Independence: Media and Masculinity

Living in exile in Greece at the moment, I watch the struggle for Scottish Independence from afar.   Mainstream sources are almost universally crap – giving the British propaganda a bit of seasoning then vomiting it out through their mass channels.  It is new technology that will win Independence.  Because only the emergent communications technologies allow people to directly communicate with each other,  can allow arguments to be properly dissected;  facts can be properly researched by the average wo/man in the street, and it is only through these new technologies that ordinary people can see through the lies, spin and bluff which has kept us under British rule for so long.

New and social media is an interesting phenomenon, mainly because it combines a whole load of different things together.  When we say a word (chair) the other person imagines a concept (a thing to sit on with four legs and a back), but signs are not necessarily words – they can be lots of things – images, logos, smells – in fact anything external that is capable of relating to pre-existing concepts that we already hold.  New media such as twitter, youtube, flickr, soundcloud – to name some of the more popular ones, produce complex signs – phrases, videos, images or sounds that evoke emotional and intellectual reactions from us, while social media provides a means of sharing these signs.

And the struggle for independence is being played out through these signs.

S/he who shares wins.

Of course, signs are designed to invoke.  Take the piece of Brit Nat propaganda below.  There’s a stylised Union Jack there, with the St George’s cross of England, being conflated with the Red Cross associated with medical care, coupled with a pithy little phrase. Very clever really.

britnatcrapIt is, of course, complete lies.  Under the NHS bill, even RoUK people wont get the treatment they need at an RoUK hospital and what entitlement Scottish people would have is completely up in the air.  More worryingly effect of this bill could open up a challenge under EU competition law to see the privatisation of Scottish services too, meaning that we might not even continue to get free healthcare in Scotland if we stay within this toxic union.

But its a sign – its designed to bring up nice things – hospitals, no charges, the pre-privatised NHS that people in RoUK used to love (and that we still have and cherish) and associate it with Great Britain.

As I mentioned, I don’t live in Scotland at the moment, and its always interesting to see oorsel’s as ithers see us.  There are generally two immediate reactions to Scottish Independence that I’ve found from people from other countries.  One is a gasping horror at the thought of nationalism, the other is “Braveheart”.  Interestingly, it tends to be immigrants from post-colonial countries who are most supportive of independence; they come from countries which have themselves gone through the process, and most of those countries have suffered at the hands of British Imperialism, while Greeks themselves tend to be much more skeptical, which is understandable in a country where ethnic nationalism is becoming a terrifying discourse.

The “Braveheart” phenomenon is one that deeply troubles me, I appreciate the support that generally accompanies mention of it, but it “Braveheart” is to The Wars of Independence what “The Strike!” is to the 1984 Miner Strike. Beyond that it taps into a demand of virile masculinity as embodied in Wallace, evoking the noble savagery of the Highlander, and contrasting that against the effeminate portrayal of Edward II, cuckolded by Wallace .  Other than Braveheart, the only other Scottish film which is recognised is “Trainspotting”.    Much less obviously associated with the struggle, it too makes reference to our status when Renton announces…

I hate being Scottish.  We’re the lowest of the fucking low, the scum of the earth, the most wretched, servile, miserable, pathetic trash that was ever shat into civilisation.  Some people hate the English…I don’t.  They’re just wankers.  We, on the other hand, are colonised by wankers.  We cant even pick a descent culture to be colonised by.  We are ruled by effete arseholes.

Portraying the oppressed Scot as suffering under the effeminate English who cant get laid.  Both Braveheart and Trainspotting were made in the 90s, as Scotland was suffering from de-industrialisation of the old heavy industries which had been dismantled at the hands of a woman.  The economic castration that Thatcher effected, bred a phallacy of the virile Scottish male which lives on.

Some of the images circulating around the independence campaign  feed into this homophobic narrative of the virile Scot against an emasculate UK.  Brawny rugby players with a wild landscape, topless and ripped young men with “Yes, Scotland” emblazened on their chests.  One of the latest videos doing the rounds is also troubling from that aspect.  Although not an official “Yes, Scotland” video, several people have mistakenly interpreted it to be one.  It shows a man ribbon dancing, while wearing spandex and pink shorts with a strapline which reads.

The idea of not wanting a strong independent country is as daft as a man dancing in Spandex

Its designed to be a humerous video, but we need to be careful what (or who) we are really laughing at.  Here again we see an implicit message of “real men vote yes”.  Ribbon dancing, lycra and teensy weensy pink shorts are all things that are associated with women.  Additionally, there are several points, a wee kiss to the camera; a suggestive chest rub which could be interpreted as sexual.  They are actions which – if done by a woman would be objectifying, but performed by a man, they appear ridiculous. We are invited to consider how “daft” it is for a man to break with gender norms and participate in activities which are female gendered wearing non-gender appropriate clothing.  Real men don’t ribbon dance, they toss cabers says the subtext.

Now most people on seeing this video, won’t think too much about it.  It will pass 30 seconds of their time and then they will move on, but the sign will linger – associating Scottish Independence with conformance to traditional masculinity.  We must remember that we are not only trying to win a referendum, we are trying to build a nation.  And that nation includes many, many people who don’t conform to traditional hetrosexual cisgender masculine normativity.

I believe in Scottish Independence, not because I am a nationalist – of any flavour – but because I am an internationalist, I believe in the decolonisation of all countries, including my own and the destruction of an imperial power that has wreaked havoc on the world.  However, the struggle for Scottish Independence is dominated by a discourse of “civic nationalism” as promoted by the SNP.  I can live with civic nationalism, which promotes independence as a democratic step forward, but play with nationalism and you play with fire.

There is a difference between the”civic nationalism”, which emphasises the democratic rights all citizens living in a geographic area and “ethnic nationalism”, which promotes an idea of racial difference and is a major component in fascism.  All across Europe the far right are on the rise and it is something that we should bear in mind throughout the struggle.  Another major component of fascism is the virile masculinity which is promoted in Braveheart and the lack of which that is  ridiculed in the above video.

We live in a land where men take pride in wearing pleated non-divided, knee length garments; where both men and women have oats for breakfast, sometimes with sugar, and sometimes with salt; and where the thistle grows abundant, combining fluffiness with self-protection.  We must take care that the signs that we construct around Scottish Independence reflect our diversity, and that spandex-loving, pink shorts wearing ribbon dancers of whatever gender are not excluded from being part of the modern and inclusive nation that we seek to build.

Above all, we must safeguard the nation that we seek to build from macho men shouting about freedom then leading us on into battles that we should not be fighting.  

We had enough of that with Iraq.



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