Friday, 20 January 2017

LaLaLa Reviewland

La La

What is Art?
It’s a biiiig, oooool’
SONG! AND! DAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!A!A!A!N!C!E! Number, with loads of people.
(At the start.  And then not at all after that.  It’s just to set the scene.)

Art (and, particularly, performed art) is the only area of life where you can get away with being irascible, erratic, an asshole to colleagues and customers, unreliable and self-destructive – and still be respected and admired, if you’re “a genius”, or different from most other people/artists.
If you are an office administrator, no one will ever say about you: “He turns up late, sometimes not at all, he does nothing when he’s here, he’s rude and doesn’t get on with anyone else in the office – but, oh my, the way he manages spreadsheets!  Poetry in motion.  He’s a genius.  So, we just put up with him being a dick.  He’s a nightmare – but he’s a fucking genius.”
If you are a brick-layer, meteorologist, barista, cleaner, dentist, laboratory technician, President of the International Olympic Committee, delivery driver or Head of Purchasing for an NHS Trust, no one would ever have said the above about you.  If you are a – well, you know.  You would use three off that list. 
But this isn’t about the stand-up routine you never had the gall to perform, or even write.
It is about Art.
You will, no doubt in all sincerity, think “Balls to anyone making a big-budget Hollywood film who thinks to pass ham-fisted comment on individuals trying to make it in Hollywood.
“In this day and age”, you added, in your head.  How smug and petty it all seemed; you remembered Chris Rock’s warning about the targets of comedy: if you are aiming above you, go ahead.  If you’re a middle-aged white guy in a suit, where are you targets?  (You were paraphrasing, naturally.)  And you considered (in the same moment – also the same moment you noticed that thoughts do not occur sequentially) that the Tim Robbins film, The Player, at least satirised the influential producers of Hollywood and the culture in general.  That was all very well, but if they’d misfired on it, it would have come off cruel, like it was aimed at aspiring actors.  Perhaps even as if it was aimed at a lot of people who are in the thing which is failing miserably to hit a target, you thought.  Which would have made it look a bit callous.  You did think that, didn’t you, even though you were rarely sure about these things, in that day and age.
La La La
There are a few amusing moments in the film, but by far the funniest is at the end, just as the house lights go up, a woman in the middle of a row near the back turns to her companion and says “That was fucking shit!”.  Everyone looks round as she explains exactly why and how it was shit (she lists the reasons, and makes a convincing argument).  Her companion, smiling in a wry sort of way, asks if she is joking, and she assures him she’s not, asking pointedly: “Did you like it?  Did you like it?  Did you like it?”
Her companion giggles nervously, while people in the surrounding seats look at her, aghast.  Presumably, they have enjoyed the film.  Or they are just surprised by such a blunt criticism of a critically-acclaimed film, and unused to such candour.  The woman does have a northern accent.
It’s a disappointment to the woman who thought it was shit, perhaps, because her expectations have been high.  Maybe because everyone in her facebook feed has declared the film a triumph.  On the way out of the cinema, the woman and her companion try to list The Few Things That Are Actually As Good As Everyone Says They Are, and can only name a few (OK Computer, Pet Sounds and Trainspotting are the first three, in case you’re interested).  It pays to be wary of hype and high praise for these things, the woman opines; in this day and age, it seems essential to take seriously little or nothing of what we see on facebook and the like….
Her companion, who has said little until now, counters:  “There’s a lot of stuff in it: first, I didn’t like it at all, then I didn’t like it much, then I liked it a bit for a while in the middle, and then I was unsure about the end.  I didn’t particularly like it, but there were some enjoyable moments – but my expectations were low, so I’m not too disappointed.  If one expects disappointment, one is rarely disappointed…”
Following the pair down the street, (we can do this because it’s third person, so the prose can just follow the most promising set-up, without regard to the privacy of the characters described).
The whole discussion seems a bit disjointed, like the pair can’t decide between a whimsical take on a film review, a comment on the life of artists in the popular arts and the shallow culture of Hollywood, a big, ol’ fashioned song & dance musical, or all of the above. 
It doesn’t really succeed in any.
In the end, the companion laments:  “But this film isn’t for me.  Films never are, and neither should they be.”
The day after, I will take my usual route through the park, past the lake with the heron which reminds me of a Faith No More album cover, which I will eventually remember is called Angel Dust, though I will not be able to decide if it’s any good or not.
I will see the M32 bridge over the Eastville roundabout framing the Victorian townhouses on the other side, lit orange-gold and pale blue by a beautiful winter sunset, waning natural light answered by electrical light.  I will pause and look.  I will breathe it in.
I will be glad to have something to think/write about that isn’t the dystopian nightmare present playing out on a show called The News that used to be taken seriously.  I will consider that in this day and age it seems faintly ludicrous to present something fantastical that aims to make whimsical and playful music out of mundane situations, given the precarious grip we all seem to have on reality.  But I will also recognise that it takes a long time to make a film, and so will not expect a film to be timely.  I will also probably think that it is late in the day for a pastiche of Hollywood’s Glory Days, and that a glamorously old-fashioned font used for credits and some playing with colours does not constitute an homage.
Glad as I am to not think about these things for a Hollywood minute, I will likely be compelled, somehow, to realise the country Hollywood is in is currently transitioning from a leader who is a cautiously optimistic, pragmatic, modest, thoughtful orator and consensus-builder frustrated by partisan congressional intransigence, to one who seems a negative, abusive, narcissistic, bellicose, delusional schoolyard bully with verbal diarrhoea.  There is a film in there, but we’ll probably have to wait a few years for it, since most of us did not predict the farce currently playing out as reality which has killed any surviving vestige of satire and rendered jokes about stupidity utterly inadequate – redundant, even; it will definitely make the playful nonsense of Hollywood seem a bit hollow.
Because, despite the technical and commercial realities/constraints, no piece of art/entertainment can be divorced from the context in which it is made/presented.  And nor should it be.
The Inevitable, Simple-Minded Tying Up Of Loose Ends
So, it is OK, but could be so much better, and isn’t as clever or interesting as it thinks it is. 
Like me.

Friday, 13 January 2017

Review Review

The Big Fat Quiz Of Everything is one of those comedy panel shows that make up 56% of TV.  This one hasn’t even got Frankie Boyle or Rob Brydon, because it’s not 2004.  But it has got Noel Fielding, because apparently it’s 2001, or something. 

Jimmy Carr is presenting, and, like all comedians, he has a really odd laugh.  It goes Huh!  Huh!  Huh!  Huh!  Huh!  HHUUUUUUUH!  If something is really funny, or just the first syllables if it’s only a little bit funny, like the funniest things David Walliams has ever said.  If it’s really really funny, like one of the three things Richard Ayoade says in any two-hour period, he adds in an extra two or three syllables.  It sounds like he’s climaxing, in a really sarcastic way.
This thing is two fucking hours long.  (The programme, not the climaxing.  Or the laugh.)
(That’s not the kind of joke I like, normally.  But it was inspired by the thing it is reviewing, so it's appropriate.  That’s how reviews should work, isn’t it?  There’s no reason they shouldn’t be creative, is there?  Mind you, I tried to be funny in a live music review and one commenter described it as "unnecessarily bitter".  Sadly, however, the commenter didn't specify the necessary level of bitterness, so I wasn't able to correct it in line with the feedback.)
Still, as I say, Richard Ayoade is on it.  His appeal used to be that he was a bit odd and delivered a refreshingly abstract and occasionally intellectual (it’s all relative) take on the well-worn panel comedy quiz formula.  Now he’s been on telly for a while, including this type of thing, his appeal is that he does these shows as if he’s too good for them.  He conveys this with faint embarrassment at having delivered a deadpan joke as if it’s not a joke.  It’s basically the same, but he says a little bit more and is a little bit less funny.  He is a film director, so maybe he does these to make money for a new film project.  How would I know?  He’s still the most interesting person on this show, or any like it, by far.
Richard Ayoade’s teammate is Noel Fielding, who has done little/nothing of interest since The Mighty Boosh, and has spent most of the time being on these kind of things.  The allure of this kind of work must be hard to resist for a flamboyant person who likes dressing up and knows he is wittier and more interesting than most people who go on these things.  Still, it’s all relative, isn’t it?
I saw one a while back with Fielding on the same team as Brand.  It was like watching someone fall over; I felt it was wrong to laugh, but it was a bit funny.  They both come off as preening tossers who are quite amusing (for a strictly limited time) while being preening tossers, but are both also reasonably interesting and funny people when they are not.  Everyone is more than one thing.  But it’s very hard to be multi-dimensional, or interesting, or play to one’s strengths on these kind of TV programmes.  It’s not what they’re for.
Come to think of it, I’m not sure at all what they’re for. 
(Although it’s not me, I‘m sure.)
On day one of my A Level Media Studies course, the tutor made an important distinction: that Media Studies, unlike Literature and most other Humanities subjects, does not study what is judged to have inherent value or quality.  Media Studies s about looking at anything that exists for consumption, regardless of quality – or even interest.  I have never forgotten that astute observation, and it makes sense now that there are a million channels to fill, and less and less money to fill them…
And it’s the reason I watch things I don’t really like and then write an arrogant, smugger-than-thou review of them.  But I’m not a professional reviewer, you know?  I just do it because I like writing/expressing opinions for which no one has asked/feeling good about myself by criticising/talking down to others, in increasingly florid language.  (Isn’t that why anyone writes reviews, these days?  Surely it’s not a paying job any more…?  It’s not even journalism, in most cases; like most internet content, it’s aggregation.)
When I was in a band, aged eighteen, we didn’t play many headline sets.  But we managed a few.  One of those shows was reviewed in our local reviews and listings magazine, considered something of a city institution at the time (the magazine, not the show.  Or the band). 
The review spent a column and a half on the opening act, a column on the middle act and a short paragraph on us.  Which seemed ass backwards to me.  Until I realised the reviewer had to arrive in time for the first band and presumably started drinking immediately, getting progressively more arseholed as the night wore on.  By the time we upstarts took the stage, s/he was less inclined to take notes, or even take note of whatever we were doing.  We were probably fairly shite, but we were entertaining.  That’s my review of that band.
But the actual review of that band mentioned little about what we did or how it sounded, and nothing about the reaction we got – which was surprisingly favourable; people laughed a lot; we were a silly, fun band.  Audiences always create the atmosphere in which music is played.  Music in an empty room is very different to music performed in a room with 1000 people for the express purpose of witnessing/experiencing it.  (In our case, playing in a practice room with just us in there was very different to playing at The Fleece to tens of people, including all of our closest friends.)
I’ve not seen many reviews that mention how the crowd at the thing react to the entertainment on (or off) stage.  That seems like a glaring omission: the whole point of live music is to gather people together to witness/participate in music.  So why do reviews treat the on-stage spectacle as if it could easily be done without the audience?  Or as if the audience simply isn’t there?  TV reviews sometimes mention viewing figures, but it’s not the same, is it?
I like honesty, so when I review live shows, I mention that I have been drinking.  If it’s relevant.  Which it often is.  There’s a paucity of contextualisation in standard reviews; that which is given tends to focus narrowly on the back catalogue of the artist in question.  There is an absolutely standard way of reviewing things that is of no interest, and seems like a joyless, witless grind for the writer.  Luckily, no one pays me to write all this, and (relatively) few people pay any attention, so I can say whatever I want, in whatever way I want.
An object lesson.

Friday, 6 January 2017

Dispatches from the real world #1: 2016 Review Review

“It is the excess of reality that makes us stop believing in it.”
Jean Baudrillard, The Intelligence of Evil, Or, The Lucidity Pact

I went out into what is euphemistically known as The Real World (not exactly the one from the 90s MTV series The Real World, although probably about as full of self-regarding dicks seeking the attention of strangers for their tedious antics).  Because the online world has never appealed as much, and because it got particularly ugly and/or sad in 2016.

In Real Life (hereafter IRL), as opposed to the worldwideweb (hereafter www), there is still a lot of pleasantness and it outweighs the unpleasantness.  At least in my (limited, specific, entirely subjective) experience.  It still takes a lot of nerve to be really horrible to someone’s face.  To be viscerally unpleasant.  Most of us have no stomach for it, except for rare circumstances.  In the www, however, no one can see you, and you can’t see them, so it’s much easier to suspend norms of politeness, embarrassment and empathy, and just say whatever you want.  This is great for creating a (physically) safe space to argue about contentious things, but it also tends to embolden those who want to scream and shout and be horrible instead of making an argument.  (And that’s all of us, at least some of the time.)  At the extreme end, some people love being dicks to others and don’t have the courage to do it IRL, even with the help of alcohol.  These people are probably best avoided unless and until they can get their shit together. 

I watched a television programme, which is technically not RL – but possibly more reliable as a representation than the www, simply because of its narrow focus and comforting familiarity; we all know what a stereotype is, we all know that news presents a particular point of view (whilst (supposedly) aspiring to objectivity, as if that’s possible or even desirable); but the www net is completely open, which is great, until it isn’t.  When I was a Media student, it was all about looking at media critically.  When it comes to checking sources and considering bias on the internet, it should be much easier, given the wealth of information.  But it is easier than ever to make some shit up that someone will believe.  So, it’s harder given the wealth of information.  And all of this depends on the sophistication of the Reader.  And the Reader is anyone.  So….
Anyway, the TV thing was Charlie Brooker’s 2016 Wipe, which went with the usual “2016 was a horrorshow” angle.  What seems to have upset Charlie more than anything else last year was Jeremy Corbyn, for reasons the intrepid former Guardian columnist neither explains nor qualifies.  This is one reason I didn’t enjoy it much; another is that it was supposed to be funny, but wasn’t very funny – because it’s mostly dealing with things that are not funny. 
A friend described Brooker as the “Clarkson of the left” a while back, and I thought it was a bit unfair, mostly because I liked him and his funny pieces in the Grauniad; and partly because he rarely wrote about politics, and I’d seen nothing partisan enough to incline me to agree with that assessment.  However, watching this made me agree a lot more.  Brooker, who I still  like (intelligent people disagree, and I have agreed a lot less with more intelligent people and still stayed friends with them), affected a kind of amused detachment at Michael Gove, Liam Fox and others, and saved his gentle ire for Corbyn, which I found bemusing.  Because everyone in news media has been either casually dismissive of, or openly hostile toward, Jeremy Corbyn, without ever presenting an argument as to what it is they don’t like about him or his proposed policies.  As if that mediated representation is just what everyone thinks, so that’s how they have to present it…I wonder why people get their news from the internet.
It wasn’t just that the programme referred to Corbyn more than any other politician, it was the snide tone – an odd mix of casual dismissal and vague disapproval that would be expected of the BB…oh, wait, it was the BBC. 
Mind you, the bit with the keyboard player out of D:Ream admitting that Things Can Only Get Better is un-scientific and inaccurate was good fun.  Overall, it probably wasn’t bad, but the Corbyn thing was annoying.
Still, Television is going the way of fax machines and skinny jeans.  That’s progress, isn’t it?  It’s neither wholly positive nor wholly negative, it just is.  (It just is what we make of it, that is…)

Back IRL, I rode my bike through Eastville Park for the first time this year.  The lake was frozen and it looked beautiful with the sunlight glinting on it.  There weren’t many birds around, which is unusual.  Maybe they were sheltering from the cold.  Anyway, it all looked lush, so I took my phone out to get a picture.  My plan was to take one every day this year (or at least one or two a week) to show the changing seasons and that kind of thing.  I often think I’d rather not take pictures of things that look beautiful, and that it’s preferable to experience them in the moment and remember it as an experience, rather than an image.  Because how you feel about things is more important than how they look, and how you remember things is at least as important as how, exactly, they happened.
But the phone’s storage was full so I couldn’t take one – and after I spent a minute deleting some old pics, the phone gave up completely and switched itself off.  (It is old and battered and easily confused; and yet, headstrong).  So I have no picture to show to prove it.  In the www, this means it never happened (even though you can make convincing-looking pictures of things that definitely didn’t happen and people will sometimes think that means they did).  However, IRL, I can describe it and you might just believe that it was real, or that I really had the experience of it, and that even if I didn’t, or it didn’t happen exactly as I described, that the experience and the experience of the relating of the experience tells us something anyway, and is probably worth sharing.  And that what constitutes “reality” is not fixed and experience is more important.  And then you might think: yes, that’s the world of today. 
For better or worse.

Mostly for better, for me, anyway.  But the world is what we make it, isn’t it?  (Based on our subjective experience of it.)
Same as it ever was.

Also, through December, and into this year, I read The Sorrow Of War by Bao Ninh.  It’s moving and sad and the best book I have read about the war in Vietnam, and has an interesting style and way of dealing with history/memory/linear time and biography.

So, to sum up:

The Bad News
The world hasn’t ended yet.
Everything on television
Your experience is not everyone else’s experience.

The Good News
The world hasn’t ended yet.
You do not have to watch anything on television, and if we all stop watching it, the whole thing might just end, quietly, without much fuss.
Your experience is not anyone else’s experience.

Friday, 30 December 2016

Review: 2016

Went to see the new Star Wars film the other day
Wasn’t that good – but that’s ok,
Movies aren’t made for me, are they?
Anyway, it was alright.
Riz Ahmed was in it.
And Peter Cushing was in it
And the kiddie out of Rizzle Kicks,
Who even gets a few lines;
Good for him, mind.
(Last time I seen him, he was in a battle rap where
The other fella called him a prick
And he said No, you’re the prick,
If anyone is.  Or something like that,
I’m sure you know about these things.)
And there’s loads of other people in it I recognised,
Including Carrie Fisher, who died
The day before I saw it.
Which made me think about all the people who died this year, like
Some people I knew, and some people I didn’t
Bowie, Cohen, Prince,
George Michael, Phife Dog –
The list goes on and on.
But then I think about all the people I know who are still alive,
Who will survive the year.
Those I know, and those I don’t.
And then I think of all the terrible things that happened this year
That all those Review Of The Year TV and radio things
Will talk about
And there’s plenty of them,
Which will employ humour to mask the pain of change
And the fear that 2017 might be
Even worse.

But then I remember that
The 20-year civil war in Colombia came to an end this year
Which, if you are not from/in Colombia,
You probably won’t know about.
But you probably should, because it might just be instructive
And give us an idea how to resolve conflict.
Also, this year someone put a cash machine on Stokes Croft
That charged a couple of quid for patrons to retrieve their money.
It lasted about two days of extreme graffiti,
Before it was removed.
A couple of months later, a free cash machine was installed on the wall
Of a takeaway just opposite the place
Where the first one was taken away after a few days.
It might sound like nothing, but I think it has implications
And demonstrates, (perhaps in a crude way), at the very least, that we
Still can control our environment and community.

Also, Leicester won the Premiership – which, to be fair,
You need not care about if you are not in/from Leicester.

But I heard a song about death in 2016,
And the chorus floored me:
“One little flicker of light
Can erase the dark.”

Anyway, in the new Star Wars film,
There’s a holy city, which appears to me
To be based, very deliberately, on a real holy city.
And, in 2016, this is, presumably, resonant –
Or redolent…of…of, um…
Hang on – isn’t Peter Cushing dead?
Well, he can’t be, he’s in the new Star Wars film.
No, I’m sure he died years ago, didn’t he?
And yet, there he is, on the big screen
Moving about and saying things….
Afterwards, I check, on the internet
(That’s what people do these days, isn’t it?)
And, sure enough, Peter Cushing died
In the 90s….and yet,
There he was
In the new Star Wars movie.
So, the conclusion for me, I suppose, is
What Peter Cushing is saying, in the new Star Wars film, is:
Death, where is thy sting?
Take that, 2016.

Friday, 23 December 2016

The Second Christmas Story

In a dark time of Great Depression, there is always a light.  As a wise man once said:  “Inside every bag o’ shite, there’s a spark of gold.  Now, it’s probably the wrapper off a Caramac.  But it’s there.”  (1)

In the time of President Herod, when all the world’s people tried hard to resist the urge to write FARAGE IS A CUNT (2) on every single page of the internet, a great Soothsayer and Prophet came forth to lead Her people.  Her name is unknown, for She taught that no saviour would come to save and that people had to take collective action if they wanted anything Real to happen.  Also, she had no online presence of which to speak.
One day She came across a group of Pharisees who were railing against the President, telling their followers about his evil and lying and post-truthifying.  They ridiculed the Rednecks who they blamed for the President’s shock victory, and they claimed it could never happen in their circles.  She looked not at the Pharisees, but at their audience, and spoke, in a clear voice:  “Boris Johnson.  Boris Fucking Johnson.”
As her followers asked her to explain this, she said “For I tell you solemnly: let those without fools in their midst castigate the first white supremacist.  We shall not pour scorn on those with whom we disagree, for only by trying to understand the person can we understand why they would want these hateful things.  Also, please stop following me.” (3)
One of the Pharisees, whose name was Rick Pearl, had overheard this lesson and persisted in questioning Her.  “But, Mistress, are we not, in trying to understand the heathen, in danger of justifying them?  Surely evil is a cancer which must simply be cut out – as anything which offends the body must be removed from the body?”  The question was a trick, and he had called Her Mistress to mock Her. (4)
“No, no, no.  Look, that’s just the kind of anti-intellectual pandering that’s got us into this mess.  If we don’t understand things, we have no chance of changing them or making them any better, do we?  Consider the tumour:  if we have no information about how it grows and what it does, how can we cure the patient of its ill effects?  We wouldn’t even know it was a tumour, would we?  Honestly, this is basic stuff, Rick.
“Also, don’t call me Mistress.  A female Master is a Master.  But don’t call me that either.”
Rick Pearl left in shame and went home to write an angry blog about womansplaining feminazis and masturbate three hundred times.
The famed soothsayer Bob Marrowfat considered Her to be his rival, and plotted against Her.  Calling her a “nasty, nasty woman”, he described Her as “A six.  At most.”, and criticised Her for menstruating, recalling an ancient code against anyone bleeding in public.  Marrowfat’s campaign team put out press releases purporting to be from Her team, spreading heresy but mis-spelling it as hearsay. (5)
But She had no “team”.  Although she did have a soft spot for West Ham, like everyone does. 
As She got tired of repeating the same political arguments to a 50-50 split audience of slack-jawed un-believers and un-thinking repeaters, Her teaching began to take on a more philosophical character.  She told a crowd that had gathered at her dwelling:
“Our very bodies are made of the same material as the entire universe.  Science and religion, previously assumed to be in eternal conflict, are now busy proving each other and meeting in the middle.  For the great sage Oscar Wide (6) said that religions die when they are proved to be true, and science is the record of dead religions.  Those things we call Magic are simply unexplained phenomena, like lighting a fag to make a bus appear.
“Seriously, Kids, this is Philosophy 101.  Also, can I just put my recycling bins out, please?”
On contemplating the crushing despair of the time, She urged her apostles not to despair crushingly.
“Siblings!  Let us not be down-hearted!  For did not the spirit of the ancestors light up the people of the South South Bronx in 1973 – when all hope was lost, when divinity seemed so distant, when collars were at their widest?  When We needed it the most – We got inspiration, We got art, We got a new means of expressing our humanity!  New ways to make money, to make something from nothing!  Imagine you not that this cannot happen Now.  It is all happening Now, my friends.”  (7)
One disciple questioned Her on this, saying:  “But, Teacher – did not the spirit of Hip Hop get sold out and turned from super disco disco breakin’, toward money-makin, money-money-makin’?”
“But nature is plentiful!  We create our reality!  The Sugar Hill Gang had not a pool or a Cadillac – but in speaking these things, these things were created and attained!  This is our history!  For every Drake, there is a Killer Mike!  For I tell you solemnly:  There are countless videos, but only some go viral.” (7)
The crowd shuffled away, muttering that this wasn’t as good as the last blog about Christmas, from last year.
This story contains mysteries for those who will find them.


1.  ‘A wise man’.  This wise man is believed to be Paul Caffe, of Manchester, Connecticut.
2.  ‘Farage’.  There is no historical record of a person of this name.  Given the context, scholars believe it to be a mythical character similar to Lucifer or Krampus.  Or Gove.
3.  This apprehension of being followed is understood to be from a classical tradition of saviours denying their own divinity.  She had just read Heart Of Darkness, and so was understandably wary of developing a cult.
4.  ‘Rick Pearl’.  This is believed to be Richard Perle, former National Security Adviser to President Boosh, remembered for his famous crusades to rid the world of oil and re-structure the global economy around evangelical determinism.
5. ‘Hearsay’.  This kind of printing error was common at the time, as auto-correct and spell-check were relatively new technologies and people had not got their heads around it all.
6.  ‘Oscar Wide’ is believed to be the real name of the well-known author and “national treasure” Stephen Fry.
7.  ‘South South Bronx’, ‘Drake’, ‘Killer Mike’.  The reference to the history of Hip Hop was instantly recognisable to a contemporary audience, as the rappers of the day were famous and renowned, even the ones who were shit.  The cowd would also most likely have seen Baz Lurhmann’s series The Get Down, as they were surprisingly sophisticated and could afford Netflix.

Friday, 16 December 2016

Political Correctness

The only problem with Political Correctness is that no one knows what it is. 

I’m not na├»ve enough to believe facts have any place in this “debate”, so I will be ignoring them in favour of rhetoric and invective.  That’s democracy, kids.
Let me also assure you, right from the start, that all your fears are groundless and self-defeating – and your complaints moronic and bigoted.  #politicalcorrectness
It’s become politically correct to hate Political Correctness.
This follows the standard pattern of new ideas: introduction, amusement, acceptance, disillusion, backlash.
One of the things that right-wing commentators like to do is portray their ideas as unpopular, or marginal, though they almost never are, even when they sound contentious to the opposite end of the political spectrum.  The idea that “common sense is rare these days” is, literally, common sense.  (at another time and place in human history, it was Common Sense that the earth was flat, that the US military was a force for moral good, or that, umm…(you always need a third thing, don’t you?)…)
People like Jon Gaunt and Richard Littlejohn have done this while writing in the biggest-selling print newspapers left.  In the USA, pundits on Fox, one of the terrestrial TV networks, regularly refer to “mainstream news”, as if they’re outside it, a kind of maverick, operating at the fringes of the zeitgeist, playing by their own rules.  Like a sort of Lethal Weapon TV channel.  What they actually are, of course, is a pub bore TV channel, espousing the kind of ill-informed, bigoted opinions and standard prejudice you could presumably hear in any small-town bar in the Midwest on any night. 
The main problem with Political Correctness is that no one knows what it is, whether they like it or not.  In this vacuum, it’s just become a vague, nebulous idea that anyone can be against, even though they may be totally ignorant of it. 
Right-wingers can hate PC because it represents things they traditionally find distasteful: sensitivity, inclusivity, equality, respect for the rights of others, an awareness of cultural bias and the historic role of discrimination and marginalisation…
The term itself is obviously politically loaded; it sounds like it comes straight from a Politburo edict.  “The traitor Trotsky was a counter-revolutionary, and must be re-educated to be politically correct.”  Something like that – a term so offensive to those on the left who are strongly opposed to any form of coercive government or attacks on free speech, that those people would surely never use it to describe themselves or their own views.  Unless, of course, it became Politically “correct” to do so.
To some people, including some inexplicably prominent journalists and commentators, political correctness is confused with Health & Safety legislation.  With which it has no connection.  All this is discussed here.  (Click on the link, if you like that sort of thing.)
“Political Correctness” is vague enough to be a label for anything a person doesn’t like; human rights (as if humans should have rights – ridiculous), progressive politics (as if politics should be progressive – barmy!), anti-war demonstrations (as if anyone could be against war – madness!), television programmes with ethnic minorities featured (as if ethnic minorities should be allowed on telly – it’s political correctness gone mad), anti-child abuse legislation (as if children should be protected – it’s poli – wait, what?) or anything else.  It’s the President Trump effect: a blank canvas on which to project all hatreds, no matter how irrational or self-defeating.  (The opposite of the President Obama effect – a blank canvas on which to project all hopes, no matter how delusional.)
Who could possibly have a use for a cultural practice of trying to avoid unnecessary/unintended offence to marginalised people through ignorant use of dominant, demeaning language?  Who could possibly have an interest in refining language to reflect changing attitudes to cultural difference and an inclusive political climate?  Who would ever want to stop casually dismissing people?  That’s right, Guardian-reading Left-wing Student Anti-war Black Lesbian Disabled Muslim Transgender Asylum-seekers.  And Nazis.  That’s who.  And who cares about them?
Anyway, everyone knows it’s awful – and anti-democratic – to watch what we say to others, or how we describe them.  And it’s exactly that kind of Politically Correct rubbish that cost me my job as an Undertaker.
As I say, everyone knows it’s awful – and anti-democratic – to watch what we say to others, or think about how we describe them.  And it’s exactly that kind of Politically Correct rubbish that cost me my job as a Community Liaison Officer for the Metropolitan Police. 
But everyone knows it’s awful – and anti-democratic – to watch what we say to others, or think about how we describe them.  And it’s exactly that kind of Politically Correct rubbish that cost me my job as a tour guide at Auschwitz.  (You always need a third one, don’t you?  Or, “one” always needs a third one – I don’t know, language doesn’t change over time, does it?  As a response to a changing world?  Sounds like PC bullshit to me.)
It has been understandably hard for some to adjust to a diverse world, given that some people still live in homogenous communities that have only relatively recently been exposed to diversity in nationality, racial background, sexuality, religious practice and gender identity.  A homogenous community, in this country and the US, built on the unspoken racial and gender superiority of the dominant group.  Which formed the cultural basis for a homogenous identity, inextricably linked to economic stability and strength – you know, jobs and stuff – which has been discarded by elites who actually manage the economy, as readily as the associated dominant (white, male) culture.
Or, to put it another way: “I’m not prejudiced or anything, but anyone uncomfortable with the pace of change in an increasingly diverse, globalised world (which has seen the death of industry and the culture associated with it) is a fucking idiot and an embarrassment to the metropolitan elite that runs the economy and the media.” 
It’s almost like political correctness had a useful function all along.
One response to rapid social change in a dominant, homogenous culture, which involves hierarchies and established social structures is to simply act like it isn’t happening.  Or, to put it another way, to be wonderfully “polticially incorrect!” like someone who writes for a newspaper.  But we can’t talk about immigration, can we?  Not anymore.  Not since the politically correct brigade stuck their noses in.  That’s why the brave newspaper columnists (who hate the liberal elite they work for) tell us the truth: that we can’t talk about immigration.  While talking about immigration as if it is inherently undesirable in every sense.  Every day.  For forty years.  But you can’t talk about it, can you?
The previously acceptable – no, what’s the word?  You know, the old way of saying – the good way; no, not good, necessarily, but sort of um, well….I’m looking for a way to describe language collectively palatable to people across a broad political spectrum….Correct!  That’s it.  The old so-called “correct” way of making a racist comment while claiming not to be racist was to qualify the questionable statement by prefacing it with “I’m not racist or anything, but….”.  (It’s the “or anything” in that sentence that I find intriguing.  To what does it refer?  Is the “anything” literal?)
That way, anyone hearing the statement could be satisfied that the speaker was not racist (“or anything”), but held a view, which, without that necessary qualification, could be understood as bigoted, prejudiced, or at least insensitive. 
It’s been quite a year for Political Correctness, as it’s taken on even more cultural baggage – in the US and the UK, “I hate political correctness” has been cemented as a convenient way of saying something bigoted while appearing to appease those who might disagree, or be offended or feel threatened by those views.  A way of softening one’s language, or using a shorthand to both appeal to those who agree and warn those who do not.  For the sake of dialogue.

Almost like political correctness.