Tuesday, 13 June 2006

Nationalism v Pluralism

It's a while since I made a post that wasn't groin induced or "Doctor Who" related so forgive the culture-shock ... normal service will be restored later.

Anyway this is an intellectual itch I have to scratch as it will only get worse in the coming weeks. I nearly posted on Doctor Vee's blog on a related subject last week (my firewall disallowed me then). But it's not just the World Cup related shite/hype- it began with Gordon Brown's absurd 'Britishness' speech at the beginning of the year, and I say that as a reluctant unionist (I do wish there was another word for that). Also hovering in the same vague orbit have been the issues over choosing a national anthem for Scotland, the recent crass HMS Illustrious stunt and warnings from Scottish tourism chiefs that anti-English feelings are losing us cross-border trade. You'll have to bear in mind I am not a tribal sort and even when I am it's so laidback it's almost flat-out so all the rest of my post is in that context. I'm a live and let live, agree to differ type. There seems to be a festering quest for national identity, attached to empty symbolism, surely only pointing up some communal insecurity. The issue with the anthem is a good starting point here - why this repeated aching for one ? So that one more thing can be obliged of us, whichever one of the diverse options wins out. I for one would sit in stone-faced defiance if "Flower of Scotland" got the nod (if asked my vote is for "A Man's a Man for A That"). And that's just it - tribalism demands totems with which to beat people, and yet civil society is ever more diverse and pluralistic. We won't all conform by default any more, and equally that's why ludicrous ideas like 'Britishness' are doomed to fail - who's the more 'British' - a Muslim in Shetland, a drag queen in Swansea, a Salford scally or a Marxist in Derry? Would even these four people agree on a definition. I doubt it. Even Scottishness is dubious given my example - Shetland is so very far removed in spirit from say Fife, whatever your religion. And I live in Fife (though born in Perth) so am I a Fifer? A 'central Scot'? Who can say? Again though, tribalism demands labels and conformity. It's not something I'm comfy with, even the 'gay' label doesn't really say much about me (as my earlier post on a BBC3 documentary proved). The fact I post links to gay porn here would actually tell you more without me even using the word. But that's semantics really.

Some churchy types have lately tried to use the word relativism in a perjorative way (much as the American right use 'Liberal' as a slur) as the shrinking world - in communications terms - continues to underline that no one faith, philosophy or sneaky means of propogating them is going to be 'win out' any more. It's a shame the nationalists haven't quite realised the parallel yet - notably the boorish nationalists in the blunt ends of our press. The media should be in a position to defuse, but so often further inflame or trample our sensibilities. "The Sun" is a textbook example, not just for obvious reasons but for the fact it slyly produces different print editions but is stuck with just one website (it's the one with the flag of St George plastered on it). Hence us clever Scots can witness the unlovely spectacle of the two-headed hack beast as the Scottish print edition rails at the very English jingo-ism so carefully egged on by the website.

So where am I on this? Which team am I supporting? I'm not. If I have the misfortune to be have to watch a whole 90 minutes of this World Cup tedium (highly unlikely short of hospitalisation) I'll support the team with the best looking players, which is only logical and appropriate for me if rather too relative for most people (I do think they should play in just jockstraps, socks and boots - it would widen the appeal greatly and I'd tape every match).

But I have another view on the bigger arguement ie asking 'what team are you supporting' in the first place. That's the actual problem, not what anyone answers. No-one should be obliged to answer, judged on the 'right or wrong' answer, or blame the respondant for any resulting controversy - it's the questioner's responsibility for asking. Politicians would be the exception to that rule of course. My favourite response so far was from author Ian Rankin when asked by the Sunday Times Scotland as one of a panel of 'sleb Scots: “I have no views on the World Cup. I’ll be watching Big Brother instead.” And good on the paper for printing it rather than ignoring what is actually a valid and widely held view both sides of the suddenly iron border. My stance comes from 3 layers of niggle, which covers my deep disdain for both 'nationalist camps'. Firstly it's assumed by advertisers and the media that I'm interested in the first place (I'm not). Then the general UK thrust is that I'm supporting England (I'm not), followed by the general Scottish thrust which is because I'm Scottish even if I'm not interested I'm supporting anybody but England (I'm not). Of course it's also generally assumed that the last of these is directly caused by the combo of the first two. Having lived in England myself (admittedly in cosmopolitan London) and having noted the behaviours of other ex-pats like Ken Bruce and Carole Kirkwood the lazy tendency to think everything is the way it is in your own locale is the failing ie weather spells, school terms. Note 'locale' not country - it may only be a radius of 30 miles. Maybe it's a form of 'going native', but it's incompetent rather than malicious and happens equally in Glasgow or Edinburgh with things like slang or bank holidays. Basically they know not what they do - everyone around them hasn't picked them up on it either. Plus there is probably an over-prevalance of partial football fans in postions of power in the media, so they get all fired up with their peers and the failing goes to ludicrous extremes. Witness BBC News 24 covering the England team merely arriving at the airport for their flight out with all the minutae and reverance of a state occassion. Again this happens in Scotland most of the time, rather than for special tournaments - note the ring-fenced 'sports' (read football) bulletin on 'Reporting Scotland' even when there's nothing actually happening . The Scots certainly are over-sensitive - no-one would have a problem with Saltire-flying in the Home Counties even now - the same cannot be contemplated in the reverse situation and that shows us up. Both should be able to fly their own flag if they want to (though I think it's generally exhibitionist and juvenile). I can't understand why you'd fly another flag than your own or have to be privately patriotic in another country. Not everyone in Scotland is Scottish just as not everyone in England is English. Deal with it. Thankfully we're not yet quite as silly as the Americans are about our flags.

Both the monomania being broadcast from England and the schadenfruede so ingrained in Scotland piss me off. And actually the latter pisses me off more, partly because it makes me ashamed to be Scottish and partly because it is premeditated and malicious in many cases. Sure it's not racist not to positively support England, but to randomly back whatever opponent going is borderline. A particular instance that incensed me in so many ways happened during Euro 2000. Our local 10 screen cinema megaplex had just opened in Dunfermline. On their opening weekend, England were playing their 'Auld Enemy', Germany, in the tournament. Pandering to tabloid sensibilities, he cinema bosses decided they'd give free entry (or half-price or similar) to anyone turning up on the day wearing a German strip. Remember this was a CINEMA on it's OPENING WEEKEND. It was as daft as it was offensive - the cinema was the most likely sanctuary for non-football fans and some of them may well have been English - not the best move for customer relations. Unusually, I was luminous with rage and had I had the money and retail knowledge I was going to turn up in an England strip and see what happened then. Fortunately I was not the only complainant and by the actual day they lamely decided to extend the offer to anyone wearing any football strip - still completely irrelevant to their core business but a climbdown all the same. They've never tried any such 'cunning stunt' again. The recent warnings from the tourist industry chime with this experience. Football-phobic people in England may be desperately looking for a sanctuary too.

On the other hand, had I been part of the HMS Illustrious crew obliged to take part in the 'England Expects' stunt I would have been equally mutinous. That was outrageous and irrelevant, more so from an employer striving to celebrate diversity. That went against all principles of respecting diversity for the sake of a cheap tabloid photo-oppportunity.

But these noxious phenomena are hopefully on the wane. Recently inept campaigns such as Mars have also found to their cost that you can't push all our consumer buttons at once because we're not all the same and you better remember that. I'm boycotting all World Cup related brands for the duration of their sponsor campaigns for that reason. Not because I'm anti-English, but because I'm anti-football.

It's not just that I'm being ignored as a Scot, it's because I'm being ignored as being 'not effing bothered' as well as upset with being branded somehow unpatriotic by always hoping Scotland never gets anywhere near a World Cup. You would guess correctly that 1994 was my favourite World Cup where no British team qualified - oh bliss! That way there's less sport on TV and less of the tartan hype that surrounds it here. Again this is a completely logical line to take for me. Oh and maybe we shouldn't have national teams so that politicians can't wrap themselves in the 'right' flag as has happened this year, and can only end in tears. They can split them internationally by zodiac sign perhaps - that way no-one's going to risk assuming allegiances.

Lastly I think I've found a pub in Dunfermline without a TV so anyone like-minded nearby can feel free to ask me for the whereabouts.

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