Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Carry On the Brits

My latest for the Guardian deals with what is marketed as a light-hearted, satirical look at all the countries that Britain has invaded, and with the culture of empire nostalgia and nationalist reflux that it participates in:

The other countries must feel so left out. New research shows that practically everyone has been invaded by British troops at one point or another. A "staggering 90% of the world's nations" have been overrun by the turbulent Brits – Sweden, Mongolia and the Vatican City are among the 22 to have been tragically overlooked.
If you think this is a facetious tone to adopt, it is nothing compared with the knockabout, what-a-larf tone of some of the coverage that has been lavished on this new book. In a way, this is what the book set out to accomplish. As its author says, it is lighthearted fun, and it claims not to take a moral stance on Britain's empire.
In fact, that latter claim is not quite true. To begin with, the very posture of lighthearted satire implies a certain perspective on events that most people might find questionable. Imagine a gentle farce on the Rwandan genocide, and you see how incongruous it is. Moreover, when the author claims that there is much in Britain's imperial past to be proud of, and some aspects that would make one less proud, this is an explicit moral stance. It just happens to be a stance of, at best, moral ambivalence. Such just is the evasive register of empire nostalgia and apologia these days.