Tag Archives: scapegoating

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

So who will speak up for the unemployed?

Have you ever noticed that when politicians – and I include Labour here as well as the Tories and Lib Dems – talk about the unemployed, they do so only to speak ill of them? If they aren’t speaking ill of them, then they’re telling us how they’re all too lazy to “find work”. We’ve also had a newly coined expression enter the Tory vocabulary: “job snob”. This government is great at formulating new insults but not so great when it comes to policies.

Politicians like Iain Duncan Smith and Liam Byrne tend to use the unemployed for target practice.  Why? Because they’re easy to attack. They have no political voice inside Westminster Palace. Yet none of those politicians who guardedly speak of the unemployed as “scum” think of them as people;  real people or as voters. I would wager that there are a large number of politicians, Tories especially, who would deny full citizenship to the unemployed if they could get away with it. Whereas Labour simply offers the same Tory approach but couched in different language.

Being unemployed in Britain is no picnic. I know. I’ve been there. You get £67.50 a week and Housing and Council Benefit – if you’re lucky.  The benefits system, far from what is commonly claimed by the right-wing press, is less than generous. The process by which you claim benefits is dehumanizing. You’re stigmatized and excluded. Some local authorities will do their utmost to ensure that benefit payments are delayed and Jobcentres will trick people into losing their Jobseekers Allowance to meet targets.

The current government is doing all it can to make sure that the unemployed pay for the economic crisis. The benefit cap and The Quiet Man’s Universal Credit are two means by which the unemployed will be further punished. The Tories’ allies on Fleet Street do the  rest by producing a near endless stream of stories about “dole cheats”.

When this government took power in 2010, they immediately signalled their intention to wage war on the unemployed.  Ministers like IDS, Grayling and Gove told us how unemployed people were living the life of luxury at the expense of the taxpayer. They told us how these people were living in “expensive houses” and even produced sets of figures that were designed to impress us. But it is all a massive distortion. The real villains continue to enjoy special privileges under this coalition. And the Tories wants them to continue to enjoy these privileges at our expense.

Ministers have told us how they want to “cut red tape” in order to “stimulate” the economy.  What they’re really saying is how they want people to work more hours and for nothing. They also want to remove any workplace legislation that protects workers – so that companies will be absolved of any responsibility to provide hazard-free working conditions – safe in the knowledge that the Health & Safety Act no longer applies to them.

To date, not a single politician from the 3 main parties has said how unreasonable it is for the unemployed to exist on less than £68 a week and how this needs to change. Of course not. They would rather use the jobless as a scapegoat. Furthermore there isn’t a single MP on the government benches or the opposition benches who has been unemployed, therefore they will never understand what it’s like to scrape by. They will never be able to comprehend what it’s like to be stigmatized and excluded; to live without dignity. Unemployment for these people is “God’s punishment” or something like it. It was the same in the 19th century and little has changed in the minds of our political leaders, who continue to circulate the same stale ideas ad infinitum.

Benefits for the unemployed need to be increased. It’s as simple as that. The cost of even the most basic of foodstuffs has increased exponentially in the last year. Rents have increased and travel costs, which are the highest in Europe, are prohibitively expensive.  Many unemployed people cannot afford the fares and are tempted to dodge, for example, train fares. So not only are the unemployed being scapegoated, they are often forced into criminality. This suits the government narrative of a mass body of unemployed ‘parasites’ who are draining an otherwise healthy, virile country of its life-force.

Even if you are lucky to have a job, the chances are it is not one that pays enough for you to live comfortably. Wages have remained stagnant for the best part of 25 years, while the cost of living has spiralled. People are encouraged to supplement their income by taking on debt through credit cards and loans (in some cases, many people have to resort to using loan sharks). None of this matters to those in the Tory Party who are, without exception, well-off. I mean, have you ever encountered a Tory politician who didn’t have independent wealth that comes from either a trust fund, dividends, shares or rents? No, I haven’t either. They don’t need to supplement their income with credit card debt, they just ratchet up their rents and get their tenants to subsidize their income.

IDS told us that he wanted to “make work pay”. I can’t see that happening either for the unemployed or for those who work. If this government wants to make work pay, perhaps they should introduce a living wage and consider price-capping. But we know that won’t happen. This government wants to wind the clock back to 1862 and the mythical age of classical liberalism.

Given that the 3 main parties continue to regard the unemployed as beneath them, I would suggest that the jobless move their votes to a party that is prepared to speak up for them. The Socialist Party, for example. There are others too.

The Tories complained that”left-wing militants” and “Trotskyites” have derailed their “work experience” scheme. But this denies the fact that the government’s scheme was a sham from the start and most sensible people could see that making people work for nothing was nothing more than a form of slave labour. Furthermore, such a scheme has the effect of undercutting wages and those who perform menial tasks for the minimum wage could find themselves eventually joining the dole queue.

In 1986, Tory MP and former National Democratic Party member, Piers Merchant spent a week on the dole to “see what it was like”.   Yes,  just a week [rolls eyes].  These days,  no Tory MP, let alone a Labour MP, would dream of doing such a thing. They’re far too used to their comforts for that.

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Filed under Conservative Party, Cuts, Government & politics, Labour, Liberal Democrats, Public spending

Anti-Ziganism: the socially acceptable face of European racism?

Le Président de la République, Nicolas Sarkozy has expelled around 93 Roma from France. There are more deportations planned. To tell the truth, stories like this remind me of what I’d read about the 1930’s – during economically hard times, politicians and others will look for someone to blame.  In the mind of the xenophobe, the Roma are easy game because it is still socially acceptable to engage in anti-Gypsy prejudice. This announcement follows hot on the heels from the anti-Ziganist policies of The Greasy One in Italy 2 years ago. This blog illustrates Italy’s institutional racism.

Italy has found a scapegoat to blame its woes on.” This chilling indifference to the plight of Roma was displayed this summer on a beach in Naples after the drowning of two teenage Roma girls. After a sunbather put a blanket over the two corpses, other sunbathers on the beach continued to resume their activities as if nothing had happened, some even relaxing only a matter of feet away from the corpses. De-humanizing hatred towards the Roma is not an isolated incident. Gangs burned down Roma camps in Naples due to the uncertain allegation by an Italian woman that a Roma girl tried to steal her child. In some cases this racist behavior has not just been condoned by Italian politicians, but encouraged. Northern League leader Umberto Bossi declared before the pogroms that “it is easier to destroy rats as [to] wipe out the gypsies.”

Sokrazy seems to have taken this decision either alone or in a small group of like-minded ministers. The President of his party, the UMP,  is not pleased and his displeasure signals the possibility of more dissent in the ranks of the party. Francois Goulard has described the move as “ill though out” and “inhumane”.

Here’s a report from Al Jazeera

We should remember that Sarkozy stole a march on Le Pen’s Front National by adopting some anti-immigration measures that were designed to attract voters who would otherwise vote for the FN….just like Thatcher had done in this country in 1979.

There is no shortage of Daily Mail readers who agree with Sarkozy’s actions. One commenter opines,

And he does another thing our Government doesn’t have the backbone to do… Wish he was our PM.

“Michelle” from Southampton echoes the bigoted sentiments

Mr. S – any chance you could come over here and get rid of the burkas and illegal gypsy camps. I’d pay for your airfare!

You see, many Brits are with Sarko. In the UK, the Roma are also fair game and I have lost count of the many times people – some of them my friends – will use words like ‘Gypo’, ‘Pikey’ and so on to refer to someone who is a chancer. Now the coalition government and its supporters want to see the Equality and Human Rights Commission abolished. Why? Well, they won’t tell you the real reason, they’ll simply claim it’s to ‘save money’. Who says the Tories aren’t xenophobes?

For all those postmodernist politicians and others who think history doesn’t matter. Think again. In the 1930’s the Jews as well as the Roma were made into scapegoats for Germany’s economic failures. Of course, Germany wasn’t the only country to buy into this trend: it happened in France, Italy, Austria and yes, it happened here in Britain.

UPDATE 19/9/11

The Irish Travellers at Dale Farm near Basildon are currently in the process of being evicted by a council claiming that the nearby ‘greenbelt’ land is being compromised. Yet, the former occupant of the Dale Farm site was an ugly scrap yard. The United Nations has tried to intervene but the Tory-led coalition government has blocked any such move. As I write this, the local police have turned up to the Dale Farm site in riot vans.

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