Tag: London

Cultural appropriation is not about racism, it’s about affectation.

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Alistair Leslie Graham (Ali G) – the original cultural appropriator.

Most of the time, ‘cultural appropriation’ is not a bad thing.  It only becomes ‘problematic’ when people appropriate culture in an affected manner, like insecure white boys wearing flat caps and speaking with an ebonic flair.

There are examples of so-called cultural appropriation in abundance. The most recent, microcosmic one I have encountered is a cover of Beyonce’s Formation by an obscure white YouTuber called Max Milian.

Before I continue I must get one thing straight – Beyonce Knowles is a stupid person’s idea of a strong woman. Just like so many divas before her, she bares her flesh and peddles her sex appeal, because for an utterly money-minded person like Beyonce a bit of T&A is far too lucrative to forego. And her new song Formation – which is godawful – reveals that she has no shame in exploiting race politics for more and more adulation and hard cash.

Real strong women include Angela Merkel, Janet Yellen, Margaret Thatcher, Dilma Rousseff, Geun-hye Park – we may not agree with or even like some of these women, but there’s no doubt that they are (or were) motivated, intelligent, highly successful and in positions of great importance and responsibility. They are not trivial, sexualised pop musicians who get political when it’s in vogue.

Anyway, back to Formation. The song is a decidedly shallow ‘celebration of black empowerment’ and features multiple use of the word negro, which landed Max Milian (whose hair looks suspiciously like Justin Bieber’s) in hot water. Some outraged commenters said that white people should ‘stick in their lane’ and that those who don’t understand why his video is so ‘damaging’ should be ‘educated’.

The aggressive, patronising and hypocritical nature of these comments is typical of what is known as the Social Justice Warrior (SJW). These people believe themselves to be paragons of morality, yet advocate segregation when they say whites should ‘stick in their lane’.

Some SJWs display a modicum of nuance in their writing – their ideas on cultural appropriation are slightly more complex yet still feeble – but most are crass, loud and obnoxious. What all of them have in common is a raging persecution complex, which causes them to perceive almost anything as a threat or a ‘trigger’. For example, trying new cuisines is a veritable minefield fraught with problematic and damaging micro-aggressions. To be so sensitive that you take offence at the language in Asian restaurant menus suggests that it is fact you who’s the problematic one.

Thankfully, not all the commenters were so neurotic and unreasonable. maymay4891 wrote: ‘I’m black and the negro shit doesn’t bother me its just the fact that he looks and sounds like a complete fuckboy.’ Well said, maymay. There was absolutely nothing racist about Max Milian’s cover, it was just a toe-curling homage to the mainstream culture that he appears to be obsessed with.

Imagine if all of us did stick to our ‘lanes’, what a terrible constriction that would be on our lives. And even if the SJWs allowed us to stray from our lane and have an Indian, they’d barge into the restaurant just as we raised the first forkful of curry to our mouth, demanding that we check our privilege and consider the brutality of colonialism.

However, there are some caveats. For some people – namely those who have a propensity for being affected bellends – there does come a time when they should stick to their lane.

Many young people, both in their teens and twenties,  will affect a facade when searching for an identity. Changes in speech will often occur, and one of the most common faux-accents is mockney. It’s very grating to hear someone of middle-class origin, such as Lily Allen, appropriating working class accents by dropping their t’s and h’s. Even more jarring are those who appropriate what linguists call Multicultural London English, which is like Dizzee Rascal, Plan B, Ali G or Lee Nelson.

The descriptive in me says that the rise of MLE is just an example of how language works; words, phrases and accents rise and fall, ebb and flow. The prescriptive in me feels that MLE, when spoken by some white people, whiffs of affectation and downright foolishness. A study by the University of Lancaster found that elements of intermediary English from the Indian subcontinent, Africa and Caribbean creoles was present in MLE. This means that white British MLE speakers are using the rudimentary language of immigrants despite being native speakers whose parents most likely have traditional accents. The whiff of affectation becomes a stench when you consider that.

I love the enormous variety of dialects and accents in the English language, whether it’s the southern drawl of Texas, the rhotic forgedda-bou-dits of New York City, the cut-glass received pronunciation of a bygone British age or the colourful idiosyncrasies of Jamaican Patois, but I cannot stand any of this if it is a poseur’s passing affectation. Identifying those who are authentic and those who aren’t is subjective and often difficult to determine, and a direct face-to-face inquiry will probably result in a punch to the teeth.

Perhaps the poor SJWs, so downtrodden by all the triggers in their lives, would feel better if they realised that cultural appropriation is a matter of being a faker rather than the warped notions of racism and imperialism they attach to it.

 

 

Diana and the Softening of the Stiff Upper Lip

Diana giving a decidedly tabloid interview to the yellow journalist Martin Bashir. Photo: Reuters
Diana giving a decidedly tabloid interview to the yellow journalist Martin Bashir. Photo: Reuters

When Princess Diana’s life was suddenly cut short in 1997, Britain experienced its first nationwide emotional outburst of pornographic proportions. Long known for its ‘stiff upper lip’, the British seemingly fell to their knees with hysterically maudlin grief over a woman who was nothing more than a socialite – Kim Kardashian or Paris Hilton with a bit of class.

Her death was clearly tragic, she was a 36-year-old mother of two, but the media attention she received both before and after her death was entirely undeserved and downright aberrant in its obsessiveness. I find little to admire in the unintelligent (by her own admission), uncharismatic, enormously privileged and occasionally manipulative Diana. Despite this, Diana was not hateful or even particularly dislikable. The bulk of one’s exasperation should not lie with Diana, but with the media, who, on the morning of 1st September 1997, insisted that Britons across the nation had to mourn a multi-millionaire celebutante they had never met.

The toxic seeds of the international media’s relationship with Diana were planted around 1980, when Prince Charles began courting her. The incessant coverage she subsequently received is rather curious because, like many socialites, the depth of her personality left much to be desired. That didn’t matter of course, as she was tall, attractive, blonde, blue-blooded and the potential partner of the heir to the throne. The tabloids treated Diana as a sex object, a pretty doll whose coy expressions could tame the Prince in time for his kingship.

It is clear to those with even a modicum of emotional intelligence that Diana and Charles simply weren’t compatible. She was nineteen, naïve and neurotic and Charles had neither the time nor the inclination to spend enough time with her – it was a union orchestrated by each other’s families that neither was ready for. Frankly, their doomed marriage was a 15-year hiatus in the relationship between Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles, which was and now is a far more appropriate partnership.

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When everyone got bored some poor bastard had to clear this up.

The media and the public are often keen to glorify an individual when they die prematurely, but with Diana it verged on canonisation. The scores of people who laid flowers at Buckingham Palace and openly wallowed as if they’d lost a child defended their cheap, morbid bereavement by harking on about the virtues of Diana’s charity work.

The images of Diana walking near land mines and prodding terminally ill people are familiar, but what else was she supposed to do when she wasn’t strolling the grounds of Balmoral or building a new gilded existence with the disagreeable Fayed family? Charities have become a fashion accessory amongst A-list celebrities; they’re paraded around much like those ridiculous bug-eyed handbag dogs. It’s somewhat cynical to think this way, and not all celebrity charities are self-serving endeavours (Spielberg’s Shoah foundation, for example), but it’s quite obvious that sanctimony and ‘fitting in’ are primary incentives for many philanthropic celebrities.

It’s often claimed that Diana was a victim of the paparazzi, but she used these free PR agents to create her personality cult. As the frenetic chatter of paparazzos’ cameras started to follow Diana wherever she went, she learned how to present herself and manipulate these desperate parasites.From the battlegrounds of Bosnia to the minefields of Angola, her every precious step was captured and broadcast for the whole world to fawn over. I’d shake the hand of every leper in town if I was adored and almost beatified by swathes of people from the world over!

Unfortunately, it seems many people cherish the image rather than the long, hard graft of real innovation and achievement. Take Norman Borlaug for example, he was an American biologist whose high-yield, disease-resistant wheat vastly improved the food supply in Asia and Africa, causing him to be nicknamed ‘The Man Who Saved A Billion Lives’. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for his contributions to world peace, but despite his profound betterment of humanity, Borlaug’s mainstream fame is minimal because he was an old bald man from Iowa.

Jody Williams, winner of the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize.
Jody Williams, winner of the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize. Photo: Judy Rand

A more direct comparison is Jody Williams, whose extensive work in anti-landmine campaigning and other political activism was also rewarded with the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997. Williams was active at the same time as Diana, but heartfelt political principles are of minimal interest to those who enjoy crying, so her committed political career went largely unnoticed by the general public, who found the glamour and fantasy of Diana to be infinitely more watchable.

Diana’s saintly reputation was (and still is) the creation of a mawkishly money-minded press and a disconcertingly large part of the population who willingly indulged it with teary-eyed relish. The other key influence on the event was Prime Minister Tony Blair. Diana’s death occurred at a very opportune time for the newly elected leader; after winning a landslide victory with the New Labour campaign in 1997, he was swiftly handed a chance to connect with ‘the people’ on an emotional level with an intensity perhaps unseen since VE day 52 years prior.

It was Blair who popularised the laughable moniker ‘the People’s Princess’. This is a woman who was bought a £100,000 house for her eighteenth birthday, wore a £9000 wedding dress, and was somehow worth an estimated $40 million at the time of her death – how on earth can she be considered a figure that represented the people?

The footage of myriad plebs flocking to Buckingham Palace and even camping around it so they could mourn an aristocratic celebutante they had never met is pathetic in the true sense of the word. They were shamelessly caught up in Diana’s cult of personality, exposing much of humanity’s need to worship someone or something, whether it’s Jesus Christ or Kim Kardashian’s arse.

Many laughed at North Korea when they hysterically mourned the death of Kim Jong Il, but look at this idiot on the grounds of Buckingham Palace.
Many laughed at North Korea when they hysterically mourned the death of Kim Jong Il, but look at this idiot on the grounds of Buckingham Palace. Photo: Daily Mail

Blair wasn’t the only public figure to endorse and exacerbate the media’s campaign of crying, Elton John and Bernie Taupin rewrote Candle in the Wind to fit the occasion. Of course, all proceeds went to charity, but it is clear that the song’s purpose was to vastly inflate John’s ego, not his $450 million bank balance.

Candle in the Wind 1997 is the anthem for the infantile, protracted emotional outbursts that have become so commonplace, whether it’s Jade Goody’s made-for-TV cancer battle or the never-ending Hillsborough disaster. The lyricism of Candle in the Wind is very much to the taste of those who thought it was appropriate to give a kitsch teddy bear to a dead stranger, highlights include: ‘For our nation’s golden child’, ‘All our words cannot express / The joy you brought us through the years’, ‘From a country lost without your soul’.

Where does one begin with these stupid lyrics? I’m sure Elton felt much joy when he rubbed his sycophantic shoulders with Diana at glitzy, gaudy high society functions, but what joy did she bring to the rest of us lowly serfs? The most offensive of the song’s claims is that Britain – the first industrialised nation who conquered much of the world, contributed significantly to science and the arts and defeated some of history’s greatest tyrants – was ‘lost’ without the soul of some posh totty. Elton and Taupin were right about the ‘nation’s golden child’ bit though – she had a 20 million pound jewellery collection.

The solemn dignity of Henry Purcell’s March once flooded Westminster Abbey for the funeral of Queen Mary II in 1695; I wonder what Purcell would have made of Taupin’s claptrap and the melodrama of John’s pianism? I shouldn’t think anyone else gives a toss though, because a 2002 poll revealed that the British public considered Diana to be the third greatest Briton of all time, putting her ahead of Charles Darwin, Isaac Newton, Charles Babbage and Tim Berners-Lee. I know, it is just a list, but it’s still a disconcerting measure of the public’s preference for vapid celebrity over true understated genius.

The whole Diana issue is wrapped in another layer of stupidity when one considers the monarchy and the population’s relationship with it. Britain’s former draconian rigidity and pomp and circumstance was largely eroded by two World Wars and cultural revolution, causing the Royal Family to look terribly archaic and useless. The perpetually sour-faced Queen and her clan have devolved into little more than a tinselly tourist attraction for American and Commonwealth tourists to gawp at.

The cultural bastardisation of the Diana debacle stressed just how absurd the notion of royalty is. With their divorces, syrupy concerts (more of that in a minute) and Nazi themed fancy dress, the Royals have dumbed down along with the rest of mainstream culture, reminding us more than ever that they too are homo-sapiens, African apes with tiaras and fascinators. The French realised this in the 18th century, and even though I understand and enjoy the allure of tradition, it’s about time we did, too.

I may disagree with their unearned adoration, but that doesn’t mean I dislike the Royals as people. William and Harry appear perfectly affable, so it was particularly disappointing when they organised and hosted the Concert for Diana in 2007. The show commemorated what would have been her 46th birthday, which was almost 2 months before the 10th anniversary of her death and the subsequent destruction of British values.

Make some noise for Princess Diana y'all! Photo: MTV
Toe curling: ‘Make some noise for Princess Diana y’all!’ Photo: MTV

Elton John returned, opening and closing the ceremony with a selection of naff ballads. The rest of the concert comprised 26 acts, ranging from Duran Duran (Diana’s favourite band) and Tom Jones to Kanye West and ‘P. Diddy’, or ‘Puff Daddy’ or ‘Diddy’ or whatever juvenile pseudonym he was using at time. Musically, P. Diddy’s performance was very lacklustre, he instead channeled his efforts into what he called ‘Diana’s rebirth’, which saw him walking to the front of the stage and asking the audience to join in with him shouting ‘We love you! We miss you!’ Diddy’s self-serving display left me utterly incredulous.

Using a format similar to Red Nose Day, the concert was punctuated with short films of charity workers and other interviewees relentlessly praising Diana as if she was the Earth’s first faultless human being. The last film that championed a real-life figure so spectacularly was Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph des Willens (1935).

Whether it is the disappearance of Madeleine McCann, the sob stories in the weekly pabulum that is The X-Factor, or the death of Jade Goody (don’t get me started), an unhealthy appetite for vicarious bereavement and the 24hr media circuses that satiate it continue to rage on. The masses may eventually get a grip, but the damage has already been done. There will always be two categories of people: those who cried when Diana died and those who rightfully did not.

Nil By Mouth (1997)

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Nil By Mouth is a non-linear insight into a miserable cycle of violence, abuse and addiction.

Don’t be mistaken, this is not another piece of British scuzzploitation, far from it. Although it appears comparable on face value, it certainly isn’t within the lowly sphere of Rise of the Footsoldier or The Football Factory.

The film concentrates on Ray (Ray Winstone), his wife Valerie (Kathy Burke), mother-in-law Janet (Laila Morse), brother-in-law Billy (Charlie Creed-Miles) and best friend Mark (Jamie Foreman). Winstone and Burke are both tremendous, they share scenes – one in particular – of harrowing intensity. Ray is a man consumed with rage and jealousy, emotions that have most likely followed him throughout his sorry existence. To summarise the film’s premise/narrative, it is essentially a depiction of the causes and consequences of his latest brutal outburst. Winstone’s  performance is a piece of realist brilliance; some may say he’s one-dimensional, but he really is a rather good actor. Nil By Mouth’s portrait of a deeply violent, self-destructive man is one of the most frightening and brutal I’ve ever seen, more so than even Robert De Niro in Raging Bull (1980).

In a film of hapless victims, Ray’s wife Valerie suffers to the greatest extent. Burke portrays a woman completely servile to her husband, she unfortunately enables his tyranny by interminably tolerating his wayward, selfish behaviour.  It is Kathy Burke’s moments that are the most moving, chiefly a scene where she desperately tells a white-lie – it’s genuinely upsetting.

Another interesting character is Mark. Foreman’s character is a vapid parasite, a little abettor of a man who’s codependent on Ray and his tempestuous emotions.

The dialogue of Gary Oldman’s script has ample profanity, and I really mean ample, with a combination of around 80 c*nts and 428 f*cks, it’s the most profane film ever made. Amongst all the cockney bellowing however are monologues of real poignancy, most notably one delivered by Winstone in which he speaks of his awful, putrid father, reminding the viewer that the misery they’ve witnessed is a toxic generational cycle that’s largely inescapable.

One criticism of Oldman’s script/narrative is that it is a trifle convoluted at 128 minutes, there are a few scenes that contribute little or nothing to the film, including an annoying Apocalypse Now re-enactment and an annoying shouty scene in a dry cleaners (both scenes feature this repellent little tattooed man with a grating hoarse voice.)

The film is rightfully spared of romanticism, it’s completely devoid of poetic licence and elaborate narrative arcs, what you see is pure, candid realism. Ironically, the film isn’t pure at all, it’s gritty and unrestrained in its depiction of violence and vulgarity; one moment being particularly horrifying. To criticise the film for being ‘unfocused’ is missing the point. To me, it was an almost non-linear insight into the human condition, a film woven from the personal experiences of Gary Oldman and delivered with the utmost conviction from Burke, Winstone and indeed the whole cast.

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Rise of the Footsoldier (2007)

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An amusing film about obnoxious people.

Rise of the Footsoldier is a true-crime British gangster film that is both appalling and funny in equal measure. The film charts the criminal career of Carlton Leach, an Essex hardnut who was conditioned by the massive violence of the football terraces before he made his bones in the criminal underworld. Playing Leach is Ricci Harnett, who gives an appropriately obnoxious performance. His face regularly has this fixed expression of arrogance and bad attitude, and as Leach gets older and something of a veteran of the Essex underworld, he becomes so tough and smug that he can barely smile or even speak.

The initial phases of the film concentrate on Leach, but the focus later shifts to ‘The Essex Boys’, a moniker referring to Tony Tucker, Pat Tate and Craig Rolfe. Whilst Rolfe was largely just a minion, Tucker and Tate were successful and feared drug dealers, Tucker being some sort of kingpin of South East England.

They were all very profane individuals, firing a medley of Anglo-Saxon at each other every sentence. For people like this, ‘Cunt’ is a staple word even in innocuous small talk, where it appears to simply mean ‘person’ rather than anything derogatory. I don’t object to the film’s language, I can imagine the vernacular is depicted quite accurately. Indeed, the sheer vulgarity of the film’s horrendous characters is actually rather amusing.

After a brief exploration of the 1990s ecstasy scene and a routine plot of a drug deal gone awry in which there’s a lot of torture and cruelty, the film covers the most interesting element of the story – the Rettendon murders in which Tucker, Tate and Rolfe were shot to death in a Land Rover.

It’s a comprehensive account, depicting the three different accounts that have been speculated by followers of the controversial event. The director Julian Gilbey also ensured that we understand just how much blood sprayed everywhere on that fateful December evening. Indeed, the camera seems to relish the violence throughout, zooming right in on people being tortured with various instruments and headbuttings that spatter ludicrous amounts of corn syrup everywhere. While some of it is appropriately grisly and stark, like violence should be in a crime film that takes itself seriously, a lot of it borders on being comically gratuitous.

Rise of the Footsoldier made me laugh, I even bought it on Blu-ray, but it nevertheless falls into the Pooey category. There’s some competent acting, but the film fails because the whole thing is largely bereft of pathos or insight, it’s just a load of cockneys with dodgy wigs swearing and leering with frequent outbursts of syrupy violence. Ultimately, the main problem may be that the subject matter just isn’t worth adapting for the screen. However, judging by the seemingly endless stream of films based around the blasted ‘Essex Boys’, it appears that the lower echelons of the British film industry still hasn’t considered such an idea.

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