Over at the film blog Mostly Film there is a post on a new film about Eddie the Eagle. For those unfamiliar with the background story, Eddie the Eagle is the nickname given to Michael “Eddie” Edwards who represented Great Britain in the ski-jumping in the 1998 Winter Olympics in Calgary. He became famous for being utterly shite – he finished last in both the 70m and 90m events. As Mostly Film recalls:
Do you remember Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards? The British love an underdog, so the cliche goes, and Eddie was the lowest dog of all: the ski-jumper who was never good enough to compete in the Winter Olympics, let alone win, but who somehow won the heart not just of a nation but of the world when he came last, twice, at Calgary in 1988.
I was 11 years old at the time, but I remember the coverage in the British media. We seemed almost proud of the fact that he needed to wear six pairs of socks to make his boots fit, and that his glasses (worn under his goggles) steamed up. There is no doubt that Eddie the Eagle captured the hearts of the British public. But the world? I’m not so sure.
There is an annoying habit of Brits whereby they assume others perceive them as they see themselves. One of the most egregious examples of this is the constant refrain that the NHS is “the envy of the world”. This claim would carry a lot more weight if it were foreigners expressing it and not Brits, and especially not those Brits who have a personal interest in the continuation of the NHS in its current form. Alas, if foreigners genuinely do hold the NHS in such high regard they seem reluctant to say so.
Another example can be found in this old BBC article:
With all the attention paid to this year’s Crufts dog show, the UK does not look like losing its unique reputation as a nation of animal lovers.
Despite having lived abroad for almost 13 years, I have never once heard a foreigner refer to Britain as a nation of animal lovers. Britain’s reputation seems to be one for drinking and fighting insofar as these are the activities most often commented on by foreigners who have visited our fair Isle, or had the misfortune to run into a bunch of us on holiday.
I’m therefore a little skeptical that Eddie the Eagle was seen by the rest of the world through the same feel-good lenses the Brits had on at the time. Whereas the British might see themselves as the plucky underdog in certain situations, it is probably a lot harder for foreigners to apply this label to a nation which recently had an empire which spanned the globe, influenced so much of the modern world, and remains a wealthy and reasonably powerful country capable of dropping bombs on uppity dark folk. The story of Eddie the Eagle was recalled by the media when the swimmer Eric Moussambani failed so charmingly in the 2000 summer Olympics, earning him the moniker of Eric the Eel. But the crucial difference was that Moussambani was from Equatorial Guineau, which few had ever heard of let alone could place on a map, and not a divisive former superpower with the 5th or 6th largest economy and a permanent seat on the UN security council.
I haven’t actually canvassed the opinions of what foreigners think of Eddie the Eagle, but I suspect he invokes ridicule rather than good-natured humour. But one friend of mine, a Norwegian, did offer his opinion thusly:
“You’re Great Britain! That’s the best you could find? He was a fucking embarrassment!”
I get why the Brits adored Eddie the Eagle, but I can’t help but find myself agreeing, at least partly, with the sentiments above. Britain cannot and will not ever be viewed as a plucky underdog by the rest of the world, and we should probably be a bit less quick to assume others share our sense of smug self-satisfaction.