Saturday, September 19, 2009

Scotlands oversees image set to get a makeover

CAN there really be a significant body of Americans (more than about four) boycotting Scottish goods over Kenny MacAskill's decision to release Abdel Baset Ali al-Megrahi, the Libyan convicted of the Lockerbie bombing?

I suspect not. In the past month the only mention of such a thing that I have been able to find in a US newspaper (as opposed to British newspapers, where it has been everywhere) is one letter to the Miami Herald, in which the correspondent muses that he might stop drinking "whiskey". Nice to see you've done your research, there, William B.Houseman from St Simon's Island. "Whiskey" is Irish.

In this respect, the maker of Harris Tweed is to remove all hints of Scottish branding from promotional material in the US.

"We are not going to promote ourselves as a Scottish company as we would previously have done," Harris Tweed Hebrides director Mark Hogarth said.

Oh really, Mark? You mean you'll be redesigning your website?

The one smothered in shots of tousled-haired, ruddy-cheeked peasant women under slate grey skies, standing next to lochs and castles? Yes? Good.

Lord, a prayer for Scotland. Spare us from slate grey skies. Spare us from lochs. Spare us from themed shortbread, as well, and those wee bottles of whisky (please note, no "e") with wee tartan ribbons around the top. Spare us from inexplicably 17th-century-style shirts worn with kilts, and the distant skirl of the bagpipes.

We know, Lord, this is what the US wants. Grant us the strength not to deliver. Grant us some self-respect.

This year was supposed to be a big one for Scottish tourism.

They've been running a thing called Homecoming Scotland, timed to mark the 250th anniversary of the birth of Robert Burns. In essence, the whole thing is a charade, intended to convince retired propane salesmen from Florida that, if their distant ancestors left Cumbernauld two centuries ago, people in Scotland will actually give a damn.

Did you see the ad? Famous Scots singing a song made popular by a beer ad, standing in front of a backdrop of, you guessed it, lochs and castles: Lulu, Sandi Thom, Sean Connery. Don't get me started on Sean Connery. I suppose they couldn't afford Billy Connolly. I suppose the Krankies were busy.

The more Scotland yearns to be a proper, grown-up country, the more all this Disneyfied Brigadoon nonsense makes the national vision look blinkered. It's not Scotland's Scotland. It's the US's Scotland. It's Sean Connery's Scotland. But like I said, don't get me started on Sean Connery.

You know the greatest act of cultural vandalism ever committed on Scotland? Braveheart. The naked Americanisation of Scottish history. True, Mel Gibson is Australian, but the film is an entirely American reinterpretation of the travails of William Wallace. It's not even subtle. It's simple, rural folk, forced into conflict against a corrupt, England: the American independence myth, transposed.

A confident, comfortable budding nation would have sneered at this. Scotland preened.

That year (1995), Alex Salmond, then merely the leader of the SNP, finished his speech at the party's conference with the words "Freedom! Freedom! Freedom!" It's a wonder he didn't wave a sword. Within two years, authorities had placed a statue of Gibson by the Wallace Monument near Stirling. To walk the length of Edinburgh's Royal Mile is to see an export culture that has devoted itself, almost entirely, to pandering to the half-baked whims of somewhere else. It's not the US's fault. It's our fault. If the Italians had done the same, Rome would be a giant pizza restaurant by now, possibly with a Mafia theme. Even Ireland has grown out of this sort of thing. Only Scotland has misplaced its own soul, and adopted somebody else's caricature in its place.

Sure, a genuine boycott would be disastrous for the Scottish economy. The US is the world's biggest market for whisky (even if they can't spell it) and provides about a quarter of Scotland's tourists. None of this is to be sniffed at. But still, if there was to be a boycott, I can't help but wonder whether, some years down the line, we might look back and be grateful.

The Times

Och aye

Posted via web from poobumwee's posterous


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