I remember an evening in the 1980s spent with some hip young Brits when I was trying to convince them that it was possible to be a hip American. (Back then, American youths were seen by hip Little Englanders as stylistic savages, primitives engaged in such barbaric practices as wearing Grateful Dead T-shirts and blue jeans.) So I asked: What about Miles Davis or James Brown? ‘They’re Afro-Americans,’ came the dismissive retort. What about the Velvet Underground? ‘That’s New York, not America,’ they said. Lenny Bruce? No, too Jewish. Sinatra? No, too Italian. I would have suggested John Belushi but they’d have said: No, too Armenian.
Contrary to conventional wisdom, anti-Americanism was not confined to an older generation of square, pre-pop and post-Second World War European intellectuals. Even the fashionable kids of a pop culture whose founding fathers – Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley and James Dean – came from America were susceptible to it and happy