|Great Britain's R.R.S. Boaty McBoatface. Source: Google Images.|
In our present-day spirit of voter shenanigans, I give you the epic saga of Britain’s Boaty McBoatface.
For Americans who believe their vote doesn’t count, who believe Washington disenfranchises them at every turn, I say unto you – you’re far from alone in your views. Just ask our neighbors across the pond.
Last week, the British government rejected the results of its own online poll, which voted to name a new $300 million polar research vessel, R.R.S. Boaty McBoatface. Conducted last month by Britain’s Natural Environment Research Council, the poll sought a democratic way to name the massive ship while creating excitement for her arrival on the high seas.
But as suggestions and votes for the ship’s name poured in online, former BBC radio host James Hand put forth the name Boaty McBoatface, and an Internet star was born.
While other names were being bandied about – R.R.S. Henry Worsley and R.R.S. David Attenborough, to name a few – R.R.S. Boaty McBoatface pulled ahead quickly and won the contest with 124,109 votes. It was as if some cheeky IT bloke at the Ministry of Silly Walks had hacked the system and hijacked the results.
In the end, however, British humour won the day by winning the hearts and minds of ordinary people on the Internet. For many of us – including myself – it seemed as if William Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde, and Graham Chapman were looking down and smiling. Other humorous names for the ship included R.R.S. Clifford the Big Red Boat, R.R.S. Ice Ice Baby, R.R.S. Notthetitanic, and R.R.S. Big Metal Floaty Thingy-Thing. One offering, R.R.S. It’s Bloody Cold Here, garnered 10,679 votes.
But despite this rousing victory for e-democracy, London wasn’t laughing. When Tuesday arrived, NERC Science Minister Jo Johnson announced that the council would select a more “suitable” name for the ship. R.R.S. Boaty McBoatface had been sunk before she ever left port.
“There are many excellent suggestions among the 7,000 names put forward by members of the public, and we’ll make a decision as to which one should be put forward for the royal warrant when we’ve had a chance to review them all,” Johnson said.
On Thursday, Sir David Attenborough weighed in on the issue in an interview with the British newspaper, The Guardian. Attenborough, the man who commissioned Monty Python’s Flying Circus for the BBC in 1969, said the council should call the vessel “something serious.”
Attenborough also joked that he was “so disappointed” that his name did not top the list. For the record, Attenborough’s name placed fifth in the poll behind It’s Bloody Cold Here.
Indeed, Boaty’s ordeal has become wrought with irony. The country that brought democracy into the modern age squashed the results of its own online poll to prevent a taxpayer-funded ship from having a silly name. Boaty McBoatface is a silly name for a polar research vessel, but the e-majority bloody well spake. Instead of backpedaling, the British government should honor the original spirit of the poll, purchase a bottle of tax-supported champagne, christen R.R.S. Boaty McBoatface, and toast the democratic system. Hear, hear!
But alas, it is doubtful that will happen. Political ego always trumps the will of the people. I’ll lay you five-to-one odds the ship will be named for some Stodgy McStodgeface.
I’m sure I wasn’t the only American who got a chuckle out of the Boaty McBoatface story. But we shouldn’t laugh too loudly. Boaty’s nomination and subsequent victory were nothing compared to what we’re faced with this fall. If the Brits thought the R.R.S. Boaty McBoatface would be an embarrassment to their government, let them wait until November.
We Yanks will then show them what political embarrassment is really like.