Sunday, September 30, 2012

Oh, the fun to be had in wallowing in filth and vomit. Or why the West is disappearing up its own arse, perhaps mainly because we have had it so good for rather too long

Many Muslims often make the point that, with its emphasis on ‘rights’, its insistence that we should be ‘non-judgmental’, its almost slavish acceptance of our right – often apparently seen as our duty – to express our ‘individuality’ and the encouragement to push all boundaries, the Western world is disappearing up its own arse and not at all that slowly. They might well have a point, though in honesty I must add that social attitudes in some Muslim countries are, to put it mildly, nothing to write home about. Who would be gay in Iraq or a woman in Saudi Arabia and the more benighted parts of Afghanistan?

Having said that, what too many of us here in the West see as ‘Muslim’ is often nothing of the kind: we would be wrong to regard the fundamentalist and intolerant Wahabi Islam as more or less what all of Islam stands for, rather as it would be exceptionally silly to think of the far-out whacky elements of fundamentalist ‘Christians’ as representative of all Christians. But I
personally think there is a great deal of substance in the suspicion that the ethos of the Western world is becoming increasingly more self-centred. The irony is, of course, that over these past 45 years, the West has convinced itself that it has become far more caring. From where I stand nothing could be further from the truth.

So I offer you these images, although they are not, in fact, the subject of this entry. What I should like to highlight is how increasingly many in the West, mainly those who regard themselves as being ‘progressive’ and ‘forward-thinking’ are apt to tie themselves into knots trying to excuse the inexcusable. These images are not new and have been knocking around for several years (and are all, incidentally the copyright of the photographer who took them, Maciej Dakowicz). Many were published in 2011 by the Daily Mail (which has its own axes to grind) and, I think, were previously published by the Mail a year or two earlier. But that isn’t the point, either.

I believe these photographs are being exhibited in Cardiff, and a review of that exhibition was published in The Observer this morning. And it is the frighteningly woolly think betrayed by that review (by a chap called Sean O’Hagan) to which I should like to draw attention. You can read his review here, but just one excerpt might serve as an indication that the way the ‘progressive’ left is disappearing up its own arse could well be, in microcosm, how the West is slowly, but surely, losing the plot. O’Hagan writes:

Because of the subject matter of these photographs – the ways in which young people choose to enjoy themselves to excess on a Saturday night – you could say that Cardiff After Dark [the exhibition being reviewed] is a visual essay about Britain's binge-drinking culture. If you were you so inclined, you could even view it as a snapshot of what has gone wrong with Britain since deference and good manners gave way to lack of respect and vulgarity . . . On closer observation, though, Dakowicz's work evades this kind of reductive appraisal. The photographs in this book are loud, the behaviour they show often vulgar. The more you look, though, the more you glimpse a certain collective doggedness in this wild pursuit of pleasure and abandonment, a doggedness that suggests much deeper discontent.

So there you have it: black becomes white, wrong becomes right. The young folk, all the worse for wear, are not, as they might at first seem to be, merely total chavs who think that getting rat-arsed all night, then spewing up, not giving a flying fuck for anyone else and wallowing in the filth of a late-night cityscape are unacceptable, but – according to O’Hagan – something far more noble: they are demonstrating a certain collective doggedness in this wild pursuit of pleasure and abandonment. Not only that but in the same sentence the blame for any bad behaviour is shifted to everyone else in that their doggedness suggests much deeper discontent.

The implication is plain: they are not to blame for behaving like pigs, we – society – is. Certainly, many of them might find themselves in boring jobs and certainly many of them would like to be paid far more, though it has to be said that a great many other folk the world
over, not least 25pc of all young people in Spain, would give their eyes’ teeth for one of those boring jobs. But what else do they have to be ‘discontented’ with? Is it that they don’t have clean water to drink and wash themselves in as do several hundreds of millions around the world. No, it can’t be that, because whatever else its failings, Britain ensures that 99pc of its households, unlike tens of millions of non-British households, have more than adequate sanitary arrangements.

Is it that they are being denied an education and being made to work very long hours for a pittance from a very early age? No, it’s not that either. Britain has very strict laws on child employment and a free education is available to every British child until the age of 16 at the
very least. Perhaps they are forced to live in slums and insanitary shanty towns as do hundreds of millions of folk elsewhere in the world. Are they ‘discontented’ with their healthcare and the benefits they get if they become unemployed? Well, I can’t think that that is the cause of their discontent, either, although hundreds of millions around the world might be astounded to learn that the healthcare of every British citizen – and even those who visit Britain – is absolutely free. And if they do find themselves unemployed or homeless, the state arranges that they will, at least, not starve. Those arrangements are most certainly not perfect, but at least they exist. Hundreds of millions around the world have no such arrangements, not even imperfect ones.

So just take a look at the pictures of these ‘discontented’ chavs and ask yourself who, exactly, is to blame for the way they chose to wallow in their own vomit, detritus and filth: them or us? And then ask yourself whether those who would prefer to argue that black is white and that
wrong is right really should be taken as seriously as they would expect us to. Or perhaps you might agree with me that their woolly – and, it could be argued dangerous – thinking demonstrates rather neatly why as far as I am concerned the West is disappearing up its own arse.

. . .

It is not the sign of a great mind to quote a line from a soap opera by way of passing on a wisdom. We might all be agreed on that even if the soap opera in question, The Sopranos is not usually regarded as a soap but as something more upmarket, the rule of thumb is soap scripts tend to deal in clichés and seemingly try to avoid any originality as much and as often as possible. (A case in point might be one of my favourite bêtes noir, The Archers, of which, as chance has it, I usually hear a few minutes on a Wednesday night as I drive home from London to Cornwall and a Sunday morning as I drive to work in London: the script is at best abysmal and so choc-a-bloc with clichés – ‘well, as they say, time will tell’ – that it surely deserves some kind of award.)

But great minds or not (and I’m slowly and sadly realising as I approach my dotage that my mind was, is and never will be great), I shall pass on the observation of one character who featured in The Sopranos. She was Svetlana, a one-legged Russian woman who was a friend and confidante of one of Tony Soprano’s former bit on the side and is later hired to keep house and look after Uncle Junior Soprano when he is under house arrest and starts showing signs of dementia.

One day while at Uncle Junior’s house, Tony has sex with Svetlana (or possibly Svetlana has sex with Tony – she is very much her own woman) and afterwards when Tony starts bemoaning his life, she tells him (and here I must paraphrase) that the trouble with Americans is that the are always seeking perfection in everything and are thus necessarily disappointed and unhappy. Russians, she tells him, on the other hand always expect things to be pretty shitty and are quite often pleasantly surprised and as a rule thus a lot happier.

This rather relates to the pictures in the entry above and by contention that we are in the West are now in our declining years. Our problem, to put it bluntly, is that life is generally far too easy for us. Few of us are in want. On the contrary, if we want something, from a two-week holiday abroad twice a year to a new car, a widescreen TV set or any other number of luxury goods, we can – make that could – get them immediately. What with insurance, social and unemployment benefits, state pensions (fabulously good for some in Europe) and infrastructure which makes life very easy indeed, we should have little to grumble about (and let me concede here and now that there are many, though a minority, who don’t share in the good life, but I am talking about the majority of us). But are we grateful? Do we value and cherish our advantages? I would suggest increasingly not: the general rule is that the more we have the less we value it. And the less we have the more we value it. It is a curious fact of life that the poor who have little for themselves are apt to be more charitable and fellow-minded than their more prosperous cousins. It gets worse: the more we have, the more we expect and the more unpleasant we get when we don’t get it.

I have no idea whether you reading this agree with these observations, but I might, in this instance, be forgiven for passing on a piece of wisdom from a soap opera. Pip, pip!

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