Thursday, October 30, 2014

Poppies and T-shirts

We have just entered that time of year when debates and articles begin about wearing poppies around Remembrance Sunday / Armistice Day. One of the shifts in recent years has been the fact that everyone on TV is expected to wear a poppy for at least a 3 week period, and anyone failing to do so is pressured off camera and criticised if they go on camera without the requisite item. ITV newsreader Charlene White got racist and sexist abuse for not wearing one last year. In fact she doesn't object to wearing them altogether, and explains the choices she made here.

The culture around poppies has changed, so that they have become the criterion by which respect is judged. Failure to wear a poppy has become almost synonymous with disrespect. Although I do, in fact, wear a red poppy for a few days, I have a problem with the quick judgments people jump to.

I found an interesting parallel with another very different story about T-shirts, wittily described on the Beaker Folk blog. David Cameron apparently declined to wear a pro-feminism T-shirt, whereas Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband did so (look out for the misprint in the report!). This was seen as a great sign that Cameron lacked commitment to promoting equality for women. It may well be that he does lack that commitment, but to judge him by his choice of shirt seems a rather superficial assessment. Likewise wearing a "this is what a feminist looks like" T-shirt hardly makes you a champion of equality - anyone can do that.

So maybe we need to be a bit cautious jumping to conclusions about people who decline to wear a red poppy. Some will prefer to wear a white one, to show their commitment to peace and reconciliation - which, after all, is a commitment at the heart of the prayers we use on Remembrance Sunday. Some will feel that the poppy has become rather closely associated with a kind of patriotism that they can't go along with. Still others will wish to exercise the choice as to how they show respect, and not be dictated to by convention. What we can't assume is that we know what's going on in the hearts of those who don't (and those who do) wear poppies. The important question is whether we appreciate the cost and tragedy of conflict and are committed to do all in our power to work for peace and reconciliation in whatever circumstances we find ourselves. 

No comments: