Sunday, 10 November 2013

Brand A

The oldest kind of branding the nation knows, to paraphrase.

Britannia reaching towards reclaiming a genre that was ditched a hundred years ago, only that Military Wives tune despite marking a sea-change (when else could it have reached Christmas No 1?) is a bit of an outlier. In the British experience at least after the First World War, war songs came pre-packaged with melancholy and a different sort of sentimentality: that British society of boundless optimism and great-game playing was to a degree 'destroyed' as Paul Fussell has it here.

Of course since the Second World War there hasn't been a war of enough magnitude to require uplifting songs, and this seems to have stuck for a time: unlike in the US everyone from country singers to rappers didn't immediately make their contributions. Post-2008 this gradual re-branding of the nation with it's base components has accelerated faster than it would have done otherwise: it is two of the oldest British (English) institutions that have found themselves doing the most well, Army and Church. One has found itself become a beloved public institution able to dodge most of the criticism in-coming by appropriating emotion and anti-war critique along with the usual dogma; the other has found itself in it's 19th century role as most-often heard critic of the ills of the poor, a role that Robert Tressell and Joe Hill skewered around the same time.

The audio of the patriotic hymn comes accompanied with a pre-packaged "sort of controlled despair" that is as much a selling point as John Bull-ism. A youtube subgenre however exists consisting of jocular squaddies larking to pop tunes in the desert, gritty in-action footage, and video montages set to either ethereal melancholia or blood-thirsty dirge depending on temperament.

What happened this week is unremarkable in the history of the British army. The audio recording however is, something feeling very odd about both the awareness and performativity of what's being done, and the indifference to which it was treated by those who years before would have had at least something to say.

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