Naughty by nature: Why has Britain become so rude?

Posted on June 28, 2010 

Naughty by nature: Why has Britain become so rude?

In the Bawdy section of the Rude Britannia: British Comic Art exhibition which opened this week at Tate Britain, there’s a disembodied fibre-glass arm. It pokes rudely out the gallery wall, attached to a metal spring that causes it to move, rhythmically, up and down. The arm ends in a hand whose fingers are closed around an invisible object – but there’s no mystery about what the object might be. The title of Sarah Lucas’s piece is Wanker.

Many of us, I’m sorry to say, will have seen that slow, strumming gesture sketched in the air by drivers who have just overtaken us on the M4. It’s a masterstroke by Ms Lucas to select it as an embodiment of British rudeness, for it does several things with admirable economy. It accuses us of habitual masturbation (much ruder and more personal than calling us a fool or a cuckold), it shakes an aggressive fist, it impersonates a large and intimidating phallus, and it gesticulates at its enemies with a kind of insulting slowness.

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