The Loneliest Jukebox

Graham Barnfield's weblog, being gradually replaced by his Twitter feed -

Graham Author Page

Wednesday, June 30, 2004

A quick note to recent rugby-related correspondents: I am not the same Graham Barnfield as my egg-chasing namesake from Surrey.

Good luck to him; over a decade younger with a decent bench press to boot. My own rugby antics dried up in the mid-80s, although the shape changes to my nose made in this period have remained with me ever since.

Monday, June 28, 2004

Toilet TV

Tomorrow sees the Channel 4 premiere of You Are What You Eat. The (allegedly) public service broadcaster is said to be angling for closer links with the entertainment-led station Five (a.k.a Channel 5), which is innovative with its episodic arts documentaries, solid in its pursuit of US cop shows and hard to watch the rest of the time. Five is also notorious for Celebrity Detox, which brought us such delights as Richard Blackwood's televised enema.

It looks like Channel 4 plans to catch up with Five on scatalogical programming long before any formal merger takes place. The trailer for You Are What You Eat, a lifestyle makeover show, features a Scottish diet guru cursing the biscuits in someone's cupboard, and speculating about said guest's 'skidmarks all the way to Scotland'. None of this is a surprise, if my telephone 'audition' for the show is anything to go by. Strictly for research purposes in the course of my duties as a reality TV pundit, I put my name forward for a guest spot.

It started off as a questionaire regarding my unsavoury dietary habits (that's too much information already). The next question clinched my non-appearance: was I prepared to give a stool sample on national TV? For obvious reasons I replied in the negative.

Disappointed, the researcher contrasted my lack of enthusiasm to that of the guest who eats two 12-inch pizzas for lunch every day, who was 'really up for it'. Maybe so, but with that lot inside him, he probably needs to take every opportunity he can get ...

Friday, June 18, 2004

The Return of Kilroy: Are U KIPping yet?

Now the MEP for my native East Midlands, Robert Kilroy-Silk is promising to 'wreck' the European Parliament. Critics have pointed to everything from his permatanned Spanish villa lifestyle to latent fascist tendencies as a way of opposing the UK Independence Party. In elections that invite indifference from a majority of the electorate, vague hostility to the European union has guided Kilroy back into politics. This has prompted supporters of greater European integration to suggest that the personalities of Kilroy-Silk and other UKIP supporters provide a good basis with which to campaign against them.

Without UKIP, the Tory vote might have held up better. Whoever is in office, they are now finding incumbency is a disadvantage. In this instance, having two or more parties appealing to 'Britishness' and 'common sense' at the expense of the Guardian newspaper means a split anti-Blair vote. If UKIP didn't exist, then current voter sentiment would need to invent it.

As for Kilroy-Silk, his disappearance from the screen in January 2004 (following allegations of racism) would have been welcome, if not for the circumstances. To put it mildly, his daytime TV show, while marginally more palatable than Trisha on the other side, provided a psychological incentive to avoid long-term unemployment. Jump the shark? Kilroy certainly needed cancellation through early retirement, but now we face another long spell with the oily creep in the spotlight.

Oily creep? For starters, his 'some of my best friends are black' alibi seemed cribbed from the guests on his countless shows devoted to prejudice. Secondly, in 1986 he quit as Labour MP for Knowsley North because he felt his party was too slow to silence the 'old Labour' elements in the constituency. Having played a role in further disconnecting politics from the electorate 20 years ago, he is happy to bounce back as the protest vote candidate now. (My preferred candidate finished fourth that year, but that's another story.)

Third, back in 1990 I had the misfortune of being in the Kilroy studio audience. As part of a busload of student activists from Sussex University, I arrived at the studio to make the case against student loans. But the theme of the show was something else:
Kilroy (to camera): 'Do men get broody? Do fellas want to be fathers too? Find out after the news.'
Great. Here I was providing bums on seats for more banal stuff about interpersonal relationships, before Kilroy's parliamentary colleagues made interpersonal relationships into a key political issue.

In the green room after the show, the 'flirtatious' host made a beeline for Susie, the most glamorous student activist there. (My wife recalls him doing the same with a recently widowed Gulf War widow a couple of years later.) I was left exchanging pleasantries with other audience members. 'And what do you do?' I asked one bloke. 'Usually I'm a hospital cleaner' he replied 'but today they needed a black face in the audience so I got sent here.'


Has Big Brother gone too far this time? Previous summers were spent responding to BB in a ritualistic way. And this one looked like it might be the same. To quote my friend Dolan Cummings, 'Bored people sitting about with a vague sense of sexual expectation in the air are no more or less entertaining now than they ever were.'

Then a 'near-riot' breaks out in the house, thanks to Big Brother 'getting evil'. Plying the contestants with drink in previous years was seen as a way of guaranteeing televised sex live, albeit for the producers to cut out. This year a heated row has been added to the national discussion of 'Britain's binge drinking culture'. Cue crocodile tears from the production company and boosted ratings.

Whereas some of the first bunch of housemates acquired a degree of celebrity as a by-product of going on the show, in later years most people have gone on the show in search of fame. A heated row peppered with death threats and broken crockery is a way to bolster that 'fame', for what it's worth, or a way for drunken wannabes to defend their corner when they think their bid for fame is being undermined. (See also how contestant solidarity with Kitten Pinder broke down once the prize money started to dwindle.)

Personally, one part of the BB routine to disappear this year is that I'm not getting as many interviews on local radio discussing the show. These invites started a while ago after I wrote a book chapter responding to the reality TV genre. (Its argument can be summarised as 1) 'get a grip, it's not causing society to break down'; 2) 'get a grip, it's not showing us a democratic and unmediated form of reality'; and 3) society gets the reality TV shows it deserves). Once on the radio, the discussion usually went something like this:
Presenter: 'On the line is Graham Barnfield, a Professor of Reality TV. Professor Graham, why has Britain gone Big Brother cray-zeeee?'
Me: 'Thanks Dave Doubledecks. One of the things that helps the show to fit in with today's audiences is that our attitudes to privacy have completely changed. Whereas in the past the stiff upper lip was in fashion, now we suffer from emotional incontience. Some people are now willing to share things with a TV audience which we wouldn't share with our closest friends in the past. In turn, audiences are entertained by details that are, in contemporary lingo, too much information.'
Presenter: 'Right. So who's going to win this year?'

I'm not sure if my disappearance from the airwaves this summer is a good thing or a bad thing; perhaps if they got me drunk first I'd be more entertaining.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Announcing issue 11.4 of Historical Materialism

Issue 11.4 has some excellent content; modesty forbids me from making too big a deal of my own review article ...
Volume 11 Issue 4
Symposium: The American Worker


Alan Johnson
Editorial Introduction: The American Worker and the Absurd Truth about Marxism
Karl Kautsky - The American Worker
Daniel Gaido - 'The American Worker' and the Theory of Permanent Revolution: Karl Kautsky on Werner Sombart's Why Is There No Socialism in the United States?
Paul Le Blanc - The Absence of Socialism in the United States: Contextualising Kautsky's 'American Worker'
Loren Goldner - On the Non-Formation of a Working-Class Political Party in the United States, 1900-45
Stephen Resnick and Richard Wolff - Exploitation, Consumption, and the Uniqueness of US Capitalism
Noel Ignatiev - Whiteness and Class Struggle
Alan Johnson - Equalibertarian Marxism and the Politics of Social Movements
Peter Hudis - Workers as Reason: The Development of a New Relation of Worker and Intellectual in American Marxist Humanism

Christopher Phelps - Why Wouldn't Sidney Hook Permit the Republication of His Best Book?

Franz Mehring - Literary Review of Hermann Schlüter's, Die Anfänge der deutschen Arbeiterbewegung in Amerika
Franz Mehring - Obituary of Friedrich Sorge

Film Review
Brian D. Palmer
The Hands That Built America: A Class-Politics Appreciation of Martin Scorsese's The Gangs of New York

Kim Moody on Seymour Martin Lipset's & Gary Marks's It Didn't Happen Here: Why Socialism Failed in the United States
Mary McGuire on American Exceptionalism: US Working-Class Formation in an International Context, Edited by Rick Halpern and Jonathan Morris and Andrew Strouthous's US Labour and Political Action, 1918-24: A Comparison of Independent Political Action in New York, Chicago, and Seattle
Bryan D. Palmer on Peter Linebaugh's and Marcus Rediker's The Many-Headed Hydra: The Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic
Alan Wald on Rachel Rubin's Jewish Gangsters of Modern Literature, Caren Irr's The Suburb of Dissent: Cultural Politics in the United States and Canada During the 1930s, Cary Nelson's Revolutionary Memory: Recovering the Poetry of the American Left and Billy Ben Smith's Career of Proletarian Novelist and New
Yorker Short Story Writer Edward Newhouse
Gerald Friedman on Janet Irons's Testing the New Deal: The General Textile Strike of 1934 in the American South
*Graham Barnfield on Andrew Hemingway's Artists on the Left: American Artists and the Communist Movement, 1926-1956 and Paula Rabinowitz's Black & White & Noir:America's Pulp Modernism
Robbie Lieberman on Bryan K. Carman's A Race of Singers: Whitman's Working Class Hero from Guthrie to Springsteen
Sharon Smith on Nelson Lichtenstein's State of the Union: A Century of American Labor
Nelson Lichtenstein A Rejoinder to Sharon Smith

HISTORICAL MATERIALISM -Research in Critical Marxist Theory
ISSN 1465-4466

This LINK allows you to order my article and navigate around the rest of the journal

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Not funny

A recent trip to Lee Hurst’s Backyard Comedy Club shows how times have changed. Midway through an unfunny rant about how working class kids are misshapen drooling morons – the kind of thing found at the Chavscum website – a bit of heckling broke out. A heckler suggested the comic, whose name escapes me, should see how far he gets doing this routine in a different part of Bethnal Green. Quick as a flash, he replies … well actually he doesn’t reply, he just gets Lee Hurst to come and help him out. Meanwhile the bouncers silenced the heckler. A weak ‘comeback’ – ‘when I was a teacher I had to get the headmaster in to control my class’ – provokes a retort of ‘you were a shit teacher then’.

Call me old fashioned, but when I used to do stand-up, it was a matter of principle to sort out hecklers yourself. ‘Sit down mate, I’ll get someone to plug your chair in’, I cribbed shamelessly from Alexi Sayle. At Lee Hurst’s, security guards issue verbal warnings. I asked the Club whether this was policy, and this was the reply:
I spoke to Lee, he said people who criticise security are often victims of their own actions. Our policy is not to encourage hecklers/tossers and to activly [sic] discourage them from returning.

I hope this answers your enquiry.

A confusing place to work where everyone seems to be called Lee, but symptomatic of the limp state of comedy today. I can stand the observational guff about kids’ TV in the 70s, but at least stand up for yourself.

One way to support this Blog is to buy stuff from the Blogger, either at Amazon or off EBay. Happy shopping.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

D-Day vs. dog days

Compared to the 1994 D-Day commemorations, events last week passed off without a hitch. A decade ago, John Major's shambolic attempts to get something going were rightly derided, alienating even the war veterans in the process. At one time English life often seemed like one long re-run of the Second World War, from Sunday afternoon war films to the press coverage of European football competitions. The phrase 'couldn't organise a D-Day commemoration in Britain' could well have replaced the old cliche about drinking sessions in breweries.

Whatever your take on World War Two, the men on the ground then compare favourably to later generations. Those like me who grew up in the 1970s and learnt some German -'achtung', 'Gott in Himmel' - from war comics, or contemporary teenagers for whom the slightest problem is 'like, so stressful', probably wouldn't last long in the war zones of the 1940s.

In part, this is because unlike today, civilian life and army life weren't that far apart. But for many this was more of an opportunity than a problem. My friend Dave Hallsworth, a veteran of military and class warfare (and sometimes both at once), summed up this spirit after reading the war diary of Bert Allton:
"It takes you into service life. I read in the Telegraph today a quote from a survivor of WW2 saying he was closer to members of his tank crew than to his own brothers. It was a very exciting time for them all, cut loose from friends and relations, no worries about finding money to pay for daily life, new sights, a camaraderie far wider than in 'civvy street', lots of risks and fears to overcome. Nothing they have experienced since compares with it."

Quite rightly various commentators have been tough on those politicians trying to link D-Day to the war on terror. But we would do well to remember the sheer toughness and fortitude of the so-called greatest generation compared to today's soft and litigious outlook.

Monday, June 07, 2004

Opening Shots

This marks the start of my experiments in using a weblog, with posts to follow as and when appropriate. The title comes from an old Neurotics song and the content will vary. Meanwhile visit my homepage or read some recent on-line journalism, such as 'Football Factory fodder', posted at Spiked.
Ciao for now

PS. Since the Football Factory review was posted, the official DVD became available here.