Guy Adams: Great Britons? Or just superheroes

Notebook

Share
Related Topics

If you fancy a good laugh this morning, visit the website of any American news outlet and locate the “comments” section beneath coverage of last week’s announcement that Britain’s Henry Cavill, the Will Carling lookalike from The Tudors, has been hired to wear red underpants and blue tights in the latest reimagining of Superman.

The news means that we can now claim a “grand slam” of US superhero roles, with Wales-born Christian Bale as the current Batman, and young Andrew Garfield, who was brought up in Surrey, making his debut as Spider-Man. And here in the World’s Most Powerful Nation, the locals do not seem to like this development one little bit.

At Deadline Hollywood, a blog whose announcement of the casting was linked to by the right-wing Drudge Report, the outrage is palpable. Conspiracy-minded readers of a Tea Party persuasion have unloaded a torrent of vaguely xenophobic reactions. Many blame President Obama for their national embarrassment, arguing (and here I paraphrase only slightly) that his socialistic administration has somehow destroyed the Supermanly ideals of truth, justice and the American Way.

“Another Brit taking a job from an American actor. Great. I will not see this film,” remarks one contributor. “How are foreign actors able to just come over and work in the US?” wonders another. “It is no different than companies shipping American jobs to India...” And so on.

Endless theories are being trotted out to explain the dearth of US superheroes and their replacement with square-jawed Brits. Some link it to the decline of an empire, saying it reflects a crisis of national confidence spawned by the mismanaged “War on Terror” and subsequent recession. Others say British actors are simply better at their job, and more likely to be classically trained.

Not many of these arguments stand up to scrutiny, though. If film studios really did bring geopolitics into casting decisions, then Brits – children of the original collapsed empire – would hardly be the ones to benefit. And if they prefer classically trained actors, Christian Bale, who is self-taught, wouldn’t be on many shortlists.

My suspicion, for what it’s worth, is that Cavill (an alumnus of Stowe in Buckinghamshire) and his posh chums are instead the unwitting beneficiaries of an exciting development: the rising commercial stock, on the US market, of a crisp English accent. As a Brit in America, I am delighted to report that when I open my mouth, locals quite wrongly assume me to be cultured, intelligent and vaguely trustworthy.

These are, of course, classic character traits of the superhero. Which in turn illustrates a wider truth: an accent is only ever really useful outside the place or region in which it is commonplace. At home, sounding local makes you blend in. Elsewhere, it helps you stand out from the crowd. Historically, Britain’s ruling class has exploited this fact by using Received Pronunciation – which prevents “one” from ever seeming “local”.

Last week, a study from Lancaster University found that the cockney dialect will be extinct from the East End in a generation. So enterprising Londoners are clearly following the same rule. Within the sound of Bow Bells, the accent is a social handicap. Only in the Home Counties, where “mockney” has been adopted by posh kids, is it considered an asset.

There is nothing particularly new about this: when I was a teenager, kids tended to affect a Mancunian drawl, so as to sound like Oasis, the coolest public figures of the 1990s. Little did we realise that the RP spouted by our disapproving schoolmasters would in future become the globally accepted language of the superhero.

Hooray for a Superbowl without cheerleaders

Last night’s Superbowl between the Green Bay Packers and the Pittsburgh Steelers was unique in modern history: for the first time since 1968, it featured two teams who are among the small number of NFL organisations that do not employ cheerleaders. I’m unable to report how this affected proceedings, since the nation’s most-watched sporting event finished long after this newspaper went to print. But it’s hard to see how the occasion might have suffered.

A cheerleader’s role, literally, is to “lead” the cheering. They therefore contribute to perhaps the worst element of a contemporary sports fan’s existence: stadiums where PA systems and vast electronic scoreboards are used like a sort of cattle prod, instructing punters to “make some noise” every time the crowd volume drops.

The Packers and Steelers are, incidentally, rare beasts in US sport, in that they are not controlled by right-wing billionaires. The Steelers are instead the property of Dan Rooney, a leftish chum of Barack Obama. The Packers are a “non-profit” organisation, set up to benefit the citizens of Green Bay in Wisconsin. Could their indifference to cheerleaders stem from enlightened owners, who believe that grown-up fans can decide for themselves when to be excited?

The writing is on the wall for the bookstore

It seems increasingly likely that we are living through the final days of the bookstore. The American chain Borders is flirting with bankruptcy and revealed last week that it is unable to pay its suppliers. Borders’ chief rival Barnes & Noble is also in financial doo-doo. In Britain, Waterstones just announced the closure of 11 outlets, while the UK offshoot of Borders went under two years ago. The rise of Amazon, the monolithic internet retailer, is largely to blame.

The fashionable reaction to this news might be to stroke one’s chin and lament their decline. Bookstores are valuable institutions. They provide an oasis of thoughtfulness in the intelligence desert that is the modern high street. In the online era, they might be commercially outmoded, but to the bookish among us, they also provide a public service.

Yet history may judge these firms somewhat differently. It wasn’t so very long ago that every town had its local bookstore. Then chains such as Borders, Waterstones and their ilk came along and began systematically driving smaller rivals out of business. Now the wheel has come full circle, they are the ones being pushed around by a playground bully. You might call it justice.

g.adams@independent.co.uk

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Front Of House Team Member

£16500 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales & Marketing Manager

£22000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company has won the award ...

Recruitment Genius: Store Manager & Store Supervisor

£19000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Case Liaison Officer / Administrator

£13000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Pension Specialist based in Rochest...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Kennedy campaign for the Lib Dems earlier this year in Bearsden  

Charles Kennedy: A brilliant man whose talents were badly needed

Baroness Williams
Nick Clegg (R) Liberal Democrat Leader and former leader Charles Kennedy MP, joined the general election campaign trail on April 8, 2010  

Charles Kennedy: The only mainstream political leader who spoke sense

Tim Farron
Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific