this article illustrates, though, is that there is a certain category of person - of which all Guardian leader writers are a subset - who, in at some point in their 20s or 30s (and in no particular order) discover a) the New Yorker, b) the New York Times and c) NPR/PRI, think "blimey, this is good, I must be a really sophisticated fucker to have heard of this, and I bet that this makes me one of the five or 10 cleverest people in Britain."

And then there's understated patriotism. Why isn't there a program like "This American Life" on the BBC? JamesDavid knows:

"Perhaps because a radio programme called "This British Life" just sounds at best ridiculous, at worst like some piece of chest-thumping fascist propaganda? America is very parochial in its outlook - they think they're at the centre of everything. This is not something we should try to emulate."

American readers of this blog should remember these posts the next time they are listening to a British actor make a polite acceptance speech, or a British Prime Minister pledge to stand shoulder to shoulder with America forever.  My guess is most of those who wrote comments have never heard "This American Life" but resentment of the U.S., in some cases absolute hatred, is a significant minority strand of public opinion in Britain, and simply suggesting that Britons might benefit from exposure to any aspect of American culture will provoke rage - although you may only learn about it under cover of anonymity.