Saturday, January 26, 2008

I Love My Country (Part One Of What Is Sure To Be An Ongoing Series)

David Bowie's fabulous Alexander McQueen frock coat,
displayed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NY in 2006.

The French have Liberté, égalité, fraternité. Americans can choose from a broad selection of slogans, from the boisterous YOU-ESS-AAAY! to the beautiful and dignified The land of the free and the home of the brave, and everything in between.

But what do we Brits have to say about ourselves--what can we say about ourselves? Certainly we're one of the oldest countries (and cultures) on the planet--invaded, raped, and pillaged by just about everyone over the past couple of millenia--and there's no dearth of excellent writers whose veins are pulsing with "British blood" (whatever that means, since we have indeed been invaded and raped and pillaged by just about everyone and can thus be fairly termed the über-mutts of the world).

We've got no national motto, though, and we can't have that.

Prime Minister Brown and company were troubled by this tragic shortcoming. And so, concerned that Britain might be perceived as lacking when it came to the ability to put together clever sentences--particularly ones that accurately expressed the national identity--they set their sights on procuring one for us:

Because of the peculiarities of its long history, Britain has in modern times never felt the need for such a statement. But in an era of decentralized government and citizens who tend to define themselves less by their similarities than by differences of region, ethnicity or religion, the government felt that the time was ripe for one.

The proposal, part of a package of British-pride-bolstering measures announced by Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s new government over the summer, raised a host of tricky questions. What does it mean to be British? How do you express it in a country that believes self-promotion to be embarrassing? And how do you deal with a defining trait of the people you are trying to define: their habit of making fun of worthy government proposals?

The results were, well, about as bloody British as you'd expect:

The Times of London cynically sponsored a British motto-writing contest for its readers.

The readers’ suggestions included “Dipso, Fatso, Bingo, Asbo, Tesco” (ASBO stands for “anti-social behavior order,” a law-enforcement tool, while Tesco is a ubiquitous supermarket chain); “Once Mighty Empire, Slightly Used”; “At Least We’re Not French”; and “We Apologize for the Inconvenience.” The winner, favored by 20.9 percent of the readers, was “No Motto Please, We’re British.”

“The point I was making is, this idea of a statement of Britishness; I cannot think of anything less British than that,” said 25-year-old David Bishop, author of the winning motto.

If I may be so bold--bearing in mind that the notion of "bold", to many a Brit, means things like gathering up your courage and asking the bartender for an extra lemon slice--I'd like to suggest looking to the British teevee programmes of decades past: they're chock-a-block with pithy statements containing the very Essence d'England the PM would seem to be seeking.

From Doctor Who:

The universe should be big enough for the both of us ... just.

There is no indignity in being afraid to die, but there is a terrible shame in being afraid to live.

I tolerate this century but I don't enjoy it.

You know, I am so constantly outwitting the opposition, I tend to forget the delight and satisfaction of the arts... the gentle art of fisticuffs.

When everything is new, can anything be a surprise?

From Fawlty Towers:

Happy? Ah yes, I remember that.

Well let me tell you something - this is exactly how Nazi Germany started. A lot of layabouts with nothing better to do than to cause trouble.

If you bother me again, I shall visit you in the small hours of the night and put a bat up your nightdress.

All the while it was my fault. Oh, it's so obvious now--I've seen the light! Well, I must be punished then, mustn't I?

Don't mention The War.

And last, but not by any means least, from Monty Python's Flying Circus:

And now for something completely different.

Shut your festering gob, you tit! Your type really makes me puke--you vacuous, toffee-nosed, malodourous pervert.

The British Navy is one of the finest and most attractive and butchest fighting forces in the world...those white flared trousers and the feel of rough blue serge on those pert little buttocks.

Hello, good evening, and welcome to another edition of Blood, Devastation, Death, War and Horror. And later we'll be talking to a man who does gardening. But our first guest tonight is a man who talks entirely in anagrams.

Embarrassment is all part of growing up and being British.

Also at Cogitamus.

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