Even before I swapped the UK for the United States, I was vaguely aware of an apparent American propensity for all things British. It was no secret that Americans adored the Royal family almost as much (if not more) as the British; that British music – led by a little-known ’60s rock ‘n’ roll quartet from Liverpool – was, and is, wildly popular; and that a certain book charting the alternative education of a bespectacled wizard boy continues to be read by millions of pre-teens, teens and, well, everyone.
What I didn’t know was that American Anglophilia was even more widespread; contemporary British television shows such as Dr. Who, Downton Abbey, and Sherlock have garnered a sizable following stateside, while older shows – such as Fawlty Towers, Pride and Prejudice (TV series), and Keeping Up Appearances – are also mentioned with fondness in the USA.
Moreover, British films, though released less frequently over here than back home, have nonetheless faired well at the American box office, with The King’s Speech, Shaun Of The Dead, and Love, Actually performing well over the last 10 years. Indeed, British actors and actresses, such as Benedict Cumberbatch, David Tennant, Colin Firth, Simon Pegg, Kate Winslet, Kiera Knightly, and Dame Judi Dench are deeply respected by American movie buffs.
Then, having looked more closely, I came to realise that even British food and drink items had made their way across The Pond. Select Cadbury’s products can be found in most major grocery stores, while Newcastle Brown Ale, Pimm’s, and various forms of tea are not always incredibly hard to come by either. In the case of Newcastle Brown, in fact, this is routinely accessible in the many British-style pubs, which generally count fish ‘n’ chips, shepherd’s pie and bangers and mash among their menu items.
Moreover, since launching my blog in February, 2013, I have come to estimate, based on interactions with my readers, that there are perhaps millions of Americans who have themselves visited various towns, cities and regions of Britain that yours truly has not even driven through.
And so, as pro-British sentiment appears higher in the United States than ever before, I thought I would ask the following question: why are there so many American Anglophiles?
After all, as recently as the early 20th century, Americans still resented the British following centuries of regional disputes and conflicts. The Revolutionary War, which resulted in America’s independence from the British, lasted a grueling eight years, while the War of 1812 – fought, in part, over trade restrictions brought on by Britain’s war with France – carried on for almost 3 years. Between these wars, and even during the American Civil War (when the British flirted with the idea of sympathizing with the U.S. Confederates), the two did not see eye-to-eye.
Despite tensions in the early history of Anglo-American relations, however, it must be remembered that much of modern day American culture derives from the very settlers who moved to the New World from England in the 17th and 18th centuries. One of their descendents, Noah Webster – the man responsible for standardizing American English with his dictionary – insisted that Americans must speak English because of its connections to great literature. Over time, this medium would contribute significantly to America’s eventual pro-British stance.
Ironically, it was another war – World War I – that would set the foundations for what Churchill would later call the “special relationship” between the two nations. Following the defeat of the Germans in 1918, American president Woodrow Wilson and British Prime Minister David Lloyd George (along with France’s Georges Clemenceau) came together at the Paris Peace Conference to decide Germany’s fate, as well as the future of Europe. This meeting brought about the creation of the League of Nations – an intergovernmental organization whose primary mission was to prevent any such world conflict from arising in the future.
However, in the 1930s, with Germany, Spain, Italy and Japan withdrawing from it, the league’s failure was becoming apparent; the outbreak of World War II in Europe only served to confirm it. As with World War I, the Americans allied with the British, this time in a battle of attrition against Hitler’s Germany and the rest of the Axis Powers. Following the defeat of Germany on May 8, 1945 and Japan on August 15 of the same year, trade between the United States and Great Britain accelerated.
This, of course, lent itself not just to food produce and raw materials, but to art, music and literature. The post-war works of the likes of George Orwell, Dylan Thomas and William Golding became popular in the United States, helping to spread the British vernacular and outlook across the Pond. From Shakespeare to J.K. Rowling, this trick has certainly been repeated many times throughout history, with American fascination in the British way of life growing with every scene or chapter.
And as the 20th century went on, the British continued to invade (pun intended) America through other mediums; in 1953, interest in the Royal family grew exponentially, as Queen Elizabeth II ascended to the throne. Meanwhile, starting a tradition that is still alive today, British music artists like The Beatles, the Stones and The Kinks took the United States by storm, opening the door for later acts such as Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Queen, Elton John, George Michael, The Police, Coldplay, Leona Lewis, Adele and, well, hundreds of others.
Despite their earlier differences, the passage of time has brought with it a sense of mutual respect between the two countries. The shared language – itself split in half by the Atlantic – is something both parties can relate to. For their part, Americans – I get the sense – enjoy hearing words like rubbish, mate and aluminium because that is the language theirs is derived from. Indeed, their appreciation of the monarchy seems to come from a similar place; much of their population descended from British settlers who had left a country under the rule of King James I, not to mention his many successors. Moreover, Americans commonly tell me that, in a romanticized world, they would prefer a monarchy over the congressional politics of present day Washington (it would be interesting to see if these sentiments have increased since the recent shutdown of government).
In all, the stars appear to have aligned. Two imperial forces came together largely because of the unfolding of history and the mutual benefits of a post-war world. Americans, still searching for some sort of palpable identity, continue to look up to Britain (though won’t always admit it) as one would an older sibling – one who is perceived as wise, experienced, and more eloquent, but whose otherwise many flaws are all too often overlooked.
May we overlook them a little longer.