There aren’t many blogs that have stayed in my blogroll from the very beginning but Bryan Appleyard’s ‘Thought Experiments’ is one. It’s always certain to get my brain working in ways that are helpfully tangential to things I’m already thinking about. Today, for instance, the reinvigorated Bryan is talking about ‘people who care’ and, naturally, that immediately made me think about the bottoms of attractive young women in their mid-twenties.
We live in a society where we are routinely expected to adopt positions we might not instinctively support. ‘Caring’ is one example. Even though it makes me sound hammer callous about the truly poor, I’ll be honest and admit that I never really cared all that deeply about ‘feeding the world’. I never went to any ‘Live Aid’ concert but I bet that many who did and bought the t-shirt weren’t actually all that interested in famine or food economics. They furrowed their brows and spoke in platitudes but, deep down, where all our bestial motivations snout around for brushed chrome phones and comfortable underwear, they were just there to see Bowie and Jagger perform.
That isn’t to say that I’m insensitive to suffering but growing up surround by media hype about films, bands, and national celebrations, it tended to make it difficult to recognise the actual reality of the world or to understand the true levels of hardship. I doubt if I’m alone. Once something exceeds the brain’s ability to comprehend scale, it’s as if the brain retreats to failsafe positions: ‘surely the government should do something’ or ‘isn’t it terrible…’ It is bystander apathy on a global scale and totally understandable because to fully commit yourself to the cause would mean changing your life, altering your routine, and sacrificing your comfort.
It’s just one example of the casual hypocrisy we’re taught to exercise between our schooldays and the Pearly Gates. We say we want to see businesses run ethically but the capitalist fat slides thick and heavy though our veins. What we really care about is the price of the new iPhone or the quality of our socks. It’s like people who declare that Michael McIntyre is funny. They don’t really think that but the BBC has filled them with a conviction as solid as slimed drivel nailed to a door.
The worst example of this quasi-doublethink is ‘political correctness’ which often applies a thin veneer of tolerance over more deeply held forms of intolerance, prejudice, and conviction.
I was reading an article in The Guardian yesterday about the horrendous Cheryl Cole’s bottom. On the horrendous Cheryl Cole’s bottom, the horrendous Cheryl Cole has had a large horrendous tattoo of flowers inked by some American artist who probably has a side line in wallpaper design. Jane Martinson, the writer of the piece, suggested the tattoo might be read as a feminist statement, as if to say: ‘men might think I’m ruining a very attractive bottom but I’m showing that my bottom belongs to me, the horrendous Cheryl Cole, and I can do with it what I like.’
The implication in both the article and comments that followed was that I’m not allowed to think that the horrendous Cheryl Cole had a rather nice bottom or that she has now ruined it forever. That would be an example of my being sexist and patriarchal about bottoms that are none of my concern.
It’s a hard slap to take. Even before I read this article I would often find myself wandering around in life and occasionally looking at an attractive female bottom before an inner voice would start to shout Guardian propaganda at me. There I was on the train into Manchester just a week ago, leaning slightly into the aisle to admire the rear of the departing guard (female), when the voice of my inner Toynbee began to bark and I fell ruined back into my seat. I live wracked with all kinds of guilt about my attraction to female bottoms, which I swear isn’t abnormal. There’s nothing illicit about these bottoms, which are usually in their mid-twenties and fully clothed, possibly in tight denim. Think Jacqueline Bisset in ‘The Deep’ or Emmanuelle Seigner in ‘Frantic’ and you’ll know what I mean…
Yet it's this discrepancy between thoughtless actions and thoughtful reflection that makes hypocrites of so many of us. It is partially why political rhetoric is so shallow in this country. There are too many things we cannot say, cannot admit, and are prevented from addressing. Politicians are forced to issue the most jabberingly stupid of statements on subjects which demand more nuanced debate. They lie to us, not because they are deceitful, but because we as a collective have allowed these lies to take on the appearance of moral truths in the hope that at some point everybody will begin to believe them.
For instance, it’s increasingly hard to insult Clare Balding these days lest people intuit that you’re insulting her sexuality. But Clare Balding isn’t annoying because she’s a lesbian. To say that 'she’s an annoying lesbian' should register exactly the same as if one has said that 'she’s an annoying commentator'. You wouldn’t interpret the latter to mean that commentators are inherently annoying and in a proper liberal society that should be also true of the former. The prejudice exists the moment you infer anything else about the statement.
Language mirrors thought, not always as succinctly as we wish, but in a way that we can usually presume it has a basis in a person wishing to communicate what they think. What advocates of political correctness fail to acknowledge is that merely changing the language does not change the underlying thoughts. To pretend that it can is, at best, hypocritical, and at worst, creating a generation of men who feel deeply conflicted about the horrendous Cheryl Cole’s bottom and its hardy perennials. And, as much as I'm sure you'll be shocked to hear this: I don't like them. I really don't...