18 February 2010

Ingerletc. redux

Consider this the guilty response to the previous post. It is rough and vague ("it seems ... it appears ... one gets the sense ...") and utterly inadequate for the subject at hand, one on which volumes have been written. But I couldn't let go without acknowledging the greater issue, even if cursorily. It is, in effect, a first draft for a post – or book – I may or may not get around to writing.

Frankly, I find things like the clip here risible. But then, it's not aimed at me. Who am I to pass such a judgement, based as it is on a personal disquiet of such naked jingoism and, no doubt, a residual disquiet of such naked English jingoism? (Not that I am anti-English – indeed, I am, largely, quite the Anglophile, or at least have too great an awareness of the complexities of that nation to have anything but a suitably nuanced idea of it. That residual disquiet comes from the weight of that bastard history, of which there is far too great an accumulation hereabouts for one to be totally immune to it even if, like me, one is disdainful of its more poisonous effects.)

No, this is bigger than one smartarse foreigner's pointing and laughing. I wonder how England fans react to this kind of John Bull stuff. Or perhaps I wonder how much the John Bull stuff is a reaction to England fans. The relationship between the English and Englishness seems to be far more complicated than this film allows for.* The kind of unabashed patriotism – or even quiet pride – characteristic of so many countries seems embarrassing to many English people. Whereas the national saint's days of the other UK nations is cause for celebration (or a day off, anyway), St. George's Day is the occasion for a debate on the meaning of St. George's Day, which has thus far yielded no consensus. While the shunning of the Union flag by England football fans in favour of the George's cross in recent years appears to itself have caused some small shift in general national self-image, one gets the sense that there is a certain strain of mainly right-leaning souls who believe they are England. What's more, they can do so because they are largely unchallenged; an association with one's nation and with its symbolism is gauche and undesirable. (How healthy all this is I really don't know.)

(Compare this with Ireland, whose citizens are Irish and not afraid of being so or letting everyone know about it: even when the Troubles were at their height and a large degree of sympathy with Northern nationalism existed, the presence of militant republicans in the Dáil only ever hobbled between non-existent and negligible. This was despite the way in which they attempted to co-opt the symbols of Ireland and Irishness – something in which, in fairness, they succeeded to a certain extent; the large number of tricolours flown around the country during the 2002 World Cup was seen by some an an instinctive act of reclamation.)

So if there is this ambiguity, how is it that the conditions exist that this film can be a plausible way to introduce a football match? How has this sort of thing not been laughed out of town? Maybe everyone is too nervous or chatty or pissed before a game to pay any attention. And maybe I'm reading too much into it – though, as I say, I'm not interested in it as a deterministic thing as much as I am in it as a reflection. If it is a reflection, that is. Which it mightn't be. In which case, I apologise for wasting your time. I suppose what I am ultimately trying to get across is how utterly fascinating that tangled web is, both in general terms and in how it manifests itself through football, especially in an even-numbered year. England will be an armchair sociopsychoanthropoetcetcetcologist's plaything this summer, as ever.

* Though I guess that a title sequence showing CCTV footage of people moaning about the drizzle and discussing the merits of a stag weekend in Bratislava would be, if more truthful, not quite fit for purpose.


Ted Harwood 18/2/10 1:57 AM  

I might recommend Benedict Anderson's "Imagined Communities" as a place to start, but that might be killing a mosquito with the Death Star. A large, post-Marxian Death Star, published by Verso.

Daryl 18/2/10 6:43 AM  

I think a big part of it is that - as you say - English people don't express their nationalism very often. Some are too self-conscious and afraid of looking silly, while others are a ashamed of some of the things our country has done in the past. I'd put myself in both camps.

As a result, the England football (and maybe rugby and cricket) team is a rare chance to unite and show some patriotism, so when it can be a little over the top. Either because we're venting our built up nationalism, or maybe because we don't get enough practice at being patriotic so we're just not very good at it.

As for the question of whether the Setanta ad was a) reacting to, or b)or feeding this hyper-patriotism... it's probably both.

Mark 18/2/10 8:52 AM  

I'll second Ted's call of Imagined Communities.

This is a debate that's been raging pretty fiercely in cricket circles for some time - the issue being the influx of South Africans with enough English background to eventually qualify for the national team. Lots of people have trotted out banalities about whether they're 'as English as us' because they grew up on the Highveld, but it's just a reflection of a society which is much less sedentary than it used to be. And is it really a particuarly great measure of how 'X'ish we all are that we read the same newspapers and believe people roughly feel the same as us?

The Setanta ad was probably the lovechild of a desire to nurture exactly the kind of idiot fans (and children who don't know any better) you describe above and a cocksure confidence that nobody ever switched off a football match because the opening sequence was tawdry.

Harry 18/2/10 9:14 AM  

If you wanted to bend over backwards to be fair to Setanta, I guess you could argue that this is ludicrous football bombast that happens to be patriotically themed, rather than hyper-patriotism that is being channeled through football.

I can't remember where I saw the gag recently that 'football isn't a matter of life and death, it's much more self-important than that', but, you know.

If Setanta had exclusive rights to broadcast, say, Manchester United league games, I'm sure they'd manage to come up with a title sequence that was just as overblown and just as lacking in taste, proportion and self-awareness. It's just the gigantic spectral lions would be replaced by the gigantic spectral forms of Matt Busby, George Best and Peter Schmeichel.

Fredorrarci 19/2/10 2:13 PM  

Appreciate the comments and the book recommendation, gentlemen - thank you.

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