i hope you get cancer™

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Folk heroes

It's hard not to root for the gang who stole £50 million this week. While there's the little matter of the depot manager and his family who were traumatised in the robbery, there is a general, quiet sense of the British almost hoping they get away with it. Arrests after our heroes, eager to start earning interest on the loot, walked into the local bank with a big bag marked SWAG, adhere strictly to the comic-book discourse of bungling crooks. The trauma of the manager, his wife and 8-year-old son, weighed against the lives devastated by the Enron thieves, puts the Kent job firmly in the category of "good luck to 'em".

Which raises the question of why we tend to brand certain figures as either heroes or, literally in this case, villains, with no attempt to shade in more detail in between. Consider too the way that our soldiers fighting in Iraq are similarly divvied up: heroes (usually when they're dead) or villains (despite the protestations of the Defence Secretary). When they're not earning posthumous medals, or beating the shit out of unarmed civilians, British soldiers in combat are, to all intents and purposes, invisible in the public sphere.

While the flag-in-the-front-yard jingoism of the US sits ill with us Brits, it is odd that - whatever one's views on the war - the young men and women who are shipped out to kill for oil remain faceless cyphers to us, rather than real people not much older than my own kids.