To make the fullest sense of this posting — assuming you want to: it’s not compulsory — you probably need to start a few years back. The point in time I would suggest is the UK General Election of May 2010 — when the constituency of Corby, Northamptonshire, returned one Louise Bagshawe (Louise Mensch from 2011) to Westminster as its Conservative MP. A prominent author of so-called ‘chick lit’, this MP served — that’s the official word, anyway — for two whole years before stepping down and basing herself in New York. During those two years, the nation learned that its new lawmaker had a history of illegal Class-A drug use that had resulted in long-term mental-health issues; saw her accused of leaking parliamentary committee conversations to News Corp and tabling pro-Murdoch amendments to a media-related report (she now works for a company owned by Rupert Murdoch); and watched, amazed, as she made the following car-crash appearance on the BBC’s pseudo-satirical TV comedy programme Have I Got News For You. If you’re interested — again, it’s not compulsory — you can now move forward to October 2011 and see that whole programme here. (Myself, I think it’s worth the time…)
Before leaving that programme I want to say two things about it. First, I don’t believe I’m exaggerating all that much when I suggest that the collapse of Mensch’s credibility within the UK owes a good deal to her performance in this broadcast: even I — already in possession of a low opinion of her character and abilities — came away shocked by the revelation of a mediocre and unreflective intellect with a thoroughly nasty streak. It took another ten months for her to go; but I think her fate may have been sealed that evening.
The second thing is more of a (lengthy) parenthesis — concerning the show’s many references [starting at 20’22”] to those St Pauls ‘Occupy’ protestors supposedly ‘queuing for coffee at Starbucks’. Neither the pampered, middle-class insulation nor the compliant credulity of the group from which this BBC programme (and so many others!) recruits its favourite ‘talent’ has ever been more clearly revealed than by the way this story was handled on our proudly ‘hard-hitting’, ‘free-thinking’, ‘fearlessly satirical’ show.
The failings are several:
(i) Self-evidently, none of those five people had ever attended any kind of significant protest or demonstration for any serious length of time: if they had, they’d have known that a major consideration is where the toilets are — and Starbucks, while it may sell coffee that tastes like a dirty ash-tray, has the most excellent lavatories;
(ii) I was at the St Pauls protest for an entire day, and I didn’t see anyone drinking Starbucks coffee: anyone who wanted coffee probably did what I did — and went to the unmissably large food and drink tent to obtain some at a cost of mere pennies;
(iii) No-one at all called out this story as the classic dirty-trick ‘well-poisoning’ that it clearly was: by painting protestors for social justice and real democracy as the kind of moneyed ‘champagne radicals’ who have £7 to chuck away on a Grande Caffè Misto and some chocolate marble cake, the media and political elites sought to undermine the protest’s credibility among the penniless and disenfranchised millions whose economic and political cause it was championing. (See how it works? Two other widely promoted stories designed to have the same negative effect saw the protestors denounced as stinky, soap-dodging layabouts who won’t work for a living, and as ridiculous part-time anarchists who all sloped off to go drinking and clubbing in the evening. Aren’t you glad you have a ‘free press’…?)
The simple fact is that anyone willing and able to make such points as I have listed is going to be someone the BBC will not allow anywhere near a mass-audience TV programme. Yes, I know that people on the HIGNFY panel ‘defended’ the protestors against Mensch’s second-hand sneers. But note the line that was not crossed: you can ‘humorously’ defend the victims of a manipulative media lie — but you cannot be someone who might call out the lie for what it is. Which is why I no longer pay any attention at all to state-approved comedy, HIGNFY included.
Anyhow, that’s Louise Mensch. And so is this — a Twitter message she posted earlier today:
Now, to my mind there are several things that might be said about this little nugget of wisdom from the overflowing mind of our ex-pat former parliamentarian. One could, for example, point out that the late Leonard Cohen — singer, songwriter, poet and novelist — was born in Quebec, and thus, if you care about such things, ought to be described as Canadian. Or one could draw nauseated attention to yet another outbreak of the kind of Uncle Sam worship to which entire layers of the UK’s political and media elite seem to dedicate their lives — and at the very same time as they pretend to be ‘patriots’. (See Mensch’s own Twitter profile for an example.)
What I want to do, however, is draw attention to two points concerning the insulting reference to Russia. First, note that the sudden reach for an imaginary stick with which to beat an entire nation and culture is, on the face of it, bafflingly irrelevant to the point apparently being made — apart, that is, from the ‘background’ fact that being a willing servant of Western power automatically obliges one to be an enthusiastic supporter of US propaganda narratives. Since Russia is a non-compliant nation currently engaged in more than one successful attempt at opposing violent US imperialism, it has become an entity at which literally any criticisms and insults may safely be thrown, however false or imbecilic they may be. (Such attacks also seem to me to be facilitated by an entrenched European tradition of shameless Russophobia — something which may well have roots in centuries-old religious opposition to the Orthodox Church, as well as in nineteenth-century conflicts of imperial expansion. The net result has been to create a situation in which Western societies harbour a lingering strain of bigotry that sees Russia as not really part of ‘the civilised world’ — and its population as, in some essential sense, sub-human. The fact that Russia’s population wiped out its ruling class hasn’t exactly endeared it to Western elites, either. [Interesting piece on Russophobia by a former UK ambassador here.])
Now, no-one who reads this blog needs me to contradict the statement that ‘Russia has nothing’ by means of a detailed discussion of the towering contribution that Russian and Soviet creators of all types have made to world dance, literature, music, painting, theatre, and so on. Nor will I be required to waste words unpicking the accusation of ‘joylessness’ — though for the sake of my more musically innocent readers (all of whom are very welcome!), I will take the opportunity to include two pieces of music: one whose lively positivity is such that a BBC Radio 4 comedy actually felt able to use it as a bouncy theme tune…
… and one whose undoubted grimness shows that, when a great Russian artist has reason to do ‘joyless’, he or she it can do it with a battering intensity that takes the breath away — while still managing to be life-enhancing…
But have another look at that Twitter message’s accusation of ‘joylessness’: doesn’t that strike you as the weirdest possible charge to bring against anything one might be trying to denigrate by means of a comparison with Leonard Cohen? I myself have no interest in Leonard Cohen, and have never enjoyed a single song of his that I’ve heard. Yet even I know that he was the grandfather of gloom: a more relentlessly ‘joyless’ lyricist, a more indefatigable explorer of misery and mortality you would be hard-pressed to find anywhere in the last half-century of popular music (and I don’t mean that as any kind of criticism of Cohen).
Okay, now let me make my big point — after which no-one will be in any doubt as to why I have been putting them through this hideous ordeal on what is meant to be a music-centred blog.
My point is this. It was in May 2010 that Louise Mensch entered parliament. In June 2010 — yes, the following month! — this clownish know-nothing, this incarnation of destructive, bubble-headed ignorance, was elected by her fellow Conservative MPs to serve on the Select Committee for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport.
Ponder that, if you will. The individual whose Twitter reaction to the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris revealed that she thought ‘Charlie Hebdo’ was a person; the woman who looked up her own internet search history and thought it revealed Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters to be vile anti-Semites; the moron who thinks Russia has no culture and Leonard Cohen’s songs are all joyful, was a member of a UK parliamentary committee concerned with culture and media.
You know, it isn’t Russia that ‘has nothing’. It’s us.
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