The Between the Lines Column from the November 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard
Culture and Chips
"The trouble with the working class today is that they're such peasants."
So began Tony Parsons's thirty-minute moan about lager louts, football stadiums and dogs called Tyson. (The Tattooed Jungle, C4, Monday, 5 October, 9.30pm). The same night, before watching this poor man's Matthew Arnold vent his frustration against the karaoke culture which he lacked the intelligence to connect with the cash-and-flog-it standards of capitalism, I watched Noel Edmonds present that hateful half-hour of working class self-abasement, Telly Addicts (BBC1, 7pm).
In this quiz for couch potatoes, families with scholarships in TV drivel compete to prove who can remember the most inanities, banalities and famous names. It is knowledge diluted to the purest spectacle: you don't need to have been anywhere or read anything to win Telly Addicts, but you need to have a fine-tuned memory for what imaginary one-dimensional TV stars have done, said or hummed as their theme tunes. The proles as peasants? A case could be made.
Tony Parsons makes the case very poorly. Parsons is the essential Essex Man. He romanticizes "the good old working class" who loved Churchill, went in for (k)nobbly knees contests in holiday camps and passed away the time scrubbing doorsteps and working diligently. Parsons bemoans the rise of the lager-lout patriots and the boneheads with tattoos who never read books. He is too stupid to realize that nationalism thrives upon the irrational callousness which he deplores; the two go together. And perhaps the lack of book reading is a result of half the libraries being shut and schools having only one book between five pupils.
In fact, in Britain today far more workers visit museums every year than go to football matches - and the vast majority of football spectators are neither drunk nor violent. Modern Britain is not filled with workers who never read: despite the overwhelming financial advantage of the film and video industry, it is still the case that millions of workers regularly read books, journals and newspapers which are not tabloids; only a minority of wage slaves read the Sun and get off on Rambo movies.
Could it just be possible that, like the vicars whose bleak view of human life is derived from the nasty circles they mix in, Parsons's conception of the proletarian peasant is derived from spending too much time staring angrily into the mirror and seeing what Basildon has done to him? Like a black lackey supporting slavery, Parsons the Conservative called in Auberon Waugh (the voice of the modern slave owners) to add his sneers to Parsons's vitriol.
Waugh hates the working class for not knowing their place. Our place, in case anyone wants to know, is trembling in fear at the innate superiority of the inherited privilege of Waugh and his indolent, mind-stunted class of legalized thieves, but at least Waugh's hatred is against a class which is a real potential threat to him. (Stated plainly, a socialist majority will have no time to entertain the snobbery of old Auberon - we shall undoubtedly declare war on Waugh).
Tony Parsons's nostalgia for 1950s' conservatism is not only without taste or sense, but is the moronic cry of a slave for his chains to be tightened. And when he stated of workers that "If you treat them like animals they act like animals, if you treat them like humans they still act like animals" what is that but an inelegant chant of the stale old human nature myth? Danny Baker, who earns a fortune pretending to be a good old cockney lad, explained violence on the football terraces as coming from the same source that causes wars; healthy young hetero males like a good old punch-up, don't they John? Tony Parsons has reason to feel anguish, for when he looks to the future the prospect of a TV peasantry with Danny Boy Baker as the Pearly King and himself as the proley court jester-cum-philosopher is a nightmare worse than being in an Indian restaurant in Basildon on a Friday night after closing time.
THE POLITICIAN WHO WAS DEFEATED BY A FICTITIOUS CHARACTER
By the time that you read this you will know whether Dan Quayle has been re-elected as American Vice-President, White House dope and speller-in-chief of very short words. If he is defeated it will have no small relationship to the attack made on him on the networked US sit-com, Murphy Brown. To be precise, the first attack was made by Quayle when he made a speech appealing to the Christian loonies calling for imaginary TV characters to act more responsibly and set the nation a better moral example. The example he gave was Murphy Brown who decided to go ahead with a pregnancy even though she was not married. Quayle's attack backfired when the show's makers broadcast an episode in which the fictitious character, watched on TV the Quayle speech attacking her conduct and them proceeded to tear to pieces his moral self-righteousness.
The episode of the show drew the biggest audience on US TV since the episode of Dallas in which J.R. was shot. So now elections are won and lost in America by TV-style politicians debating with non-existent TV characters - and the invisible debaters win! All they need to do now is to have a fictitious TV audience (paid extras to fill a vast Oprah Winfrey studio, perhaps?) and the whole election could be run on TV without real life having to intervene at all.