Our love of a good loser

We enjoyed Eddie The Eagle crashing his way to failure on the ski slopes, we treasure Dunkirk, we guffaw at Norway's annual "nul points" in the Eurovision Song Contest. The very concept of The Weakest Link amuses because, to us, losing is immense fun.

Our reactions to winning are less positive. Partly this is because its comic potential is so much less. Beyond a wry "until next time", it is useless. But it is also because we are a "glass half-empty" culture, and winning is about glasses being full. You have to be mildly depressed to fit in here: self-disparaging, never the show-off and always unthreatening. This is sometimes attributed to the rapid loss of empire - but it goes far deeper than that.

It is found in all classes. Although Eton's motto is "Floreat Etona", it could equally be "Life is to be enjoyed, not endured" - and this is largely achieved by piss-taking. No one there gets away with taking themself seriously, however grand or wealthy their origins; self-mockery is the only recognised coinage.

The same is true from Liverpool to Newcastle to Glasgow. In films like Four Weddings and a Funeral, Gregory's Girl or Withnail and I, or in almost any sitcom or soap, the best-loved characters are brilliant at taking the piss out of themselves.

This sensibility also underlies the use to which we put our countless sporting fiascos. Those of us old enough to remember the footballing catastrophes of the 1970s lapped up Baddiel and Skinner's "30 years of hurt". And we gasped with admiration at Kevin Keegan's admission that the job of national coach was beyond him.

By contrast, almost everyone who is not a Manchester United supporter loathes their pride in their achievements. Exactly the same hostility applies when it comes to soap stars. Give us Nigel Pargiter any day over pushy Brian Aldridge in the Archers.

You can keep that money-grabbing show-off Ian Beale in EastEnders if the wit and modesty of Pauline Fowler are on offer. Stuff the loud-mouthed grandiosities of Mike Baldwin in Coronation Street if Bet Lynch is around to serve a sherbert or two.

It is no coincidence that in all these cases, the show-offs are also successful entrepreneurs upon whom the scriptwriters have rained misfortune. They are being punished for showing signs of having American attitudes to winning.

Likewise, the American concept of the loser is not one that fits comfortably with us. I recall what I believe was the first time "loser" was used as a term of abuse on EastEnders, in 1986. Ian Beale spat it at his cousin for not making more money. But even today, and despite all Thatcher's grisly efforts to persuade us otherwise, the word has not really been accepted by us. We remain committed to the idea that it is the playing that matters, not the winning or losing.

What is more, we are dead right. The heart of a fulfilled adult life is the playfulness to be seen in small children. Their unconfined joy in pretence, not their sometimes greedy, selfish grandiosity, is the model for our humour, our aliveness and our attitude to games. We still realise that it is only a game.

Thanks to guardian.co.uk who have provided this article. View the original here.


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