Weekly book reviews and literary criticism from the Times Literary Supplement
The last time I mentioned Theodore Dalrymple in this blog, I received an angry comment from a reader in which Dalrymple was labelled a fascist. I replied, mildly, that although I could see that Dalrymple was certainly conservative (and maybe Conservative) that didn't mean he was to be equated with Hitler and Mussolini. The writer apologised for the intemperate language, and withdrew the comment. I suspect that what was behind his words was the uneasy feeling that Dalrymple often speaks some harsh home truths, many of which are uncomfortable to paid up wishy washy liberals such as me. I think the strength of Dalrymple's commentary resides in his experience. I can't think of any commentator, of the right or the left, who has such a fund of first hand experience of the British underclass as Dalrymple, and it is that which lends his comments authority.
This collection of his writing ranges across all of his consistent themes. In particular, the relentless vulgarisation of British (or more particularly English) culture is a recurrent motif. Much of what TD says rings true, though, like the reviewer here, I wonder why he doesn't lay the blame more squarely at the feet of American globalisation. It's easy to observe the complete lack of deference, of manners, of respect today. And I think popular culture plays its part. Where I work, the campus shop has a big display of its best selling magazines. They are, without exception, crudely sexist men's magazines which, paradoxically one might think, show a distinct misogynist streak, as this article amply demonstrates. Here's a sample of what the young male students find so irresistible about these magazines:
Zoo is currently searching for Britain's dumbest girlfriend. Tony Miller from Manchester proposes his lady love, Fi: "I'm going to get her a stale turd for Christmas," he says, "because it goes with her shit brain." Zoo had more than 200 entries to its competition to "win a boob job for your girlfriend", a prize to "transform her into a happier, more generous, intelligent, spiritual, interesting ... version of the slightly second-rate person she is today". Pictures of Jordan before and after her own journey from B to DD are featured, along with a selection of breasts to solve the reader's dilemma: "Which type of tits do you want for YOUR girlfriend?"
These, and semi-pornographic "newspapers" such as the Sun and the Star regularly outsell serious newspapers (all of which, thanks to the student discount, are cheaper). And this is in an educational establishment.
The editors (and the readers) take the view that it's all " a bit of fun" and that anyone who objects is a fussy prude. But I think that misses the point - the relentless objectification of women, to the point where they are reduced to the sum of their sexual parts, can't not contribute to a climate where proper respectful relations between the sexes are debased, leading to the kind of situation described in Dalrymple's book, where “No grace, no reticence, no measure, no dignity, no secrecy, no depth, no limitation of desire is accepted”.
The government's introduction of all-day licensing, cynically presented as a way of making our binge-drinking youth suddenly sophisticated Europeans sipping a dry Chablis whilst discussing Proust, is in fact a green light for the drinks industry to promote even further the kind of reckless excess that we see more and more frequently on our streets, as this article demonstrates.
Meanwhile, the government appoint a "Respect Tsarina" whose main claim to fame is her drunken speech to chief constables in which she suggested "you can't binge drink anymore because lots of people have said you can't do it. I don't know who bloody made that up, it's nonsense." She suggested that some ministers might perform better if they "turn up in the morning pissed" as "Doing things sober is no way to get things done."
It goes without saying that in Topsyturvydom, she retains the full confidence of the Prime Minister.