Sunny Days in Heaven
Spiritual/Political/Philosophical Blog on the Nature of Truth and Falsehood and Heaven

Sunday, February 01, 2004  

How veddy British

I got this link from Terry Teachout. It's a BBC interview with Evelyn Waugh. There's also an alphabet index to the right where you can access many other British and American interviews.

I listened to Waugh and started on Kingsley Amis. It is rather wonderful listening to these people and noting the difference in manner, custom, erudition, and directness. Waugh was very laconic in his replies to questions (he rarely elaborates), and when asked why he did so poorly at Oxford he replies in one word, "sloth." There is something marvelously forthright about his speech. He doesn't mince words or attempt to make himself appear better than he is or was.

That is very different from what you might hear on Fresh Air on NPR with some American author or novelist. Americans are all about self-promotion and in believing their press releases. The authentic self-deprecation of the British (and their shameless honesty in it) is revelatory in illustrating the enormous gap between their culture and ours which is often overlooked. (Or used to be since these interviews go back quite a ways.)

Everyone, I hope, has read the books of James Harriot, the English vet, and laughed at the eccentricities and foibles of the people in his stories. (If not, then shame on you. Where's your heart?) These BBC interviews help to really place the culture, and fix the society of that time. (Maybe gone now, alas.) And demonstrate just how weird the English can be, to the point of wondering how we could have been descended from such folks.

(I suppose that Canada shows just how divergent two strains of English people can be. Same continent and very similar history and yet, how vastly different in type.)

English comedy is based on the fear or threat of humiliation. Self-deprecation is an attempt to prevent that in the English character. American comedy (sitcoms and so forth) is based on the fear of being caught having made a mistake.

This distinction may seem minute or trivial, but there is a great difference between the two. The Englishman fears being found out, of being a peasant, a person of low class. The American fears being discovered a fool.

Let's say in a sitcom both types are conned into losing money on a get-rich-quick scheme. The Englishman cringes at having his stupidity, ignorance, lack of savvy realized by others. The American rails at the injustice done to him, and swears to get even with those who made a fool out of him. The Englishman plays the sinner. The Ameruican plays they victim who seeks revenge.

That makes for a world of difference between us, our cultures and unconscious attitudes. It's hard not to love the English, though, even when they are such snobs and snots.

posted by Mark Butterworth | 1:07 AM |