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A Short Extract From My Unwritten Memoir, ft. Wes Hoolahan

Friday, November 10th, 2017

On Saturday evening, and then the following Tuesday, Ireland play Denmark with the chance to go to the World Cup in Russia. They aren’t favourites; if they win it will be a superb achievement and Ireland’s first World Cup finals in 16 years. If they don’t win, of course, we can expect outbreak of one of Irish soccer’s favourite pastimes. There will be more debate about one of Irish soccer’s great cause célèbre, Wesley Hoolahan. Almost everyone will say that Hoolahan should have played. If he plays, they’ll say he should have started; if he starts, they’ll wonder why he was taken off. At 35, Hoolahan can’t be expected to complete two games in three days, so they’ll definitely be reliable room for complaint. It’s a cliché to complain about Hoolahan’s omission, but things tend to become clichés when they are true.

In the future we’ll nostalgically sigh as we remember Hoolahan’s artistry and craft, the ferocious control of that right-foot volley he smashed in against Sweden, or the glorious cross that gave Robbie Brady that winning goal against Italy; Wes Hoolahan, at 35, is still comfortably the most skillful Irish footballer in the squad. It’s easy to forget how late this phase of his career came. When Eamon Dunphy began hollering for Wes Hoolahan to be in the team – this was just before Euro 2012 – more than a few Irish fans said “Who?”

I saw Wes Hoolahan play when he was in his prime, or rather when he was nearly 28 (28 is a magical age, and has been decreed the point when every player is In His Prime). It was March 2010, for Norwich City against Huddersfield Town. It was a League One game – in other words, the third tier of the English game, comprising the teams ranked forty-fifty to sixty-eighth best in the country.

I didn’t make the trek to West Yorkshire because I’d heard an Irish midfielder was one of League One’s best players that year. I went because I’m a Huddersfield Town fan, because I usually got the ferry over for half a dozen games a year (sleeping on the floor of the Holyhead ferry terminus is an experience with which I’m worryingly familiar), and because Huddersfield v Norwich was a big game. Town had been taken over by Dean Hoyle – the chairman who’s now, absurdly and gloriously, taken them to the Premier League – and a burst of optimism had supplanted the gloom that has been around the club for the previous four or five years. Town were in fifth, with a new man in charge (Lee Clark, a bright young manager who would soon enough become a cynical old one) and a host of young, attacking players*. Norwich, meanwhile, had suffered the humiliation of being hammered 7-1 by Colchester in their first game of the season; they had promptly hired the Colchester manager, Paul Lambert, and galloped to the top of the table. Hoolahan was getting a lot of praise as a tricky attacking midfielder, but most of the attention was going to Grant Holt – a whole-hearted, if clumsy, centre-forward who was having one of those seasons where he scored every time he touched the ball. He already had 25 or so for the season.

I was slightly curious about Hoolahan – I could remember him playing for Shelbourne in the Champions League against Deportivo La Coruna, where he was the only player who looked entirely at home against one of the best teams in Europe. I’d lost track of him since, but it was nice to see that a League of Ireland player had (apparently) made a solid career for himself. None of that changed my priorities, of course; the career of Wes Hoolahan was a fair way less important than Huddersfield Town’s promotion push. The question of club v country allegiance is an odd one, especially for Irish fans who have no particular link to the teams they support, and most of us manage it with a crude cognitive dissonance. Liverpool fans will cheer on Everton’s Séamus Coleman while he’s in an Ireland jersey; once he’s back in a blue shirt, they’ll scream for their centre half to clog him into the stand. I was generous enough not to mind if Hoolahan played well, provided it had no bearing on the game; I’d even have been content for him to score a blinding solo effort, so long as we were at least three goals up at the time. But all I really wanted was for Huddersfield to smash Norwich 5-0, and if Wes Hoolahan gave away a penalty and got sent off in the third minute, then so much the better.

Unusually, both teams started off as if they knew what I needed from the match and were happy enough to deliver it. After a couple of minutes we won a corner, from which Neal Trotman scored a scrappy goal; Town went on to dominate a gloriously entertaining game. We should really have been three up after that first hour – we hit the bar from another corner, and intricate passing moves put both Jordan Rhodes and Lee Novak through on goal, only for both to carefully place the ball inches past the post. Just before half-time the Town fans, drunk on the exuberant performance, started singing “Top of the league? You’re having a laugh!”

I didn’t join in. It was partly because I knew how games like this worked, that we needed to bury Norwich while we had the chance, that top-of-the-league sides punished that sort of profligacy. But more specifically… there had been a point in the first half when Hoolahan had picked up the ball on the left, ambled infield, and played a perfectly-weighted pass to an onrushing Norwich attacker. It had come to nothing, but in that moment it was clear that Norwich were dangerous, and that Hoolahan had the ability to pick us apart. He scared me whenever he got the ball, after that. He was a composed but incisive player; whenever he picked it up in an advanced position, he seemed to be testing us out and figuring the precise way to cut us open. As the second half wore on he seemed to find bigger and bigger spaces, and although Huddersfield continued to push forward, the defence seemed to be getting more and more stretched.

The inevitable happened with twenty minutes to go, when Hoolahan darted down the wing and pinged an inch-perfect cross that Holt tapped in from six yards. Five minutes later it happened again – he floated out right to pick it up, jinked infield with the ball, and drew a couple of Town defenders towards him before releasing their fullback to the by-line; another low cross, another tap-in, and Norwich were ahead. Town had a golden opportunity to equalise a couple of minutes later, after a terrible back-pass put Lee Novak clean through on goal, but by then everyone in the stadium knew that the narrative of the game was set and inescapable – there was barely a flicker of excitement, and Novak obliged us by making an astonishing hames of going around the keeper. Norwich soon added a third, Hoolahan involved in the build-up again. The Norwich fans chanted “Top of the league? We’re having a laugh!” at us, and we deserved it.

*

I overheard two Norwich fans talking about Hoolahan after the game. “Wes is class, isn’t he? He is a quality player.”

The cliché-ridden footballspeak of fans and pundits is often mocked, and not always in a way that’s fair. You can describe most players’ abilities in specific, tangible terms – Giggs’ pace and balance, Keane’s ferocity, Drogba’s strength, Suarez’s energy. But there are some players – not that many – who are harder to sum up like that. They aren’t that much faster or stronger or quick-footed, they’re no more accurate with a sixty yard pass than half the players in the team… and yet somehow their passes have more bite, and they always seem to have more time on the ball (Andrea Pirlo, who just retired, is a glittering example of that kind of player). They’re the ones who have us falling back on clichés, on “pure class” and “quality player.” Broadsheet journalists talk about players with poise, or guile, or vision, but these are just fancier-sounding versions of the same vague nothings. What struck me about Hoolahan that day was his awareness – he seemed to know where every player was on the pitch, whether they were one yard behind him or seventy yards in front – but what does that actually mean?

Part of that awareness is quickness of mind, of course, but class and quality are probably comprised of a thousand tiny, specific things. Hoolahan’s close control was excellent, which meant he didn’t have to watch it onto his foot, which meant he could play with his head up and see more. He was agile enough to turn quickly and so two-footed that he could go either way, which meant players were wary of diving in to tackle him, which meant he could take longer to pick his passes. He tended to either pass the ball that fraction quicker than anyone expected, before the defenders were set… or he would hold onto it a fraction longer, drawing players towards him before letting it go and taking them out of the game. He knew when to come short for the ball, and when to look for a pass over the top. In short… well, he was class. A quality player.

*

So after I saw Hoolahan destroy Huddersfield without breaking sweat, did I immediately start telling all and sundry he should be on the Ireland side? No. In fact, it didn’t even cross my mind that I’d see him in an Ireland jersey. Ireland players weren’t playing in League One at 27, just as they weren’t still playing in the League of Ireland at 23. Ireland players left Shelbourne to play for Liverpool, not some Scottish team called Livingston that you’d never heard of. I just thought he’d be found out at the highest level; he wouldn’t have as much time on the ball, he’d be closed down, the extra pace of the Premier League would do for him. In all honesty, I blithely and implicitly trusted the whole infrastructure of English football. I just assumed that the scouting system was foolproof, that twenty big, professional clubs with scouting networks everywhere couldn’t possibly let top class players slip through the cracks. If Hoolahan was that good, he’d be in the Premier League. End of story.

And I was wrong, of course. Hoolahan looked a street better than anyone else on that pitch because he really was, just as he really was on a par with Deportivo’s Spanish internationals those few years before. All that foolproof scouting infrastructure was crazily flawed, and he’d been passed over as a teenager by innumerable scouts for no good reason at all. The infallible system decided that he was too small to make the grade, and had no metric for class and quality.

Ultimately, Wes Hoolahan has been terribly unlucky. He was young in the early noughties, when received wisdom in most countries was that all players had to be muscular and powerful (this was when Inter Milan took a slight, graceful Brazilian called Ronaldo and turned him into a bulked-up, injury-prone wreck). Ten years later, the success of players like Xavi and Iniesta might just have shown England’s clubs how idiotic it was to ignore small men; ten years earlier, when English teams were full of big men with very limited ability, there were vacancies for anyone who could show some skill and their size was a secondary concern. And of course, there were places where small, intricate players would always prosper – a Spanish Wes Hoolahan would probably have had a good career in La Liga, regardless of when he was around.

So there would be something glorious about Hoolahan making the World Cup. He’s had the whole of soccer’s infrastructure against him for most of his sporting life, and he wasn’t even a semi-regular in the Ireland team until he was in his thirties. He almost certainly won’t play in the first leg in Denmark; he probably won’t start in the second, but might make an appearance if Ireland need a goal. Martin O’Neill doesn’t quite trust him, you see, even though he tackles back as much as any midfield player. Trappatoni didn’t trust him, either. Nor did Chris Hughton, who took over after Hoolahan’s first, superb season in the Premier League, and slowly demoted him to an occasional starter (Norwich were relegated the following year). He’ll be 36 when the World Cup comes around, just old enough to make an impact – to play just the right pass at just the right time, to trick one more defender and slide a shot home, to pick one more glorious cross. One more moment to add to a career that’s had nowhere near as many highs as it deserved, but far more than he would have expected in March 2010. And then he’ll retire, and we’ll get old, and we tell our kids and grandkids as about him in the years to come. Ah, yes. Hoolahan. Wes Hoolahan. He was… class. A quality player.

*There were four players in that Huddersfield line-up who I thought were shoe-ins for great things. There was Lee Peltier, a classy fullback; Anthony Pilkington, an outrageously talented winger; and Jordan Rhodes, a prolific young striker. The fourth, anchoring our midfield, was a young Danny Drinkwater – he’s gone on to win the Premier League and play for England, and is now with Chelsea. The others have had solid Championship careers, and Pilkington and Rhodes have made a few international appearances, but they’ve never quite established themselves in the Premier League (although Pilkington had one excellent season in the top flight, with Norwich). I’d have rated Drinkwater third-best of the four, which either shows that a: it’s impossible to predict who’ll go on to success or b: I’m crap at judging players.

Poor Auld George: A Victim In The Age Of Apology

Thursday, September 14th, 2017

It’s difficult to express an opinion on George Hook without feeling a crushing sense of tedium. This is, after all, a man who has built an entire career on being obnoxious, and knowing a bit about rugby. Hook has been let loose on the radio as a self-appointed “voice of the people” for years now, his sense of absolute correctness being unfettered by shallow considerations like “knowledge” and “research” and “neutrality.” Instead, he has spent a decade-and-a-half throwing boorish insults and half-baked criticism at people who commit life’s only important transgression, that of Not Being George Hook.

Maybe we should show more empathy. Life must be very difficult for George Hook; he is literally surrounded by People Who Aren’t George Hook. The irony is that, while most of us consider that a tiny day-to-day blessing, it’s a hellish ongoing nightmare for George. Perhaps it’s heroic of him to take to the airwaves to help people be more like George Hook – and yet with strange predictability, he keeps meeting Other People, and he finds that their misfortune can usually be traced back to a key point in their lives when they failed to do What George Would Do.

Recently, and very publicly, George Hook was confronted with one of these stories: that of a young woman who went to a man’s hotel room, and was then raped by a second man who entered the room. Hook gave a lengthy monologue about this, in which he said “Why does a girl who just meets a fella in a bar go back to a hotel room? She’s only just barely met him. She has no idea of his health conditions; she has no idea who he is; she has no idea of what dangers he might pose. But modern day social activity means that she goes back with him, then is surprised when somebody else comes into the room and rapes her.” He then asked “is there no blame now for the person who puts themselves in danger?”

Bloody hell.

Since then, all sorts of predictable people (e.g. Eddie “Fucking” Hobbs) have leapt to his defence. Most recently, Pat Kenny has said that George is a decent man with children (his children are relevant, somehow) who feels terribly bad about everything and we should leave him alone. Poor George. He doesn’t deserve this. On twitter, Dr Ciara Kelly described him as being the victim of a lynching.

Some of the imbeciles who’ve defended Hook’s words – as opposed to defending Hook, with the line that “he’s a nice guy and he feels bad and let’s all forgive him now” – have claimed that George was just pointing out personal responsibility, he wasn’t excusing the rapist or implying that a young woman was in some way morally deficient for liking sex. It was just that she hadn’t thought enough about her own personal safety, that’s all, same way as if she’d – say – left her house unlocked, or walked out onto the motorway without looking.

(Arguments to the contrary are widely available and really not that difficult to make in your own head, so I won’t waste my word count on refuting that idiocy. There are also many intelligent opinions about the nature of victim-blaming and rape culture, so I won’t remake those arguments here either.)

Thing is, even if you accept this argument without any quibbles, Hook’s monologue was still entirely pointless and needlessly cruel. This ‘it’s-the-equivalent-of’ game is deeply flawed from the start – there simply isn’t an equivalent to being raped. But if someone was killed because they wandered onto the motorway without looking, it would be deeply twattish to tell their family, at length, that they shouldn’t have wandered onto the motorway. Most people instinctively understand that anyone who suffers a horrific experience will be tormenting themselves forever about what they could have done to avoid it; most people know that the statistical-high, Vegas-casino odds are that the woman has wished a thousand times that she hadn’t gone to that man’s hotel room, wished that she hadn’t gone to the bar, wished that she hadn’t gone out at all. She will struggle, terribly, with what happened to her for a long, long time. So, at best, Hook’s monologue was like seeing someone drowning and throwing them a brick. It’s just… unforgivable.

‘Unforgivable’: there’s a word. Hook has apologised for what he said, first on Twitter (seriously. Twitter) and then on his own show. This is what the Pat Kenny defence amounts to: well look, he’s sorry.

Many people try to claim we live in the age of Digital Outrage, Twitter Mobs and Internet Fury. This statement isn’t complete wank, but wank makes up at least 85% of its composition. It’s truer to say that we live in an age of the All-Covering Apology, at least for those who form part of the establishment. For people in comfortable and privileged positions, the notion that we might say something unforgivable is anathema. Ultimately, we are all entitled to our opinion, and that means an Important Man On The Radio can say whatever he wants. If he says something that upsets people, well he says sorry and that should be that. If people don’t accept the apology and demand he faces the consequence of his words, well then he is the victim of a Mob.

Let’s not forget that – for the right kind of person – the threshold of forgiveness is pretty high. Danny Dyer’s column in Zoo Magazine quite literally advised a reader to cut a woman’s face, but he apologised, so he’s still worthy of a role in Eastenders and to be treated like a lovable cheeky chappy on Would I Lie To You. Jeremy Clarkson assaulted an employee because he couldn’t get a hot dinner, but had hundreds of thousands of people signing a petition against his sacking, and was hastily snapped up by Amazon for obscene money. It’s interesting to note that Munroe Bergdorf – a transgender black model – recently made the entirely reasonable point that white people’s entire culture is built on racism, and was fired by L’Oreal. You don’t have to be a white male to benefit from this high-level forgiveness, but it doesn’t hurt.

Hook’s monologue wasn’t a careless thought or some extemporising gone wrong. It wasn’t analogous to – say – Alan Hansen referring to “coloured players,” or Neil Francis getting himself into an utter mess when talking about gay men. Hook articulated his viewpoint at some length, quite in control of his words, and he obviously believes what he said. It builds on various views he’s expounded in the past about assumed consent, it fits in with the account of him asking a female guest what her bra size is and telling her that her queer hair was very unattractive. Notably, and unlike Hansen and Francis – who gave quick and fulsome apologies in which they completely disowned what they had said, and apologised for saying it – Hook hasn’t actually stated that he said anything wrong. He’s “ashamed” because it was “insensitive” and it was “inappropriate,” and he’s sorry for the “hurt and offence” it caused. None of that is an admission that he was talking dangerous bollocks. Looking at his conduct now, it’s remarkably similar to that of a cowardly man who doesn’t want to lose his job, and has therefore apologised for money.

Why the defence of Hook, from people who then stress that they don’t agree with his comments? In many cases, it’s because they know and like him, which is fair enough (I mean, I find him insufferable but privately he might be a quite different man). But there’s an unthinking privilege here: that People Like Us should never be fully accountable for their words or actions, that they shouldn’t have to think before they speak, that George’s guff should lead to “polite debate” but that’s it. He can disrespect his position as a broadcaster as much as he likes, but that position should on no account come under threat. The fact that Hook’s monologue will have hurt thousands of people, and emboldened a thousand more fuckwits to blather poisonous horseshit in braying voices, isn’t the point – he said he’s sorry, after all. It’s hard not to be reminded of the Monty Python sketch, in which Eric Idle gets away with the murder of twenty people by saying “I’m very sorry and it won’t happen again.”

So were George Hook’s words unforgivable? Maybe not. If he is genuinely contrite he could, perhaps, do a few things to show it.

  • He could describe his words, not as “inappropriate,” but as appallingly ignorant and simply wrong.
  • He could donate a significant sum from his not-inconsiderable income to the Rape Crisis Centre or other, similar, charities.
  • He could recognise that his position is untenable, and resign.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not holding my breath. He’s said he’s sorry, after all. What more can we expect?

I Have Finally Learned From Aaron Sorkin, But Not What He Wanted

Saturday, November 12th, 2016

After Donald Trump’s victory, Aaron Sorkin wrote a letter to his wife and his daughter, Roxy. This response was published on the Vanity Fair website, so we can only presume that Aaron Sorkin was angry and distraught that Vanity Fair somehow got hold of his private correspondence this way. The “letter” was widely described as inspiring and beautiful. Even setting aside the colossal crassness of using one’s own family as a literary device, I only found it… instructive, albeit not for the reasons that its author intended.

Reading it, I had a sudden, crashing, perfectly-formed realisation. I actually understood why some people had voted for Donald Trump, an action I had previously thought entirely unfathomable for anyone who isn’t a complete and irredeemable imbecile and/or shit.

I should declare that I find Aaron Sorkin a thoroughly detestable screenwriter, but setting that aside and taking his letter on its own merits -

No, wait. I’m not sure I can set that aside. This isn’t about Sorkin’s scripts and I always make these things too long, so skip down to the endnote if you want to read how every part of his snivelling, self-dramatising “letter” just echoes the preening worldview of the man’s back catalogue. Otherwise, on we go.

Given Sorkin’s complete lack of interest in understanding anybody who commits the unforgivable crime of Not Being Aaron Sorkin, it’s ironic that one of his charges against Donald Trump is that he has ‘no curiosity to learn.’ But what’s interesting is the next paragraph, in which he lists Trump’s supporters. They are the Klan, bigots, racists and idiots. And that’s it.

Now here’s the thing; I’m sick and tired of hearing how the left need to engage with, understand, and ultimately appease right wing bigots who say thoroughly noxious shit. I’m tired of the pseudo-victimhood that comes from people who are upset at being called racist and misogynist, and then go and vote for a man who’s racist and misogynist. I’m also tired of the growing trend that people can spout racist / misogynistic / homophobic / just sheer hateful bullshit and then be offended when called on it, as if “racist” is a term of abuse rather than a description of a social philosophy. I’d place a conservative estimate that at least one third of Trump’s voters chose to vote for him for really nasty reasons, just as a good third of Brexit voters were overtly motivated by xenophobia. However, we must also accept that a huge number of Trump’s voters are not the comic-book villains of Sorkin’s imagination. These people were motivated by something else.

To Sorkin, of course, these people are literally not worth mentioning. It doesn’t even occur to him that they exist. No wait, that’s not true; he knows they exist, they’re just unimportant, a mass of people without any real agency of their own. They’re nothing more than a faceless demographic, there to be manipulated by the bad guys, a featureless group with no opinions beyond those they are fed by their betters.

Why would you vote for a wanker like that, though? For a start, why would any woman vote for a man who-

No, hang on.

The most blackly amusing part of the letter comes when Sorkin proposes his solution. ‘We’ll fucking fight,’ he says, and you think: YES! Finally he gets it. You can’t just wag a finger at these people; you can’t just offer platitudes; you have to fight. So what are you going to do, Aaron? ‘We fight for a woman to keep her right to choose. We fight for the First Amendment and we fight mostly for equality…’

YES! HOW??

‘I don’t think this guy can make it a year without committing an impeachable crime… and [if I'm wrong] we’ll make it through those four years. And three years from now we’ll fight for our candidate and we’ll win and they’ll lose…’

Oh.

Are you serious? That’s what you mean by fight – just accept it, and hope to win the next election? That’s what you’re going to do to help those that you feel are threatened by Trump’s election – you’re going to wait?

And for a moment, I imagined I was somebody else, reading this appalling screed. I imagined I was a former automotive worker in the rust belt who’d lost my job. Lost my house in the subprime crash, maybe, and struggling to keep myself above the rising tide of debt. I imagined I was someone in dire straits who had nonetheless been appalled by – and rejected – the easy hatred that Trump represents, and voted for a Democratic candidate in whom I had very little faith. I imagined being that person, reading an article by a a man claiming to be speaking for people like me, saying he was going to fight for me… and offering not a single solitary concrete thing he was actually going to do, except wait four years and vote for another Democrat who was probably going to do the square root of fuck-all for me.

If I was that guy, the only thing I’d want to do would be to scream abuse into Aaron Sorkin’s self-dramatising, self-justifying, privileged face.

Just to make one thing clear. There isn’t one big reason that was Trump was elected, as many opinon columnists are trying to claim; there’s lots of little ones acting together, and I don’t pretend to understand all of them. So I’m not claiming this isn’t really about race, or misogyny; as a white man who doesn’t live in North America, I just don’t really feel qualified to talk about such a thing. What I do know is that my automotive worker is a hell of a lot worse off than me, whether s/he is white or not, and I’m just someone who rents a small flat with my girlfriend. Their troubles are not imaginary. I also know that it’s a damn sight easier to make people believe racist filth if they themselves feel angry, marginalised and abandoned.

For decades now, a generation of corporate politicians have called themselves leftwing while subscribing to a form of (sporadically) redistributive neoliberalism. These people have facilitated economic forces that have slowly impoverished an entire social class, they have removed all certainties of employment, housing and essentials. To compensate, they’ve thrown just enough crumbs to keep just enough votes from a working class who feared the alternative. Whenever awkward questions were raised, the Clintons and Blairs of this world simply deflected them. Electoral gold was to sound sufficiently caring while saying nothing of substance. That’s the legacy of the brand of politics that Bill Clinton pioneered; saying as little as possible, avoiding awkward questions, and pretending whenever they can that the awkwardly hollowed-out people on the fringes of society don’t really exist. These are the people who’ve never actually supported anti-immigrant rhetoric, but also never challenged it because it’s a vote loser; instead they’ve offered empty words about legitimate concern and then tried to change the subject.

And so Donald Trump offers, at least, a narrative. His excuse for a plan may be incoherent, economically illiterate and entirely repugnant, but that doesn’t matter much if you are up against people who don’t offer any narrative at all. What the Trumps and Farages of this world have realised is that you can get away with shouting stupid bullshit if the other side consists of people who don’t say anything whatsoever; you can win any argument if you’re taking on people who view making arguments as election-losing territory. Donald Trump has said he’ll slap enormous tariffs on foreign-made cars should Ford move to Mexico. That probably won’t happen, and won’t work if it does; however it’s still a more substantial statement for former industrial areas than anything I’ve heard anybody say, in the US or the UK or Ireland, since I started taking an interest in politics as a teenager. In fact, if I had a couple of decades of being ignored by fluently duckspeaking leaders, I might even view a millionaire as an “outsider” if he broke a cardinal political rule and said something.

So here’s the thing, Aaron Sorkin and your incredibly irritating ilk. You might need to accept that a chunk of Trump’s voters looked at the man, found him appalling, but looked at the alternative and decided he was still the best chance they had. They did this because you, and people like you, have failed them utterly. They know there’s a risk of economic disaster, but that’s not particularly frightening when you perceive yourself as being economically fucked anyway (which is why Sorkin’s first terrible consequence of Trump’s election, that the Dow future market has fallen, is so infuriatingly disconnected). Deep down those people know he’s a bigot, but when you live in a post-industrial unemployment blackspot you don’t have the luxury of caring about that. They find his “make America great” rhetoric ludicrous, but it’s still less obnoxious that the message that essentially things are fine and just need a few tweaks. Besides, given that Sorkin himself has pontificated in his usual patronising manner about how America was last Great in the forties, his lampooning of Trump is a bit rich.

Of course, not all his voters thought this way, not even close to all of them. I’ll wager it was enough to have turned this election into the heavy Trump defeat it could, and should, have been.

These people need to be engaged with. And – how strongly can I put this? – that emphatically doesn’t mean nodding and talking about “legitimate concerns”. That’s not engaging – that’s just hoping the problem goes away, just you like did before. It means recognising that bigotry doesn’t always come from bigots. It means calling the hate-filled shit for what it is, but still listening to whoever said it because you recognise that the person might have a genuine grievance as well as a prejudiced one.

Aaron Sorkin is able to create marvellous fictional worlds in which everyone is comfortably middle-class, doesn’t ever have trouble making the rent, takes it for granted that they are in control of their own life, and can fight for justice by rapidly reciting facts at cartoon racists. I’m sure it makes him feel virtuous, but that’s not the world we live in. Who knows, maybe one day Roxy will write him a heartfelt, private letter to explain it. She can publish in Vanity Fair.

*

That endnote:-

Sorkin started out by being the screenwriter of A Few Good Men, still the only thing of his I’ve seen which I enjoy. It showcases one of Sorkin’s real, solid talents: an ability to come up with reams of quotable lines. In its “you can’t handle the truth” scene it showcases the other: Sorkin realises that actors love monologues, and the great ones can deliver long, wordy speeches into something that sounds like its genuinely stream-of-consciousness. Allied to a director who knows exactly how to pitch this material, and you’ve got a fun spectacle in which Tom Cruise gets to do That Tom Cruise Thing while Kiefer Sutherland, J.T. Walsh and Jack Nicholson chew the scenery with aplomb.

So it’s fun. But… for a moment, let’s treat it as a serious drama, the way Sorkin expects his other work to be treated, and the way that – beneath the enjoyably OTT presentation – this script wants to be treated. What we find is a drama with skewed priorities and an extraordinarily platitudinous outlook. It’s a story about institutionalised, homicidal bullying that never actually questions the institution, and sees the conviction of Jack Nicholson’s boo-hiss baddy as the end of the problem. It’s about a murdered private, but it’s so uninterested in him that neither he nor his family even get any lines; their experience is secondary to Tom Cruise’s struggles with lawyering and resolving his daddy issues. Demi Moore plays the only substantial female character, and her role is to nearly mess up the trial while inspiring the talented man to be the best he can be. The accused marines are the only two characters we meet who aren’t middle-class Sorkin surrogates or arch-villains, but they don’t have any real character; they’re there to represent the Nobility Of The Marine and the Naive Following Of Orders, but they don’t have any interests or texture or agency of their own. They’re non-people, who Sorkin has no interest in understanding.

Since then, since Aaron Sorkin became That Aaron Sorkin, his shtick has hardened. He writes dramas that think they are intelligent, because characters have long monologues in which they recite facts he’s looked up on Wikipedia. He writes trite morality plays which shows the heroic sacrifices made by political servants, lawyers, newspaper editors and producers of awful TV shows as they go through the Herculean task of going into work. He writes about how hard it was for television types to speak out during the Iraq invasion, like a man who views the struggle with his conscience as the real struggle of that period, like a man who wants a medal and daily fanfare for his amazing achievement of not being racist or sexist (and if you look at the way his heroes are exclusively men, or the way he behaves in this interview, that latter is up for grabs). He writes shows where the character moments frequently involve someone reciting their resumé. He writes TV shows that don’t even try to do the most basic research, that don’t do anything to understand the motivation or the often-putrid arguments of people who don’t agree with him (witness that appallingly smug scene in The West Wing when President Bartlett wins an argument with a homophobic bible-basher by reciting batshit chunks of Leviticus at her, before demanding she stand up: the witless demand for subservience is bad enough, but Sorkin seems unaware that any religious arsebiscuit can refute that line of attack by saying homosexuality is condemned in the New Testament as well as the Old).

You can call somebody a bad writer because they’re untalented, or you can call them a bad writer because they’re just talented enough to make millions of people enjoy their terrible work. By the latter definition, Sorkin is simply the worst screenwriter currently working in the English language.

Not A Racist

Friday, June 17th, 2016

I’m writing this piece the day after Jo Cox MP was murdered. It’s about the growth of hysterical, poisonous, wholly nasty discourse within the UK and I should say that I decided to write it before Jo Cox was killed. More specifically, I decided to write it this morning, when I saw a photo of the leader of UKIP standing in front of a poster showing a long queue of refugees (the only white ones in the picture had their faces obscured) and the caption “BREAKING POINT.” When I saw that, I didn’t expect that a few hours later it would seem like a wonderfully innocent utopia, that I’d be looking back with dewy-eyed nostalgia on those great times when an overtly racist poster seemed like the worst thing I could imagine.

Jo Cox’s horrific murder might, just might, have nothing to do with the poisonously ugly mood that seems to have taken hold of England right now. But it’s impossible to talk about that mood without referring to the fact that an MP who worked as a voice for immigrants and refugees was shot and stabbed outside her constituency office, by an apparent neo-Nazi who some eyewitnesses claim to have shouted “Britain First.” It’s hard to know what to say. This piece is mainly about UKIP’s racist poster and the sort of hate and anger it encourages, which may well have been demonstrated in the most appalling way.

So. Deep breath.

On a personal level, I had a bit of a watershed in the runup to the 2010 General Election, during the event that became known – with paralysing predictability – as Bigotgate. Gordon Brown was confronted by Gillian Duffy, a grandmother, and in an accidentally-recorded and deliberately-broadcast conversation described her as “a bigoted woman.” Brown was roundly denounced for this, and every major media outlet in the country – both the right-wing and vaguely left-wing press, as well as more or less every TV voice – promptly said that it showed the gap between Labour and the voters on the subject of immigration, before getting on to the serious business of what Brown’s reaction meant for Labour’s polling numbers. Ms Duffy, the narrative went, had said nothing wrong, had voiced a reasonable concern. It became (and remains) a truism that Gillian Duffy “expressed concerns about immigration.”

But she hadn’t. What Gillian Duffy actually said was “You can’t say anything about the immigrants… but all these eastern Europeans what are coming in, where are they flocking from?” Now, just to declare a personal interest that many people would share, I’ve got friends from eastern Europe and there are eastern Europeans in my extended family. I don’t particularly like the thought that people would demand that I tell them where my friends and family were all flocking in from. Gillian Duffy didn’t “raise a concern about immigration”: she raised a concern about eastern Europeans. She specifically singled out those people as a problem, and the use of the word flocking just made this worse (yes, “flocking” is a common enough phrase, but using animalistic terms in reference to human beings is the same ugliness that made David Cameron’s reference to a swarm of migrants so ugly). To cap all this, the question only makes sense if you remember she was talking about a type rather than people who happen to come from a certain place (eastern Europeans come from eastern Europe, clearly – so why would it need asking?). To hear that she had “raised concerns about immigration”, and “said nothing wrong”? It was unpleasant. I emphatically don’t think the question meant she was a bigot, and Gordon Brown shouldn’t have called her one (I’ll come back to that). However it was a bigoted thing to say, and it was certainly rude.

Oh look, I thought. These eastern Europeans flocking here from who-cares-where – this is how we can talk about other people now.

What really disappointed for me, though, even more so than should-kn0w-better commentators in the Guardian solemnly agreeing with this legitimate concern bollocks, was that Gordon Brown had the chance to confront this mass-media delusion that Ms Duffy had said nothing objection. He could have said “look, she’s not a racist or a monster, I absolutely shouldn’t have implied she was, and I’m very sorry. But reality check, please; this lady wasn’t raising concerns about immigration, as you all seem to think. She was complaining about people from eastern Europe, people who are just like you and me and any other human being, and saying they were a problem. She probably didn’t mean it, but she should have thought more carefully about what she was saying. I should have thought more carefully about what I was saying. And so should everyone. Always.” But that would have lost him votes, and he just wanted the issue to go away. Letting this fiction build up, that “where are all these eastern Europeans flocking in from” is a perfectly acceptable way to talk and is actually just raising a legitimate concern about levels of immigration, was his idea of damage limitation. Letting that myth take hold was cowardly, craven, and may well be the single worst thing that Gordon Brown ever did as a Prime Minister.

Since then, and particularly since I came back to England two years ago, I’ve had a sense of all decorum being chipped away. In the grip of the EU referendum (and before it), people are doing and saying things that would have been unthinkable ten years ago.

The real fuck-up of Brown’s “bigoted woman” slur, of course, was that it played into the hands of the not-racist-buts. The statement “I’m not A Racist” is the standard-issue bullshit defence that’s unfurled whenever some arsepiece has a go at people who have the temerity not to be white, or not to be English, or both (see also “nobody could call me sexist,” “I don’t have a homophobic bone in my body,” and so on). This is the de facto justification for anybody who says something unpleasant, rude, thoughtless, nasty – and yes, racist – but wants to be seen as a victim. There are comparatively few people who are “racists” in the sense that the strawman of A Racist implies. But more or less every human being on the planet will, at some point, have said something racist – and yes, I include myself in this – whether they meant it or not. They might not think a statement through, they might phrase it badly, they might be bullies who want to hurt someone any way they can, it might be a bad attempt at a joke, it might be due to a prejudices you didn’t even realise you held before you vocalised them. Grown-ups, when confronted on this, apologise. Egotists, those with ugly views and a dislike of being questioned, tend to get faux-offended and say “How dare you? I’m not a racist.” By calling Gillian Duffy a bigot, rather than saying she said a bigoted thing, Brown allowed UKIP and their ilk to imply a ludicrous false equivalence between being racially abused and being called a racist. They could cast themselves as marginalised, as victims, as ordinary folk taking on elites. And so they do.

Yesterday morning, I thought – and I was horrifically, tragically, horribly wrong – that UKIP’s new poster had reached the very bottom of the sort of hateful, poisonous shit that too many people describe as legitimate. What’s frightening about it, more so than the echoes to 1930s Nazi propaganda, more so than hiding the white faces among the refugees, is how we’re expected to see these people. These are people fleeing for their lives, refugees of war for god’s sake. But the poster just assumes that we’ll see them as a threat, certainly that we’ll see them as slightly less human than we see ourselves. It’s entirely confident that its target market will say “ooh, scary foreigners” rather than “dear god, what must those people have gone through?”. A couple of years ago, I don’t believe that poster would have happened: UKIP simply wouldn’t have believed they’d get away with that shit. It measures how fast and how far the level of discourse can fall, how easily a society can start to dehumanise others.

This normalisation of xenophobic, racist, vile rhetoric has been going on for a long time, in a lot of places. To pick a very upfront example, when David Cameron castigated Jeremy Corbyn for going to see “a bunch of migrants,” some media voices chastised him for his choice of words but nobody, to my recollection, even seemed to notice the central obscenity: namely, that the leader of the UK thought going to meet homeless refugees fleeing a civil war was self-evidently a waste of time. This has become something that goes without saying. More so than any time in my memory, even when Iraq was being bombed and nobody bothered reporting on the death toll of all those brown people, it’s taken as read that foreigners don’t matter as much as British people and only silly, bleeding-heart lefties even pretend to think otherwise. “We need to look after our own people first” isn’t even a controversial statement any more, and making the point that they are all our own people is seen as some sort of smug PC-posing by a member of the metropolitan elite. Leaflets are released asking what will happen when the Turks join, and the politically expedient response is “don’t be silly, Turkey won’t join” rather than asking what the fuck is wrong with Turkish people, exactly? People are exhorted to “take our country back,” and nobody calls this for what it is – an exercise in portraying all foreigners as having stolen the country, as invaders. And if any of this shit is challenged, you get the cry of “Waaah! You’re saying I’m racist! You’re calling ordinary people racist!”

Facts, in this climate, are obviously an irrelevance. A few weeks ago I saw Frank Field, one of the “thoughtful” Labour MPs who’s in favour of leaving the EU, declaring on Question Time that “I don’t think people should be basing their decision on facts” – yes, he actually said that – and nobody even told him it was a colossally stupid statement. But we’re living in a reality where raw prejudice is genuine, where nuance and context are mealy-mouthed, where hysteria is debate, and where bigotry – of course – is legitimate concern.

And none of this has just happened. It’s been fostered by a media that’s seen how hysteria sells papers, by politicians – either those happy to whip it all up, those looking to win votes by pandering to it while secretly despising anyone who falls for it, or those who don’t want to lose votes and hence ignore it – and ultimately, as is always the case, by everyone.

When it comes to the murder of Jo Cox – the appalling, sickening, heart-rending murder – it’s important to say that nobody really knows why it happened as yet. However, in a society where immigration is an enemy, where migrants are a swarm, where the country is at “breaking point,” where anger is an electoral tool, where you only have to care about “your own,” where you’re told to “take control” and “take your country back”… what do you expect to be the outcome of this, if not violence? Shocking… yes, the murder of Jo Cox was that, of course. But if you were surprised, you haven’t been paying attention.

If this seems bleak, then it’s only half the story. There’s another way of doing things in Britain, and it’s the way that Jo Cox, a mother-of-two who formerly worked with Syrian refugees for Oxfam, represented. Her husband’s ludicrously beautiful and inspirational statement does that too. Jo Cox is someone who, before yesterday, many others would have dismissed as a do-gooding idiot, someone out of touch with ordinary people. Pathetic, hollow, joyless men would have thought her foolish for her belief that caring and kindness and empathy are more important than blame, power, and advancement through the propagation of fear. Jo Cox will be remembered, of course. But the least duty for everyone else is to remember her, not just as a victim, but as someone who was right.

The David Quinn Guide to Honest Debate

Friday, March 20th, 2015

Like all right-thinking people in the world, you know that allowing the gays to get married will precipitate the collapse of our god-fearing society, just like divorce and the X-case and the Mother And Child scheme and eating meat on Friday didn’t. However, it’s tough to be a right-thinking decent Christian these days. You’re probably horrified to find that all your sensible arguments don’t cut it any more. Well sure, it was great when we could say “it’s just not natural” and wait for everyone to moo their agreement, but we can’t live in the past. We know society peaked in 1954, but in these secular, godless times that doesn’t cut it any more.

So where can you look for inspiration? The answer, of course, is God, or as the liberal PC intelligentsia call Him “whatever you happen to think and can’t be bothered backing up with rational argument” (It’s that sort of nonsense that has turned Ireland into the socialist dystopia we see before us today). God’s finest missionary in the country is the greatest source of inspiration we can find. There is no truth-speaker more magnificent than David Quinn; he’s silver-tongued, impassioned and sexy (Yes he is. He’s really sexy).

You know you want some of this

So to help you along as you fight the good fight, here are a few simple strategies to enable you to argue like the man himself. Pay attention now and we might just keep the hordes at bay.

David Says: Where do you draw the line?

This is the entry-level tactic. Never just argue that something’s bad on its own merits as that will get you into tricky areas involving so-called “facts.” No, always make the point that anything the liberals want – even if it seems reasonable – is in an inevitable slippery slope, which ends with anarchic platypus-fucking orgies in the senior infants classroom. When someone says “I think gay marriage is fine,” never come out and just tell them that this is the death voice of evil from the cold black void of Satan. Just say “Well okay, but what happens next? What happens when mothers start marrying their daughters? If you allow two men to marry each other, then you’ll have to let me marry a ferret! What will you say when your neighbour wants to get hitched to a hoover?”

Effectiveness: 6/10. This was a peerless trademark of The Great Man back in the day, and the perfectly rational “if you allow gay people to adopt they’ll be stealing babies from your cot” argument remains the high water mark. It’s not as effective these days, partly through overuse, mostly because ‘where do you draw the line’ lost its effectiveness once everyone remembered there’s a fucking huge centuries-old legal system that exists specifically to draw lines. Still worth an outing though.

Logic

"The logical consequence is that they'll make it compulsory for you to fuck a rasher."

David Says: A dog’s got four legs, so anything with four legs has to be a dog.

There’s a knack to the ould ‘false equivalence’ game, but once you’ve got it down you’ll be unstoppable. Let’s start simple: do you want to discredit something (yes of course you d0)? Well find somewhere else where it’s allowed, find out something bad about that place, and then present the one as an inevitable consequence of the other, like so: “You know where else has gay marriage? Mexico! Mexico has a heroin problem, probably. Do we want all Irish people to become smackheads?” So far so good, but wait! Once you’ve got that basic principle at your fingertips, you can use the same idea in reverse to define what marriage is “about.” Only men and women get married at the moment, so marriage has to be between a man and a woman. It’s obvious, guys. It’s just like how all babies have a mother and father, so couples who adopt also need to be a mother and father. And while we’re at it, Victoria sponges have flour in them, so all cakes must have flour in them. Fuck you, Black Forest Gateau!

Effectiveness: 7/10. Even Fidelma Healy-Eames saying that the Americans had banned Mother’s Day made a splash and and got people talking, even though it was to say she’s an utter moron. Just focus on the Maestro – His Davidness’s whole “marriage is devalued if anyone can do it” shtick remains the cornerstone of our argument and it stems from this basic tactic, so it’s one you’ve got to get to grips with. Otherwise Jesus hates you.

"Biscuits come in a packet, so Jaffa Cakes are a fucking biscuit. McVities can go rim themselves if they don't like it."

David Says: Ordinary Christian families around the country…

The sentence-opener you must never forget. You don’t need facts or arguments at all. Many ordinary Christians are uncomfortable with gays marrying or lezzers kissing or women with short hair, and that’s all that matters and never stop reminding everybody. On no account say “ordinary Catholics,” that makes people think of psycho priests and child abuse – say Christians, because everyone likes Christians, and they kind of sound old and cuddly like your granny. What exactly gives the Liberal Intelligentsia the right to make your granny live in a country where they allow something that’s a bit, you know, wuuuuh?

Effectiveness. 9/10 This is your stock manouevre, your winning move, your bread and butter.

"I'm just thinking of your granny. No, not like that."

…but it’s better still if you can introduce a bit of…

David Says: We are the oppressed.

Too many people come up with classic newspeak these days like “transference” “projection” and “seriously lads are ye high or something” when confronted with the truth; that we are silenced by the establishment, like what happens in Cuba and Russia and other places we could probably name if we could be bothered doing the research. When that ladyboy appeared on the Late Late and called some people homophobes, just because they don’t believe gay people should have equal rights, what recourse did we have? All that happened was that RTÉ apologised, and took down the interview from their website, and paid us loads of money! They practically got away with it scot free! So we are the real minority here (except we’re not a minority because we speak for almost everybody in Ireland, obviously). There are loads of good places to remind everyone how silenced you are – maybe when you make one of your many appearances as a talking head on RTÉ, or in the regular column you’ve got in a national newspaper, or maybe that pulpit in church where Ireland’s silent majority go and listen to you every week.

Effectiveness: 9/10. Most people seem to think this is transparently a load of wank, but all the important people buy it. Somehow.

"People like me can't ever get a platform to express our views. Um..."

David Says: Christianity Is Under Siege.

What is tolerance, anyway? It means respect for the beliefs of others, that’s what. Well who cares for Christians? That’s the question you’ve got to ask again and again, because everybody knows deep down that the atheist liberal elites don’t believe in anything except cocaine smoothies. Never stop reminding people that Ireland’s Christian ethos is under attack, for no better reason than huge swathes of people would kind of like to change it. True tolerance means respecting our beliefs, and if we believe that same-sex relationships are, like, totally creepy, then there shouldn’t be any. Look, we’ve stopped shouting insults at you (like, mostly) and we don’t beat you up now (except for when that happens but that’s nothing to do with us) and we don’t arrest you any more. So in return we think it’s only fair that the state pretends you don’t exist. Meet us halfway, you fanatics!

Effectiveness: 8/10. Some people claim this stance is totally illogical, but logic is for cappucino-drinking hipsters and you know it.

"All I want is the freedom to hold your deviant union in contempt!"

David Says: We’re The Ones Who Really Care About Gay People.

So here’s the thing; gay relationships are wonderful, special things. Obviously they also happen to be unnatural and perverted and wrong, but let’s forget that for now. What we’re saying is that gay people should have their own kind of union that recognises just how fantastic and different and abnormal they are, because that’s what true equality is. By saying the gays can have their own sort of partnership which is almost as brilliant as marriage (except it’s definitely not marriage, because it’s not as good), we’re actually recognising gay people. We’re cherishing them. Saying they can’t do something that everyone else can is the real equality. It’s like when they had segregation in America – black people felt really privileged to have their own special toilet, right? No wait – OK, not that. Hang on, how does this go again?

Effectiveness: 2/10. Ah look, even we don’t know how this one’s supposed to work.

"Ah jaysus, I was hammered when I came up with it, if I'm honest."

Oh send us your hypocrites yearning to be free

Sunday, January 11th, 2015

If ever you wanted to use the phrase “festival of hypocrisy,” today is undoubtedly the day. A march in Paris has been attended by a great many important people, and a lot of those people are leaders or senior figures in wholly despicable regimes. These people are there saying that dissenting voices must not be silenced, while working very hard to silence them in their own countries. I’m not necessarily talking about repressive regimes from Notwhitepeopleania: Enda Kenny has attended, representing a country that has its very own blasphemy law; David Cameron represents a country increasingly becoming a surveillance state; Hollande himself has questions to answer. The word hypocrisy is getting a good old workout on the internet today.

I could be remembering a mythical time that doesn’t exist, but I seem to remember hypocrisy once being a much more direct and compromised thing. Saying that people who avoid tax are destroying the country, while simultaneously avoiding tax – that’s hypocrisy. Bemoaning the immorality of single mothers destroying the fabric of the traditional family, while carrying on with a teenage mistress – that’s hypocrisy. Attending a march reacting to the slaughter of twelve people, ostensibly because a magazine published cartoons people didn’t much like, while simultaneously cracking down on free speech. That’s – um…

See, here’s the thing. This whole affair is becoming “about” many things, but it’s clearly not just about Free Speech TM. There’s the question of the rule of law, there’s the pretty sodding fundamental question of people not being murdered. It’s not actually that contradictory to believe in – say – the restriction of attacks on religions, while simultaneously believing that people shouldn’t be shot dead in their offices if they transgress such a law. To present a very clear analogue, I don’t believe that faith-based schools should receive state funding in a society that calls itself secular, but nor would I see any moral issue with expressing abhorrence and sympathy if somebody burned one down.

Part of the reason I react to this is that the word “hypocrisy” is a much-abused word. It’s the catcall of the lazy, the reactionary, the fatuous. Rags like Th* S*n regularly throw the word at anyone who involves themselves in some sort of campaign to try and make the world better.

The big example’s almost too tedious to go into, but it’s got to be picked apart so I’ll do it. Most of the criticisms made of Russell “fucking” Brand revolve around hypocrisy. He tries to involve himself in causes to help people looking for housing but haaaaa he’s got a big house himself! He goes on about inequality but he’s got loads of money! He bangs on about tax evasion but he works in Hollywood films that just love creative accounting! So fuck him, or something.

But this is just about the most warped priority in the world. Brand doesn’t criticise people for having big houses, or for having loads of money, or for working for companies with dodgy accounting practices. He isn’t a hypocrite by any measure of the word – apart from the now near-universally-accepted reactionary one, where nobody’s entitled to do anything to aid the misfortunate unless their own past is an endless plain of grass-green innocence. The squalid ugliness of the criticism is Russell Brand isn’t just how petty it is, it’s the whole premise. If Russell Brand didn’t say a word about politics and never tried to help anyone, nobody would criticise him for anything. But somehow, because he gets involved in campaigns to give poor people somewhere to live, he somehow becomes a worse person. How can anyone make sense of that?

People on the left – who agree with Brand and his ilk – are equally guilty of dismissing him, including me. I can’t say why other people react as they do, but purely personally it’s a question of resenting people who present easy targets for charges like “hypocrisy.” Being on the left – in the broad sense of “vaguely thinking that society should give a fuck about other people” – is, well… difficult. It means reconciling contradictory ideas so that you don’t end up squashing people under your own rhetoric. Many people on the left are broadly internationalist, but at the same time believe in the right of people to self-determination. Bringing these two things together requires thought, unless you don’t mind coming across as someone who doesn’t think about why they do anything and just jumps on causes they like the look of. As a result, I tend to quadruple-vet most of my opinions for inconsistency at a great big mental checkpoint before I utter them (unless I’m drunk, obviously) and I resent anyone who nominally agrees with me and yet doesn’t do this. They’re presenting soft targets, in my head, when the left needs to be antitank-rocketproof.

For clarity: this is an instinctive reaction on my part, and I’m quite, quite wrong to dislike decent people because they sometimes haven’t achieved absolute wrinkle-free intellectual consistency in their reasoning for why anyone without a job shouldn’t be rounded up and shot.

The point being that right-wing people don’t have any problem with this sort of thing. Reactionaries don’t have consistent opinions, but they don’t see any reason why their opinions should be consistent. The libertarian-right doesn’t have any issue either, because they take a single premise which makes no demands on them at all – “People should be able to do exactly what they like and selfishness is fine” – and just apply it to every single situation they run into. Then they say arse like “how can you be a socialist when you’re wearing shoes?” and think it’s clever. It’s easy for such people to avoid the charge of hypocrisy, because you can’t be a hypocrite if you never profess to give a shit about anything or anyone. But that also makes you an utterly shit human being.

And there’s the rub. Hypocrisy is just about the lamest, weakest, crappest excuse for a criticism you can hurl at anyone and yet it’s somehow become seen as one of the most potent. Everyone needs a certain level of hypocrisy just to make it through the day, otherwise you couldn’t buy a meal until they solved famine in Africa. Hypocrisy is just the consequence of caring about the world and the more hypocrites we have, the better.

To return to the Paris march, many of the leaders attending it are thoroughly despicable people who do awful things. I could list half a dozen reasons to hold David Cameron and Enda Kenny in utter contempt (can’t speak for Hollande, since I know naff-all about French politics, but I’m sure someone can manage it). And as for – god help us – Netanyahu, I don’t know where I’d stop. But if the worst thing you can say about such people is that they’re hypocrites, then you might as well resign yourself to being the kind of person who ridicules Eric Pickles because he’s fat and Robert Mugabe because he looks stupid in a baseball cap. It’s a weak-ass Daily Mail tactic and ultimately it’s the very least of things you can lay at their door. We can manage better than that.

I Am Become Death. Thanks for helping

Thursday, January 8th, 2015

It’s impossible to use the word “terror attack” in anything other than a media-loaded sense, now. The murder of two policemen, and the workers at Charlie Hebdo, were widely described as terror attacks as soon as the news broke; the burning out of mosques in retaliation don’t seem to have the same universal agreement. Terrorism, increasingly, is what we decide it is.

It’s obviously horrific to think of people being murdered. But at the same time, I can’t really shake a sense of… well, ennui, if that doesn’t sound too pretentious. It’s the spectacle of the same phrases being repeated, over and over again, asnd getting stripped of all meaning in the process. Many people have declared the attacks shocking, but how shocking can they be if the same bloody thing keeps happening? Some arses blow up a home-made bomb at a marathon, or a Norwegian guy goes haywire with a bomb and a gun, or an idiotic teenager goes on a spree in an American school; all happened recently, all more or less the same. “Shocking” suggests something that doesn’t fit a pattern. This isn’t a shock.

The only thing that’s vaguely new is that the people at Charlie Hebdo were effectively killed for making jokes. That’s appalling, clearly. It’s astonishing, in isolation, to think someone might be killed because of satire. And yet most of the victims of attacks like this are killed for no reason at all. How is this more shocking than any of the others, then? Let’s not forget that many people thought it was legitimate to bomb Al-Jazeera, including David Blunkett and, allegedly, George Bush. Targeting media isn’t new, either.

I should clarify that I’ve not yet ruled out the possibility that I’m being the arsehole in my response – but somehow, the wider reaction to these attacks seems more drearily predictable, more stultifyingly banal, than any others I can recall. I could just have reached peak intolerance, and yet it’s impossible to shake the feeling that Important People are repeating the same old truisms, like tired children reciting the Lord’s Prayer from memory. Free Speech is integral to our democracy – yeah, everybody knows this, except for a very small number of wankstains who in some instances get hold of guns. Nobody has the right not to be offended – yeah, we all know this too. Repeating it doesn’t make you heroic or profound, just trite. There’s even some people parroting that freedom of speech is absolute, a comforting myth to tell yourself, as if incitement laws didn’t exist.

And as for the Je Suis Charlie slogan – no, you’re really not. This did not happen to you. It is not an attack on you. It doesn’t  mean anything as a statement. You’re not Charlie, because you’re not dead. Apparently it’s an expression of solidarity, but solidarity with what, exactly? With the right not to be murdered? What’s the point in expressing solidarity with something that’s universally established, and to what authority are you expressing it? All these statements do is elevate three pathetic pricks to Evil Supervillain status, as if they somehow attacked and disturbed the whole world, rather than some innocent people in an office. Ditto the comments that this is impossible to comprehend. It isn’t, and saying otherwise elevates these arses to the status of Cthulhu. Some pathetic little men who hate being challenged and craved attention carried out the most testosterone-fuelled, witless act imaginable. It’s not difficult to understand at all.

I’ve got very little idea of the content of Charlie Hebdo, and it’s not fair to comment on satire or humour when you don’t understand the social and political context in which it operates. Most of the cartoons I’ve seen since the incident didn’t do anything for me, and some of them seemed overtly unpleasant, but I’m not French and I almost certainly don’t get it. In response to something this piffling – nominally, anyway – three stupid fuckwits went and killed them. Everyone’s happy to call this attack on democratic values or free speech. Jean-Claude Juncker has declared it an attack on Our Way Of Life. Well if so, it’s a terrible, ineffectual attack. Three dicksplashes with guns, that’s all. And all they’ve done is make sure everyone’s heard of a magazine that was previously – on a global scale – more or less unknown, save for the previous firebombing story. I don’t know, maybe they genuinely believe that western democracy can be wiped out, 12 people at a time. Maybe they’re that stupid.

Unless this response is exactly what they wanted to happen, of course. To become ideas on the march, shadowy memes with weapons. Personifications of death. If this is a terror attack, than that’s more frightening than three arses who got hold of some firearms.

Beyond the very personal tragedies to the people involved – and do I really have to say that it’s utterly appalling for them, something that should not happen to anyone? – it’s the response to this that matters. And that response has been so crap. The rush of the world and its wife to condemn the attacks, as if it doesn’t obviously go without saying and as if those condemnations make the blindest bit of difference to anything (by all means mourn. But condemn?). The expressions of support from mainstream news outlets who wouldn’t have published any of these cartoons in a bruise-blue fit, who will happily follow any establishment line they’re fed with the odd token question. People declaring they’re “not afraid” of three stupid, ignoble anti-Quixotics taking on the entire French state, as if any sane person would be. The use of news-driven phrases like “execution-style killing” which is hollow and vacant and doesn’t even mean anything (who’s “executed” in an office, or an a street, for pity’s sake?). And, of course, the tissue-paper justifications for poisonous anti-Islamic horseshit.

I’m not entirely sure why this annoys me as much as it does. By any objective measurement, people being murdered is a damn sight worse than people saying predictable things. But here’s my current thinking.

The people who did this are appalling for many reasons, but not least because they’re so boring. They’re people who want to make the whole world the same, to follow the same orthodoxy, to recycle the same derivative wank. Confronted with something that disturbed their little universe, they responded in the dullest, most tedious, most predictable way possible; they decided to erase it from the world. Sure it’s violent and murderous. But it’s also so fucking tedious, so uninventive, so miserably dull and petty and banal. That’s why dull, tedious, banal responses are playing the same game. If you say “we must not give into this or we let the terrorists win,” you’re already letting the terrorists win just by saying something so bloody dreary. These are people who, in the most violent way possible, set out to make the world just that little bit less spiky and interesting. Why help them?

But the other point – and maybe the more important one – people who talk about Our Way Of Life, or say Je Suis Charlie, are making it about them. It’s not about them, it’s about the poor sods who got shot. Our democracy was not attacked, twelve innocent people were. Ultimately, what happened here didn’t do anything to democracy, or freedom. It’s a grubby, scuzzy, verminous little crime that’s only lent importance by the global response to it. Recycling shite about values and freedoms, all while oh-so-free western democracies go on quietly removing them, is a dull, miserable pantomime backed up by vacuity and media-aware speechwriters. Nothing more.

“Wait until the next terror attack hits your neighbourhood, or the next War starts and kills a few people who qualify as Us rather than Them. Wait until you see the pop stars and the minor celebrities, the boy-bands and the girl-bands and the Executive-controlled classes, the reporters and the hacks and the big names who base every opinion they have on the carefully-assembled profiles of their target audiences. Wait until you hear them sing their song – their wailing, meaningless, empty-eyed, fake-soul song of regret for all those who died and all those whose families suffered in “the tragedy.” Wait until you hear the lyrics of angels weeping in Heaven and children of all nations coming together in a time of peace, sung even as the War goes on and the Executives and higher powers nod their heads in approval.

Imagine that song… forever.

That’s the future. No boots required.”

Lawrence Miles, This Town Will Never Let Us Go

NOTE: This has been edited since its original posting, to take out some of the more clunky annoyance-fuelled bits. I should never write quickly.

The Ugly Facts

Wednesday, December 24th, 2014

One of the things I’ve mentioned a few times, here and elsewhere, is that aesthetics matter. That’s not in the sense that “we should make things beautiful,” although obviously that’s true. It’s something slightly more slippery – the notion of the aesthetics of morality, or conversely the morality of spectacle – the ugliness or otherwise of what we choose to see as right or wrong. In many cases, it’s easy to be swayed by how something looks but the only mistake people make is in assuming this isn’t a valid reaction.

In Ireland, something very, very ugly is happening right now. A family is having to go to court to argue for the right of their clinically dead daughter to die. She is kept alive because she is pregnant. Her child has a very, very slim chance of survival in any case. But, because of the Eighth Amendment, she’s forced to linger on while her family and her husband watch her decay.

I’m going to say early on: of course, the family are right. The starting-point for the state, or the law, should always be not to be cruel. Putting a family through the ordeal of the courtroom is, in itself, a massively cruel act. The court will rule on the 26th, which itself seems horrendous. The entire vista is simply grotesque; it crystallises the ugliness of the Eighth Amendment, in that even after death a woman has been reduced to a vessel.

What’s… hmm, how can I put this? What’s noticeable is how grounded this case in aesthetics. That’s not to trivialise it, just to show that aesthetics are important. The image tells us, instinctively, so much about how the state treats women; the barbarity of this situation says more about the Eight Amendment than any number of impassioned essays or rational argument.

I do run into a strange disconnect here, though. Essentially, this woman is suffering an indignity which the state enforces on hundreds of living women, constantly; she is being forced to carry a foetus to term. This case has – not surprisingly – become a potent rallying-point in the campaign to repeal the Eighth Amendment. There’s something about that which makes me… uncomfortable. I should say clarify that this is a very personal response rather than a criticism as such, and obviously no sane campaigner should give a toss if I’m uncomfortable or not – particularly since I’m too well-stocked in the cock and balls department for this to ever directly affect me.

But essentially – and there’s not really any way of making this sentence more palatable – I don’t see why indignities committed on a dead woman are somehow worse than those forced on women who are still alive. I find a strangeness to the priorities of a society that gives far more coverage to the fate of one dead woman – who is in no pain – than to the suffering of living people. I’ve used the word grotesque, but the fact that this has become a spectacle at all is part of that grotesquery.

In fact, much of the horror here – from my point of view, anyway – comes from the ugliness of death. There is something horrific about the notion that, after we die, our bodies just become so much biomass. I struggle with the notion that I go from being a unique, living being to just being a bag of possibly-useful organs and a decent source of compost – I just try not to think about it, and I’m probably not alone in that.

So yes, it’s horrific to think of a woman being used as a mere incubator. But I also find it horrific to think that I might be cut up by medical students who are making jokes about my beer-belly, or just mulched up and thrown on some crops by someone who says “if they all had arses like this fucker we’d double the crop yields” – but I’m still convinced that this is the responsible thing to do with my remains, once my consciousness is no longer in them. Obviously, there’s an issue of consent. But I also believe in compulsory organ donation, as I don’t see how a grieving family’s wishes should trump the need of someone who got hit by a bus. Given these views, the principle of using a human body as an incubator seems… well, okay, if I’m honest?

All of which goes to show how rationality without empathy can get you to ugly places. Just because something’s ugly doesn’t necessarily mean it’s wrong, but it’s usually a good indicator.

Images matter. This summation of the injustice and misogyny of Ireland’s social and political attitudes is a powerful, horrific one. And yet again I’m not entirely happy with this. Because this woman didn’t ask to be turned into an incubator, but nor did she ask to be turned into a rhetorical symbol, a meme, or a name to be followed with a hashtag. I don’t like seeing anyone being cop-opted without consent, which is what’s happening here.

None of this – how much can I stress this? – is to criticise people who link to the story and put #repealthe8th after it. Because, to paraphrase something written by Rob Matthews which has always stayed with me*… someone who’s more bothered by one dead woman than lots of living ones, and makes any gesture of dissent against that injustice, is still being more constructive than a person who doesn’t give a toss about either and then criticises others for their inconsistency. Ultimately, however society chose to absorb this case would have been ugly. And therein lies the ugliness of the Eight Amendment, laid out in all its glory. It has turned Ireland into a culture where a traumatised family have to go to court, at Christmas, and listen to barristers describe this young woman as a rotting cadaver while we gape in horror at the spectacle.

But it’s not just about aesthetics, and the misogyny of this case is not just based on the vileness of the image. The thing I find truly ugly about this is the double standard. This woman is being prolonged, against the wishes of her loved ones, because there’s a tiny chance that another human being might live. What makes this misogynistic, beyond the language of vessels and incubators, is simple: a man in the same situation wouldn’t be kept alive without consent on the off-chance that, in two months, someone might need his kidneys. That doesn’t even seem horrific, because it’s too absurd to be contemplated – a bad parody of Logan’s Run. I might believe in compulsory organ donation, but a country that only enforces something of the kind on pregnant women? That’s evil, right there.

Happy Christmas.

*A review of Lawrence Miles’ Dead Romance, which can be found at www.pagefillers.com/dwrg/frames.htm. For those who don’t want to wade through Doctor Who criticism, here’s an excerpt:-
‘Miles offers an angry critique of pretty much any claim to morality us humans would like to make for ourselves. For him, our values are based on nothing more than expediency or vanity; the former in dire straits, the latter in moments of quiet reflection –
“You give money to fucking Save the Whales. You don’t bother giving money to cancer research, do you? You just give money to causes you like the look of.”
That’s one example. (…) Values and morality are all just a matter of perspective. I think Nihilism is the word I’m looking for here.
It bothered me a little. There’s no way I can take this on in my silly little review, there are thousands of good reasons in this world to be angry and pessimistic and despairing so I’m not going to try to redeem the world and say Miles is wrong. All I can really say is that a person who gives money to Save the Whales and not to cancer research is, in my opinion, still being more constructive than the person who does neither and sneers at her.’

Protest, with Manners

Sunday, November 16th, 2014

Why does nobody in Ireland protest? Why is there no-one on the streets?

This truism, of the passive Irish who complain and complain and let shit happen anyway, has been around since 2008 heralded the Definite End Of The World As Global Finance Knew It. Sometimes it was quoted approvingly, usually by those looking in from the outside, as a way of congratulating the Irish for their maturity gosh no this isn’t patronising at all. More often, it was a frustrated cry against passivity, a part of those “the problem in this country…” rants. We just lie down an’ take it, fucksake what’s the matter with us, yah I’ll have another Guinness cheers.

This notion of passivity is… strange. There have been protests – in fact, there have been plenty. Tens of thousands of people marched against water charges recently, to name but one. The Spectacle of Defiance and Hope provides me with some of my fondest memories of Dublin. Occupy Dame Street was in place for some time, before it was cleared out for being terribly scruffy what with Paddy’s Day coming up and all. 40,000 students marched in Dublin in 2010, a fairly remarkable figure; 100,000 students marching in London received saturation coverage as a huge turnout, in a country that’s got almost twenty times Ireland’s population. Also in 2010, about 100,000 people went out in the snow and marched to the GPO. These are just off the top of my head, and I can think of many other marches I saw happening but can’t specifically identify. This “Irish people don’t get on these streets” chat doesn’t stack up at all, does it? So why have all these events been quietly forgotten? Could it be because, ultimately, they achieved nothing?

Years ago, an Eirigí protestor threw red paint at Mary Harney. This sticks in the mind because it gave rise to a fairly stunning image – Mary Harney, blood on her hands. There was much handwringing over this at the time, along with some fairly dense commentary along the lines of “Criminal assault – and what if the paint had been toxic?” The paint was water-based and non-toxic, so the latter’s a bit like being served some cold tea in a café and yelling “what if this had been cyanide?”

Yesterday, it seems that Joan Burton was – shall we say – detained in her car by protestors that Paul Murphy describes as, ahem, peaceful. Thanks to photos and video footage (probably taken with those iPhones that Burton believes the protestors shouldn’t have, ironically) it’s possible to say some things for certain. She was surrounded and given some pretty unpleasant barracking. She was hit by what appears to be a water balloon. People threw eggs at her car. She was lead away by Gardaí, in the end. Burton claims that people banged on and rocked her car, and I’ve got no reason to disbelieve her. There’s photo of a kid throwing a brick at a Garda car (not of it hitting, it should be said), although this doesn’t appear to be during the protest.

Now. None of the above is edifying. Some of it makes for ugly viewing. People shouldn’t yell abuse at an elected representative, or try to her intimidate her. I don’t like crowds, so it goes without saying that I really don’t like it when they threaten to become mobs. I don’t like the thought of people banging on car windows. I really, really don’t like people throwing bricks as that kind of shit can kill people (not that this was vaguely likely in this instance).

Conversely; all the above needs to be contextualised to be properly understood. And I’ve got absolutely no problem with people sitting in front of Burton’s car and preventing her from leaving. I really can’t bring myself to give a fig about the throwing of eggs and water balloons, and it’s simply ludicrous to describe such events as “assault” (or maybe I’m just unaware of the long string of egg- and water-balloon-related injuries that clog up A&E). Readers may remember the pictures of students with busted lips and bleeding heads after the protests mentioned above; on the news, it was reported that they held a sit-in at the Department of Finance and “threw missiles at the Gardaí,” hence implying there was some form of moral equivalence between the Gardaí and the student’s actions. Those missiles were eggs, and throwing eggs is no justification for having your head cracked open. The solemn pronouncements about a water balloon are similarly obfuscatory, as stupid as Bill Gates looked when he seemed so affronted by having a custard pie thrown at him. That could have had his eye out, or something.

Yeah, but can we not have the marches, the banners, the solemnly joyful movements where everyone conducts themselves perfectly? Surely we should not be satisfied with anything less than a peaceful protest?

Well no, we shouldn’t. But the great myth surrounding “peaceful protest” is that it is, by necessity, a decorous protest. This is a version of history that has the US Civil Rights movement begin with a nice lady not giving up her seat on the bus, a few marches lead by Martin Luther King, some impressive speeches and then finally the white chaps at the top doing the decent thing (Malcolm X doesn’t fit this narrative, so we’re not taught about him in school). This is, frankly, nonsense. Take that movement or anything similar and you will find reports of violence breaking out (frequently not instigated by the protestors – and it’s interesting that footage of a young woman being thrown against a bollard by Gardaí was more violent than anything seen on camera at the Burton incident); nor is it any great stretch of the imagination to visualise people – ordinary, decent, not-at-all-authoritarian people – who found such campaigns intimidating, worrying, and dangerous.

Peaceful, come-out-for-a-few-hours-then-go-home marches are – and again, I want to be absolutely clear about this – good things. They are expressions of that easy-to-ridicule word, solidarity; they are environments where, just for a short period, people can go and not feel powerless. In so doing, you express support for hardier souls who are doing that shit every single day. All that’s great and it matters. The problem is when they become seen as the final and only way of conducting street protest – the “right” way to protest, something at which authority can nod its head and then get on with the grown-up business of governance.

When hundreds of thousands of people in Ireland and the UK marched against the Iraq War, many pontificating politicos pronounced it a great expression of democracy – then they ignored everyone and went to war anyway. The decorous protest comes with politicians’ approval because it’s safely ignorable – they nod, they say they understand, and they don’t change a damn thing. If you subscribe to this view – that polite protesting is the only way – then all these protests become is a guilt-bath, an event in which you can partake to register your disapproval, then go home satisfied that the unchanged political course is not your fault.

Let’s come back to that word; “ugly.” This is the nub of the criticism of the entire campaign of people stopping men who come to fit their water-meters, surrounding them and their Garda escort, and barracking them. It is, in a sense, ugly. This doesn’t mean it isn’t, in the main, entirely peaceful. The water charges will place many of the people present in a situation where they can no longer feed their families; the legislation also provides a clear route to privatisation, essentially a legalised theft of something that is not Fine Gael’s or Labour’s to sell. People shouting insults is an uglier image than the abstract notion of state-sponsored primitive accumulation of a natural resource, but let’s not make moral pronouncements based on what looks more violent.

To be more pointed; it’s far from nice to sit in a car and have people bang on the windows for two hours. The fact remains that if you take the people in that crowd, Joan Burton (or at least, the government of which she is a senior part) has inflicted far more hardship, fear and poverty on many of those people than they did on her in that short period. In discussing protest and societal justice, we aren’t supposed to judge based on the aesthetics of the imagery – if we did, then most mass-participation movements would never, ever have happened.

What we’re seeing today includes some spectacular hyperbole (the Sindo declaring that “the republic has been shaken to its core” is a particular highlight), with grim apocalyptic prognostications on the rule of law. This is so far beyond parody, it’s probably somewhere between Neptune and Pluto. A Minister was detained for a couple of hours, had people bang on her car, and then someone threw a water balloon at her. I wouldn’t want this to happen to anyone I know, but I find it hard to condemn a wounded society for acting angrily, and I still don’t think it’s in the same league of reprehensibility as the many actions of the FG/Lab government. It’s authoritarian claptrap to dress this up as appalling or dangerous, and the heavy focus on it is overtly a form of propaganda. The point of mass-participation campaigns is that they let pretty much everybody in, and not all those people will be polite – nor should anyone expect them to be. I don’t mind bad behaviour being described as such, what I do object to is the suggestion that this is morally inferior to decrying the actions of government and, every five years, expressing a preference for a continuation of the norm.

In other words, if you want to see “anger” and “resistance” and all those other buzzwords, then that’s what it looks like. There’s a weird deference involved in the outrage here, the notion that Joan Burton shouldn’t experience this because she’s elected and important. However, Burton does not get to control how discourse happens, or eliminate voices that don’t address her in the preapproved ways. Nor does her position being give her the right not to be confronted by what her policies do – so no, I wouldn’t want my family to be in a car for a few hours, but no-one in my family is running the country and making pronouncements or decisions that affect the lives of millions of people. The rest of us are not immune from being worried and uncertain, we don’t get to set the terms of our engagement with government. Nor should Joan Burton. Nor should anyone.

Journal, 21st September 2014

Sunday, September 21st, 2014

I am not going to talk about the Scottish Referendum. I’m not I’m not I’m not. Well, not much.

To my surprise, the No vote actually made me sadder than I expected. On the day of the election I had an ill-formed, hopelessly optimistic belief that, regardless of the vote, good things might be coming: a “No” might precipitate a proper democratic rethink of how the UK works, an appetite for federalism and an end to the English dominance. Instead we’re hearing transparent talk from David Cameron of “English people must get their voice heard” – because they’re so muzzled at the moment, the news is full of all the Welsh affairs and George Osborne never shuts up about Inverness – and serious suggestions that Westminster be given over to England-only MPs for two days a week.

To anyone of even moderate intelligence, this is a naked power-grab that screams its nature at every point. The symbolism of insisting that Westminster is the proper forum for England-only affairs is a clear statement that England and the UK are effectively the same thing, the botch-job of “do it by parliamentary protocol” means that the implications of four devolved countries can be ducked. During the referendum we were told, repeatedly, that the Union was “a partnership of equals” in a spectacular display of strategically-acquired ignorance. The devolved parliaments in the non-English countries are really a fig-leaf for English dominance; they effectively make the countries’ limited autonomy look like a benevolently-extended privilege. There is just no forum, none, where Scotland or Wales or Northern Ireland can look at the U.K. and say “our voice is as important as yours” and that’s what you’d expect from a civilised, equitable union. Instead of addressing that, we’re being presented with the Tories bolstering their power in Westminster – and if you think the calls will stop at two-days-in-Westminster then you might as well go back to sleep. I couldn’t be bothered reading The Shock Doctrine, but I’ll lay good odds that this is what Naomi Klein was going on about.

*

This week, for the second week in a row, I heard this song in which the female singer is all about the bass. I’m expect it’s called “All About The Bass,” although this is guesswork. I’m not quite sure what this means, but the singer repeatedly emphasised “no treble” so I can only assume it’s is a concept of great importance to her; also, since pop music is now something so alien to me that it’s probably not called pop music any more, the fact I’ve heard this twice indicates that it’s probably a huge hit single. It’s mostly about the singer being chunky ‘n’ proud, dissing all dem skinny bitches and stating that she’s here to tell me that I’m perfect from the bottom to the top. I think I can be confident that she’s never met me.

This whole “you’re perfect” fad, the idea that you should love your body just the way it is – is that… sort of new? I’ve certainly never come close to loving mine. Actually let’s be clear: I pretty much despise it. Not in a serious way, I hasten to add, but in the way that I hate ironing-boards – it’s just badly-designed, not good at what it’s meant to do. When I was younger, I’m pretty sure we were told that anyone who judged you based on your looks was shallow, that appearances didn’t tell you anything about a person – in short, that it didn’t really matter how you looked. The morphing of this into love-the-skin-you’re-in (sick-bucket please) is… well, it troubles me, let’s say. It’s telling that the catchphase I gave above and most other prominent examples, like Dove’s sickly Campaign For Real Beauty, are commercially-conceived: they’re driven by the need to be touchy-feely and consumer-cuddly, while at the same time continuing to sell us shit. “Love the skin you’re in” enables Olay to flog you overpriced moisturiser; “don’t get hung up about the skin you’re in, it’s not even one of the ten most important things about you” doesn’t.

That’s what companies do, of course, but this now seems to have permeated down to well-intentioned people who actually want to help those with poor self-image (rather than just pretending to). When I was a kid, well intentioned adults told me that people would love me the way I was, but I don’t remember being told that I was perfect. Bluntly, this was a good thing – you try telling a skinny, short, clumsy asthmatic with a curiously large head that he’s perfect, and all you’ll really tell him is that you’re a liar. I’ve since replaced “skinny” and “short” with “obese” but, even if I had more abs and fewer chins, I think I’d still be dissatisfied with a pile of slowly-rotting flesh that’s weak, stiff-backed, slow and clumsy if you compare it to – say – a stray cat. I think that’s why I’ve never really been interested in the Olympics, because it’s hard to take a race between the pinnacles of human physique seriously once you remember they’d all lose to a whippet.

But here’s the thing; none of the above really bothers me, because I long ago decided not to worry about my body (or at least, not any more than I worry about cleaning the bathroom. I do try and maintain basic hygiene and the ability to walk). It seems a contemporary obsession to tell young people that they’re perfect, but this is like telling them that maths is fun or that drinking isn’t – it’s obviously bullshit, because otherwise you wouldn’t have to explain it. All it does is add pressure, make someone feel defective for failing to love their body, and convince them that the people who compliment them are just telling piss-weak lies. As inspirational speeches go, “Yeah, we all hate our pathetic piles of gristle and we learn to live with it, anyone who tells you differently is lying” might not be quite as soaring, but at least it takes the pressure off.