There is no such thing as Britain

(This is a piece for a forthcoming issue of Cub, the Queen Mary Students’ Union magazine.)

Here’s a challenge: define ‘Britain’. Outside of legal or geographical distinctions, what makes us un-French? Culturally, politically, socially, psychologically, sexually – even hypothetically – there is nothing that can be defined as ‘British’. If you design a new technology, or write a book, that product is British because of the legal factors working upon it. Likewise, we are British if we are born in the United Kingdom or any of the little island bits we pinched years ago, but this is pretty much just good admin sense. What does it mean to be ‘British’? What does ‘Britishness’ even mean? In short: absolutely nothing. And we should fight it.


There is no such thing as ‘Britishness’. If our ideas, art, music and politics are ‘unique’, what is ‘British’ about them? The location they were created in? Fine. But is geography all you define yourself by? British territory is just land secured by blood many years ago. If creations are defined by the attitudes that shaped them, what makes those attitudes British or American? And so on and on and on.


The notion of the state is wholly constructed and arose out of a need for international legitimacy and protection for capitalist expansion across the world. Merchants needed state protection and military backing to trample all over the New World for profit and the idea of nationality began to dominate political discussion in the early modern period. Since then, we’ve been happy to claim x or y as British without ever engaging with the true problem: the nation is a hollow construct that has no meaning. 


As a helpful way of dividing groups of people across the world, the state works. But sovereignty for each state merely divides vast swathes of people off from others purely on the luck of where they were born. Are French and German values really that different to our own? The distinctions at work are determined by us. We don’t identify as strongly with the town or street we were raised in, yet we supposedly feel a connection to sixty million other people we will never meet. And why stop at the nation? We don’t particularly define ourselves as ‘European’. Go, northern hemisphere! If the nation is just the right size for us to feel both community and autonomy, it says a great deal about what we think of those two concepts. That we are comfortable to separate ourselves from other humans via redundant expressions of ownership is problematic in that it enables, at the very least, needless rivalry between other members of our species and, at worst, open war. A world without nations and national boundaries would not see fighting between its countries for economic gain or nationalistic hate. Dewy-eyed it may be, but a federal constitution of international governance would limit the pain of globalisation, of economic crises and of trade rivalries. International rule would suffer no tyrants who abuse human rights or who reap war on other regions. Pooling our resources, sharing our ideas and values, our money, politics, systems, culture, languages, freedoms and aspirations could end poverty, could counter environmental disaster and have genuine world peace. ‘Britishness’ and bullshit ideas of nationality only stop us from achieving equality and happiness.

Hate… Banter

(This is a piece for a forthcoming issue of Cub, the Queen Mary Students’ Union magazine. The other half is an article in favour of ‘banter’.)

Nobody hates banter. That’s ridiculous. Likewise, nobody hates taking the piss with friends, making jokes, bla bla. But ‘banter’ is like a wipeaway word for spectacular arseholery – as long as it’s good banter, nobody gets hurt. If it’s just a joke, you can justify the objectionable scat you fling. Right? 

A few weeks ago, the BBC had to apologise to the Mexican ambassador for jokes made on Top Gear about Mexicans being ‘lazy, feckless and flatulent’. If you’re the kind of fetid blood clot who watches Top Gear and, while pounding your knuckles into your chest in delight, you gurgle excitedly at national stereotypes, then you probably think that James May absolving blame on air by saying ‘people shouldn’t take what we say seriously’ is happy days. The BBC apologised to Mexico by claiming it was all a bloomin’ great joke. ‘Our own comedians make jokes about the British being terrible cooks and terrible romantics, and we in turn make jokes about the Italians being disorganised and overdramatic, the French being arrogant and the Germans being overorganised,’ the BBC said. The Mexicans don’t understand. In Britain, we make jokes about other countries. Holland, you are a bunch of c*nts. And don’t get us started on the Albanians. (Actually, they’re all car-stealing mafia stooges, apparently. Thanks, Hammond.)

Whatever the BBC ‘represents’ aside, it is remarkable that they gaily stepped forward to define to Mexico and the world what British humour is. It’s banter. It’s xenophobia. It’s offensive cliches. It’s flat-out racism. It’s homophobia, sexism and tactless, macho baiting and foul insults. And they were silly to complain. IT’S JUST A JOKE. Top Gear is just about twenty-first-century man cutting loose, freeing himself from the shackles of that nasty PC racket, from feminists and Muslims, from health and safety inspectors, from Harriet Harman and from basic fucking decency. a ‘Banter’ cannot be loosely defined as taking the piss – or everything is OK and everyone is due a whack. Society determines what and who we can take the piss out of, but the boundaries are unclear – and ‘banter’ cares not for who it ridicules. Ethnic minorities, homosexuals, the disabled: no. (‘Booooooo!’, yells Clarkson.) Fatties, gingers, the lanky, the poor, the rich, the ugly, the poorly-dressed: yes. Have a right good go, mate. Before the PC brigade get you. Before a basic attempt at common courtesy and respect thwarts your erectile ambition to be an unparalleled dick. 

Reality TV: Hate, exploitation and ridicule

(This is an article I wrote for Issue 2 of Cub, the QMSU magazine, which is out now!)

Let’s all laugh at humans. We ain’t half losers. We’ll whack pigs and eat grasshopper anus for money and fame. Aren’t we despicable? Even when we’re not behaving like bum-walnuts, we’ll have a camera follow us around, room to room, office to home, taking the kids to school, fly-on-the-wall, boom mic in your arse. It’s a turgid, empty genre of television offering us nothing but a gorp into the lives of people we are encouraged to despise. Doubting for a moment that it isn’t the root cause of our eventual tumble into nihilism, reality TV can hardly be called entertaining, let alone a way of relaxing. Watching reality TV is like spending an evening endlessly walking into the side of a wet truck. It should be called Suspend Reality TV (chuckle, guffaw, etc.), such is its ability to lurch from unbelievable tedium (Big Brother Live (E4)) to recondite silliness (Help! My House Is Falling Down (C4) – that’s honestly a real show – a rambling bore-orgy, or ‘borgy’, if you will, that veers from the dull to the dank like a mad, zigzagging axe murderer in a police chase). Are we really expected to watch I’m A Celebrity… with keen social interest, or smirk and jeer ourselves into a wet jelly at whichever tawdry celebrity has put a cockroach in their tear duct in the edited highlights package? Drab Revulsion: Live!

 

But by far the worst culprit is The Apprentice (BBC1), precisely because it thinks it’s so blummin’ superior. For the fortunately unaware, it’s a show where feckless, greedy, gold-digging degenerates work in two teams (boys and girls, natch) to impress a feckless, greedy, gold-digging degenerate with a prize for one lucky moral vacuum: a corporate suit job taking dollars and dick in the shiny City. As we rather tend to, us humans beat hell out of each other to get the job – stabbing each other in the spinepole, playing politics and generally behaving exactly like the kind of arsehole one would imagine wants a job like that. Friends and colleagues be damned, I want £100k-a-year to spend on soft furnishings. And the worst part? We lap it the fuck up. We sit, gibbering like morons, legitimising its douchebaggery by pretending it’s escapism. We all hate bankers and their bonuses, but we all want their Paul Smith lifestyle. The television soaks us in its rays. As long as it’s entertaining, it doesn’t matter that it’s poison. As long as we can laugh at each other, right? As long as we can sneer misanthropically at the self-absorbed windbags, at the losers, the baddies, the backstabbers, the bitches, the crybabies, the cocky and the characterless. Reality television is at its most terrifying because of its reality; because, just for a moment, that disdain and contempt we hold as a viewer toward a contestant, a fellow human being, the invitation we receive from the editors of the show, that feeling – that hate – is palpably real.

The Class of 2011: stamping kittens for CV experience

(This is another article due in the Freshers’ Week edition of Cub in September.)

Volunteering

Well done. You’ve made it to your final year. You just about scraped through last summer’s exams and can behold September as some kind of academic purifying fountain in which past laziness, shit essays and 6-day vodka comas disappear under your new mantra: THIS YEAR I WILL WORK HARD.

However, thanks to banks, Americans and something about big mortgages the whole world has shit its eyelids off in lunacy and it’s graduates who have taken the hardest bumfingering. In fact, by the time you read this, you’ll probably be wanking taxi drivers for money or face down in a kebab in someone’s bath.

Even if you aren’t a feckless tyke and you actually spend every second of your final year in the library furiously blow-jobbing the works of Kant into your skull, you’re still going have to pad out your CV like all these other mortals. Because when you graduate, more talented, smarter and more handsome people like me will be getting all those cozy jobs and, more than likely, you’ll spend a good deal of your first year out of university sat on your mum’s sofa watching Cash In The Attic with your hands in your pants.

The trick is to start early. Get volunteering from your first year and cycle through part-time jobs like The Curve gets through that weird rice to build up your CV as much as you can.

If you’re an arts student, chances are there are some degrading ‘culture’ volunteering opportunities where you sit in the arse-end of a museum putting stuff in envelopes for 14 straight hours just to say you have experience in the sector. If you do all that mental engineering stuff then you’ll probably want to rub your genitals on a bridge in homage to Brunel or just get hoovered up by a medical school like everybody else.

If you’re looking to make it as a lawyer, you’ve probably already swallowed all that Freshers’ Week anus about doing pro bono work because employers love it. Maybe they do. But if you’re the kind of piece-of-shit degenerate who uses the poor and needy as a CV filler just so you can get £60k-a-year at Clifford Chance then I’m going to get this issue, roll it up and ram it into your fucking eye socket you enormous, quivering, vacuous, chickenshit, piss-weasel, bastard son of a fucking…

A big opportunity for volunteering is the London Olympics. Those of you just starting at QM will no doubt have a chance to stand around in a yellow jacket waving at tourists and pointing like an Art Attack zombie toward the Olympic Stadium. And I know, it’s all very exciting. The ‘biggest sporting event in the world’ (which by the way it isn’t: err, hello? The World Cup?) happening in your very own town is terrific, no? Hundreds of athletes from all over the world coming to London to compete at the peak of human sporting achievement, all within a disgusting Central Line ride of where you live and work? Brilliant! Except, well, no. It isn’t.

As sporting theatre it’s almost unrivalled. But as a means of unifying Londoners, of ‘regenerating’ a poor area of the East End or of giving our battered economy a Lemsip and a hug? It’s utter rubbish. For a start, the people who benefit in the long run are the Westfield Group and dickless suits of their type who slap a shopping centre in your living room and push your face up against the windows of M&S showing you all the shit you must have but can’t afford and then swipe your bum cheeks raw with your credit card. Others who benefit most are the property developer bellends who seem to think of ‘regeneration’ of an area as BUILDING POSHER HOUSES and then turn up with their spangly gated communities, keeping all that nice, shiny money within the walls of their minimalist twat palaces and privatising huge areas of public space. Also, you think Stratford locals are getting horny about the games? Those who can still afford to stay despite exploding rent rates and the cost of living are going to have to pay for all this lovely regeneration themselves or move to the likes of Barking and Plaistow just so you can have a nice big New Look and stand in the same fifty-mile circle as Usain Bolt.

No. Don’t legitimise it. Fill your CV with stamping on kittens and it will be an infinitely more moral use of your time. There are better ways of finding valuable volunteering opportunities (The Whitechapel Mission, Provide, etc.) and it’s up to you to put your annoying morals on hold to get the jobs you want. For the freshers among you, you have a while to work on how best to convince employers you haven’t spent three years drinking yourself into the next dimension. For the final years? Well, you’d better get stamping.

London

(This is a short article due in the Freshers’ Week edition of Cub, the Queen Mary student magazine, in September.)

London

London, shmondon. We’re all bloody sick of it now. Some people talk about living in London like it’s some throbbing paragon of indie culture, the kind of city in which you’re a waste of sweat and nipples if you aren’t at Turnmills having Arcade Fire piped into your arsehole while three hundred ludicrously pretty people in ironic Aerosmith t-shirts sneer at you for not flailing your limbs like a drunk twat or sarcastically clapping along to Lily Allen because it’s BLOODY FUNNY that she’s famous and rubbish. Some people. Probably.

The truth is that for half of your first year, if you aren’t having your face shotgunned off in a car park by a dribbling ex-porn king then you’re doing mighty well. The other half of the time you’ll probably spend doing grown up stuff like getting an Oyster card or shopping for kettles and saucepans like the proper blummin’ human you probably are. None of this time, however, can be spent avoiding the Tube or buses, whose renowned, fuck-poor service is as associated with London as Big Ben or getting nunchucked on an escalator. I know. Cuh. The public transport. Bla bla. But the reality is your enjoyment of London will depend quite a lot on your moving around the city (you sure as hell aren’t going to do anything in Mile End except eat hot wings and shave your face through a drain in boredom) and the problem with travelling about is that unless you’re rich enough to get a taxi everywhere you’ve got to sweat next to bankers and the REVOLTINGLY POOR on the Tube like everybody else.

So here are some tips:

1) Avoid Brick Lane. Unless you’re the kind of piss-creaking, niggly tagnut who thinks about visiting Rough Trade as a sort of Salma Hayek-esque Mecca of worthy wanks then you’ll probably be depressed at just how damn skinny and beautiful everyone is.

2) Don’t spend the first two days of Freshers’ Week searching for Blu Tak to adorn your walls with pictures of the girlfriend back home who will dump you by Christmas. It will happen. You aren’t John and Yoko. Not that I’m angry about all that or nowt. Nope.

3) Finally, do NOT think it’s boring to pretend to your new flatmates that you find it sexually exciting to have access to so much shared cutlery. It IS funny for the risktakers among you and you will be justly rewarded for your bravery with the pasting you deserve for listening to me, you lucky young bastards. Now go away and drink yourselves backwards.