The clock strikes 8, and in suburban England, the white middle-England crowds stand on their modest doorsteps and perform The Clap for an abstracted and white-washed image of the NHS. This clapping is symptomatic of a hyper individualistic and cognitively dissonant British exceptionalism. The cherry on the top is a thinly veiled racism planted at the heart of the media’s presentation of the campaign.
In reference to the media’s representation of race, 40% of NHS doctors are ethnic minorities, yet many newspapers continue to represent the NHS as an overwhelmingly white organisation. This can easily be quite problematic when it’s presented alongside headlines calling for praise. The result? An association formed in the national consciousness that whiteness equals NHS and that this version of the NHS are our saviours. Which begs the question, just who is the clapping for?
There is also the issue of the hero narrative, not just for minorities, but for the organisation in its entirety. Service professionals are calling out for proper support. There have been comparisons of it being like front-line warfare without guns. This comment still does not seem to be noticed though. The population still seems insistent on standing on the porch every Thursday and glorifying the non-consensual, disproportionate and preventable sacrifice of our health professionals.
Theatrical in every sense, The Clap is without substance or ‘real’ action. Usually a clap is at the end of something, to mark a particular success – it’s uncomfortable seeing it performed during a national health crisis with an ever-growing death toll. But also, it’s part of the portrayal of the disaster: exaggerated positivity and individualism. While the mounting deaths in other countries are represented by sullen faces, in the UK, it’s shown with cheerful community policing, and individual civilian actions. This hyper individualism in the representation of support is useful for the government and has grave consequences for the population. If blame is to be placed, it will be those who went to the park, or took a trip to the shop to buy a crunchie, and not those who stripped the NHS of its assets and encouraged ‘herd immunity’. The Clap only reinforces this. Celebrating individual greatness unfortunately always means denigrating other individuals’ apparent lack of greatness.
The Clap, primarily aimed at the NHS, the same institution that has been mercilessly cut to the bone by the vultures that the population has elected for the past 15 years. Actually supporting the NHS through pay increases, in Matt Hancock’s view, is not to be discussed as it is ‘not the right time’. If a global pandemic doesn’t warrant a pay-rise for the NHS nurses, what does? While they may receive medals for their service, I’m sure many on the front-lines would much prefer PPE than chunks of metal on a string. These apparent incidences of cognitive dissonance demonstrate a desire to maintain the material state of society and inflate the ego of the British. After this is over, those medals will be handed out, Boris will be knighted, and it will be said the British ‘fought’ bravely, and ‘overcame’ this virus. The negligence of the government will be fed into a half-hearted report that will be ignored. Many who will have died will be the ‘undesirables’ of society, and much like with Grenfell, or the woeful pandemic report written in 2016, it will be swept under the rug.
Hyper-individualism and British exceptionalism have already shown their true colours during this crisis. Whether it be the police threatening to search your shopping baskets and patrolling parks for ‘ne’er-do-wells’ (people sat on benches). Or whether it’s the masculine adulation of Boris’ ‘fighting spirit’ delivered via lectern. Or perhaps it’s the war connotations regurgitated at every level of our discourse. All of these coalesce into a toxic cocktail. A cocktail that will result in a post-Coronavirus society consisting of an inflated nationalist ego and vitriolic othering language.
But perhaps, just maybe, the British people will be sobered by this disaster. Perhaps we will realise the medals don’t help, and those who ‘sacrificed’ themselves didn’t really want to be ‘sacrificed’ as a result of governmental negligence. Do not make us dread the aftermath of this disaster more than the event itself, do not set in a guarantee that many more will die if this ever happens again. The Clap won’t save us, it is not loose conceptions of national superiority that stops a health crisis, it is action. Don’t clap, just act.