America & The Buccaneer Spirit
Can you have a water cooler moment without a water cooler? Why do we even have water coolers in Britain?
‘Tiger King’ was a water cooler moment if ever there was one – each new character as deranged as the one before, although for me the sanctimonious husband of Carole Baskin was the creepiest of the lot, like a more sinister version of the teacher who repeatedly asked ‘Bueller?’ The only voice of sanity came from the little dyke who lost an arm. And I never want to hear Americans joke about British teeth again after seeing that.
Having staggered through this carnival of horrors run by a bunch of self-obsessed self-deluded basket cases (who at least had the excuse of poverty and no education) I realised I couldn’t excuse the UK either as chin-stroking Louis Theroux had already been creeping around the same story with his camera some years earlier.
Right after ‘Tiger King’ I made the mistake of watching the Trump daily briefing to find that Donald had handed it over to a millionaire pillow manufacturer who told everyone to just get on with stuff and read their bibles.
This is not my experience of Americans. I know no toothless crackheads or bible-thumping gun nuts. My friend Jennifer is teaching history in virtual classrooms in Ohio right now, and her parents are at home in New York self-isolating. They are intelligent. They are sensible. They are Democrats.
But it’s increasingly easy to bump into insane people. On Twitter this week I got shouted at by some guy for slightly criticising corporate Goliath Amazon’s business practices. My critic turned out to be a gun-nut prepper with an End Of The World book to tout.
I’ve never been to Texas, sadly; I’ve always wanted to go. Especially to Austin, which seems to be Texas’s liberal soul. I have friends there – I could go. But then I remember living in Los Angeles and being held up at gunpoint at my car. I struggle with the right to bear arms. This isn’t the 18th century.
Back at ‘Tiger King’ I wonder why all of the characters are so driven by the illusion of success. Is America built on the fantasy of The Dream? Is that why the ur-text for American plays is ‘Death of a Salesman’ and why Willie Lomax is such a tragic hero? If Britain is ‘a nation of shopkeepers’ is America still a nation of salespeople?
In 1885 Gilbert & Sullivan were having trouble with pirates. As fast as the pair wrote plays, they were ripped off. Each new play was illegally performed without copyright all across America. After much cloak-and-daggering (hiding productions, staging them in secret, stopping others from buying up all the UK costumes etc) the pair sued their persistent plagiarists in New York – and lost the case. The judge’s ruling is worth quoting;
‘Copyright or no copyright, commercial honesty or commercial buccaneering, no Englishman possesses any rights which a true-born American is bound to respect.’
My question, then, is; Does the buccaneer spirit still infect certain Americans from the Tiger King to the POTUS? Is that where the extremists come from? And is that why our own extremists collapse like meringues, because we’ve lost the buccaneer spirit?