You can find a similar disinclination to do American homework in film and book criticism. It was telling, for instance, that almost none of the Britons who reviewed Philip Roth's latest book Indignation realised that the "Winesburg College" at which much of the novel's action takes place is a) fictional and b) a deliberate and freighted reference to one of the classics of 20th-century American fiction. Any American literature student with even a basic acquaintance of the US literary canon would have at least heard of Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio and probably know that its component stories are peopled by Midwestern grotesques.
This is not to say that Americans don't get British cultural references horribly wrong. Woody Allen's recent films made in London are all but unbearable in their crude and clueless take on English class and English manners. Allen radically overestimates his understanding of English subcultures and overestimates their similarity to those he knows in America (WASPs are not the same as Sloanes, even if they do have much in common). This may indicate a generational shift; earlier generations of American writers and film makers were more likely to "get" things English.
Certainly my own father, the exiled American filmmaker Carl Foreman, had a remarkable understanding of the kind of cultural subtlety that Allen misses. This was at least in part because like so many Americans educated before the Second World War, he was steeped in British literature. If you had read enough Dickens, Hardy, Fielding, Austen, Thackeray, Lawrence and so on, you were much more likely to notice and understand the cultural texture of Britain in the '50s, '60s and '70s. From the day my father stepped off the boat in 1953, he was stunned by the familiarity of places, phrases and social types that he had known only from books, whether he was visiting the East End, a Welsh mining village or the House of Lords. Today, it's hard to imagine a state-educated American whose schooling would have been so extraordinarily anglophile or a course of reading that would enable him immediately to understand a society that has changed so much in such a short time that even the natives are confused by it.
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