Surfing the Channels: Stephen Fry in America

This TV documentary recently became available on Netflix Instant, which is awesome because I missed it when it was on BBC America.  Stephen Fry, who has long since owned my heart because of his work on …everything?  To name a few of my favorite of his projects: The British Harry Potter audiobooks, Little Big Planet video games, QI, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Blackadder, and A Bit of Fry and Laurie. Check out his nonsensically large resume, filmography, etc. at his IMDB page and Wiki page. He is absolutely wonderful.

So, here I am, an American, talking about a British show where a British man comes to see and talk about America.  It’s rather hard to get hold of the concept.  Fry manages to see 50 states in a London cab.  Ok, 48 states in a London cab, then Alaska and Hawaii without it.  He has officially seen more states than me.  But, he’s got a few decades on me, so maybe I’ll get there eventually.

It’s interesting to hear an outsider’s opinion of America.  We can learn something about both America and England by hearing the differences he sees between the two.  Fry reckons that we are far less cynical, and much more comfortable engaging in activities that might be seen as ridiculous by the Brits (meditation, pretend spy games, group song and dance). He mostly seems to admire these qualities, but is quite obviously also unable to embrace them himself.  Natural British reserve, I suppose.

I found the series quite interesting, and I even learned a few things I didn’t now.  It’s always good to be able to appreciate as exotic something that seems quite normal and uninteresting to you.  And only foreigners seem brave enough to wander through the deep South without fear.  I know I couldn’t manage a solo road trip through Alabama or Mississippi.  Of course, he wasn’t really solo, as he had a camera crew with him.  But I’ve seen My Cousin Vinny too many times to think a road trip through that bit of the country could ever end well.

Fry seems to find the accents of the south and deep south charming. I read an article once that said Americans find the Welsh and Yorkshire accents of the UK particularly lyrical and charming.  In Britain, though, these accents are considered sort of trashy and/or uneducated. But I imagine that comes from their cultural precedent, where we are ignorant of it.  Just as they are, at least to some degree, ignorant of the cultural associations that we have with Southerners.  It’s interesting to think about that stuff, because it exposes the amount of subtle prejudices we don’t even realize we have.

My only complaint about this documentary is that in his effort to be polite, Fry doesn’t manage to tell a lot of the truth. His only real negative thoughts seem to be about his own reaction to what he encounters.  Editing is used to create a better impression of the people he meets than I think the truth would show.  It just seemed too polite to be genuine.

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