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April 2009

Freeloading and Snobbery

Over the holiday weekend I somehow missed the Guardian’s latest musings on Thatcher and the arts. The writer Hanif Kureishi offers this:

[I]n the longer term, her effect has been disastrous. Thatcher, like the Queen, is basically vulgar, and has little cultural sophistication or understanding. But unlike the Queen, she actively hated culture, as she recognised that it was a form of dissent.

Ah yes, “dissent.” That’s up there with Polly Toynbee’s conviction that subsidised literary festivals are not only “hot new debating arenas” and “as good a measure of well-being as any,” but also, crucially, make up for “the nation’s democratic deficit.” Naturally, this is advanced as a basis for additional taxpayer subsidy of the art forms Polly happens to like, and in which she has a platform. (There is, sadly, no public subsidy of my CD collection or Battlestar Galactica box sets, for which I expect to pay full price. But then if I want some political edge to my entertainment, I’m more likely to turn to, say, South Park than the woolly blatherings of DBC Pierre or the plays of David Hare. No doubt that makes me a hater of culture.) Toynbee devotees may also recall her enthusiasm for the idea that “disruptive 16-year-old boys” should be taken out of class to spend a term being taught the finer points of dance, resulting in a “transformation in the whole year group.”  

But on the subject of dissent, one might wonder whether publicly subsidised art and theatre will tend to favour a political outlook in which the subsidy on which it depends is most vigorously endorsed, thus leading to uniformity, inhibition and a political comfort zone. Which raises the question of what “dissent” actually means when the status quo in London’s dramatic circles is, as we’ve seen, overwhelmingly leftwing. It seems to me the nature of arts and theatrical funding has at least some bearing on the political tenor of artistic establishments and much of the work that’s produced. In the case of museums and orchestras this may not be particularly relevant. But there’s no shortage of overtly politicised “art” that peddles an ideological message or badmouths the terribly bourgeois values of the terrible bourgeois people who are nonetheless expected to pay for it with their taxes. In such cases, objections are easy to understand. If people wish to use art to propagate a leftwing political message, perhaps they should find a suitably likeminded sponsor, or do it on their own dime.

Continue reading "Freeloading and Snobbery" »

Friday Ephemera

ThruYOU brings the funk. (h/t, Dr Westerhaus) // Animani. // Because you demanded it, art made from toenails. // See where people are buying shoes. // Vintage Stalin bulbs. // Those crazy Soviets. // An impressive use of toilet roll tubes. // Chocolate and bacon, together at last. // A boneyard of neon signs. (h/t, Coudal) // Vintage analogue lie detectors. // Cartwheel galaxy. // Attack of the giant space hand. // Death rays and discombobulators. // Arresting pylons. // Vintage computer interface, 1981. // A history of the computer mouse. // Erasable paper. // The Banksy backlash. // And, via The Thin Man, it’s the return of Mr John Barry.

Not a Person, But a Group

I met with the Vice President for Student Affairs and I asked about a transfer from Multicultural Affairs to another department, almost any other department so long as my every duty and every interaction with students didn’t have to be centred on race. It was risky but I told her I had nothing to give to the job, and that I was tired of seeing students being labelled before we even talked to them.

Very casually, the vice president said that a transfer would be difficult because my departure would leave two same gendered people of the same race in that office, and there would be some difficulty “finding another black woman to replace you.”

When “diversity” is the only job in town


Ophelia Benson is pondering the word “pussy” and its connotations. In response to this Jesus and Mo cartoon on protecting deities from ridicule, a commenter writes

I’ve always wondered [why] the gods of today, especially the god of Islam, is such a pussy. He is unable to do a thing to protect himself or his reputation and must rely on his minions to do his dirty work.

Ophelia takes exception and replies,

The god of Islam “is such a pussy. He is unable to do a thing to protect himself or his reputation and must rely on his minions to do his dirty work” - meaning women are weak cowardly parasites.

Oh. What happened there? How did we get from this:

I’ve always wondered [why] the gods of today, especially the god of Islam, is such a pussy. He is unable to do a thing to protect himself or his reputation and must rely on his minions to do his dirty work.

To this?

meaning women are weak cowardly parasites.

I realise the ambiguities of the word “pussy” may vary on the other side of the Atlantic, where the dubious sexual connotations are perhaps more often emphasised and have a less whimsical air. (Maybe it’s a generational thing, or a gay man thing, or a trash sitcom thing, but when I hear “pussy” in a sexual context, if anything at all comes to mind it could well be Mrs Slocombe from Are You Being Served?) On the very rare occasions I’ve used the word - ironically and with a terrible American accent - I’ve used it to denote a kind of feebleness. Naïve soul that I am, I took the intended meaning here to be that Allah appears to be a sissy, coward or weakling, perhaps rather pampered, like a house cat; not that Allah in some way resembles the female genitals, or that the aforementioned body parts are contemptible, or that all women are contemptible. (Conceivably, some female non-Muslims may take exception to the suggestion - if one were made - that their ladygarden is in any way similar to the befuddled deity of Islam.)

But Ophelia – who is, I think, American and perhaps more accustomed to hearing the vulgar, sexual usage – remains unconvinced

Here’s a thought experiment. Suppose you were talking to the barmaid [who often appears in the cartoon] - would you say to the barmaid, “The god of Islam is such a pussy. He is unable to do a thing to protect himself or his reputation and must rely on his minions to do his dirty work”? Maybe you would, maybe you would. But I wonder. I don’t think it’s accidental that none of my male friends and correspondents ever use “pussy” or “twat” or “cunt” that way in conversation or correspondence with me. If there’s a reason for that… then perhaps there’s something wrong with the terminology; perhaps that something is that it’s sexist.

Well, I don’t regard myself as particularly sexist and I understood the intended meaning as unobjectionable – unless, that is, one believes Allah is the creator of the universe and a top-notch guy. I’ve heard at least two women use the word “twat” with pejorative gusto to describe a man, and I’ve talked to women who used the word “dick” in its derogatory sense without taking umbrage personally or on behalf of menfolk everywhere. (I was, of course, assuming they weren’t talking about me.) And though I’d be mindful that the word “pussy” has other, very different, meanings from the ones I mentioned above, I’m not sure one can assume that its usage, as above, necessarily signifies some objectionable intent or basis for indignation.

Over at B&W, the discussion rumbles on

Update: The Thin Man just reminded me of a stirring moment from Team America:

Sexual references? Certainly. Though readers searching for intimations of misogyny may have to look long and hard.

Friday Ephemera

Giant baby robot spits fire at puny humans. // Meet Boilerplate, the Victorian robot. Plus… Boilerplate in Antarctica. (h/t, EQ-aliser) // Fondle your touch-screen, it’s made of foam. // Send grass to a friend. // Beeswax sculpture. // Ballface. // Baconlube. (h/t, Franklin) // Ningbo Historic Museum, China. // 100 abandoned houses. (h/t, Coudal) // The triumph of victimhood, part 403. // The least fair fight in history. // “The protesters seem to know with great confidence what they are against, but what they are in favour of is maddeningly elusive.” // Nature, time-lapsed. // The photographic dictionary. // Mosquitoes versus lasers. // Snorkel at home. // Suitcase curios. // And, via The Thin Man, it’s Ms Shirley Maclaine

Echo Chamber

KC Johnson visits three academic conferences in search of real debate. What he finds isn’t encouraging:  

The second recent groupthink conference occurred at Duke, where several leading members of the Group of 88 - the professors who early in the lacrosse case publicly thanked protesters who had, among other things, urged castration of the lacrosse captains - hosted an academic conference on race in contemporary America. The very same people who got things spectacularly wrong in a high-profile case in their own backyard dealing with issues of race and politics offered their insights on “how modern racial prejudice shapes policy.”

In our increasingly multicultural society, such a conference topic might have provided an opportunity to bring together people with both innovative and widely disparate insights. Instead, the conference’s seven sessions (all but one of which was chaired by a Group member) featured little more than a recitation of the race/class/gender worldview dominant in most humanities departments today. Each session, moreover, began with an admonition against taping the panellists’ remarks: Group members apparently feared the possibility that their extremist ideas would be available beyond the campus walls.

Naturally, one of the panels – ponderously titled Race, Gender and Sexuality: Intersections on Multiple Dimensions - was to be moderated by the ever-moderate Wahneema Lubiano. Readers may recall Lubiano, a tenured professor at Duke, for her underwhelming scholarship and her conviction that “knowledge factories” and “engines of dominance” [i.e. universities] should be “sabotaged” – by people much like herself. The professor’s courses in “critical studies” and “race and gender” are construed in such a way that students can be told, “once white working class people learn that corporate capitalism is using racism to manipulate them, they will want to join with racially oppressed people against capitalism.” Professor Lubiano also says things like this: “Western rationality’s hegemony marginalizes other ways of knowing about the world” – a claim that suggests the West is somehow devoid of literature, art, music and film, despite being the foremost producer and consumer of such things.

Some background on other panellists, and their “diversity,” can be found here, along with an audience member’s notes on the content of the “debates.” Readers will be thrilled by the presence of Lani Guinier, a tenured professor at Harvard Law School and advocate of “critical thinking,” who insists that standardised testing is “racist” because “talent is equally distributed among all people.”