Wednesday, August 10, 2005

The Magic Numbers

The Magic Numbers, if you've not heard of them, are a rather good band who specialise in unpretentious, straight-forward, and rather infectiously uplifting harmonic guitar pop. It's not just their music which makes them stand out from the crowd, it's their appearance too - they don't conform to the usual straight-jacket standards. While Top of the Pops is usually stuffed to the brim with near identical, preening, model-perfect girls and boys, The Magic Numbers are refreshingly different. They are scruffy (real scruffy - not designer scruffy), overweight and they don't look like they'll be doing any make-up or shampoo adverts in the near future. It was all too predictable, then, that when they agreed to appear on Top of the Pops, their looks were ridiculed by the idiot Richard Bacon. Apparently, Bacon made some crappy joke about the band being fat and the band decided to walk off in disgust. See here for a report.

Bacon is one of those loathsome media 'personalities' who's carved out a niche for himself in the d-list world of TV presenting (after having been sacked from Blue Peter for cocaine use) through making continually snide, smirking remarks at other people's expense whenever he is allowed on the box. He clearly thinks he's some sort of oh-so-clever cheeky-chappie bad boy. In reality he's just a nasty, egotistical little cock.

Anyway, I'm glad that The Magic Numbers walked off. People like Bacon may think it's clever to joke about other people's appearance - and too often the victims of such bullying abuse think that they just have to take it. I hope that the band's snubbing of the programme gives a lot of people who don't conform to the media's ludicrous standards of physical apearance some heart. This may seem like just a little thing. But it's not. Many people's lives are blighted (and sometimes destroyed) by the pressure that's heaped on us all to look a certain way. The pressure is particularly heavy on women of course - every year thousands of women and girls (some as young as 10 or 11) develop eating disorders or depression, and some kill themselves, because they are ashamed of the way that they look. It's no surprise that the huge increase in instances of anorexia and other manifestations of extreme personal anxiety about one's appearance in the late 20th century and into the 21st century has developed side by side with the expansion of the reach of advertising and marketing. It's not just advertising of course - 'lifestyle' magazine and TV representations of femininity and masculinity (but femininity in particular) are just as psychologically coercive as a Gap or Max Factor advert. Witness the recent spate of teen dramas - Buffy, The OC, Hollyoaks, Dawson's Creek, Miami 7 (??) - they all feature girls who look almost exactly the same. The media puts enormous pressure on people (particularly the young) to conform to this certain physical type - it makes the exceptional (those few who correspond to the age's understanding of physical attractiveness) into the supposed norm. The price for looking normal - for not being one of those physical freaks who could get a modelling contract - is often an internalised sense of inadequacy and a nagging, vague sense of shame.

It's difficult to work out how to resist these kinds of pressures. Very often we don't realise that they are present. Sometimes, however, the injustice quite obviously comes to the surface - the cruelty is manifested in a direct manner and becomes plain to see. It's when someone's told that they are fat or ugly. It's when someone is sneered at for not wearing the right clothes. In these situations the only thing to do is to tell that situation's particular mouth-piece for stifling, impossible social conformity to go and fuck themselves. That's what The Magic Numbers did. Good on them.

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