From Latinx Icon To Nation’s Figurehead: The Iconography Of Paddington Bear
Paddington has become the face of Britain’s political divisions.
From Latinx icon, to the nation’s figurehead of national mourning, Paddington has become the face of Britain’s political divisions.
Following Queen Elizabeth II’s death on 8th September, thousands flocked to Central London to pay their last respects to the late monarch. Controversies swirling the royal family aside, she was after all the United Kingdom’s longest serving monarch and regarded as the rock in which modern Britain was built on. Mere months before her death, the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee was celebrated. In a video uploaded to the royal family’s Youtube channel, she invites Paddington to Buckingham Palace for tea and the two share a laugh over marmalade sandwiches. It’s an endearing video where nothing really happens - but its led several people to think the Queen and CGI Paddington Bear are IRL besties.
Now fast forward to the days leading up to the Queen’s funeral procession and heaps of marmalade sandwiches and Paddington memorabilia are strewn across the palace by mourners, so much so that the Royal Parks of London had to release a statement urging the public to refrain from leaving sweet perishables. In a Twitter thread, it was theorized that the marmalade sandwiches had been attracting rats.
On the internet, an illustration of Paddington and the Queen walking hand-in-hand into the sunset made its rounds. Disturbingly, Paddington now plays the part of a British interpretation of the grim reaper, and is asked by the Queen to take her to her husband, Prince Philip who died last April. If that weren’t enough, the BBC announced a “special broadcast” of Paddington 2 following coverage of the queen’s funeral on Monday.
So where did all this Paddington Bear frenzy come from?
If you’re not familiar with Paddington, a bit of background. In the original Michael Bond books, Paddington Bear is an immigrant who came to London from ‘Darkest Peru.’ Found in a railway station and fostered by Mr and Mrs Brown somewhere around 1958, he lived in Windsor Gardens and he charmingly bumbles through daily life as politely as he can, each time failing to grasp the basics of London life. Since the release of the popular Paddington Bear film series, he’s quickly become a political symbol that appears antithetical to the Queen’s insistence on presenting herself as apolitical. However, Paddington Bear rose to become the mascot for the Latin American immigrant experience - especially after the release of his 2014 and 2017 movies. His tale feels particularly timely and relevant against the backdrop of undocmented children being detained in the US, or closer to home - the systematic inequalities faced by immigrants in the UK.
Britain’s best loved illegal immigrant
Now, the internet loves the bear because he's become a sort of a new face of multiculturalism and immigration in the country. In response to the first Paddington movie, a think piece titled ‘Why Paddington is anti-UKIP propaganda’ was released by The Spectator. Earlier this year, the UK Home Office had put up deportation notices of Paddington Bear in protest to the government’s plans to deport refugees to Rwanda.
In the second Paddington film, which was released in 2017, a time marked by harsh anti-immigrant sentiment in the wake of Brexit and Trump’s election, the bear continued to highlight the injustice faced by minority groups in the UK, and even advocated for prison and judicial reform. Paddington Bear is Britain’s all-encompassing modern day symbol for liberal values.
Yet, it’s important to note the type of immigrant that Paddington is. Not all immigrants can speak fluent English or could access the resources to learn. Neither do all of them spend their whole lives obsessing over British culture. “Perhaps, the fictional bear has been so easily co-opted by pro-establishment conservatives because he’s been the archetypal Good Immigrant all along: he checks all their boxes and lets them believe they’re graciously welcoming an outsider.” writes Dazed’s Darshita Goyal.
Undoubtedly, the biggest element setting Paddington apart from other immigrants in Britain is that he is a fictional bear. But perhaps at this point, he’s less of a marmalade-loving bear and more of an ambiguous political battleground.