Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Wednesday Wonderings: IS Britain finally over the idea of "empire"?

"The sun never sets on the British Empire" was something that still had a ring of cultural truth when I stepped off the plane at Edinburgh back in 1995, there in Scotland to attend my first year at St. Andrews University (quipped by many to be the "most northern English university"). Indeed, the four years that I spent at St. Andrews were - now that I think about it - a major time of change in the United Kingdom, starting with voting whether to join the "Eurozone" (the UK didn't) and ending (at least my time there) with setting up national parliaments in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland; devolution from "the United Kingdom", and one sort of end to one sort of empire.

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".


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