A side effect of Great Britain actually starting to do well in the home stretch of the Olympics has been greater exposure to the wider world of the British national anthem. As of writing this, Great Britain has won thirty something Gold Medals, and, therefore, their national anthem has been broadcast around the world at least thirty-odd times. But, I must say, the more I listen to Britain’s anthem, the more I wonder whether it can really be classified a national anthem. Especially when I compared it to the likes of Advance Australia Fair and the Star Spangled Banner, it sounds more like a song concerned with one person than an entire country.
Before I begin, let me just categorically state that I am a British national. I even have a passport to prove it. So, as much as this is an attack on Britain, it really isn’t. It is more an attack on what Christopher Hitchens so aptly called “Britain’s Favourite Fetish”; the British Monarchy. And there really isn’t anything that represents this Fetish more than Britain’s national anthem. I count at least fifteen occasions throughout the song where the Queen is explicitly referenced (either as the Queen or through some feminine pronoun). And that is before we even get to the entire stanzas that are devoted to glorifying her and her reign, and the four occasions in six stanzas where the line “God save the Queen” is found. The first stanza reveals that the British are “Happy and glorious” to have her reign over them, the second asks for God to “Scatter her enemies”, the third asks her to “defend our laws”, the fifth asks God to save the Queen from assassins and other foes, and the sixth asks God to crush the Rebellious Scots (although I believe only the first three stanzas are song). Furthermore, not anywhere can I find any reference to anything British outside the Monarchy. Considering how well the Olympics opening ceremony was able to mine the rich depths of British history, it is a wonder that the British could not come up with at least one line to glorify it in their own national anthem. Really, how can we even call this a national anthem? It isn’t about a nation. Unless, of course, you consider the Queen and the Nation to be the same thing.
Now, that being said, I would hardly say I am in love with the Australian national anthem. Some of the lyrics, especially that concerning the physical landscape, are, actually, quite poetic. However, lines like “Of beauty rich and rare” are poor and in some respects childish. And, in light of the overwhelming hatred and distaste for Asylum Seekers, lines like “For those who’ve come across the seas, We’ve boundless plains to share;” are, quite frankly, comical. But the very least you can say about the Australian national anthem is that it is about the country and its people. It talks about how young Australia is as a nation. It talks about the beautiful landscape. It talks about integrating the myriad of cultures. And its chorus calls for everyone to “Advance Australia Fair”. The Australian National Anthem, then, is a little childish, a little poetic, and a little ironic. But, most of all, it is Australian.
Similar can be said of the American national anthem. An anthem I like very, very much. I have encountered the Star Spangled Banner quite often in my life, at the start of every NBA game for example. And, every time I do witness it, I cannot help but be impressed by the patriotism (despite my distaste for patriotism in general). To watch the athletes, onlookers, soldiers and leaders put their hands over their hearts and belt out their anthem is quite a sight indeed. Yes, it is mostly about their flag, but that flag represents them all. It is the symbol of the nation, bereft of colour and creed. Furthermore, it takes us through a short history of the violent tumult that that flag and the country have weathered throughout their short, but grand history. Rocket’s red glare and what not. And what could be more American than Americans proudly proclaiming/boasting that their country is the “land of the free and the home of the brave”?
I am not saying the Brits should change their anthem. If they are fond of it, then they should stick with it (I should really start using the pronoun “we”, but I just can’t bring myself to it). It is the same with the Monarchy, who I only begrudge for their insistence on adorning the money in other countries. However, I think we should seriously consider whether we can, in good faith, continue to refer to God Save the Queen as a “national anthem”. It really is not about a nation. It is about one person. It speaks not of the people, of the land, of the history, or of the future of the country. It only refers to one person and requests that God watch over her. To cap it all off, I can only find one time in six stanzas that the word “Britain” is used. So, when we compare it to the likes of Advance Australia Fair and the Star Spangled Banner, can we really say God Save the Queen is a national anthem?
Originally posted @ Sakalabujan Magazine