Daily Phil
Thursday 17th August 2000

Yesterday I briefly mentioned in an email how I find it strange hearing Americans speaking about traditionally “high culture” stuff. e.g. on NPR talking about some classical music recital in town. I didn’t explain myself very well in one paragraph, so I expanded on what I meant. Lots of irrational knee-jerk reactions and unjustifiable statements ahead, but nevertheless, it’s my reaction…

Firstly, it probably sounded like I was saying “We have splendid high culture which is so much better than your silly mass market trash and you can’t even pretend to be as good as us when it comes to high culture.” Which wasn’t what I meant at all. I was more bemused as to why the Americans I heard on NPR etc. wanted to go on about all this stuff that my knee jerk reaction toward is “god, that’s such elitist, boring nonsense, aren’t you just putting this on, you can’t *really* like that when your country’s good at so many other forms of entertainment.”

I guess it comes down to going to college and getting into all that hip postmodernism shenanigins which lead me to have instant reactions along these lines. Pah, classical music? All those people at the Royal Albert Hall will be first against the wall when Julie Burchill leads the revolution from her Modern Review bunker. When the world looks like a cross between a multiplex and a scene from The Uses of Literacy they’ll be cowering in the gods in their dinner jackets hoping no one finds them.

Once past this knee jerk reaction I have nothing against ‘high culture’ (well, no more than I do against any other form of culture), but a lot of it does look kind of archaic and like some remnant of Europe’s feudal past. But hey, what can you do? Yeah all these people waffling on about pretentious plays and biographies of poets I’ve never heard of look a bit silly but they can’t help it, it’s in the blood, you can’t expect the world to change overnight, we might as well enjoy it while it lasts, before Bob Dylan really is equal in stature to Keats (or whatever it was they used to bang on about on The Late Show [no, I’m not talking about David Letterman, but the ‘90s BBC2 arts show]).

So with that ambiguous and entirely inconsistent point of view in mind… My problem with American Shakespeare Festivals and Bach concerts is that I thought America was supposed to have escaped from all that legacy class stuff. People leave the Old World for a country where everyone is born equal (yeah, I know) only to bring all that ancient elitist culture along. And so I’m not sure what to make of it, because it doesn’t sit with how I imagine America to/should be. And that image of what the country is isn’t one of Hollywood and BigMacs and trailerparks, it’s just the same as it is, but without people in DJs playing x hundred year old sonatas to smug wealthy people who want to show how cultured they are. And (in a never ending spiral of justifications) yes, Europe has very similar smug wealthy people but I find it easier to laugh off their smugness and wealth in the hope that it’s the fading glow of an old world that will soon be over, rather than an imitation of something that one really shouldn’t want to imitate.

I wasn’t talking about Walt Whitman or Henry David Thoreau (no I haven’t read either of them), I was talking about imported European elitist culture. And yes, I know you all have roots going back to William the Conqueror or something, but I thought the point of coming over here in the first place was to escape all that European nonsense and start something new (and I assume WW and HDT are examples of that new something).