Sunday, January 30, 2005

The Archers, Knife Culture, and Self-Harm

Listening to The Archers this morning after a long layoff, bewildered by the strange accents the cast perpetrate, which bear no relation to anything I’ve heard in Gloucestershire or Worcestershire. I’ll except Jack Woolley (or ‘Jeck’ as Peggy calls him), whose rotund Brummie/Worcester tones are pretty much spot-on for an elderly Bromsgrovian.

Daughter of the house Helen Archer is currently in hospital being treated for anorexia - sorry, 'an eating disorder'.

Over the years the lesbian separatist collective that is an Archers scriptwriting conference have dropped about every PC cause du jour into the mix. A racist firebomb attack on Usha (‘I’m the only ethnic minority in the village’) Gupta, the conviction of Roy (now a reformed character) and the racist activist cell at Borchester Tech (I kid you not), domestic violence (I’ve lost count, but most female villagers of child-bearing age seem to have suffered), the drug culture, the mixed marriage (idiot Aldridge daughter – and Usha too, I think), the gay landlords gallantly battling homophobic locals (Peter Hitchens in ‘The Anatomy of Britain’ thought this unlikely, but our local was run for three years by a gay couple who had no problems and increased custom. They did good food, looked after the beer, and didn’t frighten the horses).

Only a week or two back Sid’s ex Cathy was raped. I doubt she’ll be pulled into the showers after this afternoon’s village soccer match, but the first Ambridge roasting incident is surely only a matter of time.

I’ve been listening so long that I can remember when Shula was a virgin (‘Isn’t it beautiful in this cornfield. What a perfect place to lie down and make love’ ‘That’s typical of you town people, damaging crops without a thought for the farmer. We’ll go over here by the hedge’), and there are very few PC causes yet to be raised. I’m surprised it’s taken so long for eating disorders to make it onto the menu. But there are a few newly created ones that could be fitted in.

‘Homophobia’ in schools is one of the government’s current priorities. Thirty years ago homosexuality was not all over the mass media like a Kaposi’s sarcoma, and so most primary school children were unaware of the words or the practice. Only in secondary schools did the poor unenlightened children use homophobic and other un-PC terms of abuse.

“Mongol !”
“You big puff !”
“Spazz !”
“You great fairy !”

Now of course no-one who turns on the TV or radio can be unaware (Radio 5 Live are discussing homophobia as I type, and South Africa are 150-odd for nine), and ‘gay’ is a favoured term of abuse among six year olds. How we have advanced.

It’s a good job the footy coach at the local primary has moved on. An excellent coach (and all round good bloke, but somewhat free with his language), his habit of asking eight year olds ‘are you gay or what ?’ after a poor tackle raised even my eyebrows.

So surely it’s time for Ambridge Primary (is it still there ?) to feature an episode of homophobic bullying. You could throw into the mix two other concerns – knife culture and what’s called “self-harm” – anorexia’s grown up sister. Perhaps the homophobic bully could wave a knife around in the playground, while back at home Helen decorates her flesh with knife cuts in the manner of certain tribes.

Knife culture is, as is well known, epidemic in Britain. Back in those unenlightened days we all carried knives in the playground, but we didn’t know what to do with them, using them for cutting sticks and playing games. Now, as our Schools Minister has said, we have the best educated generation in our history, and we know what to do with knives. They’re for cutting and stabbing other people.

At the same time our prisons are full of young ladies who delight in cutting themselves.

From a free market, pro-choice, libertarian perspective, there may be something to be said for bringing these two groups of people together. I’m sure there are many young men of the FHM and Zoo generation who would pay good money to spend an hour or two cutting young women. The girls get the blood running down their arms and the money.

If ‘sex work’ is any guide, an ‘uncut’ inmate with pristine skin would be more expensive than someone whose forearms already look like a fifteen-hour game of ‘Railroad Tycoon II’. Perhaps Ebay could match supply and demand, and the Prison Service could take a cut (sorry) of the money, arranging special ‘cutting visits’.

Private companies would be set up to arrange group visits and stag parties – I like the sound of ‘Cutting-Out Expeditions’. The video market would be pretty hot, too.

Of course there would be some unfortunate incidents. The odd punter (and they all would be) might get carried away. But shops get robbed and shopkeepers killed – yet no-one proposes shutting all shops on that account. And at least the perpetrator would be already in a prison – albeit of the wrong gender. Still, he could be handed to the other girls inside, who with a bit of impromptu ‘gender reassignment’ would soon sort that for him.

There are other advantages too for 21st century Britain. An activity carried out purely for private advantage or gratification doesn’t show up in the Gross Domestic Product, nor can it be taxed. But the moment you bring in what a sociologist would call ‘the cash nexus’ – hey, you’ve got a brand new business sector, literally at the cutting edge.

Take childcare – which involves the socialisation of the next generation. Back in the dark days of the 1950s, this was carried out on a voluntary, unpaid basis by a class of people called mothers. No tax, no wages – so no value.

The Polly Toynbees of this world have triumphed, and now children are still looked after – but by paid strangers (and what our rulers really think of childcare is revealed in the census job classifications, which roughly correspond to social class. Guess which category childcare assistant and nursery nurse are in ?). Childcare is an industry, with all the beneficial effects on GDP and taxation.

With changes like this you can see why we can have the fourth largest economy in the world yet have no indigenous aircraft, car or computer manufacturing. If our rulers can only find a way to make more consensual sex (which covers most sex – Ambridge excepted) paid-for and less consensual sex unpaid, we could perhaps be the third largest economy in the world.

(I penned this with tongue in cheek – then thought about tolerance zones and the number of prostitutes advertising in the local freesheet. Fifty years ago people would have laughed at the idea that healthy mothers would en masse hand over ‘their’ babies to strangers.)

Some old fashioned moralists (the type who consider perfectly reasonable anti-homophobia initiatives to be the sort of thing Section 28 was designed to stop) will probably make a fuss about the vibrant new cutting industry, calling such a trade ‘degrading’ and pontificating about spoiling God’s handiwork.

Fortunately progressive and civil liberties groups exist to defend our rights to cut and be cut from these bigoted Bible-bashers. The medical profession is one. You can get a whole, healthy leg removed in an NHS hospital if you suffer from Body Dysmorphic Syndrome, a condition in which having two legs is considered ‘seriously disabling’.

And if you want other people to cut you – and more – civil liberties campaigners are on your side.

The people who became known as the Operation Spanner defendants were a loose collective of sexual deviants (note - this is a description and is not necessarily perjorative - just accurate). Along with their more conventional (and illegal in the case of the 15 year old boy) activities, they 'enjoyed' sadomasochism for which extreme does not seem an unreasonable word. Among the videos found by police during their investigation were scenes of torture which at first led them to believe that people were being killed for the videos.

You can read the story of one of the defendants here. What I find inspiring (and what gives hope for the nascent British cutting industry) is that Liberty, the 'Civil Rights' organisation which had no time or resources to spare for the late Harry Hammond, was able to mobilise lawyers for an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights in pursuance of a cause as noble as any in history - man's inalienable human right to use a power sander on the scrotum of his (consenting) fellow man.

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