BREXIT WARS I
England vs Wales vs Europe:
The Empire Strikes A Familiar Tune
While I strongly suspect the Brexit folk were feeling pretty gleeful about there being a European Championship during the referendum – there’s nothing like a football match to stir up some rampant jingoism – they might not have reckoned on a jarring contrast that was the pre-match battle of the anthems during England vs Wales in Lens.
While God Save The Queen sidled up to Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau with a note of boisterous superiority, the Welsh anthem (that’s the second one, by the way) was a beautiful, heartfelt incantation (I still don’t know what they’re singing, but it gets me, an Englishman, every time), emanating a note of warm and humanity that left a pretty sweet feeling. I got a lump in my throat. I truly did.
In the (royal) blue corner, we had the cold imperialist march of England’s – and, lest we forget, Great Britain’s – monarch-saving dross. When the pious notes rang out, a tuneless massacre (new collective noun) of England fans bawled at the top of their voices about saving a queen who was raining on them – and why does it always reign on them? Or somesuch.
It seemed like they were angry about something.
As a battle on the anthemic front, it was null and void: only one side was audibly fighting. The others were probably rhapsodising about leeks.
And so, while the propagandist hyperbole continues apace on the Brexit side about glorious togetherness within the UK, these anthems, set back to back in such a politically charged event, illustrate just how flimsy and supercilious the banner under which the Brexit camp marches.
What, exactly, is egalitarian about upholding – and bankrolling – a long-forgotten and outmoded dynasty?
Real togetherness is about acceptance and understanding, not hoisting the royal standard and constructing barriers.
Paying the penalty
As the plebeian hordes gave voice to their monastic mistress during the English anthem, you could hear reflected in its feudalistic sentiment the rally cry of the Brexiters, and years of international diplomacy crashing down like so many pissed-up England supporters – and anyone who got in their way – after a penalty shoot-out.
(It’s only a game – if you allow it).
The sentiment of a football match, and its supporters, is a reflection of a tribal instinct to belong and, once belonging, conquer those who don’t dance to the same tune. It is a caustic and crude instinct, but we’re shaking hands with Neanderthals here. And the anthem is its tune – Tarzan’s jungle cry given a uniform and set to brass.
And yet, the song remains the same, as does the anachronistic institution around which it rallies.
Once the match was under way, a particular lull in proceedings brought rise to another choral rendition among England fans, this time to the strains of ‘I’m H.A.P.P.Y.’ – an apt interlude, set to a maudlin jingle about pretending to be happy when sad, of staunchly ploughing forth with illusory notions of contentment and a stoic determination to eschew the truth.
With this ‘HAPPY’ song – taken from drab seventies sitcom Only When I Laugh, which, given the show’s depressing scenario, was in truth painful, though laughter could in no way be held responsible – and, in parallel, the national anthem, the pathos lies in the blind defiance of quintessential truths. To wit, insisting that you’re happy, and thereby obsessing about it, will in fact have the opposite effect (see every advert and reality show ever for promotional samples); in the other case, asking God to keep an eye on a pretty safe queen that doesn’t need our help, and probably asks that you get off Her property anyway, is kind of disrespectful to this God fella, for whom apparently all men (and women) are equal anyway, so what’s so special about this royal bint of which you speak?
Pretend, or faux, happiness is the pathetic side of poignancy. And it’s within this sentimental aspect that advocates find strength from its primary source: harking back to tradition – never moving on and never letting go.
Such attitudes are the very essence of prejudice.
The mosaic of tradition
But hey, it’s not exactly the fault of the composers; and it is most certainly not the fault of those who sing it, proudly, passionately, and innocently. The mosaic of tradition is pretty, but its pattern is intricate, the pieces, added over a period of centuries, make a picture composed entirely out of context.
Often overlooked – or simply not noticed – is the sometime lyricist of this eternal tune, Shakespeare.
Himself a British/English institution, the Bard’s work has been miscontextualised (new word) and paraphrased more than most.
Indeed, the man himself proved a contextual nightmare for aristocratic nobs and the academic hoi polloi, who are forever laying claim to the works, despite the Bard’s round trouncing of both (*for more on this, watch this space*).
Of Shakespeare’s rich pickings, the speech most oft declared in gloriana regina atop the mightiest Union Jack-draped pedestal, probably bellowed into another dimension by ball-calling town crier Brian Blessed, is the “Royal throne of kings…” snippet from Richard II.
A deathbed speech (itself a curious accolade) rattled off by the pious and unremittingly arsey John of Gaunt, the glorious sentiment that begins the mortal oration is cut short before the arsed-off bit comes in.
With all the juicy stuff about how crap the country was, the poor old curmudgeon’s final words are read – and remembered – as a glorious tribute, whereas in truth it was a death rattle of pure Blighty-bashing bitchery.
In this glorious democracy of ours, even dying man has the right to be taken out of context.
It’s all quite apt, really, for a nation whose glorious empire was founded on such contextual anomalies.
Taken in context – that of literally contradicting the words of a dying and rather pissed off man whose death proves catalytic to everything else – it’s the definition of liberty-taking.
The words New and Testament spring to mind.
“This precious stone set in a silver sea…/This blessed plot, this Earth, this realm, this England” was actually Blighty getting a bit of a roasting, from an old-school fart who, though staunchly royalist, decries the big fuck-up regality has made of the (Brian) blessed plot – a country undone by its own hypocrisy – hoist, in fact, by its own petard.
For the most part, much of Shakespeare’s seemingly sovereign-boosting speeches were in fact thinly veiled (and obviously unnoticed – see Hamlet’s play-within-play) illustrations of the disgusting nature of sovereignty and its humane contradictions.
And the song remains the same.
In terms of God Save The Queen – essentially a blue-blooded ballad set to an emotionally vapid tune with alienating, oligarchal lyrics – the barriers are hoisted high, high above the heads of those who are singing. The higher it climbs – the loftier the pomp – the louder they cry.
All you need to illustrate the point (or rather pointless) of the national anthem and its alienation of the common people (and hierarchal enforcement), is the atrocities in France, and the reaction it provoked from other nations.
In an en masse show of human solidarity (particularly in the UK), the French national anthem was heard soaring through the lungs of football fans in stadiums up and down the country. Quite mawkish, but still touching. Kind of missing the point too, considering the words to La Marseillaise wax lyrical about raising bloody banners, and generally talk about kicking arse, much in the same vain as the atrocities imposed upon them.
“Let’s march, let’s march/Let an impure blood/Water our furrows” are pretty weird lyrics to be encouraging your children to stand up to (words that flirt with terrorist-like separatism and superiority).
But worse than this – and here comes the TRUE context – imagine how that would have played out had the atrocities happened in Britain.
With God Save The Queen sounding out around the stadiums of France and across Europe, how would those empty and hollow words ring out in the hearts of foreign brethren trying to reach out to us.
God save who again?
The fact is, it would have rung out as the empty and meaningless death knell it is, an altogether hideous and anachronistic anthem that clings on for dear life with jaded political claws.
The anthem itself, as an empty, inhuman show of elitism and oppression, is in many ways more egregious than Uber Alles (hey – Cameron and Bojo the Clown caninvoke Hitler whenever it suits; and in terms of invoking WWII imagery, it serves their purposes very well). At least the Third Reich’s jingle was inclusive – they were ALL uber. Only the Queen is to be looked after in this scenario.
And after all, in the upcoming referendum, it’s this fair monarch and her crumbling institution who would fair greater in the Leave camp; thus lending credence to the notion that the entire agenda of the referendum is of one momentum: to Leave.
Even the nomenclature is geared toward making ‘Remain’ appear as a pejorative.
In this context – in the definition of the word – to remain is seen to affect no change, to go on as before, to sing the same old song – which is exactly the momentum of the Leave campaign (stay British by saving monarchs and constructing barriers).
The word remain: stay indolent, idle, complacent, immature.
The word leave: fly the nest, make a change.
The definitions are apposite; the campaigns are opposite.
To wit: to leave would in fact turning away from change and staying the same; to stay would be to seize the opportunity to grow and build a larger human understanding.
Think it’ll catch on?
That the referendum itself fell on 23rd June, just after the final games of the group stages, is itself no small coincidence. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say it was a premeditated political strategy to reap the greatest nationalistic dividends.
Neatly positioned just inside the cooling off period of the group stages of the competition, those of influence would have been as confident as England supporters generally are (most rugger-bugger politicians feign footie interest but are geeks statistically), expecting England to get through, possibly in heroic fashion.
That the reverse scenario was also in their armoury made it even more failsafe.
Should the unthinkable happen, an England exit would provide an altogether different buffer: glorious failure, followed by hurt, and the steady but healing osmosis of foreigner bashing.
In this period of the competition, two things are guaranteed to be happening in the public mood: a win: hyperbolic patriotism (superiority) or failure: seething xenophobia (inferiority). In either scenario, England is best, glorious in defeat/triumph (delete as applicable), and the enemy still exists.
These enemies of old are only kept alive by irrelevant, oppressive institutions whose vainglorious reminders of their past stand proudly on plinths and pedestals adorning the most luxurious sections of the highest pillars of society.
For me, the only redeeming feature of pigeons is that they copiously pour shit all over our monuments.
The cold faces that stare out with dead, rusted tears tell tales of a glorious past that is best forgotten, their blank expression a confused and unenlightened mask of nevermore.
Boundaries are what hold us in. Boundaries create refugees, and propagate the prejudices against them. We all occupy this world. Nobody is excluded. And nobody – absolutely nobody who claims to be a human being – is worth more, or is more worthy of saving, than anybody else.
The next time we sing in unison – or consider something churlish like closing the door in a neighbour’s face – it might serve to remember that every vocal contrast, every juxtaposition of pitch and tone, is what makes life beautiful.
Time for a different tune, methinks.
All together now…
London, England, Europe, Wherever
* Chris Coleman has put forth the preposition, pretty artlessly, in a pre-match wind-up, that there may be more passion in the Welsh than the English. To this I would say yes – of course there is. The Welsh are the oppressed in exile; but the joke’s on the English – they’re the oppressed in residence.
**As I write, Roy Hodgson is in the process of a blatant PR stunt by bringing on Marcus Rashford, who can ONLY become a hero in this scenario. I’m reminded – as I’m sure Mr Hodgson is – of the Glen Hoddle “Hand Of Hod” masterstroke of bringing on Michael Owen in 1998 and becoming a godlike (in this case literally) genius manager. But as a supposed England supporter (by default – I’m actually of Irish descent), I’m torn: I want England to win, but I intuitively want to encourage PR stunts towards abject failure. I am the epitome of ambivalence.
***But there’s the end result, and you really couldn’t have written a better script: England win, Wales made a good game of it, and BOTH will go through. The UK wins; the tide is rising ever higher against those unhappy lands…
****What’s this? Cameron pretending to want to unite Europe, while invoking Churchill – a la his clownish counterpart Johnson – to subliminally unearth feelings of fighting against the enemy abroad; his “we should drive out intolerance” spiel was a flagrant paradox: zero tolerance towards intolerance. He’s waving banner for pro-Europe, but he’s thinking of glorious failure, planting seeds of doubt about the issue from the inside. He even had a Freudian slip almost saying “better off in the euk…in Europe”. He’s not fooling me for a second, the rubber-faced stooge.