With BBC presenters asked to wear poppies two weeks before 11th November and the advent of the #poppyselfie, The Badger asks whether the Poppy Appeal has lost it’s message?
From TV, to magazines, to celebrities, the poppy is a symbol of being a ‘Decent Human Being’. Comedian David Mitchell said it best last year when he wrote: “It’s wonderfully humane and moving if everyone wears a poppy – but only if they don’t feel they have to, and wouldn’t fear not to… because they’ll have stopped meaning anything at all.”
Every year the BBC issues editorial guidelines for the wearing of poppies, stating that “Poppies may be worn on screen, for those BBC presenters, reporters and pundits/summarisers etc. wishing to do so” for the two weeks leading up to 11th Sunday. Note that it only says ‘wishing to do so’ rather than ‘must’, but how many BBC figures do you see not wearing one? And pushing on from that, what would we all think of someone who chose not to wear it?
The most famous recent example of an on-air personality refusing to wear a poppy is Channel 4 newscaster John Snow, who in 2013 stated on his blog his refusal to wear one on air was due to ‘poppy fascism’. He’s not alone in this- ITV News presenter Charlene White also refused to wear a poppy on air last year, on the grounds that if she can’t wear the emblems of other causes, like World Aids Day or Bowel Cancer Awareness Month, why should there be an exception for the poppy?
If people are wearing a poppy because they’re scared not to, over any personal respect to the little red flower, then we as a society have learned nothing.
The problem is that the Poppy Appeal, noble as their intentions may be, have been cleaned and polished to the point that no one can recognise what’s underneath anymore. I doubt that even that many students at this university even know what the poppy signifies. (It’s World War I by the way..)
Last year we had glittered poppies, and this year it’s all about the #poppyselfie. Does anyone else feel incredibly uncomfortable with this idea? As the social media machine is want to do, the message of ‘lest we forget’ is turning into a message of bland and insipid conformity. What’s next- flowers that play the theme tune to Blackadder?
While I do choose to wear a poppy, I do it because it means something to me- my brother is named after a great uncle that I never met because he died in World War II. The poppy is my way of remembering the family I never knew, not an excuse for a selfie.
‘Poppy facism’ is hyperbolic – wearing the poppy is still your choice.
In 2010 Channel 4 news presenter, Jon Snow, refused to wear his poppy on air and denounced the reaction he received as ‘poppy fascism’. I do not at all condemn Snow for refusing to wear the poppy. In fact I support his decision as it demonstrates that it should be his choice whether to or not. But I do believe that his comparison to fascism is hyperbolic and, in turn, has provoked condemnation towards those who do choose to wear it.
From reading numerous newspaper articles and blogposts written on the matter since Snow’s denunciation, it is clear that this idea of ‘poppy fascism’ is rife amongst journalists and commentators’ opinions. They criticise the poppy appeal for being too commercialised, forceful and promoting war. In doing so, however, they suggest that there is shame in wearing the poppy. This to me makes their argument contradictory.
They are stating that the appeal forces people into buying and wearing a poppy due to the fear that if they do not, they will be shamed and scorned upon. But are these critics not doing just that themselves by creating this exaggerated comparison to fascism that forces people to not want to wear it?
Nevertheless, for the majority of people, especially war veterans, the poppy is the an iconic symbol for the remembrance of those who were lost and those who endured the agonies brought about by both the Great War and all other wars that their nation is involved in. To accuse people of wearing the poppy for trivial reasons is incredibly insulting.
With regards to commercialisation, I see only benefits from celebrities, television presenters and politicians wearing the poppy due to the vast publicity that they create for the charity. After all, in logistical terms, The Royal British Legion would not exist without funding and, therefore, would not being able to carry out the welfare work and support that they do. The X Factor, for example, is used often by the critics to demonstrate this commercialisation negatively. However the show has an audience of 10 million viewers. That is 10 million people that may be inspired by the judges, contestants and presenters, whom are wearing the poppy, to support the cause.
If every one of those 10 million people bought one poppy for £1, that would be £10 million raised for the charity – a quarter of the figure that the Legion is hoping to raise during this year’s appeal. Additionally, rather than straying attention away from its roots and meaning, celebrities and public figures encourage the masses to learn about the charity. Younger generations in particular, whom are likely to have the least awareness of World War 1, admire their icons. If they see Lady GaGa or Frank Lampard on screen with a poppy pinned to or printed on their clothing they are likely to inquire to their families or teachers as to why and, as a result, learn about its meaning.
In all, my argument is that choosing to wear a poppy should be your choice and neither choosing to or choosing not to should not be condemned. What is important to me, particularly as a history student, is that the war is remembered and in whichever way that one wishes to remember it is up to personal choice.
Personally, I will pin the poppy to my lapel with pride. But, if you chose not to, do not enforce your view on those of us who do because, as in the words of Independent journalist, Stefano Hatfield, “sometimes in life, it really isn’t always about you”.