Sunday, November 23, 2003

Prospect Magazine

Prospect Magazine

It's three quid an issue (or two quid an article online. Yikes !). But if the free articles each month are any guide I'm tempted to subscribe.

This months has a fascinating (for politics junkies) journal by Horace Busby, a close aide to LBJ, describing the Kennedy assassination and its aftermath, and also incidentally showing what an innocent, gentle place early 60s America was (for a white politician at any rate), compared to England in 2003.

"One night during this period, I came home to find my wife reading the Dallas Morning News. Mary V handed me the front page. "Read this," she said. "Someone has lost his mind."

It was a story announcing that on his visit to Dallas, Kennedy would ride in an open car motorcade from Love Field to the site of his luncheon address. "I can't imagine your friends in the secret service letting the president do that," she said. I agreed with her. The thought of serious danger to the president did not occur. Our memories were still fresh, though, of 1960 when the vice-president and Mrs Johnson were mobbed in a Dallas hotel lobby. An ugliness had crept into Dallas politics that perplexed many Texans. In October, there had been a nasty attack on Ambassador Adlai Stevenson when he spoke there. An open car motorcade was an invitation for more episodes - ugly signs, jeering chants or, perhaps, an egg tossed at the presidential limousine.

An egg thrown, 'ugly signs', 'jeering chants'. These were considered unusual, ugly and nasty. What would they have made of an open car drive through London last week ?

'What's wrong with nursing ?' is a critical look at the new NHS culture which has replaced the old-fashioned nurse with a medically qualified, grievance-filled sociology student. I blogged a while back on the PC claptrap which fills the set texts that Susan is studying - now Julia Magnet describes the effect at the sharp end.

"The endless bilge of status and power relations filters out of the university and into bedside manner and clinical practice. Bad ideas create bad practice, and Project 2000 nurses have been trained to think that certain types of care demean them. This is illustrated by my pillow story. It all started when my vein was "tissued" - my IV tube slipped out of the vein and the medicine was pumped into the tissue by mistake. It hurts like blazes, and the whole hand swells up like a Porky Pig cartoon. All you can do, a lovely older nurse told me, is keep it elevated and wait for the fluid to drain out. She brought me some pillows and arranged my hand on a little pyramid. Unfortunately a few days later, when I was in the bath, my room was cleaned - a rare occurrence - and the pillows were removed. Later that day, another nurse tissued another vein. So I went to the nurses' station to display my Porky Pig hand and ask for some extra pillows. "No, the wards only give out one per patient." I explained that it was for my swollen hand, politely refraining from mentioning that it was their fellow nurses who had necessitated the elusive pillow. "Well, you'll have to ask your nurse." Who was my nurse? "She's gone home." I went back later, when my swelling was worse, to ask again. "We don't deal with pillows." I asked to speak to whomever did; she was gone. Then I asked another nurse: "Sorry, the ward is out of pillows." Could she borrow one? "The wards are very jealous of their pillows," was her answer. Could the ward manager help me? "She doesn't deal with pillows." Well, could this nurse just look for a spare pillow? (By now my hand was blueish.) She rolled her eyes, "I won't promise anything." Forty-five minutes later I went to look for her; my hand was numb. She had gone home. This time I said I would call my doctors if that's what it took - I got my pillow. "

I would imagine that this hospital, like most in the NHS, had a mission statement for on each ward describing the care and respect to which each patient was entitled.

UPDATE - a shortened version of this article is in the Sunday Times.

Self-Hating White Booker Judges ?

Prospect also has a review by Michael Lind of Vernon God Little, DBC Pierre's Booker-prize winning novel. Well more of a hatchet job really.

Lind is no conservative - he opens by describing GWB as "the president of the country, the talentless son of a former president, (who) has killed perhaps as many as 10,000 Iraqi civilians in a war to eliminate weapons of mass destruction which probably never existed."

His thesis is that Pierre's book is a caricature of Texas life - and a very bad one at that. Taking apart Pierre's descriptions a detail at a time, he concludes "it's as though, in a scene set in the Irish countryside near Dublin, Pierre has described men in tartan kilts taking part in the Highland Games while snakes croak loudly under the coconut trees", and asks "are the British literati so ignorant of the US that they can think this is a competent parody? "

The modern stereotype is of the insular American, knowing nothing and caring less about the outside world. Yet it seems the Booker judges (DJ Taylor, the fragrant Francine Stock, Rebecca Stephens, John Carey and AC Grayling) know of Texas only through cliche and stereotype.

"According to the press release, "Through the character of Vernon, DBC Pierre has given a voice to a generation that mainstream America would rather ignore..." Oh, please. What could be politically safer or more commercially successful today, in Britain or the metropolitan US, than to make fun of ignorant, patriotic, God-fearing white Americans?

Far from showing courage as a satirist, Pierre is a conformist who avoids challenging the sensibilities of the snobbish, transatlantic liberal left. Nowadays it is politically incorrect to portray blacks as idiots who love watermelon and fear ghosts, east Asians as buck-toothed people with glasses who say "Ah, so" and the Irish as sub-humans who exclaim "Faith and begorrah!" Yet, university-educated people as much as anyone else have a psychological need for an untouchable caste to give them a pharisaical sense of superiority. Today that psychological need is fulfilled by exempting middle-class and working-class whites, in the US or Europe, from the ban against ethnic stereotyping. This exemption permits all of the stereotypes of yesterday's racist humour to be attached to those dreadful white Americans or Brits who have the poor taste to live in the US south or midwest, or the English suburbs.

At the moment in the US, there is a controversy over a nasty game called Ghettopoly, a parody of Monopoly set in a black inner-city neighbourhood, with crack houses instead of hotels, and so on. Many enlightened people from LA to London who would be shocked by Ghettopoly feel free to laugh at the moronic white American hinterlanders portrayed in movies like Fargo and Bowling for Columbine in the way that generations of audiences in American minstrel shows and British music halls laughed at caricatures of blacks. Whiteface - as the success of Vernon God Little proves - is the new blackface. If you doubt me, open a page of Vernon God Little at random, and make this simple substitution: all of the characters are black instead of white. At one point Pierre's cartoon Texas sheriff says: "How many offices does a girl have that you can get more'n one finger into?" The comic malapropisms of pompous black characters were a staple of racist minstrel-show humour of the Amos 'n' Andy kind. If Pierre, purporting to unveil the reality of black America, had depicted a leering, sex-obsessed African-American police officer unable to distinguish the words "office" and "orifice," would jury members like AC Grayling - a distinguished philosopher whose work I have long admired - have voted to award such bigoted trash the Booker prize?

But I don't want to be too hard on the Booker jury. They've democratised literature by proving that a book doesn't have to be any good to win a prize, so long as it exploits socially acceptable national and ethnic stereotypes. I've taken heart and begun work on my own courageous exposé of contemporary British life, entitled The Isle of Cretins. Depicting Britain as a land of football hooligans, oversexed royals, fox-hunting toffs, secret agents and transvestite comedians, The Isle of Cretins will be based not on my limited personal knowledge of British society but rather on British media images that have made it across the Atlantic: Benny Hill, James Bond, Monty Python and so on. Maybe I'll win the Booker."

No comments: