Is the US Still a Cultural Reference Point?

The European Mirror

The Europe of Pavese, Benet, Robbe-Grillet and Grass admires Faulkner, but Faulkner admired Joyce. Europe has spent decades looking at itself in the American mirror—from jazz to the Beat generation, from its new generation to its cinema. By contrast, America has spent decades looking in the European mirror—from Hemingway and Fitzgerald who visited the irreplaceable avant-garde of Paris, to art-house cinema. Europe’s May 1968; their Woodstock. Their Chandler; our Simenon. Their Hollywood; our mode. Their fa(s)t food; our design. Communicating vessels.

The prevalence of American values does seem to be undeniable, with its synthetic and chameleon-like language and its omnipotent means of communication: because its trend-creating machinery functions 24 hours a day (now the chick lit, later the mash-up, then who knows); because its culture can be extremely provincial, but has more than enough resources to become global without asking anyone else’s permission; because its publishing industry has always been self-sufficient (restlessly selling and reluctantly buying); because they were the ones who took out the copyright on show business and we are just bit-players in its Truman Show; because Britain plays the role of Trojan Horse; because they know a lot about eclecticism and it is dogmatism which pleases us more; because it is so hard for us to shake off the bill of having been freed from Omaha Beach!

I advocate not making the same mistake again, which Berlanga denounced in “Welcome Mr. Marshall!” At the same time, if something is really good, what difference does it make if it is American? They see us as the old Europe, and the old Europe allows itself to be kidnapped. Of course, Europe could exercise its role as an appraisal agency, because at the end of the day, what is American triumphs because it triumphs in Europe. It is our concave mirror in which America is magnified. Perhaps Europe does not want to be that American indie?

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About Stephen Routledge 180 Articles
Stephen is a Business Leader. He has over twenty years experience in leading various major organisational change initiatives. Stephen has been translating for more than ten years for various organisations and individuals, with a particular interest in science and technology, poetry and literature, and current affairs.

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