Keith Richards once mused on the reasons why an underground sound from the segregated South crossed the Atlantic and spoke to a generation of white war babies better than any other art form in the 50s. His conclusion was that to ‘get the Blues’, one has to have suffered; and ‘thanks to Adolf’, he observed, Britain had suffered. Another Brit who got the Blues was Eric Burdon of The Animals; recalling an early encounter with Nina Simone, he remembered how the incendiary siren accosted him for having the gall to cover one of her numbers and receive more credit for the cover than she did for the original – something she perceived as classic ‘white theft’. Burdon countered her aggression by revealing his knowledge of how she herself had won plaudits for purloining songs penned by obscure bluesmen who were still working on chain-gangs whilst she was filling Carnegie Hall. Astonished that Burdon was aware of this, Simone softened; both realised they had more in common than that which society had weaponised to separate them. Music – like all art – is colour-blind.

One of Nina Simone’s most celebrated – and repeatedly played – recordings is her bombastic 1965 version of ‘Feeling Good’; both her voice and the production give the track a sexy, snazzy swagger that is jazz on a cinematic scale. But it was written by a couple of British white boys – Leslie Bricusse and his songwriting partner of the time, the multi-talented Anthony Newley. Who was culturally appropriating who – Nina Simone for covering a number penned by white songwriters, or white songwriters for writing in a style derived from the musical roots of Black America? Who gives a f**k? It’s a great song and hers is the definitive version. If popular music had adopted a contemporary Identity Politics approach to prevent the cross-fertilization of culture in the 1960s, Motown would have been confined to the ghettoes, and London would have swung to The Beverly Sisters.

When different artistic genres emanating from different cultures bump into each other and then spend the night together, the fruit of the union is often a hybrid that takes art to an exciting new place altogether. It has always been thus. It’s not about one stealing from the other; it’s about coming together and bridging unnecessary divides; realising these divisions are illegitimately imposed by the artless – just as Eric Burdon and Nina Simone recognised when music united them – is a vital bulwark against the preachers of knowing one’s place and not rising above a station one was designated at birth. To not resist is to seal art in stasis and sign its death warrant.

Attempting to enforce a cultural apartheid in which, say, the colour of the artist’s skin places them in individual boxes that they must remain locked in is a regressive restriction concocted by the creatively philistine. To use one of the most chillingly revealing phrases coined of late, the artist must ‘stay in their lane’. Within this Woke approach to art, to even imagine what it must be like to swap skins and perceive the world from the perspective of someone in another box – the ultimate expression of a creatively fertile imagination – is regarded as heresy. Ironic, really, when we’re simultaneously told that in ‘the real world’ a man can inhabit the persona of a woman and has to be accepted as female; but for an artist’s imagination to inhabit the persona of someone from a different cultural slipstream? Cancel!!!

Were I to personally adopt this credo, I could only listen to brass bands and would have to write stories with characters who are all based on myself and are forbidden to venture beyond their hometown. It ironically echoes the very attitude the practitioners of the Woke manual profess to loath – the Victorian approach to imperial rule that frowned upon the kind of mixing with the natives that the Georgian Empire-builders employed in India when they embraced the indigenous culture of the Subcontinent and took Indian wives. This insidious strain of segregation may have captured cultural institutions and media circles – the once-unmissable Radio 4 arts show ‘Front Row’ is now practically unlistenable as a result of its slavish dedication to the cause; but the art itself should be stubbornly immune, with the artist refusing to have their restless curiosity constrained by rules and regulations that have no place in art.

What I find especially concerning when one considers how creativity is suffering such an onslaught is how so few artists with clout – those who have both the financial means and critical respect to place them above blacklisting – are prepared to put their necks on the line and fight this attack. The arts can be perilous from the perspective of ‘making a living’ and it is to a degree understandable that those on the way up are worried of jeopardising their chances of future earnings; but the established have no excuses. One of the few lone voices making a stand is the novelist and columnist Lionel Shriver, a writer I regard as a real kindred spirit. The British-based American author of ‘We Need to Talk About Kevin’ has been subjected to the full vindictive nastiness of the cultural Stasi simply because she has had the guts to challenge its increasingly ludicrous dos and don’ts, a list which is added to on a seemingly daily basis.

Lionel Shriver was stirred into action because the most extreme example of Woke thought-policing at its McCarthy-esque worst can currently be found in the field of literature. Publishers of Young Adult Fiction now employ ‘Sensitivity Readers’ to weed out anything they regard as ‘problematic’ before a book goes to print, basically doing what the Lord Chamberlain used to do back in the days of this country’s theatre censorship. Books from the classical canon have been issued with retrospective trigger warnings, whereas new releases are perused with a fine toothcomb. A couple of months ago, the likes of Oprah Winfrey were falling over themselves to praise ‘American Dirt’ by Jeanine Cummins; the book was lauded as a novel for our times in its story of a mother and her young son fleeing the dangers of Mexico and making an illegal crossing into the US. Guess what happened next.

Well, several fellow authors (who should be ashamed of themselves) took to Twitter to criticise Cummins’ ‘stereotypical’ portrayal of Mexican immigrants; and this wasn’t either professional jealousy or legitimate criticism of the kind that might emerge in a book review; this was a deliberate dig at a novelist whose Irish-Puerto Rican lineage presumably disqualifies her from using her imagination to put herself in the mind of a Mexican – y’know, just like that bigoted old Tolkien pretended to speak on behalf of that notoriously discriminated-against minority, the hobbit. Rather than defending the right of the author to write about what the hell she likes, Cummins’ publisher promptly cancelled a planned book tour in the wake of the latest tedious teacup storm. Great to know the industry is backing the writers it creams a disproportionate chunk of royalties from.

If artists could put their own professional concerns to one side and unite to fight this assault on the one thing that put them where they are, their individual futures would be ensured. As it is, by spinelessly kowtowing to a ruthless movement that will take a mile from every inch conceded to it, they are allowing the school bully to pick on the weakest kid in the class in the misguided belief that they will then be spared a kicking. But this kind of crusade has an appetite that can never be fully quenched, and it will eat up everyone in the end if everyone gives in to it. And if mankind stands by and allows its imagination to be taken away by those who have none, all art – and civilisation with it – is doomed.

© The Editor


the-goodiesWhenever I sign out of my inbox, Yahoo automatically takes me to what passes for their ‘headlines’, which usually consist of the kind of showbiz fluff I cross oceans to avoid. One I saw today was referring to some actress in some movie where she apparently drags up (i.e. wears a fake beard); I only know because there was a photo of her. I didn’t bother reading it because I couldn’t care less, though the headline itself caught my eye because it claimed said actress ‘defends her trans-role.’ Curious choice of word – ‘defends’. Sorry, it was my understanding that the only people who have to defend their actions are those on trial for murder and other such serious crimes. Am I missing something? What is there to defend about playing a part, which is indeed the definition of being an actor?

‘Plumber defends his decision to unblock drain!’ ‘Mechanic defends changing tyre!’ ‘Postman defends delivering of letter!’ Any sillier than ‘Actress defends pretending to be a fictional character in a completely made-up story’? Not really, though public figures over the years have often had to answer to the archetypal ‘Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells’ figure incensed by something they’ve seen on the TV, at the cinema or in the paper – or haven’t seen at all but have surmised they would find offensive. This seems to have expanded in recent years, perhaps a consequence of the democratisation of fame, so that those who grab their fifteen minutes also have to be scrutinised by Mr and Ms Disgusted, now firmly on the left where once they were on the right. It gives the impression that society as a whole has been transformed into one giant court of law, one in which we are all permanently on the defensive, having to justify every move in anticipation of criticism from the unofficial PC police who guard against offence.

This is a court bereft of statute books so that nobody is entirely sure what can and can’t be said and what can and can’t be done, hence the increase in habitual criminality. How helpful then, that we have our self-appointed online lawmakers who are on hand to recite the dos and don’ts, as well as intervening if we unknowingly break their laws. The novelist Lionel Shriver gave a lecture in Australia a few days ago, one that received publicity across all mediums; generally, the sense she spoke was well-received, though there was the predictable backlash from those that enjoy the lashing of backs. Shriver appeared on ‘Newsnight’ to…yes, you guessed it…defend what she had said.

Essentially, Lionel Shriver accused the scourge of so-called Identity Politics and accompanying disgust with Cultural Appropriation of stifling the creative and the imaginative – which those who propagate such Orwellian control are not. This is the attempted policing of creativity that says writers of fiction can only write from the point of view of their own gender, sexuality and race; and if ‘ethnic’ characters are introduced into their stories, they have to be non-caricatures and inoffensive, officially approved representatives of their individual ethnicity. What a remarkably philistine set of rules and regulations.

Any good novelist researches the background and environment of any character that isn’t based directly upon them or somebody they’ve known – or they simply use their imagination, which is one factor that distinguishes the writer of fiction from the writer of fact. Beatrix Potter couldn’t converse with ducks or mice, so she had to imagine what it would be like to be a duck or a mouse.

I’ve written stories myself that have been set in, say, Georgian London. I was born 200 years too late to have lived in Georgian London and to have known anyone who did. So I research. I get the historical facts right in terms of surroundings, social manners, dress, diet, language et al – in short, making sure my characters and the world they inhabit are as accurate as somebody living in the twenty-first century can possibly portray them. Graft contemporary mores onto the past and you end up with an invented ideal that says more about now than then. Hollywood does it all the time because America doesn’t want to accept that many of its revered Founding Fathers were slave-owners.

The ludicrous ‘outrage’ a couple of weeks ago over a funny line in ‘Coronation Street’ provoked a silly storm in an even sillier teacup, whereby a reference to a character from ‘Roots’ was deemed to be racist. Considering the amount of black and gay characters in Weatherfield, there’s a surprising absence of racism or homophobia from those who fall into neither camp. I would hazard a guess that the majority of those who were sufficiently outraged were white and probably of middle-class descent.

It’s that familiar condescending middle-class white guilt which prompts such people to speak ‘on behalf’ of the perceived persecuted minority, which ironically makes them sound more colonial in their attitudes than those who don’t take offence if a campus ‘Mexican’ night deigns that wearing a sombrero is crucial to the event. They feel compelled to appoint themselves as spokesmen and women, as though the minority in question are incapable of articulating any outrage themselves. A verbal pat on the head which says ‘Don’t worry, poor ignorant little coloured person; we can be your mouthpiece, what with you being denied our privileged education’. It’s laughable.

I’ve cheered myself up of late by watching episodes of ‘The Goodies’. Aside from the nostalgia factor and the surreal madcap humour which still makes me laugh, one element that really struck me was the freedom the trio had to poke fun at anyone and anything. A series that was unfairly regarded at the time as ‘Python-Lite’ today seems incredibly subversive. Indeed, it’s hard to watch it now and not mentally note all the jokes that could no longer be made on television, let alone the piss-taking of celebrities we’re not allowed to mention anymore, such as Rolf Harris, Clement Freud or Jimmy Savile. There’s no what used to be called ‘bad language’ on any episode of ‘The Goodies’ whatsoever, yet whilst one can now swear to one’s heart’s content on TV comedy today, the field has narrowed beyond belief as to targets of jokes.

As regular readers will know, my sideline online identity as a purveyor of satirical and silly videos enables me to get away with things that television would no longer permit. Comments often say ‘You should have your own TV show; you’re funnier than anything currently on telly’, which is immensely flattering, but also misses the point. I’m not on the telly because nobody would dare commission anything of a humorous nature that refuses to acknowledge the boundaries established that define what can and can’t be laughed at. Well, sorry. I’m not prepared to defend myself or my work to people I neither respect nor recognise as creative peers. You either find it funny or you don’t; and if you don’t, I’m not especially bothered; go and watch ‘Mrs Brown’s Boys’.

Any unwritten rules when it comes to any artistic medium stinks of puritanical censorship and the policing of creativity by the non-creative. Sorry if I offend, but you can go f**k yourself. I’m not living under Stalin, the Stasi or the Spanish Inquisition, so your opinion carries no weight and has no authority.

© The Editor