The English attitude to adversity has always had a class dimension – the upper classes were trained to keep their emotions under wraps, hence the saying ‘Stiff upper lip,’ which might otherwise quiver with emotion.
The working class tradition, however, is one of cheery defiance, laughing in the face of adversity, cracking a joke and a smile, and often aiming a barb at the upper class twits who were responsible for their plight.
This latter attitude was brilliantly satirised by Eric Idle in the song ‘Always look on the bright side of life’ written for the film called‘Life of Brian’.
The film is a hilarious parody of religious belief and revolutionary factionalism – The Judean Front has several breakaway factions who hate each other more than they hate their oppressors, The Romans. At one point they descend into a mass brawl watched over by a pair of Roman guards sadly shaking their heads.
The song is heard at the climax of the film as The Romans crucify Brian – mistaken for the Messiah - amongst a large number of common criminals, all of whom represent the ‘cheeky, chirpy, cockney chappie’ stereotypical British worker or Squaddie.
One of these decides to cheer up the entire collection of the crucifies with the refrain :
Always look on the bright side of life,
Always look on the right side of life,
The most scurrilous verse is the second:
Life’s a piece of shit
When you think of it
Life’s a laugh and death’s a joke it’s true,
You’ll see it’s all a show
Keep ‘em laughing as you go,
Just remember that the last laugh’s on you.
The lyrics and the setting are an explicit statement of the facetious view of the world – it’s not worth taking seriously, it is, as Albert Camus said, absurd.
Perhaps this allied itself with the English pride in the gifted amateur of Victorian times, brilliant, playing the game, doing good and making discoveries across the sciences, and always home in time for tea.
But what are we to make of it’s significance in the closing ceremony of the London Olympics?
The second verse with its reference to the excretal nature of life was included, loud and clear – in the presence of The Queen!
Is nothing sacred?
Most Brits, it would seem, don’t believe in God, and they don’t really worry too much about what the Queen thinks.
Healthy disrespect was always under the surface in
Now it’s out in the open.