Monday, December 21, 2009

Heroes and Celebrities

Just been watching one of those ITV/The Sun Pride of Britain type events. But rather than mawkish tales of done-good, this was about the courage of those serving in our armed forces. Despite deep reservations about the format ("Here tonight to present the award for Most Courageous Act, ex Spice Girl Emmmmma BUNTON"), the programme, almost despite itself, really worked.

Yes, what this slightly weird juxtaposition of celebrity-format and real, ordinary heroism emphasised was the graphic contrast between the individualism of the entertainment world versus the teamwork and solidarity of the forces. Had this not been ITV and the Sun, I could have believed this format had been chosen simply to underline this point.

Because time after time, the young men and women who came onto the stage, having had their acts relayed through reconstructions, were completely self-effecing, universally praising of colleagues and keen to attribute all success to the unit. None revelled in the glory and, many, you sensed, didn't like the attention at all.

What struck me is that the Forces are clearly putting something into people which is, in my book, good. Concern for others. Teamwork. Modesty. Courage. I don't often get emotional when I watch the telly.

But I do, oddly, when it comes to the things I hear about from Afghanistan and Iraq. The things people do to preserve life and to help their comrades. It moves me to tears, partly because it shows a side to us which is often overlain with other, prosaic concerns.

Life in Bury St Edmunds, even during its more animated moments, doesn't make many demands on one's higher nature. A door opened here, 50p in a cup there.

If things ever did get hairy - if I was in anything like the situations I saw tonight - I am not sure my own selfishness, bedded in through years of ease and habitual self-preservation, wouldn't get the better of me.

I would hope for better, but whether I could deliver a fraction of what I saw tonight, I doubt.

1 comment:

Andy Hickey said...

Like you I worried about whether I could stomach watching the programme given the sponsors (I have a 20-year despisement of them that shows no sign of abating with age) and the apparent need for 'celebrities' to be involved - I would normally switch off such a programme. The subject matter, however, convinced me to give it a go. I too stuck with it and, although still appalled at some of the cynical 'product placement' (e.g. Bunton, apparently about to appear in another ITV programme needing promotion; the X-Factor winner, presumably part of the deal for showing X-Factor footage), was again proud at what our armed forces, and those around them, are capable of.

The world of the armed forces is so different to the world that the rest of us inhabit and we rarely fully appreciate this - both the positives, that come out in such a programme, that society benefits from (the sacrifices made by individuals and families, the stoical approach to injury with little involvement for multi-million pound compensation claims, and many more) and the negatives that society struggles to deal with (often once their service is over) - increased suicide rates, greater likelihood to end up divorced and homeless, children that have been shuffled from one army estate to another...

How we treat these same forces personnel in 10/20 years time, long after they've left the forces, will be a true measure of our respect for their sacrifices.