by Vivian Obarski
Dear Geek girls and Geek women —
First off, I’m coming from a place of love. Don’t get me wrong. But we need to talk. Specifically about the Anglophilia I’ve been seeing lately. Whether it’s Doctor Who, Sherlock, Shakespeare or whatever else, it seems like a lot of us geeks of the female persuasion are falling all over themselves when it comes to the boys from across the pond.
Nevermind the fact that tea came from Asia first (and what’s with never seeing stuff like “I like my men, like I like my tea. Hot and Chinese,” or “Hot and Indian”? Or if you’re gonna do Hot and British, why not some other guys like Idris Elba, Adrian Lester or Dev Patel — why’s the majority skinny white actors? I’m just askin’ yo.), but this stuff is really getting on my nerves as of late.
Maybe it’s because I’ve had to deal with the whole fetish thing as a Chinese-American woman, but I can’t help but feel for our friends from across the pond. It’s like a European version of those movies where the white people go to Asia and discover themselves thanks to a bunch of well-meaning, quirky native folk. Yes. I am being sarcastic.
Don’t get me wrong — there’s a lot of good stuff from England. I like a shepherd’s pie, Jaffa Cakes, Spaced, the comedy of Monty Python, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost and tons more, but the impression I get from a lot of people online as of late is that England (because let’s be real, it’s England — specifically London a lot of Anglophiles are talking about) is better than anywhere else in the world.
That’s the thing of fetishizing that is gross to me (and it doesn’t matter the object of the fetish). It’s not an accurate or true picture of a place — and it’s not even necessarily an outdated view of a place, but more of what that place can fulfill in a person that they feel is lacking (see my last review of Seeking Asian Female) in their own lives. Maybe American men are lacking in manners and are kinda crass at times, but you know what? That’s everywhere. England is no better. I mean, the country gave us the viral story of a man getting his head stuck in a trash bin. Maybe we’re not as refined, but again, we’re talking about a country that also gave us Ali G In Da House. Not exactly the most dry and refined of comedies (disclaimer — I love Ali G in Da House — it’s just over the top stupid and I’ve found myself singing Montell Jordan and other New Jack Swing songs days later).
I’ve seen way too many essays on why BBC television is better than American television, which somehow ignores the fact that there’s a lot of brilliant American television like Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead. Let’s not forget that Coupling was basically a spin on Friends, people. Moffat didn’t write the sexy friends comedy first. Nothing is original. We all riff and borrow ideas from each other. Moffatt is not the alpha and omega of writing (dear lord I hope not). I have yet to hear a British rapper outside of M.I.A. who can throw down with our rap artists here.
I just get this sense that with people with severe cases of anglophilia, it’s similar to people who love Mad Men and wish that they could live in the cool mod elegance of the 1960’s. What they’re looking for is an idealized notion of a simpler, or (on the surface) more civilized, posh or refined place that just doesn’t exist. It’s all illusions based on idealized notions. But maybe I get cranky about this because I’m unapologetically American. I was born and raised and continue to live in Wisconsin, and much like how Leslie Knope feels about Pawnee, I love Wisconsin, even though there is much room for improvement (I’m looking at you Governor Walker).
I also get cranky too because I’ve heard and seen enough about the bullshit that happens overseas to strip illusions away. There is no place that will be perfect. No city or country that will live up to one’s idealized notions. And until those fetishized notions are burned down, I don’t think you can love something fully. You’re just chasing dreams and never feeling satisfied.
As someone who spends her daily life obsessed with Shakespeare (and gets paid for it!), I have to agree with Viv on this one. I’ve lived in England, and it’s a lovely place and we should have more time for tea and clotted cream (oh, god, glorious clotted cream….), but England isn’t a magical fairy land full of hot emo boys who just need to let their proverbial hair down. England has its assholes and its racism and its sexism and its poverty (where’d you think we got all that, anyway?). It has ketchup-flavored crisps (ew) and bulgar pie (don’t ask) and Thai schnitzel (really don’t ask) and boils everything. There are days I’d rather live in England, and days I’d rather live in the States (and I live in Virginia), and, really, both of them are grand and both of them have issues. England’s fantastic, but it isn’t heaven. Also, it likes to pretend it’s still a monarchy, which is an enormous waste of taxpayer money which for some reason it still thinks is a good idea. But whatever. Long live the Queen.
Loved this article and kudos to you for telling it like it is! And huge thank you to shouting out Idris and Dev, two of my fave actors and loves!
…I hardly think Idris Elba and Dev Patel need your help in the fans department. At this point they’re practically like the free squares on PoC bingo- Idris Elba isn’t out of the running for the next Doctor because he’s black, he’s out of the running because he’s so famous no one thinks he’d stoop to take the offer, unlike BBC whiteboy #20. Now if you wanted to put the spotlight on some female or less exposed PoC British actors for a change, you might be bringing something new.
Besides, as annoying as naïve fans (of anything, not just England) can be, it’s pretty harmless, and I hardly think it’s offensive in the way that fetishization of race is. No one’s ever gotten arrested for Driving While British. Sure, it’s unrealistic, but who cares? Some of the misinformation is frankly much nicer than the truth, and I’m inclined to believe that most American anglophiles are probably much less deeply classist than British media itself can be (at least about British people, if not about Americans.) Let people like what they like, whatever their reasons are. Media is about escapism, not reality, and for most American fans Britain is about as far removed as Narnia for all the likelihood that it’ll impact their lives. More popular PoC and female actors would be good, but that’s not a Britain problem, that’s an everywhere problem.
Thanks for reading the article and I appreciate your thoughts. If you haven’t noticed, The Learned Fangirl tackles all aspects of fandom — be it the bad movies that we can’t help but love, the racial and sexual discussion surrounding the casting of Lucy Liu as Joan Watson or the joys of Korean Pop — so this falls well within the umbrella of TLF’s mission.
I disagree that this isn’t something worth discussion — that argument is similar to the “It’s only a movie!” cry that often surfaces when people criticize a film. The whole problem that I’ve had with Anglophilia is the fact that it does erase POCs and other cultures, flattening the United Kingdom down to a narrow scope.
Usually the focus of affection for Anglophilia is things such as Downton Abby, Doctor Who, Jane Austen, Tom Hiddleston, Benedict Cumberbatch, Sherlock, etc. Now these are great things and people — as I’ve said before, I’m a fan of many shows, movies and other things from United Kingdom. But to simply say that these are the only things out of the United Kingdom that are worthy of attention is erasure of the significant contributions POCs and other cultures have made to society. It also flattens the rich culture of the United Kingdom (because most people say they love the UK, as opposed to England), because Ireland is not Scotland is not Wales is not England. To say that all those cultures are the things that I listed above is a disservice to those nations and the complexity of their intercultural relationships.
The thing that bothers me the most about Anglophilia (from what I’ve seen online) is that it focuses on the foppish white male (before Benedict Cumberbatch and Tom Hiddleston there was Hugh Grant), which automatically discounts actors such as Idris Elba, Dev Patel, Adrian Lester, Noel Clarke, Angel Coulby, Naomie Harris, Freema Agyeman and others.
True it may not be as “harmful” as say the model minority stereotype, but it does discount a richness in the area and reduces it ultimately to a stereotype, even though it is positive. Positive stereotypes (“nobel savage” being one of the most notable ones) are still stereotypes that leave no room for variety.
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