Poppy-Wearing and National Grieving as Political Tools

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Poppy-Wearing and Memory as Political Tool

            I do not wear the poppy. I feel guilty and shameful for not doing so and therein lies the problem. There is a problem when not wearing a symbolic pin makes more of a statement than wearing it, when local shops and restaurants all sell the same pin that gets thrown to the garbage every year so that people can buy it again the following year — basically, when the State implicitly forces its members to mourn strangers with a tangential capitalistic, imperialist, and wasteful component. Let us remember British journalist and newsreader Charlene White who has faced racist and sexist abuse for not wearing a poppy on-screen, and that many people in the UK have been arrested for burning poppies.

            The poppy is a pin people wear in the Commonwealth in the few weeks before (and often after) Remembrance Day to honour the victims of World War I. I would first like to raise the question: until when will we commemorate these people? Considering all of them are deceased, and many of their children are as well, when will we stop mourning these people as a nation? At this point, aren’t we just mourning idealized, semi-fictional people? Turning people into heroes as a state effort to align its people behind them? In fact, there is nothing romantic about the war. This is not something we should strive to turn our young men and women into. The people that were forced to fight are not heroes, they are victims. Victims of their heads of state that play chess with them in an unquenchable thirst for power.

            By guilting us into wearing the poppy, into admiring victims, the State, as our ultimate patriarch, is telling us boys to look up to our fathers and walk into their steps — steps that It forced them to walk into. It is telling us what real men are and what we should strive to become. By refusing to wear the poppy, I’m not disrespecting our men and women that died on the front, on the contrary, I’m refusing to obey to the implicit order of grieving them, in order to respect people who truly should grieve them. Grief shouldn’t be used as a political tool, as something that people must forcefully flaunt. Columnist Dan O’Neill wrote that “presenters and politicians seem to compete in a race to be first – poppies start sprouting in mid-October while the absence of a poppy is interpreted as absence of concern for the war dead, almost as an unpatriotic act of treachery,” while in the past, the poppy was only worn on Remembrance Day itself. Poppy-wearing becomes shallow, void of the emotional baggage mourning is supposed to bear, and becomes used by the capitalistic State to control the masses. It is an insidious tool that society has internalized, its members surveilling each other to make sure that everyone is falling in line, mourning and admiring the same unknown dead people. It is indeed an Ideological State Apparatus, as Louis Althusser would call them. The State sells poppies with one hand and guns with the other. It preaches remembrance one month of the year but wages wars the other eleven. Attention is indeed distracted from current geopolitical and economic crises when we (pretend to) remember events from a century ago.

            It is out of respect for the humanity of each fallen individual that I choose not to buy a poppy, for mourning is not meant to be flaunted, forced, or marketed, but subjective, much like any healing process. I do not want to appropriate this symbol when none of my close relatives have fallen in the war. Individuals may indeed find solace in the unity of this mourning, so I do not criticize people who wear the poppy, as most of them only see it as showcasing respect, much like holding the door for someone behind you. But the process itself has rotten over the years, and some people perpetuate this forceful grieving by imposing a manner in which one should grieve, and grieving is indeed entirely subjective. Two siblings affected by the same death of a parent may heal in opposite ways: one by wearing a poppy and relishing into beautiful memories, one by not wearing it and moving on as fast as possible. It isn’t up to society or the state to impose a way, or to impose grieving. Showing off your grief doesn’t make you a better person. It might help you heal, which is entirely legitimate, so do not feel bad if it helps you personally to commemorate. But do not perpetuate this silent (or not so silent) shaming of people who don’t wear the poppy. They are not any less respectful than you are. Some might be even too hurt to want to show it openly. And please understand how it is used as political tool if you decide to wear it. You might not personally see it as such, or may wish to disregard this aspect of it, but people who do not wear it are not doing so out of disrespect, on the contrary, they don’t wanna appropriate your grief, they have too much respect for it, while also making a statement against its use as an Ideological State Apparatus. Lest we forget but lest we be distracted from the actual catastrophe of warfare and manipulated into remembering strangers.

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