How did wearing a poppy become so meaningless?

It doesn’t represent anything anymore


Given the chance, people will find a way to allocate tremendous energy to completely unnecessary things.

Arguing about poppies – who should wear them, why you should wear them, how you should wear them – is one of these things.

In the last two weeks I think most people my age have spent more time scrolling through fuckjerry on Instagram than they have thinking about Remembrance Sunday.

They’ll be thinking about whether the terrifying double chin they see when they first open Snapchat is as visible to everyone else as it is to them –  not the fact some celebrity didn’t wear a poppy on a chat show.

They won’t be thinking about whether Jeremy Corbyn bowed low enough at the service today. They won’t be getting very upset if some radicals burn poppies in Bradford.

The boys – your brothers, your cousins – will be thinking about buying a swegway and the way Jamie Vardy has suddenly turned into Thierry Henry. It won’t have crossed their minds that were they alive 100 years ago they’d be in a trench, eating tinned corned beef, writing dreadful verse and using the word “bully” instead of “sick”.

I’m not saying this is right – maybe we should take poppies and what they’re supposed to stand for more seriously. Maybe we should stop to think about that which happened, that which continues to happen and the people left behind. Maybe we should be more mature about the world and what happens in it, instead of retreating into 15 second video mash-ups of Mick McCarthy and the John Lewis Christmas ad. 

But then you look at the way proper people – proper adult people with big salaries and children and mortgages – use poppies. They use them likes this:

Stay classy guys

Stay classy guys

War and sacrifice and honour and loss have very little to do with the poppy anymore.

The fact that the way we remember our dead is just another issue for people to divide into tribes and exchange insults over is a depressing reminder that there is nothing universal we can agree or aspire to in this country anymore.

The closest thing we have to a national community today is watching Gogglebox and saying “They’re just like us Mum!”

In the first half of the 20th century there weren’t debates over whether it was acceptable to wear a poppy, or a questioning of what it meant to be British, because everyone already knew what it meant.

My idea of England – Wayne Rooney snarling in the faces of referees, Hugh Grant’s bookshop in Notting Hill, Morrissey yodelling at the end of a bleak pier, Martin Amis and Virginia Woolf and Orwell, vinegar holders which look like this, Kristen Scott Thomas, the Poll Tax riots, the sound of the word “punk”, the smell of mown grass and Phil Mitchell hitting people – well, my England is not your England.

It’s not Kelly from Scunthorpe’s England, which is X Factor on Saturday nights; it’s not Adam from Reading’s England, which is tweeting with the hashtag #bbcfootball on Sunday afternoons.

The poppy doesn’t have any concrete universality anymore – me and Kelly and Adam all feel differently about it, if we feel anything about it at all. It’s become another gimmicky accessory trundled out once a year – like Dracula at Halloween, or Jesus at Christmas – which no longer represents what it ought to.