Englishness: Twentieth Century Popular Culture and the Forming of English Identity

Englishness: Twentieth Century Popular Culture and the Forming of English Identity

Englishness: Twentieth Century Popular Culture and the Forming of English Identity

Englishness: Twentieth Century Popular Culture and the Forming of English Identity

Synopsis

This book examines the conflicts, dilemmas and contradictions that marked Englishness as the nation changed from an imperial power to a postcolonial state. The chapters deal with travel writing, popular song, music hall and variety theatre, dances, elocution lessons, cricket and football, and national festivals, as well as literature and film. 'High' and 'popular' cultures are brought together in dialogue, and the diversity as well as the problematic nature of English identity is emphasised. The case studies are linked by their interests in different kinds of performances of being English, and by a particular focus upon the voice and the body as key sites for the struggles of modern England. The book is a lively contribution to current interdisciplinary debates about Englishness, national cultures and postcolonial identities. It is relevant to undergraduate students of literature, drama, film, politics and sociology, and will also appeal to a general readership.

Excerpt

In the weeks before 23 April it is now possible to buy a range of gifts – cards, mugs, sweatbands – displaying the red cross of St George. This commercial celebration of the English national saint is a relatively recent phenomenon, traceable to the resurgence of the George Flag as a sporting emblem during the 1996 European Football Championships, but also indicative of a new popular performance of nationhood. The nature of this discourse can be judged by the verse of one of the cards available in 2007:

On St George's Day
Petal by petal
A bud becomes a rose
Year by year
England's greatness grows.

The sentiment is simultaneously affirmative and cautious. England is imagined not as a blooming rose but as an opening bud, the sign of a young nation, therefore. For a country that has tended to see itself as ancient this seems strange, but perhaps acknowledging the consequences of United Kingdom devolution over the last ten years, the card industry poet registers a need for a new England to emerge and to celebrate itself through the post. Quite what an appropriate St George's Day greeting might be is unclear and staff of my local card shop were unable to describe a typical purchaser, but the fact of its commercial existence marks a development in the expression of English identity.

The St George's Day card recalls another ambivalent English popular text of the early twenty-first century, overheard at the Trent Bridge Test Match against Australia in August 2005. The England cricket team was in the unusual position of being able to win an Ashes game and a section of the crowd (young, male and drunk) was in celebratory mood. The men sang the following chorus, borrowed from the grim repertoire of England football fans:

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