Friday, January 19, 2007

Bad Goody

As I think I have admitted before, I'm rather partial to a bit of CBB. Not sure why really - it's a good mind-numbing end the day, I suppose, after a hard day's intellectualisin'. So it would be a bit odd if I didn't stick my oar in to the debate over the current CBB world political crisis.

It's been absolutely clear (at least it seems clear from the heavily edited and cleverly juxtaposed CBB 'highlights' programme - always remember that the producers need to construct 'storylines' in order to keep the viewing public hooked) that Goody, O'Meara and that whatsername have been bullying Shilpa Shetty in an extremely nasty way. I'm sure you don't need me to tell you that there has been a racist element to this nastiness.

It strikes me that the abuse Shetty has been suffering is not motivated primarily out of racism. The racist remarks, I think, have come in the main because the bullies couldn't think of much else to say. The girls' antagonism towards Shetty isn't rooted in Shetty's 'race' - it's just that they've seized on her Indian nationality as a kind of stick with which to beat her over something else. This doesn't mean that the abuse isn't racist of course and doesn't make it any more acceptable. The bullying, it strikes me, arises primarily out of sheer jealousy and a feeling of inferiority. People like Goody, O'Meara and whatsername simply don't like highly attractive, successful and articulate women who don't seem interested in them. They are all 'celebrities', you see, and the worst thing you can do to a 'celebrity' is fail to provide them with the requisite amount of fawning attention that they have come to expect - the effect of this refusal is considerably greater if you yourself are a 'celebrity', too. I'm not saying that Shetty is some kind of hero here - clearly she's a rather vain person from a pampered background - she's just a little too aloof and remote for the bullies. They can't quite understand her. They feel uncomfortable in her presence. The nagging thought that the 'worth' of their celebrity isn't that great becomes a little more unbearable.

I'm in two minds about the way this row is going. It is, I think, clearly a Good Thing that racism is clearly completely unacceptable to most of the Big Brother audience. One can't help remembering that the Big Brother voting audience has displayed a rather progressive strain of opinion in the past - voting a gay man (Brian) the winner a few years ago and a transexual (Nadia) the winner a couple of years back. I have even heard it said that Brian's win reflected a sea-change in public opinion about homosexuality - a gay man wouldn't have won something like that a few years before. You can't ignore the circus sideshow aspect of the programme however. It's the whole point of course. One gets the impression that Nadia was voted the winner more on account of her childish shrieking and melodrama value than for anything else. What the show wants to give you, want the audience passively demand and what the votes reward is 'entertainment value', of course, more than anything else. It's a freak show. One has to view the public 'anger' about Goody and other in this light. There is a certain pleasure to be had in focusing in on Goody as a hate figure. She's a pantomime villain now.

Apparently Endemol aren't allowing the public to attend the eviction process tonight. We know why this is - it's because a certain proportion of the crowd will turn up to take great pleasure in booing, jeering and perhaps even pelting things at Goody. Perhaps she deserves it. But it's rather sad isn't it, that this person - this circus freak par excellence - has been built up, made into a millionaire on account of her 'stupidity' (actual or not) and will, over the next few days, be mercilessly ripped apart and destroyed. What does it say about us - those of us who, to some extent, have taken, and will take, pleasure in this process? Real outrage about racism has, I think, very little to do with it. Goody's racism simply provides us with an excuse to boo and hiss and have a thoroughly good time.

As an aside - one thing which has struck me while listening to the 'conversation' of the bullying trio (yes, I know I'm a voyeur as much as anyone else) is just how much time they spend discussing whether or not someone is 'genuine'. The question of whether or not someone is 'genuine' and 'being herself' seems to be, for some reason, of paramount importance - more important than any other personal attribute, achievement or behaviour. It is incredibly odd, isn't it, that on planet celebrity - a world of smoke and mirrors, make-up, image, PR - the matter of being 'genuine' is so important. What can they mean? It seems to me that one must affect the behaviours and pose of the 'genuine' in order to thrive in this environment. Being 'genuine' has become the most important aspect of a celebrity's manufactured image.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Capitalism and the Ecological Crisis

When I attended the Socialist Register session on ecological crisis at the Historical Materialism conference recently I carted along with me a certain prejudice. I expected to be told that capitalism could find no solution to this crisis - but I was wrong. As I reported in a previous post at least one speaker, Daniel Buck, suggested that capitalism might well find a 'solution' to the fossil fuel pollution/global warming crisis under the pressure of looming catastrophe. As far as I remember, none of the other speakers claimed that capitalism was completely unable to dig itself out of the hole it has dug itself into. It may seem strange, but I found this deeply disappointing. The notion that capitalism is driving us to disaster and that the very logic of this system prevents us from finding a solution while we remain within its confines has become akind of anchor - the anchor in fact - which keeps me at least loosely tied to the idea that a complete alternative to capitalism is both necessary and possible. It is possible simply because it is necessary (if you see what I mean). Without this thought at the back of my head - the assumption that sooner or later humanity is going to be forced out of sheer necessity to throw off the sick (and sickening) system that we currently live under if it wants to survive - I'm afraid that capitalism must stretch on and on into the endless future.

That's why I want to get this sorted out asap. If anyone knows of any good books from a left perspective which come to a firm conclusion on this matter I'd like to know of them. Can you, dear reader, recommend one?

While I'm on the subject, the Socialist Register has put three new essays online (at least two of them are from the current edition of the journal). They are excellent. One of them at least (by Barbara Harriss-White with Elinor Harriss) comes to the firm conclusion that capitalism cannot fix the problem it has created - so let's cut to the conclusion - one that I find (perversely) pleasing and a source of hope:

Capitalism is not fixing the environment. It is not able to, either in theory or in historical practice. [ftnote*] Market-driven politics has ensured that renewable energy remains far from the point where it might start to form any kind of technological base, either for an alternative model of capitalist development (in the UK or in an engagement with large developing countries which are about to enter a highly polluting phase of industrialisation...), or for the remoralised and equitable allocations argued for by Altvater. In energy, there is no sign of the politics able to generate a new kind of social, non-market regulation of money and nature. Sustainable capitalism is a fiction and the politics of renewable energy are merely a reflection of the fiction.

* Not in theory because of the logic and thermodynamics of capitalist growth; not in practice because of its path dependence; and because of the contradiction between the pace of physical system dynamics and that of the global economy.

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Monday, January 15, 2007

Giles Fraser

This guy is interesting. He's the Vicar of Putney and a lecturer in Philosophy at Oxford. I've seen a couple of his articles in The Guardian now and was deeply impressed by both of them.

In the first of his articles that I saw Fraser has a pop at Mel Gibson's new bloodfest Apocalypto, arguing that:

Apocalypto is a prequel to The Passion of the Christ, just as determined by Gibson's disturbing theological worldview and just as infatuated with the connection between blood and salvation. It's another Christian snuff movie, but most reviewers haven't the theological literacy to spot it.

In today's article he argues that most Christians support gay rights. I'm not sure if that's exactly true - I would guess that most churches (as in the organisations) are in favour of gay rights - rather than most individual Christians (and of course it depends what you mean by gay rights), but it's an interesting article nonetheless.

It's worth a look through his previous articles, too.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

This Life + 10

I had been looking forward to the 'This Life' ten-years-on-special for as long as they had been hyping it up on BBC2 – a period in which they’d repeated all of the original episodes in a late night slot to whet the appetite of old (and growing older) fans. I quite enjoyed the programme last night, but I have to say that the glorious one-off return was, overall, rather a disappointment. The programme’s main shortcoming was that so much of it was so utterly, utterly preposterous. One of the major attractions of 'This Life' in the 90s was its casual take-it-or-leave-it realism – the fact that nothing very dramatic happened in most of the episodes, the fly-on-the-wall documentary style jerky, hand-held camera shots. The best thing about it was that the characters were, in many ways (and allowing for the fact that, apart from Ferdie and a few minor characters, they were all lawyers, trainee lawyers or ex-lawyers and therefore relatively privileged) quite ordinary and unremarkable. It was a mark of This Life’s realism that its long running storylines revolved around Egg’s indecision about what he wanted to do with his life, Milly’s indecision over whether or not to cheat on Egg, and Miles’ and Anna’s mutual unrequited housemate love. The most dramatic moment of the two series came when Milly punched Rachael at the end of the last episode. By the end of the second series of most drama-soaps quite a lot more than that would have happened – probably at least two murders, a lottery win, and some sort of shenanigan involving amnesia and the arrival of a hitherto unknown psychopathic identical twin on the scene. So it was a bit of a shock to find that, 10 years later, the loveable slacker Egg had become a best selling author (and at the start of the programme was seen being interviewed by that bloke off Newsnight Review), that the sharp-witted, no-nonsense Warren had become some sort of (wannabe) Carol Caplin type ‘life-coach’ (p’shaw) and that, best of all, Miles had thrown in a career as a barrister to become a business tycoon and successful hotelier with a huge Jane Austen type 18th Century mansion somewhere in the rolling English countryside (as you do).

What total bollocks. The storyline, too, packed in a whole series of rather unconvincing ‘dramatic moments’ – as if the writer was making up for all that lost time between 1997 and 2006. Warren appeared to try to kill himself (and then turned out not to have intended any such thing – oh ho ho you guys), Miles’ preposterous trophy wife (more about her later) stormed out of the mansion in a fit of jealousy and left him, Milly was thrown by an out-of-control horse (a staple of the Neighbours end of episode cliff-hanger stock), Anna and Miles declared that they loved each other and got it on before deciding that it just couldn’t be because their love always was and must be doomed, Egg took a boat out onto Miles’ ornamental lake and threw, amongst other things, the disk or something containing the details of his forthcoming book into the water in some sort of romantic gesture and Miles decided to leave everything and go travelling when it turned out that he was bankrupt after his car and most of his furniture was repossessed. Too much.

The programme was filled up with cliché too, I thought. The presentation/characterisation of Miles’ Hong Kong fashion model wife bordered on racist stereotype. She was an archetypal ‘oriental’ beauty – an outwardly meek and submissive wife, but brimming inside with barely repressed jealousy and rage at any woman who came near her husband, and driven to marry Miles, too, it turned out, out of gold-digging ambition. Of course she very quickly blew up into some mysterious rage early in the programme and stamped out of the mansion screeching something unintelligible in the way that Western ‘orientalist’ prejudice imagines that ‘far-easterners’ inevitably behave. Furthermore, Miles didn’t seem that bothered by it – she was only a piece of mansion furniture, a lifestyle accessory anyway. A rich man can always get another one. Another cliché involved the presentation of Egg as novelist. Like all novelists, of course, Egg tends to write in bed wearing only his boxer shorts.

In addition, the programme, I thought, was spoiled by a certain sort of trite comeuppance-ism. The obvious thing here, was the treatment of Anna. Now I never really liked Anna. She was feted in the late 90s (inasfar as it is possible to fete a fictional character) as some sort of ‘post-feminist’ pin up – a self-reliant and sexually predatory young career woman. But this elevation of Anna to the status of sex-war heroine always stuck me as a little absurd. She was for me, simply, a rather unpleasant character – like any self-centred, sexually predatory male. There’s that old debate within feminism isn’t there, about whether or not liberation will come when women have adopted the worst characteristics of the stereotypical aggressive, selfish, manipulating macho male. However, despite my indifference towards that character, I thought it was rather depressing that she was given a kind of family values comeuppance in 'This Life + 10'. She turned up at Miles’ stately home desperate to have a baby and slightly hysterical – she had realised her true life’s vocation which, you see, being a woman, was to be a mother. She regretted, it seemed, all that career woman stuff and had come to see the error of her biological function denying ways. A shame. In addition, there was some suggestion, too, that Warren had HIV – which as a gay man, of course, he was always going to get sooner or later. He was shown taking a series of tablets rather reminiscent of anti-AIDs drugs. I might be wrong, here, because the tablet taking was presented at one point in terms of some sort appendage of his ‘lifestyle coach’ quackery (which of course, as a frivolous and vain gay man, Warren would be particularly susceptible to) – but, surely, the whole thing suggested anti-retrovirals? Moreover, Ferdie (another gay man) started the programme in a coffin (where he remained – although the unconvincing dramatic possibilities that a returning undead Ferdie presented to the writer must have been very tempting) – the cause of his death was never mentioned. Miles, too, got a kind of comeuppance when his possessions were taken and his Empire crumbled (although I approved of that one).

Another thing to have got my goat about the programme was the unnecessary insertion of drug taking and constant wild swearing into the events. The earlier series were famous for their depiction of drug taking and for the language of its characters. But it just seemed forced in this programme. There was absolutely no point to Egg taking cocaine on the steps of Miles’ mansion in the programme – it was as if the writer thought that she just ought to include it since it went with the This Life territory. But it just looked silly. Similarly, the constant swearing seemed completely forced. I don’t mind people swearing, of course, but the rate of fucks, shits and cunts in the dialogue felt totally unrealistic and rather token – again, as if the writer felt that she just ought to include as much of it as possible. But people just don’t talk like that.

Finally, Miles’ hair was about the most unconvincing thing in the whole programme. Owners of Hotel Empires and Mr D’Arcy stately homes simply don’t go around with a haircut modelled on Aslan the lion’s.

So, overall, a disappointment. Although I dare say that if they do a 'This Life + 20' I’ll watch it.

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