Credit: Julius Drost via Unsplash

Pop culture over the pond

By Rothery Sullivan

Cultural tastes on American soil may not be as familiar as you’d expect.

When I first arrived in the UK from America, I expected there to be a lot of cultural differences regarding media consumption, such as differing tastes in music, television series, films and literature. However, the more I spoke with my Scottish friends, the more I found that our tastes often overlapped; a lot of people listened to similar artists; obsessively watched the same TV shows; and watched the same films as children, teens and now adults. From Adele and Kanye to Friends and Gilmore Girls and Disney films, it seemed as if pop culture was just the same across the Atlantic.

But, after asking more probing questions about people’s tastes, I realised that our preferences vastly differed once we got beyond popular artists and franchises. I believe these differences come from our cultural upbringings and our biases towards the media from our home countries. I love being introduced to new artists and enjoy watching people interpret classic American media for the first time. Seeing another person react to your culture shows how unique all of our cultures are. It’s often assumed that most people know American culture, as it’s one of the most media-prolific countries in the world, however people who aren’t from America usually only see the most popular media from our country. 

I didn’t find many differences in music taste, but I largely attribute this to the sheer size of the American music industry. American pop music seems to be known globally. A lot of American artists that my non-American friends listen to include Billie Eilish, Taylor Swift, Rihanna and Doja Cat, who are all quite globally famous. I was, however, introduced to a couple of Scottish artists I had not previously listened to, such as Paolo Nutini and King Creosote, and bands such as Travis and The Proclaimers. I also found that some indie artists (such as Clairo) that are popular in the US are not very popular here. Music taste is a very personal thing, so it’s hard to tell if the favourite artists of my friends are their favourites due to cultural differences or due to personality differences. The only difference in music that could be attributed to cultural differences is Ceilidh music, which I had not listened to, nor danced to, before coming to Scotland.

I did find some major variations with regards to popular television series, which I largely attributed to the differences in British v American humour. For example, I had not previously watched Still Game, Horrible Histories or Doctor Who, all of which seemed to be integral parts of growing up in Scotland. I had never heard of Eurovision, which seems to be a big television event (viewed and celebrated similarly to the way Americans view the Superbowl). I had also never watched Scottish comedians like Billy Connolly. While I did enjoy these programmes, I did find that they weren’t quite my “type” of show; I didn’t find the humour as funny as others around me and I missed a lot of the references to British culture. I saw that this pattern was similar to some of my favourite television programmes as well. People didn’t find The Office (US) to be as funny as I did, and I found it insanely strange that none of my Scottish friends had heard of or watched Saturday Night Live, which was a classic TV programme for me growing up. Each culture seems to have its own style of television that they raise their children to enjoy, which leads to inevitable taste differences later on in life. 

One last media difference I noticed was in literature, which was probably more noticeable due to my English Literature degree. I was horrified to learn that my Scottish friends did not grow up reading the work of American authors such as Edgar Allen Poe or Emily Dickinson, and were not assigned classic books in school such as The Giver or The House on Mango Street. However, I saw this same level of confusion when people learnt that I had never heard of Carol Ann Duffy or Robert Burns or read books such as The Cone Gatherers or Skellig, all of which seem to be material that is heavily taught in Scottish and English Literature curricula. It makes sense that we would learn more about authors from our regions of the world and issues that are relevant to our countries, but it is strange to think that the pillars of literature that we grew up on differ when we are both currently working towards the same degree. 

Overall, the media we consume does seem to be affected by our nationality and the culture we grew up in; however, I think that this makes for interesting conversations and allows us to see a whole new perspective of the world every time we interact with someone who is not from our home country.


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