Does our new national identity have to be quite so life-affirming?

Danny Boyle's opening ceremony was a television event, not a blueprint for national identity. Plus, why culling should be left to the experts


How irritating life must have become for Danny Boyle. A determinedly original film-maker, he has, through no fault of his own, spawned a new and unattractive form of groupthink. When there is a debate about the National Health Service, it is now obligatory to make reference to the dancing nurses and patients who were part of Boyle’s opening ceremony for the London Olympics. No discussion of the royal family is complete without mention of the same event’s visual joke involving the Queen jumping out of a helicopter.

Now Boyle’s Isle of Wonders spectacular is addling BBC brains. At a recent meeting of producers and writers, it was invoked by the corporation’s head of drama, Ben Stephenson. New work, said Stephenson, should be “about applying the Boyle vision to our work – a bold, adventurous, authorial approach that exports because of its Britishness not despite it”.

By now, that vision needs no explaining. It represents the way modern Britain is thought to view itself – respectful yet ironic, serious yet skittish, proud of the past and yet unashamedly of today, multicultural and inclusive. It is, in the words of the writer Jonathan Freedland, “a new kind of patriotism that does not lament a vanished Britain but loves the country that has changed”.

What an odd idea that is. The Boyle spectacular was a stadium event designed to market the host-country to TV viewers around the world. Now, weirdly, that two-hour show is defining a change to the national self-image. It speaks, we are told, of a revived confidence – although some might think that any culture that can be so profoundly influenced by a few dance routines is anything but confident.

The new type of patriotism, for which poor old Boyle is taking the blame, is one with all its tricky elements removed – the aggressive arrogance of America, the cultural superiority of France, the ruthless entrepreneurialism of China. It is patriotism-lite, free of any harmful additives, a type of national pride which provides some bounce and bubble, but not much else. That was fine for a show to open an international sports event, but when it becomes what Freedland calls “a byword for a new approach”, we should start worrying.

The boast that we are a nation which never takes itself too seriously should instead be a matter of concern. The idea that we can both be proud of our our institutions and mock them may work as a dance routine but leads to a dangerous smugness if applied to the real, outside world.

The vast majority of people, trying to survive through harsh and chilly times, know that the idea of a new patriotism is a nonsense, but to those setting the agenda and making speeches, in politics, media or the arts, it is profoundly appealing. Here is a mind-set which offers the feel-good factor without any price tag attached. It speaks, in a suitably fuzzy way, to both the left (caring state, multicultural melting pot) and the right (heritage and dynamic enterprise). It implies that, for all our weaknesses, the British way of doing things – muddling along with a cheery smile on our faces – has more to recommend it than other, more vulgar forms of national pride.

That great fantasy that we have a better sense of humour, even – a truly ridiculous notion – a more finely developed sense of irony than other cultures, is reinforced. We advance into the future with, to quote Ben Stephenson, “a buzz and creativity and anything-goes optimism”.

How one’s heart sinks at those words. In the context of TV drama, it means that the emphasis will be on the positive, the life-affirming, plays and series which display the right attitudes with no danger of annoying viewers or stirring up the tabloids. The word “celebrate” will be much used. More broadly, it is time to move on from Boyle’s dancing show, and escape from the dangerous illusion that a new kind of patriotism is making everything better.

Best leave killing things to the experts

Nature has a new scare for us. It is not psycho foxes, or giant rats, or ash trees dying from an imported disease. Deer are out of control. According to research by the University of East Anglia, the population of native and introduced species in Britain is now around 750,000. A cull of around 50 per cent is being recommended.

There is, in fact, no alternative if we are to care for woodland, a wide variety of plants and birds, notably the nightingale, whose habitat is being nibbled away. Deer have been enjoying themselves for rather too long at the expense of the environment.

All the same, the idea that trigger-happy gun enthusiasts should be let loose across the country, very much in the way that happens in America, is distinctly alarming.  It may sound elitist, but on this occasion gamekeepers and professional marksmen, paid by local landowners and councils, should be left to do the job.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Errors & Omissions: the paraphernalia of a practised burglar – screwdrivers, gloves, children

Guy Keleny
The PM proposed 'commonsense restrictions' on migrant benefits  

So who, really, is David Cameron, our re-elected ‘one nation’ Prime Minister?

Andrew Grice
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?