There is no Prize for being dispassionate

Oscar Wilde said that sentimentality was the bank holiday of cynicism. He was not wrong.
by Wrinkled Weasel

Halle Berry gushes at Oscars
Awards are the worst kind of tribute. They kow tow to sentimentality and wishful thinking, at least in this era they do. Take the Oscars. Every year somebody gets an Oscar for having cancer. As Michael Douglas said, after appearing recently at the ceremony, "There must be easier ways to get a standing ovation". When you listen to the poor, dolled-up winners, gushing and reciting a bit of well-rehearsed faltering wit, you cannot help wondering if self-deprecation has become the flip-side of arrogance.

Sentimentality is not just the preserve of Hollywood. It now affects book prizes, and in particular a current obsession with anything that is not English. Take a look at the shortlists for British and USbook prizes. Five books were shorlisted for last year's Orwell. Of the five, one was by Petina Gappah, billed as "The Voice of Zimbabwe", another is a book about Kenya and yet another is a book about Turkish Kurds and another is about Islamism by someone called Kenan Malik. John Kampfner makes an appearance, but Kampfner is a cypher for the comfy left. The winner of last year's Owell wrote about Alzheimer's. Its winners are a a tribal paradigm of the liberal left consensus. Polly Toynbee? Yasmin Alibhai-Brown? Paul Foot? Peter Hitchens? No wonder Nick Cohen turned up pissed out of his head at the 2009 shortlist show.

The Guardian can barely bring itself to review a book that is not written by somebody with a funny name, about somewhere that sounds exotic.

Tips to authors - if you want to get published and shortlisted in Britain today, call yourself Adomati Plange and write about the "plight" of Armenian sex trade workers.

We are plunging into a very silly obsession with anything foreign. I am always mildly amused when I meet some English type with a Chinese symbol tattooed on their person and secretly hope that the Chinese symbol reads "Schmuck".

As for religion, that too has not escaped the current desire for all things foreign and exotic. After all, if you can wear a saffron robe, smoke a bit of hash and learn to play a digeridoo, it has to be more fun than the stuffy old CofE.

It is not as if any of this obsession with stuff that is African or Indian or Turkish or whatever is particularly edifying or true. Most of these places are unremitting shit holes like everywhere else and any attempt to mitigate this is purely a Western Liberal fantasy, and a cynical one at that.

We seem to have fogotten our heritage, our British heritage. We have forgotten that the life expectancy of people on certain Glasgow social housing estates are less than in Yemen or North Korea. we have forgotten that we are the cradle of the Industrial Revolution and the hypocentre of a contemporary rock and pop culture that changed the world.

When it comes to liberality and sentiment, perhaps it is time to point it in the direction of home, but of course, it is not exotic enough to engage the faddists.


Richard said...

Excellent post. There was a time, of course, when all writers of 'note' were white and middle-class, and many writers not of this background were ignored. This was quite wrong. But then, in a classic bit of British self-loathing, it became necessary not only to read and admire authors from a diverse background (foreign, funny names, working class) but to elevate them above the WMC authors. Favouring WMC authors became a sign of a limited intellect or, worse, innate racism. If you didn't prefer Ben Okri to Martin Amis, you were old-fashioned, out of touch, hidebound, reactionary. There's a lot of good writing by 'Third World' and working-class writers, but we have done the usual inverted snobbery thing and raised it above the home product, sometimes justifiably and sometimes not. This applies a fortiori to female writers, of course. Cue jokes about one-legged black Ethiopian lesbian welders, OK, OK, but there's an element of truth in that.

Wrinkled Weasel said...

I am glad you have received the post exactly in the spirit it was written Richard.

And welcome back.

British self-loathing is a virus. We seem to accept blame in trowel loads but not pride of achivement. But it is sentimentalism that worries me. You cannot be sentimental about poverty in Britain because it is too close to home, but why get all teary over something you can do little about?

It is removal from reality; literature about exotic places can be interesting as you say, but it rarely engages our morals, only our sentiments.

I want to see Bob Geldof and Billy Connolly and perhaps, the BBC, putting on charity shows for the people in our own ghettos. And as for the BBC, they may be happy telling us how crap it is in Palestine but none of them want to move North of the M25.

Richard said...

I didn't touch on the sentimentality thing, but I agree it's one of the worst features of life today - the mawkish outpourings at any random death being a prime example. A bunch of petrol station flowers and card with the single word WHY???????? Sentimentality is odious: either do something about it or shut up. Making others feel guilty about something you are not prepared to act on for yourself is just hypocritical. When Sir Robert Frederick Zenon Geldof, Paul David Hewson and the like give their entire riches to an African village, make themselves completely destitute, and then ask why the rest of us aren't contributing, then maybe I'll listen.

Thanks for the welcome back, but I never went away. I just didn't feel I could usefully comment on the things you were writing. The blog's looking good.

strapworld said...

What, Red Nose Day for the under priviliged in the UK?

But that would stop the flights to far away places, by tearful 'celebrities, to show how we have contributed to a tap in the middle of a village in the deep rain forests? In mud huts the poor unfortunates have lived in since time began, whilst their political leaders drive around in new mercedes, with well loaded Swiss bank accounts helped by foreign aid from fools such as we!

Whilst I abhor slavery in all its manifestations, let it not be forgot that the coastal towns of Cornwall and Devon were raided by Black traders and young men and women taken back for slavery.

Also it is forgotten that child labour in this country was a disgrace, that before Dr Barnardo child beggars roamed the streets and slept in sewers.

Sorry about the rant. But I put it down to the fact that social history is not taught in school any more.

Red Nose day? Baa Humbug!

I do love the new layout by the way

finalplan said...

Well put, while this applies mainly to the liberal left here in the United states, this snobbish thinking permeates Universities and "intellectuals" aswell while our very own citizens starve in impoverished urban areas.

Wrinkled Weasel said...

Glad you dropped by again, Strappy. I thought you had popped your clogs.

finalplan, welcome to the blog - hands across the sea and great to hear from the Colonies. (Irony warning) Universities are indeed and area that has become a no go area for anyone not liberal left.

And of course, the US has a huge poverty problem that needs to be addressed. If only they spent the dollar on that.

Foxy Brown said...

Yes, there is an over-promotion of any literature not written by white males.

This extension of the obsession with anything other than England or Englishness - as opposed to British or Britishness - can be seen in the claim to have exotic ancestry. One's forbears needn't be Armenian or Indian, Scottish or Irish will do. Just don't be fully English. Too bland! Too boring!