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Man Writes Blog

3pm eternal

As a nation with deep-rooted hang-ups about its own decline, we’ve become incredibly neurotic about how we’re perceived abroad. So, at the end of a week of barely-contained mayhem, small cause for national cheer can be found in reports that the Beverly Hills set have adopted Pippa Middleton’s arse as their derriere of choice. Rather than seeing this as a lesson in the warped (and warping) nature of ideals, the message seems to be that the Middleton-factor can still do wonderful things for Brand Britain, regardless of a few smashed windows and burnt out buildings.

Tempting as it may be to hide up Miss Middleton’s backside, last week’s sticky-fingered rebellion has gouged out a far more squalid version of British identity for inspection. The anarchic scenes that were beamed out of the boroughs to a worldwide audience are the sour-tasting antidote to a national obsession with spectacle as balm for self-doubt that’s been accelerating ever since Pip’s peachy posterior swished elegantly in the wake of her sister’s march to regality back in April.

When it came to the royal wedding, most of us were all too happy to ham it up, keen to make the most of our stormy little island’s moment in the spotlight.  Even anti-monarchists enjoyed the attention, their own attempts at subversive street parties simply highlighting how central Betty and the fam still are to our national sense of self.

Elsewhere, all you have to do is look at the obsessive way in which the minutes and hours until the 2012 Olympics are ticked off, and the massive tantrum that was thrown when we were turned down for the World Cup, as evidence that we’ve become hooked on the buzz of big events. It’s no accident that the less influence we seem to wield over the meaty issues of the day, the more enthusiastic we are about establishing ourselves as the world’s premier party-thrower.

But, as we’ve seen in the last week, spectacle doesn’t always have the decency to conform to the wishes of the committee, and the crowd isn’t always there just to wave and cheer for the cameras. They may have been dubbed the ‘England riots’ to appease the sensitivities of our Scottish neighbours (nothing like unity in a time of crisis, eh?) but it was British identity that was on show, in a form unlikely to be celebrated in the Olympics opening extravaganza.

The riots took on the appearance of a particularly grim piece of street theatre, in a which a nation’s materialistic mores (manifested more gently in the cooing over Kate’s wedding dress) were shoved viciously in its face. Of course it’s naive to assume that there’s one singular meaning to be drawn from the riots, but there’s no denying that a nation so keen on sending the right image overseas has found its obsession with defining itself through spectacle violently subverted in its own streets.

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