THOSE WHO HAVE read George Martin’s brilliant series of books Game of Thrones might remember the character of Butterbumps the Fool. Butterbumps is an enormously overweight jester who capers around and makes merry jests while around him the country falls into ruins.
Seeing the First Minister trotting up the steps to Brave in his tartan trews all that were lacking was the hat and bells for the illusion to be complete. Apart from the sartorial embarrassment, why should the First Minister going to see a film require much comment? It is because this little act says so much about the deep cultural cringe at the heart of nationalism and Scotland.
Brave is basically Shrek in kilts. It is a sentimental Brigadoon of a film for a young age range. Nothing wrong with that whatsoever – anyone can make any film they like. But what other country would have its entire tourist industry and First Minister line up behind a Disney Pixar animated childrens film? Do we see David Cameron going round the world because a film is about Britain? Or Angela Merkel for a film about Germany? Or indeed any other leader of any country in the world placing the resources of their government and their country at the feet of Disney?
So why is it Scotland’s First Minister who is so obediently at their beck and call? Why is the Scottish government acting as a pro bono marketing arm of a foreign company? Well, we are told to think of the tourism dollars that will result from this bonanza, the good image of the country etc, etc. We have heard the spin before. And perhaps tourism will benefit from Brave. Its certain that Disney will.
Strange though, is it not that the Scottish government has preserved a total silence and indeed not spent one penny on certain indigenously Scottish cultural anniversaries that have recently happened? The centenary of the birth of Sorley Maclean – one of the greatest poets our country has produced. What a chance to celebrate Skye and Gaelic culture. Or perhaps the 70th anniversary of the death of John Buchan – originator of the modern thriller, master storyteller and a man who changed the writing of fiction?
Now of course you could object and point out that Brave is here and now and these literary giants are in their grave but it is I think fair to say that people will be reading Buchan and Maclean when Brave lies as a curio in the archive. It is I think fair to say too that these writers have far more that is relevant and contemporary than the kitsch tweeness of a Celtic never-never land.
But let us be more contemporary. What about celebrating Mark Millar – genius of the Graphic novel and at the front of Scottish writers who have made this genre their own the world over. Edgy, contemporary and world bestsellers – a sign of a new confident Scotland.
I am not incidentally suggesting in any way the support that has been put behind Braveshould instead have gone to any of these. It is surely not unreasonable, however, to suggest a confident Scotland, confident in its many strands of history, tradition and future would be celebrating them all. So it is curious that of the type of support behind Brave there has been nothing, not one penny, for giants past and present who changed the world of writing. We need then to ask the question, ‘Why?’
It isn’t quite true to say that Scotlands First Minister and governing party have not made a big push on certain matters cultural or historical. If it’s Burns or Bannockburn it too is in the money. The reasons of course are entirely ideological. Burns can readily be portrayed as a Scottish Genius, a democratic intellect, a man of the people – while Bannockburn is a battle for independence against English oppression.
All this is at best dangerous oversimplification and at worst deliberate untruths. For me as a Scot it is deeply disturbing to find a complex narrative of cultural and social history swept aside in favour of a few cardboard cut-outs. Buchan, Maclean and all the rest – including the entire Enlightenment – are cast adrift as they are awkward fits to the new dominant ideology. Buchan, a Tory Unionist Imperialist, Sorley with his dalliance with Fascism, the sheer internationalism of the Enlightenment, Scots engagement with and benefit from Empire etc etc
There is in fact one government whose views on culture and history were uncannily similar to that of the Nationalists. They too believed in an entirely predictable march of history with the final liberation of the working man under nationalist tutelage. They too carefully sidelined the ‘awkward’ in their past, they too had hero kings and ideologically sound writers. And they too lived and spoke a monstrous lie. The country of course is the Soviet Union.
You might balk at the comparison but bear in mind that according to Creative Scotland this is the ‘Year of Creativity’ when state sponsored arts will yield a burgeoning new dawn for our country. There is no difference between this and the Soviet Academies where the state sponsored the ideologically sound and repressed the unsuitable, where it hailed the new and rejected the old. Money and patronage are quite as effective methods of repression and control as the baton and the Lubyanka. It is this that makes the Nationalist view of Scotland such a profoundly dreary and grey product.
I have often wondered why the new Scottish state has had so little real interest in the arts in the broadest sense, but the reason is simple. The arts are in their very nature anarchic, questioning and revolutionary. Certainly not a broth our leadership wishes to sup. How much better to accept the clichéd certainties of Disney than the truths and complexities of your own country. And so we return again to Brave and its image of Scotland and an observation made by a friend, of well just how patronising and subliminally racist the portrayal of Scotland in the film is.
How supremely ironic for Butterbumps that his panting excitement at a Disney film is not a demonstration of a new and bright vision for his country but a comment on his and his party’s own thralldom and insecurity.