Monday, January 31, 2011


Within hours of coming home to Great Britain, I encountered a Spitfire. Admittedly it was on TV rather than airborne reality, but World War II aircraft are not too common a sight on US TV unless you’re a total devotee of the History Channel and even there, over the last few years, the focus has largely moved from it’s famous obsession with Adolf Hitler to more modern marvels like logging, ice trucking, and the UFOs of Area 51.
I must make it clear that I have absolutely nothing against the Spitfire. The grand creation of R. J. Mitchell is an all time gorgeous piece of machinery, and may also have saved my generation from a life of goose-stepping fascism. What has taken a certain degree of cultural adaptation is that Brit media appears constantly to be celebrating the finest hours of the nation’s history of which the Spitfire and the Battle of Britain are splendidly visual examples. And this Anglo media love affair with the past is by no means limited to World War II or the 20th century. It seems to encompass everything from the Napoleonic Wars to the Norman Conquest, and frequently stars Sean Bean. Tonight, in the wee hours, I’ll be watching an episode of dramatic bio-series of Oswald Mosley. It’s all jolly good fun, an maybe even faux-educational, but I am left with the distinct feeling that Britain is now a culture that believes it has completed its date with destiny, and retired to a bed of its once-epic former laurels.
Again, I feel a disclaimer coming on. I also have nothing against destiny, history, laurels, or even – under certain circumstances – retirement. I have even taken part in a few forty-years-ago-today BBC shows about the counter culture which I guess are a part of exactly what I’m talking about. My problem is re-acclimating to an environment where history runs long and deep, after dwelling for so long in Southern California where all but a very eccentric few are wholly unbothered and unaware by and of anything that happened prior to a week ago last Tuesday. (Once met a Hollywood movie studio executive who lacked a basic grasp of the films of Clint Eastwood.) I have a feeling I will return to this theme more than once.

John Barry – RIP

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The secret word is Memory


Bernard said...

As we have all said before Mick..welcome home

Anonymous said...

I hope you do return to this theme. (A brit whose lived in America for 27 years and wonders if one can go home)

joly said...

That's what I love about America, it's as superficial as a pop festival..

William Kretschmer said...

"Britain is now a culture that believes it has completed its date with destiny, and retired to a bed of its once-epic former laurels"

Love that:-)

Well, I live in Germany, and it seems they have a similar fixation on the past plus the usual guilt complex concerning the Third Reich

Billy O. said...

Of course the "obsession with a glorious past" is a sign of the instability of the ruling classes which offers no reflection of the vibrancy of contemporary artistic endeavour.

That's my opinion.

jokerswearblack said...

a culture that believes it has completed its date with destiny, and retired to a bed of its once-epic former laurels

Which Great Britain was it you were visiting then Mick? Certainly not the one I inhabit but then no-one refers to GB any more anyway. Perhaps you got stuck on some obscure cable tv channel called Blighty but in the real UK all our laurels got sold off years ago, our culture is multiple and the Spitfire a symbol of something remembered by a rapidly dying few. We don't believe we have completed our date with destiny, we just don't have a clue what our destiny is any more let alone the shared will to achieve it. You left us to the mercy of Thatcher mate; reap what you sow.

Mick said...

Sorry. I refuse to take the rap for Thatcher.

Anonymous said...

Why shouldn't there be cultural celebration of history, especially if it's 'long and deep' - ie interesting - and doesn't exclude the optimism of today and tomorrow? The fact that American culture is so superficial is part of the problem - they believe they are right about everything without having any context. The Brits aren't stuck in the past, we love being multi-cultural, cutting edge and simply the best!

Charlie Stross said...

The ruling classes are trying to reformulate Thatcherland as an offshore American theme park. Like all Americana, it needs a foundational myth with a shout-out to LIBERTY!!!!1! So World War Two (and especially the Battle of Britain -- no need to invoke such embarrassments as "Bomber" Harris massacring civilians) is pressed into service as a stand-in for the US War of Independence, aka the Rentier's Tax Rebellion.