Wednesday 26 March 2014

British, British, British...but er...not.

This was a very odd programme:

BBC 'A Very British Renaissance'.

Its theme was that the Renaissance came to Britain, very few of us know about this, the presenter, James Baxter was going to tell us about things that we didn't know about, this Renaissance was brought to this country by foreigners but once it was here it was very, very, very British.
I haven't rewatched it but I suspect that the words 'English' and 'British' were repeated at least 10 times.

It was odd because it explained in fascinating detail how non-British people like Holbein came to Britain and introduced art that people in Britain hadn't seen before (said the presenter) and therefore changed that particular art form...or, people like Wyatt, travelled to Italy, learned about something in his particular art form (poetry), came back to Britain and started writing using this foreign form.

The argument then claimed that certain adaptations took place which then made this form (eg the sonnet, architecture, making of sundials, portraiture etc) 'British'.

This strikes me as a rubbish and misleading way of looking at culture. Consider another way: taking all the same examples eg of artists coming to Britain or British artists travelling abroad. Consider then that this is a matter of 'interculturalism', the sharing of cultures. And rather than this proving some kind of chauvinistic tosh about it all being so uniquely 'British', it proves something much more interesting: namely that much (perhaps all) of what we keep calling 'British' is in fact 'intercultural'. So Wyatt took the Petrarchan sonnet from Italy and of course adapted it according to his class, culture and sex to do what he wanted it to do. It's just banal to say that he rendered it 'British'. The result, the sonnet we read is neither 'British' or 'Italian'. It's an intercultural item and all the more exciting to see it and understand it as that.

I suspect that there's an agenda here. A huge amount of programming on BBC 2 and BBC 4 uses this term 'British' - whether it's in cooking (baking), jazz, rock music, or any of the arts. Is the BBC suddenly nervous that the concept of British has been 'undermined' by 'multiculturalism'. Has the word 'British' in its own corporation name been diluted by jonny foreigner? Is it all slipping out of control? Or is there some kind of cheapjack wooing of the licence fee going on with the Charter up for re-examimation, so instead of defying the murdochisation of the media with a belief in culture for all, there's some crude attempt to say that the BBC should at least stand up for Britishness - whatever that's supposed to be?

I don't know.

All I know is that even as the programme ground on and on boasting about the Britishness of what it was showing it was proving just how mixed culturally it all was. And, I for one, was excited and interested in seeing just how mixed these items were.

A case of telling one thing but showing another!