Friday, 12 October 2012

Fool Britannia.

As David Cameron announces financial commitment to commemorating World War One by 2014 on the hundredth anniversary of its outbreak, the hard-left Richard Seymour has commented,
.. 2014 is being scheduled as another zenith of nationalist pride. The government is investing £50m in commemorating the centenary of the first world war, and a further £5m in the redevelopment of the Imperial War Museums. At a time of deep spending cuts, it's instructive to see what cultural formations the Conservatives are interested in supporting.
The attempt by PM David Cameron to keep this Olympian "feel good factor" going on a continuous stream, as well as the attempt to harness history as propaganda by bigging up this "Britishness" theme, is part of what is known these days as "Public Diplomacy". Cameron is, after all, a man who made his money in PR. Britain must sell itself.

Whilst the reality underpinning historic Britishness has largely vanished with a vote on Scottish Independence coming, he wants to stress it as a consumer brand.

Not only that, it is connected to this notion of Britain as a Global Player. With both New Labour and the Conservatives still committed to "staying the course" in Afghanistan till 2014, a flourish of kitschy nationalism is, of course, helpful in that ties in with the notion that Britain actual has an independent foreign policy and that the sacrifice has been somehow 'worth it'.

The problem is that a considerable number of British people were left cold by the Olympics and disturbed by the fact that this kitschfest involved a massive military presence in London ( one that saw more troops deployed than in the entire Afghanistan War ) . The media and politicians insist on pushing the spurious drivel over "The Legacy".

This is despite the fact it created around 10,000 jobs for local inhabitants after spending £9bn on the Olympic Village, the Stadium and a grotesque piece of architectural computer aided design trash called ArcelrMittal Tower. The Olympic Venue and related construction projects also ramped up house prices and, along with racketeering, driving out Eastenders from areas as Hackney.

The hysteria over the Olympics and it tenuous connection to sense of "Britishness" that we can all somehow be "Team GB" shows a disturbing symbiosis between sport and propaganda, where those who challenged the Olympic Project were seen as un-British or "out of touch". Where a man was arrested whilst watching the Olympic cycling event for 'not smiling'.

The idea that a nation's worth can be assessed on its sporting acheivements is, ironically, similar to that of the Soviet Union.

The problem with this PR version of Britishness is that the ersatz nationalism it conjures up is a form of collective media induced hallucination that is actually at odds with a more rigourous patriotism. For this would involve looking at Britain, and the nations that consist this decayed remnant of a multi-national dynastic state, far more realistically.

For a start, England in 2012 consists largely of retail outlet clone towns as documented brilliantly by Paul Kingsnorth in Real England. The main obessive preoccupation is with consumerism and shopping. There is little sense of higher purpose that visiting huge out of town shopping centres and yelling and screaming at pub telescreened football after four pints of industrially produced lager.

Britain has become weirdly deracinated and denaturalised. It seems that people are so terminally bored, that they are awaiting some collective experience that will unite them, whether sports fanaticism, anti-paedophile outrage, baying EDL flashmob crowds, fanatical Islamism, carnival style anti-capitalist activism with slogans that will be smoothly absorbed into next years T shirt range.

Britishness has a residual appeal to those supporting the military in Afghanistan as that blends with the 'entertainment and sport economy' through the paralympics, ITN's Night of Heroes, the ex-Tv soap opera star and actor Ross Kemp's posturing on Sky TV and numerous macho-war books such as Bullet Magnet by a certain Andy McNab.

The fact the war is about securing the TAPI pipeline as part of a geostrategic plan to control oil and gas is not mentioned as it does not fit the "patriotic" notion of benevolent sacrifice which is being put forth as a way of rationalising the deaths of British troops in a war that has nothing at all to do with national defence

The institutions that defined Britishness have crumbled. the Westminster Parliament is full of bland careerist nonentities and there is little real political debate between two ideologically similar parties that indulge in political cross dressing. Real debates over the War aims in Afghanistan do not happen. There is no attempt to probe or ask forensic questions about the reason for the war.

The decline of Britain into a listless consumer zone of colossal steel sheet warehouses complete with chain link fencing, CCTV cameras, legoland housing estates and motorway towns with flagpoles everywhere and the flag flying is actually, in historical terms, rather un-British. As civic participation and institutions have declined, this new form of demonstrating identity grows.

Flags used to fly from civic buildings and bunting would be put up on special occasions. Yet every second house seems to have a flagpole now. Much of this had to do with football fever and the hype over England's performance in either the World Cup or the European Championships. "Come on England" posters in windows of every retail outlet, even estate agents.

Whether the British or English St George flag is flown, the recent fetish for flagpoles seems to yet another import from the USA. Britishness now seems to have become a sort of Americanised version of Britishness, with the new trend towards school Prom Nights and special Landau Forte Academies, indeed many schools, flying the Union Jack outside.

The strange thing is that Britishness is, actually, increasingly more American than British in the old sense as Britain becomes a neo-liberal version of Orwell's Airstrip One.

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