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Category: current affairs (page 1 of 3)

Anders Breivik: Metro-Psycho

When I first saw the images of Norwegian mass-murderer Anders Breivik, the ones he had so helpfully included in his press pack that accompanied his ‘manifesto’, two thoughts immediately popped into my net-addled head:

a) They look photoshopped. Especially the soft-focus glamour one in the Lacoste jumper with the collar turned up

b) The ‘action man’ dressy-uppy photos look like they’ve been pulled from a gay fetish dating website. Look at all my sexy accessories!

When I compared them with the pictures of the inanely grinning, boringly bovine balding 31-year-old male being driven away in handcuffs in the back of a police car I congratulated myself that I hadn’t arranged to meet him.

Deluded as he is, Breivik seems very aware of the disconnect between the ‘Justiciar Knight’ image he wants to present to the world – which may appear laughable to others, but clearly turns him on like the Blackpool Illuminations – and the more hum-drum reality. According to The Daily Telegraph:

A narcissist and a fantasist, Breivik, 32, refuses to have his prison ‘mugshot’ taken to ensure that the carefully stage-managed photographs he took of himself – in full Masonic regalia or clutching his rifle – are not replaced by more humbling images.

Given his yen to stage-manage everything, even from behind bars, it’s perhaps not so surprising that costuming seems to be a continuing preoccupation of his:

Having been refused permission to wear a combat uniform, he has demanded to wear a red Lacoste sweater for his public outings to court or to the police station. He will not wear anything else.

Well, if you know your signature colour and you have a brand that you feel at home in, why change?

I have no desire to read Breivik’s manifesto. It’s over 1,500 pages long. It’s demented. Worse, it’s badly spelled. Plus there’s the small matter of his murdering scores of people, most of them children, to make me and you do just that. To make us take his delusions of grandeur and purpose seriously. So forgive me if I don’t feel like curling up with him.

There isn’t a ‘mystery’ to Breivik that needs to be unlocked, except perhaps by mental health professionals. And even then, it certainly wouldn’t be in his rambling, ranting cut-and-pasted scrapbook of (mostly American) right-wing nut-jobbery.

But plenty of people seem to take a different view. Legions of journalists and commentators and sociologists are reading the manifesto avidly, searching for clues. Explanations. Keys to unlock the ‘enigma’ that is Breivik and make sense of his senseless slaughter. Perhaps it’s the media’s job to try and find meaning where there isn’t any, but even in seeking to refute or ridicule his arguments – or hold him up as an example of what happens when right wing extremism or misogyny is allowed to flourish as many liberal papers have done – I think they are in danger of flattering him.

There are no ‘lessons’ to be learned from the pathetic creature that is Breivik, no matter how much he might want us to think so and no matter how tempting it is to pander to that. He’s criminally insane. End of.

And yet. Maybe I’m in danger of being a big fat hypocrite here, but it’s increasingly difficult for me to ignore some of the stuff in his manifesto that keeps being discussed. From a nice middle-class Norwegian background, the perpetually single (and “100% hetero”) chap laments that modern men spend so much time worrying about their clothes and their colognes.

He also bemoaned metrosexuals, seeing them as part of the ‘feminisation’ of the culture in general and men in particular which was leaving Europe (wide) open to Islamification:

…men are not men anymore, but metro sexual [sic] and emotional beings that are there to serve the purpose as a never-criticising soul mate to the new age feminist woman goddess.

Other reports tell us that he was an avid gym-goer, took steroids and visited tanning salons. There are also claims that he had plastic surgery in his early twenties on his nose and chin. And then we have those carefully staged, possibly photoshopped images and his refusal now to have his mugshot taken or wear anything in public he considers unflattering.

Breivik was clearly in pathological denial about all sorts of things – his own metrosexuality was perhaps the least of them. But he went to and continues to go to a great deal of trouble to present himself to the world, however camply, however grotesquely, as a ‘real man’, a Christian warrior, while using and displaying many of the characteristics of his hated ‘passive’, ‘weak’, ‘feminine’ metrosexuality to do that.

And in this, alas, he isn’t so unusual – just rather more extreme. There are a lot of metros in denial. Not all of them are out and proud. Quite a few are self-loathing as well as self-loving and diss ‘girlie-men’ metros in the hope that this will prove they’re not ‘that way’ themselves. A bit like how it works, in other words, with your actual homosexuality.

Much of Breivik’s politics was gleaned from right wing US websites, where chaps are always whining about not being able to find a ‘real man’ these days (in much the same way gay bears do), and where ‘metrosexual’ is used as the worst kind of insult. A fag who isn’t actually a fag. Worse than a fag, in fact. A heterosexual who allows himself to be penetrated by the weakness and effeminacy of gay men – spreading the disgusting disease of unmanliness.

So, in a sense Breivik’s anti-metro tirades are just copying and pasting again. Likewise his camply conflicted personal presentation seems to European eyes very American.

You don’t need to read A European Declaration of Independence to know that this ‘Christian warrior’ mass-murderer clearly desires to be desired. The manifesto, those glamour shots and probably even the awful crimes are one enormous, mega-creepy personal ad. Not so much metrosexual as metro-psycho.

The worst of it is that to some extent Anders Breivik has achieved what appears to be his main goal. Not starting a war against the Islamic invasion of Europe and ‘cultural Marxism’. Nor getting people to read his bloody manifesto.

He’s become a celebrity.

Tip – Bat020

 UPDATE 17/04/12

It seems Breivik tired of the red Lacoste jumper and decided to go for something more formal, but still designer (with very padded shoulders) for his court appearance this week. And a fashion beard that accentuates his ‘heroic’ jaw-line. Quite the dashing ‘Christian warrior’.

From his meticulously crafted appearance, his rehearsed clenched fist salute, to the tears on viewing his own propaganda film, to to his lack of response to the tapes of the final moments of the people he slaughtered to get this gig in front of the word’s media, it’s obvious that Breivik is thoroughly enjoying the attention and won’t let the small matter of all those dead bodies spoil his week.

UPDATE 24/08/12

Breivik was originally diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic and thus not responsible for his actions – i.e. criminally insane. This caused an outcry in Norway and, highly unusually, two more forensic psychologists were called in. This time a much more popular diagnosis was delivered: they declared that because of the way he meticulously planned his attacks he couldn’t be crazy.

Today the Oslo district court where he has been on trial for mass murder went with the second diagnosis, declared him legally ‘sane’ and sentenced him to 21 years in prison – though he is unlikely to ever be released.

Everyone seems happy with this verdict. The survivors. The families. Norway. The media. Breivik is perhaps the happiest. Unless he was playing an Oscar winning Br’er Rabbit, the thing he appeared to fear most was being ruled insane and thrown in a specially built psychiatric unit indefinitely. In his mind he is now a ‘political prisoner’ not a highly dangerous mentalist.

I can’t say I blame Norway for perhaps moving the goalposts to make sure he was found criminally responsible. But in a sense, his ‘Christian warrior’ delusions have been endorsed. 

Army Dreamers: A Backwards Salute to Recruitment Films

by Mark Simpson, The Guardian

As a boy growing up in the 1960s and 70s I was raised to fight The Second World War all over again. Airfix models. Commando comics. Air tattoos in June. Watching The Battle of Britain and The Longest Day on telly with my dad, just so I’d know what to do if I ever found myself pinned down on a Normandy beach or with an Me 109E on my tail.

All of which made me easy prey to an RAF recruiting film about a buccaneer squadron training sortie from Gibraltar, set to a Vangelis soundtrack. I promptly signed up to the air cadets and spent Tuesday afternoons and a week or two in the summer hols wearing itchy shirts and a Frank Spencer-style beret, learning how to march without falling over. I loved it, and would probably have signed up for the real thing if it hadn’t been for a sixth-form flirtation with Quakerism.

Alas, that old recruiting film isn’t included in They Stand Ready, a new collection of Central Office of Information (COI) armed forces recruitment and propaganda shorts made between 1946 and 1985, released by the BFI. But several similar ones are, including Tornado (1985), about a simulated attack on a Warsaw Pact surface-to-air missile site, and HMS Sheffield (1975), about life onboard a Royal Navy frigate (that was later hit by an Exocet during the Falklands war with the loss of 30 lives).

With their promise of escape from humdrum life, opportunities for new mates, good times, foreign travel and playing with really expensive toys – though strangely silent on the possible physical cost – these films offer a glimpse into the listless, regimented world that was mid-to-late 20th-century civilian Britain, waiting impatiently for Xboxes, EasyJet, the internet and proper drugs to turn up.

Perhaps it’s because prime minister David Cameron is around the same age as me – or possibly because the armed forces, or at least the army, are still largely run by lah-de-dah Ruperts like him – that he seems so nostalgic for this vanished old world. Cameron recently vowed to make the forces “front and centre of national life” and “revered” again, in a speech to UK personnel in Afghanistan.

Not that increased prominence is a guarantee of increased reverence, however. A short celebrating national service, They Stand Ready (1955), which dates from a year before the Suez debacle punctured the UK’s global pretensions, recalls the last time that the armed forces really were front and centre of national life. Yet conscription proved to be highly unpopular – both with most of those who had to do it and those who had to find something to do with them.

Once the last national servicemen left the ranks in 1963, army life could then be sold as something glamorous and exciting instead of an onerous black-and-white duty. This is exactly what Ten Feet Tall (1963), a rock’n’roll-soundtracked recruiting film does in glorious Technicolor. It showcases a matinee-idol young Scottish squaddie’s ruddy complexion, perfect white teeth, and the (now ominously) nicotine-stained fingers of the army careers officer.

• The COI Collection Volume Three: They Stand Ready, a BFI DVD release, available from July 2010


I Agree With Alex

By Mark Simpson

So the Scots Nationalist Party has failed in its court action to force the BBC to include their leader Alex Salmond in the final TV leaders’ debate. Everyone south of the border working in politics and the media seems to be very much agreed that this was the ‘right’ outcome. Except for this Englishman. Not least because of the breathtaking, downright imperious hypocrisy of the Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg.

Clegg couldn’t wait for the court decision. He claimed a few days ago that Salmond was “stamping his foot on the sidelines in fury that he’s not on this debate programme. The broadcasters have arrived at the particularly reasonable position that the debates should be held by the three people fighting this campaign up and down the UK.”’

A ‘particularly reasonable decision’ because the chief beneficiary was Nick Clegg – someone who, if you remember, was mostly stamping his foot on the sidelines until he appeared on the TV debate himself a few weeks ago, upstaging the other two party leaders (‘Who is that new guy with the nice hair?’) and provoking a wave of Cleggmania by calling for an end to the ‘old politics’. Perhaps he’s worried that if Salmond is permitted to appear beside him he might be upstaged by the new boy the way he did Brown and Cameron.

Especially since Salmond has a cheeky, Shrek-like, twinkly-eyed man-of-the-people quality that would probably play very well next to Cameron and Clegg’s silver spooning and Brown’s apparatchik chic. The last thing that Clegg wants is to be out-Clegged.

Of course, none of the three main Westminster parties – or the BBC – want to share the limelight with Salmond on their political X Factor show. David McLetchie, head of the Scottish Tories’ election campaign was equally dismissive of Salmond’s bid, invoking the ‘British’ thing: “It’s British general election. Alex Salmond isn’t a candidate in this British election and he doesn’t want to be prime minister. In fact, he wants to destroy the UK.’

In other words: we don’t want him on the show because he won’t play by our rules. But contrary to how it has been portrayed in the media, this isn’t an American Presidential Candidate debate – this is a party leader’s debate. And Salmond is the leader of a party that has several MPs in Westminster – and is running Scotland.

What these arguments overlook – deliberately – is that post-devolution, and with a party devoted to total independence for Scotland in power at Holyrood, ‘Britain’ as a political project has largely already ceased to exist. This is the really ‘old politics’ that the Palace of Westminster doesn’t want to give up. The Union and the imperial identity it engendered is pretty much a dead letter. We’re just waiting for the decree nisi.  Which admittedly has probably been delayed in the post by the recession – but rest assured a Tory Government in Westminster would certainly help focus Scottish minds on their future again.

North of the border almost no one with a Scottish accent is ‘British’, while south of the border it’s usually a way of not talking about the English – or letting them have their own Parliament, or National holiday. Or in the case of the TV election debates, ‘British’ means two slick, super-posh Englishmen in nice suits laying into the plain Scots guy in a bad one. Which is no doubt part of the reason why Salmond wants to muscle in.

Allowing Salmond on the show would be an acknowledgement of how out of touch the ‘old politics’ really is. It would break the spell of ‘let’s pretend she’s just having a kip’ that surrounds the demise of Britannia. Neither Clegg, nor Cameron nor Brown, nor the British Broadcasting Corporation, want to do that because it would severely puncture their own imperial and imperious self-importance.

Now that it’s clear that the TV election debates effectively are the election campaign, let’s have the SNP in one of them next time – and why not Plaid Cymru, UKIP and, if they win any seats, the English Democrats?  Let’s take an honest look at the crazy-paved, devolved nature of post-imperial 21st Century UK politics. After all, 90 minutes is a very long time to spend watching two Blair impersonators and an automaton audition for the part of Emperor With No Clothes.  Especially without a camp Irish compère to lighten the mood.  Bring on, I say, the political version of Britain’s Got Talent.

Clegg talks a lot about an end to the old politics, the urgency of the need for Proportional Representation and how coalitions are not something to be afraid of, but instead welcomed: politics as complicated, grown-up stuff.   But of course coalition government and PR mean taking ‘fringe’ parties that don’t happen to be the Lib Dems a little more seriously.  It means an end not just to two party politics but also and end to three party politics.  And the fond notion that Westminster is still the centre of the world.

Copyright Mark Simpson 2010

Crims Ain’t Wot They Used To Be

Mark Simpson on the way public information films about policing and justice throw an arresting light on our recent past

The London Times

Some trace the demise of the British way of life to the day when RAC patrolmen stopped saluting. In fact, as Police and Thieves, a marvellous two-DVD collection of historical documentaries on policing and the justice system from the vaults of the Central Office of Information, shows, the rot set in when bobbies stopped wearing skin-tight white gloves.

The reassuring paraphernalia of policing that I remember dressing up in as a kid to play cops and robbers has pretty much disappeared from our streets today, along with kids playing cops and robbers (everyone wants to be a robber). But in The British Policeman, in 1959 to teach the Commonwealth about the Mother Country, is nothing less than porn for hardcore nostagalics. Pointy helmets and chunky handcuffs, shiny whistles, wooden truncheons, police boxes and those white gloves — perhaps intended as a reminder that, as the very received-pronunciation voiceover intones, “The British policeman is a friend to all except the criminal … he is taught that he is the servant not the master of the public.”

And not a high-visibility jacket or stab-vest to be seen. Back then bobbies were a comforting symbol of the order of British society and the invincibility of its class system. This is underlined by the way that no one shown in the film actually speaks: the clipped voiceover speaks serenely for everyone. Today, of course, police are seen only when there’s trouble — if you’re lucky.

Filmed in crisp black and white on a warm sunny day in a Leicester that looks more like Trumpton than a major Midlands industrial town, this was the high summer of Ealing Englishness, before the 1960s ruined everything. The clumsy propaganda of The British Policeman, like many COI films collected here, is easy to ridicule now — and probably was then too — but it also provides a priceless glimpse of a world that now seems at least as quaint and foreign to us as it did to its intended audience.

No one, except the avuncular bobby protagonist of the film, is overweight. Almost everyone in what may soon be Britain’s first majority non-white city is Caucasian, save for a Commonwealth gentleman at the beginning of the film who asks our helpful bobby for directions. Middle-aged women wear scarves like hijabs. Sullen bequiffed Teds hang around all-night coffee stands. Our bobby helps old ladies to cross the road, untangles schoolboys’ fishing lines caught in trees and attends to a pig-tailed girl’s grazed knee. Proving he’s no pushover, he also apprehends a burglar in a donkey jacket, his pocket full of chisels, who practically shrugs and says, “Fair cop, guv”. Only one female PC makes an appearance, turning up to babysit a runaway girl who has been hanging around with the Teds.

This world thought it was going to last for ever, but the end was waiting just around the corner, cosh in hand. In Unit Beat Policing, a 1968 recruiting film, the white heat of technology has replaced white gloves — and bobbies. Filmed in Chester, it’s a celebration of hardware: panda cars, walkie-talkies, central radio control, electric typewriters and “collecting information”, complete with a Z-Cars-style theme tune. A technocratic chief constable enthuses: “A squad car can do the job of five men on the beat. Which in turn allows us to spend more money on technology that saves manpower . . .”

No female PCs are to be seen in 1968 either, but we do see some women pushing prams and a gossipy lady reports a neighbour for being unmarried, living with a girl, not having a job and generally being shifty. By 1973 in another recruitment film, Anything Can Happen, excitement is now the selling point: big sideburns, action, mateyness, sexism: Life on Mars without the irony. While the young male bobby protagonist is now allowed a voice (albeit a slumming RADA one), female PCs are just dumb bait for recruiting male PCs — two years before the Sex Discrimination Act.

In the 1970s the COI started to move away from documentaries and towards the TV shorts that it is most famous for. Bicycle Thefts (1974) stars a suspiciously pretty, fey young man in a fedora and cravat who seems to have inspired much of David Walliams’s oeuvre: “I’d rather not say what was in my saddlebag. It’s personal.”

Police and Thieves also includes some COI documentaries showing the workings of the post-war justice system: Four Men in Prison (1950), Probation Officer (1950), and the remarkable Children on Trial (1946) (pictured). The public-school paternalism of the age is evident in all these films: “At work and at play we expect you to act like men — we run a civilised, high-class community,” says one governor in his welcoming speech to the new intake. But it is a surprisingly enlightened paternalism that has rather more faith in human nature and rehabilitation than we do today. The future turned out to be much more democratic, but also much less forgiving than class-bound Britain, white gloves and all.

Police and Thieves, the COI collection, Vol 1 is released by bfi

Trysexuality – It’s Just For Girls

Last Sunday’s News of The World carried a ‘JORDAN’S LOVER BOMBSHELL’ expose on Jordan’s ‘hunky cage fighter boyfriend’ Alex Reid.  What was the bombshell?  He’s sexually open-minded.

‘”I’M TRY-SEXUAL: JORDAN’S MAN SAYS “I’LL TRY ANYTHING ONCE!'”’ was the shocking headline for the two page spread. The piece, cobbled together from interviews with ex-friends, and some snaps of him in drag with his mates – obviously for a lad’s night out – did its best to keep the (now old) tranny story going, further undermine his masculinity and suggest that he’s even worse than a tranny – he’s probably a poof! After all, any bloke who says he’s a ‘try-sexual’, even one who doesn’t wear women’s clothes, is obviously a bender….

So far, so NOTW. It is, after all, a famously narrow-minded newspaper catering to people who don’t get much.

But rather confusingly, the front of the NOTW glossy magazine inside the very same edition that mocked and ridiculed Reid for his cross-dressing and daring to step outside prescribed gender roles featured TV celeb Myleene Klaas shaving her face on the front page, the with the come-on coverline: ‘MYLEENE MANS UP! – Tough talking and too feisty even for Cowell. Yes, this girls got balls.’ Inside she poses for a glamorous photo shoot in a suit and a side-parting.

Klaas doesn’t describe herself as ‘try-sexual’ in the interview (though she does talk about comparing ‘boob sizes’ with female friends in toilet cubicles), but if she did it would probably have been presented in the same yay! good on ya! girl power!! fashion as her ballsiness. ‘Try-sexuality’ when undertaken by women now seems, even in the NOTW, to be both a measure of both female empowerment and also their new assertive sexuality.  It tends to enhance their femininity rather than bringing it into (fatal) question.

But when men try to join in the experimentation and step outside gendered sex roles themselves, by for instance cross-dressing or expressing an interest in same-sex fantasy, the opposite appears to be true, at least in the public sphere.  They are merely deviant, ‘gay’ or ‘sad’ – and instantly shorn of their masculinity. A joke.  Even cage fighters. Attitudes towards male bi-curiousness show that for men being ‘half gay’ is tantamount to being ‘half-pregnant’.

This new double standard for male and female sexual behaviour which in contrast to the old ‘stud/slut’ one, penalises men rather than women was documented earlier this year by Canadian sociologists, who found that men were expected to be up for sex all the time – but only very straight sex. Women were allowed much more latitude in both whether they actually wanted to have sex – and what kind of sex they wanted to have.

This double standard is endemic in the UK, as is painfully evident in the recent case of the barmy woman boxer (also Canadian) found guilty of a violent and unprovoked attack on a couple of drunken squaddies at a disco for kissing and dancing with one another and ‘pretending to be gay’ screaming ‘THIS SHOULDN’T BE ALLOWED IN THE BRITISH ARMY!’.

Despite being a violent foreign criminal on the run from the law for assaulting British soldiers (from behind) – and moreover a woman who stepped outside of gender stereotypes herself – she was feted by the British popular press as some kind of have-a-go a heroine.

Why? Well, partly because she was quite ‘tasty’ (in the sense of ‘not looking like a dyke’), but mostly because she was punishing men for daring to break the gender rules themselves.

Twenty-First Century trysexuality is, you see, just for girls.

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