Yesterday*, I livestreamed the presidential inauguration of Joe Biden with a glass of wine and some popcorn. Last week, I had the impeachment hearings in Congress playing live in the background at the end of my working day and the week before, I stayed up late binge-watching the extraordinary events at the Capitol building in Washington as they unfurled.
America is my favourite reality show.
Back in November, I spent nearly seven full days in a dry-eyed mania watching CNN tally up the electoral colleges as though my life depended on it. I got cramp in my hands refreshing my phone. I started to know all the US news anchors by name, even the guys whose job it was to point at maps and repeat inane platitudes about counting (hi John King). I began shouting ‘Has Nevada confirmed??’ in my fretful sleeping hours.
I walked through US election week in a fugue state. My boyfriend begged me to shut down the American news cycle, to get some sleep or to maybe, just maybe, pay even a fraction of as much attention to British politics.
Today, I can tell you the exact make-up of the US Supreme Court. I can also explain the electoral college, Kamala Harris’ record as a prosecutor and senator, and every single hopeful who ran to be the Democratic nominee in the primaries, like it was the X Factor judges’ houses.
But can I explain first past the post? Tell you anything in the Labour manifesto? Explain the intricacies of the Brexit trade deal? To be perfectly honest, I’ve actually lost track of who the leader of the Lib Dems is now. My passion for American politics has come at the cost of a woeful lack of engagement with the homegrown variety.
America is my favourite reality show
It’s because I’ve become Fauxmerican, and I’m not the only one. British journalist Murray Clark became so enamoured with US drama that, spurred on by the fever pitch level of interest surrounding the most recent election, he started an Instagram account @thestateofit, serving as a British explainer for American politics.
OLIVIER DOULIERYGetty Images
‘It’s basically a curation of the news I am already reading every day,’ my fellow Fauxmerican, Murray, explains. ‘I think there is an appetite for the complex systems of the American political system to be dissected for a British audience, since we all got hooked four years ago with the election of Trump.’
He’s right. Post the shock 2016 election, I’ve seen this mentality trickle down through my friendship groups. I witnessed an outpouring of real and online grief for Ruth Bader Ginsberg with not a shred of insight between us of who sits on the British Supreme Court. I watched my friends use social media to rail against abortion legislation in Alabama or to opine on the likeness between Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and The Pale Man from Pan’s Labyrinth. (Trust me, just google it). I, alongside other Fauxmericans, also encouraged people to vote in November under the mistaken impression that I was living in the 51st state of Britain. Yet did any of us make a peep during the last UK general election?
I get it. American politics is just more entertaining, more Hollywood. The president has his own plane, his office has been the setting of more TV dramas and films than no 10 Downing Street has housed Etonians. Lady Gaga performed at Biden’s inauguration. Beyonce performed at Obama’s. I doubt I’ve even seen an Abba tribute band play at a Labour Party Conference.
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America has long been the dominating source of our entertainment, and as streaming services become globalised and we have begun consuming our zeitgeist shows simultaneously, this has only heightened. Perhaps this past year, as most of us stayed home, binged Netflix and watched viral memes and videos about everything from anti-maskers in Texas to the Black Lives Matter marches following George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis, we all began to feel as though these things were happening in the UK too and, in many cases, they were. Our ‘special relationship’ with America has mutated into a symbiotic one. We are now Fauxmerican.
‘But everything is just bigger in America,’ agrees Clark, of its appeal. ‘Their politics, from their speeches to their pundits, are just classic American – wilder, more ridiculous. Our politics are sedate by comparison.’
British politics are knotty, muddled and apologetic; frequently stale, male and pale
It’s true. It doesn’t help matters that British politics just isn’t… sexy. Let’s face it. Instead of Obama, our ‘fresh young face’ was Cameron. Our Hillary was not a ‘nasty woman’ feminist who coined the phrase ‘women’s rights are human rights’; instead we had Thatcher’s polarity and May’s robot dance. Our politics lack polish and glamour. Instead, they are knotty, muddled and apologetic; frequently stale, male and pale, silly and embarrassing, stuffy and dull.
We briefly had a cartoon villain in Dominic Cummings, but even his crime, the world’s least believable eye-test to Durham, seemed limp in comparison to Trump tear-gassing Black Lives Matter protestors for a photo op. Both represent terrible leadership and a morally reprehensible approach to public duty, but one is more dramatic than the other. Instead of Trump’s chaotic last days in office – hailing lies, fire and Proud Boys at the senate like a Game of Thrones season finale – Cummings was simply sent packing with a sad cardboard box in the middle of the night, months after his much-publicised crime. How British. We can’t even come up with snappy optics. Instead of ‘Yes, We Can’ or even ‘Make America Great Again’, we have ‘Hands, Face, Space’ or the chin-wagging bluster of ‘Get Brexit Done’.
America’s politics play out in the most theatrical fashion imaginable, and the current seasons have, there’s no doubt about it, become the most compelling. It’s been a wild ride from Obama, the nation’s first Black President, to Trump, the nation’s first elected racist tangerine. You just couldn’t make half of this stuff up. From ‘grab em by the p***y’ to Hillary’s emails, to the terrifying rise of White Supremacy and Nazi salutes in the Capitol building. It may be a global disaster, but it’s a fantastic spectator sport.
I hate to say it, but it is like watching a car crash
‘I hate to say it, but it is like watching a car crash,’ Murray adds, gravely. ‘There is a morbid fascination to it all, you just can’t quite look away. Yet we should be watching it, because what America does, has a huge effect on global politics – and what happens in a massive democratic Western country like America, could just as easily happen in the UK.’
But therein may also lie its appeal. Covid death tallies, incompetent vaccine roll outs, the free school meals disaster, another Brexit fiasco, another Boris bluster, another infuriating cabinet minister making infuriating choices. These aren’t fun to watch because these aren’t fun to live through. It lacks the cinematic detachment of the American news cycle, the schadenfreude of it all. Maybe it’s simply more entertaining to watch someone else’s mess with a sense of blissful naiveté that it is only happening across the pond. Because Brexit regulations and vaccine roll out blunders will all have a direct impact on me, they feel too real.
So, I switch it off, and return my gaze to Viking-horned insurrectionists sitting in Nancy Pelosi’s chair, or another pitch-perfect Stacey Abrahams gif.
Ah, America. I can’t wait to binge-watch the Biden season.
*This piece has been updated since it was published on January 20.
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