Well, the London Olympics have shown their unifying force. With a great fanfare, the new London 2012 logo was launched last week, and the nation came together to take the piss.
Whatever the merits of the new logo, it has unleashed a torrent of creative abuse and mockery. Does it resemble a broken swastika? Larry Grayson in teapot stance? David Brent dancing? Lisa Simpson doing something lewd and quite possibly illegal? The UK\’s GDP must have taken a pounding last week: normal business was suspended, in favour of that Great British pastime, mockery.
Co-incidentally, Communities and Local Government Minister Ruth Kelly announced a desire for a British \’national day\’, another of the Government\’s fumbles at national identity (here). The trouble is, all assessments of what \’Britishness\’ means dissolve quickly into cliche: tolerance, rule of law, sense of humour, blah. Sense of humour gets nearest, but the reality is less cuddly than that. Our real characteristic is the ability to laugh at anything. Anything.
In his wartime polemic, \’The Lion and the Unicorn\’ (the source for John Major\’s much-mocked evocation of \’old maids cycling to Holy Communion through the morning mist), George Orwell argued that the goose-step would never have caught on in England: \”because the people in the street would laugh\”.
Our laughter is not gentle. It is scatalogical, harsh, unforgiving. It infects the engravings of Hogarth and Gillray. It has no respect for authority, and is ready to attack any trace of pretension or pomposity. It\’s not pleasant, but it is ours.