Wednesday 16 November 2011

Poppies and Pride

I didn’t buy a poppy this year, largely because I didn’t pass any for sale, but at the same time I didn’t hunt one out, and it didn’t crucify me with guilt that I wasn’t wearing one, though given the option I probably would have been. At the risk of sounding cantankerous, wearing a poppy is not what it was.

Partly this attitude is attributable to my own leanings. I make a feeble nationalist, failing to understand exactly what makes our lump of land so special in comparison to everyone else’s lump of land, and, despite being a serious football fan, having a good chuckle to myself whenever the national team underperform. However I consider nationalism and its associated noise to be part of the problem with our approach to remembrance, and I’m sure I’m not alone.

The attitude taken to poppy wearing in recent years has become incredibly gung ho, and seems to be coupled with a wider rise in nationalism. The reasons for this are endlessly debatable, but it certainly exists. Everyone saw the news regarding poppies on the England team's shirts when they played Spain on 12th November. Remember the commotion when England played on the same date in 2005 or in 2001? Exactly. It appears to be particularly strong amongst my own generation. The amount of pictures of poppies that appeared on my Facebook on Armistice Day, accompanied by endless xenophobic slogans and statuses was staggering. This display was far too often a celebration of nationhood, as opposed to a genuine act of remembrance. However this celebratory approach, admittedly with fewer profanities, is carried on throughout our society. In adverts for Remembrance Sunday on the BBC we had Helen Mirren telling us that the troops were the ‘stars’. Now I do not doubt the bravery of those who have gone into the theatre of conflict, and I could not stress more how my heart goes out to anyone connected to a loss of life in such circumstances, but when the Iraq war alone saw over 130,000 civilians lose their lives, is ‘star’ with its various connotations of fame and joyful triumph, really the right word to use? We seem to be in a place where not wearing a poppy is politically incorrect; paradoxically a position promoted by many of the tabloids.

This renewed vigour associated with remembrance and the wearing of a poppy has perhaps inevitably been coupled with a shiny commercial face. You may well have seen the Andy Murray adverts asking us to ‘remember those who don’t return’; a celebrity endorsed pun, really? It’s understandable that some, whatever their role in society, may choose to jump on what appears to be an attempt to boost the national self esteem. Is it unforeseeable that in years to come, we will see various poppy paraphernalia becoming available from mid-October? Such as shiny and inflatable poppies, and (God forbid) ones that play the last post when squeezed?

Of course money does have to be raised, and I could never fault the cause behind the poppy. However surely this responsibility should lie more squarely with the government? It’s often their doing that the mess has occurred in the first place, and money would be raised without the risk of using mollifying gimmicks that could hide the true nature of the cause.

I’m by no means saying that poppies should be ditched, but they’re being flaunted in a way that detracts from their true meaning. They’re far too often a symbol that says ‘we won’, whereas they
should be a stark reminder of the futility of war. The idea of wearing ‘your poppy with pride’ should really be something more remembrance based, as we risk losing the true meaning of the day. Of course in a perfect world there would be no need for the armed forces anyway.