David Blaine and the Great British Public

David Blaine has succeeded in, if nothing else, dragging British idiosyncracies to the surface.

I caught a Sky One special last night, an update on his 44-day water-fast on the banks of the Thames. I struggled to see some valid objections to his stunt, but for all my efforts, I just saw the faults of the objectors.

What riled me most thoroughly was the parade of very self-satisfied commentators—from gutter press journos to web designers on the bandwagon—telling me what I thought. "The thing you have to understand about us Brits is…" Well, we all generalise, fair enough. But what exactly is it that all British people have in common? Apparently, unlike Americans, we’re not all held captive by the cult of celebrity.

So who remembers the last time David Beckham had eggs thrown at him? Or had someone trying to cut off the water supply to his house? Questions like this start to reveal where our sense of the sacred has been relocated. Or where it still persists… What is it other than a long-standing cult of celebrity that leaves us still lumbered with a Royal fucking Family? And isn’t it the glow of media attention, more than any interest in (ahem) "real people", that made Big Brother such a hit?

A guy stands below Blaine’s perspex box, genuine anger in his face, holding up a thumb-rubbing-fingers gesture and shouting, "It’s all about the money! Money grabbing bastard!" I tried hard to see the same healthy cynicism that bred the Diggers and punk… But I just found myself thinking, this guy’s stood in the middle of fucking London. 98% of the activity going on all around him—the very bricks of the buildings the other side of the river—are all about money. Mostly serving much less interesting notions than Blaine’s self-starvation (and I acknowedge, that may well be saying something).

A couple of weeks ago, some rather more intelligent and genuine people organised a series of actions to protest against the Defence Systems & Equipment International exhibition (a.k.a. "selling guns to murderers"). That was all about money. Did this Blaine-baiter channel his anger there? I doubt it. There wasn’t much of a media presence, you see.

Some people, even otherwise interesting commentators, drag out the "Isn’t it obscene to make a spectacle of such a thing when so many people are really starving?" so-called argument. You mean, more obscene than the Royal fucking Family?

It seems to me that, far from any Great British Tradition of iconoclasm, we’ve a deeply embedded tradition of deference to icons. As our own celebrities become ever-more tarnished and rotten, we flail about in thoughtless insurrections, struggling against the dead weight of our subservient, compliant past. The Empire never ended.