Remembrance Day: Commemoration or Capitalisation?


Remembrance. Honouring the fallen; the people who gave their lives for this country. It is always a humbling time of year, heavily wrapped in emotion, also celebration.
However, two labels I would never attach to such an occasion? Capitalisation and correctness. The former is more criminal to me than the latter, yet both have become embedded in the remembrance commemorations of recent years. Poppy pressure and Cenotaph Politics are ever more palpable.
A few years ago, John Snow caused outrage on TV when he refused to wear a poppy. He sighted his opposition to the “poppy fascism” that saw the pressure for people on television to wear a poppy. Snow himself had nothing against the Poppy Appeal; on the contrary, he asserts his support for it and donates to the Royal British Legion. What is more, he turned it on its head and said that, by people telling him that he “must” wear the symbol – a public display of his support – is going against the very concept free will that our troops died fighting for.
Using the current two prime-time weekend TV shows, Strictly Come Dancing and X Factor, as examples, you can see this “Poppy fascism” in the flesh. Poppies adorn the costumes of every participant; in recent years, they have even been tailored to ‘match’ the costume. Poppies in hair, custom made in satins and silks, X Factor bringing a diamanté finish that overshadows the red… evidently moral and fashion statement are now one and the same.
I struggle to believe that every person on TV brings his or her own poppy. Just by looking at the majority of them, it is clear they are fresh from the box, very far removed from the slightly crumpled appearance of mine when it has been pinned onto each day’s given shirt or dress. I cannot say with full conviction that each person who is given a poppy places money in the box. Even if they do… would they think about it if a backstage assistant did not pin it to their chest?
On an anecdotal level, I recall an incident during my senior school years, when I was on the school’s leadership team. We were giving a special Assembly for Remembrance Day, and just before we were about to walk into the hall, one of the Deputy Head Girls turned to me and said: “could you give me your poppy? It looks worse if I am not wearing one.”
Ukip poppy
I was in a state of shock after hearing this. I remember it to this day, because I was utterly bewildered that someone could say this. It epitomised one of the inherent wrongs in today’s society; the superficiality and show that is rife. That same year, I overheard another student at my school say to her friend “perfect, I don’t have to buy one now”. She had spotted a poppy on the floor, and picked it up to wear.
To the outside world, she is someone ‘supporting’ our Armed Forces; Jon Snow is disrespectful and subsequently criticised by society. The irony here is farcical.
Maybe I am simply being cynical. I would never for a moment claim that every person on TV – including the two shows aforementioned – would not genuinely choose to wear a poppy. I am sure that the various charity singles released by shows such as X Factor, have been produced with good intentions; they have also raised a considerable amount of money, which can never be belittled. However, in a similar vein to the “No Make-Up Selfie” campaign, what started with good intentions can become slightly unsavoury, when enacted. I was a supporter of the latter campaign; my view was, if it raises money, any criticism of it is just pointless knit-picking; what is condemning it actually doing to fight Cancer?
On the other hand, what the aforesaid personal and societal examples show, is that the Poppy Appeal is not necessarily gaining anything from these capitalising actions.
Politics has also become synonymous with a degree of exploitation. I want to stress that this is not universal. I do feel that the politicians in power have a genuine respect and gratitude for our fallen soldiers. However, there are instances where politically neutral charity has become embroiled in party strategy.
Last year, there was controversy when UKIP placed a party sticker in the centre of their Poppy Wreath; it upended the concept of neutrality and universality of the war. Nonetheless, it is not necessarily the politicians, but the media who propagate their own beliefs. Earlier this year, there was an incident where the leaders of the three main parties laid wreaths at the cenotaph, to mark the centenary of the Great War outbreak, and only David Cameron was given the opportunity to attach a personalised message to this; however, this true version of the story only came after the more right-leaning British Newspapers condemned “crass and insensitive” Ed Miliband for writing merely ‘from the Leader of the Opposition’, in “childish handwriting”. It later emerged, after identifying the handwriting on the wreaths of Nick Clegg and Alex Salmond to be the same, that the Labour Leader had never been granted the chance to write his own message. The media, in this instance, politicised what should remain above such things.
Poppy politics
When I think of remembrance, I do think of the poppy. I will not do a Jon Snow and make a stand by not wearing one; to me, it matters that I do. Just as I took a selfie and donated to Cancer Research, I will buy a poppy and place my money in the tin. At other times in the year, I may see a collection tin in a café, supermarket, or even on the high street, and donate to various other causes; I do not need or expect a golden star for it. Yet society today demands publicity. From social media to selfies, people choose propagate their lives and prove their actions; what once remained private is no longer considered real enough.
The poppy is powerful because of the history behind it. You look and you see the Flanders fields red; the bloodshed and the lives sacrificed to give us freedom. Now we live in a society where you can only face public life, respectfully, pinned with a poppy; a culture that tries to marry the sacrifice of our soldiers with the sparkle of the studio lights on a Saturday night show… shows that, moreover, revel in sob stories – the tragedy that is having a cold on Movie week.
In both enforcing remembrance to maintain a status quo, and politicising it by scrutinising the actions of public figures, we run the risk of losing the very thing we endeavour to commemorate.
One of the most recognised of war poems, by John McRae, concludes “If ye break faith with us who die/ we shall not sleep, though poppies grow/ in Flanders fields”. The poppy is a, emblem; the wreaths by politicians a show respect, and November the month in which we symbolically choose to remember. Yet none of these things are needed. Remembrance is, quite simply, that – the act of truly acknowledging and understanding, lest we forget.

The original article, published in Exeposé, can be found here.  

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