Monday, April 23, 2007

Subjective, My Arse…

Fresh from watching the normally sublime Dame Edna give Rod Stewart’s daughter far too easy a time, I found myself fuming and stalking around the flat last night, looking for something to damage. I ended up hurling a bag of garden peas out of the Velux window. It was a full bag, bought from Sainbury’s, so it wasn’t cheap...

It wasn’t The Chipster at his best and if you’d been in the Bangor region, you might have heard him scream: ‘This, Kimberly Stewart… this is what you’ve reduced me to!’

Tossing petit pois out into the night is a kind of impotence, I know it is. The peas paid the price for my inability to function as a man. And I make that confession with a frankness that comes as something of a surprise. I’m not familiar with the sensation of being unable to go on the offensive in some meaningful way. I wanted to hit the West End with a shovel. Glitz had become anathema to me. I want to throw on my Herculean thong and cleanse the stables with my powerful hose.

The Chipster was feeling oddly mean. Now it’s morning, I’m still a monster in the making.

My twitchyness began with my last post. Rilly Super is right: intellectual content on this blog should (and now does) come with a warning. I should also avoid writing about art. Things just weren’t going right when I started to feel contrite after reading the comments you’d left. One, by Ms. Baroque, caught my attention, in which she admitted that ‘I think I'd be shy of making categorical pronouncements about whether someone "has talent" or whatever’. To which Jan Tregeagle replied and said that ‘I was probably rather too harsh on the wee Banksy, particularly when artistic talent is so subjective.’

How could I stay angry when there are such good people in the world? Guilt fell on my like Jove’s wrath. I felt bad that I’d been muttering horrible unnatural things about Rod Stewart’s daughter. I’d thought unflattering things about the poor girl, about her thighs, about her nose, and I’d destroyed a week’s supply of greens in the process. Poor Kimberly Stewart has as much right as anybody to be a model. If that’s what she wants to do, then it’s no concern of mine and I’m not going to make any rash judgments based on the irrelevant fact that she’s been blessed with her father’s good looks…

I should stop.

Just typing that last line felt like drumming my fingers on a cheese grater. There are flecks of skin dropping between the keys. My caps lock is stuck with congealed flesh and fingernail. I can't be as nice as that. I can't bite my lip. I feel a rant rising. It’s not something I can hold back. Later, I’ll regret every word I’m about to set down. The processed peas have good reason to fear me. They’re not safe, even at the bottom of the freezer, hidden under the oven chips. But I promise I won’t swear. Containing the rage is what gives a rant focus. Take the anger. Transform it into something good. Get ready. I can feel it rising.

It’s here… My thong of self-control has slipped.

We are unfortunate to have been born at a time when the world is owned by maggots. They burrow under our skin, they lay their eggs. The eggs hatch and immediately begin to consume the flesh that surrounds them. We have other names for this flesh. We call it fame, privilege, opportunity. It is like the Jedi’s force. It surrounds us, exists within us. Exists within all living things. It also exists within the Osbournes though we shouldn’t call that living. Maggots infest dead flesh too, remember. Dead heavy metal tattoo bearing flesh that goes by the name of Ozzy.

This is all relevant. Kimberley is a friend of Ozzy’s son, Jack; a man whose talents have yet to transcend the ordinary. She is an ‘it’ girl. He is an ‘it’ boy. They are part of the ‘it’ crowd which distinguishes itself from the rest of humanity by lacking that one critical component that hold many people back: self-awareness.

Self-awareness is a terrible thing to suffer. I can only imagine the life I would have led if I hadn’t been so aware of my limitations. I can’t hold a note so I never pursued that singing career. For the similar reasons, I’m not currently researching high energy nuclear fusion at CERN. Nor am I a Welsh International Prop Forward, play up front as a striker for Liverpool, nor do I hold the world for the longest ear hair.

This just sound sarcastic. But this is what comes of putting off the inevitable moment when I’m forced to say that Kimberley Stewart is as vacuous as she is talentless. And now you hate me. I know you do. You think that The Chipster’s a man who holds grudges, takes things too seriously. You want to hear takes of thongs but I subject you to one of my rants.

But why is this so wrong? I know Kimberly Stewart is insignificant, but doesn’t she represents every judgement we’re ever discouraged from making? Why do I receive hate emails whenever I suggest that the MacDonald Brothers make The Proclaimers look like Scotland’s most precious national treasure? Why should I feel hesitant to say that I consider Joseph Conrad to be a great novelist but I don’t feel the same way towards Zadie Smith? Is there anything wrong about saying you believe some has talent or decrying those you think have none? Have we reached a point where we must wrap our opinions up in crepe, wary of offending somebody?

To borrow the terms chosen by Ms. Baroque and Jan Tregeagle: being 'categorical' about our 'subjectivity' is what makes us function as human beings. I categorically believe in X and Y. I probably believe in Z. But I certainly don’t believe in a whole lot of other things I pass by each day. Of course, my judgements are subjective but this is no reason for me to believe in them or from expressing them with some conviction. I believe there are good artists and bad artists. There are good blogs and bad blogs. There are good poems and bad poems. If there’s not, then allow me to present you with my newest poem.

Hedge whistle starlings, buttonhole and pews,
Clairvoyant whisky glass tumblers screws,
Beer barrels and smokey bars, the smell of yeast,
And Red Leicester is the cheese I like the least.

And how would you know that I came up with that little gem in as many seconds as it took you to read it? Well, I did. Straight off the top of my head. And if you don’t like it, then you’re clearly…What?

A rational functioning human being willing to take a stand as say that it’s jibberish?

Talent, skill, craftsmanship. Whatever you like to call it: people prove themselves by the things they do. These things take time. They take effort. Artists shape reality in a way that others find amusing, beautiful, accommodating. Yet it seems like we have forgotten what it means to like and dislike. Talent and celebrity have become confused under the pressure of PR companies busy lacing our cultural waters with cheap wine. Stars get contracts before they’ve proven their worth. It has become the case that, as Ms. Baroque says:

‘"talent" is a small part of what gets a person's work out there. The other factors are numerous and include being in the right place, hitting the Zeitgeist, being canny, knowing the right people - energy, application, doggedness, self-confidence, vision, a thick skin, etc etc.’

The depreciation of talent worries me. But what worries me more are the ways that criticism has waned in importance. ‘What do critics know?’ is a trite question, which usually implies that something they champion isn’t worth a look. Critics perhaps deserve our scorn. At some point, it became less a matter of celebrating accomplishment in favour of something that’s obtuse, archaic, ‘intellectually challenging’. And that really worries me. It makes me worry as much as the peas worry about meeting the starry skies of North Wales. It worries me because we’re losing our critical faculties. Children in school aren’t taught to make educated judgements because ‘everybody should be allowed their opinion’. Teachers are encouraged to mark positively, rarely ‘correcting’ a child’s problems because this might given them a complex. Conversely, people are encouraged to express themselves without fear of criticism since 'every voice is just as important as the next'.

Well, my thong quivers with anger when I hear these arguments. I’m a professional. I believe in my art. I know what it is to create something wonderful. I know what it means to create something beautiful. And I know what it is to fail.

There should be achievement. There should be failure. There should be the right of a thong wearing man – let us all him ‘Aggravated from Bangor’ – to throw bags of peas to the night and say that Kimberley Stewart is a talentless, yet-to-be has been, without a single quality that raises her above the multitudes, and who squanders the real opportunities that life has afforded her to make a complete fool of herself in the public eye.

And if you don’t like that subjective judgement, then tough bloody luck.

The Chipster is off to dig another packet of peas from out of the freezer.


Jane Henry said...

Ah, Mr Chip ... You are so wise and right, it's a mad world out there at the moment, when people become famous for... what? exactly.

I'm venting my spleen by putting a whole load of z listers in my novel and taking the p*** out of them...

Vent away. I think the world needs your anger.

Btw here's a great new word which I have purloined from Danuta Kean's blog...zedlebrity. Isn't it good?


Chip Dale said...

Ah, Jane, I still feel like I should apologise for this post. It's lacking in good humour. Perhaps I should direct my energies into the novel I'm intending to get finished...

Zedlebrity is a good one. It has now entered my lexicon.