Videogum

You Don’t Know Me, But I’d Like To Talk To You About Morris Dancing


Hi Videogum! Listen, Gabe’s not here today. Did he tell you this was going to happen? Well he told me, and graciously offered to let me write things on the internet in his place. So here we are. You, the good people of Videogum, and me: a frequent Videogum lurker, more frequent comedy producer, and infrequent television watcher… here to discuss television.* GOOD IDEA, GABE!

Just kidding, I do know some things about TV, and I watched it so much as a kid that eventually I went to school to figure out how it works, and moved to New York to try to make it. Make television, that is. And I had a TV here for a while but then my roommate started putting The O’Reilly Factor on just to see what happened to me (ya know, for kicks) and eventually, after too many objects thrown across our apartment, I cut the cord and proceeded to rely on the internet to tell me what I missed. That’s what we’re all here for, right?!?!?!!

So yesterday I started noticing my British friends tweeting about Jessie J and Take That and was like “wtf?,” investigated, and learned that the Closing Ceremony of The London 2012 Olympics were on. Before I continue I should explain that I have British friends not only because I am a classy cosmopolitan lady, but also because I lived in Cheshire, England for a while growing up. Answers to your next four questions:

1. For my dad’s job.
2. No, not military.
3. Moved there when I was 12, back to the States when I was 16.
4. Formative years, yes, everyone says that!

So formative that I have a special little place in my heart reserved for that weird, stubborn, aspirational, quirky little country of countries, and what living there in the late nineties had to teach me about a how a post-colonial national pride manifests itself.

I’ll admit I was embarrassed for my one-time home at first, reading tweets during the Opening Ceremony that described airborne Mary Poppinses bopping Voldemort on the head or whatever, and could only imagine what kind of “OY, WE’VE GOT CUL-CHA!” shitshow was taking place.

From what the internet has told me though, it sounds like it was a valiant effort. And the Closing Ceremony seems to have approximated that same sincere puffed-up buffoonery that is so so so so British. I’m not just saying that because I read it somewhere. I’m saying that because I read this in NYT’s live coverage feed:

Oh my god that is beautiful. Do you guys know what it is? No. You shouldn’t. Upon being reminded of the existence of Morris dancing, I tried to remember where I’d encountered them before. I knew I’d heard of them when I was living in the UK but don’t remember ever seeing a performance in earnest. Turns out, it was this:

Which is PERFECT for so many reasons, not the least of which being that the exchange between Dom Joly’s morris dancer character and the ‘charmed’ American tourists is a perfect representation of how Britain presents itself to the rest of the world, and how we tend to perceive it. Especially in a grand showing-off as the Olympics are, the typically understated demeanor of our British friends is shelved with the call to pompousness. But not completely. Not like the Americans do it. Instead it’s very knowingly, with a sense of self-importance asserted convincingly for show, to the extent that the untrained eye might think they really mean it. They’re in on the joke on themselves though, and that’s what makes it so brilliant and adorable.

Going back to our new be-jingle-belled friends; I love this story not because it reminded me about Trigger Happy TV, but because it really for real happened like this: Sebastian Coe joked that they’d have “five thousand morris dancers” to show off British culture at the Opening Ceremony, morris dancers took him seriously, and they took themselves seriously enough to not recognize the joke but instead feel slighted when they weren’t actually invited to the party. And then, AND THEN!, they ended up in the Closing Ceremony. Because why not? The bizarre spectacle of a goofy looking traditional dance of dubious origin is no less fitting in a celebration of British-ness than Eric Idle falling out of a cannon. The British sense of humor that I know and love is a cheeky but loving one. The inclusion of the merry dancing men was probably a little political in the end, but if feels much more like the organisers (translation: organizers) brought them in with an affectionate “aw, come here you” and tousled their hair a little, then put them up there to share the spotlight with entertainers who are no more deserving of it, really. That’s not to say that Britian’s most beloved cultural exports are laughable. Instead, that what’s so enduring and unique here is the humility at its core. That, to me, is Britain most valuable export: the lesson that it’s important to take seriously not taking yourself seriously. Does that make sense? TELL ME, WE’RE FRIENDS NOW!

* I know I could talk about other stuff. But is there other stuff??? I’ll try to find out before the end of the day and let you know.