Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Vegetable Slicing and the Symbolic Castration of Ant & Dec

AntandDecMen of the world unite! Either Ant or Dec has chopped off the top of his thumb and, oh, what a fine time it is to be a man, when the best among us has done what we all aspire to do: sing a song of manhood replete with sharp kitchen gadgets and a willful disregard for reading the instructions.

But you might have already grimaced over this story and know that it was actually Ant who suffered the injury whilst using a vegetable slicer to prepare dauphinoise potatoes for Dec. I only typed ‘Ant or Dec’ because I can’t honestly tell one receding hairline from another standing a foot to the right. In my mind, it’s the high-foreheaded hydra that’s one thumb down on the day and has only three thumbs remaining.

It’s a strange world where this story features so highly in the news. It’s probably why, as I gazed over the morning papers, I wondered why I continue with this sad pretence of blogging. The truth is that had I not written a piece about ‘Flappy Bird’ in the past week, traffic to this blog would be at an all-time low, with today setting a chilly record. Meanwhile, The Guardian promotes Jack Monroe like she’s the incarnate truth of blithe poverty; the happy-clappy survivalist and expert prepper for a country that’s just about getting by on one Ryvita a day and the occasional shapeless grape we find squashed beneath our empty freezer. That’s not to say I don’t like Jack Monroe, her backstory, or how she’s passionate about eating cheaply. It’s just that she’s so different to me that she constantly demonstrates how I’m doing everything wrong…

So, here goes. Aim for the mainstream, David. Aim for the mainstream…

How to cheaply feed a family of four with one thumb joint taken from popular TV presenter, Anthony ‘Ant’ McPartlin and some bloody-stained veg sliced unreasonably thin… First, take one TV presenter (£20 million a year, available at your local broadcaster), wash his thumbs, and apply one sharp blade to the top knuckle…

But I have to stop this sham right there. It would be fine if I could but I just can’t carry on and I’m increasingly tired of newspapers that can. It’s not just The Guardian that does it, of course. They all twist stories to fit their particular narratives. The Guardian just happens to have the best free web presence and politics I don’t totally object to, so I’m still drawn to reading it and feeling dismayed and utterly disappointed by the predictability of their content; how they try to link every celebrity story into a restatement of their perpetual themes of the surveillance society, poverty, gender politics… Especially gender politics…

Perhaps it’s just these jaded eyes but journalism seems to have become home to every third-rate academic willing to add another floor to the elaborate Babel that stretches skywards towards a feminist utopia that really isn’t up there. But perhaps a tower is far too phallic, no matter how much my metaphor might droop. Let’s make it a deep cave disappearing down towards some core dark truth.

Yet what surprises me the most is that I’ve never been entirely hostile to gender studies. I never thought it a paradigm shift to realise that gender is not absolute. Gender study is very prevalent in literary theory where it has become an often repeated observation that a writer such as D.H. Lawrence had a feminine sensibility. Once you accept that kind of distinction, the rest of it follows fairly easily. Even if I never thought much of Kristeva’s work (a writer who clearly hates to be understood), I’ve always quite liked Hélène Cixous’s way of making her point.
I write this as a woman, toward women. When I say "woman," I'm speaking of woman in her inevitable struggle against conventional man; and of a universal woman subject who must bring women to their senses and to their meaning in history.

If Freud could argue that we are defined by our childhoods, it seems only reasonable to conclude that the things we do, the words we choose to write, might also be influenced by our bodies, hormones, the very way we respond to the base urges of our gender.

The problem is that some places aren’t ready for the reconstituted male, men who agree with the broad arguments of feminism and simply wish to move on. We have to continue to play the role of the proxy bastards, out to keep women down and establish the patriarchal order. It’s not a part I wish to play but I’m doomed by my place in the patriarchy.

Last week’s Question Time was a perfect example. Tessa Jowell was on the panel with Dr David Starkey, George Galloway and others. They were debating whether the accused should be given anonymity in rape cases and Jowell was generally against it lest it discourage more women to come forward. It was a strange argument but typical of the ‘two wrongs do make a right’ logic that sometimes passes for progressive thinking. Rape has been under-reported for centuries and it’s only relatively recently that the law has taken the proper steps to recognise its severity. Yet should centuries of abuse, mainly by men, now justify a new kind of injustice that overlooks the rights of the individual if they just happen to be male? Even when acquitted, the accused are never cleared of the suspicion of guilt. Rape is a sentence that is handed down as soon as an allegation goes public. Does a belief in ‘innocent until proved guilty’ make me a typical man or simply somebody who believes in equality? Sometimes, in wanting justice to be blind, it feels like I’m not demanding the fashionable bias.

To me these things seem logical but perhaps logic isn’t as important playing the gender game where everything hinges on what we have between our legs. I expect articles in the papers this week explaining why Ant shouldn’t be mocked for losing his thumb, how it either reveals the emergency of a new masculine identity or reinforces the old stereotypes that says that men are useless around the kitchen. Brighter folk might even tell you that Ant didn’t chop off his thumb but symbolically took off the top inch of his penis. Perhaps they’re right. I really haven’t thought about it enough to disagree except to say if Ant was slicing vegetables with his penis, then he was asking for trouble. By now, I’m just confused. Perhaps his thumb is or really isn’t his dick and I don’t know my arse from my elbow. I nearly didn’t blog today and tomorrow I might not even bother.

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