Saturday, January 29, 2011

Why I have no time for Jeremy Clarkson.

I am of the belief that the majority of male TV presenters “of a certain age” can be identified as belonging to one of various subcategories of “Uncle” types. For example, Noel Edmunds is decidedly of the variety of Uncle who you see just once a year, probably around Christmas but not on the day itself, where direct contact is limited to him making a few really gut-wrenchingly awful jokes – at which you laugh anyway, not out of politeness, but with a genuine emotion probably bordering on something that COULD take the guise of pity or even fondness, in the weakest sense of the word. Jeremy Paxman, on the other hand, is a different sort of Uncle – cool, aloof and slightly intimidating, he probably married into your family and likes to see dinner gatherings as a platform for exercising a rigorous wit that would be substantially funnier than that provided by Edmunds, were you not too scared to laugh. His one concession to whimsy is wearing a paper hat from a Christmas cracker, which draws nervous screams of laughter from small cousins, who find the juxtaposition of such floppy cerise headgear in contrast with his steel grey curls shocking in its absurdity.

I can deal with both of these, and other similar, paradigmatic male faces staring out of my television set at me. Like real uncles, their presence in my life is an accident of fate – too distant from any act of volition on my part to demand any explanation, or justification, and of little negative consequence to my own existence. My default position is not one of ill will, more a sort of casual indifference. As a girl, in her twenties, born in 1987 (Thatcher secures a third term in office, British Rail renames Second class as Standard class, Van Gogh’s Sunflowers go for £24,750,000) I have little in common with men born in the 1950s,  in the vague climate of post-war altruism; before equal rights for women, before aids, before the internet, when people still paid for things in shillings and nobody got divorced. Why would I? We are creatures of different times, and our interaction must always be analogous to diplomatic missions – this is not to say that we are incapable of finding some common ground, some mutual shared interest that spans the inevitable chasm that arises from generational and gender differences; rather, that any such dialogue that does take place is often one between individuals from very different worlds, and must be treated accordingly. I feel no dislike for them – as I’m sure they do not for me. My response veers between distant curiosity and a polite indifference. Why should it be any other way?

But there is one specimen of TV Uncle who does not give rise in me to such feelings of vague fondness and casual disinterest. There is one archetype who, over a number of years now, has began to grate on my nerves more and more, and is likely to excite dark mutterings from me whenever his portly face barges its way, uninvited, into my living room by way of my TV set. I do not know why my reaction to him has become stronger over the years – perhaps something to do with growing
up, and becoming more sensitive to just how abrasive certain varieties of personality can be? Arrogance, particularly when it is not apparently deserved, fills me with a cold revulsion that leaves little time for the building of any affection, and this genus has it in bucketloads. I am referring to, of course, Jeremy Clarkson.

Clarkson is the sort of Uncle who forgets your birthday, year on year; he is the sort of uncle who notices when you have put on even a pound of weight/accumulated some new spots/are feeling insecure and comments on it loudly, using his boorish wit to undermine and bully you. Clarkson is the kind of Uncle who turns up in his shiny new auto and insists on showing it to the entire family for 40 minutes, telling you all the while about the various features it has in the finest and most excruciating of detail, all the while intimating that he is better than everybody else because he has a better car. The Clarkson archetype not only wants you to know the technical ins and outs of his car, he approaches his presentation of his own life in the same way – and, crucially, not only does he want to tell you all about them, but he genuinely expects you to care. About him, and his things, and his opinion on everything that he deems it relevant to comment on. Which is anything and everything, of course, because Clarkson knows it all.

So, Clarkson has decided that it is his place to wade into the media dialogue about the recent Richard Keys/Andy Gray controversy.For the uninitiated, Keys and Gray were caught on microphone making sexist comments about a female lineswoman. Something of a gaff in itself. They criticised Karren Brady, West Ham vice chair-man, who had recently written a newspaper column about sexism. Then, later footage emerged of them basically behaving like teenage louts, with Gray asking a female assistant to tuck a microphone cord into the crotch of his pants, and later making lewd remarks to Jamie Redknapp and referring to an ex girlfriend on multiple occasions as 'it'.

Clarkson weighing in:

Note the comments on these two youtube videos – often, people seem to struggle with the idea that this behaviour was sexist, preferring to refer to it as “sexist” in inverted commas – as if whether it's wrong to be asking a female member of staff to put her hands next to your dick is open to interpretation. Or here are a few other common angles:

“I think sky sports was wrong to sack gray, firstly this is common joke that men make about women and the second things that football players has a lot of pass and the game is played very fast it is hard for women official’s to keep up with them. If they cannot keep up with them then it will be difficult for female official to make a decision based on off side.
1913Highbury 1 day ago”

“This a laugh at the sheer ridiculousness of PC and sexist stereotypes of women. Ironically because of PC it has screwed two great sports commentators out a job. Women constantly make jokes about male sexist stereotypes such as how men can't multi-task and such.
But when we have a go at them for not knowing the offside rule it's a different story. The only victims of real sexcism here are Andy Gray and Richard Keys.
ScotlandForever1986 2 days ago”

“actually men are protective towards women...and despite the media lies actually like women...conversely women hate men even their own family members and wouldnt save a man drowning in front of em...its women who are sexist...not men..
RichardKeys10 2 hours ago”

“What a way to get sacked... almost like kissing your girlfriend and getting jailed for it...
CraigoohHD 23 hours ago”

“ARE FIFA 11 GOING TO STOP SELLING lol,,thanks to you stupid bitches FOOTBLL is going down the toilet.. what the heck do you want to play or take part in a mans sport,, we havelost our best pundits down to u slags, hope ur happy
spurskimo 1 day ago”.

What concerns me about the furore surrounding the sexist behaviour of Richard Keys/Andy Gray is not necessarily the actions of the two men themselves, who are, let’s face it, just dinosaurs – sad loser remnants of an old industry in the process of rapid modernisation but filled with a pervasive structure comprised of individuals too arrogant to change their ways. (let's face it, they were probably set up by Murdoch, anyway).I feel no bile towards them – no anger. Perhaps this in itself is worthy of concern – that such sexism is, still, so ingrained in our society that I can’t even work up the energy to be offended by it. They’re just a pair of idiots, and when you get caught being an
idiot in the workplace you get called up on it, and that’s just how it goes. Either you don’t behave stupidly, or you do and you don’t get caught. Getting caught leads to facing the music. That’s how it is and that’s what’s happened. No, what I find the most worrying about the whole scenario, is the response of the surrounding media discourse. The narrative woven around any event that permeates the public consciousness is a performance constructed, that the “audience” of the UK may use as a
backdrop for the playing out of their various perceptual fantasies. Hence, to me, this is a story about sexism, and the inevitability of inter-generational conflict, and about how once again, the establishment doesn’t care about the feelings of twenty something females. But for someone else, it is a story about football, and about sport, and about watching the match in a pub when you could still smoke indoors, and a world that’s ever changing, and the sense of losing ones place in it. And for people like Clarkson, this is about the irrelevance of mocking women. It is about how much it DOESN’T MATTER to make derisory comments about girls in a workplace environment. It’s about the fact that, in his eyes, it’s a non issue – it’s about how him and his entitled little cronies should be able to swagger around, staggering under the blunt weight of their balls, ensuring that everyone is exposed to whatever irrelevant bit of fluff they wish to espouse. The media furore surrounding Gray and Keys leaving has become a platform for every one so inclined to express just how unimportant they think it is that two men in a position of power and influence should be held accountable for being caught behaving with astoundingly sexist impropriety and generally behaving like utter idiots. People have weighed in to show just how negligible an issue they think it to be when men behave in a misogynistic fashion in the workplace – apparently advocating the view that, because Keys and Gray are respected sports broadcasters, this should somehow provide mitigating circumstances for their disgusting comments. The implication is presumably that if you are higher up and well respected in your career, your reward is a free license to behave with as much prejudice as you see fit. Misogyny is a reward for success.

Now I am not for one moment suggesting that Clarkson would be remotely bothered by my opinion. In fact, as he has aptly demonstrated, him and his ilk have no concern for the views of me and my kind. Clarkson is as incapable of understanding the feelings of a woman in her twenties as he presumably is of understanding the subtleties of power dialectics in a male dominated industry, of the frustration one feels at being patronised by those with less knowledge or experience purely on the basis of their position of privilege, of the humiliation of having to put up with such behaviour because the hierarchical power structure still so prevalent in our society means that any attempt to challenge it results in ostracisation. Clarkson doesn’t give a fuck what I think. Clarkson cares about what Clarkson cares about, and Clarkson will think about whatever he damn well chooses, it seems – and not pay any heed when the “thought police” come along and start making outrageous requests for things like a respectful working environment and some level of common decency in treatment of co-workers. You know; the sort to point out that anyone with a position of influence funded by license payer money and a platform beamed straight into people’s living rooms has at least some sort of obligation not to justify sexist behaviour in the workplace and, by implication, assert that people shouldn’t be held accountable for violating common standards of decency and respect because it’s all just a bit of banter, after all.

No, Clarkson et al do not understand me. They don’t understand girls like us, who  grew up in a world very different to theirs – who have, thankfully, never had the experience, an everyday one for our mothers, of having to grit our teeth and smile while some older lumbering dinosaur of a man patronises and insults us. Of being a second class citizen. We have always known that we are, by default, equal to any man, no greater or no worse; we have always known that we are entitled to have any evaluation of our character and abilities be derived, not on the basis of our gender, but from who we are as people. No, we have no patience for indulging the outdated minority of men who are like Clarkson – and soon, some of us will be in a position to do something about it. The slow progress of the gender equality movement means that more and more girls who think like me will finally begin to infiltrate positions of influence. Soon, girls like me will be hiring, not hired; they will not be lewdly asked to tuck in microphone cords to the crotches of cringeworthy, middle aged men – they will be telling such men to pipe down and do the job they are paid to do. We won't have to indulge your hyper inflated egos – why would we put up with being talked to like that? You're on the way out; we're just discovering our own power; you're the old, we're the new. Don't mistake your dominant ideology for ours. Our generation, both male and female, is one that has grown up expecting equality; of both males and females in the 20 -30 age bracket, views expressed jokingly by Gray and Keys vouched for by Clarkson seem antiquated and soon it is us who will be in charge. So here is my message to Clarkson, the man who does not understand, us, and does not wish to – I don’t wish to understand you either.  Stand aside, dinosaurs – your time is nearly over. Soon, this will be our world – and do not be surprised if, given how irrelevant you deem our feelings to be, we extend you a similar courtesy.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Link: Yale Alumni Magazine: Why Yale Favours its Own

This interview with University President of Yale, Rick Levin, discusses the issue of 'legacies' being given consideration when deciding amongst university applicants. Although this idea might seem alien to us in the UK, it is standard practise for universities like Yale - elite institutions, privately owned and as such with more freedom to decide the criteria on which they accept applicants than in our own country.

A quote:

We admit applicants need-blind. The admissions applications are kept separate from the financial statements. But we do advise the admissions office about applications coming from the children or grandchildren of significant donors and of alumni who have given significant volunteer service.

So there you have it, in black and white. You can buy your way into an elite American educational institution if your parents are wealthy enough.

The admissions rate for legacies is about 30 percent—three times the rate for non-legacies.

Is this really the direction we want our own education system to head in? Surely admission to University should be based upon academic ability, not how wealthy a background one comes from.

Friday, January 14, 2011

On floor 13, nobody can hear you scream..

A kind of collective madness has descended upon the Edward Boyle Library as students prepare for examinations. Dressed hurriedly and with absence behind the eyes, people pass fleetingly on stairways, linger for brief snatches of conversation as an oasis in the insanity.

As tablespoons to Prufrock, so my life is measured out in cigarettes. I stagger between walls of books like a madwoman, a cigarette dangling limply from my lips like so many unspoken words...I wish that I could eat my words. The temptation to do so, to actually physically sit down and chew every single reading that somehow my brain needs to incorporate into my mind, is actually far more tempting right now than identifying one more set of Key Terms and Action points.

Facebook has ceased to become merely a mosquito-like distraction and has instead doing a passable imitation of being a window to the real world; when one is seated in the darkest rooms of Revision Hell, it is always SO appealing to look out of the window.

I simply CANNOT WAIT to remember what it's like to have fun again. Come next Wednesday, you will not see me for dust, because I am going to paint this town so gloriously crimson red, you will think we are living in a land of perpetual sunrise. See you on the other side...

Saturday, January 08, 2011

In a country rabid with anger, where the seeds of fear are watered with blood for the golden harvest they provide, the frontiersman walks. He is a man beyond the law; he subsists in the wilderness, in the spaces beyond shopping malls and the senate, cable TV and fast food chains. He grows, like a virus, in the spaces of decivilisation that exist within American society - the conflict that allows for the constant regeneration through violence so integral to the American myth. The spaces that propagate it's current mode of existence. He is the Searcher, but knows not what he seeks.

He becomes a man through violence. It is with fire and brute strength that he asserts his existence. Out there, in the wilderness, there are no mothers. There is no love, or compassion - these are luxuries for others; the slick, sharp-suited fast talker. The frontiersman is no fast talker. He is a fast shooter - shoot first, don't-ask questions later, don't think. Do Not Think. If you think, for one moment, you would see that the myth you seek to inhabit is one with origins that pre-date the stage on which you draw, each morning, the curtains. Do you really cast your gaze, out of your window on the world – mailboxes and sunshine, Americana and waving flags, white picket fences and resilient life - and see a desert, a forest, a harsh land to be tamed?

The forests you stalk are towers of glass and concrete, the wilderness is not one that can be conquered with the gun, the axe, brute strength. You are acting and reacting a simulacra; you are playing a part in a myth that was forged of necessity in a time when the land was still alien and new, and the frontier still crawled its way westward by blood. Those times are gone now. The myth which harkens back to it works in service of something darker. Yet still - when the moon warns of danger, the cries of war echo across ancient planes laid supplicant to the powers of modernity. The frontiersman hears the cry, and he knows only blood.

It upsets me, that far from being an anomaly, events such as today's tragedy seem disturbingly at home in such a landscape. A landscape which calls for individualism, thrives on competition, propagates the myth of the hero, worships the bullet, kills for the dream. "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time, with the blood of patriots and tyrants."? But the golden fruit it bears is rotten, rotten to the core. I would not seek to shed blood for that.

“American Democracy was a form of self murder, always. Or of murdering somebody else.” - DH Lawrence.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

I want.

Jewelry with a narrative behind it is a lot more fun. ESPECIALLY when that narrative involves superheroes.