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Being British - John C. Kirk

Sep. 20th, 2008

02:12 am - Being British

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Virgin Comics recently published a new Dan Dare series, written by Garth Ennis. I was a bit dubious about it at first, but it turned out to be very good; I particularly recommend it to anyone who liked Ministry of Space by Warren Ellis. Quoting from Paul O'Brien's review: "The series is practically a love letter to Dan Dare and the traditional qualities he stands for - and a lament that these are now seen as quaint and outmoded, rather than eternal and essential."

In #7, Jocelyn Peabody recalls an incident where some members of the National Front approached Dan, asking him to represent them; he politely declined. "But it wasn't that these thugs would think he'd want anything to do with them, that wasn't what was so awful for him. It was what the rise of such monsters meant. Because once they began identifying their cause with men like Dan, they'd taint the very notion of being British. They'd wrap themselves in the flag, and an entire generation of immigrant people would look at the Union Jack ... and see a swastika. God knows we've enough in our history to be ashamed of. But it doesn't matter if you lie about it like the right, or wallow in the guilt of it like the left: eventually you make the past a place that people can't be bothered with. And then the nation's heart rots out, because the good we've done evaporates along with the bad."

Over at the BBC website, the "Have Your Say" area hosted a discussion: "What does it mean to be British?" As you might expect, the most recommended posts were the ones that criticised the government and immigration. (In case you haven't come across it yet, spEak You're bRanes is worth a visit; it draws attention to the bizarre views at "Have Your Say".) Still, ignoring the people who commented there, it's a fair question. As I understand it, multiculturalism doesn't mean that you merge everything together a la Borg; instead, you respect diversity and allow people to take pride in their cultural heritage. This implies that it should also be possible to maintain British traditions, e.g. brass bands and Morris dancing, without excluding anyone else.

Back in my undergrad days, I used to describe myself as a "citizen of the world"; it seems a bit silly to claim credit (or take the blame) for things that other people did long before I was born. However, my views have shifted a bit since then, and I've come to appreciate schools and universities that have been around for hundreds of years. I haven't come to any definite conclusion yet, but Dan Dare's views sound pretty good to me.

Meanwhile, I've been looking at a Facebook group: "Sick of being branded a racist because we are proud to be English!!" Leaving aside the multiple exclamation marks, the basic principle seems valid. However, looking at the people who are active in that group, I definitely want to distance myself from them. Be aware that the rest of this blog post may be offensive (where I'm quoting from that group); unlike "Have Your Say", there's no moderator to approve/reject messages.

Looking at the discussion board for that group, one of their topics is "Who actually gives a shit?" Here's a sample quote:
"touch you i'd NEVER TOUCH ANYTHING WITH COLOURED SKIN. Your type make my flesh creep with their rubber lips and flat noses i keep looking at gorillas and thinking they must be descendants of you lot u fucking headbanger.
Fuck off back to the jungle you fucking spaz.
The like of you i would deport in fact maybe Hitler was right about you niggars."

Here's another comment from the same person:
"If you say anything against a black person they pull out the race card"

Is she really surprised when people brand her a racist? She claims that she went to Edinburgh University and now has a PhD, which I find rather worrying; aside from anything else, I'd expect her to have better spelling and grammar. Honestly, I'm quite shocked at what I've been reading there. It's not just the hostility, it's the lack of thought involved; lots of the people in that group seem to have a Pavlovian reaction whenever someone mentions a keyword, and apparently get all their information from tabloid headlines.

On the plus side, I do feel a bit better about my own political views. I've almost always voted LibDem, but I'm aware that I've been drifting towards the right wing lately. I tend to get annoyed when people talk about "white privilege", and I think that there are people who perceive racism where none exists (as I mentioned previously). However, I'm definitely more liberal than that lot! I find it interesting that I'm not really attracted to views, I'm repelled by them, i.e. it's the advocates who put me off their cause.

As for flags, I don't have any strong feelings about the English one; I don't think it should be banned, but I tend to associate it with football supporters. On the other hand, I do like the British flag: I used to salute it when I was in the Cubs/Scouts, and I'd be happy to wear it as a patch (e.g. on a uniform) without worrying about being mistaken for a thug. This comes back to Dan Dare: how do you avoid the negative connotations? I doubt that arguing in those forums will help; it's not going to change anyone's mind, and people on both sides seem to resort to playground insults. I think the best approach is that I'll try to be a good counterexample, in the same way that I'm open about being Christian and vegetarian without being militant. That includes discussing things in my blog, and the way I live my life in general.

Comments:

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From:stagknight
Date:September 20th, 2008 12:47 pm (UTC)
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Have you read any Captain Britain recently? He and Dan Dare are often very similar characters, in my opinion. And Captain Britain has the Union flag across his chest -- he's practically made of the things.
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From:johnckirk
Date:September 20th, 2008 09:54 pm (UTC)
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I read the Alan Moore issues a while back; I've heard some good things about the new MI:13 series, but I'm waiting for the TPBs before I pick that up.
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From:rplackett
Date:September 20th, 2008 06:22 pm (UTC)
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I'm afraid i think i find myself in a different camp to you regarding your last paragraph. I do not find myself identifying as British, but English. I think this has been a relatively recent thing, and probably has a lot to do with big chunks of the UK electing political representatives who spend a lot of their time saying how badly the English treat them.

If thats how ~4million Scots feel (~50% Scotland population who voted SNP), (and they are entitled to that feeling, however erroneous and politically encouraged i feel it to be,) then i'm afraid *i* find i have little enough in common with them to feel like remaining part of the same country. After all just because i'm in a numerical majority doesn't mean MY nationality and heritage is any less worthy of respect than any other individuals.

If this post annoys you then i'm sorry, i don't intend to offend or attack, i may be misinformed and wrong for all manner of reasons but this is how i think i feel.
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From:johnckirk
Date:September 20th, 2008 10:25 pm (UTC)
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That's fair enough; I haven't spent much time in Scotland or Wales, so "English" may be a better description of me. When I was doing my A levels, we had some instructions for filling out our UCCA forms (the old version of UCAS). Quoting from memory, they said something like this: "Nationality for most of you will be 'British', although Scottish nationalists may be able to get away with writing 'Scottish'." So, since that's what it says on my passport etc., that's how I normally describe myself, but I'd really say that both apply (i.e. I'm English and British).
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From:overconvergent
Date:September 21st, 2008 08:57 pm (UTC)
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I find it interesting that I'm not really attracted to views, I'm repelled by them, i.e. it's the advocates who put me off their cause.

"A truth perverted is more terrible than any simple mistake, for such evil draws power from the good it warps, and discredits it by association". (S. M. Stirling, A Meeting At Corvallis).
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