Category Archives: Ideologies

Corbyn’s Critics?

Image result for jk rowling

JK Rowling should stick to writing derivative children’s fiction.

The likes of JK Rowling, Eddie Marsan and Frances Barber are often referred to by media pundits as ‘Corbyn’s critics’ but how many of them actually criticize his policies? None of them that I can see. Let’s be honest: an ad hominem or a smear isn’t a criticism, it’s a calumny and for me, at least, it reveals a fundamental intellectual dishonesty and selfishness at the heart of their reactionary and slipshod thinking.

Take this Twitter thread from Rowling, not only does it repeat the same smears we’ve heard for the last three years, it offers up plausible sounding anachronisms as clever metaphors. Clue: there were no saints in the early Christian period, but Rowling’s many followers aren’t smart enough to know that.

I won’t bother posting any more from this thread, but needless to say, it relies on the same tropes that have been used by Corbyn’s detractors for three years. Words like “messiah” make an appearance. The use of this word signifies a wilful misreading of Corbyn’s supporters, who are often referred to in similarly religiose terms or dismissed and trivialized as ‘utopians’, ‘fantasists’ or ‘fans’. The intent, here, is to suggest that Corbyn is a cult leader and his supporters are cultists; blind followers and willing dupes led by a charmingly deceptive evil man whose anti-racism credentials were a carefully choreographed 40 year act. The fact is that Corbyn is a bigger opponent of racism than Rowling or Barber will ever be. Barber herself has drifted into anti-Black racism.

The irony of her use of religious language is that Tony Blair, whom Rowling and her band of intellectually-challenged associates greatly admire, inspires the kind of cult-like devotion of which she accuses Corbyn supporters. Self-awareness? No, not from Joanne.

When they’re not referring to Corbyn and his followers as cult leader and cult members, the usual specious anti-Semitism smears are deployed. Again, these are not criticisms, they are ad hominems. What this tells us about Corbyn’s so-called critics is that they are selective in their anti-racism, which they see as an emotionally-charged weapon to use against a man, who has more anti-racism in his little finger than they have in their entire bodies.

JK Rowling and her band of halfwits may complain about anti-Semitism, but they’ve said nothing about the racism affecting other ethnic minorities. There has been a rise in hate crimes against BAME people and Muslims, but Joanne, Eddie and Frances have been noticeably silent. It is entirely possible that they see Jews (Ashkenazim) as fellow whites, and have a blind spot when it comes to Romanis and Irish Travellers, for example, who were singled out in a pamphlet sent out by John Mann, the MP for Bassetlaw, to his constituents. Mann likes to present himself as an opponent of anti-Semitism, but that’s quite literally the limit of his anti-racism, and even then, it looks cynical and dishonest. None of them have called him out on his hypocritical position and prefer, instead, to repeat the smears they’ve been provided without much thought.

Rowling et al did well under Blair and continue to thrive under the Tories. Those who aren’t doing so well, don’t figure in their thinking. Poor people, the low waged, the disabled and the homeless are treated as abstracts. These are, ultimately, very selfish people who lack any kind of political hinterland. For them, ideology is what other people have.  The world has moved on, but they haven’t. Blairism is dead and so is centrism – whatever that is.

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Filed under Ideologies, Media, social media, Society & culture

The Fraudulent Anti-Elitism Of The Right

Nigel Farage and UKIP have, for the past 10 years or more, cast themselves as anti-elite and anti-establishment. The mass media, for the most part, has accepted this without question and have even referred to UKIP and the politics they represent as “anti-politics”. This is a curious formulation that has been coined by the mass media to describe a form of political expression that supposedly opposes mainstream politics. Yet it overlooks the fact that politics is more than stuffed shirts speaking in soundbites and platitudes in the Daily Politics studio. It takes place in everyday life and can be encapsulated in the maxim “The personal is political”.

Guy Debord (1957) observed that the mass media refuses to allow any space to contradictory or marginalized ideas. This almost always means that left-wing ideas are effectively excluded or are otherwise ridiculed. The mass media has thus constructed a simulation of anti-establishment politics in place of genuine anti-establishment politics. The anti-EU ranting of Farage, Evans, Nuttall, et al is seen somehow as having greater legitimacy than the Nordic-style social democracy that is proposed by the Corbynite faction of the Labour Party, which is characterized by the media, The Tories, UKIP and the Labour Right as “dangerous”. The only danger posed by Corbyn’s Labour is to the establishment that has shoved neoliberalism down our throats for the last 35 years.

As I pointed out in this blog from 2014, UKIP’s anti-elite and anti-establishment credentials are entirely bogus. This is a party that is led by former Tories, billionaires, City traders and other bourgeois types.

UKIP and parties like it provide a receptacle for voters’ grievances against the establishment. They divert their energies to the dead-ends of xenophobia, bigotry and hatred of the Other, rather than towards the structural problems that have been created by the establishment that keep people in their place or otherwise divide them. At the risk of contravening Godwin’s Law, even Hitler and his Nazi Party cast themselves as anti-establishment and anti-elite by appearing to oppose moneyed interests. We know how that ended.

Reference

Debord, G. (1957). Report on the Construction of Situations. Available at: http://www.bopsecrets.org/SI/report.htm accessed 7 March 2010

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Filed under Government & politics, Ideologies, Media, Society & culture, UKIP

What’s Happening To Stand-up Comedy In Britain?

I’m one of the judges for the New Acts of The Year and we’re about half way through the contest. One thing that I and other judges have noticed is the general lack of political and philosophical engagement with the world among novice comedians. There are also a worrying number of acts who either have no material or have nothing interesting to say. Some have even ventured into misogyny, homophobia and casual racism in a feeble attempt to get laughs. What we also tend to find is that, rather than present a quirky view of the world, some of these novice comedians are giving us a spoken version of their CV. Is this what people are being taught to do at the many stand-up comedy courses that have proliferated since the early 1990s? I think it is. Whatever the case, British stand-up comedy is on its sick bed.

For the last few days, many comedians have been talking about Andrew Lawrence’s alleged support for UKIP and his attack on immigrants. Even UKIP leader Nigel Farage has given Lawrence his support.   A potential kiss of death? Possibly. Only time will tell. What has the world come to when today’s comedians are embracing anti-immigration rhetoric and railing against diversity? Are we really heading back in time to the immediate post-colonial period when comedians used trot out a stream of racist and sexist gags and used “it’s only a joke” as a defence? Sometimes it seems that way.  In Lawrence’s case, it’s easy to suggest that he’s doing this to attract attention. On the other hand, perhaps he, like so many others, is suffering from cognitive dissonance or maybe he’s just a right-wing reactionary arsehole. At any rate, there is an absence of critical thinking to his rant and I would argue that this is indicative of a malaise that is currently affecting the entire country, especially in England, where this negative attitude towards difference seems rife. This malaise is particularly manifest in those people who believe UKIP is ‘anti-establishment’ or ‘anti-politics’.  ‘Anti-politics’? Really? There is no such thing as ‘anti-politics’. Everything is political. UKIP is an anti-intellectual party that appeals to anti-intellectuals, who believe the country’s myriad problems can be solved by simply ‘pulling up the drawbridge’.

On Lawrence’s Facebook page, he attempts to “clarify” his earlier post but is actually reiterating what he said previously. In effect, he ends up digging himself an even bigger hole of gargantuan proportions:

A comedian from a minority background who uses their own ethnicity as a foundation for the whole of their act, rather than looking at wider aspects of society and exploring outside of their own personal experience.

And then says:

Quotas have been introduced, whereby every panel show must book a certain number of female and ethnic comedians, regardless of ability or merit.

Objectively then, there are comedians on panel shows who are there first and foremost because of their gender or ethnicity.

But it gets worse:

Because there is currently not a sufficiently large enough pool of female comedians with the requisite experience and ability to fill the quota, there are females who’ve been booked for these shows who are either poor comedians, not comedians at all, or aspiring female comedians that are still learning their craft, but have not yet reached a decent professional standard.

These females I have described as ‘women-posing-as-comedians’.

The upshot of all that is that there are still many women coming across incredibly badly on panel shows, which is helping to perpetuate the myth that women aren’t funny.

The hope is that women currently on panel shows, will further legitimise stand-up comedy as a career for women and encourage other women to take up comedy. Which is an admirable aim.

Unfortunately for every female who gets on a panel show, there are very many male comedians with more ability and experience who are not and will never get the opportunity to be on one. I think that’s a great shame for TV audiences.

And for his finale:

Oh, and I don’t have a problem with properly regulated immigration and I don’t have a problem with immigrants.

I do have a great deal of concern about the lack of border controls in this country and subsequent gross overpopulation as a result of EU legislation, which I believe adversely affects all our quality of life.

Here Lawrence uncritically accepts UKIP’s position on immigration and seeks to rationalize this position by summoning up the Malthusian claim of “overpopulation” to lend some kind of intellectual gravitas to his narrativization. This is exactly what Malthusian think-tank Migration Watch UK (and Bill Oddie) does all the time.  But this claim that there is a “lack of proper border controls” is not only ludicrously melodramatic, it’s a complete myth. He claims that he isn’t a UKIP supporter but that claim is pretty meaningless, given the fact that he’s regurgitated the same myths as Kippers and the rest of the English Right. Lawrence, if anything, is a reactionary, though it’s not something that he would readily admit. Instead, he complains that comedians are making jokes about UKIP. Diddums.

Let’s return to Lawrence’s comment about “minority comedians”, who he claims use their ethnicity as the basis of their act. Here, he doesn’t even try to understand why this is the case. He’s a white male stand-up and looks more or less like every other white male stand-up. If you’re black or a woman (or both), you have certain visual signifiers that differentiate you from the rest of the pack and may make jokes about those things. That’s what happens. If you have red hair or you’re fat, you will also make jokes about those things. That’s what happens. Yet, for Lawrence, it’s as if over 200 years of colonialism and racism never happened and that things are all right now because this is the year 2014 and people have stopped being racist. Sure they have. Yet for all the white male faces on television, the numbers of black faces on panel shows is so small as to be non-existent. Can you think why that is? I can. It’s called institutionalized racism and it’s a product of the dominant class’s early socialization. The vast majority of producers and commissioning editors come from public school and Oxbridge backgrounds. In their schools, some of which are all boy schools, they never see any females apart from those who are employed to teach or make beds. Black pupils are just as much of a rarity, thus commissioning editors tend to employ those people who are most like them: white and male.

With regards to women comedians, Lawrence has painted himself into a corner by claiming on the one hand that there aren’t a large number of women comics and on the other,  this small number of women comics is responsible for inferior female talent because male numbers are superior. Confused? Don’t be. It’s the anti-intellectual tripe of a knee-jerk reactionary. Like so many white [right-wing] males, Lawrence is playing the victim and it’s as if to say “It’s all the fault of those horrible wimmin with their feminism. They’re oppressing me”.  Lawrence is offering nothing new and is merely repeating the worn-out fallacy that women aren’t funny. Let me tell you something, Andrew, a lot of women are funnier than men, they just don’t get the same opportunities as white males who constantly refer to their genitalia and their apparent sexual inadequacies/perversions. Boring, huh?

The current malaise in British stand-up comedy is an indication of an overall malaise that hangs over this country like miasma. We have now entered a time when the very idea of tolerance is being pissed on, not only by right-wing politicians, but also by selfish misogynistic comics for cheap laughs, who believe they’re ‘pushing the boundaries’. The dominant discourses in this country have been orientated to the right for the last 35 years. People walk around talking in market-speak without realizing it. Other people repeat phrases like “Benefit claimants are addicted to the state” and “We need to have cuts” without thinking about them. Some, like Toby Young, believe that free speech means you can say anything you like without being criticized or being called an ‘idiot’ for it. However, if you’re tolerant and see immigration as a benefit to the nation, you’re shouted down, while those who oppose immigration complain that their voices “aren’t heard” even though the newspapers are full of articles complaining about immigration, and which rely on the usual myths, tropes and hyperbolic flights of fancy like “the country is crowded” to make their spurious points.

If comedy acts as a barometer for the political and social health of a nation, then Britain or, at least, England is a very sick patient indeed. It is obsessed with nostalgia and ready to blame its condition on everything but the system that produces inequalities and untold miseries. Instead, women, ethnic minorities and immigrants are scapegoated for a system that has comprehensively failed to deliver. Those in power in Westminster are happy to allow this continue and comedians like Andrew Lawrence are more than happy to act on their behalf. Sometimes I think the battles that we fought in the 1980s were for nothing.

 

 

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Filed under Comedy, comedy, Ideologies, immigration, National Identity, Popular culture, racism, sexism, social class, Society & culture

Life on Hannan World (Part 12)

Self-styled Whig (how’s that for nostalgia?) and Tory MEP for the South-east, Daniel Hannan is no stranger to this blog. His obsession with the European Union, his slack thinking and his inclination to smear the Left have all been documented here. Yesterday with the Israeli attack on Gaza in its 20th day, Hannan decided the time was right to have another go at smearing the Left.  The massive demonstrations against the brutal Israeli siege of Gaza provided him with, what he believes to be, more ammunition. We know that Hannan produces at least two blogs a year that allege the Nazis were ‘left-wing’ and ‘socialist’. We know the people who follow him and leave comments on his blog aren’t capable of critical thinking. We also know that Hannan isn’t as smart as he thinks he is, and his plummy voice and frequent classical references conceal a desperate lack of critical thinking. Yesterday he told us:

Left-wing anti-Semitism is anything but a new phenomenon

While there may well be anti-Semites on the Left (I’ve yet to encounter them), the Right has a terrible history of anti-Semitism. Many anti-Semites in the Conservative Party are, or were, Christian Zionists. These Christian Zionists believed that by convincing Jews to leave for Israel, they would somehow, not only rid themselves of what they saw as ‘the Jewish problem’ but they would also be hastening the ‘second coming’. The Tory Party was riddled with anti-Semites for years. Hannan opens his blog in characteristic fashion:

“How, as a socialist, can you not be an anti-Semite?” Adolf Hitler asked his party members in 1920. No one thought it an odd question. Anti-Semitism was at that time widely understood to be part of the broader revolutionary movement against markets, property and capital.

I’m tired of repeating myself, but Hitler was no socialist. Like Hannan’s Tory Party, Hitler denied the existence of the class struggle and loathed trade unions. This is one thing that Hannan cannot come to terms with and, instead, promotes a fallacious argument based on nothing more than his own ideological ignorance. He also forgets that many members of his own party have Nazi fetishes. Remember Aidan Burley? Hannan doesn’t. It’s already slipped his mind.

The man who popularised the term “anti-Semitism” had taken a similar line. Wilhelm Marr, a radical nineteenth-century German Leftist, may not have been the first person to use the word, but he certainly – and approvingly – brought it to a wide audience: “Anti-Semitism is a Socialist movement,” he pronounced, “only nobler and purer in form than Social Democracy”.

Another smear. Marr was not a “leftist” and nor was he a ‘socialist’. He was an ethno-nationalist and about as far away from real socialism as it is possible to be.

This paragraph shows us just how loopy he is.

It’s a measure of the modern Left’s cultural dominance that simply to recite these quotations is jarring. On the centenary of the Dreyfus Affair in 1998, the then French prime minister, Lionel Jospin, casually asserted that “the Left was for Dreyfus and the Right was against him” – an extraordinary distortion.

First, there is his McCarthyite paranoia that all cultural activity in Britain is controlled by the Left. If only. Second, it was the French Left, through the likes of  Émile Zola who supported Dreyfus. Indeed, it was Zola’s polemic J’accuse that brought the case to the attention of the wider public and attracted the support of French Radicals and Socialists. Hannan deliberately leaves the far-right Action Française out of his ‘analysis’ and fails to mention Zola (or, for that matter, Charles Maurras). Why? I think we know the answer to that question. Here Hannan repeats the line that he’s used in other blogs in which he’s smeared the Left. This is from the very paper that he writes for:

On January 13, 1898, France’s leading novelist, Émile Zola, entered the fray with a polemic, J’Accuse, naming the officers responsible for the conspiracy against Dreyfus. It was hailed as heroic by the Left, outrageous by the Right, and provoked anti-Semitic riots throughout France. Opinion abroad was incredulous. How could France, the most civilised country in Europe, experience this eruption of medieval barbarism? Why had the case of one Jewish officer led to this rage against all Jews?

Oops! I won’t bother to demand an apology from Hannan, because I know it won’t be forthcoming. Such is his arrogance.

He persists:

That we have largely edited such facts from our collective memory says a great deal about the assumptions of modern politics. In the puerile formula that seems to dictate our definitions, Left-wing means compassionate and Right-wing means nasty so, since anti-Semitism is nasty, it must be of the Right. Such reasoning is not confined to self-righteous seventeen-year-olds; it has, bizarrely, taken over a large chunk of our public discourse.

This is a man in his forties who still trots out sub-Sixth form debating society tosh like this. But let’s face it: there is nothing compassionate about the Right or, indeed, his party. The victims of his party’s social policies are legion. He ignores this because he cannot face the truth. He conveniently ignores the fact that his party opposed the Race Relations Act of 1968 and have openly called for the abolition of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (formerly the Commission for Racial Equality). In fact, Hannan demanded its abolition in this article from 2010.

This blog has proposed several candidates for abolition, including the National Institute for Clinical Excellence, the Health and Safety Executive, the Equality and Human Rights Commission and the Standards Board.

The Lyin’ King may want to take a look at this article from Ha’aretz from which I shall quote a portion.

Four senior members of the Oxford University Conservative Association are reportedly resigning over anti-Semitism, debauchery and snobbery that they say has emerged among members of the club. According to a report by The Daily Telegraph, the four senior members announced their resignation after members attending the club’s alcohol-fuelled meetings allegedly sang a Nazi-themed song and after a group of public school graduates ridiculed members from working-class backgrounds.

This article from the Oxford Student from which the Ha’aretz article is derived says:

Most embarrassing for OUCA is video evidence of one member beginning an anti-Semitic chant, which has featured before in the society’s controversial recent history.

The video, filmed towards the end of Michaelmas 2010 in Corpus Christi’s JCR, shows a member drunkenly singing: “Dashing through the Reich”, at the camera, before being silenced by another member. The song’s full version includes he words: “Dashing through the Reich / in a black Mercedes Benz / killing lots of kike / ra ta ta ta ta ”.

“This is a widespread issue at the moment,” said a former OUCA President, “Lots of people were singing it that night, and indeed on many other nights, and the general attitude is that that was OK. The thing is, lots of members do find that song (and songs like that one) absolutely despicable, though little is done to stop it. I am very worried with the direction the society is going in at present.”

Hannan was president of OUCA in 1992 while he was an undergraduate at Oxford.  Now The Cat isn’t suggesting that Hannan partook in anti-Semitic songs while he was OUCA president, but none of us knows for certain how long racists have operated in the association. Given the party’s historic attitudes towards race in the 1950s, 60s, 70s and 80s, it is likely that there were anti-Semitic and racist members of OUCA during Hannan’s tenure.

While Hannan wrings his hands over what he perceives to be ‘left-wing anti-Semitism’ and, in the process, elides his party’s views on difference. For example, he forgets the Monday Club or the Swinton Circle, which openly called for involuntary repatriation of non-whites.

I could go on, but I’m finding all this as distasteful as (I hope) you are. Suffice it to say that – possibly for the first time in his brilliantly contrarian writing career – Brendan O’Neill is understating his case when he asks“Is the Left anti-Semitic? Sadly it’s heading that way”.

O’Neill’s blog was just as lacking in its analysis as Hannan’s.  Here he contradicts what he’s written earlier in his article.

I have never believed that criticising Israeli policy – or even, for that matter, arguing that the whole territory should be Palestinian – makes you anti-Jewish. You can be anti-Zionist without being in the least anti-Semitic. And – though this is almost never mentioned – the reverse is also true. Hannah Arendt recorded how, at his trial, Adolf Eichmann, who had read several Zionist tracts and learned some Hebrew and Yiddish, argued with evident sincerity that, in seeking to remove Jews from Europe, he had hoped to realise the vision a Jewish state in Palestine. Similarly, when the father of Zionism, the Assyrian-bearded Theodor Herzl, protested to Tsarist officials about pogroms, he was told that they were intended to give “your people” a helpful push in the right direction.

Confused mush. The suggestion in this paragraph is that if the Left criticises Israeli actions in Gaza and the West Bank, they’re anti-Semitic but if his side does it, well, that’s different.  Yet few Tories have criticized Israeli actions. Why? Because 80% of Tory MPs are members of the Conservative Friends of Israel. You fool no one, Dan.

Hannan then moves onto Karl Marx, who came from a Jewish family and who wrote a tract titled “The Jewish Question”. This essay is often cited by the Right as evidence of the Left’s sweeping anti-Semitism but as this article points out, the Right’s claim that Marx was a barking mad anti-Semite is mythological. Here is an excerpt:

There were to be sure, strong anti-Semitic currents on the European left in Marx’s time, but Marx defined himself and his own radicalism in opposition to such currents. In the latter half of the nineteenth century the ‘left’, if we can call it thus, was a battle ground on which anti-Semitic and anti-anti-Semitic currents battled with one another right up until the Dreyfus case in France. The position of Marx was one which clearly and distinctly had no truck with anti-Semitism in any form and his particular supplement was to show that anti-Semitism was a symptom of deep political problems within what might broadly be called the communist or anti-capitalist movement. On the whole, Marx did not see anti-Semitism as a motivating force on the left but rather as a sign of other political and intellectual deficiencies.

By the way, the above article was written by Robert Fine, a Jew.

In this paragraph, Hannan offers one of his characteristic generalizations and, at the same time, refuses to address the fundamental issue of ethnic nationalism (Zionism) and its role in the continuing violence.

Our political opinions often reflect our character traits. If you’re a generous and optimistic person, if you take pleasure in the success of others, you’re likely to be cheered by the story of the Jewish people, their success against the odds, their disproportionate intellectual contribution to mankind. Far from decrying commercial and financial accomplishments, you recognise them as a source of happiness for everyone.

Would he feel the same way about the suffering of African-Americans? I doubt it. Remember, Hannan has claimed that the American Civil War was about tariffs and nothing else. This is a position he shares with the historically revisionist Ludwig von Mises Institute, who have already been exposed as racist. Hannan, like the Israeli government he obliquely defends, is incapable of making the distinction between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. And while there are some anti-Semitic anti-Zionists, there are plenty of Jews who are also anti-Zionist. Does that make them anti-Semitic Jews, Dan?

He closes with this flourish.

If, on the other hand, you are determined to see every exchange as a form of exploitation, every success as someone else’s defeat, every trade as a swindle, then the same promptings that make you anti-Israel may well make you anti-Semitic. It’s a tragic condition, a form of existential envy, and it goes back, if the Book of Esther is to be believed, at least 2,500 years

Utter garbage.

In 2010 Hannan was accused of using racist language in the past by the Daily Mirror. Hannan complained to the Press Complaints Commission, which backed the Mirror.

Hannan complained to the Press Complaints Commission about a Mirror article on 18 September headlined “Tory accused of ‘excusing racism’ after Barack rant”.

The story said: “David Cameron was dragged into the US race row yesterday after one of his rising stars said that he understood the anti-Barack Obama feelings.”

It reported on a blog Hannan had written for the Daily Telegraph websitein which he wrote, “Barack Obama has an exotic background and it would be odd if some people weren’t unsettled by it.”

It also mentioned that Hannan had “hailed Enoch Powell, infamous for his anti-immigration ‘rivers of blood’ speech, as one of his heroes”.

Hannan’s hero is Enoch Powell, whom he frequently airbrushes. You cannot separate Powell’s economic arguments from his racism. The two intersect.

Distortions, half-truths, smears and outright lies are the currencies that Hannan deals in. I wonder if he realizes that some Jews are black? I bet he doesn’t. He probably prefers the nice white Ashkenazi kind, like Netanyahu and his Revisionist chums.

EDITED TO ADD

I’ve noticed a couple of links, one of which leads back to Hannan’s blog and the other to his EU page.

He tweets:

I’m trying to work out whether this self-contradictory attack on my blog about anti-Semitism is a parody: http://t.co/Be2dPjz4e5

There’s nothing “self-contradictory” or parodical about my blog, Danny. In fact, by tweeting this, it shows that you’re not only vain and arrogant, you’re also rattled.

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Filed under anti-Semitism, Ideologies, Media, racism, Society & culture, Tory press, Yellow journalism

Culture for the Future (Note #1)

The cultural critic, Raymond Williams (1976), once said that “culture is one or two of the most complicated words in the English language”. Many people use the word “culture” to refer to specific artefacts or use it to refer to a set of rituals and customs that are practised by primitive tribal societies in the rain forests of South America or Central Africa. Some people use words like “cultured” to describe someone who has “good taste” in music and the arts. Such people will invariably come from upper middle class and upper class backgrounds and are acculturated at an early age to appreciate only those forms of culture, like classical music, opera and Shakespeare’s plays,  which have been consecrated by a legitimating authority (Bourdieu, 1989). Any cultural form that is produced outside this narrow band of cultural production will be regarded as vulgar by those people who regard their culture as something sacred. Hence the term ‘subculture’, which describes any cultural form that is produced by ordinary people and regards them as inferior. While it is tempting to think that such views are limited to the bourgeoisie, this narrow view of culture can also be seen among groups at the opposite end of the socio-economic scale, who have been educated to think that the culture they create isn’t culture at all or it is inferior. Other people, often those whose cultural interests never stray beyond bourgeois art, insist there should be nationally approved forms of culture. But the people who call for state-sanctioned culture pretend to know more about culture than they do in reality.

In the last four or five years, there has been a succession of politicians and political commentators who have remarked on the need for some kind of British national culture. Douglas Murray, for example, demanded that the government create what he called leitkultur to snuff out other cultures as a means to prevent young British Muslims from joining jihadist groups (sic). Such an idea is naive as it is dangerous. If the word leitkultur looks German, that’s because it is. It was coined by German-Arab sociologist, Bassam Tibi in 1998 to refer to a “core culture”. Unfortunately, whenever this word is used it tends to be cited in the same breath as monoculturalism and national identity. Like nationalism, monoculture regards all forms of culture that do not have the state’s seal of approval as a possible social contaminant. In Murray’s world, anything that sounds or looks Middle Eastern would be banned, as too would hip-hop, Bollywood and even West African high-life music.

A national monoculture has to be constructed by hand-picked cultural experts (presumably chosen by the government of the day or some other state body) who then project this construction onto the people. Here’s an example: when the state of Israel was created in 1947, its cultural nationalists rejected Yiddish as the national language and chose Hebrew (modernized)  instead. This is despite the fact that the majority of Israelis spoke either Yiddish (Askenazim) or Arabic (Mizrahim). Ladino, the language of Sephardic Jews, wasn’t even considered. Hebrew was the language of religion and of the law, it was not the language of everyday life. Yet it was imposed as the Israel’s official language.

Monoculturalists, the vast majority of whom are ethno-nationalists (some of whom are in denial), rail against the idea that immigrant groups should continue their cultural practices once they’ve moved to Britain. They constantly complain about multiculturalism, citing it as the principle reason for Britain’s economic and social decline, and for incubating ‘terror’. Yet, much of what we consider to be British culture was brought to this country by immigrants. Fish and chips, pizza and tandoori masala are a few examples of cuisine that had origins elsewhere in the world. Words like ‘bungalow’ and ‘pyjamas’ are examples of Hindi words that are now part of the English language. We have listened to jazz, R&B, soul, rock ‘n’ roll and other forms of American music for decades, often to the dismay of the Britain’s self-appointed cultural cognoscenti. When rock ‘n’ roll first became popular in the 1950s, the BBC’s initial response was to ignore it.  The BBC Light Programme grudgingly commissioned The Saturday Club to cater for this new youth market but sometimes, the songs played on this programme were performed by the BBC’s house band rather than by the original artists. The BBC eventually yielded to pressure but only when it was too late. By then, Radio Luxembourg and the pirate stations had stolen a march on the fusty old Beeb, who had to petition the government to outlaw the pirates. Radio One happened ten years too late and even then, it wasn’t much good.

So when I say that there needs to be a cultural intervention, some people will be confused and others will ignore me, believing culture should come a distant second to marching, demonstrating and signing petitions. Some people don’t think twice about culture and others will see it as irrelevant. According to Gramsci (2003) the dominant ideology maintains its grip on power through cultural hegemony rather than outright coercion. The dominant class controls mass cultural production and is thus in a position to influence the way people think of themselves and others. Simon Cowell is a member of the dominant group (he votes for and supports the Tory-led coalition) and is an exemplar of cultural hegemony. His cultural production line creates boy and girl bands who sound and look the same. This kind of standardization can also be found in fast food outlets like McDonald’s and Pizza Hut. Cowell produces music that is bland, but catchy, yet says nothing about real life. You will never find Cowell’s acts commenting on poverty, inequality or anything that the audiences who watch X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent have to deal with on a day-to-day basis. It is the worst of the ‘bread and circuses’ notion of culture, which reduces arts to commodities.

According to Theodor Adorno (1991), each cultural product is produced industrially (like tins of baked beans) and bears the stamp of the dominant ideology. This is a rather crude way of looking at mass culture, which is produced by the same class that runs the country. The claim made by the artists who labour under this system is that all art should be free of politics. This suits governments and those who support them. The last thing they want is people asking questions and making demands. However all art is political, even if it denies it, because the artist has made a political decision to take an apolitical position. The old style stand-up comedians of the pre-alternative era would often claim that they weren’t political. This is absurd. The racist and sexist jokes they told expressed dominant social positions, whether they admitted it or not.

Whenever an authoritarian regime takes power, the first thing it does is arrest artists and musicians. Then they arrest academics and intellectuals who disagree with them. The authoritarian-libertarian Thatcher government effectively starved Britain’s political fringe theatre companies out of existence, not only because they were being subsidized but because they opposed the cultural status quo. Cutting off their funding wasn’t as violent as the brutality meted out to musicians, say in Pinochet’s Chile, but it was a form of what Bourdieu refers to as “symbolic violence”.

Finally, I spotted this article by Guardian columnist, Suzanne Moore, who asks if right-wing people are “more uncultured” and then adds that they (the right) “don’t “get” culture”. It’s not that the right doesn’t get culture, they have their own view of culture, and they tend to view it as something created by people who have “taste” and who possess the right kinds of qualifications.  In other words, culture should only be created by people who have been sanctioned to do so: the offspring of the rich, for example . As I said in this blog, the right’s idea of culture is heritage, which isn’t a living being but a corpse. The event discussed in the Moore piece mentions celebrities, who may be cultural, others are not.

So they had Michael McIntyre and Kirstie Allsopp providing youth and edginess with some interchangeable TV presenters, and those stalwarts of light entertainment Cilla Black and Bruce Forsyth. What a rum do. The Tory brand still appears toxic.

I’m not surprised to see the anodyne comedian, McIntyre, listed here. In some respects McIntyre’s ideologically neutral style is exactly what the right-wing view of culture is all about: it’s politically disinterested and socially disengaged.

Culture for the future. Culture for the 99%.

References

Adorno, T. (1991). The Culture Industry, London: Routledge.

Adorno, T. and Horkheimer, M. (1996) The Culture Industry: Enlightenment As Mass Deception in Durham, M.G. & Kellner, D. M. (Ed.) Media and Cultural Studies Keyworks. Oxford: Blackwell

Bourdieu, P. (1986) Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste, London: Routledge.

Gramsci, A. (2003) Selections From The Prison Notebooks, London: Lawrence & Wishart.

Williams, R. (1976) Keywords: A vocabulary of culture and society. London: Fontana

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Filed under Arts, Ideologies, Society & culture

The Weasel Words and Faulty Logic of Michael Heaver

UKIP’s bright young thing or just another tool?

I was looking at Telegraph blogs this morning when I spotted this blog by Michael Heaver.

Heaver describes himself as:

… a political commentator who campaigns for Ukip.

His Facebook page tells us:

Michael Heaver is standing to be UKIP MEP in Eastern England. He blogs for The Telegraph and was Young Independence’s first elected Chairman.

Heaver’s blog has the deliberately provocative title “Britain is massively in debt with major youth unemployment. What do we do? Throw open our borders”. This is enough to get the racists, fascists and closet weirdos out in force.

Scientific racist, Roger Hicks, can’t resist an opportunity to plug his book and repeat his usual spiel about the need to preserve the purity of the British ‘race’ (sic).

rogerhicks 
We are seeking to provide for too many, both our own and those from abroad.The underlying problem is that we don’t really distinguish between the two. To me, native Britons are my OWN. For the government it is ANYONE they choose to give British citizenship to.

When the numbers were small, handing out British citizenship to a few people of different race and culture to our own wasn’t an issue, like adding a few drops of colour to a very large pot of white paint: you are still left with a pot of white paint.

But this is not what has happened. Colour has been added by the cupful, providing a temporary “rainbow” (or “kaleidoscope”! as John Bercow would call it) of colour, but so much that if we stir it in (which we are constantly being encouraged to do), we will no longer have a pot of white paint, i.e. will destroy the ethnic identity of Britain’s ancient native (white) population . . .

It is high time we faced up to this reality, instead of dismissing any reference to it as “racist”, or ridiculing the importance of skin colour as an indicator of ethnic identity (fine for black people to acknowledge as such, but a mortal sin for white people to do the same . . Why? Because of state racial ideology).

State ideology (and IDEOLOGY, with its spurious claim to moral authority, which anyone in public life needs to be associated with, is what this is really all about) insists that “race doesn’t matter”, or even exist, is just a “social construct”, of importance only to evil “racists” like myself.

Only race and ethnic origins clearly DO matter. Not in the way that genuine racists believe they do, but because central to any deep and meaningful sense of both personal, and group, i.e. national, identity. Which is why the state, which legitimises itself and its political elite by deceitfully posing as our nation, need to demonise and suppress this truth as “racist”.

My bold. This guy is clearly a fascist fruitloop. Paranoid, delusional, hysterical and prone to hyperbolic flights of fancy, he always attempts to link skin colour to culture. Notice also how he attacks the idea of ‘race’ as a social construct. This is one who believes that ‘race’ is ‘biologically determined’ but if that’s the case, so are congenital diseases like Huntington’s  Disease. And eye and hair colour? They’re biologically determined too. Yet he wouldn’t demand that we keep the purity of our ‘natural’ British hair colour (whatever that is). Say NO to dying/colouring your hair!

If time travel were possible, I’d like to send Hicks back to Roman Britain just to see how he reacts. Better still, perhaps he should be made to take a DNA test to determine what his ‘racial’ origins are. We’d probably find that his ancestors are a mix of Arabs, Jews and Africans.

Anyway, back to Heaver. Here’s his opening gambit:

Vast swathes of the British political establishment now seem to have their heads buried so deep in the sand I’m surprised they know whether it’s day or night. We stand as a country buried in hundreds of billions of pounds of debt, with a government still spending vast amounts more than it raises, and yet the inevitable pressures are set to continue. Pressures which will be of our own government’s making.

For someone who wants to stand as a UKIP candidate for the European Parliament, Heaver is remarkably clueless about state finances. All governments borrow money and even if the present government says it’s “reducing the debt”, they’re lying and lying badly. Of course, the majority of people are clueless when it comes to state finances and will believe anything that someone with a posh accent tells them to believe. “We’re reducing the national debt”, they’ll say.  Yeah? Prove it, then. “Er, I meant the deficit”. Oh? Show me, then. “Look over there! Migrants are coming to take our jobs”! Yes, that really is the best they can do.

Here Heaver repeats his party’s scare story about the UK being ‘flooded’ with immigrants from Romania and Bulgaria in January. He tries to sidestep this in the opening sentence of the following paragraph:

Talking about mass migration is a silly game of scaremongering, say many of those in Westminster. Yet today we find out that once again, they are wrong. No fewer than 200,000 Roma are already in Britain and that’s before the doors open to Romania and Bulgaria next year.

Realising someone may come along an accuse him and his dreadful party of anti-Roma prejudice, he offers this insincere disclaimer:

I don’t want to demonise the Roma. These are often vulnerable people – who inevitably require resources that we simply haven’t got. Healthcare, schooling, social services – there was even talk on a Channel 4 News report last night of advice on jobseeker’s allowance.

“I don’t want to demonise the Roma”, he tells us but he’s going to anyway.

His next paragraph opens with an appeal to ‘common sense’ in which he cites the ubiquitous but somewhat anonymous ‘man-on-the-street’:

The man on the street can see it how it is: we are a country with one million young people unemployed. Half of our young black males are out of work. Our resources are not stretching far enough for those already here. Committing ourselves to providing for many of those who chose to come is madness. The numbers don’t stack up and nor does the moral argument.

He ends the paragraph with an appeal to moral authority. These people love their logical fallacies.

Instead of proposing sensible solutions, like a reduction in the working week or providing real jobs and training, Heaver – like any Kipper – resorts to the easy solution of scapegoating. Just join the dots and feel the hate.

As I write this, I’ve noticed that Hicks has posted another massive comment that repeats what he said in the first comment. He’s desperate to sell his book. Don’t buy it! Heaver is just as desperate, but in his case he wants get elected, take EU money and spend all his time doing nothing like the rest of his party’s MEPs.

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Filed under Anti-Ziganism, Ideologies, National Identity, Political parties, Society & culture, UKIP

Telegraph Comment of the Week (#12)

Brendan O'Neill: let them eat donuts

Brendan O’Neill: poverty is a leftist conspiracy

At Nowhere Towers, Brendan O’Neill is known as one of the Telegraph’s worst bloggers (James Delingpole is the other one). A Murdoch lackey and an acolyte of The Great Furedi, O’Neill rails against anything that looks vaguely left-wing and this  is in spite of his repeated insistence that he’s a “man of the Left”. Is he a hypocrite? Yes, he is.

Yesterday, O’Neill penned a blog with the title “What’s fuelling the food bank frenzy? The hunger for publicity for anti-poverty activists”.

O’Neill knows what his readers like and they like anything that puts the poor and the needy in their place. They also like their ideas half-baked and O’Neill knows this and plays them like a fiddle.

Here’s my theory, for what it’s worth. Today’s food banks are not fuelled by the needs of the poor so much as by the needs of charities and campaigners. I think the main beneficiaries of the fashion for opening food banks, and for press-releasing these openings to every media outlet in the land, are the poverty industry rather than the poor. The poverty industry is made up of those campaigners who depend, for their very existence, on the idea that there exist hordes of helpless, hapless poor folk – and so the more these campaigners can fuel that idea, the better. Just consider how loose is their definition of poverty.

“Here’s my theory” he says. The trouble is, Brendan, it isn’t a “theory”; it’s a collection of prejudices strung together like diamante pearls. Furthermore, there is no “poverty industry”. That’s blatant hyperbole. What O’Neill is saying is that those who help others are to be despised. So the food banks, which many people rely on, are just publicity fronts? Did I get that right? Yes, I did.

They define “food poverty” as “the inability to afford, or have access to, food to make up a healthy diet”. But who defines what is a healthy diet? If a family can afford unhealthy foods – like cheap white bread, processed meat, beans – can they still be said to be suffering from “food poverty”? In these campaigners’ eyes, yes. Using various modern and ridiculously stretched definitions of poverty, the Trussell Trust, which runs most of Britain’s food banks, says 13 million people in Britain are living in poverty. They mean relative poverty – effectively “not being as wealthy as others” rather than “having nothing”. For them, the important thing is not having a serious debate about living standards in the 21st century but rather promoting the Dickensian idea that millions of people are poor, desperate and starving.

With the rising cost of fuel, travel and foodstuffs, combined with stagnating wages (stagflation), life for the low-waged and those on benefits is tough, but you’ll get no sympathy from O’Neill who thinks poverty is a leftist conspiracy. He nitpicks over the definition of “food poverty” but he hasn’t actually produced an coherent argument to challenge it. Instead he tells us that poverty is a “Dickensian idea”; old-fashioned and no longer ‘hip’. In the last sentence, he shows us that not only is he spiteful and mean, but he’s in denial.

That is what is driving the food-bank frenzy – not Britons’ desperation for food, but poverty campaigners’ desperation for publicity. The opening of a food bank is ultimately a very fancy press release about the need to keep the charity sector and welfare state flourishing. It’s politics dolled up as emergency aid. It’s poverty porn, providing a kick for those activists and commentators who like nothing more than to feel the thrill of pity for the less fortunate.

O’Neill hasn’t got any evidence to support this provocative assertion. “Politics dolled up as emergency aid” just reinforces his selective misanthropy. Better to let people starve. Eh, Brendan?

Now we come to the comment of the week. This one is from “MHammer47”, whose class hatred oozes from every word of this comment:

MHammer Twat

“MHammer47” channels Marie Antoinette by saying “let them eat donuts (sic)”. They’re only “69p”. Living on doughnuts will lead to serious health issues but for people like this, such things are incidental; mere collateral damage.  For MC Hammer, finding oneself in dire financial circumstances is about making “bad choices”. If only it were that simple.

There’s an old saying that Hammer and O’Neill need to learn and understand: There by the grace of God go I.

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Filed under Ideologies, Journalism, Media, social class, Society & culture, Telegraph Comment of the Week, Tory press, Yellow journalism