‘Working class pupils ‘perform better in Slovenia than in UK‘ is the headline of an astonishingly crass article in today’s Telegraph. I can’t be bothered to regurgitate all the reasons it’s stupid, since I already had to do this last year when the Daily Mail’s headline news was that Slovenian live longer than women in the UK (see my rant A geography lesson for Mail-readers). If Telegraph readers knew what a great country Slovenia was, they’d probably be sending their kids to school there.
I’d no sooner pressed send on the previous post about the wonder of libraries, than I happened to see a ‘heartwarming’ story in today’s Evening Standard about a 7-year old girl who came home to find £500 worth of brand new books from Argos waiting for her.
I put ‘heartwarming’ in quotes, because while it’s very nice for anyone to get £500 worth of something out of the blue, this story rather sickens me. Where is there any mention of libraries? How does such an act benefit the wider community over the long term? That’s what they’re there for: books are expensive, and to spend £500 on them when you’re a child is overkill. You’re not going to like all of them, you might only read most of them once, and if they’re popular books, there’s no reason to buy them new. Giving one child a mass of books looks good on paper, but it’s not half as fantastic as the library services that are already there. And thanks to the way that libraries serve their communities, the chances are Aurelia’s mum could have taken out a load of books in Polish as well – she certainly could in Tooting.
This single benevolent act by Argos benefits one child for a very short time, and in a very limited way (though the benefit to Argos is probably much greater and longer lasting). The Evening Standard story completely disguises the wonderful services that local libraries provide their communities and have done for years. Why would they do that? Why would they continue to propagate a fiction that if you don’t have books at home, then there’s nothing for it except to wait for your local chain store to air-lift a box of them into your living room, when there are magnificent libraries everywhere, at least for the moment?
The driver who caused the death of one cyclist and injured another while she was distracted for – listen carefully – two seconds while throwing a spider out of a car window has been sentenced (full story from BBC here). I keep banging on about multi-tasking, but here’s proof that you can’t do two things at once, and that there are occasions when mutli-tasking ceases to be a cute think-piece for a magazine article and becomes an insidious lie.
Insects in cars are an unpredictable hazard, but mobile phones, music, make-up and iPods aren’t, and the decision to use them while you’re driving is predicated on belief in ‘multi-tasking’ for which there is seemingly no evidence. “Continuous partial attention,” the term coined by Linda Stone for what computer users do, might be a better way of looking at it.
I guess it’s only cyclists that understand just how idiotic and dangerous most drivers are. The reason I’m not dead yet after years of cycling in London is only because I assume that everyone in a car is applying make-up, looking the other way when they turn into a main road, texting, phoning, getting something off the back seat, drunk or drugged, racing to get their kids to school, or racing to get to work after the school run. That’s just the normal ones.
But then there’s a class of driver who actually hate cyclists. They don’t think they deserve to have space on the road. Rather like the person who said travelling by bus was a sign of failure, cyclist-haters are usually those who are inexplicably proud of owning an expensive car, as if that changed anything about them as a person. They beep at you, overtake you with no room to spare, and act like bullies. They endanger you for no other reason than they don’t think you should be there in the first place.
Cyclist haters are largely made, cultivated by the media. You can almost tell when some drive-time radio talkshow host is having a go at cyclists, because you seem to meet more unforgiving, reckless and aggressive drivers on your way to work. I wish I had complained about the presenter I heard inciting hatred of cyclists. If cyclists were an ethnic group, he would have been jailed.
On that occasion, I didn’t do anything about it. But this advert for Clarkson’s latest book infuriates me. There is absolutely nothing funny about developing a dislike of any group of people, particularly when this dislike might lead them to be treated even more recklessly than they are now. I am going to complain to Penguin about this advert, and if you’re a cyclist, I urge you to do the same. It’s only because Clarkson is middle class that he gets away with it – listen to what he says as if he had an Estuary accent, and he’s just another thug.
Update: I’ve just complained to Penguin, Boris Johnson & the Advertising Standards Authority about it. I mentioned to Boris that it’s a bit odd that TfL should be advertising a dislike of cyclists below the ground, while the mayor is trying to develop cycle routes above it.
- Clarkson’s views on cyclists and how drivers should treat them
- The People vs. Jeremy Clarkson, from the Independent in 2005.
Update on May 21st 2013: My local MP Sadiq Khan was the only person who took my complaint as seriously as I did back in 2010 and referred it immediately to the Mayor of London. Responses from the others could be summarized as ‘lighten up, it was only a joke’. Now a driver has admitted on Twitter to knocking over a cyclist, adding #bloodycyclists as a hashtag. Not so funny now, eh?
I was looking for a sentence in Rupert Christiansen’s article in last week’s Telegraph (‘The New Recruits to Ballet’s Boot Camp’) that might serve as an example of a new kind of sexism and homophobia that I see embedded in so much journalism about ‘boys’ ballet’. I gave up, because I might as well quote the whole article, starting with the title.
The title says it all: you can talk about ballet as long as you couch it in masculine terms: discipline, boots, camps, recruits. Bye bye to all that girly stuff, ballet is for men. If you knew how hard it was, how abusive the training could be (I’m not making it up, the word ‘abuse’ is used further down in the article as a positive term), you might not worry about your son wanting to take it up. “It’s not effete, it’s not wimpy,” says Christiansen, in a paragraph which includes the words “Billy Elliot”, ” highly athletic”, “energised”, “testosterone”, “physicality”, “competitive sport” and “nifty backflippers”.
We move on, predictably, to Balletboyz. Guess what, Michael Nunn and William Trevitt are “visibly and audibly regular guys. Married with children, they radiate a likeably lippy attitude”. Oh well, that’s all right then: as long as they’re not gay or anything. I’m intrigued to know what ‘audibly regular’ means: I guess it means they don’t have a lisp, they swear a bit, and can usefully erase any trace of the plummy accents they might have picked up in Floral Street, and don’t talk about art or anything effete like that. Likeably lippy. Regular guys. Good for them. And, continues Christiansen, “they have popularised the idea of men dancing with an intense physical intimacy that doesn’t automatically radiate homoerotic overtones”. I think they have a while to go before Balletboyz could be classed as popular culture, but aside from that, what’s so wrong with homoerotic overtones? What was Stonewall for?
In any case, the point about overtones, if the metaphor is borrowed from acoustics, is that they’re overtones, not fundamentals, the things that give a note its timbre rather than its pitch: I wouldn’t mind betting that it’s the homoerotic overtones that make it interesting, otherwise you might just as well watch wrestling. In fact, I’d rather watch wrestling than watch two men dancing without any erotic overtones.
Why do I think this is sexist crap? Well, all those words that envelop male ballet with respectablity such as athletic, physicality, competitive sport and energized are equally true of female dancing, if not more so: after all, in classical ballets, men get an easy ride while the women are dancing away on pointe – it may look pretty, but it’s harder work than gesturing nobly from the side of the stage. There are at least two solos in the ballet repertoire where the music now used for male solos – big ‘butch’ and loud – was originally written for a woman.
But this is to miss the point again: we shouldn’t have to defend ballet by saying ‘don’t worry, it’s all quite masculine really’, or try to butch it up by aligning it with athletics, machismo, discipline, (sports) science and taking all the eroticism and vulnerability out. That’s an archaic model of masculinity which is as dull, oppressive and misleading as the ultra-pink and sparkly patina of ballet as seen in popular culture. Celebrating the ‘manliness’ of ballet – and this article is only one of many – is insidiously sexist and homophobic in its implicit denigration of everything conventionally regarded as ‘feminine’, or not conventionally masculine. It’s the small change of hate and violence and it leads nowhere. Oh, and it’s completely untrue, too. Ballet may be tough, it may be physical and challenging, but there’s nothing ‘normal’ about men who do it, whether they’re straight or gay. That’s why they’re interesting and wonderful people.
If ballet dies as an art form, it will be this that kills it. There is a side of ballet which disrupts and challenges, offers alternatives to mainstream machismo, and celebrates the beautiful, the exotic and the unusual, femininities and masculinities. Take that away, and what’s left? Me, I’ll be watching Beautiful People, thank you very much.
New Labour has just been admonished for allegedly breaking privacy rules by spamming the phonelines of 500,000 people with a pre-recorded message by Vera Duckworth from Corrie, according to the BBC. They were actually told off about it in 2007, but that didn’t stop them doing it again in 2009. Their response? “Labour said it would examine the ruling and always tried to meet guidelines.” The ruling from 2007 said don’t do it. They did it. How much examining do they need to do, and what part of ‘don’t’ didn’t they understand the first time round? How does ‘always try to meet guidelines’ square with failing to meet a ruling that was made two years previously?
It’s bad enough to fall on your own sword, but to fall on the sword of your marketing & spin department is surely worse. This is where I wish Bill Hicks were still alive to deliver his timeless message to hapless marketing people everywhere. It’s better delivered personally, so see the video above.
I’m now getting Server Error 500 messages constantly on this weblog, meaning that I can’t rebuild anything, or post – well, I can post, but it won’t appear on the front page any more, only in the archives. Probably time to move from 1&1, if the Movable Type hosting quirks page is to be believed.
Well, I did move from 1&1, and from Movable Type. Sorry that you have to jump around from site to site, but believe me, it’s much nicer here than the old site!