It is almost certainly accurate to say that in both the U.S. and Britain there is roughly the same ratio of reasonably educated, cosmopolitan people to dull, parochial ones (the kind some pedants still call “philistines”). Hugely disparate population sizes aside, there is probably an even richer variety of cultural activity in the U.S., which is, after all, one of the most ethnically, geographically, politically, and socially heterogeneous countries on earth. We haven’t been a backwater colony for a long time, and all one needs to do to silence any haters is point to someone like Emily Dickinson or Miles Davis. Sure, American culture exports a lot of shit. So does any culture. The British are the reason we have reality TV.
So why do many Americans, myself included, continue to assume, almost instinctually, that British people are somehow wittier and more articulate and better educated than we are? This is especially true of our reactions to English emigres, but Irish and Scottish accents are also redolent of cool. What is it about the national accent that seems posh (to use some British slang), even when it comes to dialects that in England are associated with the lower classes? Why does a vulgar dumbass like Simon Cowell have any cultural cachet?
Apparently this stereotype irks Britons, too, at least according to Andrew Sullivan, the (British-born) philosophy PhD who edits the great Daily Dish and writes for a ton of American and European outlets. However, he also argues that there’s some useful truth to the whole thing: impolite English outsiders have historically provided critical, alternative views of U.S. culture. Go here to see what he has to say. It’s a Times (of London) weekend commentary bit, which means it’s short enough to read while you eat a cup of yogurt or smoke a cigarette.