Belfast Telegraph

Friday 11 July 2014

When it comes to guns, we can't point the finger at States

An annoying element in British culture is its unwillingness to understand other cultures, then either patronise or ridicule them.

In Northern Ireland, we have listened in for decades on crude, offensive, stupid, inaccurate but often well-meaning discussion taking place on "the mainland" about places and issues we happen to know inside out. We have a privileged standpoint from which to see exposed the prejudice of much "British" broadcasting, for example. Lazy ignorance. It's there also on the Republic's airwaves.

A very recent incident illuminates this point. On Radio Four on Sunday, the show 'Broadcasting House' invited the famous ballerina Tamara Rojo, artistic director and principal dancer at English National Ballet, to review the day's papers. The first item she picked was Danny Boyle's refusal of a knighthood. Boyle was responsible for the Olympic opening and closing ceremonies.

The presenter, Paddy O'Connell, however, made a few strange interventions. He asserted that the ballerina was from a culture which didn't have "gongs" and what did she think of "gongs" since many in the arts were pleased to be "gonged"?

Embarrassingly for everyone - bar Mr O'Connell - it emerged that Tamara Rojo is Spanish and the recipient of two of the highest civilian honours her King, Juan Carlos, can bestow. Undeterred, O'Connell pressed on with the issue of "knighthoods" which he appeared to consider in a different category to trifling Iberian tin badges.

O'Connell's assumptions were breathtaking - everyone knows honours are ridiculous, anyone worth their salt like Danny Boyle would reject them and only craven luvvies would accept them.

Señora Rojo - who is a young lady - handled the slights with the expected grace and aplomb.

As did the many US citizens barracked over the weekend by the British media over so-called "gun culture" in the States. British received wisdom has it that, because there are so many weapons in the US, incidents such as the horrendous slayings at Sandy Hook elementary school are more likely to occur, or less likely to be prevented. British media commentators are amazed that anyone - especially that much-loved fiction of the British Left, the Confederate Southern redneck - could think differently. Even when the killer is a Yankee Northern White Neck, like Adam Lanza.

While the dead were literally still being counted, the reluctance of British culture to consider its own dreadful record was quite astonishing.

Though the obvious Dunblane atrocity was referenced, other mass gun killings in Britain, from Hungerford way back in 1987 to Derek Bird's 12 murders in Cumbria only 18 months ago, and even Raoul Moat's spree, were ignored.

As of course did the bulk atrocities on our own doorstep which we're not allowed to talk about in the same breath as Columbine or Virginia or Hungerford or, indeed, Sandy Hook. Our own pomposity is astonishing. For decades we have been broadcasting nothing but bad news to the planet - street massacres of men, women and children, sly kidnappings and executions, gun attacks and roastings in bars and hotels, babies and pipe-smoking old gentlemen, atrocities here, there and everywhere - and all the while expecting the Planet to realise that our news had some greater purpose which lifted it above the mundane, trashy, social psychodramas of those cheap individuals in that sick culture known as the US.

From our culture of still freely available but completely illegal weapons, from homemade explosives to Afghanistan-grade high-tech military hardware, we sagely lecture the States about the danger of entirely legal weapons, registered and tracked.

What moral duplicity! What rank hypocrisy!

Of course, it's fair to be baffled by murderous actions, especially when the victims are so young. And it's equally understandable that the conditions which give rise to such actions are explored, though one would expect it to be at an appropriate time.

These two media behaviours aren't as different as they appear. Allowing a politically-driven agenda to caricature a whole society, culture and nation is not on. Nor is dismissing arrogantly the fact that other people, other cultures, other values, are different and have a right to be. They are not mad, not unsophisticated and not wrong. Laziness, disrespect and a low grade misplaced sense of superiority, however, very much are.

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