Today is St. George’s day, the day the English celebrate their patron saint. But who was St. George? Different sources will tell you different things – some say he was born in Lod in Syrian Palestine, part of today’s Israel. Others say he was born in Cappadocia, in today’s Turkey. Others say he was a Maltese Arab, or a Greek. Perhaps we will never know – and perhaps one day it will be obvious how little it matters.
What we can be 100% sure of, is that St. George was NOT a lager-swilling, white-van-driving, overweight, balding UKIP voter – dripping in melting red and white facepaint. St. George did not speak English, he would not recognise the borders of today’s Europe, and he would shrug his Roman shoulders in a debate on the merits of an Australian points-based system.
And yet there have been attempts since the Middle Ages to make him into some kind of English hero, to bolster the hollow, brittle English sense of national identity. As we discussed in part one of our Broadstairs mini-series with use of the scholar Edward Said – the West constructs the idea of ‘the East’ as a binary opposite of itself. Our identity is formed as the antithesis of the patronising, demonising stereotypes we use to describe those distant, strange inhabitants of foreign lands. This Orientalism, Said argued, emerged alongside colonial expansion and Imperialism, seemingly justifying and being justified by it.
But as St. George demonstrates, it doesn’t stop there. We don’t just invent ourselves as the glorified opposite of an enemy we also invented – but we selectively steal Saints from the Middle East and pass them off as our own.
English ‘culture’ is pure fantasy. Wild, egotistical conjectures suspended in a cocktail of myth and bluster. And what we didn’t invent, we stole. A red and white brick wall of hallucination, blocking out any sunlight that threatens to fade its pompous, artificial sense of self-worth.
But for the thousand years of advertising – look how few people celebrate St. George’s day. Look at the streets, empty of crowds and ticker tape and confetti – the bored flag poles and the redundant marching bands that wheeze into their cobwebs.
England – You can’t even successfully fantasize.
You know you can’t live up to the expectations you have created for yourself. You know history is littered with forgotten, failed civilisations and you are just waiting for your chance to join them. And you won’t have long to wait, England. So just let go, and drift off into history with what little dignity you have left.