Over the past few weeks, I've been glued to American TV drama The Newsroom. For those of you who've not yet seen it, The Newsroom documents the goings on in (surprise surprise) a fictional newsroom, and, take my word for it, its utterly compelling viewing.
The opening scene of the first episode sees all-star anchorman Will McAvoy, exquisitely played by Jeff Daniels, taking part in a political debate in some non-descript educational establishment. The three parties in the debate are all asked the same question from the floor: "Can you say why America is the greatest country in the world?"
"Diversity and opportunity" is the first response.
"Freedom, and freedom" is the second.
McAvoy now has the floor.
"Its not the greatest country in the world, Professor, that's my answer"
McAvoy proceeds to launch into an informed, impassioned speech detailing exactly why he thinks this to be the case, culminating in the rather ineloquent closer: "So when you ask what makes us the greatest country in the world, I don't know what the f**k you're talking about"
More stunned silence.
Alright, Daniels' character may have gone a little too far by this stage, but the scene still works because, whether his argument is sound or otherwise, the fact that it punches certain prevailing cultural mores square in the face is enough to invoke a reaction of utter disbelief in the fictional audience. Judging by the horrified expressions on the faces of all those privy to McAvoy's speech, it was as if a broadcaster failing to support nationalist sentiment was in itself a criminal offence.
Let us find a suitable real world equivalent. The London Olympic opening ceremony is going to be a fairly cringeworthy attempt to capture our 'national spirit'. Spoiler alert, I know. And, as ever, Britons will support Britons just because they are Britons. Another surprise, I bet.
I would love to hear a British broadcaster at the Olympics refuse to endorse a British athlete out of some mindless nationalistic loyalty; a living, breathing McAvoy if you will. Because I don't believe that simply having the good fortune to be born in the same geographical area as another individual is sufficient reason to grant them additional respect or favour. Its not that I won't be supporting British athletes. I just wont do so simply because they happen to be British. They should have to earn praise from their audience based on merit, just like everyone else.
There's usually a stunned silence at this point as well.
How refreshing it would be if, during the London Olympics, we celebrated more the remarkable achievements of those athletes from less privileged countries than our own, who have both literally and metaphorically jumped hundreds of hurdles just to be here.
Like the first ever female Kuwaiti swimmer, Faye Sultan, one of only two women in her country's team. She says she is driven on by a desire to change the perception of women in Kuwait, which lacks a female national swimming team (and political equality for that matter). Due to the lack of sporting opportunities available to women in Kuwait, Faye had to begin her training in a children's pool, unable to complete strokes without touching the bottom.
Yet I doubt we shall pay half as much attention to Faye's pursuits as we do to those of our own country's men and women, partly because we have regressed to what I can only describe as the intellectual equivalent of the fetal position, where the likes of "This is going to put Britain on the map" and "Supporting the home team" reign supreme, truths that appear to be above question.
There is still a place for controversial opinions in journalism and broadcasting, professions that are arguably becoming more profit orientated and hence inoffensive by nature. We should take advantage of the spectacle around London 2012 to voice a slightly unusual point of view. We should take this unique opportunity to qualify our nationalism on a wider scale, introducing concepts so foreign to it such as merit and desert.
And this should be part of a bigger cultural shift. One where challenging such received wisdom as nationalism starts to find a receptive audience, and not one that simply recoils in shock at minority opinions like McAvoy's.
So if you disagreed with what I've just said then...good. Don't be afraid to say so. It shows you have the ability to think for yourself. It's a right we should all be able to exercise more often without everyone else looking at us as if we're mental.
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