Bit late today but not so late that I can’t wade into a debate I don’t care about, about a music festival I don’t watch, about music I’m largely indifferent to, and sensibilities that usually wind me up the wrong way.
I’m talking about the suggestion that they might dump ‘Rule Britannia’ from this years’ Proms.
I admit that I feel about this issue how I feel about the Torture Garden. If there are people out there who enjoy being whipped by strangers, then it’s none of my business to interfere. And if there are other people (or perhaps even the same people) who like to whip themselves up into a frenzy about a song reminding them of an Empire they never got to see, then, again, not my business to stop them.
Yet I guess the problem is that the BBC fund some of the Proms and that’s our cash they using. And, yes, I’d probably get a bit sniffy if the BBC was funding sadomasochism in London (what do you mean they do and that’s what is means to work for the BBC?).
The problem is that the BBC now have to make a decision that makes one side happy, leaving the other side infuriated. It’s an impossible position the BBC finds itself in, though that’s been true for the past five years or more.
In the US, Trump is telling his supporters not to buy Goodyear tyres because the company has banned workers from wearing MAGA hats on the shop floor. Yet, clearly, the Goodyear ruling was sensible. They’d ban Biden hats as well. The rule is simple. Don’t display your political allegiances in the workplace. You’re there to work, not to get into fights about the culture war.
By a similar logic, politics shouldn’t be involved in The Last Night of the Proms. Except, Last Night of the Proms has always had a political edge and it’s not always obvious what that edge is…
It was noticeable after Brexit that the Proms gave voice to lots of pro-European sentiment. Suddenly, the epitome of British nationalism was seen as a place for the Remainer elite. In which case, what’s the difference now? Which bit of political gesturing should the BBC be paying for?
The correct answer is probably “none of it”. Yet, of course, not paying is itself a political gesture. Play ‘Rule Britannia’ and it says one thing. Don’t play it and it says another…
In which case, cancel the whole bloody thing. In fact, we should cancel everything because everything says something that somebody will object to.
Problem solved. You’re welcome…
But seriously, there is no answer. One person’s anger is another person’s trigger. Even my ambivalence could wind some people up. Myself, I’d rather they didn’t sing about ruling the waves (I’m okay with a bit of tyrant crushing) but I’m perfectly happy with the tune. Different lyrics wouldn’t bother me, but, I also don’t watch it, so the current lyrics aren’t going to upset me.
I guess the key word is sensitivity. If they play it, do it with sensitivity and, perhaps, a little context. Use it to educate, not just about the good of Empire (there was some) but the bad done in its name (there’s plenty). Very little is totally black and white in the world but there is a hell of a lot of grey. We need to become nuanced people, especially in these things that divide us. Just as the people who enjoy ‘Rule Britannia’ need to understand why it’s objectionable, so too do the people who object to it need to learn why it’s cherished.