My column last Sunday took on the 21st Century role of British immigrants in America:
The blunt Brit is now almost a stock figure. Last week saw the final American Idol featuring Simon Cowell as a judge. Cowell is better known in America than, say, the Supreme Court’s chief justice or three-quarters of Barack Obama’s cabinet. At some point in a distant Wildean past, a British musical judge might be expected to be wittier than his peers. Cowell is witless, inexpert, inarticulate and touchy. He just possesses a series of ugly prejudices and crude hunches and the ability to tell someone to their face that they’re rubbish. In Britain, who really cares? In America he’s a legend.
Or contrast Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant reality show in America with the British version. In the US, he’s far ruder and the recipients of his bile much less socially prepared for it. And so the Brits have found a niche in fostering embarrassment among Americans by saying things Americans in general are far too polite to bring up.
Christopher Hitchens cannot be reduced to this. His first common identity in America was leftism, just as mine was conservatism. He seems to have read everything and met everyone, as his addictive new memoir, Hitch-22, proves. His prose is almost as enjoyable as his company. But he only reached his apotheosis in American culture by attacking the one thing Americans have historically shied from attacking: God. Mother Teresa, Pope John Paul II and Princess Diana were not enough. He needed the Big One to become the Loved One.
(Photo: Simon Cowell attends the Collars and Cuffs Ball at the Royal Opera House on September 17, 2009 in London, England. By Chris Jackson/Getty Images).