- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 15, 2002

As Martin Amis recalls in "Koba The Dread," his new study of Stalin's tyranny, his beloved father Kingsley Amis was a member of the Communist Party for a decade and a half, from the palmy, "We Love Uncle Joe" years of World War II until the Russian invasion of Hungary. Like so many members of his generation, Amis Sr. found it hard to renounce his faith in the God that failed.
If his own account is to be believed, it took him a lot less time to fall in love with America. In his memoirs a wonderful book, published in 1991, that manages to be both hilarious and unbearably poignant he describes paying his first visit to the U.S. in 1958. (He made his second and last journey across the Atlantic a decade later. Only his fear flying, one of his many and varied phobias, stopped him making the trip more often). By the time Amis Sr. and his family had made their way across Manhattan and reached the New Jersey Turnpike which was, believe it or not, a beguiling, multicolored spectacle to a visitor from post-austerity Britain he had already been won over. From that point, regardless of the Left's view of America as the fount of all evil, he would regard the U.S. as his "second country." He sums up his response with a mixture of Blimpishness and wide-eyed sentiment: "I have remained strongly pro-American in my attitudes, and the 'in spite of' or 'but' clauses that protocol requires to come next have in my case little force, even after, say, a glimpse of an episode of Dallas, a glance at a novel by Saul Bellow or Vladimir Nabokov, or a conversation with one of those people that Americans themselves mysteriously call liberals."
Still, if I have learnt one thing in the year since September 11, it is that Amis's brand of Atlanticist is starting to become an endangered species. After I wrote a column almost exactly a year ago, describing the hostility to the U.S. among so many sections of the British media and political classes, I began to wonder if I had over-reacted. Sad to say, I now realize that my first impressions were pretty accurate. In fact, now that war against Iraq seems imminent, the anger and distrust have grown even deeper.
You can measure it in all sorts of ways. There are, for instance, the ritual dinner party tirades with all their mind-numbingly repetitive assertions about George W. Bush's IQ, the iniquities of Camp X-Ray and the threat posed by that even more sinister institution, the Disney corporation.Linger around the table long enough, and you can be pretty sure of hearing people sigh over the long-lost days when the USSR provided a genuine balance of power. And so on, and so on.
It would be comforting to think these are just the half-baked opinions of the metropolitan elite or activists on the Left. My own experience, however, is that you are likely to hear much the same from many middle-class, middle-of the-roadpeople who profess no strong political allegiances one way or the other. Seemingly sane folkbecome wholly irrational at the very mention of Donald Rumsfield. Dislike and distrust of America, combined with a dose of that new state religion, radical environmentalism, are the main subject of conversation that is,after football and latest celebrity humiliation show. Even worse than the ranting, in my experience, is the air of faintly amused condescension. If acquaintances drop by and find me watching Fox News which has been indispensable these past months most cannot resist smirking when they see the "America at War" logodisplayed on the satellite channel listing. "At war? Really?How terribly American?"
Which makes Tony Blair's stance on Iraq all the more admirable. Having written him off as a neurotic, poll-obsessed chameleon, I find myself marvelling at his courage. Of course, he must by now be used to being out of step with his own party he has spent the last 10 years performing a slow dance with them. But for a politician who has always given the impression of never wanting to upset Middle England, he is taking enormous risks. I hope American readers appreciate how big a challenge he has set himself. I suspect that Kingsley Amis, who grew more and more intolerant with each day as he entered old age, would have scornedBlair as an effete, guitar-playing public schoolboy. Perhaps. But he might also have realized that they had at least one thing in common.
Ifhe were around today, what advice would Amis have given to a confused American policymaker? I can imagine him defiantly waving his whisky glass in the air and telling him to ignore the lefties and carry on regardless. That would be sensible as far as the question of Saddam Hussein goes. But Washington does have a basic problem of presentation to deal with. The most obvious example remains the Kyoto Protocol it is hard to think of any single decision which has caused so much bad feeling and downright posturing on this side of the Atlantic in the last five years. My own instinct tells me that President Bush took the correct decision based on the available evidence, yet he crucially failed to make his case clearly to the world at large, thus giving the impression that economics and SUVs were all that mattered. The Greens were delighted, naturally; now they had a straw man to play with. We have all been paying the price ever since. If you don't believe, grab yourself an invitation to a British dinner party.

Newspaper obituaries marked the passing of a leading figure in post-war light entertainment: George Mitchell, TV producer and impresario, has died at the age of 85. Although his name means little to modern viewers, Mitchell was the creator of one of the most successful of British programmes, the blackfacecavalcade known as The Black and White Minstrel Show. Between 1957 and 1980, the minstrels played to audiences of millions in prime-time, and in 1961 even carried off the most prestigious award in European television, the Golden Rose of Montreux.
Mitchell, who trained as an accountant but had a gift for writing and arranging music, launched the show after forming a group of singers to perform Negro spirituals on BBC Radio. Such was the success of the TV version where the blacked-up male singers cavorted with blonde dancing girls known as The Television Toppers that a West End theatre spectacular ran for a full 10 years. To this day, Mitchell is said to be the only artist to hold simultaneous first, second and fourth places in the album charts.
Blackface on prime-time television? The idea seems bizarre, but the fact that the programme ran for so long tells us something about the innocence or naivete of British attitudes to race. The last couple of decades have seen a revival of scholarly interest in minstrelsy: Nick Tosches'generously reviewed biography of blackface performer Emmett Miller, which has just been published in this country, is a case in point. Some of Mitchell's obituaries suggest that the demise of his show was the result of political correctness run riot. Talk to ex-Minstrels today, and you find they still cannot understand why anyone should ever have been upset by their act. My own distantmemory of The Black and White Minstrel Show is that it managed to be both bland and offensive truly a rare feat. I'm glad it has gone. But are the hip-hop stereotypes on MTV much of an improvement?I wonder?

Clive Davis writes for The Times and The Sunday Times of London.



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