America Blows

By MIKE MILIARD  |  June 29, 2007

Just don’t put too much faith in the bands of this land. “I think all the British bands are gonna win,” confides Dakin. “Look at Radiohead vs. Nirvana. . . . I think Radiohead is gonna win. I think all the American bands are gonna get hit.” He has a point. Not to mention that many of the decent American acts these days take their inspiration from elsewhere. Interpol? Joy Division redux. The Killers? New Order all over again (with a soupçon of Springsteen).

“I was looking at the FNX playlist,” says Dakin, “and basically every band we play — of the new bands — are either from Europe, or sound like bands in the ’80s from Europe, or are the White Stripes.” Icky.

Remember, back in the day, all those beloved American regional scenes? There was Motown, of course, and Haight-Ashbury in the ’60s. The Philadelphia Sound of the ’70s. In the ’80s, there were indie hotbeds in Athens and Boston and Minneapolis. Then came Seattle and Chapel Hill in the ’90s. Where have the big scenes been since Dubya took over? Sweden. Australia. Montreal.

Clearly, we sons and daughters of liberty have our work cut out for us. Even in genres we invented we’re getting our asses handed to us. Who was the winner in this year’s Phoenix/WFNX Best Music Poll national hip-hop category? Was it Nas? Ghostface? Lupe Fiasco? No. No. No. It was Lady Sovereign, a white, five-foot-tall MC from London, Enguhland.

No cleverer than a fifth grader, either
If you think our music is derivative, consider that our TV landscape would be all but decimated were it not for the fertile imaginations of Brits and Aussies.

Not that there aren’t exceptions. People are still talking about The Sopranos. That last scene inside Holsten’s — fraught with tension, rife with symbolism, packed with details echoing the Catholic Mass, DaVinci, and the Godfather — was the kind of television we almost never see anymore: a heart-stopping montage that subverts our expectations even as it blows our minds and leaves us chattering about it for weeks afterward. It was, in short, a fitting coda to a show New Republic critic Leon Wieseltier calls “so good it is almost not American.”

So what are we left with now for quality TV? Well, there’s The Office. It’s funny. Really funny. Mordantly, acerbically funny. And it’s based on a British television program.

At least it’s good. For every Office, there’s two or three Couplings or Men Behaving Badlys. In fact, these days it seems our TV choices are limited to little more than witless, watered-down reality shows invented across the pond: American Idol, Dancing with the Stars, Survivor, Big Brother, Hell’s Kitchen, Deal or No Deal, The Weakest Link, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, and on and on and on.

A show such as The Apprentice, which showcases those time-honored American virtues — brass-balled ambition, towering arrogance, and craven backstabbing, all in the pursuit of corporate power and piles of filthy lucre? It’s produced by Mark Burnett, an Australian. Even when this country does beat the odds and comes up with something relatively good on its own (Law and Order, CSI), viewers can expect to see 17 different spin-offs of the show next September.

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