Afua Hirsch: ‘Brit(ish). On Race, Identity and Belonging’.
Another review of sorts. Because I have time. Because I enjoyed the book. Because in my clunky and inadequate way I want to oppose racism – even though my colour and the baggage I carry makes it likely I will execute that aspiration worryingly badly.
Brit(ish) is a rounded, personal, accomplished book on Afua Hirsch’s struggle – and it is a struggle – to get comfortable with her own identity; the imprint she should make. It’s generous and good. It speaks to ‘the denial of our imperial past & the racism that plagues our present’. (Robbed from back cover, but true enough). But hey – go see what I said. Despite the unflattering pic below! 🤣
So, yeh I liked it. Am something of a fan, in fact, having seen a certain amount of Afua Hirsch on the telly-box, lately. Find the intrigue around her relative affluence (and the obvious and profound need to ‘find herself’) rubbing up against her partner Sam’s “in the hood-ness” engaging in more than one sense. Hirsch is open about the frisson between her and Sam, much of it arising from their different (though partially shared) upbringings. The author is admirably self-aware, around this.
Quite right but hugely important to recognise your own privileges: this Afua does, whilst still going on to make a legitimate and compelling case for the continuing, multi-layered existence – arguably preponderence – of racism(s). She is medium-posh and opportunities have been there but so has crass prejudice. Things are complex, often in a bad way.
On her journey, Hirsch also gets stuff wrong. Senegal and Ghana, though necessary and urgent, even, really don’t work out. Again, very much to her credit, there are bold admissions and absolutely no self-pity, here.
An admission of my own. I don’t immediately know who Philippe Sands is. (Gonna google, any minute). On the back cover he provides the following quote:
‘Wonderful, important, courageous… Warm, funny and wise”.
‘Brit(ish)’ is probably all, or most of that. But I found the word ‘warm’ interesting and wondered briefly if this reflected a certain cosiness… which might be something of a negative(?)
Could be that this book is less directly challenging than the Layla F Saad or Renni Eddo-Lodge works I’ve read recently – reviewed elsewhere. But no. It’s warm in the sense of its generosity, its open-ness, I think. It’s personal without being indulgent: it reveals. So I like it; I rate it and do recommend.
‘Bury My Heart’ is fifty years old: this may strike those who read it upon publication as rather extraordinary and not a little scary. Time passes… and in many ways, nothing changes. Certainly not in terms of the ubiquity of prejudice.
The language of the book may feel dated; both as a work of art and as social history it now feels clunkyish, to me, inevitably so, but the Righteousness Factor (dare I say it?) and the deep, poignant, socio-political heft of this document remain valuable, real, critical. Having been on a kind of accidental pilgrimage through literature on race, the book registers as an honourable, early(ish) contribution to anti-racism and I absolutely recommend it on that premise. That is, more as a powerful holding-to-account of murderous White-American predilections than as a great work of art.
Author Dee Brown was a journalist, printer, librarian, lumberman who went on to write histories. “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee” has something of reportage about it but bolts urgently forward towards worthy polemic and indeed ‘life’s work’. This is for The Indians. Their stories are told (by them to some degree) in order to mark their betrayal, their tragedy. There is no pretence towards neutrality – and why would there be? It’s campaigning.
The individual stories – or, more accurately, the stories of individual Chiefs or protagonists – are rich but often harrowing. The whole is somewhere between enraging and saddening: we know the outcomes and we know indigenous peoples and what we now call People Of Colour still suffer diabolical prejudice and oppression. So read the book and weep, or get angry, or think about what it means for us today – what shadows are cast, in this ‘populist’ present.
Inflammatory title? Maybe. But let’s be honest, there’s no way to swerve the tasty stuff around this. And I don’t want to. If I’ve learnt anything during my recent *re-education period* it’s that umbrage – or worse – is omnipresent. So I’m going to tick all the following boxes, no doubt; racism (whilst trying to be anti-racist); ‘naivety’; provocative barsted-ness; appalling insensitivity. But hey – on.
I’m an oldish white bloke who rages against referees, umpires, privilege and discrimination – sometimes in that order. I’m a brilliant dumbo who reads stuff and occasionally thinks. I happen to be in what I’m gonna call an anti-racist phase, in terms of my literary nosebaggings, having just read “Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race” (Renni Eddo-Lodge) and “Me and White Supremacy”, (Layla F Saad). This has felt timely -timely and genuinely nourishing, in fact – as #BLM and just now Michael Holding and Ebony Rainford-Brent have crashed in to the (Brit) national consciousness.
I hope to avoid too many explainers about my own experience or route in, here. In fact, bugger it, because everything is about URGENCIES, I’m going to slap down some slogantastic imperatives before I qualify everything I’ve ever said, done, or meant. Read these and disappear if you’ve a mind to: I’ll elaborate and generally excuse my own, murderous complicity after.
Us white folks need to shut up and listen. (Yup, I do get the irony).
All of us are complicit, because White Supremacist thinking is everywhere.
If you seriously think that All Lives Matter is a perfectly reasonable response to where we’re at, then you are so-o much and so obviously a part of this problem it’s not even funny.
Think about power and race at the same time. Racism is about expressing power: there is therefore some merit in the argument that Black people cannot be racist, because they exert no power, generally, over whites. (This is one of many challenges us white people have to face: we have to do it humbly and with intelligence, not anger).
Hang on. Did I just write Black but white? Yes I did. Have I thought this through? No, ‘course not. I am aware, however that anti-racists (and others) are capitalising the B and respect that. Whilst it feels odd and possibly illogical to leave the w tiddly, I’m leaving it that way, for now. Partly to reflect the need to differentiate the experiences of Black and white and partly to symbolise the need to prioritise attention on the reality of difference, on the fact of those monstrous inequalities that the #BlackLivesMatter movement is protesting.
On #BLM specifically, if you don’t see that the shallow subversion of their central, indisputable messages by clowns and racists on the right and wet-wipes in the media is yet another campaign to maintain White Supremacy then shame on you. Black Lives Matter need to act and are right to act. They have every right to be angry. Take care around your ‘concerns’ about the rule of law, the role of the police and that tendency to wince at Black people raising their voices or their fists. Could be that there really is nothing more urgent than attending to equality. Could be that inaction is acting for an evil status quo.
It’s not good – or not good enough – saying that we/you don’t see colour; that “we’re all equal”. Lazy and untrue. White people are the beneficiaries of shedloads of privilege. So whilst it’s of course theoretically important to signal that you wish to display no prejudice it’s cobblers to infer that there are no differences in power or value. Or that you don’t recognise them. We strive towards equality in power and value but we’re a million miles away. There is colour.
Most white people – yup, even us Good Ones – are conditioned towards utter acceptance of the ‘fact’ that we are raceless, we are normal, we are the centre. That centre is hollow, is crass, is ethically repugnant in its smugness. Worse still, in many ways it is both actively and passively alive with prejudice.
But are there meaningful degrees of racism? Am I, as an occasionally Guardian-reading mid-leftie-who-is-trying, still failing as badly as an outright racist? Who cares? Why is this about me? I should shut up and listen.
Purely coincidentally (well, maybe) I got two books a month or so back – bought for me, by the way. After years, possibly decades of being angry and mute and spleeny and silent and ill-informed over race, I’ve waded through… towards something.
I’m still going to make hideous faux pas(ses) and do my usual thing of getting in such a rage that I can’t articulately confront racism in my presence. I’m certainly going to say things that are so unbelievably stoopid… and worse, I’m going to say things that betray my subconscious ‘baggage’. That fear of black blokes with machetes; that memory of being so drunk I sang along with a racist song. That conversation with my grandpa where he called the Town winger a ‘darkie lad’, with what he hoped was affection, rather than malice.
I – and you, dear, sagacious reader, you good white folks – are going to be wrong when you hope to be right. So we need to take that on the chin and do better.
Here’s a weird one. I loved “Me and White Supremacy”. It’s such a fantastic, accomplished book. It’s also a deliberate, considered, eloquent, almighty challenge, in which you are invited to create a working journal, over a period of a month, as you earn your way through.
I loved it but inevitably I cheated. Possibly because I’m a fifty-something white bloke who doesn’t care enough: hopefully because I was just too excited to spread the thing out that long.
I did do a journal. Tried to answer the ‘Reflective Journal Prompts’ at the end of each chapter. Fuck that was hard, on times. If you take anything away from this mess of mine, let it be that YOU SHOULD READ THAT BOOK. All of it is different-level interesting, as an intellectual exercise – the chapter on White Feminism I found excoriatingly sharp (from my safe distance) – but the whole, confident, revelatory timbre of the thing is a standout achievement, for me.
Immediately prior to reading the Saad, I had read “Why I’m No Longer Talking…” the ‘book that sparked a national conversation’. I did an unwisely unrehearsed review of sorts, here –
(If you think this review is any good, or some of my other #YouTube Influencing 😉 is any good, or of any interest at all, please do subscribe… and comment).
I need to read this book again. Again because I found it Proper Stimulating. It’s maybe got a more confrontational feel to the Saad – maybe. (Not sure that’s either entirely true or a satisfactory description: in short, go see for yourself).
Eddo-Lodge shines a light, digs a rib or two – digs out some cruel history. I fell into giving it a 7 or 8 out of 10, I think, because it feels less complete, less accomplished somehow than “Me and White Supremacy”. (If I was to be stupid enough to repeat that unholy process and reduce Saad’s book to a number, it would be a comfortable 9. I hope this isn’t because I found it a more comfortable read – I don’t think I did). Both these books make a profound contribution to the ‘debate’ – hah! – on racism.
So where am I now? I am in the place where I remind myself this is not about me. This is about gathering all of my/our white wits and forcing change. In ourselves. In policy. In the conversations we have. Probably, ideally, in or from the background. Learn about White Superiority, White Saviourism, Allyship – all that stuff. And be prepared to get called out, or in. Mainly, don’t go hiding from all this. It’s urgent.
Footnote: why did I write this? Was it because I’m a Cricket Bloke who was moved inordinately by the magnificent *outburst* from Michael Holding and Ebony Rainford-Brent, on Sky Cricket? We-ell yes and no.
Yes because I am and I was. No because my own, feeble interventionwas on its way in any case. But the contribution of those twofabulous people (met them both briefly but been around them more, in cricket meedya circles) was certainly a catalyst. They are amongst the voices that needed to be heard.
Cricket – which I love heartily – is neck-deep in privilege and sometime quiet, sometimes noisy prejudice. Significantly, the ECB had just recently launched what appears to be a committed review and action plan in response to the surge of feeling around #BlackLivesMatter.That of course might have been ‘just words’ but post the Holding/Rainford-Brent/Hussain moment, the ante is well and truly upped. Inside (and please god outside of cricket) it’s plainly, obviously time.
Hearing ‘Ebbs’and ‘Mikey’ choke up, whilst recounting their experiences was tough, was telling. It made me more determined yet, to be a better ally.
Wow. Is there no limit to the man’s cheek? Even approaching this? Jee-sus.
In my defence, your honour – this. I’m interested/sympathetic/wanting to say something and thinking that despite the obvious dangers – risking looking an arsehole or faaar worse – I want to make a contribution. Mainly because *how I seem* doesn’t matter and talking about racism in a way I hope is supportive and constructive does.
To be clear, I absolutely back what Eddo-Lodge says about our – white folks’ – complicity in the omni-present monster that is structural racism. That’s the headline here: I dare to say some wrong stuff because I honestly want to plant my own, feeble flag next to Reni and the anti-racist activists. (They may not want me, of course, for reasons I’d completely understand).
So a review of sorts. Of a strong book with strong arguments.
Listening back, I realise I failed to mention the particularly juicy stuff in the book about ‘overwhelmingly white feminism’: regret that. But am thinking this omission was probably because I was ver-ry conscious of going on too long – as per. In any case, methinks I open enough worm-cans without going there, too, eh? May well write more, but for now, please do have a listen…
Ok. Am clear on a few things. This idea that (too many) white people have that structural racism either doesn’t really exist or is in some way overblown by The Activists must surely be bloody infuriating for black people. (So no wonder Reni doesn’t want to waste her breath). Am pin-sharp, now, on the necessity to absolutely challenge the f*** out of that. Plus the facts, the history of racism and discrimination across most facets of life, affecting most things – at some level – that people of colour do. Documented. Again. Here. I’m clearer.
Structural racism is everywhere and does matter and Eddo-Lodge’s argument that all of us as a kind of starting point have to accept that and then begin to act, is undeniable. White blokes like me can’t say that the fifty-odd years of conditioning we’re carrying ‘makes it tough’ to break the habit of not noticing. White women can’t shuffle feet and lower eyes and not engage with The Painful Truth.
The Painful Truth is so grotesque and so ferkin obvious that our white squeamishness about protests generally and noisy, challenging ones particularly is an embarrassment, a fraud. We have to get behind the demand for equality. None of us approve of violence but we can’t go drowning out the legitimate voices of protest because we ‘aren’t comfortable’ with angry black faces on the news. My god we’d be angry.
I respect the anger in this book and the powerfully controversial challenge to feminism, which plainly drew plenty of vitriol back towards the author.
Really don’t wish to conflate arguments too much, here but clearly there are parallels between racism and sexism: the writer (I think) was challenging that ‘inertia’ around feminists (also, often) being unable or unwilling to confront, or just kinda stuck with assumptions around a weirdly idealised, white status quo. One where they thought/hoped colour was not being judged, was not an agent, never mind an urgency.
This racism thing has been urgent for hundreds of years: Eddo-Lodge is demanding all of us acknowledge that RIGHT NOW… as a starting-point. Don’t bang on about the universal right to freedom of speech too much until the monster that is racism is confronted.
Much of the media and of course all of the right-wing/nazis want the story to be arse-about-face – about white folks being ‘oppressed’ (hah!) by immigration, by activists, by the unruly subversion of ‘how we go about things’. Bollocks. The overwhelming power has been going in the other direction, more or less viciously, for hundreds of years. This is why there may really be a hierarchy of urgencies; why it might be right to cut to the quick, to the Biggest Most Obvious Injustice – racism.
I may be wrong but I think Eddo-Lodge is saying that there is no decency, no contemplating a broader, healthier, even remotely equitable society without first unseating that white privilege. It should be top of the list. Our collective and individual energy needs to go into anti-racism, now: everything else has the effect of enabling a profoundly racist status quo. For what it’s worth, I’m with her.
*Prelude: hope it’s obvious that the reason I’m doing this YouTube lark is much more to do with making some ‘contribution’ than with weird self-obsession. That and I like the idea of Or’nary Peeps wiv orn’ary tech piping up, even though it’s plain they can’t compete with either The Meedya or with (gnash gnash) Influencers. Feel it’s populist and maybe punky in a good way to say stuff even when you’re a nobody: like me. Us nobodies are sometimes worth a listen.
Life, eh? Funny and serendipitous and yeh – allsorts. You start a YouTube Channel by accident and then you get asked to do stuff.
In this case, from nowhere, my soul-brother Karl, from Canada, pretty much dares me to ‘review’ Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged show of ‘93. No pressure of any sort then, it’s not like it’s one of the most iconic and tribally-treasured events in the history of the muso-universe. And plainly ole Karlos loves it… and I might not.
But as an exercise – wow – what a thing to do? So I do.
Watched the recording on YouTube, two or three times, firstly battling against the ads that would so-o have infuriated Cobain. Read a little. Then crucially and entirely fortuitously, watched the extravagant and I think probably brilliant Cobain/Love/Nirvana documentary “Montage of Heck”, which had mysteriously landed on our TV right at The Moment.
So one might suggest I almost ‘prepared’… but then in a grotesquely ill-advised fit of enthusiasm charged straight down the garden, with a few notes, to ‘record something’ in a single 28 minute take. Madness but typical – and somehow appropriate?
Go watch me do battle with it all: *spoiler alert*, I have no doubt that some of this gig is what we music-journo’s of experience call ‘major’.
Have recorded three videos, typically the first by accident, after trying and failing to upload a wee fillum to my blog. (Was too big/researched a little/found that Youtube linking might be the way to go).
Had no ambition to join The (hah!) Influencers – quite the reverse! – but here I am, warbling away in my back garden. Opposing stuff, proposing stuff and hopefully making ‘the abstract contribution’ I mutter on about.
Production values close to nil but meant, and sent with some degree of lurv and goodwill. An offering, an act of defiance against the Kardashianisation of the universe and I hope the starting point for conversations around everything from activity to philosophy, music to coaching. (In case you’re wondering, I think I’ve decided to post these here – despite smaller following – than over on cricketmanwales.com cos I may be freer to both meander and rebel).
All this with no expectation and no product: just engaging, spouting and (I hope), learning. By all means comment… and if you can bear it, *subscribe* – no cost! – because otherwise I’m gonna look a pretty sad old git with no subscribers at all. Anyway, three vids with a certain theme…
Been wrestling with what to do, as a Remainer. Been probably unhelpfully angry, but also determined not to shrink. Looking for something that feels like appropriate defiance… and to be honest, not that bothered if some view it as inflammatory.
Understand that Brexiters will simply view my wee statement as typical Remainer arrogance, including, as it does, the notions that exiting is wrong, and predicated on racism. Worse still, I guess I’m insinuating into the argument the ver-ry contentious idea that we Remainers are Better People than t’other side, because we’re right, we’re anti-xenophobic and therefore we hold the moral ground. (Think we are, think we do, think there is).
If that hasn’t put you off entirely, please do have a listen. Don’t expect any worthwhile debate will ensue, because we’re all so bitterly entrenched: know that I may indeed be contributing to that particular, ongoing malaise, by digging in. Hey ho.
If we could brush aside those narrowish political red lines for a moment, I might finish by saying that I really do have concerns about a divided future – especially where the scramble for food security really will be an issue for millions, worldwide. How’s it gonna be when every leek, cabbage or chicken matters? How ugly will it be when the protectionist juices unleashed here and now are swilling towards swathes of desperate, starving, near-drowned or parched and emaciated peoples from country X?
Crazy-paranoid? Don’t think so. Think what defines us needs to be generosity, open-ness. Think xenophobia is bad. Have a listen.
I say in here that democracy was poorly served – deliberately – by Cummings and Johnson and by a nauseating, bigoted Billionaire Press and of course I stand by that. It’s obvious. But what Brexit and my argument points to is a deep dive (that’s what folks are saying, currently, right?) into democracy itself.
In short I’m with Orwell in the sense that democracy gets just the two cheers. Because people maybe shouldn’t get the right to decide on MASSIVE stuff they *lack knowledge* about.
Yup, I get that dangers aboundeth, here. The politically correct – or those involved in politics, who therefore can’t unload contentious notions without engaging their Ooopsie Alarms – cannot say (for example) that people are too dumb to be allowed a vote on capital punishment. But they would be right about that.
Likewise Brexit. Too many people were always going to be drawn to immediate, neanderthal prejudice for this ever to have been good politics – wise, considered politics. The Tories knew this, of course, like they knew that the detail of any leave agreements would be waaaay beyond the ken or the interest of the Great Unwashed. But a strangulated Cameron capitulated to his right wing and then Cummings and Johnston chose to press the prejudice button… because that way they could turn democracy to their purpose.
So democracy is deeply fallible, deeply vulnerable to corruption in the fullest, scariest, most moral sense. Democracy is the best we can hope for but it needs good, genuine, honest, intelligent parliamentarians to lead us through it – to debate at a high level and then lead, on things the public don’t or can’t know about. We haven’t had that, eh?
The Tide Whisperer speaks of many things. It declaims them, from atop a scaffold, a harbour wall – or it signals them from the clifftop.
Mostly, it beams them in, in between those ears, through headphones offering both a private view and a rich, collective experience.
We’re in teams. We gather in the de Valence, in Tenby, on a coolish but viable September evening, passing racks of kit and rakes of guides or staff or stewards on the way in. I’m red.
In the hall, that scaffold supports an almost-anarchic electro-sculpture, alive with scenes around the town, the water, the world. There are presences – on the stage there’s a bloke who might be a fisherman, dragging for something. There’s a woman in shadow, or grief, or both. There’s a chair… and sand… and then a sitter.
Soon enough the screens will break through the chatter and the scaffold will host an entry, a monologue, a man opening the themes. Refuge; flux; the search for harbour. Then urgency, bombs, carnage: we’re driven out, in our teams, to the sea.
There’s a kind of prose-poem playing between those ears, an evocation of things remembered, things left. The ‘Tudor Streets’ walk with us, with the 30 or 40 reds as we carry that context with us to the beach. I wonder if we might have left our shoes and socks, as we traipse across that sand, past the golden cockle-women and the strewn chairs, to the waiting boat.
The sea, then. Central and essential to the piece. We join it for an hour, maybe, in transit or stalled, circling or encircled, at the mercy of – who knows? Pirates? Police? The evil whim of an indifferent or hostile world?
Two stories. That tragic woman – one of the Boat People – and a young, male Russian(?) who transgressed into loving another. Danger and escape, or not.
Sometimes we sit, ‘pointlessly’. Sometimes we ‘make good progress’ through the chop. Always the invitation – the compulsion – to listen and to feel the stories trawl through us. The headphones make us victims; there can be no distraction, no interaction; we can only immerse, not escape.
Ashore, that man from the scaffold is back, in the bandstand. He is Welsh, he is Corbyn-like, he is a refugee: he was Mayor!
We march on, down, again, inevitably, to the auditorium of the harbour, cobbles becoming sand once more. The three central characters and the swaying cockle-choir and the backdrop of the town await: a staging, a denouement between our ears. My friend Jane wept, almost uncontrollably.
So *things I liked*. The whole, the experience, the physical elements – from walkabout to water, to the inescapable word. (Different groups did different things: I’m glad we were mostly on that sea, in our coats, inside our headphones). Impossible not to be affected – subtly or profoundly – by the leaving, the returning, the rise and fall.
Personally though, I am left with a sense that maybe I/we might have been challenged more. Despite the scope of the piece – and the budget – this was traditional community theatre. (I know, I know – community theatre can be wonderful and revelatory, stay with me!)
The stack of tellys was okay but hardly original. I didn’t need the Guernica reference. I felt the character Pearl didn’t need that name. My comfort, in the face of these atrocities, remained relatively un-shredded. This could, of course be my own inadequacy but there’s an argument Tide Whisperer might have screamed or torn at us some more.
And so it goes on, dispiritingly. The interminable flopping and falling and ‘drawing’ of precious contact. The denial of the *actual* aim of the sport – which is to stick the ball in the net – through the cynical, life-blood-sucking phoney faint; because percentage-wise, penno’s pay.
Plus, (part XIV to-the-power-of-b-over-z-squared; The Case Against) there’s all this holding in the box. Not just a sly gathering of a corner of nylon but an absolute wrestle, as though there are no cameras, no ref and no reason moral or otherwise why you can’t try to bully the striker to a standstill or hoik him away from the arc of the ball; bizarre as well as appalling.
As if it wasn’t enough to poison the allegedly beautiful game on the park, reaction to this stuff brings out the worst in us all. (By the way, the thought does strike that we’ve gotten away lightly so far in terms of violence erupting either in the stands, between players or even against the referee but surely the time will come when a particularly enraging example of diving or holding will dangerously or tragically combust a cup-tie/relegation decider? Meaning we really do need to start dealing with this. By the way.)
There’s an unholy and delusional matrix around this that points us towards low expectation or worse; I find myself counting down the paragraphs before the dreary conclusion that ‘we get what we deserve’. I say this because following any incident fans as well as managers tend to divide so crudely, illogically and indeed pathetically on party or club lines. It’s embarrassing in a bad (unreasonable) way and it’s anti-sport.
In the case of Shawcross yesterday – that same Shawcross who molested his opponent relentlessly, pre the penalty, presumably not just to prevent him from attacking the ball but also in the hope (the hope!) that he may eventually strike out and be banished from the field – the incident was clearly and correctly dealt with by the officials. And yet on phone-ins and elsewhere the Stoke Faithful were bawling their grievances against that decision. We know that Mark Hughes (great footballer, depressingly flawed human) traditionally sets the bar shockingly low post-incident, but Sparky led the way on this, excelling himself whilst shamelessly ‘protecting his player’.
Hughes effectively said both Shawcross and more ludicrously Moses had been sinless. Whilst we can all appreciate the urge to support your tribe this went right past scandalous economy with the truth. For Hughes to try to make an intelligent argument against the unanswerable realities that Shawcross tugged and held absurdly long and that Moses shamelessly dived was, as an Australian cricket captain might have said, distinctly average.
If we choose to look for them there are always pro and contra-complexities. Moses was touched by the hand of the defender; Shawcross was by no means alone in his transgression across the boundaries of hugging. Therefore Hughes could formulate his apology, his simulation of a theory. But more broadly and more subtly, is the art of defending not about big clunky guys baulking shifty and spry opponents and should the spirit of things then not enable a kind of levelling of the playing field? How else could Shawcross (say) compete against Di Maria (say?)
This is of course cobblers. For any single offence, a single judgement is being made, not a philosophically inviolable summing up of the nature of things football. Do something outside the laws – get punished. Complexity comes (and ideally goes) through the official’s instinctive reading of the motivation of players at the moment in question and cross-reference of the rules. Referee: was that defender in making minor contact doing everything to avoid contact? So choose. Was that attacker only ever interested in drawing a penalty? So blow and reach for the yellow. These are a couple of the areas of difficulty, questions which launch a zillion unseemly appeals each weekend.
The fact that time and again the same few offences stir the nation to a Neanderthal fury should be a clue to something but if the cause is generally evident the path to resolution is fraught. In fact there is no path. Refs good and bad are left floundering under abuse.
Why? Essentially because honesty has gone walkabout. These players, these coaches are sporting superstars we cannot trust. They will neither accept the truth nor respect the authority charged with judging what is true. Set aside for the moment the fact that mistakes are bound to be made by those who make the calls; players and managers have made the game ungovernable and they should be deeply, deeply ashamed of the fact. They forget that they are role models; they forget that they are amongst the most fortunate; they forget that the real glory of sport centres upon competitiveness with honour. Or does it?
Does cheating matter? Does backing your side at all costs, even if reality and Alan Shearer contradict you matter? Or is it merely the inevitable result of awesomely high profiles and awesome TV revenues… and anyways, the next game’s here, so get real and get over it, right?
Are these merely the contemporary facts? That the game is simply framed differently, so that the respect of your opponent is an utter irrelevance to the current player? Is that right, is that how it is – or just some weird code nudging us towards giving up on sportsmanship?
I know how much of this sounds, how uncool and unsustainable it seems to invoke traditional virtues but still I consider myself more of a contemporary geezer than some dreamer of halcyon dreams. As such I call for modern solutions as well as a common return to a sense of what’s fair and right. Fat chance of the latter but no excuses now for not establishing immediate assistance to the referee from video review; retrospective guidance and where necessary punishment for acts of cheating under a beefed-up Ungentlemanly Conduct law, overseen by a small, expert panel.*
However viscerally any of us feel the drift to amorality it’s no good merely mithering on that. That language may no longer be intelligible so let’s characterise the state we’re in as a challenge. One where the chief protagonists are chiefly bent, either on some short-cut to victory, or just bent. No option then but to dictate; impose short sharp shocking doodahs – meaning bans for weeks rather than meaningless fines – and hope that in their inaction they might stop to think.
*Those who haven’t read me on this before may not be aware I’ve been promoting this notion that an expanded Ungentlemanly Conduct law could be used to penalise divers/cheats/fellahs who just did something that ain’t good for the game. I think it could work.
I’ve hardly been keeping count but John Lydon appears to have been in eight zillion and twenty-three radio studios this month. Publicising that most modern of phenomenon – the second autobiography. Given the erm difficulties re confronting the perennially inflammatory Gooner, has anybody dared ask him about Second Autobio Syndrome, I wonder? That might stoke the always-spookily-close-to-the-surface fury, eh? Having failed to opt for pod-cast mode during these fests-du-bonhomie, can I ask if the hosts wore shin-pads, as well as the obligatory ear-defenders?
The two Johns – Lydon and @Harumphrys – was surely a good match; have yet to check it. But the singer-songwriter’s (huh? Well… yeh!) also appeared with Simon Mayo and on Beeb Six… and now with Polly Toynbee for The Guardian.
This extraordinary volume of coverage speaks to the BIGNESS of the Lydon/Rotten phenomenon as well (of course) the nature of publishing and appetites of The Biz/Media. It’s been a punky mohair blanket-of-a-thing; were you hiding, cringing, tutting or chortling? I smiled at the deconstruction of our friend Russell Brand, I must admit.
‘Cos when Lydon spouts – and he does, right? – everything’s an opinion. Everything’s loaded with a challenge – even when it’s a plea for common decency. It’s remarkable. I could fully understand how many might think the (let’s be honest?) faintly ludicrously still-mohicanned one a total, total bore. I tend not to. I kinda forgive him, some of it. Just possibly not that barnet.
Look the essence of Rottenness is mischief. To say he plays up to that is both an insult and insultingly obvious. But it’s also inadequate because he’s a complex man and broadly significantly too bright (and too principled? Discuss!) to merely pedal anything. I think there’s an argument, even amidst this dubious schmoozling, that John Lydon has and does and continues to stand for something. Something inevitably compromised yes, but to do with old-fashioned rightness. Whether he does that gracefully or appallingly is debatable but Lydon has always railed against wrongs.
Inevitably we only hear him get interviewed and this is very different from being in his company, having penetrated the protective mesh. For one thing, there’s no relaxing. For anybody. Lydon responds almost uniformly stridently, rarely either confining himself to the question or answering it. He holds court, being occasionally genuinely funny but mostly actually just being prickly – being Johnnie Rotten. What we are left with is chiefly the sense of the absurdity of the game.
Which is why I go back to the music, not the construct. ‘Careering’ or ‘Poptones’ or ‘Rise’ rather than the blowtorch that is his ‘honesty’. I go back there because there was – is? – a real subversive majesty to some of that stuff. The Pil appearance on The Old Grey Whistle Test, where Lydon/Wobble/Levene simply disembowel seventies traditions for rawk moosic is in itself sufficient to cut Johnnie Johnnie a lifetime of slack. ‘Metal Box’ is in itself one of the greatest ever slabs of anything to be committed (and I mean committed) to vinyl. Lydon was the voice of and for this revolution, in which the Pil Army waded in against banality/capitalism(!)/drudgery and our addiction to sweet melody.
It’s raining across the border The pride of history The same as murder Is this living? We’ve been careering.
It’s only Johnnie who noticed – who protested – our dumb appeasement to careering like this. He (only) railed against it, with a poet’s vision and a lion’s heart… and that unholy delivery. OK – maybe only him and (more surreally) Mark E Smith. Late seventies early eighties it was perfectly acceptable to love Cure and JD and Bunnymen and Talking Heads and Television but only he – only Pistols and then particularly Pil – challenged the fraud that is Our Working Lives. He exposed the murderous anti-love at its core; he rose against its cruel unjustness, most magnificently in ‘Metal Box’. It’s there in ‘Poptones’, where we – our souls, us the suckers, the minions, the mindlessly seduced – are being murdered in a forest to the soundtrack of vapid music.
Drive to the forest in a Japanese car The smell of rubber on country tar Hindsight does me no good Standing naked in this back of the woods The cassette played… poptones.
These two songs, both featured in that OGWT (CAREERING IS HERE – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7rtwiMFDWa0 ) might be the spiritual and political source for everything brilliant from Occupy to Uncut. Or they might just be the greatest (radical?) noises ever recorded by humans. Either way they simply utterly vindicate Lydon and they changed my life.
On every level they are… whatever the next strata up from ‘seminal’ is. They are fluid and mercurial and bewitching and yet caustic – razor-like. The lyrics are sensational in every way. Levene’s guitar is from another, more atmospheric planet. In the same way that Jackson Pollock produced creepily species-enlarging chunks of expressive art, Pil did too. That famous quote (James Blood Ulmer – ‘they went right past music’) applies. Plus – is it just me? – there is something undeniably beautiful about Lydon’s poise, his control of the (quiet?) whirlwind around him. It’s inviolably, unsurpassably magnificent music.
Not the case though, that this euphoric peak was flukily ascended in some transcendentally inspired recording session. ‘Rise’ is palpably also a truly great noise, as were Pretty Vacant and God Save the Queen from the Pistols days. Sure all that is mired in doubts over fashion/puppetry/simply playing The Complex but them were reet powerful toons too.
If a guitar sound can be said to unpeel the corners of the Establishment postcard then the raw, raking racket emerging from The Pistols stacks was it. A personal favourite for me – partly because of that signature mix of moralistic fire and spittliferous attack was I Did You No Wrong. For all that Rotten, Vicious et al were postcards (or cardboard cut-outs) themselves, unsettlingly magic product was the result of the MacClaren/Lydon/Kings Road adventure.
So for all the hot air, Lydon has produced. He is bona-fide. Whether this entitles him to be a bore is another matter. Whether it’s embarrassing or inspiring to see a worryingly inflated version onstage at Glasto is clearly dependent upon whether you remain either a fan or not. Personally, despite being conversant with the ageism is an nrg debate, I find it (how shall I say?) unnecessary to go see Pil now. I can still love the old bastard.
Few music icons retain their fire in the way that Lydon appears to have done. But anyway, that back catalogue, those performances, they are enough.