Monday, 14 January 2008

Kipling's "....Flag-Waver" in our Own Day

[Update: classfellow A.N.'s convincing comment causes me to edit this post to make clear that I more accurately say that MacDonald Fraser is a Kipling-esque character than using "Stalky"as the term. Stalky is indeed not a "jelly-bellied flag-waver."]

A just-deceased version of [snip] a "flag-waver" as Kipling calls such—is George MacDonald Fraser, author of the Flashman series. (Incidentally, Flashman is a literary character taken, in homage, from the book to which Kipling made his own homage in Stalky & Co.: Thomas Hughes' 1857 Tom Brown's Schooldaysitself homage to the real-life Thomas Arnold's Rugby School.)

His wartime biography, which I have, is titled (in a phrase from Kipling's great "Gunga Din") Quartered Safe Out Here, and is very much an echo of the "Slaves of the Lamp II", the final Stalky chapter.

A flavour of MacDonald Fraser's lineal Edwardian attitudes can be found, unalloyed, in this article of his, online, "How Britain has Destroyed Itself."


Adam Nowek said...

After reading the article on how Britain has destroyed itself, I find the contrast to Lydon's Rotten incredible.

Lydon points out the ugly aspects of the English working-class lifestyle, including the necessity of squatting to survive, the prevalence of drugs, extreme poverty; these are conditions which would generally fall under the classification of being the living conditions of an underdeveloped nation.

Yet, Fraser bombastically argues that the United Kingdom has 'deteriorated' into the guise of 'a Third World country.' Fraser's 'Third World' view is one which I find to be unfocused and flawed; he claims that his nation is now 'shabby, littered, ugly, run down, without purpose or direction, misruled by a typical Third World government, corrupt, incompetent and undemocratic', while misappropriating the word 'democracy' (is he even aware what constitutes a democracy? Apparently not!), dismissing the advances of mankind as a whole in a three-line paragraph, and his blaming the downfall of British society on the rise of political correctness (ha!).

While I am not championing John Lydon as the authoritative figure on the decrepit nature of working-class life during his youthful days (who would?), I question Fraser's grasp of where the UK is headed as a society. I would hesitate to refer to him as the adult version of Stalky; after all, if individual cunning is such an integral part of the Stalky model, Fraser's highly flawed rhetoric on the death of English society appears to fail on this front.

MaeganT said...

I almost agree with some of Fraser's issues with changing historic descriptions to fall in line with "PC-ness" - but I think we have to remember that most groups get upset about negative historical versions of events because they have become stereotypes that have no dimension.
For example, it is true that Native (North) Americans (and many other ethnicities and national groups) have a problem metabolizing alcohol and have had trouble with it in the sociohistorical scheme of things. But come on, do you think they would be so sensitive about one historical movie (The Lone Ranger script he mentioned) if there wasn't that horrible "Drunken Indian" stereotype out there? Let's take some responsibility for the way things are and move forward rather than bemoaning "the good ol days" - yes, people are more sensitive (in negative and positive ways) but this is a symptom of increased information overload, I think, and will pass. We are just in the middle of a historical transition of how we deal with these issues and we haven't figured out a balanced way yet.

To continue my rant a bit, I'd like to build on Adam's comments on the use of "decline":
I think it's important to understand things like "change" "transformation" "anxiety" etc in contrast to decline. When we say that any culture or model is in "decline" it seems (at least to me) to automatically romanticize or idealize the previous or full model. To understand present circumstances (whether we are speaking of masculinity, society etc.) as anxious, in flux, not successful and so forth seems more accurate and can lead to reevaluation of norms and strategies of their definition...but to say something is in "decline" frames the "old ways" as better, higher, more useful. Let's move forward instead of looking back. I feel that older, traditional models of societal relations, masculinity, even feminity may be declining in terms of stability but not are on the whole declined - things have become more complex, more flexible etc. and this anxiousness is a symptom. Again, decline looks back, let's look forward.