Published in the February 26, 2014 edition of the Ventura County Star
Americans love to queue up for all things English---from Charles Dickens' 1842 rock-star tour of the States to the Beatles' 1964 mop-headed appearance on the Ed Sullivan show.
Anglophilia is still on the rise, in large part, thanks to the cheeky success of "Downton Abbey" from PBS. In fact, public television deserves much of the credit for exposing Americans to British culture, claims Robert Thompson, professor of television and popular culture at Syracuse University.
Not only did the fourth season premiere of this period soap (set during the 1920s) attract a record-breaking 10 million fans, but the Masterpiece hit has even inspired cookbooks, fashion trends and thousands of dinner parties. Not even the 2014 Super Bowl, the most-watched TV telecast ever, could knock "Downton Abbey" out of the competition.
In "England, My England," culture critic Mark Dery posits the tongue-in-cheek question, "Are Anglophiles born or made or cultured in a medium of suet and sentimentality, romanticism and Marmite?"
"From my perspective," responds John Rampe, a card-carrying member of the English-Speaking Union (a group dedicated to the preservation of English language, literature and culture) "the English culture represents a strong sense of tradition, a tradition of courtesy, manners and gentility in how one leads one's life."
As we all know, America is a land of immigrants, and many of those who arrived on our shores at the turn of the 20th Century, decided that their offspring must assimilate as rapidly as possible. The native tongue was verboten in the home (English only) and parents jettisoned the foods, traditions and cultural trappings that would have made their children different in any way.
So what remained after all the deliciously different diversity disappeared into the melting pot?
The debate over what to call our first chief executive might furnish a spot-on insight into the long game if and when time-honored customs are summarily discarded.
Despite their lengthy litany of gripes (See: Declaration of Independence) and contention that George III had exceeded his sell-by date, some colonists were still quite willing to crown George Washington as king. He came to office, as you remember, by unanimous consent.
His Vice President, John Adams, whose credentials as a proponent of democratic principles could not be questioned, still strenuously argued for "His Majesty" or "His Highness." Adams felt that "Mr. President" not only showed too little deference but also lacked the proper prestige.
Washington, who was also a big fan of democratic principles but no fan of royal elitism, eventually agreed to "Mr. President" yet frequently allowed himself to be publicly crowned with laurel wreathes.
While laurel wreathes may be a bit much these days, doesn't America seem a little deficient in the pomp and circumstance department? At least compared to the UK?
"An indissoluble connection now seems to exist," writes Christopher Hitchens ("Blood, Class and Nostalgia:: Anglo-American Ironies in the American Mind") "between the idea of England and the idea of heritage, royalty, pageantry and good taste."
The telly served up plenty of heritage, royalty, and pageantry accompanying the high-profile wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton in 2011, Queen Elizabeth II's Diamond Jubilee in 2012 and the 2012 Summer Olympics.
In fact, Facebook was flooded with selfies by fans adorned in fascinators and tiaras as they sipped Twinings (pinkies raised) out of English bone china cups. Twitter also reported (literally) millions of personal impressions of Brit upper crust in 140 characters or less.
"It is the essence of anglophilia that the object of its desire is unattainable," writes Hitchens. "The cult of something at once vanished and superseded is secure against any too abrupt swing in fashion. It is reliable and time-tested."
Self-proclaimed Anglophile Tim Harnett offers a simpler explanation, "It's that whole grass-is-greener effect." An avid collector of UK memorabilia, he told the Cleveland Plain Dealer, "It's not where you are every day. I just love the music, the clothes, the booze---everything that makes life there different from over here---and better, in my opinion."
Well that's certainly true of the accent. Polls consistently show that folks who sound British are judged by their listeners as smarter, more refined and even more honest.
David Goldberg, the president of Digital Waterworx (a company that produces customized telephone messages) says that clients often ask him for British voices. '"Usually the customer feels that hiring talent with an English accent is a little classier, a little more regal," he told the New York Times.
I know someone who programmed his GPS to sound exactly like "Downton Abbey's" Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith). Now if only he could get it to say (as the Countess did when employing the telephone for the very first time) "Is this an instrument of communication or torture?"
You don't have to be an Anglophile to love that.
Beverly Kelley, who writes every other week for The Star, is professor emerita in the Communication Department of California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org Her "The Oldest Cold Case in Port Cabrillo: A Hunter Triplets Mystery" can be found at Amazon.com