Of all the animals of prey, man is the only sociable one.
Every one of us preys upon his neighbour, and yet we herd together.
The Beggar's Opera: John Gay

Saturday 17 October 2015

Holey argumentation, Batman!

The reappearance of Camila Batmanghelidjh in the public arena has, as ever, brought some wonderful turns of phrase such as Civil Society's suggested motto,'Never knowingly understood', or Quentin Letts' memorable comparison of Alan Yentob, seated at her side, to "a junior pudding waiter next to an urn of fruit salad".

Such verbal delights are merely the icing on a cake made from such rich and diverse ingredients as £150 shoes, brown envelopes of cash, tax payments being 'conceptualised' into thin air and 'abusive limericks' (for which, I should perhaps assure regular readers, your humble host was not responsible - despite the temptation).

Yentob was, his unsavoury attempts at shroud-waving notwithstanding, comprehensively upstaged by the sartorial migraine that is Batmanghelidjh in full battle dress - one wonders, now Kids' Company is no more, who has replaced the organisation's accountant as her dressmaker-in-chief - and quelled into a supporting role beside her truly astounding self-belief and looking-glass logic.

One can certainly sympathise with - and secretly envy - Paul Flynn's exasperated protest at the “spiel of psychobabble" and "verbal ectoplasm,” that constituted Batmanghelidjh's circumlocutory obfuscation over issues such as the notorious brown envelopes full of cash:
“It has turned into the notion that it was handed out willy-nilly,” she said. “It wasn’t. It was accounted for.”
All very reassuring - except that the issue was never whether the payments were recorded but rather why they were made at all; even the 'client' who described the scene during the handout on Fridays was happy to say she and the others signed for the cash:
'Then we would go to the shop and buy whatever we wanted with that money. It was weed heaven on a Friday, you could smell it coming down from the landings.'
Amid the Protean coils of Batmanhelidjh's convoluted rhetoric, however, this somehow became “The myth that we handed out cash in envelopes”. By this point, the committee were clearly struggling:
“But it’s not a myth, is it?” said Jenkin.
“No, it’s not a myth,” said Batmanghelidjh happily, and carried on, her point proved.
Somehow I can't help thinking of this...
"I don't know what you mean by 'glory'," Alice said.
Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. "Of course you don't - till I tell you. I meant 'there's a nice knock-down argument for you!'"
"But 'glory' doesn't mean 'a nice knock-down argument'," Alice objected.
When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean - neither more nor less."
While a fair number of Kids Company office staff seem to have been occupied - like the accountant - with the important business of stitching together the Empress' new clothes, some were clearly not so devoted; Batmanghelidjh's assertion at the enquiry that the money was for essentials is undermined by the assertion by a member of the accounts staff that
...money is not given according to need but, more often than not, because “people turn up and cuss and make a noise until they get their money”.
In any case, the way Humpty Dumpty - sorry, Batmanghelidjh -  herself viewed these payments is, perhaps, indicated by her comments in a BBC radio interview some months ago:
“Middle-class parents give their children pocket money. Why does it become a problem when it’s a poor child that’s being given money?”
Er... because it's money donated expressly to tackle the damaging effects of poverty and deprivation rather than for recreational spending? This, remember, is the woman who, by her own account, regularly gave 'clients' Christmas and birthday gifts of  'big bags of clothes' bought from John Lewis and Selfridges.
They get so excited when they open them, it always brings tears to my eyes.
Presumably she derived the same warm glow from giving out weekly 'pocket money', however it was spent. Like Batmanghelidjh herself, the monstrous cargo cult she created represents the supreme triumph of sentiment over reason - a dangerous thing indeed when applied to the serious business of raising and educating children,

The enquiry was never going to achieve much - beyond supplying material for facetious bloggers - when it depended on getting straight information from Alan Yentob and Camila Batmanghelidjh; all we can hope is that the Great and the Good walk away from this with the determination never to be fooled again.

Friday 16 October 2015

Trick or Treat?

No, it's not the reappearance in the media of Camila Batmanghelidjh - don't worry; we'll have more on her soon - but a Hallowe'en Special in the form of 2015 TB145.

Data released this morning show that this asteroid, estimated at between 290m and 650m in diameter will fly by around 450,000km away - a mere whisker in cosmic terms - at an 'unusually high' relative velocity of 35km/s.

For those of us near the Greenwich meridian, the closest approach will be around teatime on Saturday October 31st - too early, perhaps, for the Tavern's traditional fly-by carousing but about the right time for a celebratory slice of cake.

At such proximity, there is always an outside chance that some unforeseen perturbation in its orbit may nudge it Earthwards - the Express is doubtless even now preparing its 'DOOMSDAY!' headlines - to send some of us, at least, the way of the dinosaurs.

If that is the case, what better day for the fire and flood to strike than the annual festival of tat and pointless consumerism that has swollen in recent years to a monstrous, bloated retail extravaganza?

What makes it even better is that, should the alarm genuinely be raised that day, the public response might well be the reverse of that inspired by Orson Welles' 'War of the Worlds' - secure in their assumption that it must be a seasonal hoax, countless thousands would, instead of retreating to higher ground, spend their final hours on Earth clad in scratchy polyester costumes eating themselves sick on chocolate eyeballs.

Sunday 4 October 2015

Ironic posteriors and the Cotton-Spinners' Gazette

We have been musing this week on the topic of feminism. While this is territory already visited in the Tavern, the chance discovery of an article in the Guardian - where else? - has led to a certain boggling of minds.

It concerns a French artist and a series of drawings inspired by the work of one Nicki Minaj, a hip-hop artist whose performances are something of an eye-opener for those of us who had stopped watching music videos by the late 80s. Camille Henrot has 'reworked' the single 'Anaconda' into 'a piece of social commentary' described in vintage Guardian style:
One of the drawings is called 'My Anaconda Don’t' – a lyric repeated throughout the song. Each snaky, filigree-like ink line seems as if it's a riff on postcolonialism, adding up to a poignant collision of high art and pop culture.
Those of you who have been paying attention to the youth scene will doubtless know already that there was a public rift between Minaj and 'pop princess Taylor Swift' (nope; me neither) when the video of 'Anaconda' missed out on some kind of award. Minaj appears to have suggested it was 'cos she is black' but, having taken a look (here, if you really must - but don't say I didn't warn you), I can think of other reasons.

I can appreciate, for example, that Minaj wishes to ridicule the objectification of women, but I have to admit to some difficulty in seeing exactly how this is achieved by writhing around slathered in baby oil and pouting at the camera, patting the rear of a shapely bikini-clad dancer or crawling on all fours around a seated man, however ironic the intention.
“I like to think she created Anaconda to evoke criticism. She has abused the typical ‘black music-video girl’ archetype to the very end, to catch attention and create hate – if only so we too can realise our aversion to the sexualisation of women.
Now I can't speak for the male of the species, but it seems to me that, presented with four and a half minutes of Minaj's ample and impressively mobile buttocks undulating in a variety of insubstantial garb alongside a quartet of equally callipygian acolytes, the response is not necessarily going to be "Goodness me; the objectification of women is a terrible thing!"

While the lyrics - as far as I understand them - are full of mordant, if crude, irony directed at men who judge women by their physical attributes, this message seems to have entirely escaped the visitors to a Las Vegas waxwork exhibition who amused themselves taking a variety of inventive and explicit pictures of each other with a replica of the singer depicted, mid-twerk, on all fours .

Henrot - along with, presumably the Guardian - is in no doubt, however, hailing Minaj as a feminist icon. In fact, the Guardian seems to have something of a Minaj obsession, which suggests that its journalists believe an oiled and gyrating posterior can have impeccable feminist credentials as long as it is intended ironically - it's a very long way indeed from the earnest articles I devoured back in my boiler-suit days.

As it happens, another issue altogether may be tipping the balance in Minaj's favour (a tip of the tricorn here to JuliaM); given the paper's perennial preoccupations, it is perhaps something of a giveaway that, even in the piece on Henrot's drawings, the critic manages to shoehorn in a load of post-colonial guilt for good measure.
In her new work, the elegant line drawings inspired by the sweatiest, most sexualised scenes from Minaj’s video play with the ghosts of colonialism and racial stereotyping in contemporary culture.
The Manchester Guardian as was - there's nothing quite like it!

(If you did watch the video, you might enjoy this parody as an antidote.)