The Apathetic Russell Brand

Hello all!

It’s not something that we choose to do on this blog anymore to comment on current affairs issues. However one thing made me in particular change my mind about this, one is that Michael hasn’t put up a post for a while as he’s busy so he let me write a post. Another thing is that between us we have seen a lot of Facebook commentary on this specific issue.

Russell Brand has been a bit of a firebrand hot potato lately. The Observer recently put a piece about cultural ‘bad boys’ (where are the ‘bad girls’ or bad-choose-not-to-identify-by-gender-binary? – but whatever, newspapers). So, maybe we’ll give a bit of context as to what’s happened.

The 101 on Russell Brand

Brand was once known as being an MTV VJ, and presenter of Big Brother’s Big Mouth, then he got really really famous internationally and used that fame to discuss issues that were very personally relevant to him, such as the way his spirituality has come to help him and the issue of addiction, which he has done much work towards tackling in the UK. In recent weeks, Brand had created a furore at the GQ awards for pointing out something that was mentioned in a 2011 biography of Hugo Boss, namely that the company (who was sponsoring the GQ awards) made uniforms for the Nationalist Socialists. Brand did something that Goffman would probably love, he destroyed the definition of the situation and made everyone lose face by destroying the facade of an awards ceremony by bringing up the blasée attitude of an earlier speaker about the Syrian civil strife going on at the time. There was once an interview a while back where Brand completely baffled and shocked the conservative journalist Peter Hitchens, while discussing the issue of addiction, which reflected a clash of cultures as well as ideas.

Its none of these things which Brand has been talked about on my facebook feed ad nasueam lately. It’s the interview with Jeremy Paxman (of current affairs programme Newsnight), where he mixes amusing jibes, verbose lexicon (see what I did there?), and a range of very general and unsystematic points which very much related to a swathe of younger people in the UK.

What was said?

The interview addresses an accusation from Paxman: why should we listen to the political views of someone who considers it rational not to vote? The accusation unpacked is, if one is not taking part in the political process then one has an audacity to raise the profile of alternative political views, or something like that. Brand said a lot of things in that interview, and it’s kind of like throwing wet toast against the wall, one might throw lots of things, but eventually a couple might stick. That’s how many people I know feel.

Brand points out how voting in a 2-3 party system every 5 years is hardly being involved with a political process. I think I agree with that. I think having such controls on dissent in political parties, and having so much emphasis on the party line creates a homogeneous set of policies and ideologies, and shows the genuine disjunct between grassroots activism, community action against discussions in hallowed Westminster. Is it rational not to vote? That’s something a lot of people consider a dangerous idea, and the reason can be construed in a Kantian light, if people as a whole consider it rational not to vote, then the institutions we supposedly vote for have no legitimate representation of public interest.

Perhaps we need to rethink our idea of a democracy. There are alternatives to democracy, you know. Was it last year when a variant of Condorcet voting was ruled out? I was personally in favour of Condorcet systems of voting. I am quite interested in direct democracy as well. It’s one thing to like an idea, like say, socialism, or the redistribution of wealth, but enacting it and upholding an idea is tricky, and sometimes boring. Some critics of brand are right to be wary of a charismatic individual. I’m sure Brand isn’t intending to be some figurehead for change nor willing to take charge of that. However its great that someone that is recognisable in the popular culture is trying to facilitate thinking about these issues: of environmental catastrophe and economic and social inequalities. I say to that, bravo Russell, you’ve caught the consciousness of a lot of people – isn’t that after all, the ideal of political and avant-garde art? Isn’t that after all, the goal of what politicians aim for in garnering consent? It’s just a shame that there wasn’t really a message.

Perhaps more celebrities should follow Brand’s lead, especially the crazy haired ones.

Antisophie.

Coda: I saw this earlier on in the week and laughed – I thought to myself: that’s the other Brand!

Some musings on Social Media

Editorial: In place of an extended discussion this week I am going to summarise some responses which formed a group discussion between us at Noumenal Realm. This discussion was on the topic of Social Media.

Destre on Social Media

Perhaps I might speak of some of the goods of social media. I have been able to network with people professionally and carry on conversations that would otherwise have taken the spaces of seminars, lecture halls or other such private forms of correspondence. I love the capacity to debate issues abstractly through the medium of facebook messaging (although not by wall post discussions). I find a certain democratising element to the medium. Of course like any medium, it is up to people using it to practice it well.

Sinistre on practical applications

I can distinguish my level of contacts by what social networks I am on. Facebook friends are personal people I know or used to know, and a few online friends; Twitter followers are a mix of robots, people I’ve admired in journalism or entertainment or maybe even some people I’ve personally met, but for whom it might be awkward to add on a personal Facebook. For example, I have a great motivational gym class instructor who has quite funny and pithy things to say. It merits a Twitter follow but not a Facebook friendship. For me strict demarcation is neat. I also find it practical to have twitter blasting away and seeing odd little Guardian/Huffpo news/’news’ articles. I also find twitter useful to remind me when my favourite TV is on.

Antisophie on self presentation

If I wanted to greet someone affectionately in person, I would. Social media seems to emphasise the ‘being seen’ aspect of social interaction, without the actual interaction. In that sense it is artifice. We have written on this blog about Goffman and the moral nature of self-presentation, giving a very poor vision of the social-moral animal defined by constructions such as the definition of the situation. To me, media such as Facebook, local forums or even professional/specialist networks are simply about being seen or being heard, and less about things happening, actions being performed. It emphasises the worst of human nature and the populist herd mentality. The emperor has no clothes in the world of social media, and artifice is queen.

Michael on potential utilities

I have been using blogging platforms, tweeting, Facebook and specialised networks, for example: Streetlife and Project Dirt, as ways of connecting with groups and individuals of similar interest. I have found social media and the various showy things about them to promote the community garden project I have been involved with. I have unexpectedly found an odd merging of people I have personally met (through networking or personal friends) following me on the @noumenalrealm account.

I am a sucker for keeping records. I love reading reviews on Foursquare of restaurants. One particularly nice bit of advice was that the tap water costs an extortionate amount in Mr. Wu’s in London’s Chinatown. I have made a few friends of mutual interest when it comes to fitness, from the social network Fitocracy. I think that Fitocracy has had a large part in my interest in keeping active. I am as awkward with social media as I am in real life about sharing anything.

I am painfully self conscious that what one might say reflects some sociogenic aspect of them. Everything is politicised, mediated through social categories like say class. This includes one’s vernacular, the kinds of interests they have, or the things they may consider  to be apt to talk about.

I think perhaps the most disjunctive thing is that the things I tweet are violently different from the things I might talk about in everyday life. Despite having a blog where I like tweeting about music and blogging about books and intellectuals, my actual life surrounded by everything except black metal, or Modern Philosophy texts. The fact is, I hardly read that much, and my music listening is exceptionally varied beyond the things I say that I ‘like’. My last.fm (again, another interest-oriented network) shows my true guilty pleasures, the fact that I listen to a lot of non-music audio like audiobooks or podcasts, and that I like listening to music I am unfamiliar with. Social media may be a deceitful way of playing up one’s interests against how one is in the face to face social domain. When most people ask, I really actually hate talking about Kant or Adorno. Perhaps my face to face self betrays my bad faith in a manner that tweeting or Facebook updates cannot

Antisophie’s Words: using ‘man’ as a prefix, -porn as an adjective

As part of an ongoing series I have been thinking about words that I hear in everyday speech and writing, and I think about how they have a specific location in our contemporary context, both in terms of being located in the English langauge, and being as signifiers of things in our time and that I hope one day will look like a bit of a commentary of our society (and its decline). I’ve talked about unnecessary words in the past, so….

Using ‘man’ as a prefix (or, the man-portmanteau)

(advisory: mention of eating disorders)

For some reason I found the show Will and Grace on tv the other day. I remember thinking how edgy it used to be with all the gay culture allusions and how edgy it was with all the double-entendres. But then I realised when I watched it I was an impressionable teenaged girl and many things seemed edgy when they actually weren’t. I remember recently watching this particular episode where the character Jack appeared to be sad about a relationship breakup, and said something to the effect that he was a manorexic. I then felt very icky about how I used to like the show and how deeply troubling it was to make a gag like that.

I often hear uses of the word -man used in a portmanteau fashion. A portmanteau is is a combination of words that don’t conventionally go together. Usually this is as a way of trying to show some significance of the newness of a combination, or it may be affectionate, or it is an ad-hoc way of trying to explicate what one means. Some portmanteaus however have gained common currency and are recognised beyond an ad hoc usage, like ‘chillax’.

The man-portmanteau (see what I did there?) is often used as a diminutive variation of an already existent word, or something that triest to make a phenomenon more masculine. ‘Manorexic’ is sometimes used in a demeaning way to look at anorexia, sometimes it is used in a non-serious way and in a growing usage acknowledging male eating disorders, it is sometimes used in a serious way. Other examples of using a man-prefix/man-portmanteau include:

  • Man cave
  • Man flu
  • Mancession
  • Man bag
  • Mankini
  • Manscaping
  • Man-child

The use of these prefixes seem to communicate quite different things. Something like man-scaping, mankini or man- bag tries to communicate something that is by the distinction of having association with maleness, unusual. Other terms like man cave and mancession have very specific meanings. Man cave is usually associated with a cultural symbol of a boorish anti-domestic type or indulgent. Mancession refers to the way that economic conditions have influenced male dating behaviour and its effect on women looking for men. Much of these prefixed terms seem to communicate different aspects of masculinity: vain, boorish, immature or lackadaisical. I am ambivalent however as to whether these ascriptions are wholly negative.

Porn as an adjective

I’m trying to think a little bit systematically. I’ve heard the term ‘porn’ used as a descriptor and it makes me reflect one what pornography signifies if it is to be linked in a suffix way to other words. Examples of what I mean are:

  • Property porn – the phenomena of admiring property ownership and the upward mobility associated with it
  • Inspirational porn – A term used by Ouch Podcast presenter Liz Carr to describe the Paralympics and its irrelevance to the lives of many disabled people in the UK
  • Food porn – the subject of many tumblrs, Pinterest boards and television shows valorising glamorous food

Michael once made the point that a Kantian perspective would deny that gastronomy could be a thing of art, because we eat it. In doing so we have an interested perspective about its consumption. It is relevant to our appetitive interests to crave foods, even the unhealthy kinds. However the idea of food porn seems apt to me, because it is (fitting to the analogy of pornography) skirting between the respectability of being artistic in some ways, to just appealing to our craving of it. The aspiration of food is also a distinctly class-based issue and one of the modern signifiers of class, cultural capital and what Veblen would call a pecuniary interest. The use of porn to describe food seems very apt to me.

Thinking about property porn and inspirational porn. I think there is something deeply political about making them analogous to pornography. Pornography generally portrays a world that doesn’t really exist, but represents fantasies that most people can’t have access to. In a world where wages don’t get to make ends meet and a gamut of other forms of economic instability, the presence of programmes valorising home ownership and a ‘quality of life’ in living in an x bedroom house with water features and close to the city reflects lots of deeply held and I think covertly socially stratified based attitudes. With ‘inspirational porn’ to describe the paralympics, I think the point was to point out how elite athletes who happen to be disabled is a bit of an irrelevance to the reality of many disabled people, who are living in increasingly intolerable conditions with the introduction of things like the PIP its exceptionally stringent conditions. We see the ugly side of aspiration: we must aspire but we cannot have. We are told what we ought to have and how we ought to behave, but with little possibility of fulfilling it. That is a sick society and reminds me of how Marx described religion: as a spiritual gin. Of course, spiritual gin is a bit of an obscure reference, where one syllable will do: porn.

 

Antisophie

Antisophie’s Words: ‘Black American’ vs. ‘African-American’ as descriptors

Advisory: This post contains racialised terminology in context of an historical period of distinct racial prejudice.

As someone who reads a bit of pre-20thC literature, terms to refer to ethnic and cultural groupings (I refuse to use the term ‘racial’) that I’ve encountered have been antiquated and quaint at best, or horridly antagonistic, demeaning and outright wrong in others. When Immanuel Kant describes an anecdote denoting the lack of reliability for an African slave on the sole basis of the colour of his skin, or when Kant goes into a ‘hierarchy’ of the races which sounds like a Borat skit, except without any of the parody that the latter represented.

One of Michael’s favourite composers is Samuel Coleridge-Taylor. Michael also is a fan of Ragtime (and does not half remind us of this fact whenever he’s near a piano). Coleridge-Taylor, is described by contemporaries, and even in some of the manuscript copies that Michael owns, as a ‘Negroe’ (sic), or the African Mahler (or black Mahler). These terms, I take to be neutral at best, to describe a man that is by his peers considered a composer of merit. These terms do make us feel uncomfortable because it reflects the historical prejudice of many blacks in Europe and the Americas in the post-slavery generations, which in many ways continues today. I consider it preferable to call Coleridge-Taylor the black Mahler rather than the African Mahler, for, while it is the case that the composer’s father originated from Sierra Leone, his cultural origin is more British than anything. Although my conception of Britishness surely differs from the late 19thC. Likening his composition to Mahler is a very favourable comparison.

When it comes to the United States, the emerging styles coming from the post-slavery black culture became a source of caricature and distinctly racialised and racist connotations. One of the very popular song forms of the time was the ‘Coon Song’ genre. The genre is argued to contribute to sterotypes of blacks in the United States that continue to this day. Just look at a Ray-William Johnson video where he makes a joke about watermelon consumption, or most hack stand-up comedians who rely such tropes.

It’s one thing to say ‘oh look how quaint and eccentric it is to use those words in the 19thC’ where a certain kind of historical context did not provide a vocabulary that was fully independent from discrimination or caricature. In recent parlance I’ve been reminded of this issue, through a slightly different trajectory. In the news of Obama’s second electoral victory, many UK commentators refer to ‘Black Americans’ as opposed to the US preferred terminology of ‘African-American’. This then made me think of the construction of these terms.

In terms of UK commentators and outsiders to the USA, the description of ‘Black Americans’ refers to an ethnic category which has social implications, in the same way that say, Black British would in the UK. In official census categorisation, Black British has further subcategories such as Afro-Caribbean etc. As far as I understand, the notion of the African American has a cultural baggage to it that tends to obfusicate in some ways buy clarify in others. The African American is a cultural category, that has a distinct history and cultural identity. In this way it can also be a political grouping because of the historical circumstances that affected such a group. In another way the African American seems to me unclear: what about first generation migrants as opposed to those Americans who have traceable links to the 19th and 18th Centuries? What about non-black Africans who are also American? By some definitions for instance, I have an African cultural heritage, but I’m uncomfortable with being grouped with the ‘African Asians’ of the 1960s and 1970s. What about Caribbean Americans who happen to be black?

I appreciate that black as an identity is a very complicated diaspora of cultural and ethnic boundaries, in many cases it refers to different degrees of skin colour that we putatively refer to as ‘black’. Sometimes I wonder whether UK commentators are not so attentive to the cultural history of the category of ‘African American’ favouring a more anodyne description, sure there’s an history to it that we don’t appreciate as outsiders to the country, but I favour the anodyne term because of its lack of inaccuracy and its robustness to capture more in a grouping than a more generic term.

Antisophie

Reasons I am looking forward to the Skyfall film

Lately I’ve seen lots of posts acknowledging the cultural phenomena that is James Bond and his series of films. Surprisingly few of them are critical and I was expecting more critical insights. Is it perhaps old hat to point out how demeaning it was to portray women as accessories and objects to save? Not least the brazen way that Bond dealt with them, or the crass one-liners (and we are NR are fans of one-liners). I tolerated the James Bond films and thought of them as nice films for a bank holiday weekend, or the kind of thing to watch in the quiet period of a Hen weekend when my friends are all getting ready for the evening after an afternoon of go-karting/paintballing/airsofting/guitar smashing/insert as appropriate’. It’s quaint and gives an amusing look at the past and the kinds of values of what aspirational gentlemen wanted, although it seems its not just

The reasons I am looking forward to Skyfall are almost entirely apart from the fact that it has a 50 year film history. I am a big fan of the new ‘rebooted’ Bond. I enjoy the ambiguity of his inner strife with (spoiler alert) his feelings for Vesper and the way in which he may or may not still have been mourning her loss. There is a vulnerability to that which makes the character relatable not as a man but as a human being. I also like that its a darker story, less of the comically amusing gadgets or gimmicky villains or evil plots, but arguably the villains and world of the Craig period occupy a world that is more familiar to the present. I like how Judi Dench’s M has little tolerance for the old style of Bond-ing with his promiscuity and apparent lack of concern for protocol. It looks almost more like a modern intelligence agency. What better image for the public sector than a female director (albeit a fictional one).Darker stories are relevant for darker times, and it is nice to know that the institution of Bond films can adapt with that.

Antisophie.

Antisophie’s words: tic-words and ending a sentence with ‘so…’

Since we at the blog have a ‘Reading’ theme series of posts about the overly lofty kinds of books that we read together at the Noumenal Realm. I thought that I would make more light hearted observations of the world around me by having trying to make my own series of posts, namely about words that I hear repeatedly in public, in private conversations or in the media. I’ll call these Antisophie’s ‘Words’, plus I’ve done something like this already throughout the years.

Tic-words, or filler words

I was practicing the clarinet with Destre a while back and I was tuning my Bb Clarinet. It had been a long time since I’ve picked up a clarinet and I was not confident about playing after so long. I thought that the instrument was in tune and so I said to Destre ‘It’s sort of an A [as in concert A]’, to which he replied angrily: ‘It’s not ‘sort-of’ an A’, it IS an A!’. With that comment it tied with a conversation that we had previously about the ways in which people use filler words or what I might like to call tic-words to fill gaps in otherwise empty or underconfident self expression.

I’m sure you’ve all heard it all before, unless you are buried under Edward Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, this form of speech is so prevalent that I am guilty of it. Destre is not guilty of it and never stops reminding me so. It’s the thing that people do when they say ‘sort of’ all the time, or ‘like’, or ending a sentence with ‘really’.

In these contexts, the words don’t mean anything. That is why I find these expressions so problematic. In the 20thC it was said that the use of the word ‘so’ as a synonym for ‘very’ was an indicator of decline in the English Language. An example of this is when Joey Tribbiani in the sitcom Friends said to Chandler Bing: ‘you are so wearing that bracelet’, after giving the latter an unwelcome gift. The meaning of ‘so’ functions as an emphasis or term of distinction. There is nothing distinct however about the candidates of filler words.

The problem I find about these filler words is mainly that its infectious. So (sic) much so that I  end up mirroring the vocal tics of people after a while. I have heard Guardian Journalists in podcasts endlessly using these filler words and it makes them look like amateurs. It also has the contrary effect of making them appear sufficiently young enough to be relevant to their audience (I read a bit of music and fashion journalism).

I might sound like a stick in the mud, and the litmus test for this would be if expressions like ‘sort of’, ‘like’, or ‘really’ appropriate a meaning. The term ‘really’ might have a new appropriated meaning that is legitimate. It is often said after something in a matter of fact way as if to communicate sincerity or factual honesty. For example:

    “I think the Brogues would be much more apt for a date, really”

My concern with these terms, as Michael hints on in this article about the word ‘trolling’ is that it can be used to appropriate something largely different to its canonical meaning, and insofar as it does the meaning of the term changes, but if a term is used ubiquitously in too wide a context, that adds nothing to the meaning of a statement, then it is filler, and unhelpful English.

Postscript: so…

One other thing I absolutely hate is when people use the suffix ‘so’ at sentences to communicate some kind of enthymeme which is usually loaded in the sentence, but not inherent within it. Also as I see it as a tic-like behaviour but not exactly so, I am infuriated by the prevalence of it. The thought of it is particularly arrogant in that it claims to be an assertion yet what the conclusion of what is said through ‘so…’ is not explicited in words, it makes neither a completed thought nor a a completed sentence.I think a visual example of this would be apt, so…

On Watching the The Olympics (or Olympians and gender)

As with most other people, I think I am feeling a bit deflated following the close of the Olympic games. For me there were many things that I found exciting about it, the attention paid to a wide variety of sports, which included the ones many people generally are familiar with such as Football, Boxing and Tennis. There were, however, other activities which gained exposure such as Judo, Hockey Weightlifting and the various track events such as Modern Pentathlon, which despite the name is distinctly 19th Century.

I think that one positive that I found about the games is not so much the winners but the taking part. This apparently was the first Olympiad in which all countries had male and female entrants. I find that even though this event was supposedly apolitical, there is a small-p political in the participation of women. It was a real stand of defiance for a country like Saudi Arabia to put female competitors forward.

There are lots of things that can be said about the inequalities of Team GB and the lack of support of female olympians have had compared to their male counterparts. I would like to think that if there is such a thing as a legacy for the Olympic events in 2012, it would be to raise the profile of female sportspersons and atheletes both nationally and internationally and to raise awareness about the perception of physical fitness and sporting participation for women and young girls.

I kind of like how the cynics about the event had been less visible in the media. This may be a purposeful omission. The most critical and cynical thing I’ve mostly found on Twitter were comments about how the performers in the opening and closing ceremony were not their cup of tea as musical genres. It is yet to be seen what will come of ‘regeneration’ or legacy. But a little patriotism cannot be a bad thing. While it was pointed out that many of the olympians of Team GB had come from a largely private school stratification; there are instances of culturally and ethnically diverse olympians celebrated for their medal winning achievements. The face of Britain may well be a man or woman doing the ‘mobot’.

A couple of final remarks about the past couple of weeks. It has been noted that particularly with the track events (i.e. the ones with Usain Bolt), a great amount of showboating was involved when winning. There is no doubt that these are amazing athletes with entertaining personalities to match, but I suspect that male priviledge would not allow a similar kind of awe or aspect of showboating for female olympians, instead they were often described as ‘emotional’ or humbled by their achievements. There’s a real difference in gender when performing a victory that the accepted behaviour for a man is to work the applause of a crowd while for a woman, the humble and stoic smile is more apt for the presumed role.

In short, I saw a little bit of progress about the genders over the past couple of weeks, but until male athletes are better represented on search engines by objectifying search results, I don’t think there will be an equality of the sexes just yet. So for me, watching the olympics has given me a quite and humbling sense of awe about the progress of female olympians for the female sex. But not a showboating response

Antisophie