Wednesday, May 28, 2008 

Revoke the spirit.

Revisionism, mixed with a distinct longing for an idealised past seems to be increasingly en vogue at the moment. While the old grey left celebrates and reminisces about 1968, one of the very events that fired and continues to fire the moralist and reactionary right (memo to the 68ers: you and we might have won the social battle, but have failed completely on almost every other front) the right, aided by the BBC, celebrate the Mary Whitehouse experience while decrying the state that Britain is apparently currently in. Tomorrow morning's front pages have the words of a Bishop, for God's sake, telling us how we've all gone so very wrong.

Some of this is doubtless influenced by the Conservative rhetoric on our so-called "Broken Society", which is one of their few repeated mantras that they've come to spout whenever given time to, as it also is by newspaper campaigns that use the truth as something to be bent and knocked into shape for their own short-term causes. It's also though because some of the 60s ideals which have become so loathed and blamed in equal measure by certain individuals are under threat - last week we saw the most disingenuous and obscurantist campaign in recent memory, led by Nadine Dorries MP, to cut the time limit on that hard-won 60s right, abortion. Very few people would have had a problem with the campaign by Dorries and others to cut the limit if they had come out and been honest with their reasons for doing so, either because they completely oppose the right to choose or favour a time-limit below even the lowest option offered to the Commons, but they didn't, and nor did they make clear how they were being funded by Christian fundamentalist organisations looking to remove the right to abortion one step at a time. Instead they appealed directly to emotion, while lying about or completely distorting the medical evidence around the viability of the foetus at 20 and 22 weeks. Even this wasn't enough for Dorries, who despite being unable to get the 200 supporters she said she had through the voting chambers, then came up with a concocted story, repeated verbatim in the Daily Mail, that there had been either a three-line-whip to attend or that the awful Harriet Harman had been organising when she shouldn't have been to stop the Dorries amendment.

It's apparent that most of the advancements made over the decades are not at risk, nor will they be if the Conservatives gain power at the next election. What is worrying however is how completely irrelevant issues, such as another of the votes on the Embryology bill, with the Commons voting in favour of removing the requirement for "a father" from the legislation, making it easier for single parents and lesbian couples to seek IVF treatment are blown out of all proportion or are conflated as being an attack not just on the family, but almost men themselves as a whole. It's as if the debate about gay marriage (or "civil partnerships" as we managed to call it so as to upset as few people as possible) was taking place again, with the idea that same-sex couples wanting to settle down and, shock, bring up a family like a "normal" couple is something completely alien which must be resisted at all costs. The argument against seems to narrow down to the sending a message variety so popular at the moment, that enshrining in law that a child doesn't need a father is beyond the pale just as so many have reached the conclusion that family breakdown and the lack of a father figure have much to do with the listlessness and feckless we see in wider society and on the streets. It's a debate worth having, but again, what does that have to do with lesbian couples or a single woman that want to provide a loving home for a child which they dearly want but which are unable to have through little to no fault of their own? Haven't they, just by their dedication to wanting a child, shown how much love it's likely to receive?

Perhaps some of this attitude could be summed up by one of those warriors against the horror of today's culture, the collective suicide of Western civilisation, as she likes to call it:

Absolutely untrue. All these problems, experienced disproportionately by those at the bottom of the heap, were foisted upon them by the overclass of which India Knight is a member. It was the champagne socialist intelligentsia which destroyed the traditional family, demonised men, incentivised mass fatherlessness and declared never-married motherhood an inalienable human right, emptied education of content and cut off the escape routes out of disadvantage by withering the grammar schools, declared morality to be a dirty word, paralysed the police through political correctness, enslaved the poor through dependency on the state and then finally destroyed their brains by telling them to eat cannabis cake while themselves showing the way by snorting cocaine on the Square Mile or in recording studios, or getting legless on Crackdaddy cocktails at Boujis nightclub.

Culture is transmitted top-down, not bottom up. It is the supercilious overclass, with its self-obsessed nihilism and the money to get itself out of trouble, which is responsible for our social degradation and collapse — and it is odious in the extreme to blame those whose lives and prospects it has so irresponsibly and irrevocably destroyed.

Before you even get started on just how mindbogglingly wrong Melanie Phillips is in this case, it's the sheer hypocrisy of her statements which so immediately grate. She worked at the heart of champagne socialism, the Guardian and Observer, for so many years before recanting all of her previous canards, and she writes a column for the Daily Mail, the newspaper which does so much to transmit that culture she so disdains to the middle classes and below through its witless celebrity coverage. That almost none of the above can reasonably be ascribed to the current government, apart from doing nothing to alter it, is neither here nor there while they are the current enemy. Incidentally, Unity tears apart the canards of Phillips and those she supports.

This is the symptom which leads to the sudden, bewildering reappraisals of the likes of Whitehouse. They look at the reality television that currently afflicts us (and I'm far from being a defender of Big Brother), the computer games that the young play, and some of the movies and television programmes and they suddenly decide that maybe La Whitehouse had a point. It doesn't seem to register that what Whitehouse was actually opposed to was progress, and that rather than culture influencing society, culture tends to reflect society. This was why the programme that set Whitehouse off on her crusade was one discussing sex before marriage, a very real issue in the melting pot of change which was the 60s. What Whitehouse objected to was that it was going on at all, let alone that the BBC of all places should be discussing what was happening. The programme itself tried to suggest that this was not the case, with Whitehouse humourously whilst out on a walk through the woods coming across two men she knew in the throes of passion and apparently thinking nothing of it, or at least feigning it, the sort of artistic licence that seems beyond believability. Apart from her campaign against the so-called video nasties, which resulted in the chilling introduction of the Video Recordings Act which enabled the BBFC to cut and ban films that its director James Ferman took personal exception to on a scale beyond any other country in the Western world apart from perhaps Germany, and pornography in all its forms, her targets were usually high culture, rather than low culture, as evidenced by her attempt to privately prosecute Michael Bogdanov, director of the Romans in Britain, which featured a simulated anal rape. This was despite Whitehouse herself not personally bothering to see the play for herself, a common trait, with her claiming she didn't need to see the things to know how awful they were when others could do that for her. It also ignores her vindictive streak, which nearly resulted in the editor of Gay News serving a nine-month prison sentence for daring to publish a poem which a court ruled as "blasphemously libellous".

Even more bizarre is that this current government is still taking the blame for such things when its record on authoritarianism, which some increasingly demand, is so transparently excellent. What other government could boast about the conviction of someone for daring to read the names of the Iraq war dead out at the cenotaph without permission? Which has just reclassified cannabis after hysteria from the Daily Mail? Which has also just succeeded in make illegal "extreme pornography", which will fall hardest on those who dare to enjoy sadomasochistic material, all because one man strangled a woman he was making love to, apparently because he had an obsession with such material? Which is now talking of criminalising drawings and computer-generated images of what to one eye might be child sex abuse but which to another is something entirely different? Yes, we really honestly have reached the stage where we're considering making badly drawn cartoons illegal lest some pervert get kicks from them. Mary Whitehouse would be proud of all the above, although the first might be a stretch even for her.

Really, only where this government would have let Whitehouse down was over the (final) legalisation of hardcore pornography, which came about in 2000 as a result of court action, not through the government deciding that it was suddenly acceptable, and how the BBFC has thankfully reformed itself into something approaching a reasonable, accountable organisation, even if it gets decisions such as the banning of Manhunt 2 still horribly wrong, maybe because it didn't want to risk the ire of Whitehouse's few remaining minions who aren't reminiscing about her without wearing rose-tinted spectacles.

Perhaps the most ironic thing is that what Whitehouse and others like Phillips really object to is the freedom to choose. Whitehouse always maintained the pretence that she wasn't doing what she did to protect adults, but rather to protect children, whilst at the same time denying the thinking, breathing and critical adults themselves the decision to choose what they wanted to watch. Just as "choice" has become a political idea to be embraced, even if the public in some circumstances apparently don't want it or haven't asked for it, others still want to deny that choice for completely opposite reasons. On almost all the things that Phillips lists and rages against, the choice is there: the traditional family, which has apparently been destroyed, still has hegemony, as do men who don't seem to have become obsolete yet; grammar schools are still up and running in the boroughs that want them, as is morality, dependency on the state, taking drugs and getting drunk. The impotence and idealism seems to be because the argument has been lost; but in the meantime, they're never going to forgive us for making that choice, and they're also not going to stop letting us know about it.

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