Of Brits and brickbats

Guest Column

I love the smell of political discourse in the morning.

When the folks at the Guardian newspaper here in my adopted land of Blighty decided to encourage their readers to write and send letters of political advice (read: “Dump W.”) to voters in Ohio’s Clark County, supposedly a key “swing” region that could benefit from such Brit wisdom, I struggled to picture the Ohio natives reading these missives of fear and caution, wheedling and cajoling, including the letters from my U.K. cultural heroes such as spy novelist John Le Carre and film auteur Ken Loach.

Having lived in London going on five years, I’m somewhat immune to the cranky rantings of the showbiz intelligentsia here, just as I became innoculated to the preachings of Penn, Sarandon, Baldwin et al. over in my old hometown, Hollywood.

But, what, I wondered, would the good people of Clark County make of lines like “Your country is reviled” and “You are seen as the greatest bully on earth,” those choice quotes courtesy of Mr. Loach?

Somehow I didn’t imagine they’d say, “That Ken! ‘Land and Freedom’ was pretty good, but he’s never topped ‘Kes.’ ”

And this was all before so-called Brit TV funny guy Charlie Brooker weighed in with a bylined piece in the Guardian that contained this anti-Bush gem: “John Wilkes Booth, Lee Harvey Oswald, John Hinckley Jr — where are you now that we need you?”

Really funny, huh?

Well, faster than you can say “Pre-Soviet collapse, outmoded academic Marxism,” the good people of Ohio did answer the letters and it’s to the Guardian’s credit that they published the responses: These included “Screw you’s,” and “Bite me’s,” with the headline, “Dear Limey Assholes.”

It really makes wonderful reading. Especially aloud. (www.guardian.co.uk)

I won’t go into all of the choice Buckeye notions about the U.K., but let’s just say that the assumption of a German-speaking British Isles without American aid in WWII, the sad state of U.K. dental hygiene (Note: Is Austin Powers the number one vidrental in Clark County?) and the orifices of the Brits, as preferred repositories of said Brit opinions and also as noted in the headline, as familiar salutation of choice, dominated the discourse.

The Guardian dumped the whole exercise last week as it became right-wing red meat for newspapers, TV stations and radio outlets across America, especially the voracious Rush Limbaugh, who feasted daily on this quintessentially English beef.

As for my own view of some of the more “helpful” citizens of the former British Empire who I have personally encountered this troubled and contentious year, I have a dream.

Next time I hear the observation over here, in public and at parties, that people in the Middle East “don’t want democracy,” as if the citizens of the region, living under unspeakable repression and murderous regimes, were animals undeserving of the same human rights and the same freedom of speech that enable these experts to expound, one of the millions of voters in Afghanistan, exercising their voting rights for the first time in 5,000 years, will magically appear, like Marshall McLuhan in “Annie Hall” to say, “Dear Limey Asshole” — or the Afghani equivalent.

I have always defended Barbra Streisand’s First Amendment rights, and even though they’re still struggling over here in Blighty with that whole Bill of Rights thing (stay tuned, the U.K.’s Freedom of Information law will happen this century), I apply those rights to British wordsmiths and helmers and even crap TV comics, talk show hosts and pop stars.

That is, as long as they understand that instead of receiving civilized political counterpoints to their soapbox orations, they may instead be greeted by the typical American’s love of plain non-Queen’s English, the frequent and lusty usage of remedial anatomical terms and those succinct Anglo-Saxonisms that all Americans, regardless of political persuasion, color or creed, still count on to express their deepest and most profound feelings of appreciation.

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