GROWING-UP IN PUBLIC

One of the many dreaded factors in introducing one’s boy/girlfriend to one’s mother has always been ‘the potty picture’. The best tea-set being dusted down and mum bizarrely transforming into an air hostess when serving it is an uncomfortable enough experience; but if the new other half passes muster, chances are the childhood photo album will then be excavated. And, naturally, every childhood photo album opens with a baby sat on a potty. Why do mothers feel the need to a) capture a crap on camera and b) show it to one’s partner decades later? It remains a perplexing aspect of parenting that non-parents like me will always be mystified by. Perhaps it’s a symbolic surrender of emotional ownership and an acknowledgement that the other half will at some point in the relationship see said partner on the loo too. As a portrait of man and woman’s mutual vulnerability, sitting on the loo is probably a greater leveller than death.

As horrific as this handover ceremony has been for generations, the one saving grace of it has been that the ritual takes place behind closed doors, only endured by those present in the room. Not for the first time, be thankful the visual documentation of your formative years was restricted to the Kodak Brownie or (at a push) the Super-8 cine-camera. Imagine you’d been born on the cusp of the millennium or immediately thereafter. The potty picture would be the opening image in your online gallery of embarrassment, shared with, if not necessarily the world, then your mother’s circle of family and friends and – as a consequence – their offspring and their family and friends.

Eight out of ten mothers (probably) think their little angel is inherently superior to any other child on the planet, so are instinctively compelled to broadcast this information to anyone within earshot; backstage at the Miss World contest must seem like a veritable picture of communal harmony compared to the level of competitiveness at the school-gates. The Yummy Mummy movement, bolstered by the celebrity mother industry, daytime TV, dozens of websites, and a plethora of ‘How To…’ guidebooks, has turned this traditional rivalry between mums into a deadly game of one-upmanship that now has an additional dimension that takes it above and beyond the parochial battlefield – social media.

Twenty-first century boys and girls are the first generation to have their entire lives so far uploaded to a worldwide database, using the lead character in ‘The Truman Show’ as a blueprint for growing-up. It’s not a pleasant thought, especially when one considers they’ve had no say in the matter. From the initial ‘aaah’ shot to appear on Facebook barely days (or in some cases, hours) after the sprog’s arrival all the way to the ‘first day at school’ shot, the internet has been utilised as cyber apron-strings by mothers too blinded by their perfect child to appreciate the future ramifications of their actions.

Another element of crass Americanisation to pollute British culture, the aforementioned ‘first day at school’ shot takes its place alongside even greater demands on the parental coffers such as the insidious establishing of ‘the prom’ as an end-of-term beauty contest; not only does the latter introduce a new financial burden previously reserved for Catholic parents and their communion dresses, it also places pressure upon the children themselves. It was bad enough when this alien tradition infiltrated high schools; the fact it has now seeped into the primary school social calendar means mothers now have yet more opportunities to earn online bragging points whilst bankrupting themselves in the process.

The generation who welcomed the internet into their lives from adolescence onwards have already become accustomed to documenting every aspect of their existence online, but the generation coming up behind them, who will have never known a time without it, have had it thrust upon them as a normal state of affairs. It’s too early to say how this will shape their self-perception in years to come, but the threat of these images remaining accessible for eternity was something as worrying as Facebook’s refusal to allow the accounts of the deceased to be deleted – until, it would appear, now.

Yesterday it was announced by Matt Hancock, Digital Minister (yes, that’s a real job title), that the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation laws are to be transferred onto the UK statute book in an overhaul of Britain’s own data protection laws. The most encouraging upshot of the proposals is that it should not only be easier for people to withdraw their consent for personal data to be shared online, but it should enable people to request the removal of childhood photographs uploaded by parents years before. In theory, this could spell the end of the potty photo’s online life.

Anyone well-versed enough in cyber practices will of course be aware that it’s hardly rocket-science to copy and paste an image from the internet, so the chances are some images can be uploaded over and over again in perpetuity; but at least the proposals in this new bill might provide the unfortunate cyber star with some legal clout to get his or her own back on Mommie Dearest. The right of the individual in question to upload childhood photos of their own choice is something those of us who grew up in private already have – as the image illustrating this post demonstrates. And I will always defend that seven-year-old’s right to have worn those trousers.

© The Editor

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KORAN ABOUT THE HOUSE

I’ve never been in a mosque, but I’ve never been in a synagogue either. Although I was raised in a secular household, I am familiar with one branch of the House of God on account of having to attend endless childhood weddings and christenings; these were churches of the austere Protestant variety, however, rather than the camp Catholic model. I’ve no idea if the ambience is as chilly and, frankly, boring in the showrooms of other denominations, but with all my C-of-E education coming via the dullest lessons at school, I think my agnostic outlook was sealed from an early age. Drawing a picture of Pinky and Perky at the Crucifixion in the infants was probably a telling indication that I recognised a fairy tale when I heard one.

On last night’s edition of ‘Question Time’, a member of the audience brandished a leaflet he swore blind he’d been handed at an open day at Didsbury Mosque, at which the father of Salman Ramadan Abedi, the Manchester bomber, was once a regular. What he read from the leaflet sounded like classic Radical Islamic propaganda, denouncing western immorality in a language that implied such immorality was deserving of severe punishment. A veteran of the same mosque sitting a few rows down denied he could have received such literature at Didsbury, but the man was adamant.

The general impression given is that there does seem to be something of an ‘It weren’t me, guv; I weren’t even there’ culture prevailing through many of the mosques that have harboured the hate preachers and fundamentalist shit-stirrers in the UK over recent years. Either nobody saw or heard anything or their eyes turned blind through choice; however, not knowing the interior structure of mosques, I’ve no idea if the guilty parties retreat into special recruitment rooms. But the climate of fear when it comes to informing in many Muslim communities seems almost reminiscent of Sicily or even Belfast during the Troubles; events in Rotherham and Rochdale appear to back up this Mafia-like control the worst offenders have over the populace and why the police steer clear.

Then again, it has emerged that Salman Ramadan Abedi’s extremist views and support for ISIS had aroused enough suspicion within his own community that he had been reported to an anti-terrorism hotline, something I imagine would put those who reported him at considerable risk should they be identified. As a result of these calls, Abedi was known to the security services; but police manpower being deployed to keep an eye on potential Jihadists would severely stretch the police manpower required for historic fishing parties into the sex lives of dead celebrities and politicians, so it’s no wonder the likes of Salman Ramadan Abedi could further his ambitions free from surveillance. Many police officers may have been laid off in the wake of Government cuts to the country’s forces, but deciding the priorities for those that remain is something the police themselves have to answer for.

The internet has also resurfaced in the blame game this week. Online outlets such as Facebook and Twitter certainly operate on curious moral grounds. A couple of years ago, a friend of mine had her FB account suspended after posting a photo of herself holding a Supertramp LP over her chest; the sleeve of said album featured nothing but a pair of tits on it. Similarly, the entertaining Twitter ‘Whores of Yore’ account initially had a profile pic which was a portrait of Nell Gwyn showing a nipple; the painting hangs in the National Gallery for all age-groups to see, but was evidently too outrageous for cyberspace, and the offending nipple had to be removed for the account to continue. On the other hand, Facebook and Twitter don’t appear to have similar problems with inflammatory language or violent videos promoting opinions that somewhat contradict the Utopian New Age worldview shared by Mark Zuckerberg and his fellow visionaries.

So, yes, mosques and websites have been under the spotlight yet again this week, though few have mentioned HM prisons, which seem to be the real recruitment centres when it comes to home-grown terrorists. The escalating convictions for those planning terrorist attacks since 7/7 means many prisons have a far higher Muslim population today than has been the case in the past, and the brutally alienating regime behind bars means birds of a feather naturally flock together.

A young Muslim prisoner who may be serving a sentence that has no Radical Islamic element to it is befriended by another Muslim prisoner who recommends one way to stay safe from the psychos, the druggies and those who take a shine to a pretty face is to spend his time exclusively with other Muslim prisoners. Segregation and indoctrination ensue, and said prisoner is released with a head pumped full of Paradise and those oh-so alluring virgins.

Armed police and even bloody soldiers – both of whom have had their numbers severely depleted by the same Government that now requires their services to enhance ‘Project Fear’ for the public – are currently highly visible on the streets of Britain; but they’re guarding the stable door when the proverbial horse has already bolted. No wannabe Jihadist would contemplate an ‘incident’ when there’s such a show of force; better to strike when nobody is looking. No matter how heavy an armed presence Bobby and Tommy present this weekend, the only strike I expect to see at Wembley tomorrow will emanate from the foot of Diego Costa.

© The Editor

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DEATH BY FACEBOOK

Anyone reading this who happens to have a Facebook account will be familiar with the fact that some members of one’s ‘friends’ list are prone to issuing an endless stream of posts on a daily basis that clog-up the newsfeed section of the medium; indeed, some are so relentless that it often requires several minutes of scrolling down before other posts can be sighted. In many cases, I’ve been forced to ‘un-follow’ a few FB friends in order that I can see what those who don’t post dozens of items a day are up to. For a small minority, it seems Facebook is an addiction they can’t refrain from. At one time, in my early FB days, I used to comment a lot because I wasn’t on any other social media forum; today, I tend to reserve it for posting links to my own work, whether from here or YouTube, though there is something of an unspoken conservatism on Facebook that confronts any challenge to the preconceived norm with silence and an absence of ‘likes’, so I am consciously selective.

A lot of my FB friends are what I suppose the Sun would refer to as ‘old-school lefties’, which is perfectly fine; there’s room for all of us online. I’m therefore exposed to an abundance of shots from the constant post-Brexit marches protesting against this or that, certain PC pieces characteristic of the worst humourless aspects of the left, links to Billy Bragg tweets or ‘I’m backing Jezza’-type declarations and so forth. It’s everyone’s right to post whatever the hell they like on their own Facebook wall, so even if I don’t agree wholeheartedly with every post of this nature, there are nevertheless valid critiques of Government policies re the homeless or welfare reform that I access and do indeed find myself agreeing with.

Depending how varied one’s FB friends list is, however, there can be an echo-chamber aspect to it that occasionally provokes the mischief-maker in me; the temptation to post something along the lines of ‘I think Theresa May is doing a really good job’ merely to shit-stir can be irresistible, though I tend not to bother. Life’s too short for a shower of vitriol and a mass ‘un-friending’ assault. However, the glut of celebratory posts when Margaret Thatcher died, for example – whilst demonstrating that socialist elephants never forget – invited anyone daring not to enter into the party spirit to risk becoming a social media pariah.

Not that, say, Twitter is any different; express an opinion that contradicts the consensus of the right (which appears to dominate Twitter) and the reaction is equally hostile. Anyone looking for a balanced middle-ground along the lines of the Independent at its print version best should generally avoid cyberspace.

The ‘anything goes’ partisan elements of social media have received a severe test today, though. Mark Sands, a 51-year-old anxiety-sufferer and prescribed anti-depressant user from Eastbourne, has been gaoled for four months for the crime of making alleged death threats against his local MP, Tory backbencher Caroline Ansell. Responding to Government cuts on disability benefits – a relevant complaint considering Mr Sands himself stood to lose out as a result – he posted the following on Facebook: ‘If you vote to take £30 off my money, I will personally come round to your house…and stab you to death.’

Mr Sands added to this outburst with such catchy slogans as ‘End poverty, kill a Tory now’ and ‘Kill your local MP.’ It’s not exactly a seditionist manifesto guaranteed to provoke a revolution, and to be honest it’s not really that different from some of the things I’ve seen on social media, particularly Facebook; but did it really warrant a prison sentence, let alone a trial in a court of law? Way back at the peak of his early 80s pop star status, Gary Numan once received a live bullet through the post. That’s what I’d regard as a pretty serious death-threat; but anti-Tory sentiments – even if admittedly crude ones – on Facebook?

Not everyone is gifted with an eloquent means of articulating their anger at a particular Government policy that either personally affects them or their social demographic, and many resort to basic insults to get their point across. Was Mark Sands’ outburst worse than your average ‘Evil Tory f**kers’ rant familiar to many on FB? Brighton Magistrates’ Court obviously believed so, as did the target of his ire, Caroline Ansell.

Not that Mr Sands was especially subtle in his anger; posting a photo of Jo Cox alongside the words ‘sawn-off 2.2’ won’t win you many recruits to your cause in the current climate. The police charged him with a crime they said was a ‘credible threat’, though whenever a policeman uses the word ‘credible’, I find it hard not to cynically add the suffix ‘…and true’ to it.

When Tony Blair was at the peak of his powers, social media was still effectively in its infancy, with the first visible backlash from those who had supported him in 1997 coming via the NME’s famous front cover recycling Johnny Rotten’s ‘Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?’ quote around a year after the first New Labour Election victory. Had Facebook or Twitter existed back then, one imagines the level of fury on social media would have been comparable to what the current administration receives today.

Caroline Ansell may have been unnerved by what she perceived as a genuine threat to her life, but if she was well-versed enough in social media she would have known those who reserve their incandescence for Facebook tend to exhaust it on Facebook.

© The Editor

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THE SOCIAL CONTRACT

Liverpool bans The Sun. Victory! Milo whatisname’s book is withdrawn before publication. Victory! Katie Hopkins’ wings are clipped by legal action. Victory! Of course, there’s an easier way to express one’s distaste with all of these ‘offensive’ individuals and institutions that thrive on attention without trying to ban them – ignore ‘em. Loathe as I am to reference Sir Alex Ferguson in the positive, one nugget of wisdom nevertheless emerged from the former Don of Old Trafford when he looked back on the rough ride he was receiving from the media during his difficult early tenure at the helm; his most illustrious predecessor Sir Matt Busby rang to see how things were going; when Ferguson replied the press were on his back, Busby responded with simple logic – ‘Why read ‘em?’ Pity so few today can react the same way.

Following in the footsteps of Lily Allen, Owen Jones is the latest name to flounce off social media in a huff; granted, receiving online abuse is especially unpleasant, but it’s worth remembering that one is not legally obliged to maintain a permanent presence in cyberspace. Back in the day when household names could be inundated with traditional Hate Mail, i.e. coming in the form of a letter delivered by the postman, there was little one could do; having a fixed abode means anyone can reach you via these methods. Unless one decides to seal up the letterbox, that toxic message is going to get to you, however vile. The same doesn’t apply online.

Of course, a man with a media profile, both mainstream and social, cannot just switch off his mobile or avoid the internet when on his laptop; nor can he spurn the invites to ‘Newsnight’ or ‘Question Time’; the publicity drug is too embedded by then. There has to be a grand announcement akin to the one DLT made when he jumped the Radio 1 ship before being pushed; it’s virtually written into the contract that slipping away from social media can’t be undertaken without a press statement. Lest we forget, however, being on Twitter or Facebook isn’t a job; it’s supposed to be a pastime. Somebody whose weekends might consist of going fishing doesn’t need to contact the Daily Mail or the BBC should they decide not to bother anymore.

Social media has a habit of making people feel important in a way that previous pastimes didn’t; in theory, it provides a platform giving a voice to those whose voices had an extremely limited range in the past. It also enables those who already have a prominent voice in more established arenas to extend their reach whilst simultaneously bringing them into contact with audiences whose only point of contact before would have been the radio phone-in or the humble letter; in the latter case, the likelihood of a reply was a rarity, as anyone who has written to a famous name they admire will know only too well.

When said famous names take to Twitter in particular, the guaranteed millions of followers or thousands of ‘likes’ and re-tweets in a matter of days of joining can bolster the ego immeasurably, increasing the recipient’s sense of self-importance and becoming a useful cyber CV when seeking evidence of their significance. Remedying the age-old insecurities of those desperate to be loved is something that can be enhanced by the ‘virtual friends’ they collect online, and it is an undoubtedly effective illusion.

As an example, an absence of comments on one of these here blogs can easily lead one to feel it ain’t worth bothering with anymore; utterly ridiculous, I know, but if one has received a glut of comments on the previous post, it’s unavoidable wondering what one has done wrong this time round. Why is nobody responding to this post when they responded so enthusiastically to the last one? Why don’t they love me anymore?! Such thoughts say more about the author than the reader, but the satisfaction of a dozen positive responses can be cancelled by a solitary negative; like the actor who can only remember his bad reviews, social media in its numerous forms is a dangerous addiction for anyone who masks their fragile ego in the thick skin of the online identity. The level of one’s dependence on it (not to mention the size of the audience) is reflected in how one reacts when it turns sour.

Therefore, I can to an extent understand how those whose followers and re-tweeters far outnumber my own little cult coterie react with such theatrical histrionics when they find a sweet-scented bouquet of relentless praise sometimes contains the odd viper. The shock of someone not only disagreeing with them, but spewing limitless vitriol whilst doing so, can shatter the false premise of the ‘all girls together’ echo chamber that social media generates when everyone tells you how great you are. But, again, it’s not compulsory; you can actually not go online if you want.

I only took a few days off from here because I’d posted for five straight days and I do also have other things to attend to that are not dependent on cyberspace. Unlike the more well-known users of the medium, I am not wired to a mobile, programmed to respond to every tweet every few seconds, incapable of making a move without first checking what’s happening on that little screen. It can be quite liberating not bothering for a few days, and what one can be doing in the meantime – if involving real people – reminds the user that there’s more to life than this. Don’t get me wrong – I do like this or I simply wouldn’t bother; but it helps to have something else as well.

© The Editor

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TROLLING STONES

hells-granniesJust over a decade ago, when I was still paying attention, a pair of albums appeared from nowhere that seemed to suggest two new exciting, individual and idiosyncratic voices had arrived to give a much-needed kick up the arse to an increasingly stale music scene. Eleven years later, one of those voices has been silenced and the other appears to spend most of her time digging an online hole that grows deeper with each passing day. I’m talking, of course, about Amy Winehouse and Lily Allen.

Whereas ‘Back To Black’ was an unexpectedly dark diversion into classic soul that brilliantly scuppered Winehouse’s potential membership of the Radio 2 Easy Listening Jazz Club alongside the likes of Jamie Cullum, ‘Alright, Still’ was a cut-and-paste mosaic of vintage Ska and Reggae shot through with the kind of original lyrical wit sorely lacking from the vapid nursery rhymes of most female pop stars. Indeed, Allen was compared more to The Streets’ Mike Skinner than she was to the male-controlled marionettes or winsome singer-songwriters sharing the charts with her; image-wise, she also offered a refreshing alternative to the lap-dancer look that had become obligatory for so many of her contemporaries.

Allen quickly developed a reputation for a sharp tongue, and it was perhaps inevitable that music alone wouldn’t be enough of an outlet when it came to her evident talent for opening her mouth and not merely singing. After the initial praise and success that her debut album and its accompanying singles (particularly her chart-topping debut, ‘Smile’) brought, Allen then took a disappointing albeit prophetic turn by temporarily becoming a chat-show host on the frankly crap BBC3 series, ‘Lily Allen and Friends’; it looked as if she was in danger of turning into the middle-aged Cilla Black thirty years too early.

However, in 2008 she returned to the studio and produced her second album, ‘It’s Not Me, It’s You’, a far slicker musical outing than her first. Although her lyrics retained their ability to challenge conservative pop conventions, there were moments, such as the anti-Dubya ‘Fuck You’, when she seemed to be settling for complacent name-calling. The album’s lead single, ‘The Fear’, was a prescient, barbed comment on celebrity culture, though she simultaneously appeared to be part of what she was attacking.

Music has regularly taken a periodical backseat in her career, often due to unhappy personal experiences such as a miscarriage, a stillbirth and being pursued by a stalker for seven years, something that eventually climaxed with a conviction, despite the inaction of the Met. Having led the way by utilising nascent social media (particularly MySpace) to build a fan-base before she launched her professional recording career, Allen was a natural Twitter user from the off, and it currently seems the Twittersphere is the location into which Lily Allen appears to divert the majority of her energy.

At one time, the music press would serve as the mouthpiece for rent-a-quote musicians, with everyone from John Lennon and John Lydon to Morrissey and Noel Gallagher using it to issue statements about their fellow performers and the world in general, sparking debate and division amongst music fans. Now that the music press no longer exists, social media fulfils the same function for their outspoken successors, and Lily Allen has continued to use it while her career seems to be undergoing yet another Sabbatical.

Like many famous faces in the heated post-Brexit climate, Lily Allen’s opinions on Twitter have dragged her into endless online arguments of the kind even unlikely agitators such as chairperson of the ‘Harry Potter’ industry, JK Rowling, and ex-footballer and crisp salesman Gary Lineker have set themselves up for over the past few months. She was notably vocal with regards to the migrant crisis when it occupied the headlines last year and now she is under-fire again following her lazy demonisation of Britain’s elderly population, adopting the same petulant attitude as another hereditary celebrity, Giles Coren. According to Lily Allen – and I quote – ‘Can’t you see this country is being taken over by hate extremist pensioners?’ I can’t say I’d noticed myself, but the images evoked by the prospect seem oddly reminiscent of Python’s ‘Hell’s Grannies’ sketch.

Apparently, Allen posted a poll asking which social demographic posed the greater threat to the UK – Muslims or the aforementioned senile delinquents – a blatantly obvious own-goal gift to serial trolls and Twitter mischief-makers; when the results of said poll didn’t go the way she anticipated, Allen momentarily stormed off Twitter in a huff. She hired a friend to take over in her absence and attend to ‘a hate blocking spree’, which basically means deleting anyone who disagrees with or questions our Lily’s pronouncements. The sensible option would surely have been to simply give Twitter a rest for a bit, but it would appear an online presence is today required 24/7 or everyone assumes you’re dead.

Twitter to me is the same as YouTube or Facebook; I use it as a PR platform for my work. I’ve never once used it to air an opinion on anything that can’t be expressed in a blog or a video. Lily Allen is more than capable of making her feelings felt via the medium of music; that she is choosing to spurn what she does best in favour of locking horns with others who also can’t live outside of cyberspace is surrendering to an argument you can never win. These people do it for a living, Lily; you don’t. They’ve got nothing else going on in their lives; you have. Why not capitalise on that and rise above the pit instead of languishing in it? Otherwise, there’s little to distinguish them from you.

© The Editor

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THE DESCENT OF WOMAN

taraAlthough the common theory tends to go that the kind of vapid, all-surface-no substance role model directly uploaded to the DNA of the western world’s young women didn’t exist until the age of Instagram and other online mediums, it’s worth recognising each development has its roots somewhere further back in time. In the case of the female evolutionary scale that has led us all the way down to a ghastly Bride of Frankenstein such as Kim Kardashian, we need to rewind a couple of decades and remember that this is a phenomenon that existed before widespread digital democracy created the lemon-sucking Facebook profile picture.

The death of one-time international socialite Tara Palmer-Tomkinson at the age of 45 from an apparent brain tumour, whilst sad in someone so young, served to remind most (I would imagine) of her existence. If one is old enough, her death could provoke the memory of how it was once impossible to open a paper or switch on the TV without seeing her face. Twenty years ago, she was one of the so-called ‘It Girls’ that kept the paparazzi occupied when their sojourns in Paris tunnels had backfired somewhat. Nocturnal creatures who only came to life at midnight – like Cinderella in reverse – the It Girls were party animals whose sole role seemed to be to live out their lives across tabloid pages, their coked-up hedonism occasionally interrupted via their season-tickets at the Priory before resuming the high life and then eventually being snapped-up by flabby-faced old rockers old enough to be their fathers and turned into breeding machines. And that was the 90s.

Cometh the new century, cometh the new breed; whilst the 90s It Girls largely emanated from wealthy dynasties, their post-millennium successors were of humbler stock, working-class girls made good. Their influence filtered down to the masses in a way Tara Palmer-Tomkinson’s posh blueprint never could. Once the 90s party was over, Tara and her contemporaries Tamara Beckwith and the Hervey sisters (Lady Victoria and Lady Isabella) found the only way to maintain a high-profile was to join TV’s burgeoning celebrity circuit, making up the numbers on renowned turd-polishing exercises such as ‘I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here’, ‘Come Dine with Me’, ‘Celebrity Masterchef’, ‘The Farm’, ‘The Jump’, ‘Love Island’, ‘Dancing on Ice’ et al. Trading on their past notoriety and their chronic lack of evident talent, it seemed an obvious progression.

Their celebrated equivalents in the 60s already had careers before receiving a similar level of attention and labelled as exotic appendages to male movers and shakers – Jean Shrimpton and Twiggy were models, Marianne Faithful was a singer, Jane Asher was an actress – but the 90s It Girls had more in common with their immediate predecessors, the late 80s Wild Children such as Mandy Smith and Amanda de Cadenet. Looks and attitude that chimed with the mores of the moment sealed their success rather than an ability to do anything more challenging than could be achieved by your average shop-girl in Newcastle city centre on a Saturday night. Daddy’s credit card simply opened doors that were then out-of-bounds to those whose moment would come with the advent of reality television.

Tara Palmer-Tomkinson’s shambolic appearance on comedian Frank Skinner’s chat show in 1999, in which she seemed to be on another planet to the host, is one of those TV car-crashes that routinely feature alongside Sam Fox at the Brit Awards or endless Oliver Reed piss-ups on cheap and shoddy ‘100 Greatest/Worst’ compilation shows; but it acted as a reminder of how even rich 24-hour party people have a breaking point. I recall seeing it when it aired and feeling unexpectedly sorry for a young woman whose willingness to play the performing seal for the media would have unpleasant consequences both for her and for the young women to come.

By the first decade of the twenty-first century, appallingly exploitative programmes such as ‘Geordie Shore’ were already highlighting the pernicious effect the likes of Katie Price and Jodie Marsh were having on the mindset of young women who would never enjoy the material benefits of Tara Palmer-Tomkinson. Encouraged by manipulative middle-class television producers to out-gross each other in terms of profanity and promiscuity (puppet-masters who viewed them as a separate species in a manner that echoes the way David Attenborough analyses the animal kingdom), the gullible pawns in the freak show game that reality TV morphed into were the 90s It Girls reborn as council estate slappers.

Once the internet superseded television as the prime medium for youth interaction, the resurrected ethos of everything a young woman has to offer revolving around how she looks had become so entrenched that it gave birth to the synthetic images that continue to clog-up online discourse. Trading on the traditional insecurities teenage girls under a permanent spotlight that judges their merits solely on appearance are afflicted by, the rise of Facebook in particular requires a standard look in which a heavy dose of cosmetics and easily-available photographic trickery manufacture a strange, alien-like impression of the opposite sex that bears little relation to the reality. The emaciated bodies and what a girlfriend of mine refers to as ‘oversized lollipop heads’ have transformed the desired female frame into a unrealisable ideal that even Barbie would regard as impossible to achieve.

WAGs, Paris Hilton, Sheryl Cole, and the hideous Kardashian clan have taken what was once the province of a frivolous elite to which Tara Palmer-Tomkinson belonged and have remodelled it as a regressive role model that elevates appearance over intellect, reversing half-a-century of feminist advancement and returning the aspirations of our sisters, daughters and nieces to that of ensnaring a male partner by exaggerating physical feminine traits to a cartoonish level that any man with a semblance of taste would ironically run a mile from.

Tara Palmer-Tomkinson and her ilk were having a good time when they were young because they could afford it and they knew they had nothing else in their armoury; that this good time happened to coincide with a post-Diana craving for Bright Young Things with nothing to say was pure serendipity. They weren’t to know that their excesses receiving out-of-proportion national coverage would lead to the next generation taking their lead as a dispiriting design for life.

© The Editor

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FAKING IT

journoFake News is a buzzword of the moment; let’s face it, there’s always one or two buzzing around, and Fake News is currently a favourite for debate on TV and in the press. The CIA’s conviction that Fake News had a detrimental part to play in the recent US Presidential Election has been manifested as a finger-pointing exercise in the direction of Russia. However, the WikiLeaks revelations over American phone-tapping of prominent world leaders such as Angela Merkel that emerged a couple of years ago has been conveniently absent from the CIA narrative in this holier-than-thou exchange of playground taunts on the part of the super-powers.

The presumption by professional media people re Fake News is that Joe Public, denied the privilege of his parents paying for his education and therefore not being very bright, lacks the intellectual capacity to distinguish between the real and unreal when it comes to headlines and must be ‘protected’ from his stupidity by introducing regulation. Satirical news sites may pedal evidently untrue joke stories along the lines of those that constitute the middle section of Private Eye, with most being so patently ludicrous that only a complete cretin would mistake them for the genuine article; but these are not the sites in the sights of the would-be saviours of the plebs.

Curiously, those that seek to crush Fake News consider it a solely online stain on their honourable profession; the blatantly Fake News that Fleet Street and TV have promoted for decades has evaded their critical radar. The personal agenda of a newspaper or television station proprietor has a direct influence on its editorial, however much the media outlet denies it, and this facilitates Fake News on a grand scale. Ever since the ‘exposure’ of Jimmy Savile as the most evil human being ever to walk the earth in a tracksuit five years ago, the proliferation of Fake News that has spewed forth from the mainstream media has far exceeded the previous lies generated about Hillsborough or the McCann’s.

The cost-cutting pensioning-off of many of Fleet Street’s finest veteran scribes has seen them replaced by a generation for whom enough ‘victims coming forward’ in an ejaculation of juicy hearsay is sufficient verification for the accuracy of a story. Should the target be a dead man, all the better; but death is no impediment to Fake News, mainstream media style; and the latest ageing entertainer to earn the unenviable nickname ‘The Octopus’ is duly hung, drawn and quartered by the Court of Public Opinion as presided over by the press even before an actual Court of Law has had its say.

The notorious and utterly reprehensible BBC TV coverage of the police raid on the home of Cliff Richard probably did a good deal more damage to Sir Cliff’s reputation than a thousand online rumours simply because BBC TV reaches the kind of audiences an internet conspiracy theorist can only dream of. Consequently, to have the mainstream media and the political class laying the blame of society’s ills on the doorstep of social media is an astonishingly hypocritical accusation that underlines the arrogance of the mainstream media and its fear of competition emanating from the world outside the bubble.

The Old Boy Network that cannot be infiltrated by people who weren’t born into journalistic dynasties resents the usurper that has exposed its members as the lazy laurel-dwellers they are; the thought that state-educated Proles can string together a sentence and garner an audience in the process is the most dangerous threat their cosy clique has ever faced. As the representative of another clique destabilised by the changes in the democratic landscape, Labour MP Chi Onwurah (yes, her!), remarked on television over the weekend that social media ‘has empowered…the WRONG people’; she also advocated sanctions and regulation.

Yes, it may be true that many of those whose voices ring loudest and with the greatest unexpurgated rage on social media are the same unhinged individuals who once reserved their incandescent anger for aiming at passing buses; yet what are so many of our high-and-mighty Fleet Street residents but the same unhinged individuals, albeit ones fortunate enough to have a father/grandfather/godfather/uncle able to bequeath a lofty tabloid platform to them in their last will and testament?

Often, the content of the daily column is as nasty and unpleasant as any to be found online; the Glenda Slagg types revel in their grotesque cartoon personas, as cosseted from the targets of their vitriol as a motorist is from the pedestrian he aims abuse at from the safety of his driving seat or the most malevolent keyboard warriors singled out as uniquely beyond the pale. The distinction as viewed by the mainstream media is that the newspaper troll is somehow superior to the social media troll, despite the fact that neither is more qualified than the other to dispense bile.

When it comes to Fake News, the ability to generate malicious mischief usually based on some in-built prejudice or intense dislike of a person or group of people is essentially classless. That doesn’t justify its most appalling moments; it merely demonstrates how the internet has enabled the poacher to become the gamekeeper.

© The Editor

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THE (POST) TRUTH IS OUT THERE

waldoAndy McCluskey, the frizzy-haired frontman of Synth-Pop architects Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, once reflected on the attempts of the British music press to kill the career of Gary Numan, whose rise to fame and fortune had rendered them redundant. ‘I am absolutely convinced,’ he said, ‘that Numan’s career was shortened by nasty vitriolic journalism.’ At the time, some music journalists had acquired characteristics that placed them (probably in their own heads more than anyone else’s) on a level playing field with the musicians they were writing about. Nick Kent, Charles Shaar Murray, Julie Burchill and Tony Parsons followed the lead of American rock scribes like Lester Bangs by portraying themselves as radical desperadoes sailing close to the wind in their attempts to chronicle their culture from the cutting edge.

Rising bands paid their dues on the pub & club circuit and entered into a contract with the music press hack, whose heaped praise in their early days had to be acknowledged when the stadium called. Gary Numan hadn’t played the game from day one and had managed to bypass the whole system on his way to the top of the charts; in many respects, his route to success pre-empted the route taken by the Rave acts a decade later, but coming in the immediate post-Punk era, when self-important music journalists regarded their role as pivotal to the star-making process, Numan’s spurning of the system enraged them into bilious character assassination. The media doesn’t like it when the people highlight its irrelevancy.

I suppose all that is a roundabout way of introducing the latest buzzword being bandied about by the media into the conversation – post-truth. Ironically, the term as currently utilised owes its presence to the relentless bombardment of 24-hour news, both on TV and online, which the media has saturated the population with for the last decade or so, spawning mistrust, cynicism and feelings of alienation from seats of power as well as the media itself. Recent events have revived a term first coined (as far as can be discerned) in a 1992 essay by the late playwright Steve Tesich, though it was quickly apprehended by those documenting the world after 9/11 and has re-emerged as a means of describing the political landscape in the wake of both Brexit and the Trump triumph.

The rise of the Professional Politician and the slick selling of them to the electorate by their media-savvy advisors and media mouthpieces has ultimately failed in convincing the public to tick the required box in the polling booth. Nowhere was this more evident than in the EU Referendum, where the well-oiled Remain machine utterly underestimated the aversion of the people to this Mandelson model, choosing instead to flock around those who rejected the ad-man image, such as Bo-Jo and Farage, merely because they appeared to be an alternative to the mainstream. The patent untruths they offered as their alternative – the millions paid to the EU being redistributed to the NHS as the most obvious example – didn’t matter; what they were offering was something the people wanted more than they wanted to remain members of the European Union.

During both the EU Referendum and the 2016 US Presidential campaign, wild accusations were made against ‘the other side’ that weren’t scrutinised with much precision by voters because their distrustful beliefs were being vocalised by those whose outsider status seemed to make them more plausible and relatable figures in contrast to the opposition. Donald Trump’s disputing of Barack Obama’s American citizenship, long before he embarked upon the path that has taken him to where he is now, is another example of facts not getting in the way of something certain sections of the public wanted to believe; and if their man said it out loud, it was true. In the middle of the Referendum, the Daily Telegraph declared ‘Facts are negative. Facts are pessimistic. Facts are unpatriotic.’ And when facts are propagated by an enemy whose tactics increasingly resemble a Chris Morris parody of news broadcasts, facts cease to have any credibility at all.

Confronted by the information overload of the 24-hour news media, many have preferred to turn to social media and its propensity for echo-chamber practices, just as they once selected a particular newspaper for reflecting their beliefs back to them. The use of the internet as a means of encouraging antipathy towards the political establishment also echoes earlier uses of the printing press, such as during the French Revolution, with the successful blackening of Marie Antoinette’s character in scurrilous pamphlets. Fleet Street and its declining physical copy sales have already felt the force of this sea-change and television is now suffering as a consequence. Giving the majority of its current affairs airtime to the class of politicians who have shown themselves unworthy of public trust has the effect of driving many into the arms of the extremists on both left and right as well as being susceptible to any conspiracy theory, creating a wide divide it’s hard to imagine being healed in the near-future.

Anti-Brexit protests here and anti-Trump protests across the Atlantic have emphasised the irreconcilable divisions of 2016, the post-truth reality of politics in the twenty-first century. If the people are taking it onto the streets rather than kicking their TVs in or ripping up their newspapers, and are voting with their hearts instead of accepting the powers-that-be as corrupt and contemptible figures completely detached from their lives with a shrug of the shoulders, it shows how the media has failed in accurately articulating the public mood. Every media prediction of a political outcome over the last eighteen months – the 2015 UK General Election, the 2016 US Presidential Election, and the EU Referendum – has been wrong. Politicians and media have never been more separated from the electorate than they are today, and no matter how many dirty tricks they unleash in a failed attempt to counteract their irrelevancy, they only have themselves to blame.

© The Editor

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ALL YOU NEED IS HATE

FFPerhaps it was only when time-travelling 21st Century DI Sam Tyler was confronted by racism in 1973 and expressed his opinion that he suspected a ‘Hate Crime’ that the ludicrousness of the term seemed more blatant than ever. ‘As opposed to an I-really-love-you crime?’ asked his guv’nor in response. Okay, so DCI Gene Hunt in the celebrated BBC drama ‘Life on Mars’ may not have been the most sympathetic or sensitive of characters, but the notion of a separate category for a criminal act based solely on ‘hate’ is a contentious one that deserves to be questioned. At the time ‘Life on Mars’ was set, there were certainly plenty of retrospective Hate Crimes being committed on British streets; the daily murders by both sides of the sectarian divide in Northern Ireland could be considered so – using today’s definition, anyway.

The impression sometimes given is that Hate Crime was hatched as a catch-all umbrella label to Hoover-up lots of little offences and assemble them all in a neat package that could also encompass other ‘offences’ not already catered for by the law. Many of the actions by individuals that fall under the Hate Crime banner would once have been dismissed as little more than playground-level name-calling; it’s a definition open to abuse like few others. It’s as though officers arriving at the scene of a crime who may be bemused by the evident absence of a motive pull the Hate Crime card out of a hat because it not only makes their job so much easier; it also pleases those who demand recognition as Victims.

There are numerous subdivisions that are encompassed by the Hate Crime tag. These include racially motivated violence, transphobic violence, violence against LGBT people, violence against men, violence against women, violence against people with disabilities and so forth – all of which are horrible, but all of which are virtually identical and unpleasant crimes committed by one human being against another. Should they not simply be considered age-old acts of violence full stop? Why do they require their own little label that immediately puts them in a ‘special category’?

The need to categorise everything and everyone so that every item of information on a database can be referenced and cross-referenced to see which box it belongs in has been extended from data to people; and people are utterly complicit in this. The desire to be a ‘joiner’ and belong to an officially recognised Community seems to have superseded religious definitions in many cases as a means of self-identification, and would appear to fulfil a deep need to be a member of a crowd in a world that has been shorn of its older certainties. The advent of Hate Crime could be considered a symptom of this need.

Actively promoted by pressure groups and self-proclaimed minorities seeking a pigeonhole to comfortably slot into, Hate Crime is not only redefining genuine crimes and grouping them with incidents that should barely register as such, but it appears to be a term that is being applied to any manner of minor insults, an extension of the PC Police in monitoring free speech. The whole ‘you can’t say that’ argument has been given one hell of a boost with the inception of Hate Crime.

Nowhere is this more obvious than online, where the anonymity a fake identity provides apparently gives the troll carte-blanche to say whatever he or she likes and receive no comeback. Hate Mail existed long before email, let alone Twitter, so it’s nothing new. Technology has merely facilitated a faster means of sending abuse than it used to take when posting a letter, just as it has enabled messages of a more benign nature to reach the recipient in an instant. For those who live online and can barely survive a minute without gazing at their Smartphone, any abusive text or message is bound to have a greater impact, as this is impinging upon the central hub of their existence.

The Metropolitan Police Force is clearly taking the concerns of online obsessives into account by setting up a new unit to tackle the problem for the princely sum of £1.7m. A spokesman for the pilot project claimed there was ‘no place for hate in London’ and also used that awful term ‘zero tolerance’, which always sounds too uncomfortably reminiscent of old phrases such as ‘short, sharp shock’ or even the inappropriate application of the word ‘Tsar’ to anyone heading such a taskforce.

It is the vagueness of Hate Crime as a description and how easily it can be attached to an opinion that contradicts the current consensus that makes it such a problematic term. Any police involvement in a dispute between one individual and a Community (especially an online one) always seems an unnecessary intervention, something that grown adults should be able to deal with on their own and not go crying to the Boys in Blue about. After all, they have enough issues of their own making to deal with, such as murdering former Premier League footballers by applying 50,000 volts to them simply because they resisted being restrained. That might not be a Hate Crime, but it’s pretty bloody hateful. RIP Dalian Atkinson.

© The Editor

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SOMETHING IN THE AIR

Gas MasksThe title of this post is lifted from the 1969 chart-topper by one-hit wonders Thunderclap Newman, a song that seems to encapsulate within its grooves a moment at the end of the 1960s when the tumultuous events of 1968 hadn’t entirely exterminated the optimistic spirit of ’67. Though very much a project sponsored by the same state that was simultaneously slaughtering peasants in Vietnam, the momentous achievement of putting a man on the moon suggested the general cultural zeitgeist remained forward-looking and convinced better days were just around the corner. John Lennon expressed as much when profiled in an ATV mini-series aired in December ’69 called ‘Man of the Decade’; the belief may have been misplaced or naive, but it was genuine and heartfelt. A generation born in a collective air-raid believed a different way of doing things was possible. Imagine no heaven, no countries, no possessions.

It certainly feels as though something is again in the air in 2016, though the odours of that something are not of incense, peppermints or even napalm; I can’t really put my finger on it, but there are a lot of people I know who seem to be wading through a dense, noxious fog as dense and noxious as that which permeated every nook and cranny and rookery of Dickens’ London in the memorable opening of ‘Bleak House’. Granted, many are experiencing personal crises that aren’t necessarily specific to 2016, ones that could have happened at any moment in history, in any turbulent chapter of this planet’s story as much as in any so-called Golden Age forever recalled with nostalgic reverence. They could have taken place in 1916 or 1966, and the world outside their window wouldn’t have played any discernible role. But all of the internal events that are affecting the lives of loved ones right now appear to be synchronised with external events to an unsettling degree. Perhaps that’s the impact of the age of 24/7 social media; perhaps not.

A close friend who is finding life exceedingly heavy going at the moment said to me last week that ‘everything seems to have gone wrong since Bowie died’. I thought of the vinyl label of Bowie’s 1973 LP ‘Aladdin Sane’; the song from which the album took its title is listed as ‘Aladdin Sane (1913-1938-197?)’. The information contained within the brackets marks the two years prior to the twentieth century’s twin global conflicts and clearly taps into the paranoia of the time by suggesting a year in the 1970s will serve the same calm-before-the storm purpose. True, it could merely have been Bowie playing with that paranoia for artistic effect or simply reflecting his own nihilistic worldview that he took onto another apocalyptic level with 1974’s ‘Diamond Dogs’. But ‘Aladdin Sane’ was released just a few months before the bleak economic meltdown of the Three Day Week, an era marked by rumours of right-wing military coups instigated by MI5 and/or retired colonial colonels with private armies on one hand and left-wing communist coups instigated by Moscow on the other.

What appears to be in the air today is not so black and white, but a multi-layered mosaic of malodorous uncertainty. It is the murder of Jo Cox as well as the ongoing massacres in the US; it is the litany of unexpected celebrity deaths as well as the terrorist atrocities on the Continent; it is the failed Turkish coup d’état as well as Brexit; it is Donald Trump as well as austerity; it is Syria as well as curbs on free speech; it is incompetence and corruption in public services as well as refugees drowning at sea. Possibly because of the way in which we are able to instantly access news, to quickly switch from one horror story to another or to be bombarded by them on Facebook and Twitter even when we’re not seeking them out, they seem bigger and uglier than they ever would have seemed in the past, when limited television news bulletins and 24 hours-later newspapers exerted breathing space between each horrendous headline. It’s a theory, anyway.

Were that the root cause of events in which we have no direct involvement seeping into our individual neuroses and exacerbating them, fair enough; but I wonder why so many seem to be struggling in the first place? If we compare the comforts we can call upon to the real hardships endured by our grandparents or great-grandparents, we haven’t got a leg to stand on when it comes to complaints. The dazzling variety of choice, whether in relation to electronic goods, TV channels, food, clothing or virtually every luxury item that constitutes an acquisitive society should suffice, yet endless choice itself can actually be quite overwhelming and incapable of filling the inexplicable inner vacuum that our forefathers seemed capable of filling without any of our fripperies.

I suppose age could play a part as well; most of my friends are over 40; I myself am careering towards 50. But recent surveys suggest the kind of social isolation that appears quite commonplace within my own demographic is as high amongst teenagers. And it’s a vicious circle. Something awful in the news drags us down when we’re already feeling low because we’ve just received some stupid bill that we can’t afford to pay, making us vulnerable sitting targets for the next horrific news event as well as the next dispiriting demand on our limited finances; it can get to the point where the internal and external are practically interchangeable as sources of anxiety and helplessness. I think a sense of helplessness is crucial too: we don’t have the money required to pay the bill and we can’t do anything to alter whatever depressing news story has invaded our private space via the mass media. Both feel as though they are ultimately out of our control.

I don’t know what the solution is. Watch less TV news and don’t regularly buy a paper? I started doing that about a decade ago, but I wasn’t online back then. It’s so much harder to avoid the big stories now. They eventually find your address. And, if you’re feeling lousy to begin with, these big bad wolves will huff and they’ll puff and they’ll blow your house down. But one little pig did survive, of course; so maybe we should simply build with bricks and we’ll get through it.

© The Editor

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