Tuesday, June 5, 2012

British Invasion

So I've been talking (too much) about Benedict Cumberbatch (because I'm a far too much of a fan for having seen only - what, four of his movies and one (and five sixths; I just discovered Fortysomething and it's brilliant) of his TV shows? Really, it's totally weird) and bits about Tom Hiddleston and John Barrowman and, of course, Martin Freeman. You will note, of course, that all of these actors are British (okay, yes, John Barrowman grew up in Illinois but he was born and raised in Glasgow, so ha).

It kind of seems biased of me, right? I admit, I do have a partiality towards British actors; I don't know why. It just happened. And thus this blog sort of followed suit.

But there is a certain sort of fan culture surrounding British actors. One that prides itself on distinguishing British actors from American actors. It really comes across in posts like this.

Interestingly enough, this isn't what I expected to see. Generally, I hear people talking about how British actors are better than American ones (there does seem to be a higher ratio of really incredible British actors than American ones. Not that the US doesn't have brilliant actors; it's just that we hear about A LOT American actors here while those we hear about from overseas are generally the very, very talented ones. But I think it's also something to do with a lot of British actors having Shakespearean or theatrical training, while in the US I think we tend to draw the lines between theatrical and cinematic actors a bit more. I have no evidence for this; it's just a supposition). But the above link to the post is interesting, giving the million and ten posts I've done about body image. It's not about the skills Cumberbatch and Tennant and Freeman and Tovey posses; it's about how they look.

First off, David Tennant has a "perfectly imperfect face?" I love reading other people's opinions on appearance because it confuses me (yes, I enjoy being confused; it's a learning process for me). I've stated before that I seem to be unable to find people unattractive and I have absolutely no idea what "a perfect face" is supposed to look like. What makes Tennant's face imperfect? I absolutely don't know; I think he's a very handsome man with cool hair and a great smile. And I have no idea what other people see. Because, once again (for the billionth time; I should get this made on a t-shirt) beauty is subjective. What I see, someone else probably won't.

What gets really tricky is trying to figure out what I decide is attractive. Because while I may not find anyone unattractive appearance-wise, I still find certain people more attractive than others. Why do I prefer Ewan McGregor, Benedict Cumberbatch, and John Barrowman over Channing Tatum, Johnny Depp, and Chris Pine? I HAVE NO IDEA. SERIOUSLY. It's totally nothing personal, Misters Tatum, Depp, and Pine - I think you're all lovely. I don't know what it is.

An average day in Britain, according to Tumblr
That's probably lie; of course it is. It's because I happen to know more about Misters McGregor, Cumberbatch, and Barrowman. I've watched them do interviews and I know more about them than the other actors listed above. And yet, that still doesn't really answer it. I could argue that I'm more intrigued by their personalities or their roles or etc, etc, etc. But I didn't know these things when I first saw them. Something about the first time I saw them triggered an urge to see more. But what was the trigger? Is it as simple (and perhaps as shallow) as their appearance? The fact that they may not look like the average American actor? (Although, if you kind of turn your head sideways and squint - or watch Top Gun - John Barrowman looks weirdly like Tom Cruise. It continues to freak me out. I mean, look:

Is it weird, or is it just me?) Is there something instantaneous about their personality or their acting that I attach to? I really honestly don't know; maybe it's like a "which came first - the chicken or the egg" question in which it's impossible to really know. It just is.

Dammit, that was another tangent. Can I write one post, one post, without going on a massive tangent? (Answer - no. I can't. Because I live through tangents. My entire life is a compilation of massive tangents and I adore it.)

The point is, I have some sort of unidentifiable attraction towards British actors and I am not the only one. The wonderful Colin Firth has a little snippet about it here. It completely bewilders his Italian in-laws and delights but mystifies me, along with many others I'm sure. I have a hard time with it, occasionally. I speak Italian (si, parlo italiano, molte male ma io parlo) and this came up while talking to some girls in one of my classes last semester. "Oh my God, you should move to Italy and marry a hot Italian guy!" one of the girls gushed. I just chuckled and nodded, but in all total honesty I was thinking DO NOT WANT. Don't get me wrong; Italy is beautiful (I've only been to Venice but I am dying to see Tuscany), Italians are awesome (I am a quarter Italian), and Italian men are are lovely and charming (it's my father's side of the family that's Italian; would I say anything else? :D No, really, they're lovely). But being a quarter Italian, I also know that I have no desire to marry someone simply because they are Italian (as that could stereotypically end with us hitting each other as we talk with our hands - I really talk with my hands, it's totally embarrassing and dangerous for any glassware in my immediate area - and arguing about calcio (I mean soccer - I mean football - I mean that sport that's played with a black and white ball. The day we standardize a name for this game, the world will know peace)). So I don't intentionally base interest on nationality... but for Brits or Irishmen, it just kind of happens.

Oh Tumblr...
Maybe it's the accent. Maybe it's a culture factor. Maybe it's all Jane Austen and the Bronte Sisters' fault. Maybe there are just a lot of charming dudes form the British Isles; who knows. But because other Europeans don't exactly have a history of seeing the Brits as romantic, it's kind of mind-boggling.

Which brings me to something I could spend a great many hours pondering: the US's relationship with the UK. There is a lot of Anglophilia in the US. Do other parts of the world that aren't part of the UK wear shirts with the Union flag on them and geek out about how cool British accents are (in all their copious varieties) and get totally excited about the Royal Wedding and the Queen's Diamond Jubilee? I'm thinking no. The US has this really interesting "We fought a war with you and totally kicked your ass and did our own thing, but now were besties" relationship with Britain. It's bizarre, especially when studying history; England is presented as the bad guy in the Revolutionary War (of course; also, I've noted that Benedict is a name I have never heard used in America - Benedict Arnold, your alleged infamy is long lasting) and in the War of 1812 and there's not really mention of good relations with them until... Well, World War II. Because then we're suddenly buddies and Winston Churchill is the coolest guy ever (which is sort of confusing in the more poorly taught history classes). And yet, my grandfather, who fought in WWII, had really hard feelings towards the British (so my father says; apparently they were not easy to work with). And, as this incredibly clever post describes, a lot of stereotypes persist. And Hollywood has a thing for casting British actors as villains.

Also, I'm convinced that you can tell people from the US anything in a British accent and they will see the speaker as smarter. No, really, it's true. I'm a total sucker for this. It's totally awkward for all parties involved (but, on the other hand, many Brits - including the Queen of England! - support that British English is the only proper form and everything else is just wrong) but there's something just... awesome about British accents. All kinds, all sorts. Cockney, Cardiffian, Glaswegian - it doesn't matter. I like listening to different accents in general (I love going from my standard, everyday Midwest accent to a more Hoosier, twangy one my relatives in Indiana use, one that used to be more prominent in my speech, and freaking people out with the shift) but there's something about accents from the British Isles that are just cool.

I mean, they are cool. But WHY are they cool?

I have absolutely no idea. Really, I don't. Maybe it goes back to the fact that a lot of people we see in cinema are well-trained actors and happen to be rather clever and thus perhaps this affects our perception of Britain as a whole. Still doesn't exactly illuminate why there's such a draw to British actors. Maybe they're just awesome. I mean, check out this link to a sound clip on Tumblr.

That's the same guy. Seriously. (My favorite voice is the French accent; no idea why. That totally throws this whole post off now doesn't it? :P)

Another average day in Britain, according to Tumblr
 That was a lot of words on a lot of nothing. But if I knew all the answers, what fun would it be?

This would have been more suited for Cinco de Mayo, but oh well - a month later works.


  1. Love this! You don't really hear something like 'Native-British' or 'African-British', unlike 'Native American' and 'African American'... I really think it's just their long history; they've had time to settle and find a true essential meaning in the word 'British'. Lovely post!