Category Archives: mistranslations

Don’t Tread On Me – America The Branded

U-S-A! U-S-A!: American visitors wear the stars spangled banner with pride on hats, t-shirts and even sunglasses as excitement builds in the Olympic Park
Taken from The Daily Mail’s website

I am on the District Line, traveling west, sitting across from a stocky young man who’s just boarded at Whitechapel. This corn-fed meal with tanned skin, mirror sunglasses, loose fitting jeans and chunky sneakers wears a t-shirt with the words ‘America, The Beautiful’ in red, white, and blue on top of a vertical star spangled banner, behind which seems to float the diaphanous image of a woman’s face that I can only assume is a feminine representation of ‘America, The Beautiful.’ I resist the urge to lean over to him and say, ‘You know, people would have known without you announcing it on your t-shirt like that. And another thing: It’s neither of the things you think it is – vaguely, subtly artistic or stylish.’

One is put in mind of the Irish poet Louis MacNiece: ‘Why,/ Must a country, like a ship or a car, be always female,/ Mother or sweetheart?’

Why is it that as a nation we feel a desperate compulsion to label ourselves?

It’s as though no one listened to Springsteen carefully enough to read irony into him.

Or as though we are still worried that someone might mistake us for being from somewhere else or belonging to some other cultural group.

No one will.

The minute we begin to speak, they know. Everybody knows. And it’s no bad thing. What is a bad thing is trying desperately to label it and somehow make it chic or cool and pretend it’s some artistic statement.

Here’s what I like: on the same tube journey, an individual boards the train in jeans and plain, off-white t-shirt, sits down and starts tapping his feet to the rhythm of whatever tuneful track is playing away in on his MP3 player. It’s then that I notice, his Converse Chuck Taylor All Stars, faded, worn, ragged, but clearly patterned with Old Glory, stripes on each side, stars down the tongue. A cheeky treading with the flag, not on it, naturally, not flashing, not waving, but toe-tapping with a wonderfully tacit acknowledgement of nationality as a simple, softly spoken part of who you are.

On the tube back, a heaving, humid, flesh-wall-cramped train car. A short stocky man of some sort of East Asian heritage squeezes on (melting pot significance, not passively racist. Swear). He is wearing red Bermuda shorts, a plain blue top, red, white and blue star-shaped sunglasses, a soft, fuzzy looking Uncle Sam style top hat and a red and white striped draw-string bag slung over both shoulders with a little American flag poking chirpily out the back. This too strikes me as utterly and completely appropriate. It’s too loud to be obnoxious. This man is America personified, wearing the country, proclaiming the preamble like a big flamboyant flamingo shouting to all and sundry, ‘I am the U. S. A!’ without saying a word.

Taken from the Scavenge Costumes website

I’m not given to wearing my national colo(u)rs very often, the 4th of July being an exception some years, but I think what bothered me about the first man’s shirt, aside from the inherent and age-old sexism and the mixture of telltale labels, was the pretension that there was some conscious art in declaring your national heritage, as opposed to treating it as some part of you that is as natural as your shoe size, as innate as a sexual orientation. We are Americans and intensely proud of who we are, but I’d rather we all avoid standing in odious uncritical hand-on-heart reverence to the flag, not in front of the foreigners, most of whom have a bit of a sense of humo(u)r about their homelands.

So, bundle of contradictions that I am, that’s what I think we all need: more pride, less reverence. 


Diamond Jubilee Weekend: Republican Three Ways

We’re just coming to the tail end of the long weekend commemorating HM the Q’s diamond anniversary as head of state for The UK and it feels timely and appropriate to mention my friend texting me on Sunday to say, ‘Watching the royal flotilla on TV. Really makes me feel proud to be British.’ You cannot really do indignant in a text message and I suppose with some people’s upbringings, you can’t help the particularly unsavoury shape your patriotism takes, but it was difficult to imagine feeling some sense of pride welling up in your chest for a symbolic gesture of what has brought millions of pesky subalterns, colonials and orientals to heel as an empire on which the sun sets is acquired. One does not feel amused. 
Of course, in America, we tend to hold ourselves sceptically, righteously and disdainfully above unquestioning royalism and the notion of the monarchy in general, for a number of reasons, including among them that it seems a tad unjust to siphon off tax money into supporting an anachronistic institution leading a charmed existence within which individuals have had to do nothing of any merit in order to earn the privilege that is bestowed upon them every day of their lives. Poke or prod a bit into recent American political history, say around 1 May, 2003, the presidential election of 2000, The Watergate scandal etc… and you start to scrape away very quickly at the crumbling integrity of the moral high ground on which we Yanks like to stand. 
Neither here nor there. What I found funny was that my naval proud friend was the exception amongst our set this weekend. Probably because of the nature of my own political leanings or the general tendency of expatriates, perhaps because of the inevitable direction in which the zietgeisty wind is blowing, most of the friends I spoke to were keen to assert their antipathy for the royal family as an institution. Of course, the British say it much more concisely, but not more simply. If they are anti-royalist, which many are at pains to point out, they say, ‘Oh well, I’m republican.’ This claim still induces a double-take because the British can’t be simple. They can’t be like Cromwell’s Puritans during the English Civil War and call themselves Parliamentarians. And I do get it. They support the abolition of a costly and useless sham of a national tradition in favour of a completely representative 
democracy. But why use one of the most confusingly connotative words in history? 
When I think of Republican, I think of people who are likely to subscribe to the philosophy of Ayn Rand, the economic theory of Frederik Hayek and the rock-solid belief that if you are unemployed and living on food stamps then you are simply as lazy as sin; and you are likely to misquote Patrick Henry.
Then again, when Gerry Adams thinks of a Republican, he thinks of a freedom fighter who would like an ideal Irish-speaking paradise in which the Irish live in a Catholic Socialist society. But generally, there are quite a few who wouldn’t assert themselves as Republican in many parts of Ireland any more, which is in stark contrast to many Irish Americans, who swear loyalty to the IRA, without a thought to what it might mean or who it might offend.

Don’t even get me started on what the term Republican might mean to an ancient Roman or a Frenchman circa 1789.

So, I support my liberal British friends in their Republicanism, but wouldn’t be easier and less confusing to declare anarchy in the UK? 

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