Monday, October 13, 2008

In which I ignore my own suggestion and write about Nick Cohen's arts coverage

... although not in extenso. This week, he tells us how Paul Abbott's "Shameless" represents "wealthy media executives jeering at the poor". FFS. Nick has been cheering for a recession for what, five years now? And now he's got one, the best he can think of is "recessions aren't usually good for Labour"? FFS again.

20 Comments:

Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

I genuinely don't think he's ever watched Shameless; or if he did, he probably did so with his 'i hate everything C4 and the BBC do, no matter how stupid it makes me look' Standpoint hat on. Though Shameless has got worse as it's gone on, there is literally no way anyone could think that this is the 'not-so-subliminal message':

Don't feel sorry for them, they're grotesques who indulge in perverse pleasures at the taxpayers' expense.

I'm guessing Nick missed the episode about the decline of the trades union movement, or the myriad sympathetic and admirable characters. Shameless is one of the few genuinely original, popular, and engrossing British dramas in recent years, and it tackled the 'class tourism' thing head on from the beginning with the character played by James McAvoy.

In fact it looks suspiciously like Nick has only seen trailers for the programme. Shameless is picaresque and cartoonish, but its characters are nonetheless fully-rounded, sympathetic people who, gasp, have fun and make the most of what they've got. Sounds suspiciously similar to the stance of a certain Chalres Dickens, actually.

This piece is another example of Nick relying on dubious sources, isn't it? He seems to take the word of the 'old labour protestors' (why wasn't Nick on the march, anyway?), and Richard Exell, at face value, including the rather dubious distinction the latter makes between Shameless and Dickens. Or did he? I wonder if Nick isn't putting words into Exell's mouth with the Shameless example...

10/13/2008 08:18:00 AM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

Hmm. Well, I'm not going to read Nick's article, because I'd be here all day if I did but I think the following.

See Matt's point in the recent John McCain thread re Hitchens: CH in the Mirror (the paper, not the one in the bathroom) is a different animal from CH the plucky Brit casting an objective eye over US politics who is published in Slate and elsewhere. We've seen Nick have apparently diametrically opposite opinions in the Observer and the Standard.

Also: Nick now has his recession. Won't it sink Standpoint? I can't see the magazine surviving.

10/13/2008 10:56:00 AM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

The 'two Cohens' thing is certainly true of his recent output on the economy, where he contradicted himself in the space of three days; in the past he has tended to leave his more barking pronouncements on art to the pages of the clearly right-wing periodicals he writes for (I think these are now in the majority, incidentally, which is never a good sign).

What I find strange is that this piece's approach to Shameless is far better-suited to the pages of Standpoint. Not only is the programme 4 series old (fitting in with the generally out of date Standpoint pieces), but Cohen's piece is subjective liberal-media-bashing of the most transparent kind, which he has generally withheld from doing too strongly in the Observer pieces.

Standpoint has already lost a publisher, but it might last longer than you'd think, because it's published by a think tank which is also a charity, and thus presumably enjoys some breaks on costs...

10/13/2008 11:19:00 AM  
Blogger Alex said...

The weird relationship between Decents and punk has been noted before, but did you all spot his crack about how it could be considered rightwing?

Coming up from Nick: How the Sex Pistols taught me to be a Tory.

10/13/2008 12:25:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

It was also such a minority taste that I sometimes think more people have written about the history of punk than ever listened to it at the time.

Well, there were several punk hits: the Pistols had number 1 singles (despite whatever the BBC said at the time); the Clash troubled the charts as did the Buzzcocks ... and after that, it's very hard to say for sure who was punk and who wasn't. There really wasn't a political message, unless you were minded to read a political message into everything. (As Alastair Campbell said about himself during his breakdown.)

Really, Nick's just echoing the old line about the number of people who saw the Velvets live (which was simply repeated with the name changed to 'Sex Pistols' by 1978).

However, the Pistols DID make one contribution to capitalism and this country as it is today. They were thrown off EMI and picked up by Virgin, then a rather small label attached to tiny shops. (Virgin in Edinburgh was a magnet for all the punks in the day.) Not long after the success of 'Never Mind the Bollocks' and the self-explanatory 'Flogging a Dead Horse', Branson opened the Megastore. Sigh.

10/13/2008 01:09:00 PM  
Anonymous dd said...

the interesting thing is that when you look around, punk is a historical curiosity; but there are hundreds of thousands (at least) of self-identified hippies, hippy ideology in the form of the Green movement has been massively influential on mainstream politics - by any reasonable metric, hippies have won and punks have lost. The Decent instinct for a world-historical loser is pretty much infallible.

10/13/2008 01:34:00 PM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

Margaret Thatcher's line that 'there is no such thing as society' might have been the title of a Sex Pistols song.

I'm not sure about that, and she said it in 1987 in any case - was she influenced by the Pistols? They were nihilistic as much as anything else, and that comment wasn't meant to be.

It was also such a minority taste that I sometimes think more people have written about the history of punk than ever listened to it at the time.

Nick, that thought you have sometimes is wrong; its popularity and impact might be occasionally overestimated, but the Pistols were tabloid front page material, and their music was all over the TV and radio. People might not necessarily have been big fans, but they would certainly have listened to it.

the overwhelming majority of the British preferred escapism to gritty realism

isn't this where the whole article falls apart? He criticises 'wealthy media execs' for making unrealistic programmes about the working classes in 2008, and cites Boys from the Black Stuff (1982) as something brilliantly realistic from the past; while at the same time saying that in the 80s people preferred escapism to realism and outcry. Given that elsewhere he seems to view poularity as the sole criterion for what makes a work of art good, something feels amiss.

Given these contradictions, the piece feels like two separate articles which have been cobbled together - I imagine he probably wanted to focus on Shameless and the exploitation of the working-classes (or something) but was told to make it relevant - hence his inability to work out his position on the recession he's been predicting for the last 5 years and the wishy-washy overall focus on 'sympathy'.

10/13/2008 01:40:00 PM  
Blogger Alex said...

dd - you also have to factor in the effect of the Stewart Brand/UC Berkeley hippie-geek crossover. In a sense, the effects of punk on the music culture (home studios! indie labels! tape!) make more sense as an offshoot of the emerging geekosphere; the changing technology and culture of technology would have done that anyway, whether it started with punk or in Jamaica or what.

10/13/2008 01:45:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Punks and hippies crossed over, especially as the 1980s got underway. Crass were hippies: Hawkwind picked up a punk following.

Chris W

P. In: Economic History. Out: Scottish independence. What a day it's been. I think that Decency might die along with 42 days. Cause: terminal cogdis.

10/13/2008 02:53:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

Ah, there is a respectable view which suggests that punk was far more influential in London - and for that matter, certain sections of London than it was in the provinces, and also one that suggests that a lot of people not intimately connected with punk were attracted more by its idiot newspaper stereotype than by its reality. There was a lot going on, but it didn't change everything overnight and you may well find, looking at contemporary photographs and at record sales, that it was both quite short-lived as a movement and that most people's habits of dress and musical taste remained pretty much what they had been beforehand.

Doesn't matter all that much - and the same would almost certainly be true of practically all shocking and influential artistic movements, that that influence was largely experienced after its zenith.

Oh, and while I'm here, Manchester was not transformed by Joy Division, whatever professional bullshit-artist and poseur Jon Savage might reckon.

10/13/2008 02:54:00 PM  
Anonymous Phil said...

They were nihilistic as much as anything else, and that comment wasn't meant to be.

Yes, but this is another aspect of Decency (or Seriousness). It's a souped-up version of "if you're not with us you're against us" - something like "if you don't support the example of $PRINCIPLE that we support, then you objectively oppose $PRINCIPLE itself and are no different from people who say they oppose it". Back at the time of Euston I got a bucketload of this on my blog from various Decents; the argument I put forward for supporting Democracy but opposing *an actual democracy* which was fighting *an actual dictatorship* met with outrage and, I think, genuine incomprehension.

Similarly, Nick's logic seems to be that the Pistols said there was no future in England's dreaming, whereas there would in fact have been a perfectly good future in England's dreaming if only Labour had been re-elected in 1979, and they were therefore objectively on the same side as Thatcher. I suppose it makes a change from "they must be Russians".

10/13/2008 02:55:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

It's a souped-up version of "if you're not with us you're against us"

Agree with you totally. Apart from the 'souped-up' part. There is nothing 'souped-up' about the soporific cussing of Norman Geras, Nick Cohen, Andrew Anthony, A'NTM'J and followers. George Bush is intellectual dynamite compared to these guys.

10/13/2008 05:00:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

He's not getting confused with the Jam, is he?

10/13/2008 05:07:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

I really loved the Jam for a bit. Can't stand them now. "Down in the Tube Station at Midnight" sounds like a paean to thuggery rather than the reverse (in the way that modern horror films are ostensibly from the POV of the victim, but are really just vicarious sado porn). Still, they [The Jam] were among the best live bands I've ever seen.

[OK second thought: 'Going Underground" and "That's Entertainment" are still quite good.]

thegrauniad today: Why politics and music don't mix. A long and pointless row broke out over Cameron's boyhood love of The Jam - culminating in Weller himself telling John Harris: "It's like, which bit didn't he get?" The arrogance is boggling. The bombast of punk is why it didn't last; who wants to be told how things are by callow 19-year-olds who can barely wipe their own arses? Honestly, the Undertones, bless their polyester mix socks, who cut a self-referential song called "More Songs About Chocolate And Girls" raised more consciousnesses by insisting that they came from Derry than all the prolix didacticism spouted by Weller did. (Ooh, I almost parsed that wrong. Who's prolix now?)

Red Wedge was fun, but the hippies (if we want to call them that) did similar things (slightly confused because John Lennon was against Vietnam and so was Harold Wilson) - 'arty types against bad stuff' has been around probably forever.

But my continuing point is that there is no 'Burgess Shale' type division between hippy counter culture and punk. John Peel was undoubtedly a hippy; the Who - sometimes called the original punks - were hippies; all the record labels, all the record producers were hippies (whatever that's supposed to mean). 'Never trust a hippy' was a slogan shamelessly copied from the 60s when it was "Never trust anyone over 30" to which it returned in cartoon form with 30 crossed out and 35 crossed out etc.

10/13/2008 06:14:00 PM  
Blogger Alex said...

Yes, the role of 1960s anti-war movement nostalgia in the UK is strange; the official minds like to bask in it, but I mean, who in the UK was in favour of joining the Vietnam War? I think all three parties were opposed to it.

10/13/2008 06:39:00 PM  
Anonymous Phil said...

"Who loves the Queen and who votes Tory?
Come on, joker, tell us a story"
- Marc Riley, "Bard of Woking"

But no, I don't think "There's no such thing as society" would work as a Jam lyric.

As for not opposing the Vietnam war, according to something in Writing by candlelight Wilson was disquietingly wobbly. Apparently Richard Gott (for it is he) did the world some good by standing against a Labour candidate on a "US out of Vietnam" platform, thereby demonstrating that Labour had to take account of the strength of feeling against the war etc. Different times.

10/13/2008 08:33:00 PM  
Blogger Alex said...

Wilson refused Johnson troops as early as 1964 or 5, so the window of opportunity can't have been very great. (Context: the Aussies went even before the US Army.)

10/13/2008 09:25:00 PM  
Anonymous Phil said...

Hull North, January 1966. I'll dig the book out some time & see what difference Thompson thought it made.

10/13/2008 09:29:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

There was a difference between being against sending UK troops to Vietnam and being against the US sending troops there.

10/14/2008 07:07:00 AM  
Anonymous Phil said...

Indeed, but I seem to remember Thompson claiming it made a difference to British government policy. I'll check it anon.

10/14/2008 07:12:00 AM  

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