‘Born in the USA’, Coca Cola and Levi’s jeans. That was the holy trinity of many kids in my Finnish hometown when growing up in the 1980s and 1990s.
If you don’t include Helsinki, the closest metropolis – only 400km away – was Leningrad, later St Petersburg. But no one looked east. We all idolised the US, and I guess the UK too to a certain extent. wh This is such an example of the positive influence of soft power – and the impact of popular culture. As a result we all yearned to learn English and could not have been more motivated. At the same time our school failed to organise any Russian classes due to lack of any pupils wanting to learn the language of our eastern neighbour.
We were in the realms of NYC, despite the fact that none of us had even visited it. But that’s how you feel about New York. You have seen it in films, television and magazines so often that you feel like you know it. You even think you know what it feels like being in New York – there are so many songs about this city. I don’t think St Petersburg ever had a chance of standing up in this particular soft-power competition.
Now, having lived in London for quite some time, I wonder why even here New York is so often seen as something greater. It may be about the British hobby of downplaying but that still doesn’t explain why London hasn’t got itself a more prominent role in the contemporary popular culture despite being roughly the same size as New York.
Why is it that I can easily name five songs written about New York but I struggle to come up with any other London-related songs but ‘London Calling’ and ‘West End Girls’?
Why is it that when I think of worldwide television hits I think of Friends, which in a remarkable fashion brought New York to our homes. And when I think of a TV series set in London I first think of The Office, which wasn’t even set in London but a train journey away.
I think London needs an ego boost; the 2012 Olympics was a good start. Now the UK should continue by coming up with a global hit song or two on the greatness of this city followed by a comedy series of young London women having fun, followed by a blockbuster film where a giant gorilla climbs up to the top of the Shard. That should do the trick – and I think London would truly deserve it.
Markus Hippi is a producer and presenter for Monocle 24.