Monday, March 23, 2015

Colonel Blimp, the 1%. and the Continua of Contempt (23 Nov. 2013)

 "Let 'em all go to hell, / Except Cave 76!" —
Mel Brooks, Two Thousand Year Old Man


            Here's a word and a concept you need to understand politics: "Wogs." More specifically, you need to understand the terms as pronounced by Colonel Blimp, sometime between, say 1897 and the early 1920s, when the British Empire was at its peak.

            Now Colonel Blimp — a stereotype I will use shamelessly — is a variety of British Upper Class Twit but in all surface ways the opposite. Whereas the Monty-Pythonesque twit is weak and withdrawing, when not kicking beggars, Colonel Blimp is grotesquely robust and healthy: Teddy Roosevelt with a "public school" British accent but without Teddy Roosevelt's actual education and intelligence or need to ever — not ever! — overcome disability. When Colonel Blimp's regiment were shitting themselves to death from cholera and wasting away from tropical diseases, the Colonel himself was in tip-top health and thoroughly enjoying a full-on English breakfast (lunch, high tea, dinner, supper, postprandial snack — then cheese with port) before going out to harangue his men for their laziness and lack of good British pluck.

            Got the picture? Now concentrate on the sound as Colonel Blimp heads out for a day of fox hunting and poacher thrashing and pronounces the sentence, "The wogs begin at Calais." That's "Calais," as in the French coastal city across from Dover, England, but pronounced to rime with "malice": like "callous."

            Colonel Blimp's point is that the inferior people's of the Earth begin when one leaves "this sceptered isle […] this England" (Richard II 2.1) and encounters the Others, in this case the French, and then the great land masses of the Old World and their human masses of increasingly wretched refuse of increasingly negligible peoples.

            Colonel Blimp sees himself as good, sound, Anglo-Saxon stock, though he might overlay that with the conviction that his people weren't Anglo-Saxon really but their Norman conquerors. In any event, he was of the English race — a term Winston Churchill could use as late as 1950 — and the English race is superior to the duskier peoples or the "lesser breeds without the law," to appropriate a phrase from Rudyard Kipling "Recessional," but removing any of the nuance or distrust of hubris you might find in Kipling; Colonel Blimp doesn't do nuance, or humility.

            However, as the Python people properly observed about upper-class twits more generally, Colonel Blimp's wogs begin long before Calais, for example a couple or three neighborhoods away in London, when the Colonel and Lady Blimp condescend to travel to London — or among the peasantry in the village on the Colonel's ancestral estate.

            Such common folk are White, almost always in classic Blimp (Victorian) times, and usually Protestant and Anglo-Saxon: WASPs in American terms. But really! The lower orders are, well, lower, as God made them. So, under most conditions, figurative wogs can begin down the hill, among the middle, working, and lower classes.

            Mel Brooks's 2000-Year-Old Man gave as the first national anthem, "Let em all go to hell / Except Cave 76!", and this is quite right as a summary of the essence of patriotism, loyalty to the nation. But the nation isn't always sufficiently threatened that one can see millions of strangers as fellow members of "Cave 76." Indeed, Cave 76 can be very small and not defined geographically. For Colonel Blimp, at various times and under various circumstances, Cave 76 could be the small power-elite sharing his class and accent and illusions of pure Anglo-Saxon or even purer Norman origins.

            Okay, sometimes "Cave 76" can be pretty arbitrary, as when, our paper-delivery boy explained to us, what the grownups saw as a race riot in his high school was more of "a bunch of thugs who wanted to fight," and "Instead of dividing up 'skins' and 'shirts,' they divided Blacks and Whites." That can be dangerous enough, but the result at the high school was only a brawl. When "Cave 76" starts getting sophisticated, those brawls can become feuds, then tribal armed conflict, and then large-scale, full-scale wars.

            When "Cave 76" goes into its Blimpish mode, there is the danger not only of conflict with fairly obvious Others, but an equally pernicious ignoring of the suffering of one's own neighbors.


            We in the US have never seriously competed with our British cousins in the production of upper-class twits, primarily, I think, because of our prejudices against inbreeding. But we are starting to develop our own varieties of Colonel Blimp, whose figurative caves are communities of the rich looking out upon a sea of inferiors, and wishing to hell all of us wogs, 99% and more.

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