Terence Blacker: Cheer up, England - it could be worse

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One of the great missed opportunities of the current media scene is that, even in these shrink-happy times, there is no column or programme in which the changing psychological problems of the British, or perhaps just the English, are analysed. The muddles and dysfunctional behaviour patterns of individuals are endlessly picked over, but the nation itself is left unattended.

Yet we not only have a national character that, thanks to modern communications, is more unified and defined than ever, but also have distinguished, caring psychoanalysts who could look at the big picture - Oliver James, Adam Phillips, the hugely under-appreciated Dr Raj Persaud. Perhaps the only explanation as to why the English nation is not regularly put on the couch lies in a fear of the hideous psychic mess that will be revealed.

We are currently going through a psychological process that desperately needs to be analysed and explained. A great sporting event is taking place in which an English team, with a reasonable chance of doing quite well, have performed adequately enough to proceed, undefeated, into the second half of the competition.

If events on the pitch have been somewhat workmanlike, the reaction of commentators and fans to their team's progress in the World Cup has bordered on the bizarre. Having become convinced, against all logic and form, that England could actually win the thing, the English - or at least those English who care about such things - have whipped themselves up into a state of weird, pre-emptive disappointment.

The team, it is said, has played badly. The defence is hopeless. The manager staggers from one misjudgement to another, being either too adventurous or too cautious. Players, acclaimed as world-beaters a few days ago, are being set up for a mauling.

There is an element of showbiz nonsense to all this, with editors and readers demanding a hysterical hero-or-zero approach from pundits and reporters. While a beta-plus verdict may be fair and accurate, it lacks the expected drama.

But something else is going on. Rage and disillusionment are in the air, even while the team is winning. Misses or mistakes are greeted as if they are only to be expected. Moments of triumph, like Joe Cole's astonishing goal against Sweden, cause delight, of course, but also incredulity. No other nation, I am confident, has such a bad time while watching its team. It is as if we know that it will soon be ending in tears, that bad things are only to be expected and good things will only serve to delay other bad things. It is our lot; we are English.

The weight of negative expectation bears down on the players, fatally corrupting their confidence. When defeat happens, there will be a sort of orgasm of collective despair, combined with something very like relief. We can stop hoping, and return to our normal national persona - that of a resentful loser.

This psychosis extends way beyond sport. Look at the gleeful way negative news about our country - a silly survey, a crass remark by a foreign visitor - is reported. Consider the visions of England that entertain us: on TV, it is The Office; in the bookshops, Crap Towns.

How would a psychoanalyst characterise an individual who suffers from such a profound self-hatred that he or she feels that any insult, defeat or ill-fortune is deserved? Mad, obviously but from where do these ruinous feelings of inadequacy originate? Adam, Oliver, Dr Raj - the nation needs your help.

Doherty brought to book at last

The celebrity junkie now occupies the place once occupied by the celebrity drunk. Where Oliver Reed and George Best once staggered to general outrage and entertainment, a new crew of tooters and mainliners can be found. Publishers, naturally, are falling over themselves to sign up anyone with a high-profile habit, and so the only surprise in this week's news of Pete Doherty's book deal is the paltriness of his £150,000 advance.

The crafty publisher, Orion, will make back its money in one printing, to judge by the announcement of the deal, at which Doherty failed to turn up. The media, like a knackered old punishment freak, adore those who treat them appallingly. Destroying himself in full view, Doherty is every publisher's dream author.

* A night-club owner has raised in court one of those questions which many urbanites who have moved to the country have secretly asked themselves. What is the point of having animals in a field when imported life-sized sculptures from Thailand can look more or less the same, but make less noise and mess? "What do you expect to see in a paddock except some horses?" Michel Warner told reporters after being fined for breach of Green Belt regulations. "It is just the same as the horses you would see in any other paddock, only they don't move so much."

The eight statues are also profoundly naff - not quite as embarrassing as Mr Warner's favourite objet d'art, an eight-foot flying pot-bellied pig with wings, but hideous all the same. There may be an element of snobbery in the court's decision but it has struck a much-needed blow against vulgarity.



terblacker@aol.com

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