Laugh and the world laughs with you

So there’s this commercial (or advert, to use local parlance) on tv here in England which I find very perplexing.  This is it:

If you didn’t feel like watching a commercial, all you need to know is that it involves an Australian guy in England, and the Australian guy ‘wins’ the commercial.  Now I like this ad, because I find it pretty funny, and because the Australian guy is HOT, but it does perplex me.  The English are pretty derisive about Australians.  I think they might still consider Australia their penal colony or something.  So a commercial in which an Australian guy comes out on top, English society is mocked, and moreover represented by the poshest, longest faced of Brits, confused me.  Why would this sell beer in the UK?  In Australia, or even in America, it would make sense, but not here.

One night the husband and I were watching tv and this commercial came on, so I put the question to him.  He rolled his eyes and replied, “Because we Brits…you know…have a sense of humor about ourselves?”

I didn’t know.  Well, I sort of did, as this was something I had been told multiple times by the British people in my life.  But it’s not something I really understood.  Americans are extremely serious about being American.  The patriotism in my native country is legendary, and we have songs with lyrics like “I’m proud to be an American/ where at least I know I’m free…Cause there ain’t no doubt I love this land/ God Bless the USA” which are sung without a single trace of irony.  But even when people are feeling very anti-America, they don’t tend to make a lot of jokes about it.  There are the obvious exceptions, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, but even they make fun of the news and politics more than the idea of being American.  And for every one of them there are scores of earnest, table-thumping news anchors.

So the idea that the British are more than willing to laugh at their national identity, to mock themselves for being considered the posh, croquet-playing long-faced sort who live in manor houses, perplexes me.  Nobody would dare make a commercial like that in America without there being an uproar.  I remember when the Dixie Chicks dared to criticize President Bush, people ran a steamroller over their CDs.  Being American is a deadly serious business.  Being British is something you can laugh about.

I wonder if this means that the Brits are more confident in their national identity.  Let’s go with this theory for a second–they have been around for over a thousand years and built the most far flung empire in world history, and then witnessed its collapse and came out on the other side.  America, by contrast, is a young country, only some 232 years old, and is still clinging to the neo-imperialist empire we established and looking warily from side to side for rivals.

Really though, I think it’s just an example of how earnest Americans can be.  Brits may feel things deeply, but on the whole, they don’t particularly want to show it.  My husband’s endearments are peppered with teasing and jokes, and the sweetest things he says are delivered in the most lighthearted manner, as if he is mocking himself for saying them.  As an American, I’m not sure how to respond–I know he’s not completely kidding, but he’s acting as though he is.   It is very perplexing, and yet something I admire.  I’ve never really been able to laugh at myself, and it’s probably a skill I could use.


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