Just when you think you've eradicated all traces of nationalism/patriotism from your psyche, along comes Doctor Who. Now granted, the readers of this blog are too mature and complex in their tastes to watch early-Saturday-evening family TV. They're probably thrilling to Rigoletto, or penning a wine review; that sort of thing. They might not even know the TV program to which I refer. Most likely they don't even own televisions. On the other hand, among the riff-raff, and others who should know better, it's surprisingly popular.
Now, I'm not a big fan of being a patriot. If you've got principles you'll want to do the right thing, not because your country says so, but because it's 'the right thing'. And if it's wrong you should be against it, regardless of which nation backs it. For who can be proud of a nation's accomplishments without also being ashamed of its sins? (And goodness knows Britain has sinned.) Likewise, playing 'my country's better than yours' in sports, in culture or in wars doesn't appeal to me. If making Esperanto our national language and having Gandhi on our money instead of the Queen made the world a more peaceful place that would suit me fine. Tradition's lovely and all, but there are more important things in the world.
At least that's what the rational bits of my brain think. But I've noticed that something strange happens when I watch a bad episode of Doctor Who (let's, for arguments sake, say something awful involving Daleks in Depression-era Manhattan). Do I switch off? Do I decide to do something more rewarding with my time? No. I think to myself: 'Come on, guys. You can do better than this.' I will the BBC team to stop bumbling around and get a decent script together and then film it with some flair and skill.
And I think what I'm doing is yearning for Britain to be greater than it is. I don't want an empire. I'm ashamed of our nuclear ambitions, our arms industry and our foreign-policy record. (For instance, does anyone reading this know who Mohammed Mossedegh is and what we persuaded the U.S. to do to him? And what the Middle East might look like now if we hadn't?) But somehow I still want us to be intellectually great. I want Britain to show what management-consultant-types call 'thought leadership'. And as part of that, I want us to make great drama and export it around the world. In spite of myself, that's what I seem to want.
And if it ever happened, I wonder what it would do to the British book scene. I hope it wouldn't be all preposterous sums changing hands over movie and TV rights, and everyone scrabbling to write a book that the visual media would want to feed into their hungry movie mill. Because, rather quaintly perhaps, I think of novels as primarily being about storytelling. And I think of movies and TV drama as the same. And I would very much like it if the UK were stronger in all forms of storytelling* - if the UK was to the world, as the BBC used to be to other TV channels. I wish we produced all the really good stuff, the dramas that radiated quality, especially in the mainstream. It seems like a harmless enough dream, and yet it's a slippery slope. Is it too much to hope it won't end up with me shaving my head, wearing a union jack t-shirt and voting BNP?
*apart from interpretive dance and mime