The Loneliest Jukebox

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

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Sunday, October 24, 2004

If your name's not down, you're not coming in

Internet infamy comes calling when those nice folks at the Center for Media and Democracy add me to the Disinfopedia. "Well-funded and strategic disinformation campaigns mislead and confuse the press and the public and prevent social change. Identifying and exposing the thousands of individuals, corporations and PR firms behind this propaganda has been almost impossible -- until now." In other words, if you disagree with the underlying prejudices of the Center, it's onto the list for you. I'm also still waiting for those generous funds to arrive in payment for my crimes against the environment (subbing a football magazine and living in South Florida, apparently).

Actually there's a world of difference between the way people come to their political beliefs and the version you can cobble together with Google. Even erstwhile US Maoists have gone through a complex path to get where they are today. My old comrade Frank Furedi is a case in point. "My main political project is to do what I can to promote the ideas associated with the enlightenment and to try to give humanism a contemporary and future oriented meaning. In contrast to previous times, one needs to give great consideration to the question of individual subjectivity - the development of a more robust sense of self is the precondition for creating an environment hospitable to radical thought" he says in a recent interview (while finding time to hope for a revival of JT Farrell's Studs Lonigan trilogy; buy yours here). Yet for the anti-corporate campaigners with different priorities, the only reason for him having an alternative viewpoint is that some corporation has bought and paid for it. Disinfopedia: where 'Moscow Gold'-style allegations are sustained in perpetuity.

Thursday, October 21, 2004


Chav, charva, pram-face, chip-shop ... as the list of insults grows - some being added to the dictionary - so too does the media preoccupation with these delightful folk (a.k.a ordinary people outside the narrow worldview of the media industries). Popularised by a website, British pundits who'd spent years cultivating political correctness finally got to relax a bit and let rip at those they see as white trash. Were we in danger of becoming a sneer nation, asked the Independent. Or was it all harmless fun? The ambiguity was summed up when the anonymous Chavscum webmaster became upset and defensive after students started posting eugenic solutions to the 'Chav problem' on his message boards. What did he expect? The same sort of confusion was expressed by sports journalists trying to make sense of the recent Football Factory movie (click here to buy the DVD). It leads to editorial conflict in the offices of a certain educational publication, where some editors like to name school students in articles 'Darren' and 'Sharon' as a coded way of saying white trash, in line with the prejudices of some of their readers/teachers.

Two cheers then for balloon-faced Julie Burchill, who is fronting a Sky documentary on the topic due out next year. Burchill has rightly gone on record as saying "White trash by any other name stinks yet the rank odour comes not from the despised trailer trash themselves, but from the creeps who use such charming examples of social-racism as 'pram face', 'chip shop' and 'chav-scum' to describe fellow human beings," she said [this link eventually turns into a subscription only page]. It's a bit rich coming from Elizabeth Murdoch's production company, when dad Rupert has used the Sun as a bully pulpit to popularise the idea of chavs (e.g. a 'Lord of the Chavs' top-10 virals JPEG). Sky TV does more of the same, setting up both my old local The Parkway Tavern and a boozer now closer to home (The Tavern on the Hill) as examples of Britain's Hardest Pubs. (Hype aside, I still don't fancy a drink in the Loudon Bar, which was also featured.)

The problem with Burchill is that she gets it wrong - e.g. on Iraq - more often that she gets it right (e.g. on asbestos poisoning). Given that most of her journalism is based on 'me me me', I fear her proposed celebration of 'Chav culture' will turn into a celebration of Julie Burchill.

Friday, October 15, 2004

The Treason of the Pundits

Intellectuals, who needs them? Actually we all do, if only to have a level of public debate worth having and not reduced to banal technical 'solutions', like forcing adults to go to parenting classes. There is an audience for ideas (of sorts), hence the soaking wet queues at the European Social Forum, even if the ideas on offer either say little or would make matters worse.

It's disappointing when potentially inspiring figures back down and retreat into reaction, as an article in the latest issue of Logos points out. One minute they're backing Bush - Saddam being Satan, after all - the next they get a bit apologetic about having been 'misled' so easily. The Logos folk take it a bit far, by likening Bush's ex-liberal 'camp followers' to the Webbs and other fellow travelers in the 1930s, for whom the Soviet Union and its bountiful junkets represented the wave of the future. Both groups are wrong and unprincipled, but after that you can only make them similar by throwing away all that is distinct about them and their historical moments. After all, they came to the stances that made them admirable in specific social and historical conditions, so unfortunately they can find particular and peculiar rationales for ditching their youthful radicalism too.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

A Feast of E-mails

In my role as an editor of Reconstruction, I keep on getting sent random chapters of Obi’s novel A Feast of Peonies (buy yours here). I just don’t get it. Is reading bits of the book out of sequence meant to make me want to read the whole thing? Or do I hang on and want for it all to arrive before printing it out and binding it? The kind folks at Penknife Press have got me all confused, at least for a nanosecond before I hit the delete key.

PS. Thanks to Attila the Stockbroker among others for an entertaining pre-birthday night out last week, and some gossipy insights into certain painful footballing matters. Eye-ore!

Thursday, October 07, 2004


Uproar as 'celebrity' Rebecca Loos ...err ... helps a boar play its part in artificially inseminating some sows on reality TV show The Farm. A Sun front page dedicated to criticising 'brunette Rebecca' for her antics. 'Bestiality on the box' complained one veiwer; 'it was so disgusting I could barely watch' said another.
Now I'm not one to miss out on a good 'reality TV - how low can it go?' hypothetical question. But this new storm in a petri dish smacks of double standards. The majority of us townies don't like the thought of humans manipulating pigs. (A minority actively download such images from the net, but that's another story.) But we don't mind delegating a few zookeepers to doing the same in order to save the poor pandas from their own tiny libidos.
By all means keep these basic agricultural procedures off TV, if only to help us think happy thoughts when we eat a bacon sandwich. But to see bestiality lurking in every celebrity farmyard really takes a really dirty mind.

Monday, October 04, 2004

Miserable happy hours come to Steel City

Good to see student activists at my alma mater spending their time wisely. ‘Sheffield students launch drinking crackdown’ says the Hallam University website. ‘The month-long Think Safe Drink Safe campaign, organised by Sheffield Hallam University’s Students Union, has won the backing of South Yorkshire Police and sensible drinking promoters The Portman Group, who are helping to fund it. As well as binge drinking, the scheme aims to tackle a range of alcohol-related problems, raising awareness of the dangers of drink spiking, the consequences of drink driving and risks to personal safety through drunkeness. As part of the drive, students will take part in mock scenarios staged by police officers and the University drama society.’

Back in the day, we would try to pass motions to keep the police off campus. One of the key sources of cheap drink in Sheffield, the student union, is now biting the hand that feeds it. All aboard the anti-‘Britain’s binge-drinking culture’ bandwagon!

Of course, the writing was on the wall when ‘Pyjama Jump’ – a winter drinking binge for charity in jim-jams and frilly underwear – was abolished on public safety grounds a few years ago. Why the students union feels the need to play an in loco parentis role with its new recruits is a mystery to me, explicable only in terms of our safety-obsessed society. As a Sheffield (postgraduate) student I did my bit for binge drinking in the steel city, and as a nightclub bouncer I helped sort out the mess. In those days, we were free to make our own decisions, even the wrong ones. Now older and wiser, I think it would be a good use of the university’s facilities to teach some subjects in the mornings, rather than getting involved in these authoritarian campaigns.

PS. It is a also disgrace that the SHU news page is given over to this garbage, without a mention of the late Tessa Perkins, whose contribution to media studies teaching at the place was enormous and who sadly died last week. UPDATE: An obituary by a SHU colleague appears here.

Maybe It's Because I'm Not a Londoner...

Always had a soft spot for Peter Ackroyd, despite having to teach The House of Dr. Dee on a 'contemporary British fiction' course. Go here for the recent edition of Blueprint where James Heartfield shows why what works in historical fiction translates into a hopeless way of comprehending contemporary London.

Friday, October 01, 2004

Silly man

An interesting piece by Daniel Silliman appears in Comment, bemoaning the failure of the New York Intellectuals to produce an heir to their collective throne: “The New York Intellectuals were a movement that ought to have continued, one whose lack of an heir is frustrating and discouraging. They were different from the other political movements in two respects: the occupation of a position between pundit and academic and their attention to culture, especially the literary … This let them proceed as cultural critics and artists informed by Marxism - a position also taken by John Steinbeck - avoiding the stigma of political hacks that would later follow such authors as Howard Fast.”
The analysis is odd for several reasons: it fails to note the present, rather barmy claims suggesting that the Bush foreign policy team are heirs of the New York Intellectuals. (This article suggests that its author knows enough to refute them.) Second, I’m not sure if Howard Fast suffered stigma from political hacks or the stigma of being one, but he certainly had enough good editors over the years to reduce the number of garbled sentences like this one appearing in his work. As for Steinbeck, NYIs like Dwight Macdonald were disdainful of this middlebrow ‘mid-cult’ writer, rather than kindred spirits.

What’s missing from the analysis is precisely the post-1945 and Cold War context in which the New York 'family' could flourish. After all, their early encounters with US Stalinists meant they could say they were ‘right all along’ about Communism, with a degree of moral authority not available to their conservative counterparts. Take away this context and the New York Intellectuals were always likely to dwindle.