Rejoice – we’re different!

25 06 2010

While on a week’s break recently, my wife and I resurrected a habit we had once had but let fall, of ambling into charity shops while on holiday and browsing the bookshelves. This habit had rather fallen by the way because of my wife’s complaint that we were running out of bookshelves! However, on this occasion there we were again browsing the shelves where, to my delight, I spotted the biography of Alistair  Cooke famed for, among other things, his ‘Letters from America’ which started in the mid 1940’s and which, I believe, he carried on producing until he was 95.  I already possessed two copies of selections of his early talks and so it seemed a bright idea to start reading one a day of these early ‘letters’ while I ploughed through the biography, which is a long winded way of describing how I came to a particular piece that seemed to gel with something I’ve recently heard to do with world cup fever.

The particular letter in question reminisced about a particular Jewish comedian, who had recently died, by the name of Willie Howard. Willie Howard created much laughter by emphasising his Jewishness and the apparent idiosyncrasies of Jews. Indeed it appeared a time when comedians of various nationalities earned their living by making fun of their own national  idiosyncrasies.  Cooke pointed out that this was now happening less and less in the late 1940’s in America, which was showing signs of what we now call political correctness, extolling the apparent virtues a something that became a sledgehammer, called tolerance.

Now many better writers have, over the years, pointed out the hypocrisy of this so-called ‘tolerance’ which in reality became a weapon in the hands of one group of ideologists to bash the rest of us into conformity of their thinking. I will make no further comment on it. However what brought all this to the fore in my thinking was the report, which someone conveyed to me recently, that in a particular town the council had outlawed the displaying of the St. Georges flag and banned football shirts with it on because it could be a racist symbol in a town where the majority of the population were Muslims. Now I believe that a leading football club did the same thing for the same reason last year.

As I read Alistair Cooke’s letter I pondered why it is that we have become so sensitive. It is only cutting edge comedians who, looking for fame by being inflammatory, now dare cross the bridge of making fun of our different national idiosyncrasies. But why should it even be cutting edge?  I have no problem with fun being made about me being either British or even, for that matter being a Christian. So what is it that has made this such a minefield?

I have concluded that it is simply that, with the removal of God from our playing field and a shaking of morality and ethics as a result, we have all become both nervous and nasty about these things. James Cordon, of Gavin and Stacey fame, wrote an excellent piece for the Times on the 9th June entitled, “Make a stand and sit down if you love England.” He recounted how he and a bunch of friends had been in a pub when ‘the lads’ arrived to watch the friendly against Mexico and very soon ‘the lads’ were chanting, “Stand up if you hate the French” with a chant that got louder and louder and required everybody else to stand up with arms out – except Cordon and his friends. He portrayed the brash side of sport that makes itself feel good by being jointly nasty about others.

Gone are the days when we could genuinely laugh about each other’s differences. Now there is a nasty, snide, hypocritical edge, a demeaning of others by using their differences. It is the defensiveness of the extreme right or extreme left wings of politics. It is fearful of difference and so tries to squash it by a ‘tolerance’ that demands conformity, or brash chanting that seeks to intimidate and dominate.

I recently stumbled across an article in my archives about “What is a Good Person?” which invited the readers to answer the question. Some answers were proposed: “A good person is utterly selfless, everything about them is looking for the good of everyone else, they will never seek to get their own way to the detriment of another, they will always be looking out for and caring for the other person.”

In a world that so often prides itself on ‘coming of age’ isn’t it sad that, on the basis of these few starter thoughts at least, there seem to be fewer and fewer ‘good men’ around! A faint hope in the darkness?  Yes, reports of supporters in South Africa from different teams, being together and at peace and enjoying the friendly banter. Bad news? Reports of the German press demeaning the English team in the name of pre-match psychology. Yes. we’ll probably join in – but we don’t have to. After all, for goodness sake, it’s only a sport isn’t it?

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