A Birmingham amendment to Godwin’s Law

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Godwin’s Law is an Internet adage that states:

As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1.

I’d like to table a local amendment, which we’ll call Brummie’s Law (because I’m not naming it after myself):

As an online discussion about Birmingham grows longer, the probability of a boundary dispute approaches 1.

Over the past two days I’ve taken part in two online games, both played out on Twitter, that have revolved around Brummie culture and geogrpahy. #brumsouvenirs revolved around wordplay on Birmingham place names; the aim to come up with a souvenir idea that reflected the place name (the game was originated by Pete Ashton, who collected the greatest hits on his blog). The second game was #doesntmeanyourbrummie (sic), started as a response to the #doesntmeanyourblack meme (see, the grammar is fine, it’s part of the joke); this tag was about uniquely Brummie experiences.

Each game threw up border disputes pretty quickly, such as: 

  • “faggots come from the Black Country” (if you’re not a midlander this is OK to say)
  • “chips and gravy is a Black Country thing”
  • “Great Barr is in Walsall”
  • “can we do Wolverhampton?”
  • “why is everyone OK with Bearwood, when that’s mostly in Sandwell?”

I’ve had similar issues with pinning down Brum’s fuzzy edges in other areas of life: working with Jez on the Birmingham Music Archive; my current main project at BCU, working solely with “Birmingham” based businesses; and hanging out with a load of Brummies in Guernsey one summer who turned out to be from Kidderminster but found it easier to say they were Brummies. I’ve also had the pleasure of trying to work out a local news patch, bringing these boundary disputes down to a true “hyperlocal” level.

The way in which we conceptualise Birmingham as a place and Brumminess as a cultural identity are fascinating. We have a strange relationships with our borders and boundaries – there are all sorts of reasons why (local historians, please do add these to the comments), but one thing is certain: in the spirit of Godwin’s law, if you mention “Greater Birmingham” or drag up the second city debate, then you lose any Internet argument by default.

By Jon Hickman

Hi, I'm Jon. I teach and research digital culture, social media and new media practice at Birmingham City University. Find out more about me with this lovely CV: http://uk.linkedin.com/in/jonhickman Find out about my work at the Birmingham Centre for Media & Cultural Research: http://interactivecultures.org