It was why Eddie Izzard's sketches about the British Empire were so funny. It's why his explanation of the (amazingly fantastical in its own historical right) expansion of the Empire was met so popularly and with such humor:
It was why the end of that show was also met with hilarity, even in the UK:
Now, though, maybe, the British dream of empire is now, finally, for the most part, ended. Maybe the UK can become part of that moped-driving, "ciao"-shouting European dream. To Andrew Sullivan, the opening ceremony of London 2012 seemed to show that the UK is finally ready to give up the ghost of empire, agreeing with Simon Schama's rather chilling summary of fascist Olympic game opening-ceremony renderings, and saying:
Britain's 2012 Olympics were of the anti-fascist variety. Which is fitting, isn't it, since this tiny island nation was the lynchpin in fascism's twentieth century demise. Defeated, in part, by a sense of humor, perspective and a spot of anarchy.
Schama's piece is worth a read, and seems to be a great and chilling recounting of how we might perceive nationalism as corporatist/elitist branding for the masses while growing fat on the excesses. Or something. It does seem, however, to point to London 2012's opening ceremony as something that is definitely not chest-thumping, mindless choruses of nationalistic chants, and empty symbolism. So maybe Britain is finally getting over the idea of "empire".