Published on 19 Mar 2015
Growing up as “a gender nonconforming entity” during Eisenhower’s America wasn’t easy for cultural critic and best-selling author Camille Paglia. Her adolescence in small-town, upstate New York was marked by rejection, rebellion, and cross-dressing—all in reaction to the stultifying social norms of the 1950s and early ’60s.
So what does Paglia think of contemporary culture, with its openness to a wide variety of ever-proliferating gender, racial, and sexual identities?
“I do not feel that gender is sufficient to explain all of human life,” Paglia tells Reason TV‘s Nick Gillespie. “This gender myopia, this gender monomania, has become a disease. It’s become a substitute for religion. It is impossible that the feminist agenda can ever be the total explanation of human life.”
Whether the subject is feminism or the fate of Western civilization, Paglia is no Pollyanna. In this wide-ranging discussion, she says higher education is going to hell, the Fourth Estate is an epic FAIL, millennials are myopic, contemporary criticism has croaked, and Hillary Clinton might singlehandedly destroy the universe. Even Madonna, once Paglia’s ideal of sex-positive feminism, seems to have lost her way.
Does the celebrated author of Sexual Personae and Break Blow Burn have any reason to get out of bed in the morning? Does she have any hope for the universe at all? Watch the video to find out.
March 24, 2015
… I am still bugged by the quality of reviewing generally accorded science fiction. Or let’s call it “speculative fiction” for a moment because one of the things that bugs me the most is that some critics seem strongly indisposed to permit a writer to speculate.
It seems to me that the only excuse for the sort of fiction we write (whatever it is called) is speculation, as far-ranging and imaginative as the author can manage.
But is this permitted? Don’t make me laugh, it hurts. The usual critic drags in his Procrustean bed at the first hint of free-swinging speculation. There has grown up an extremely conservative orthodoxy in science fiction, spineless, boneless, suffocating. It is almost amorphous but I can sketch the vague outlines. It is do-goodish and quasi-socialist — but not Communist; this critic wouldn’t recognize dialectical materialism if it bit him in the face. It is both “democratic” and “civil libertarian” without the slightest understanding that these two powerful and explosive concepts can frequently be in direct conflict, each with the other. It is egalitarian, pacifist, and anti-racist — with no notion that these concepts might ever clash. It believes heartily in “freedom” and “equality” — yet somehow thinks that “older & wiser heads” are fully justified in manipulating the human psyche to achieve these ends — after all, it’s for their own good … [sic] and these new orthodoctrinaires are always quite certain that they know what is good for the human race.
Robert A. Heinlein, letter to Theodore Sturgeon 1962-03-05, quoted in William H. Patterson Jr., Robert A. Heinlein, In Dialogue with His Century Volume 2: The Man Who Learned Better, 2014).
March 22, 2015
National Review columnist says Obama is right and his critics are wrong … about the TPP negotiations
I’m a very strong free-trader, but what I’ve heard about the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations makes me feel that it’s less to do with any kind of free trade and much more to do with “managed” trade, where favoured companies get sweetheart deals and cronies get their cut of the action. In spite of that, National Review‘s Kevin Williamson says we should all hold our noses and follow behind President Obama and sign the TPP so we can find out what’s in it, so everyone can get their free unicorn … or something:
If there were $3 trillion sitting on the sidewalk, would you stoop to pick it up? That is the main question facing advocates of the Trans-Pacific Partnership — a proposed treaty to liberalize trade and investment among a dozen nations including the United States, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Singapore, and Japan — and the trade-and-investment accord’s antagonists, too.
“The first thing you need to know is that almost everyone exaggerates the importance of trade policy,” writes TPP critic Paul Krugman in the New York Times. That may seem a strange sentiment for a man who won the Nobel Prize in economics (*) for his work on trade — perhaps the Sveriges Riksbank exaggerated the importance of trade economics? — but Professor Krugman has a point. The effects of large-scale international accords in trade and other economic areas are difficult to forecast, and such deals interact with other economic realities in ways that are not always entirely obvious. When NAFTA was under consideration, we were warned about that infamous “giant sucking sound” by Ross Perot and other protectionists, while the free-traders predicted that the accord would prove a massive boon to the U.S. economy, as well as to those of Mexico and Canada. The reality, as measured by the Congressional Budget Office and others, is that NAFTA has had a small positive effect on U.S. economic growth. Human progress is made up mostly of small positive effects. Beware policymakers offering dramatic promises: As Daniel Hannan points out, those advocating the adoption of the euro promised that it would add 1 percent GDP growth to each participating nation in perpetuity and that it would also provide a check on political extremism — wrong and wrong.
The dispute over TPP finds Barack Obama at odds both with congressional Democrats and with progressive activists, and making uncomfortably common cause with the most reliable partisans of free trade: most everybody who hates his guts.
Some Republicans have reservations about investing the president with “fast track” authority — meaning that he would be empowered to negotiate a deal that would then get a simple yes/no vote in Congress, which turns out to have a say in international affairs after all — because they are mindful of this imperial president’s habitual infliction of violence on the Constitution and of his seething contempt of the legislative branch in which he served for approximately eleven minutes. But it is unlikely that Republicans will in the end say no to a trade deal.
Professor Krugman’s case against TPP is, in brief, “meh.” He offers very little in the way of substantive criticism of the proposed accord, instead pooh-poohing it as modest, something that might add no more than 0.5 percent, and probably not even that, to the incomes of the participating nations. Those nations represent more than one third of the world’s economic output, though. Brad DeLong of the Washington Center for Equitable Growth addresses Professor Krugman’s sniffing directly: What if the additional growth were only half that 0.5 percent number? “In a Pacific region whose GDP is now approaching $30 trillion/year,” he writes, “that is $75 billion/year. Capitalize that at 4 percent/year and we get a net addition to world wealth of $3 trillion. That is indeed a very small number relative to the wealth of the world both now and discounted into the future. But that is a rather large number compared to other things the U.S. government might do this year. So why not grab for it?”
March 19, 2015
Frank Furedi points out six ways that Britain’s political scene has changed as a result of the year-long miners’ strike:
To defeat the National Union of Miners, UK prime minister Margaret Thatcher and her Conservative government had to use almost every available resource, including the mass mobilisation of the police. The Miners’ Strike became the defining event of British politics in the 1980s. And in retrospect, it’s clear that it was the last class-focused dispute of its kind.
Over the past three decades, the political climate, culture and institutions that served as the background for the Miners’ Strike have fundamentally altered. Here are six things that changed enormously in the wake of that industrial conflict.
1) The defeat of the Miners’ Strike signalled the end of the era of militant trade unions
2) The demise of the British labour movement was paralleled by the decline of the left
The Labour Party has survived the post-1985 tumult, yes, but only by reinventing itself as the party of the middle-class, public-sector professional. Thanks to the vagaries of the electoral system, Labour can still have MPs in many of its traditional working-class seats. The decline of labourism also coincided with the implosion of the Stalinist communist movement and the collapse of the Soviet Union.
3) Paradoxically, the demise of the left has not benefited the right
Thatcherism, which was very much the dominant force during the Miners’ Strike, has lost its authority. Today’s so-called Conservatives regard Thatcher as an embarrassment and self-consciously distance themselves from her legacy. So defensive is the right today that it continually protests that it is no longer a ‘toxic brand’.
March 16, 2015
If there’s one thing young people, particularly college people, like, its the feeling of being at the edge of revolution, being part of something big and important. Most children to some degree grow up with this belief, and the more wealthy and safe the families, the greater the expectation. But this confidence gotten more pronounced in later generations.
Raised to believe they are special and unique and destined for greatness by educators and parents more concerned about self esteem in children than being ready to face a cruel, uncaring world, children expect that they will be terribly important and pivotal in the future, and many never grow out of this stage.
This is played off of by the left, which presents the world as a horrible place that they can change. The entire Obama campaign in 2008 was all about this; “we are the ones we’ve been waiting for.” Vote for Obama and together we’ll fix all the problems!
So far they’ve been very successful with this approach, because young people, particularly those of college age, are just beginning to realize the way they were raised and the way they understand the world ought to be is very different from how it really is.
The left shows up and tells them it can be that way, if only everyone would do what they say. That we can have that wonderful utopia, that we can fix it all with a few more taxes, a bigger government, a few more laws. Some will have to give up things, but that’s okay they’re all richer than you are anyway. Lacking discernment and experience enough in life to see through this, young people eat it up with a spoon. It’s been tremendously effective for 40 years or more.
Christopher Taylor, “TRANSGRESSIVE”, Word Around the Net, 2014-05-30.
March 15, 2015
In Spiked, Stephanie Gutmann looks at what the immense popularity of the Fifty Shades franchise might say about modern women’s views of feminism:
Are you sick of Fifty Shades of Grey yet? Not completely? Okay, well maybe this can be the last word. I should be qualified to deliver the last word because (there are going to be a lot of lists here): 1) I’m female, so I can start this piece with the all-important ‘As a woman’ clause; and 2) I’ve actually slogged through most of it.
Can we please dispense with all the faux handwringing about what it means for civilisation that a very long (514 pages) piece of crap sold 100 million copies? The answer is gorilla-in-the-living-room simple. As a woman, I’m here to tell you that: 1) many women like porn — particularly if it’s jiggered for the female taste (made a little prettier with a little more plot set-up; foreplay, so to speak); 2) women will buy lots of porn if it’s packaged, and sold, correctly; and 3) in particular, what women have always longed for, at least in fantasy, is the alpha male (actually he doesn’t even have to be that alpha, just attractive) who will pursue them and then sweep them off their delicate feet. After nearly 50 years of the systematic bludgeoning of male aggressiveness in every form by feminism, women under the age of 50 have had very little contact in their actual lives with men who pursue, who grasp, who dominate. Still, many women have a vague, inchoate sense that this might be very pleasant.
Nevertheless, Fifty Shades is only the repackaging of an old-as-the-hills formula. Filthy books have always sold billions of copies — there just wasn’t much acknowledgement of this because the books were too downmarket, and the soccer moms of New York’s suburbs didn’t buy them. A company called Harlequin Romance has built a $1.5 billion empire (‘110 titles a month in 34 languages in 110 international markets on six continents’) over the past 20 years, selling so-called romance novels every bit as sexually explicit as Fifty Shades. The problem has always been that, until lately, you had to go to places like a K-Mart (kind of like a Tesco) to buy them. They also had embarrassingly florid covers featuring Dolly Parton-like babes having their blouses ripped open by Fabio-like men on the decks of sailing ships. Into this market came Fifty Shades, with a subdued cover, that you could buy discreetly online.
March 14, 2015
In Reason, Elizabeth Nolan Brown looks at the reactions to a recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education:
I just came across this great February piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education about the current “melodramatic” strain in mainstream feminist politics. In it Laura Kipnis, a cultural critic and film professor, writes of a “sexual paranoia” that pervades academia, turning once typical behavior suspect and infantilizing students (especially young women) in the process.
Kipnis, 58, has seen a few cycles of feminist thought and activism since her time as an undergraduate, now witnessing millennial politics firsthand from Northwestern University. The author of books such as Bound and Gagged: Pornography and the Politics of Fantasy in America and The Female Thing: Dirt, Envy, Sex, Vulnerability, she’s very much a feminist herself. In a review of Kipnes’ latest book of essays — covered and praised widely by major media — Salon book critic Laura Miller called her a “worldly, ambiguity-friendly thinker.” This is all to say that Kipnis is no Phyllis Schlafly, or even Caitlin Flanagan. Her liberal-feminist credentials are solid, and she has no need to be provocative just to be provocative.
Many of the most contentious campus rape stories to be popularized by the media involve students who didn’t initially see themselves as victims. Only after talking with friends, professors, or others do they “come to view” the experience as sexual assault. This certainly isn’t always lamentable — young, inexperienced women may be genuinely unsure about what’s abusive or atypical sexual behavior. But it’s clear that in at least some cases, young women are being steered into more sinister interpretations than may be warranted.
“If this is feminism,” writes Kipnis, “it’s feminism hijacked by melodrama. The melodramatic imagination’s obsession with helpless victims and powerful predators is what’s shaping the conversation of the moment, to the detriment of those whose interests are supposedly being protected, namely students. The result? Students’ sense of vulnerability is skyrocketing.”
Kipnis is far from the only one to suggest that by treating students as “trauma cases waiting to happen,” we’re creating exquisitely fragile monsters, to students’ own detriment — stunting their emotional growth and distorting their interpersonal expectations.
In December, Megan McArdle excoriated the view that because young women tend to be uncomfortable saying “no” to sexual suitors, we need a new framework for sorting out sexual consent. “It is not the word ‘no’ that women are struggling with; it is the concept of utter refusal,” wrote McArdle. “That is what has to change, not the words to describe it. … Unfortunately, no one else can bear the burden of deciding who we want to have sex with, and then articulating it forcefully.” And a feminism that tries to compensate for this, rather than teach young women to be firm about their own sexual wishes, is counterproductive.
The same goes for protecting students from pyschological “triggers,” which they will certainly encounter in the real world. If someone is so traumatized by certain subjects or language that they can’t cope upon exposure, it speaks to deeper psychological issues that should be addressed, not sidestepped and saved for a later day.
March 12, 2015
Love him or hate him, it’s difficult to ignore him … especially with a British election heaving into view quite shortly:
“They’re not proper people.”
Pint in one hand, fag in the other, Nigel Farage is passing withering judgement on the political class. “They don’t pass the Farage Test”, he says of Cameron, Clegg and Miliband. The Farage Test? Warming to his theme, his voice rising an octave, he explains. “I judge everybody by two simple criteria. Number one: would I employ them? And number two: would I want to have a drink with them? To pass the Farage Test, you only have to pass one of those. There are lots of people I’ve employed over the years who I wouldn’t choose to have a drink with, and there are lots of people who are completely useless but rather nice to have a bit of a jolly with. But this mob don’t pass either.” Then, after eviscerating Them, calling into question their employability and drinkability, wondering out loud if they’re even “proper people”, he lets out what I think we should call the Farage Laugh: a deep and hearty, nicotine-stained guffaw at the world: “HA HA HA HA HA HA HA.”
I don’t know if I’d pass the Farage Test, but the UKIP leader has agreed to have a drink with me. We’re at a pub in a small street in central London — outside, natch, for smoking purposes — with a pap lurking behind a parked van, clearly unable to believe his luck that he might get a shot of Farage drinking and smoking and laughing. We’re interrupted every five minutes by passers-by who want to shake Farage’s hand or get a selfie with him. (“Go to UKIP dot org and become a member. Bloody well do it!”, he tells one young fan.) It’s chilly but sunny; Farage is making light work of his pint; he still has a little make-up on from a by-all-accounts barnstorming appearance on ITV’s Loose Women; and he’s ready, he says, to speak his mind. “Interviewing me over a drink — always far better. HA HA HA HA HA HA.”
He saves his most stinging class-based barbs for the Tories. “The Conservative Party is as upper class today as it has ever been. Over the past hundred years, the upper classes had more connection to their fellow man than they have today. And I’ll tell you why. Firstly, those that were from the landed classes may have been selfish financially, over the corn laws or whatever it was, but they ran their estates themselves. They actually knew the lads that cut the hay and looked after the horses. And then we had two world wars, which brought the whole class system together. Up until the late 1980s you had senior Tory politicians from posh backgrounds who could talk to the lads doing the scaffolding. They can’t do that now.”
It isn’t only the aloof, not-proper-people of the New Conservatives, New Labour and the Lame Lib Dems who fail the Farage Test: his strongest ire is aimed at another group that has of late become a major player in British politics, a key pillar of establishment thinking — the media. He’s cutting. “The media have now become a bigger problem than the politicians. We talk about the Westminster Village in politics, [but] forget it — the media village is even tighter, even narrower, even more inward-looking, and even less in touch with their own potential readership and with the country.”
March 10, 2015
I am shocked, shocked to find corruption in Quebec politics. I’m also shocked that it’s cold in Winnipeg in February. Politics has never been a game for choir boys. However by international political standards Canadian politics is incredibly tame. M. Lortie may have walked around with hundreds of thousands of dollars in his briefcase, try getting past airport security with that today, but he didn’t make a habit of killing political opponents. In most countries Joe Clark wouldn’t have been deposed, he would have been assassinated.
Even by global standards of graft, bribery and influence peddling this is kid’s stuff. Anyone with a passing familiarity of politics in Latin America knows that M. Lortie is a rank amateur compared to the real professionals beyond our humble dominion. Nor is his temporary alignment with the PQ all that surprising. Allegiance in Quebec politics is that most fluid of things. There are very few real federalists and real sovereignists in La Belle Province. There’s a long running petty feud between cousins about how best to fleece the Canadian taxpayer. The rest is theatre.
These stories are important, they help teach Canadians that politics is rarely public service, but quite often self-service with a taxpayer’s expense account. Beneath the noble rhetoric there’s some guy with silly hair shuffling money around.
Richard Anderson, “The Man With The Briefcase”, The Gods of the Copybook Headings, 2014-06-16.
March 9, 2015
March 6, 2015
It seems to be forgotten that the current American theory that political heresy should be put down by force, that a man who disputes whatever is official has no rights in law or equity, that he is lucky if he fares no worse than to lose his constitutional benefits of free speech, free assemblage and the use of the mails it seems to be forgotten that this theory was invented, not by Dr. Wilson, but by Roosevelt. Most Liberals, I suppose, would credit it, if asked, to Wilson. He has carried it to extravagant lengths; he is the father superior of all the present advocates of it; he will probably go down into American history as its greatest prophet. But it was first clearly stated, not in any Wilsonian bull to the right-thinkers of all lands, but in Roosevelt’s proceedings against the so-called Paterson anarchists. You will find it set forth at length in an opinion prepared for him by his Attorney-General, Charles J. Bonaparte, another curious and almost fabulous character, also an absolutist wearing the false whiskers of a democrat. Bonaparte furnished the law, and Roosevelt furnished the blood and iron. It was an almost ideal combination; Bonaparte had precisely the touch of Italian finesse that the Rough Rider always lacked. Roosevelt believed in the Paterson doctrine in brief, that the Constitution does not throw its cloak around heretics to the end of his days. In the face of what he conceived to be contumacy to revelation his fury took on a sort of lyrical grandeur. There was nothing too awful for the culprit in the dock. Upon his head were poured denunciations as violent as the wildest interdicts of a mediaeval pope.
The appearance of such men, of course, is inevitable under a democracy. Consummate showmen, they arrest the wonder of the mob, and so put its suspicions to sleep. What they actually believe is of secondary consequence; the main thing is what they say; even more, the way they say it. Obviously, their activity does a great deal of damage to the democratic theory, for they are standing refutations of the primary doctrine that the common folk choose their leaders wisely. They damage it again in another and more subtle way. That is to say, their ineradicable contempt for the. minds they must heat up and bamboozle leads them into a fatalism that shows itself in a cynical and opportunistic politics, a deliberate avoidance of fundamentals. The policy of a democracy thus becomes an eternal improvisation, changing with the private ambitions of its leaders and the transient and often unintelligible emotions of its rank and file.
H.L. Mencken, “Roosevelt: An Autopsy”, Prejudices, Second Series, 1920
March 4, 2015
Published on 2 Mar 2015
Time to stop indulging privileged militant “progressive” puritan student bigots.
February 26, 2015
In The Federalist, Robert Tracinski looks at the recent brouhaha over Wisconsin governor Scott Walker’s lack of a university degree and what it reveals about America’s class structure:
On the surface, of course, it’s certainly about Scott Walker. The left-leaning mainstream media senses that he’s a potential danger. After all, he has won three straight elections in a swing state, while challenging the public employees’ unions head-on and significantly reducing their government privileges. (This is precisely what makes him interesting to those of us on the right.) The mainstream media feel that they need to disqualify him now, so they’re looking for anything they can use against him.
But behind that, there is a more visceral reaction. The real purpose of higher education is to learn the knowledge and skills required for success later in life. So if someone has already become a success, whether or not he went to college is irrelevant. If he has achieved the end, what does it matter that he didn’t do it by way of that specific means? But for the mainstream elites, particularly those at the top level in the media, a college education is not simply a means to an end. It is itself a key attainment that confers a special social status.
There are no real class divisions in America except one: the college-educated versus the non-college educated. It helps to think of this in terms borrowed from the world of a Jane Austen novel: graduating from college is what makes you a “gentleman.” (A degree from an Ivy League school makes you part of the aristocracy.) It qualifies you to marry the right people and hold the right kind of positions. It makes you respectable. And even if you don’t achieve much in the world of work and business, even if you’re still working as a barista ten years later, you still retain that special status. It’s a modern form of “genteel poverty,” which is considered superior to the regular kind of poverty.
If you don’t have a college degree, by contrast, you are looked down upon as a vulgar commoner who is presumptuously attempting to rise above his station. Which is pretty much what they’re saying about Scott Walker. This prejudice is particularly strong when applied to anyone from the right, whose retrograde views are easily attributed to his lack of attendance at the gentleman’s finishing school that is the university.
February 20, 2015
To the feminists and their allies we owe the coining of the phrase “heteronormative,” which describes the moral terror that all good people are expected to feel for walking around with their bigoted heads full of the notion that, however tolerant or even indulgent we may be of our more exotically inclined friends and neighbors, there exists such a thing as sexual normalcy, and that our norms are related to that which is — what’s the word? — normal. Conservatives are of course inclined to account for the great variety of human life as a matter of fact if not as a matter of moral endorsement: William F. Buckley Jr., upon being told that at most 2 percent of the population is gay, replied that if that were really the case then he must know all of them personally. The heteronormative is right up there with “rape culture” and various distillations of “privilege” — white, male, etc. — that together form the rogues’ gallery populating progressives’ worldview, which is at heart a species of conspiracy in which such traditional malefactors as the Illuminati and the Bilderbergers have been replaced with disembodied malice that can be located anywhere and at any time it is convenient to do so.
Like the old-fashioned conspiracy theorists they so closely resemble, progressives regard any resistance to their risible claims regarding the all-pervasive power of patriarchy/heteronormalcy/white privilege/etc. as nothing more than evidence of the reach and strength of the conspiracy’s tentacles. A regular at a coffee shop I used to frequent was known to one and all as “Conspiracy Theory Larry,” and had an explanation for everything — everything — that was wrong with the world, and my derision was enough to convince him I was a junior-league Illuminatus. (I can only imagine that he was confirmed in his suspicion when I joined National Review, which after all was founded by this guy: “William F. Buckley Jr., the American publisher who heads the elite Janus mind-control project at NATO headquarters, was the most awful of all of them. [Ed: “Them” being reptilian shape-shifters.] Quite honestly he used his teeth a lot. He used to bite a lot. He got pleasure out of hurting people by biting them after he shape-shifted. To this very day I have an aversion to that kind of thing.” I suppose one would.) If forays into gender-role adventurism are met with so much as a raised eyebrow, it is, in the progressive mind, evidence of a monstrous evil. As in a good conspiracy theory, every evil must be in unity with every other evil, which is why progressives can see no difference between a social norm that assumes boys do not normally wear dresses and one that assumes homosexuals will be put into concentration camps.
Kevin D. Williamson, “Gender-Neutral Dating”, National Review, 2014-01-11
February 19, 2015
Neil Davenport reviews Authenticity is a Con by Peter York:
Everyone and everything today must, it seems, be ‘the real deal’ — they must be walking, talking embodiments of heart-on-your-sleeve authenticity. After all, no one wants to be accused of ‘faking it’, as Kurt Cobain put it in his suicide note. From pop stars to politicians, being real, being oneself, being transparent, is pretty much a pre-requisite for entrance into respectable society.
But social commentator Peter York believes there is something rather phoney in the need to be seen as genuine. In his short polemical book, Authenticity is a Con, York provides several deliciously scathing snapshots of the current tyranny of transparency.
For York, authenticity is the ‘absolute favourite word of shysters and chancers; of motivational speakers and life coaches dealing with “human potential”; of people who think “I’m so worth it”… people with only the vaguest idea of authentication and none at all about the philosophical back story.’ He traces the ‘me generation’ tendencies back to 1960s America. For York, the authenticity peddlers sell the idea that if you’re ‘true to yourself’ then everything else, from a satisfying career to successful relationships, will magically fall into place. York understands that the free-yourself psychobabble has always sounded preposterous. To lampoon it requires very little effort.
York’s sharp eye provides insights aplenty. There’s a hilarious dig at hippy ‘t-shirt and trainers’ companies such as Facebook or Virgin, whose informality disappears when they are challenged on something substantive (‘you get some very formal legal action’, quips York). He points out the irony of early- to mid-twentieth-century black musicians like Lead Belly, who wanted to wear smart suits and play hotel jazz, having to ham up a jailbird persona in order to sate their white audience’s demand for an ‘authentic’ blues performer. York also notes how, in the 1970s, the desire to be inauthentic, to not be ourselves or down to earth, was a mark of boldness and imagination. Think of the sci-fi-based, proto funk of Parliament or Funkadelic, or how working-class bricklayers donned tights and make up during the Glam era. Roxy Music made a career out of not keeping it real. They even prompted the NME’s Charles Shaar Murray to declare them a threat to Britain’s rock culture with, as York says, ‘their posey eclecticism, poncey retrofuturism and their wholly meretricious concern with appearances’. And then there’s David Bowie who elevated artifice, pretension and inauthenticity to the level of an art-form.
Today’s art-school poseurs, though, are as swept up with authenticity as anyone else. York begins Authenticity is a Con by visiting Shoreditch and noticing a product called ‘honest man’s beard oil’. As readers of Sunday supplements will know, east London has the highest beard count in the capital. York has great fun juxtaposing Shoreditch’s quest for reclaimed-floorboard authenticity with its entirely invented (read inauthentic) claim to be an artistic Boho enclave. ‘It’s a thing of surfaces’, writes York, ‘anti-bling surfaces that actually cost much more than the gold and glass and shiny marble of mainstream bling’. Indeed, Shoreditch and Hackney are the kind of places that have specially designed ‘old man pubs’ that don’t actually feature any old men drinking in them. York calls Shoreditch ‘applied authenticity’, which is about as accurate and as real a description of EC1 as you will find.
And yet the authenticity-marketing scam goes far beyond east London. For over a decade now, we’ve experienced what can be called ‘kooky capitalism’, wherein huge companies re-brand themselves as ethical, people-orientated cottage businesses. York supplements the idea of kooky capitalism with his concept of ‘micro-connoisseurship’, which refers to the ‘market for luxury, for superior, smart, snobby, value-added goods – “positional goods” of all kinds. We’ve got millions of micro-connoisseurs agonising about the thread count in sheets, the back-story of a recipe, the provenance of a shop.’