Same old English, always colonizing
Sunday, November 19, 2006
This time it's cultural.
The Department for Culture, Media and Support has been running a project to choose England's foremost icons.
And the rest of the world will be surprised to discover what's deemed to be iconically English these days:
- a cup of tea
- the local bobby
- Fish and Chips
- the oak tree
- the V sign
...and even THE WEATHER.
What a petty, misguided and divisive project for a government ministry to run.
Tessa Jowell, if she's serious about this, can come down to the Millennium Stadium in the pouring rain. 70,000 rugby fans, I'm sure, will show her that the V sign is alive and well outside of England.
posted by Blamerbell @ 9:30 am,
- At 4:33 pm, Martin said...
How can you even dispute the top four being quintessentially English? Rugby I grant you is culturally more significant for Wales but it was invented in Rugby which is in... erm... England.
I agree it's a pointless exercise. But surely you can't deny England any cultural icons? Without picking derogatory things, what icons would you give England? And are you saying you wouldn't pick any for Wales?
- At 5:08 pm, Blamerbell said...
Tea - comes from Asia, sometimes Africa. You'll find a lot more of it drunk there than in England.
The local bobby - well, the French invented the police in the modern European sense. The concept was first floated in Britain by the Scots. Since then we have them all over the UK, no?
Fish and Chips - came to England from Spanish and Portugese Jews in the 17th and 18th centuries. Again, the Scots and the Welsh would give any English Fish and Chip shop culture a run for its money.
The Oak Tree - are you serious?
Just because England has a crisis of national identity, that's no excuse for colonizing the world's cultural icons.
- At 5:32 pm, Martin said...
English is a magpie culture. A racial ragbag, a linguistic ragbag, a cultural ragbag. I'd call Chicken Tikka Masala a symbol of England too. It only has a small part of its origin in England, but its English because the English have taken it to heart and see it as defining them. Same with the others. I already said I see Rugby as culturally more significant in Wales even though technically its origins are in the English upper class.
By the way, I don't think this is a zero sum game. Just because the English say something is a symbol of their culture, doesn't mean to say someone else can't too. It IS very English to constantly talk about the weather, but of course the rest of the people who live on this climactically unpredictable island do it all the time too. English people do think about themselves affectionately as talking and complaining about the weather all the time.
Many English people would probably claim emotional reserve as a national characteristic, but that's also true of many other nations. Particularly cold ones.
Look, it's a silly exercise. We all know that.
I think what you're saying is that because some of these things have cultural significance for other cultures the English shouldn;t claim them as ther own. Specifically, many of these ideas are just as British (and therefore Welsh). But as I said before, it's not a zero sum game. The English having a cultural icon doesn't take that away from anyone else.
The French could claim sex as a national pastime but that doesn't mean no one else can do it!
- At 6:22 pm, Blamerbell said...
I love it when the English get defensive.
Face it - as a consequence of hundreds of years of colonizing you now have no identifiable culture of your own:)
Surely there are some Burnley fans out there who disagree with me....?
- At 7:06 pm, Martin said...
No culture of our own? Ha ha ha ha ha.
The Beatles, the BBC, kebab vans, cooked breakfasts, white van man, Oxbridge, the Sun, Peter Kay, Shakespeare, endless tea, random acts of violence, Glastonbury, cream teas, Elgar, the class system, Damien Hirst, sunburn, the language, curry, sexual repression, bitter, Charles Dickens, the church of England, supermarkets, Philip Larkin, binge drinking, Radiohead, an unshakeable belief that the national football team are underachieving world-beaters, London, cider, Morrissey, skiving, meat and two veg, a non-specific dislike of the French, fat puddings, William Blake, The Sex Pistols, jealousy of our neighbours, and my favourite ever definition of Englishness, told to me by a German truck driver in Prague: "You English you are like the coconut. Very hard on the outside but sweet in the middle."
None of these things in themselves is owned by England or the English. But together they make me English.
Remember, actually I'm Welsh but the great thing about Englishness is that anyone can acquire it.
- At 7:39 pm, Blamerbell said...
What's that there I can see?
It looks a bit raw... and yes... it's a nerve.
"Remember, actually I'm Welsh but the great thing about Englishness is that anyone can acquire it."
But why would they?
- At 7:51 pm, Chris Doidge said...
Ooh you Welshies are so defensive about who you are!
Anyway, enough of that bollocks - football and its associated violence is far more of a cultural icon in England than rugby.
It pains me to say it, but cricket is probably even more so.
- At 8:04 pm, Martin said...
It's a raw nerve in the sense that you set the bait and I'm the fish that bit.
Yes, I'd considered football violence but all the anglo-saxon nations have a problem with it. The Scots probably even more so than the English. And as for Cardiff City... Morrissey said in a song about football violence "We are the last truly British people you will ever know." A very controversial lyric but not entirely wrong.
Why would I choose to be English? Because I live in England and my personality is a product of England. I'm quite proud of that, but I don't wave flags about (another admirable national characteristic apart from at world cup time). And, actually, this is the first conversation I can remember having about my Englishness.
- At 8:06 pm, Blamerbell said...
Icons website is a a bit divided on whether England should colonize the garden shed too.
Vote now to preserve the non-specific national identity of the garden shed.
- At 3:18 pm, JamesFraney said...
"a consequence of hundreds of years of colonizing you now have no identifiable culture"
Isn't the fact that we have such wide variety within our culture a strength rather than a weakness?
- At 8:35 am, Blamerbell said...
"Isn't the fact that we have such wide variety within our culture a strength rather than a weakness?"
No. English culture is almost indistinguishable from so-called British culture, and that's not good news for England. I think the campaign for an English parliament understands this and is doing its best to remedy it.