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Thursday, January 09, 2003

The Grannies of the Guardian

Oh, my goodness, get the smelling salts! Those delicate flowers at the Guardian have come over all woozy!

First, we must have some background. The other day the Guardian ran a story in their G2 tabloid insert about growing vulgarity and voyeurism on television. The article's hook was the departure of Cilla Black (a perky '60s singer, Niles tells me) from her post as host of the game show "Blind Date". Blind Date has apparently gotten more raunchy and vicious over the past years (although I didn't find a story where Black named this as the reason for her departure).

This long thumb-sucker wonders how (British) television got so coarse, when it started focussing on humiliation. Har. I've always thought that the humor content in much British comedy was based on voyeurism and contempt---an extended guffaw at those crap-flinging monkeys in the human zoo. "I say, dahling, have you ever?" "No, Niles, I never." "Well, we certainly are superior to them!" "Thank goodness! More Harp, luv?"

But, OK, whatever. The thing is, the Guardian editors selected a Leading! Artist! to illustrate the cover of G2. And what did current artistic genius Gillian Wearing come up with? Well, she wrote in black magic marker, on a white field, FUCK CILLA BLACK. (It's the Tuesday cover.)

Genius, sheer genius. You can always tell real genius: it's something you would never think of in a million years, because it seemed too obvious or lame. She won the Turner Prize, you know! That's your assurance of contemporary artistic brilliance, right there. Here's Our Artiste's explanation of how she came to create this masterwork:

"It's funny because Cilla Black is the last person you would say fuck to. You wouldn't imagine saying fuck and Cilla Black in the same sentence." She said she wrote the words roughly in felt tip pen "because I wanted it to look like graffiti - like, in a way, it shouldn't be there."

"Tee hee! Mumsy says I musn't and it made Teacher all red in the face!"

Well, that's when the epidemic of fainting fits began. Come with me and enjoy this Thomas Freedland article showing the Guardian facing the spectacle of too much liberalism:

[The cover] sparked a loud debate among Guardian staff and, as you can see from today's G2, among readers too. Defenders say that, once you hand over a canvas to an artist, you can't tell them what to put on it.

The hell you can't. At the very least, you can refuse to put that canvas in your newspaper.

What was meant as an essay on the coarsening of the culture ended up coarsening the culture just a little bit more. The f-word was sprayed across 400,000 breakfast tables where it was not invited; it was flashed before children whose parents or teachers may work hard telling them it is not fit for public use.

Great Scott! He's suggesting censorship for The Children! In the Guardian! Now I may faint.

The rest of the article is, for the most part, quite a sensible piece on the competing pressures of free expression (which Freedland refers to as "liberalism and tolerance") and a need for at least minimum public standards.

However, this being the Wanker (how's that for public standards), he has to open his coat and expose his leftist bona fides:

...heaven knows that in a world where civilians are about to be incinerated in an avoidable war, there are far greater obscenities than a swear-word in a newspaper.

Yeah, I seen it before, pal.

Freedland goes on to describe a number of objectionable advertisements, which should prompt me to muse on Australian TV ads, but not today.

The subhead of this article is "We are going to have to make new allies to halt the debasement of our culture by the media and advertising". At the end are two paragraphs very nicely demonstrating [Tim] Blair's Hypothesis, that all the idiocies of the world are converging into one big mass:

What can we do? Progressives need to drop their congenital worry about seeming prudish, repressed or unhip and start to speak out whenever they see yet another corrosion of the culture. There will be no shortage of allies. Anti-capitalists will surely join hands with an assault on this rampant marketisation...Feminists will sign up for a war...

The Church of England has a new leader who has wasted no time in railing against the primacy of market over all other values. After him comes the army of social conservatives traditionally disdained by liberals...

I'm sympathetic to the problem of free speech versus public propriety, but I'm also amused at the war rhetoric, and at the call for comrades from some of the dimmer portions of the Right Thinkers brigade.

Notice that this article has morphed from chiding the Guardian for its unfortunate (but artistically-driven, of course) decision, to a harangue for war against advertising. (If there's one thing that has turned me off liberalism, it's the constant cries for war. It's not just, "Write in and tell them you're offended and won't buy their product." No, we have to raise an army and go to war and destroy this menace. It's rare that something is unfortunate, mistimed, or ill-judged; it's always a deliberate act of malice.)

For more, see the news article about the complaints they got.

The decision to commission a series of top artists...was taken more than six months ago.

Some of the artists prepared their work in advance but Wearing came up with her idea after spending a day with the Guardian's features team yesterday.

So much genius, and in only one day.

"Today's G2 cover is 100% offence and 0% art. Had the first word been 'love', it would have been 100% waste of space and still 0% art. No artist should have been allowed to so misuse the opportunity given to her," said one reader.

Who apparently found his copy on a bench, or in a trash can, since that seems like too sensible a comment for a Guardian reader.

At the time that article was written, they'd had 50 reader comments, only a handful of which were supportive.

The last time a one-off Guardian incident caused such public outrage was when the paper ran both its crosswords in the same section.

The move provoked 300 complaints...

Entire circus via Peter Briffa.