There has long been a peculiar myth that flying the English flag is banned in certain communities because it offends immigrants. This urban legend, hugely embellished from stories of various villages and local councils choosing not to run the St George’s Cross up their flagpoles, is often spouted by nationalists and offered as proof of England’s continuing love affair with political correctness. Though these stories are little more than fantasies of the ill-informed, am I alone in wishing they were true?
St George’s Day allows nationalists and everyday folk with casual feelings of patriotism to flaunt their Englishness unapolgetically. They wave flags, sing the national anthem and harp on about fish and chips, all the while believing this is some sort of victory over our modern, uber-sensitive society. “It’s not racist to be proud of your country,” is the oft-used slogan, along with other crowd pleasers such as, “If they don’t like it, they can go back home.” But it’s time that we stood up to the bigots and recognised these displays of patriotism and misplaced pride for what they are – thinly veiled celebrations of ignorance, intolerance and yes – racism.
It’s easy to point out that St George himself was not even English – he was born in Turkey – yet it would be wrong to suggest that St George’s Day is actually a celebration of the man himself. No, St George’s Day is not a celebration of the legendary man, but of all things English, ranging from the Queen, to cups of tea, to The Beatles. While all of this may seem perfectly innocuous, it hides something far more sinister.
On St George’s Day, the undercurrent of nationalism that runs through our society is allowed to come to the forefront. It is the one day of the year when you can fly the flag and no one can call you out. But it’s time that we did. These unashamed displays of obscene patriotism are based on exclusion, intolerance and a glorified English past entirely divorced from reality. We must recognise that celebrating our nationality is, first and foremost, absurd. None of us had any choice to be born in England, it was a mere coincidence, and had we been born anywhere else, be it the USA, France or North Korea, we would be conditioned into being equally proud to be from there. To feel this innate sense of patriotism is the result of brainwashing – it is to take pride in being born within a particular set of man-made borders, borders that exist to separate us from our fellow humans and embed within us misplaced feelings of superiority. Only once we recognise that we have been conditioned to think this way can we begin to overcome these ludicrous sentiments.
While there is nothing overtly racist about being proud of cottage pie or Mr Bean, these cultural phenomena do not exist in a vacuum. To say you are proud to be from England is not only to say you enjoy the odd crumpet, but also to align yourself with the uncountable atrocities England has orchestrated throughout history. From the Crusades via the British Empire to the bombing of innocents in Iraq, England’s past and present is bloody and tyrannical. By claiming to be proud of England, or to be English, you express either an ignorance of England’s involvement in major atrocities or you condone it. When you fly the English flag, you fly the flag that has been flown over occupied territories where indigenous populations were raped and murdered, painted on the shields of invading soldiers and tattooed on the chests of far-right neo-Nazis. The flag of St George is an emblem of violence, colonialism and terrorism – and it has never been anything else.
St George’s Day may seem innocent enough, but to celebrate it is to condone the ignorant, dangerous nationalism that has thrived for centuries in England and continues to thrive today. To be proud to be English is to play into the far-right’s rhetoric of racial superiority and intolerance of all things non-English. On the other hand, to refuse to celebrate St George’s Day and to stop flying the flag is to recognise our problematic history and to show compassion to the millions who have suffered, and continue to suffer, at the hands of our country and culture. For this reason, I would urge people to put down their made-in-China novelty flags, rip down the bunting and turn down the national anthem as, though it may seem harmless, embedded within every stitch of our flag and in every word of God Save The Queen is the insidious seed of intolerance, colonialism and racism. To pretend otherwise is an insult not only to the millions of people England has killed and robbed over the years, but to the migrants now living within our increasingly intolerant society. Ending patriotism is not a victory for political correctness, but for empathy, compassion and everything good about the human spirit.
Is there anyone the world can’t make famous? From game show contestants to shameless bigots, it seems like there is literally no one that cannot become a star. Increasingly, the media is turning its attention away from television and film to find celebrities online. With audiences bigger than those of major TV shows, YouTube stars are proving to be extremely lucrative for the media and corporations alike. However, as capitalism sinks its claws into what was once a free space for young people to express themselves, has the relationship between YouTubers (a word I feel dirty just typing) and viewers deteriorated beyond repair?
The first YouTube ‘celebrity’ I became aware of was Charlie McDonnell, aka Charlieissocoollike. I still don’t know why, but I would often watch Charlie’s videos which would generally revolve around him sitting in his bedroom, surrounded by old train tickets tacked onto the walls, talking about his fairly normal life. I realise that I was not really his target audience, but I got some amusement from his videos nonetheless. Charlie was around my age, came from a similar background and had some similar interests to me. I could relate to him somewhat, and I liked that his videos were just him talking to a camera. There was no advertising, no bragging and there were no subliminal messages.
A few years on, YouTube has changed greatly. While McDonnell remains an active vlogger, he has been overshadowed by a swathe of younger YouTubers all keen to cash in on their popularity. Just this week, it was revealed that YouTubers Zoe Sugg and Alfie Deyes are to be subjects of new wax models at Madam Tussauds, thus solidifying their status as bona fide celebrities. But what have these newer and more popular (at the time of writing, Deyes and Sugg have just under 4 and 8 million subscribers each compared to McDonnell’s 2.4) YouTubers sacrificed to hit the big time?
The way I see it, the newer spate of YouTube stars has entirely reorganised the relationship between viewer and YouTuber. Whereas previously, stars like McDonnell would talk to their viewers like friends, new YouTubers address their audiences as little more than consumers. In May of 2014, McDonnell uploaded a video discussing what he described as “the ever-widening gap between big famous YouTube stars and their fans.” In the video, McDonnell calls for mutual respect between audiences and YouTubers, asking both groups to imagine the other as complex human beings. This mutual respect does not seem apparent in many videos of the most popular YouTube stars of today, however.
While the likes of Zoe Sugg, Alfie Deyes, Tanya Burr, Tyler Oakley and Troye Sivan are still posting videos of them posing as normal young adults, the unavoidable fact is that they have long surrendered any claim to normalcy they once had. Viewers cannot relate to YouTube stars when they’re living in six bed mansions and attending film premiers, no matter how many times they may assert that they’re just like us. I’m reminded of a video Alfie Deyes posted just a few months ago in which he filmed himself attending recording sessions for the new Band Aid single before getting a helicopter ride to the mansion of PR guru Matthew Freud. In more recent videos, Joe Sugg and Caspar Lee have made videos from luxurious LA penthouses while Troye Sivan hangs out in a recording studio. These flagrant displays of wealth and affluence have created an irreparable divide between YouTube stars and their audiences, transforming them from personable online friends into just another batch of unknowable celebrities.
Perhaps this could be forgiven if it were not for the relentless selling that YouTube stars engage in. Flaunting a lifestyle of privilege is somewhat acceptable when the viewer is being taken along for the ride, but when the star pesters the viewer to buy some awful product, the relationship paradigm becomes completely redefined. And I’m not talking about Tanya’s make-up line, Troye’s music or even Alfie’s insultingly terrible excuse for a book – I’m talking about their adverts for major corporations. Alfie will advertise for BooHoo.com, Tyler and Troye harp on about Audible.com and Dan and Phil will try to flog you Oreos (though they won’t tell you this at the time). In order to fund their opulent lifestyles, the stars have become extra arms to corporate giants, infiltrating youth culture, often covertly, so the viewer doesn’t know that what they’re watching is little more than an advert.
In their quest for fame and wealth, the stars of YouTube have sacrificed the very thing that made YouTube vlogging special. We are no longer equal to the creators of YouTube content but mere consumers that can be used to bankroll their next holiday. In the modern age of YouTube, it is not enough to sit through an advert before watching a video, the viewer must also be subjected to advertising through the videos themselves. This must be especially insulting to those who have supported the likes of Sugg and Deyes from the very beginning, when they were nothing more than ordinary teenagers talking to a camera about their day. Now as mega-rich, mega-lucrative celebrities, the major stars of YouTube have not only lost touch with reality, but with the very people that made them.