My Anglo-American Diet

Well, I consume plenty of them. Movies, I mean. Almost every night I take one in, along with some potato chips and a tall glass of gin and tonic. Now, looking in the mirror, I pretty much know where the chips and the gin are going, being that the residue lingers prominently around my waste. I don’t mind that much. I’m talking celluloid, not cellulite.

So, how does this motion picture diet affect me? What remains of these pictures after my eyes have lapped them up, my mind downed them? Granted, I don’t always ingest; once in a while I drop off in the very act of feasting (Elia Kazan’s Boomerang didn’t come home some nights back). Sometimes my attention throws in the napkin, losing itself like a crumb in the pleat of a leading lady’s dress or finding itself deserting the table at the sight of a mustachioed villain. Still, I pretty much finish off about three or four movies a week; and I’d sure like to know just where they are going and what they are doing to me once they have rolled off our screen, a large window blind serving as a conveyor belt for digitized treats.

I have been living in the UK for two years now; but, aside from a few British favorites such as Brief Encounter (pictured, and discussed here) or the occasional TV dinner (with the recently reunited Royle Family for instance), I still take in almost exclusively American fare. Last night, for instance, I took out two DVDs: Alfred Hitchcock’s pre-Hollywood melodrama Juno and the Paycock and Orson Welles’s post-Holocaust thriller The Stranger; it was the latter that got a viewing, the former being once again returned to the drawer, yet unwatched. Perhaps I was just not in the mood for Irish stew; but the “go west” pattern in my viewing habits is all too apparent.

In fact, I am so American in my pop-cultural intake that I even missed yesterday’s 15,000 broadcast of The Archers, that British institution of a radio serial. I was too busy thinking about the mid-term elections in the US to devote time to a venerable program that, truth be told, I have never listened to even once, despite my love for radio dramatics. Do I need to point out that I am a German native (something I’d prefer to forget)? What is it, aside from having lived in the US for fifteen years and devoting an inordinate number of them to the study of American radio drama, that makes me embrace American culture of the 1930s, ‘40s and ‘50s yet ignore or outright dismiss so much else, contemporary and internationally?

For one thing, I know what to expect from traditional Hollywood entertainments. I appreciate their formula, accept their limitations. Not unlike Victorian novels, they please me even when they leave me wanting (and Welles’s Stranger is surely a less than satisfying dish of hokum, squandering nearly all its potential to explain what it merely exploits—post-war doubts about a reformed Germany, a policing of thought for the sake of a secure nation, and a global peace founded on democratic principles). They agree with me, even when my mind insists they are nutritionally deficient and dangerously high in sodium, considering that you have to take many of these melodramas with so much more than a grain of salt. And as long as my heart’s still pumping enough blood through those hardening arteries, I keep the transatlantic meals on reels program going.

Sure, watching Hollywood movies does not make you an American. You might as well try to enter the Green Card lottery with a ticket stub. Instead, you keep circling Ellis Island, feasting your eyes on the Statue of Liberty looming in the haze. Marveling at the prospect in light of last night’s election, you can almost imagine yourself chewing the scenery in a Frank Capra feature.

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