Friday, January 26, 2007

"Yob Nation"

A review of Francis Gilbert's new book

Although the author's guilty of thinking that Stone Island is spelt Stone Ireland, it's about time someone attempted an insightful look into what's happening to Britain without the crassness of tabloids or the opportunism of Labour and Tories. Is yob culture just a chav-confined phenomenon? How did the country switch from the sadness of having low social classes trying to emulate posh affectation and posture to the tragedy of the other way round? Why does UK social life revolve around getting pissed until you vomit on the pavement and your privates itch with clap of uncertain origin? Why aren't streets, buses, trains safe anymore? Or, if anything, why has the perception changed?

Francis Gilbert, an experienced schoolteacher who knows a thing or two about parents calling round to deck you for having told their scally kids off, does it all with knack. His book is a brave and well-researched trip around the country, trying to decipher chavs and yobs without the traps of mocking or patronising. No nook is left unexplored. From bullying in the army to the City of London, from ASBOs to gangland, from tabloids to the ClubRep-like joke that UK universities have become, Gilbert nails it on the head with his meticulous search for cause and effect behind a truly disheartening picture. Were it left to the reader, I'd guess tabloids would have a thing or two to answer for, given how influential they can be in the wider culture. To get the gist, one only has to think of the 1999 The Sun campaign against paedophiles escalating into paediatricians being attacked or The Mirror's absurd anti-German goading that marred England's campaign at Euro 96.

As if the task wasn’t complicated enough, Gilbert doesn’t do himself any favours with his force-fed parallelism with Westminster politics. Laudable though his intention may be (and sure enough there's a bone or two to pick with Alistair Campbell and the wreckers of the Labour Party), those abrupt and constant links are tenuous at best and artificial at worst and, frankly, the book's weakest link. Otherwise, back-to-front reading is ensured.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Made by the press, undone by the press

The critics are outraged by Jade Goody: as if they were not expecting the very notion of dumbed-down, cheap, voyeuristic TV to backfire at some point

For years we were helpless witnesses of the plague-like mushrooming of celebrity programmes and their satellite-magazines. All we could do was frown and stand on the back-foot while the body snatchers got their pods into gear and took over the world. Big Brother, 'Celebrity-island', 'Celebrity-this' and 'Celebrity-that', along with scores of Paris Hilton (and clones)'s pictures on each copy of each magazine, simply, seemed unstoppable. Until, that is, this week.

A remarkable comeback, courtesy of an own-goal from Jade Goody, one of the most poignant interpreters of this world of nothingness. A Frankenstein of fatuous 21st century TV. "A perfect monster of televisual incestuousness- on telly for having been on telly" noted Howard Jacobson on Saturday's Independent, the only journalist who actually talked a bit of sense amongst the inches of columns wasted on the free-for-all of Jade's "appalling-hideous-bigoted-racist" behaviour.

An ironic case indeed, as if they were not expecting the very notion of dumbed-down, cheap, voyeuristic TV to backfire at some point. The cult of celebrity-for-the-sake-of-being-celebrity has now bizarrely turned on itself. All the while Channel Four is accused of failing to perform the same self-censorship tabloids could do with. Lord, if they could.

You promote cheapness and vacuity; you champion the Jade Goodies of this world; you fill your pages with their oh-so-outrageous inanity, be it turrets or inability to spell; you titillate your readers/viewers with tits-out and sex scandals…and now you play knocked for six cos Jade Goody on Celebrity BB says that "Indians cook without washing their hands"? Get over it.

P.S. Cue from the Jade Goody/Shilpa Shetty affair. Whiney though it may be (and don’t we all continentals like a bit of whine), I'm yearning for the day the tabloids act all repulsed -and rightly so- at their own pisstake of "frogs", "krauts", and annexed mocking of their accent…