12 February 2014

Cultural Exchange

While Tim Roberts' article on parallels between nineteenth-century Anglo-American relations and twenty-first century Sino-American relations might at first glance seem, at the least, not outrageous, a deeper consideration of what this article is telling us, and what is going on today might make us think about all this a bit differently, especially in a cultural context.
Six of the first fifteen U.S. presidents spent time early in their careers in Britain, educating them about British ways, different from much of China’s ruling elite’s experience of the United States only from afar. Besides this, though, many nouveau riche Chinese people today cross the Pacific and enjoy downloading Desperate Housewives and The Walking Dead, postmodern versions of ambitious Jacksonian Americans’ tours of Britain and reading their Shakespeare and Dickens.
As anyone who has visited Abraham Lincoln's house at Springfield, Illinois, will recall, busts of those two celebrated authors are on prominent display in his sitting room. And so, we think, this Anglo-American cultural relationship is now a thing of the past. Our future rests with cultural exchanges rooted in East Asia, as opposed to finding auduence appeal in the trivia of a 'fossilised' ruling elite. I would beg to differ. The recent marking of the fiftieth anniversary of the appearance of The Beatles on Ed Sullivan's show with a special programme should remind us that this cultural exchange between Americans and the British is a tidal thing, sometimes ebbing and sometimes flowing. At the moment, it is ebbing, but study PBS' weekend schedules carefully before deciding that we have finally reached the point where the 'pivot to Asia' has ensured this enduring cultural link is finally broken. The relationship is not what it was, but it never has been. For example, and sticking with the world of film, think of how many Britons appear in key roles in the cast of Lee Daniels' The Butler — Oyelowo, Pettyfer, Redgrave and Rickman. And who plays the sheriff in The Walking Dead, apparently beloved of the Chinese elite? That Anglo-American link remains strong, even as Britain is no longer the Britain of Americans' imaginations.

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