Hypocrites! or pragmatists?

The criticism of the Occupy London protests in much of the right-leaning press in the UK recently has focussed largely on issues of hypocrisy. How can these so-called activists possibly be politically motivated, the question goes, if they’re seen drinking Starbucks coffee, browsing the internet on their Apple laptops, and wearing designer clothes? There they sit, complaining about a system of excess and corruption, whilst they themselves reap the benefits. Hypocrites!

The alternative (but still linked) rebuke is that the activists are made up only of feckless students, rich kids with nothing better do to, or the lowly unemployed. And why should anybody listen to these freeloaders? Do they really think that without capitalism’s guiding hand they’d be receiving their benefits or student-loans? And as for Henrietta and Ptolemy living off daddy’s oil money: they don’t know they’re born …

The recent (debatable and debated) news reports claiming that 90% of the Occupy London tents were vacant overnight conforms to this same all-or-nothing logic. Activists are clearly required to conform to an unchanging social role involving minimal shades of grey. As soon as one social category is breached or blended with another then activism ceases, political messages are compromised and hypocrisy reigns.

But then what does this really leave?

If the logic states that it’s impossible to engage in the activity of activism whilst immersed in the activity of capitalism, then who is left to speak? The answer, presumably, is only those with no political voice at all; those who can be easily derided or ignored—those, in effect, who can safely protest without ruffling too many feathers.

Undoing this cleverly disarming logic is, of course, quite easy. The influence of markets, branding and capitalism is inescapable. Put simply, it is impossible to be an effective political activist without engaging in hypocrisy. Just as it is very difficult to be an effective environmental activist without, say, international air-travel. Slavoj Žižek puts it well:

What one should always bear in mind is that any debate here and now necessarily remains a debate on enemy’s turf; time is needed to deploy the new content. All we say now can be taken from us – everything except our silence. This silence, this rejection of dialogue, of all forms of clinching, is our “terror”, ominous and threatening as it should be.

To remove these necessarily overlapping areas leaves only a choice between the ‘all-in’, easily stereotyped (and ignored) left-wing anarchists who want a return to communism, or the ‘all-out’ Mr Monopoly bankers who’d willingly sell Africa to Shell—which is effectively a choice between fuck- and bugger-all.

If someone at Occupy London leaves the camp every three days to go and catch up on paid work (so as to lengthen their stay at the protest), then their act of so-called hypocrisy is in fact a pragmatic choice based upon the realisation that whilst the current system is broken, it is the only system in town, and that it is only through such a system that new and collective political agency can emerge.

Within a hegemonic system like capitalism, hypocrisy must in fact be the point of departure for any act of political dissent. And whilst there are certainly some modes of hypocrisy it would be better to avoid (protestors drinking Starbucks coffee for one), to simply berate pragmatic people for working within their limitations is a shortsighted and manipulative attempt to caricature what is a complex social movement into clearly defined parameters, and works only to stultify debate.

And it makes me mad.

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A Gregg Wallace dungeon? Yes, please!

Writing a fabricated sex-scandal about a relatively well-known (and largely disliked) British television celebrity—see my Gregg Wallace post(s) a few weeks back—grants an unsettling insight into people’s off-the-cuff Google habits, which display, on almost a daily basis, an ardent belief (or maybe that should be “desire”) that anyone off the telly is a philandering sex-pest (among many other things).

This insight comes virtue of the WordPress.com stats package, which ensures that every time someone stumbles upon my site via Google (or any other search engine for that matter) I am told exactly what was keyed in to get them (t)here. Below are the search terms and hits relating only to our brave, bald pioneer:

Search term(s) Hits
greg wallace 365
greg masterchef 30
gregg wallace scandal 14
greg wallace sex scandal 12
greg wallace scandal 8
greg from masterchef 5
gregg wallace sex scandal 4
greg wallace pics 4
greg wallace hat 2
wallace barrel 2
greg wallace picture 2
pictures of greg wallace 2
greg wallace sex 1
gregg wallace + gay 1
greg wallace glasses 1
gregg wallace face 1
bald rich 1
greg wallace smile 1
gregg wallace sex 1
masterchef judges england 1
greg wallace big eyes 1
greg masterchef photo 1
famous bald people wearing glasses 1
bald rich man smiling 1
masterchef wiki 1
greg wallace cup 1
greg masterchef spoon in mouth 1
greg wallis masterchef 1
greg wallace photo 1
bald masterchef 1
greg wallace pictures 1
greg wallace images 1
greg wallace dungeon 1
bald masterchef judge 1
is greg wallace gay? 1
gregg wallace gay 1
is gregg wallace gay 1
is greg wallace gay 1
masterchef judge wallace 1
gregg wallace kerb crawler 1

There is a chance, of course, during my absence from the UK, that Gregg Wallace has acquired a media personality whereby connotations of sexual depravity, solicitation and homosexuality are par for the course. Maybe, à la Richard Keys and Andy Gray, our hero Wallace was seen rutting near the bread-bin in-between takes, or carving up a turkey with his hands behind his back.

These things I cannot claim to know.

What I can be sure of, however, is that my post on the (imagined) matter back in August hasn’t spawned this flurry of rumour and hearsay—I know how few people visit this blog—which suggests that there is a committed band of internet snoopers constantly on the lookout for the next celebrity scandal to dribble out of the internet and into our gaping brains.

Hmm … I wonder if there’s anything about Adrian Chiles’ reach-around hell? A Sooty and Sweep love-hotel, you say? I’d better check. And what’s that? Jamie Theakston has admitted he has a vagina growing on his arm? Well I’ll be!

God bless the internet.

Juvenilia: 16th September 1996

On their 6music radio show some time last year Adam and Joe asked listeners to send in stories and poems which were penned during childhood. These efforts—dubbed “Juvenilia”—were then read out and generally marvelled at due to their ingenuity and inventiveness. Some of my favourites were a book of poetry called “Say it with Snails”, an Arnold Schwarzenegger magazine, and a mildly racist comic strip called “Judge Fred”. I think they put some of them up on their website.

Anyway, I say this by way of introduction to my own little piece of recently discovered juvenilia, “Escape from Fort-Socks”—a swashbuckling adventure yarn committed to paper by the fresh-faced 11-year-old boy that I once was. Remarkably, the (unedited) extract below is only 1/5 of the total story, and as far as I can make out, serves as the introductory chapter to the tale at large. I can still vaguely recall writing the thing, although my (slightly worrying) logic for calling the protagonist “Beer Garden” currently escapes me.

It seems I wasn’t much of a speller, and I appear to take a pretty cavalier attitude to grammar much of the time too (particularly in the final paragraph, which descends into a blitz of Joycean experimentation) …

Escape from Fort-Socks (extract)

It was a dark misty night, search lights scoured the pale, green grass at a rapid speed. Fort Socks is a high security jail in Dunstable. Down in the celler there are four brave men and their leader is the man called Beer Garden. Beer Garden is a brave warrior and will stop at nothing to get the plans back to Slinsil. There are two countries seperated by a river, Krasnir and Slinsil. Krasnir is planning on attacking Slinsil and the’ve sent the spies to see were there going to attack.

The other four men are extremely brave. there is Boxer who only has a blunt battle axe, but he has a magic bottle which only Beer Garden can use on Boxer because Boxers arms are to short to reach. He is knicknamed Boxer because he always wears a cardboard box so his arms can’t reach his weapons.

Suddenly they heard a click they all drew there weapons and darted to the door, the door opened, Crossbones switched on his automatic drill and his electric ball and chain. The others stepped back. Crossbones is a right hard nut and never gives up, his ball and chain had reached maximum speed of 909 mph. A guard opened the door. The ball and chain hit him on the armour and he flew through the air at a great speed and landed in the cat food bowl (knocked out). He shut the door and they got back to looking at the plans. Stretcharmstrong is a wizard, he is the main spy of the group he can stech to 19 metres 33 cm. He can turn evil people into stone but it only works for five minutes and it doesn’t work near water. He can turn invisible which is a great help.

Last of all there is Lollyman he is very quick on his feet but gets tired easily he has a little helper called Harry the hamster who is always there to help. Harry holds a missile launcher which fires hamster nuts, which helps alot. The cellar was dark and a musty smell filled the air. Harry was nibbleling on a piece of cheese in the corner when suddenly his fur stood up on end and he squeked. The walls rumbled and ten or so door ways appeared. Ten armoured men appeared all with a gleaming sword (the size of LollyMan). They surrounded the spies like wolves around a rabbit, nobody moved. “Get them” shrieked one of the guards they all charged and before the spies could move they were tied up with balls and chains on there feet. They were taken to the dungeon. Bread and water were slid under the door a strange man was sitting in the corner we tried to speak to him but he wouldn’t talk he was really getting on our nerves Crossbones went over to him and stared into his eyes he stared back and all of a sudden he slowly began to fade away slowly but surely he went until only one of his broken shoes was left on his bunk bed. “This is getting very, very weird and Lollyman and the rest of us fell asleep and only the gentle sound of snoring could be heard coming from the dungeon.

(Possibly) to be continued …

Euphonic memory glitch (with soundtrack)

I’ve been in Hong Kong nearly two years now, which means it’s about four years since I left London for Brighton, and a full seven years since I left Suffolk to begin my university career at Queen Mary in the badlands of Mile End. Seven years. Seven dirty great hunks of calendrical time spaffed up the wall of memory, some fragments sticking, others coalescing, some not really making the journey at all. Odds and ends splishing and splash-slapping all up my brain, making me me, for better or worse.

I guess it’s pointless feeling gloomy about the passing of time—you may as well worry about rain or beards or bears or somesuch—especially if you’re happy with how the time’s been spent. Nostalgia always has a whiff of the weep about it, sure, but as long as you can lid it up all tight with the rest of your suppressed anxieties, then no harm done. And there’s always high-speed international air-travel—one more log for the anxiety pyre—to bring you closer to that homeland feeling, in map-wise terms at least. Feeling geographically proximate to old, sepia imprints of yourself or selves as you popped about from place to place—from pub to house to beach to school, from shop to car to park to pool—is always pleasant.

In a similar vein, I was listening to music just now and my voice blared out of the past and right into my ears: waves crashing in from over nine years ago, dashing out memories of hospitals, Avent, gig seating and Steve in Witham. Sprigs of time mashed up in binary, careening down my ear-holes, slipping and skidding about, trying to take hold in some adequately remembered narrative of my past. Our music was misguided, perhaps, and very often artless, but so well-recalled that all inequities of style and substance melt into warm goo. Sepia-folks now in Southampton, London, Weston-super-Mare, Bury St Edmunds, Seoul and Hong Kong, teaching, managing, studying and practising, and all held hard like Ambered insects in some memory-sense past just waiting to crack out and start moving to music.

Wallace, Flatley and a flaming rooster

The internet, with its billions of dials, levers and pulleys, is a truly undiscerning archive of information—a place for everything, whether legal or illegal, uplifting or horrifying, valid or manufactured. It’s a bit like a sinkhole in that regard: providing a seemingly limitless capacity for any old shit that people fancy throwing in. Unlike a sinkhole though, this junk doesn’t just disappear into a murky mud-slop like an old lawn-mower, instead it’s stored and replicated for public consumption in the most effective and expansive digital archive ever created. Add to this the fact that the internet is, by and large, unregulated, and you have the perfect conditions in which to propagate, distribute and historicise some of the most wonderful nonsense.

As a very minor and inconsequential example, take my last post, which suggested, in an entirely fictional alter-reality, that I had been involved in a sex-scandal with Gregg Wallace, the bald Masterchef judge. Implausible, perhaps, but not beyond the realms of all that is possible. (I’d like to think I stood a chance, at least. I churn an impressive hummus.)

The good folks at Google then rewarded me for this misdemeanour with number four in the Gregg Wallace sex-scandal rundown (I have, by the way, checked the top three search results, and they’re conspicuously scandal-free):

And thus a Gregg Wallace sex-scandal is born, albeit a scandal that no-one will ever notice or care about. Or, for that matter, search for.

A much more impressive example of internet cheekiness comes courtesy of some friends back in the UK, who a few years ago doctored the Wikipedia entry for Michael Flatley (back in the day when such vandalism was much more easily achieved) with the addition of the following sentence:

In September 2000, Flatley was awarded the prestigious ‘Coq Flambee’ by the Sorbonne, Paris, for his commitment to the furtherance of Franco-Irish ‘relations’.

Brilliant.

I’m not exactly sure how long this piece of perfection lasted on Wikipedia, but certainly time enough for several lazy researchers to copy-paste Flatley’s Wiki entry onto their own websites. It even made it onto michaelflatley.com for a short time, which when it comes to acts of internet vandalism, has to be the apex of achievement.

Type the words ‘Michael Flatley Coq Flambee‘ into Google today and you are still rewarded with a whole host of positive returns, some of which span linguistic divides.

Im September 2000 wurde Flatley das prestigevolle „Coq Flambee“ durch das Sorbonne, Paris, für seine Verpflichtung zur Unterstützung der Franco-Irischen „Relationion“ zugesprochen.

En septiembre de 2000, Flatley fue concedido el “Coq prestigioso Flambee” por el Sorbonne, París, para su comisn al formento de relaciones Franco-Irlandesas.

Again, just brilliant.

In fact, this little bit of nonsense has made it onto search.com, reference.com, enciclopediaespana.com and statemaster.com, not to mention several blogs and forums that mention the accolade. And from what? An inspired decision by a couple of drunk students to tamper with the Lord of the Dance.

Of course, there’s always one smart-arse know-it-all who tries to ruin everyone’s fun, but to the man who wrote the following comment on stateuniversity.com, I say that you are a despicable killjoy of the highest order, and I’ve a good mind to fabricate a sex-scandal with you, just to teach you a lesson:

The “Coq Flambee” reference is completely bogus—probably a lame attempt to suggest that Flatley is gay. Obviously, this piece has been largely copied from Wikipedia, where the reference first emerged (and has been deleted. It has been edited out. Internet searches for “Coq Flambee” turns up nothing outside of this reference).

Just as a point of order, the inferred homosexuality of Flatley is far from lame. It is an expertly interwoven subtext that plays on the French for rooster, ‘coq’, and its homophone in English, ‘cock’—an inference that is then developed though the use of ‘flambee’, which is indicative of heat, frictional or otherwise. The quote marks around the word ‘relations’ is the cherry atop of the inference cake …

But whatever the legal or moral verdict on such vandalism, Flatley has now, on certain websites, an additional and prestigious award to his name. Something else to put on his mantelpiece; another bauble for his tree.

And surely if the internet’s for anything, it’s for creating fictional awards for Irish dancers.

Greater progressive change

Given my long-distance relationship with UK politics—which, to be honest, has not been greatly affected by geographical distance—the upcoming general election in Great Britain would have pretty much passed me by were it not for the the Guardian plastering it all over their website like it actually meant something.

Apathy aside though, it’s worth taking a quick, virtual flick through the Labour manifesto when you get a moment. Never have so many words said so little.

“This is a Manifesto about the greater progressive change we need because of the tougher times we are living through.”

Nice one, language!

Read the Labour manifesto in full