None Of The Above
the motive-hunting of motiveless malignity
Friday, February 27, 2004

Ann Winterton's joke was:

"Two sharks were fed up with tuna, so they thought they'd nip over to Morecambe Bay for a Chinese."

With thanks to my dad, who's been claiming that Ann Winterton is a nutcase even longer than I have.

Thursday, February 26, 2004

Oh. Dear. God.

Ann Winterton has done it again.

To other Brits, Ann Winterton is the Conservative MP who got kicked off the Shadow cabinet for making a racist joke at a rugby club dinner a couple of years ago. For a couple of weeks, her constituency of Congleton, in Cheshire, came close to being famous. Congleton rugby club appeared on the Odd One Out round of Have I Got News For You, and witty things were said. (Dave Gorman: "It's come to something when the Tories are too racist for Northern rugby clubs.") You might vaguely remember her name, stashed away in the 'Tories Do The Darndest Things' compartment of your brain.

To me, she's the MP of the town I grew up in. Congleton isn't a hillbilly backwater - well, okay, it isn't just a hillbilly backwater - it's home. And even though I don't live there any more, reading the name of your little town on the BBC News website, in connection with yet another racist joke from its MP, is a little disconcerting. (If not entirely unexpected, coming from her.)

This joke was about the Chinese cockle-pickers who drowned in Morecambe Bay several weeks ago. (BBC News will only say it featured 'sharks and a take-away.' I'm sure someone back home will know more.) The one before this, that got her kicked off the Shadow cabinet, was about how Britain was overrun with Asians. I'm sure the rest of the country will have plenty of insightful and amusing things to say about the state of the Tories and small-town mentality, but they might still think this is a one-off - well, two-off - incident which does not reflect on real people, especially those in big cities.

Therefore, in the name of a greater cause, I'll waive my right to deny I ever knew Ann Winterton or Congleton (and yes, it is that embarrassing). Before the rest of my backward and xenophobic town chime in that it doesn't matter because it was only a joke - which they will, you mark my words - we should establish a few things about her.

Firstly, she is mad. Really. I don't mean mad in the sense that she has some problems which need treating, I mean mad in the sense only middle-aged Tory women can be, completely divorced from the real world. She is most likely baffled by the reaction to this joke, as she cannot fathom why anyone would be offended by it. If anyone doubts that, bear this in mind - she told one racist joke a couple of years ago, got kicked off the Shadow cabinet for it, made it into the national news, embarrassed the Tories (and that takes true skill, as they have no shame). And instead of learning her lesson over that, what does she do? She tells yet another racist joke, this one about a tragedy that's been in the newspapers for weeks. It's not malice, really. It's pure idiocy, combined with no concept whatsoever that a world exists outside of the cushy upper-middle-class lifestyle she leads.

Secondly, she is mad. I reference her previous joke, re: England being overrun with Asians. There are, what, six Asian people in Congleton? Seven? Out of a constituency of 50,000 people in the town and surrounding area, that does not exactly imply it's time to circle the wagons against the invading hordes, does it? (That goes for you too, Mr Blunkett.)There are small, icy planetoids orbiting Jupiter which have a more significant Asian population that Congleton does. What's she worried about, exactly? The traditional culture of Congleton being eroded by an influx of takeaways and Bollywood?

Thirdly, she is mad. Look at this profile of her. Among the things which she is opposed to, in the sense of wanting actual legislature to forbid them, are: Sunday trading, pornography, euthanasia, abortion, and divorce. Among the things which she supports are: Fox-hunting and capital punishment. If she ever got elected Prime Minister by some terrible twist of fate, I can very much imagine shopkeepers being executed in a public square for selling things on a Sunday. She does not occupy the same reality as the rest of us.

Fourthly, she is mad. This impression was strongly fixed in my mind as a child, when she used to come and give talks to my primary school. There was something about the way she laughed, something about the insane enthusiasm in her eyes, something about the way she talked, that screamed out "Danger, Will Robinson!" I appreciate this one only counts as anecdotal evidence from the point of view of a seven-year-old, but I think later events more than proved me right.

And fifthly, my entire stupid, backward, xenophobic, reactionary, small-minded town is mad. But that's a rant for another day.

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Eats, Shoots and Leaves

Everyone's read this by now, right? (Spoiler warning! The apostrophe did it!) Okay. So, you can probably guess how I feel about a book written by and for those who really, really care about proper punctuation. You might even be able to imagine the slightly glowing smile on my face when I first clutched it to my chest in Waterstones, even. And, since everyone in Britain seems to have read this book by now, I suppose I should be glad that I'm in really good company when it comes to punctuation pernickitiness.

Well. In the words of Rowan Atkinson in that Not the Nine O'Clock News sketch where he plays a vicar addressing his congregation while Songs of Praise is being filmed in his church - Where were you bastards last week? I've been complaining about people's inability to use their own language for years, and none of you seemed to care then, did you? Hmmm? You even resulted to insults on occasion, you gits. But now someone writes a book about it, suddenly you all like this kind of thing, do you? Suddenly Sept is not so odd for getting worked up into a fury over apostrophes? Ha.

I feel like one of those obsessive Tolkien fans who has to retreat to the Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales to keep some distance and superiority from the unwashed hordes all claiming they're now experts because they know what colour Orlando Bloom's eyes are. Wait a second, I am one of those obsessive Tolkien fans. Never mind, then.

However. The reason why I started on this subject was to bring you all the Funniest Amazon Review Ever, for Eats, Shoots and Leaves:

"Bestseller? Well i hope you're all happy for giving Eats, shoots & leaves this title because it is certainly not deserved (I didn't buy it, I merely borrowed it of a freind).
Eats, shoot & leaves did have a few funny moments but they were all jokes set aside from the book! I know people are going to think "oh, he just did'nt get it", well let me tell you I did, it just wasn't funny in any way that was remotely original.
I was set to review this book for the school magazine, but I'm refusing, I don't wish to pass the ennuli left by this monstrosity to be passed onto others.
Please, don't read it."

Sunday, February 22, 2004

"They found his clothing scattered somewhere along the track..."

(Everyone who's already heard the Sex and the City rant several times over, look away now and don't say I didn't warn you.)

The final series of Sex and the City is currently being shown. (I think we're about five episodes away from the end, and I think that because over the closing credits there's a 'X number of episodes left!' montage, not that they're trying to milk it or anything.) I've been watching it, on and off, for a few years. And I've heard people grumbling about it, about how it's shallow and immoral and contributing to the downfall of morality, and I know what I'm supposed to say about that.

I'm supposed to say, you've missed the point. I'm supposed to say, it's meant to be shallow and idiotic, and it's not intended to be deeply meaningful. I'm supposed to say, we live in a post-feminist era, and SATC is about reality - it's supposed to show how real women think and act and feel. I'm supposed to say, this is a world away from bitching about Lt. Uhura never getting to do anything other than wear a minidress and say "Hailing frequencies open, sir!". I'm supposed to say, we're all liberated and such nowadays, so we can enjoy a TV programme which shows us as we are, and lets us all admit that what we really truly deep-down want is a pair of nice shoes and a rich older husband.

But, you know what? No. It is stupid, it is shallow, it is offensive, and it does bother me.

If that places me in the Angry Feminists With Placards Who Just Don't Get The Point camp, then so be it; I was never too far off that in the first place, and I hear they have good music there. If my earlier admission that I do watch SATC on a semi-regular basis invalidates my right to bitch about it and be taken seriously, then that's fair enough. It had some good lines, it was funny on occasion, and it's nice to watch something and grumble about it at the same time. (Which is why so many people of my age and beliefs watched Kilroy.)

I could have let it all pass, though, if I wasn't bombarded from all sides with TV reviewers and journalists everywhere cooing over how revolutionary it was, how fantastically realistic it was, how meaningful it was to women. Look at this Guardian piece on various women's views of what it meant to them:

"Sex and the City changed huge amounts for women. Women now have a language with which to talk about their experiences and their friendships. It's almost given them permission to have female friendships that are more important than anything else."

"...everyone connects to the characters in Sex and the City..."

"What made Sex and the City worm its way into so many women's hearts, I think, is the way that it foregrounds female friendship."

"It reflected the life I was already living. It was a mirror of our lives."

"Even though the show is so funny and slick, it doesn't fall into the trap of most comedy series - it doesn't patronise its protagonists."

What the hell is this? I'm supposed to need a TV programme to give me 'permission' to do things? I'm supposed to find it refreshing and new that a TV programme lets me know women have female friends? I'm supposed to connect to these characters, these idiotic caricatures, these paper cutouts? I'm supposed to use the language of their lives and their relationships to describe my own? How? And, you bleating little media-fed sheep, by not patronising these characters - by taking them seriously - it's patronising me, and everyone who's supposed to be identifying with them.

There was a fantastic article I read once, that I now cannot find a link to, which described Miranda as "the show's token human being." Nail, hammer, bang. She's the only one that actually seems to have a personality. Samantha has a loud laugh and a facade of self-confidence and openness about sex, which only serves to hide the fluffy wickle insecure bunny hiding deep within. Charlotte, with her little-girl dresses and her little-girl face and her little-girl daydreams of marrying Prince Charming and living happily ever after, is no closer to being three-dimensional.

And Carrie? Carrie is the much-hated Mary Sue. No, no, think about it. She's unashamedly the projection of the creator, Candace Bushnell, for one thing. For another - well, just look at her. Do you think she's eye-achingly beautiful? Can you honestly, hand-on-your-heart, say that she wears fantastic clothes? Do you truly, truly think that any of the insipid and introspective drivel she writes in that column of hers comes anywhere near reality, let alone quality? No. But watch her - watch how the people around her respond to her. Watch practically all the men she meets, including the gay one, fall at her feet to tell her how beautiful she is. Watch all the guys she likes fall in love with her. Watch everyone talk about what great dress sense she has. Take a close look at everything she owns, and work out how much she must be getting paid to turn out that tripe - and to have a readership that hangs on her every word. Yes, she's a Mary Sue.

But it's not just the characters that bother me. It's the way I'm expected to relate to them, as if they reflect any aspect of my existence. Practically everything written about how great SATC mentions how fantastic it is to finally see a TV show that acknowledges women talk about sex. Yes, but I already know women talk about sex, and in itself that doesn't mean much to me. Show me women talking about other things as well, things which have nothing to do with sex, men, shoes, clothes, sex, getting married, being single, and sex, and I'll call it realistic. Until then, these aren't 'real women', as the show's publicity would have us believe. These aren't even real teenage girls, although they come closer to the stereotype of an average fashion-conscious fourteen-year-old than they do anything else. These are pretty little dolls.

Yes, yes, I know that TV and film are full of women like that, and I'm not bitching about all of them (give me time, give me time). But am I the only one that sees this? When Ally McBeal was still being shown, every woman I know wanted to pin Ally down and strangle her with her own pyjamas for being just so pathetic, for spending her entire life crying and angsting and worrying about whether she'd die single and alone and be half-eaten by her cats when her body was found. (I didn't see the last episode, by the way - there's no chance that happened, is there?).

With SATC, though, I'm supposed to put all that aside because These Are Women Who Talk About Sex. Well, big yay. That's it, though. They're not 'happy to be single', so stop telling me they are - half of their conversations revolve around what men like, what men want, what men will think if they overhear the conversation. They're not fiercely independent. They're not intelligent, witty, or insightful in any way whatsoever. And however 'ground-breaking' it might be, I'm never going to love a TV programme that shows me four women discussing politics once and coming to the conclusion that, really, truly, deep-down, all women just vote for the best-looking candidate.

Choke on your Manolo Blahniks, Carrie. And don't expect me to come and give you the Heimlich out of some beautiful spirit of sisterhood.

Thursday, February 19, 2004


Thanks to the joys of a statcounter, I've discovered this site, which "watches weblogs for books that they're talking about, and displays the most popular ones on an hourly basis." (My discussion of Eragon a while ago got quoted, and I haven't been flamed by any screaming fans yet.) It's an interesting idea.

Now, I'm off to read every blog post that's mentioned The Silmarillion.

(Oh, but, before I go? People jetting off to the other side of the word for a sci-fi convention do not get to call me, and I quote, 'a geek' for naming my plastic phoenix after Feanor rather than Fawkes. Yeah, you know who you are, woman...)

You know an update's overdue when...

...Blogger has to give you three tries before you remember your password. Oops.

Anyway. There was a BBC News article the other day on why cynicism is so popular these days. I know why it's so popular, by the way - it's because that was my idea and everyone steals my ideas, the bastards - but, as ever, that wasn't addressed in the article. It did make a few interesting points, though:

"I didn't trust what the government was telling us," says Matt, referring to the decree that toddlers should undergo the triple vaccine, despite claims it is linked to autism.

That would be the MMR vaccine, once tenuously linked to autism via a very small study (something like 12 children, wasn't it?) and subsequently established, by about eighteen much larger and more comprehensive studies, to have no link with autism whatsoever. Refusing to give your child the MMR jab isn't a hallmark of cynicism, then. It implies an unquestioning adherence to the scare headlines in the tabloids about how MMR will turn the kid into a less entertaining version of Rain Man, and as such, it's no more cynical than parents who give their kids MMR because they believe every word the government says.

A Professor O'Neill echoes my views on this:

"We are both a more cynical and a more credulous society," says Prof O'Neill, of Newnham College, Cambridge. "People say they don't trust insurance companies, but faced with a policy full of small print which they don't have the ability to check and challenge, they sign it anyway," thereby entrusting themselves to the insurer.

Hmmm, yes. You know, I don't think we're any more cynical at all. We use cynicism as a cunning facade to protect ourselves from actually having to think anything through, and as such, our spectacles are no less rosy-tinted than those of previous generations. (And we probably paid too much for them, too.)