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‘Rule Britannia’ And The Said Ruins Of British Culture

Anjolaoluwa Alabi

When the news broke that the BBC were considering removing renowned patriotic anthems/hymns from the ending of the proms, surveys were compiled, polls were conducted and the general feeling from the masses was that this was a calculated attempt by the left to eradicate British culture and that this was indeed a step too far for political correctness (PC Culture).

In fact, the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, admittedly against the advice of who can be assumed to be his advisors (‘they’ he said), condemned this proposed step by the BBC and urged the news corporation to put an end to this “self-recrimination” and “wetness”.

One ponders: Is it not imperative that people in positions of power at the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) one of the biggest media outlets in the world, such as culture secretary Oliver Dowen and conductor, Dalia Stasevska, bring such bouts of freshness to an otherwise routine ceremony?

Is this base level of introspection not exactly what is needed to encourage Britain to become actively anti-racist?

Let us imagine what circumstances would be like if the Germans post Nazi era decided to preserve Joseph Goebbels’ Aryan propaganda anthems and the Nazi flag wasn’t changed and they all decided to ‘move forward’ without actively taking steps, both big and small, to actually move forward.

America is particularly poignant as Brits often see the race relations there as vastly different and drastically more decadent than the situation on these isles

Often people hear Nazi Germany and think: “Extreme!”. So I will find another example in the United States: not removing the confederate symbol from flags in certain states and constantly having southerners on the radio protesting in the form of Confederate anthems that state their wishes to live “in the cotton land” to “preserve their culture and preserve southern pride” only seem contentious now, in light of the devastating murder of George Floyd.

America is particularly poignant as Brits often see the race relations there as vastly different and drastically more decadent than the situation on these isles.

From a musical standpoint, ‘Rule Britannia’ is undoubtedly ‘catchy’ with it’s homophonic texture, staccato choir punctuation, melisma, fanfare-like trumpet motifs; it is notably evident why Handel borrowed from this piece in his Oratorios.

However, it is not the melody, harmony, timbre nor texture we object to but rather the message. My Grandma always reinforced the message: “say what you mean and mean what you say” to me as a child, so claims by those in favour of the anthem that it has somehow possessed a new meaning in a modern, anti-racist Britain are farcical.

Most importantly, because politicians like Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson seem to feel that there is nothing to be embarrassed about with the loaded white supremacist rhetoric that is proclaimed in the anthem and that comes with the weight of Britain’s colonial heritage.

We can analyse the lyrics rudimentarily. Perhaps an English Literature anecdotal analysis is best fitting to this loaded anthem. The scene is initially set with vivid imagery of Britain emerging from the “azure main” (heavenly sky) and an angel declaring a “charter”; essentially a proclamation or constitution; a pronouncement of the everything that Great Britain stands for.

This leads up to perhaps the most ludicrous part of the anthem: its very essence – the chorus.

We all know the anthem is primarily used in connection to the Royal Navy but the “waves” that Britannia is so proud of ruling refers to Britain’s attitude in the 1740s at its peak of imperialism and at its strongest urge to ‘explore’ other domains and divide and conquer what were said to be “inferior states”, no different to the Portuguese and the Spanish it has to be said.

The conquered and the enslaved victims, amongst this seemingly joyous declaration, and their descendants, now live in this country after helping build Britain back up after the Second World War

So “Rule Britannia! Britannia rule the waves: Britons never, never, never shall be slaves!” with its triadic repetition of ‘never’ is essentially a declaration of “Britons’” position as the slave masters and not the enslaved, as the conquerors and not the conquered, not simply as a free people or “liberty” as history is now trying to be rewritten ironically, by the likes of Nigel Farage.

Naturally, the conquered and the enslaved victims, amongst this seemingly joyous declaration, and their descendants, now live in this country after helping build Britain back up after the Second World War (shoutout to the Windrush generation) and have to endure this racist rhetoric disguised in patriotism.

The counter argument to this, is overwhelmingly against the censorship of British Culture. The idea that Britain has its good and bad parts of the past but wholly, every Brit should be proud of Britain’s past and should be educated on it.

To this I say, education about the good and bad is easily done in museums and schools; (evidently not enough is being done) not by adulation in the streets in statue form or in triumphant chorus in the theatre. Furthermore, the main gripe, as mentioned in my introductory paragraph seems to be the eradication of British culture. This is certainly not the case!

One can simply enjoy: God Save the Queen and belt out publicly, ‘I vow to thee my country’, tuck yourself in at night in your Union Jack jammies under your Union Jack duvet; there are several other ways to display patriotism than by chanting white supremacist rhetoric.

Another such argument that is made is that we should not be so quick to condemn a nation that did quite a bit to put an end to slavery.

Well, this is wholly paradoxical as they were such heavy contributors to it in the first place, and as Ken Olende put it: “The empire’s ‘moral’ switch to anti-slavery was driven by a combination of slave revolts and the changing needs of British capitalism”.

It is often used as a rebuttal by defenders of ‘Rule Britannia’ that this subject is a distractive measure and that we should “focus on the real racism”

The faster it is reconciled that the fundamental foundations of the country were built on slavery, imperialism and dividing and conquering, the faster the general public will start to realise that ‘minor’ things such as statues and ‘Rule Britannia’ are by-products of the pillars of white supremacy that initially made this country and not ‘the left looking to be offended!’

It is often used as a rebuttal by defenders of ‘Rule Britannia’ that this subject is a distractive measure and that we should “focus on the real racism”. Well then so should they ignore the phasing out of the lyrics of ‘Rule Britannia’ and the tearing down of symbolic systems and structures of racism.

Go about your day, as the removal of ‘Rule Britannia’ by the BBC cannot make a difference to your very existence… unless…you are of course…racist. The point is that in our striving for an actively anti-racist Britain, we all need to be singing from the same hymn sheet.

Anjolaoluwa Alabi

Featured image courtesy of  Defence Images via Flickr. Image license found hereNo changes were made to this image. 

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2 Comments on this post.
  • Soji Oladejo
    29 August 2020 at 19:01
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    “…singing from the same hymn sheet”

    I cannot agree with you more. I like it.

  • Tunde Adeleye
    3 September 2020 at 20:26
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    This is an excellent piece. It was properly articulated, and the subject matter thoroughly dissected from an objective stance, with cogent and well marshalled points. Well done.

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