Special Relations: The Americanization of Britain?

Special Relations: The Americanization of Britain?

Special Relations: The Americanization of Britain?

Special Relations: The Americanization of Britain?

Synopsis

Special Relations reevaluates Anglo-American cultural exchange by exploring metropolitan London's culture and counterculture from the 1950s to the 1970s. It challenges a tendency in cultural studies to privilege local reception and attempts to restore the concept of Americanization in this critical era of mass tourism, professional exchange, and media globalization- while acknowledging an important degree of cultural hybridity and circularity. The study begins with the influence of American modernism in the built environment and in "Swinging London" generally, and then moves to its central project, the re-exploration of British counterculture- the anti-war movement, student rebellion, hippies, popular music, the alternative press, and the late Sixties triad of black, feminist, and gay liberationisms- as intimately tied to American experience and to American agents of cultural change. Special Relations retrieves these phenomena as more central and enduring in British metropolitan life than the current orthodoxy allows, and subjects to sharp critical scrutiny prevalent assertions of cultural "authenticity" in their British variants. Finally, the book looks at aspects of the turn against modernism and the counterculture in the 1970s.

Excerpt

Toward evening on Saturday, the 19th of July 1969, Trafalgar Square filled with a mostly youthful crowd. Only nine months earlier the square, historic site of both protest and celebration, had been packed with an agitated throng opposed to the Vietnam War and its technology of death, many of whom marched off to what proved to be the last of the great demonstrations at the American embassy in Grosvenor Square. This expectant, if anxious, crowd, however, had assembled to cheer the success of American technology, and to celebrate, as it were, the humanism of its modernity. A giant television screen had been erected before the National Gallery on the square’s north side where, a little past 9:00 p.m. London time, live satellite images from NASA’s space center in Houston would play out the drama of Apollo XI’s Moon landing. For the millions of others who would watch crowded around the family telly—a larger audience than that for the Queen’s coronation in 1953 and probably rivaling the 25 million or so who watched Churchill’s funeral in 1965—the event was, as for hundreds of millions around the world, high drama unfolding in their sitting rooms, and when it was over the national grid reported a critical surge of demand as, it was said, millions of electric tea kettles were simultaneously set to boil. Each of the three television channels in Britain scheduled intensive coverage for Saturday night and Sunday morning, and substantial coverage during the following three days before the Apollo crew returned to Earth.

By most accounts, it was the commercial channel ITV, led by six hours of London Weekend Television’s David Frost all Saturday night, that scored the best, at least most entertaining, reportage. As Michael Palin, who had watched the Apollo blastoff on the 16th and then all night on the 19th/20th, recalled, “The extraordinary thing about the evening” was that ITV somehow contrived to fill all those hours before Armstrong stepped out onto the Moon’s surface. BBC1 disappointingly chose to continue its regular programming up to the critical descent, shifting from The Black and White Minstrel Show just as the landing module separated from its mother ship. Instead of a night of expert talking heads interspersed with live feed from NASA, Frost chose a variety show format of “chat . . .

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