Referring back to the period of increasing cultural pride and optimism of the UK in the 1990s, the panel discussed the changing nature of culture of a post-Brexit UK
James Meek, Jaishree Misra, Ahsan Akbar, and Olga Grjasnowa got together with Ed Cumming on a panel titled, “Uncool Britannia?” at the Dhaka Lit Fest 2018 to talk about the impact Brexit would have on British culture and beyond.
Referring back to the period of increasing cultural pride and optimism of the UK in the 1990s, the panel discussed the changing nature of culture of a post-Brexit UK.
Novelist Olga Grjasnowa, responding to Cumming’s question about her first encounters with English culture, reminisced about reading “Humpty Dumpty” at school, saying how “Humpty Dumpty had quite a career behind the iron curtain.”
DLF Director Ahsan Akbar joined the conversation, recalling the 1990s of Blur, Oasis and Tony Blair—all of whom, he said, contributed to the high hopes that the generation was known to have possessed.
However, Jaishree Misra, who had lived in the UK at the time, remembered the “coolness” as part of a Labour Party spin, seeing the bursts of optimism as too calculated to not have any agenda in them.
Akbar, however, contended that “culture will remain largely unaffected by Brexit.”
Novelist and journalist James Meek, who had grown up in Dundee, talked of his youth listening to punk music, saying, “Brexit is popular to the working class as punk was,” as both had annoyed the “respectable” class.
Olga Grjasnowa relayed her experiences on how Europeans reacted to Brexit, specifically Germany, as Ahsan Akbar talked of his experiences interviewing Bangladeshi immigrants in the UK who had voted “Leave” during Brexit in fear of losing their jobs and businesses.
The discussion then turned towards the English language, termed by Ed Cumming as “the UK’s biggest cultural export,” and panelists talked about whether its status as a global language in the future would change.
Jaishree Misra said, “English is a language of aspiration in India,” and added that as long as Indians were a dominant demographic in the world, English would persevere in one form or another.
Ed Cumming agreed, saying that due to English’s comparatively simple nature, as opposed to languages such as Russian or Chinese, it might have more success retaining its global status.
However, James Meek disagreed with the comment, saying that “any language [was] easy enough to be global.”
Both Misra and Grsjasnowa, nevertheless, stressed its importance. They both recounted their stories of how they did not share the same language with their spouses and had to do with English to communicate.
During the closing stages of the discussion, the panelists concentrated on how the language was being used in politics to obtain public support, referring to the British politician and former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson’s use of language, specifically how he uses “Latin words and a bumbling routine” to elicit an image of a Britain of the colonial era, and how he might take Britain “back to its greatness,” leading Ed Cumming to respond, “I can’t think of anything as uncool as Prime Minster Boris Johnson.”