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Don't Eat With Your Mouth Full

Where can we live but days?

steepholm steepholm
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Costa Memory
I've been trying to remember when the two-minute silence became so ubiquitous and socially mandatory: it certainly wasn't so in my childhood or youth. Today I drove to the shopping centre in town to buy a coat, and as I got out of the car (this would have been around 10.30) a voice echoed through the multi-storey car park informing everyone that a two-minute silence would be held at 11am, and please to respect it.

Now, I'm all about remembering (vide my last post), but I've always felt at best awkward and at worst mulishly resentful about being made to do it in some toe-shufflingly communal way, with one hand hovering over a packet of Rice Krispies. As it happens, I'd left the shopping centre by the time 11am came around, and was in the queue at Costa - but there too (as a hand-written notice on the till informed me) the two-minute silence was de rigueur. Eleven came, Mumford & Sons drained away from the shop speakers, the coffee machines fell silent. A few tables away a lone man talked obliviously to his companion for a little while ("Of course, that figure wasn't in the original set, but when they came to rerelease them it was included...") before being gently shhhhed. Someone else came into the cafe and remarked, "It's quiet in here!" - before a barista pointed out the note.

I, queuing for a skinny cappuccino, was part trying to take it seriously, part resentful, part embarrassed, part admiring of the earnestness of the Costa staff, part watching myself to make sure that I didn't despise them in some obscure way. By the time a cheery blast of the milk frother signalled that remembrance was over for another year, I was so freaked out that I was having a little fit of hysterical laughter. But silently, of course.

I've been trying to remember when the two-minute silence became so ubiquitous and socially mandatory

It's a phenomenon of the past two decades. I think it was already starting to become widespread before British troops were committed to Afghanistan and Iraq - I'd say that key events were the 50th anniversaries of D-Day and VE-Day. But it has become stronger since then, and post-2001 has seen the additional phenomenon of the observation of both Remembrance Sunday and Armistice Day.

I'm curious, too, about the phenomenon of 'silence inflation'. When I was young, these things always seemed to be one-minute silences. Then, as though to signal that some events were particularly sad and worthy of reflection, two-minute silences began to appear - I remember them in connection with 9/11, for example. But of course once two minutes are on the table, holding a silence of only one minute's duration seems frivolous and half-hearted by comparison. The result seems to be that they are fading from memory, as all are ramped up to two. Where, oh where, shall it all end? ;-)

Armistice Day has always been two minutes, since 1919.

My guess is 11 - which fits both the Armistice theme and Spinal Tap.

(no subject) - strange_complex, 2013-11-10 04:00 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - shewhomust, 2013-11-10 04:03 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - strange_complex, 2013-11-10 04:16 pm (UTC)(Expand)
What I remember from my childhood (1950s) is that Remembrance Sunday was something that Other People did; in our circles it was regarded as excessively militaristic. Ditto wearing a poppy.

I would date its rehabilitation to the 1990s, linked with a demand to do our remembering on Armistice Day - 11/11 itself - not some convenient Sunday.

Because, of course, when I was a child the sort of public manifestations you are describing would not have been possible: none of those places would have been open.

The RBL was agitating for observing 11/11 for a long time, but right through the 1990s it was quite possible to stand in front of a war memorial at 11 am on the 11 November and be the only person there - I know, because often it was me. I think such an experience would be much more rare today.

A two minutes' silence, observed on 11/11 itself, not on some convenient Sunday, is a major plot point in Dorothy L. Sayers' The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club (1928). I expect that in some form it dates back to 1919 or even 1918 itself, as the exact time of the armistice had been set in advance and everyone on the front was awaiting the moment when the guns would fall silent; possibly those back in England were using the silence to express that.

The most clear US example of this kind of enforced patriotism (we celebrate 11/11, which we call Veterans' Day, on the anniversary itself, but the silence is unknown here) is the singing of the National Anthem. Every professional sporting event begins with this, often rendered supremely badly by some pop singer whose voice is not equipped for such a melody. It is also played occasionally at other cultural events: most symphony orchestras begin the first concert of the season (but not other concerts) with it. Occasionally a conductor will be cheeky enough to use Stravinsky's arrangement, which is sufficiently unconventional that it supposedly got Stravinsky indicted for sedition in Boston.

But the repeated usage at sporting events has created such a strong association that whenever I hear it, even at the symphony, it requires great self-control not to call out at the conclusion, "Play ball!"

I'm a little young to remember it (at times it seems to me that I do remember, but I think I'm confusing my memories with someone else's), but the National Anthem used to be played at the end of every showing of a film in this country - with cinema goers standing to attention amid the popcorn.

If you wish to experience this, you can apparently still find the same thing in Thailand.

(no subject) - strange_complex, 2013-11-10 05:15 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - nineweaving, 2013-11-10 07:14 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - steepholm, 2013-11-10 07:16 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - nineweaving, 2013-11-10 07:34 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - nineweaving, 2013-11-10 08:33 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - sovay, 2013-11-10 05:11 pm (UTC)(Expand)
a voice echoed through the multi-storey car park informing everyone that a two-minute silence would be held at 11am, and please to respect it.

. . . Am I utterly off schedule? I thought tomorrow was Armistice Day, with the two minutes' silence for memory. Or is this a nearest Sunday thing that the U.S. does not observe?

[edit] Never mind, it's a U.S./UK difference, and Wikipedia believes the first two minutes' silence was held in 1919.

Edited at 2013-11-10 05:12 pm (UTC)

It's always been there for those who like that sort of thing. As shewhomust and strange_complex both point out, its recent apparent obtrusiveness is partly due to the gradual secularization of Sunday; but we also appear to have started enforcing silence on the 11th itself these days, I suppose for good measure.

I suspect though that the (then largely untapped) British love of communal emoting that was released with the death of Princess Diana is partly to blame. Suddenly the Brits felt their upper lips unstiffen, and it felt so good that now they take any opportunity to repeat the experience. (It was around that time that studio audiences learned to whoop in the American manner - something that always makes me feel like a foreigner in my own land.)

Edited at 2013-11-10 05:28 pm (UTC)

(no subject) - sovay, 2013-11-10 05:50 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - steepholm, 2013-11-10 07:03 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - joyeuce, 2013-11-10 08:52 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - steepholm, 2013-11-10 09:26 pm (UTC)(Expand)
Now I'm confused. I feel that I do remember observing the 2 minute silence back in the 50s and early 60s, but perhaps that was on the Sunday when I would have been in church on the Sunday morning? Or possibly observing Remembrance Sunday with the Guides? It could also have been a regional difference.

But you're right about the secularisation of Sundays now making the observance more obvious.

(Deleted comment)
That's rather splendid.

(no subject) - nightspore, 2013-11-10 11:01 pm (UTC)(Expand)
Something almost the opposite happened to me quite recently. On Thursday I was in Canterbury cathedral, with a group of fellow postgrad/early-career medievalists having a tour-lecture on twelfth-century art and architecture. An elderly woman's voice came over the Tannoy, requesting that visitors to the cathedral stop for a moment and 'use the building for the purpose for which it was built, by joining us in prayer.' Now of course I don't think anyone actually expects all tourists to stop and do this, if only because a numer are likely to not be Christian. But it is the sort of thing I like--I actually enjoy communal remembrance and thoughtfulness, and because I am actually religious, with a historian's respect for ancient churches, I do also very much enjoy using them for quiet contemplation. Also, because of the culture in which I grew up, I tend to be uncomfortable going about my business while people are praying. So it was jarring to me when nobody in our group so much as registered this announcement--the tour guide went on, the students went on asking questions, and I tried to divide my attention between the echoing tones of a prayer for peace and the voice of our tour guide talking about monks torching Romanesque buidlings for the insurance money. (Well, not quite, but close.) I understand the not stopping--pausing for prayer in an academic conference is perilous at best--but I still would have liked to.

Perhaps you should have. I appreciate the Quaker meetings I occasionally go to, where silent communal prayer/meditation is all the rage. And I do try to be reflective even when I have no one to egg me on. On the other hand, I feel a little resentful of the hard sell. If I want to use a church for prayer - well, it's open for that purpose all the time and advertises itself as such; and if I want to do it with other people, why then I can take advantage of the services they run at regular intervals.

English churches - and particularly cathedrals - have become very confused about their purpose. The fact that they mostly more-or-less charge admission suggests that they're aware many of their visitors come for touristic/historical/architectural reasons, but then they slip in this business of using it for its "original purpose". That seems off to me - as if I were visiting the Coliseum and a tannoyed voice piped up urging me to use the building for its original purpose by killing a gladiator.

(no subject) - ashkitty, 2013-11-10 08:17 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - steepholm, 2013-11-10 08:26 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - ashkitty, 2013-11-10 08:37 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - kalimac, 2013-11-11 07:50 am (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - steepholm, 2013-11-11 07:56 am (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - cmcmck, 2013-11-11 11:50 am (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - steepholm, 2013-11-11 01:55 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - kalimac, 2013-11-11 07:51 am (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - steepholm, 2013-11-11 07:57 am (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - ashkitty, 2013-11-11 11:40 am (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - steepholm, 2013-11-11 11:41 am (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - ashkitty, 2013-11-11 11:43 am (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - ashkitty, 2013-11-11 11:38 am (UTC)(Expand)