There is a stereotype held by many Americans (this itself might be a stereotype) that British people are intelligent, polite, friendly people. This, of course, is not true. We are as stupid, rude and unpleasant as any other group of people in the world.
Why Americans might think this, I don’t know. We might venture a guess that it’s because they don’t encounter us much, there being only 10 passport holders among them. But that would be stupid and incorrect, too: we’ve swamped their TV screens and films with our actors, and New York, Las Vegas and other major US cities are now crammed to bursting point with tourists, flush with dollars thanks to the high exchange rate that are busy ruining the locals’ spending power.
But I’m coming to the opposite conclusion. I think that the average American might well be nicer than the average Brit. At least, the ones on reality TV seem to be.
Now, I’m going to discount shows such as The Apprentice, America’s Next Top Model and so on that are designed from the outset to be dog-eat-dog competitions. Even so, with Big Brother, a Dutch format that gets adjusted by each country that buys it, we send our contestants out to be booed at after weeks of social isolation. In the US? They just get to meet friends and family.
All the same, I’m going to be looking at the more “socially friendly” reality TV.
As most media-savvy Americans have probably noticed, their TV networks are currently flooded with US versions of British formats. What many will probably fail to appreciate is this is not the final stage in the process. Making TV is expensive and unless we’re looking at something like Lost, acquiring foreign TV is inevitably cheaper than making it yourself. So there’s a glorious trend of British production companies flogging their formats to US networks and for the networks to then sell back the shows they make to British networks. These then tack a “US” or a “USA” on the end, and Bob’s your uncle, airtime gets filled for mere cents. It’s a tradition that’s been going on for years: the BBC made Dear John in the 80s, it got remade with Judd Hirsch as Dear John, and then the BBC bought it back and showed it as Dear John USA.
So, I tuned into Channel 4 yesterday and caught the tail-end of Wife Swap USA. Wife Swap in the UK is little more than an excuse for class war. Scrotey working class woman swaps places with poncey middle class woman for a fortnight; at the end, they meet up and the two slag each other off for having airs and graces/no airs and graces (delete according to viewpoint). There’s even a companion show on E4 where the two families watch the programme for the first time, quarantined off from one another, and then are let loose on each other like roosters in a cock fight as soon as the programme finishes.
Wow. Aren’t Brits scummy? Not only do we have shows designed to create fights, we have meta-shows designed to create fights.
But whether it was because we tuned into a strangely unrepresentative moment or not, we found that things are different in Wife Swap USA. They’re kind of nice to one another. They were polite. The two families were being life affirming, talking about what they’d learnt from one another, thanking each other for the experience and so on. It was quite unnerving.
It’s worth looking at the opposite trend as well: US formats being converted in UK shows. Here, we simply tack on “UK” to the original show’s name when we make it our own.
Queer Eye for the Straight Guy was quite a nice little US show (until it simply became one great big product placement opportunity). A bunch of tasteful gay men go round a straight guy’s house, give him all sorts of style tips, buy him stuff and then send him off to a better life. Straight guy is eternally grateful, as is everyone else in his life. Much gushing happiness spews forth.
Queer Eye for the Straight Guy UK? Oh dear. What, again, a scummy bunch of people we are. Here we got a load of not particularly nice gay men (including that gossip bloke on late night ITV, and that Jason from Dancing on Ice) to go round to some Brit bloke’s house, give him some advice, buy him stuff, etc. Then Brit bloke would remember he was British, forget everything, be miserable and everything would assume the status of a road traffic accident, as he insulted her, etc. Even worse, the wife/girlfriend in his life would be equally scummy, hate everything the gay guys had done and tell them they had no taste, while laughing her head off at her husband’s new look.
Lasted a series that one.
Not totally conclusive an argument, I know. So I throw this open to the floor. What do you think? Average American nicer than average Brit? Or is British television just designed to foster evil these days – at least more so than US TV?
Oh yes. Simon Cowell. He’s ours, you know.