“Brexit … is that that new restaurant?”
A few weeks after this vox pop emerged on the streets of New York, the shock of Britain’s Brexit decision was splashed across the front page of the New York Times. But the post-vote fallout that has shaken Europe is still making comparatively gentle ripples across the American consciousness. Americans, distanced from the immediate social and economic impact of Brexit, have yet to see how a European crisis will affect them.
But amongst media-savvy coast-huggers who have formed an opinion, the outlook is grim. Three key questions emerge:
Who are the British? Long stereotyped in popular culture as amusingly villainous and tea-sipping sophisticates, Brits are admired for their ‘old-world’ refinement and seductive articulation – if only we spoke with those supple long vowels and elegant intonations.
But these impressions have been confused by portraits of xenophobic ‘regrexiteers’, including a well-circulated clip of a ‘Leave’ voter unaware that her decision would have real-life repercussions. Americans may have been taken aback to recognise the worst stereotypes of themselves in the recent media coverage of ‘Leave’ supporters: disenfranchised locally, disconnected globally.
Are the British racist? A rise in post-referendum attacks against so-called foreigners across Britain have also painted the UK as intolerant, unwelcoming, and fearful of perceived outsiders. As a nation of immigrants, the US recognises cultural diversity as not only an added asset, but essential to the fabric of American identity. However, the country is also grappling with its own racial injustices (e.g. police brutality, institutionalised prejudice) – and struggles to ground its cultural ideals in reality.
Despite ‘Cool Britannia’, an impressive Olympics, and charming globe-trotting princesses (Diana, Kate), Brexit has introduced cracks in the image of the UK/London as a possible exemplar of open multiculturalism. Maybe none of us have come as far as we’d assumed.
Finally, will Trump succeed? Brexit’s association with the far-right has deepened anxieties around this year’s presidential election. ‘Leave’ voters’ ‘protest vote’ manifested the disempowerment and alienation many felt against an establishment (Cameron, EU) deaf to their needs. Will struggling Americans – some of whom juggle three jobs at once to make ends meet – be emboldened to ‘take their country back’ from their own ‘powers that be’ (Hillary, the current legislative system)? America’s recent history against the empty elitism of expertise will only fuel Trump’s anti-intellectualist platform. Come November, will we also be living in an unreal dystopia illustrated by The Simpsons 16 years ago?
Part of our Culture Crunch: Brexit edition – perspectives on Brexit from our partners around the globe.