Anglophilia, like pornography, is one of those things that are hard to describe but you know when you see them. With the marriage of the vague, amorphous Prince William and the seemingly unemployable Kate Middleton, Anglophilia is on full display all over the world, particularly in the U.S. As two diabolically bland human beings plight their troth, or whatever one does with a troth, Anglophiles from Chappaqua, N.Y., to Redondo Beach, Calif., have a thrilling opportunity to drop to their knees, moisten their tongues, pucker up their lips and grovel before the British upper classes.
Anglophilia is an obsession not with the English per se but with that stratum of them best described as positively smashing. It is characterized by a fixation on the royal family, a fascination with vintage porcelain and a tendency to confuse a drawing-room accent with actual intelligence. Anglophiles hope that their sons will grow up to be the type of swell chap who would willingly forsake his kingdom for love like Edward VIII and that their daughters will one day achieve the quiet grace and dignity of Emma Thompson.
Anglophiles get all weak in the knees at the very mention of Beatrix Potter, Peter Pan and Tilda Swinton. At heart, they despise their compatriots, believing Americans are loud, rude and afflicted with poor taste, which makes them vastly inferior to the British, who at their worst are merely cheeky. Americans are indeed loud, rude and afflicted with poor taste, especially in northern New Jersey. But just hang around London's Leicester Square on a Saturday night and watch 20,000 drunks, lechers, sluts and gangsters parade through town, and see whether the English are any better. Cheeky, my ass.
There is nothing wrong with liking the English. I have been married to an Englishwoman for 34 years and find the folks from Blighty, at their best, to be tough, determined, resourceful, wickedly funny and much better cooks than they are given credit for. At their worst, they are vulgar, dim, crass and useless, like Sarah Ferguson. You have only to be in a room or a marriage with an English person to understand how the English conquered the world; nothing deters them, and you cross them at your peril. Hitler found this out the hard way in 1940.
But I didn't marry my wife because she reminded me of someone named Cordelia in Brideshead Revisited. I married her, I suspect, because she embodied all the virtues that can be found in the English masses but rarely in the British upper classes and almost never among the royals. Moreover, if I had been an Anglophile of the kind who obsesses over regattas and going to Ascot, she would never have married me. Those types of people are not her cup of tea. Her father worked in a ball-bearing factory. Forget about revisiting Brideshead; people like my wife don't get to visit it in the first place.
The most galling thing about Anglophiles, who worship a class of people that many English people hold in contempt, is that they are oblivious to what makes England great. The English have given the U.S. many wonderful things our legal system, King Lear, Keith Richards, Jane Eyre, Graham Greene, Iris Murdoch, Fawlty Towers, the Protestant Reformation, Twinings' English Breakfast Tea but these are not the things about England that Anglophiles admire. Anglophilia, a demented form of cultural fetishism, is directed not at the things that make Britain great but at those bowler hats, Harrods, people with names like Bonham-Carter that make it twee.
The royal wedding caps a year that has so far been a true bonanza for Anglophiles. First came the Academy Award for The King's Speech, a positively ripping film about a first-rate chap with a speech impediment who motivated his dithering compatriots to defeat those deplorable Nazis. Then came the Carrie-like exhumation of Upstairs Downstairs, the fawning, servile series about how difficult it is for posh ninnies in Eton Place to find reliable scullery maids. As usual, the American press rolled over like petrified corgis before this onslaught of elitist twaddle, laying smooth the path for William and Kate to dominate the conversation for the rest of the spring.
My wife had an uncle who was a wing commander in the RAF. He was named after Gordon of Khartoum, who lost his life battling Islamic fundamentalists in the Sudan in 1885. Uncle Gordon, who had helped ease the Nazis off the stage, lost his legs when he was in his 70s. He never complained that life had treated him unfairly; he had the very stiffest of upper lips. Hoping that some of this will rub off on our son, we named him Gordon, after the kind of Englishman that made England great. You won't see many of them at the royal wedding.
Queenan writes the Moving Targets column for the weekend Wall Street Journal