08 June, 2011

Coming to a street near you.......‘a shrieking orgy of fake tan, false lashes, fights, booze....’

Occasionally, if some item of news takes my interest or enrages me, I post a comment on the Guardian’s 'Comment is Free'  web site.  When I do, I usually skim through what other bloggers are saying about the subject.  Whether I agree or disagree with the points made I am often disappointed (as I see it!) by the quality of argument   put forward and especially the casual manner in which people use abusive language to make their point or to disagree with others. Mostly, however, I am surprised that overwhelmingly any points made are 'one liners'. Often, little  attempt is made at developing an argument.  Making the assumption  that anyone capable of reading and contributing to the Guardian presumably has well developed linguistic skills I am disappointed that the comments are often no  more perceptive and thought through than similar sites on other newspapers.

Yesterday, however, I did come across a couple of  'one liner' comments with which I could totally agree and which, I felt, said it all!

The cast of Geordie Shore
I had posted a comment on the site relating to an article that had appeared about the stereotyping of Geordies.  Apparently,  a current TV programme called 'Geordie Shore'  has caused a stir in the North East. From what I can  deduce it follows a group of young people and the world in which they live. It is, I understand, 'reality TV' and portrays the youngsters as (and I quote)  'a shrieking orgy of fake tan, false lashes, fights, booze and near-constant pansexual nudity starring a cast of hormone fuelled ninnies who appear to have been chosen as much for their inability to understand basic social norms as their ridiculously swollen arms and breasts.'  I couldn’t comment on the programme, never having seen it, but a local MP has, I understand, asked questions in the House about it and described it as 'bordering on the pornographic'. Whatever its qualities or otherwise, it has apparently earned MTV its highest viewing rating for over three years and is set to rival the awful 'Osbourns' in popularity and vulgarity.

My comment related to the general issue of stereotyping rather than the programme itself and indeed virtually all the other comments posted were, understandably,  from north easterners decrying the programme and saying that it did not present an true picture of people from that area or the many other attractions of the north east. Two  comments, however stood out for me. One blogger simply said 'The race to the bottom goes on' and another said, even more stingingly 'This kind of programme makes you think that the Taliban have a point'.

A clip from Geordie Shore
or the real thing?
Neither view needs further elucidation but, clearly, both commentators felt (I think) as I do, that what passes for acceptable entertainment  and what indeed our society is becoming are rather unpleasant. In my previous blog I commented upon the article by Larry Elliott in the Guardian of June 6th where he put forward the hypotheses that the US was in a state of  decadence rather like that which befell ancient Rome or other great civilisations as they crumbled:  'The high levels of violent crime, epidemic of obesity, addiction to pornography and excessive use of energy may be telling us something: the US is in an advanced state of cultural decadence' said Elliott. I  agree with him but also feel he is wrong  to limit his comment to the US. Our own country is in a similar downward spiral.
The 'Hook'

Of course,  we could all quote many thousands of examples of worthwhile and valuable aspects to our national life – but it is very difficult to escape the conclusion that much is wrong with our present culture and values.  We can, and often do, blame the media, the newspapers or the TV for society's ills - and clearly there are issues here - but in the end this is rather like shooting the messenger.  If people did not read the papers or watch the programmes that promote the sort of world allegedly depicted in 'Geordie Shore' then they would soon change to produce programmes that people would watch or news that they would read. Sadly, however, the fact that the programme has high ratings proves to me that there is a market and the media too often only reflects it rather than causes it. This morning as I picked up my Guardian I noticed the headlines on other papers:  'Giggs fights to save his follicles' blazed The Sun; 'Cheryl: I’m not Cowell’s puppet' headlined the Mirror; 'Diana’s true love revealed in secret letters to friend' announced the Express; in the Mail I can read that 'Bikini babe Christine can’t keep her hands off boyfriend Frank'; The Star tells me 'Ryan Giggs is a sex addict' And, tomorrow's Mail, according to their web site, is going to tell me (in the unlikely event that I buy it!)  that a mother has bought her young daughter a 'boob job'.The mother  made headlines last year when  she taught her daughter pole-dancing and has now given her a £6,000 boob job voucher for her seventh birthday. The voucher was part of a £12,000 'exotic pamper party' that Ms Burge organised to mark her daughter's birthday. The list goes on. 

Heronimus Bosch
The Seven deadly Sins
But this sort of reporting and emphasis is not the sole province of the tabloids. The broadsheets are not above using a number of the 'seven deadly sins' to curry interest and sell news – they simply more subtly use these 'sins'. Like upper class 'madams' as opposed to the local back street  'knocking shop' they  get the same message across with a little more delicacy.  For example, yesterday’s Guardian carried on its front page a photo of a 'slut walk' displaying on the front page a  provocatively and scantily dressed young woman – the inside article was, as you would expect, erudite and instructive – but 'the hook' to get your interest  was the a sexually explicit photo. Today, a similar situation – an in depth article about the TV watershed is advertised in the paper with a raunchy picture of a pop star. In the last two days in the  Guardian we have had, amongst others, a article  on Ryan Giggs' sex life,  a three page spread on fashion, an article on sexually transmitted diseases, various articles on dieting and life style to ensure that glamorous image, an in depth critique of men’s obsession with sex  and an article on Wayne Rooney’s alleged hair transplant.  Other broadsheets are the same. All these broadsheet articles are erudite, informative and  written, I am sure, for the best possible motives rather than simply to titillate. But in the end they reflect  the obsession that our society has with the puerile, the nasty, the tasteless and the unworthy – in short, aspects of  the seven deadly sins. Lust, gluttony, greed, laziness, wrath, envy and pride all seem to loom large in the media and perhaps reflect our society's unhealthy obsession with them. 

An erudite broadsheet
 article or porn for
the middle classes?

Now, newspapers have to print something – they will not sell blank paper – and I do not in any way dispute that all of the items quoted above might constitute 'news' to someone. My concern is that whether it be in the News of the World or the Observer, whether it be on BBC 1 or MTV what goes into the media to a degree reflects our society in all its forms – warts and all. What we see, it seems to me, is a society where – amongst other things - sex (lust), greed (gluttony) , narcissism (pride/envy/laziness),  envy  and violence (wrath) constitute a good deal of the daily outlook  and interest of many people. In other words – the sort of obsessions that Elliott was talking about in his article. We are a society in trouble. As the blogger on the Guardian site commented 'The race to the bottom goes on'.

Casual  violence, sex, swearing and the like are endemic on our screens and in wider society. Walk down any high street and you will hear casual foul language. Few plays or films on TV or cinema are devoid of some element of sex, violence, aggression, innuendo or the more shady aspects of life - and they are advertised as 'real life drama' If this is really so then we do have real problems if wrath and lust of the type portrayed on TV and films  are clearly the reality of life for so much of the population! Envy is alive and well in our society - you can see it each day with the bile is poured on those seen as better off - bankers, those with final salary pensions, fat cat civil servants, NHS  bureaucrats or those perceived to be cheating the system - benefit fraudsters, immigrants and the like. Pride and envy dominate so much of our thinking and can be seen in every newspaper and on TV with the devotion to diet, fashion, make overs, life style. Daytime TV it seems to me is filled with programmes like 'Cash In The Attic', 'Flog It' or 'The Antiques Road Show' whose ultimate appeal is the 'bottom line figure' - how much is it worth? - it reflects a society that knows the price of everything and the value of nothing and is a dead ringer for the sins of greed and gluttony.   But, I cannot blame the TV companies – this is what sells. Just like the high street greengrocer they sell what people want and the media sells, it seems to me,  the cardinal sins which the population demands and consumes!
A hard night in the city centre.

It might be comforting to think that these excesses are the preserve of only a very small percentages of the population on the fringes of society - that 'nice' people and their children are not part of this. But, sadly,  that  is not the case – we are all part of society and we all 'gobble it up'. Listen to articulate, intelligent people discussing the latest edition of 'X Factor' as if it was high culture, read blogs on the Guardian web site where offensive language – 'f***head'/'motherf****er' and the like -  are used with tiresome regularity and presumably come from reasonably intelligent people, look at the inane TV adverts which presumably millions believe and which obviously work since companies would not invest in them if they didn’t bear fruit , look at the top rated programmes which are constantly filled with expletives, violence and sex, consider the  people who achieve positions of power, privilege or fame in our country and are then found wanting because of dubious life style or involvement in unacceptable activities. No,  it is not some untouchable 'lower class' that we can blame, it is our society that is at fault. We are all part of that society and we are all guilty.
A week or two ago I was talking to an old friend and his daughter. I was in grumpy old man mode bemoaning one of my pet hates – the drinking of beer, water, soft drinks etc. from the neck of the bottle rather than a glass. I understand there is a technical term for it – 'necking'. Ugh! I was saddened to be corrected  by my friend’s daughter when she told me it was a safety measure rather than a fashion trend! How can that be I asked? The answer: when in a night club or pub you would never leave your drink on the table while going to the loo or dancing – someone might slip a drug into it. So you drink direct from the bottle in order that when you get up to dance or visit the loo you can put your thumb over the bottle top and take it with you.Now I understand the logic of this and am delighted that this young woman was so diligent. But how sad and what a reflection on our society that it should be thus and accepted so easily. It seems that 'Geordie Shore' may not be too far wide of the mark and it’s not a million miles away from people I know and where I live !  What a sheltered life I do lead! 
The low side of life!

A few months ago I cut my hand badly on a vase. It clearly needed stitching and mid way through Friday evening I found myself at the local A & E having it attended to. As the nurse stitched me up commented that I was glad it was only eight o’clock and not midnight when I presumed the place would be heaving with Friday night booze fuelled patients. The nurse agreed but commented  'Oh, Thursday nights are much worse – the night clubs have their student nights then so we are more full with drunken, injured university students than on Friday’s'. No,'Geordie Shore'  may not too far from the truth – it is part of your street and your circle of friends and family – and as a society we are to blame when our brightest and best - my son, your daughter, are living this life.

At the beginning of this blog I noted the comment of the Guardian site  – that 'This kind of programme makes you think that the Taliban have a point'. It took me back 12 months. I had written an almost identical comment a year ago relating to wars – both past and present  - and in particular the Afghan and Iraq ventures of recent years. I railed (and still do) against them.  I wrote at the time:

'A boob job - just what I wanted 
for my birthday, Mum!
'I can’t help thinking that if I lived in a small village in (say) Iraq or Afghanistan I might look at my TV set and see the violence portrayed from Hollywood or on BritishTV ; I might look at the bull necked US GIs with their skinhead hair cuts and guns walking down the narrow streets of my village; I might hear of my neighbour being kicked and his house ransacked  by  soldiers because he was suspected of some misdemeanour and I might be anxious; I might see my children being influenced by the 'attractions' of McDonalds or Coke or SKY; I might worry that my long held religious beliefs might not be followed by my children when they see the society portrayed on American films or in English newspapers or in British crime programmes; I might be concerned that my young sons and their sons might one day become the drunken louts that I had seen on documentaries broadcast into my house and who seem to inhabit English cities at night;  I might be concerned that my daughters may give up the role and position that women have traditionally occupied in my society for many thousands of year when they witness on the screen the scantily clad pop stars; I might take great exception when I saw the American GI photographed in this morning’s Guardian (26/07/2010) proudly boasting on each finger of his gloves the inimitable phrase (or is  it an official military term?)'F**k You.'    Yes, I think I might be worried. So I might rebel, I might want to preserve my world. And if the Taliban offered a preservation of what I held dear then I might be influenced for perhaps they offer me my traditional way of life and a culture - something I understand rather than a vague, nebulous and apparently not very appealing creation called 'democracy' which two men called Bush and Blair, who live on the other side of the world, say is good for me. And if 'democracy' is the life I see on my  TV set beamed in from London and New York and places then I think I will stick to what I have got'

Of course,  I am not supporting the Taliban – I do not know enough about them – but I do know that our own society has much to be ashamed of and may not be very appealing to others. Maybe I am morphing into a Tory politician or a Daily Telegraph reader - what an awful thought!   I do know that I am painting a very simplistic, and perhaps one sided picture and, as I noted above, there is so very much to praise and be proud of within our society. But there is also much wrong and I could also very easily argue that we might be better employed  creating a society of our own to be proud of rather than wishing or enforcing ours onto others!  


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