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British Anti-Americanism

Page 5 of 14

Furthermore, when considering the phenomenon of British anti-Americanism it must be remembered that America is not the only country towards which the British have from time to time taken a dislike. In a phenomenon perhaps much less prevalent in the USA due to its immigrant heritage and because it was for much of its history much more ‘self-contained’ than the UK, the British have a long history of taking a not altogether serious dislike of other ‘foreign’ nations. Anti-French and anti-German sentiment has in the UK, if anything, been much more strident than anti-American sentiment and has also taken not just a popular but also an ideological form. A classic example of the representation of anti-French sentiments is William Hogarth’s great print of 1749, O The Roast Beef of Old England or the Calais Gate.9 This print was wildly popular at the time and has endured as a classic icon of English anti-French patriotic xenophobia. The print shows the Calais Gate, which had been built by the English, and shows the French in front of it as impoverished, servile, affected, effete, and oppressed. The French are subsisting on a diet of ‘soupe maigre’ and snails and suffer the consequences with their puny frames. The only Frenchman in the print to be well fed is a gluttonous monk. A sirloin of beef, so large the cook can hardly carry it, arrives from England, to feed English visitors to Calais with the French being reduced to drooling over it. The implied contrast is with the English over the water - large, prosperous, free men who spoke their minds and subsisted on a diet of roast beef. The print illustrates Hogarth’s view of the French as marked by ‘poverty, slavery and insolence, with an affectation of politeness.’ Hogarth saw this state rooted in France’s Catholicism and its absolute monarchy. After the French revolution the causes of the Frenchman’s poor state were changed, but the symptoms as expressed in caricature were not. James Gillray in the 1790s produced a whole series of prints lampooning the promises of the French revolution with the desultory condition of the French and contrasting it with the true liberties enjoyed by the English. In Gillray’s print the French were still servile and oppressed but now by ‘reason’ gone mad rather than papist superstition. The Jacobin had replaced the priest as the source of France’s ideological corruption, but the French were still subsisting on a funny diet, more often than not a few bulbs of garlic and the passing snail or frog. In the subsequent 200 years many artists and cartoonist produced images lampooning the French, often referring to contemporary events but retaining the old stereotypes. Moving on to more recent events, in 2003 Jacques Chirac was caricatured on the front page of Britain’s best selling popular newspaper, The Sun, as a snail for threatening to veto any new United Nations resolution expressly authorising the use of force to disarm Saddam Hussein. The venerable British tradition of lampooning the French in caricature lives on.
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