While I was in England last week, I kept getting grilled about “Mad Men.” People also talked an awful lot about “Game of Thrones,” “Breaking Bad” and the American “House of Cards,” even though it’s based on the far superior 1990 U.K. version. Britons were also raving about “The Avengers” and the astounding success of “Furious 7” and asking me if “Interstellar” made more sense if you were American. So pop-culture-wise, America is in great shape over there.
There was a time when the British sneered at American TV, but no longer. This shows that in terms of sustained artistic achievement, America has come full circle. At first, our inferior literature embarrassed Americans. But then Washington Irving and Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville showed up, and by the time William Faulkner and F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway and David Foster Wallace had started manning the barricades, we were cleaning England’s clock. The glory days of Shakespeare and Dickens and Austen were over.
There was a time when we also felt second-rate in the musical sphere, because the English had Henry Purcell and Edward Elgar and Gilbert & Sullivan, and all we had was Stephen Foster. But then Duke Ellington and George Gershwin and Billie Holiday and ’N Sync stormed the palace gates. From then on, we ceded musical pride of place to no one. […]