1980s >> 1987 >> no-995-july-1987

Running Commentary: Who’s a Beastie Boy, then?

Who’s a Beastie Boy, then?

Their name was a warning of what to expect but there was still much outraged surprise when the American pop group the Beastie Boys flew into Britain some weeks ago on a jet stream of invective. The fame which preceded them was based on incidents such as their warmly greeting some disabled members of their audience as “fucking cripples”. They went on to perform at “concerts” which featured a predictable uproar.

At an event in Brixton there was something akin to a minor riot. In Liverpool some of the audience tore up seating for missiles to add to the cans of beer which were flying backwards and forwards. When the group left the stage tear gas was fired into the crowd. Presumably some music (actually the Beastie Boys specialise in “rapping”, or talking to a rhythm) was played at some point in these proceedings.

As a result the leader of the group. Adam Horowitz, was charged with causing grievous bodily harm to a girl in the audience who was said to have been on the receiving end of a can of beer which he threw.

Their leader’s court appearance was an ideal opportunity for the group to grab the headlines again in a show of what incorrigible. fearless rebels they are. They might, for example, have described the magistrates as “fucking geriatrics” or something similar. But it was not to be; the case was notable for a distinct absence of reckless defiance. Horowitz’s solicitor told the court that he is not an outrageous anarchist but a good boy who is close to his father (who is an eminent film producer); their lives are “intertwined”. The group’s reputation for madness and mayhem is no more than an image.

It is not uncommon for some entertainers — musicians, comedians, boxers, tennis players among them — to grow fat on the proceeds of a reputation for abusive and disruptive behaviour. Sometimes this is deliberately created by a cynical publicity machine. While in some cases a genuine ability may lurk behind this nonsense, it is not unknown for a talentless void to be covered by such outrageous, publicity-obsessed gimmickry. A lot of people were anxious to pay to watch John McEnroe (who had real talent) play tennis in the hope of seeing Super Brat get his comeuppance. A lot of people buy newspapers to thrill with anger at the latest excesses of groups like the Beastie Boys, whose talents are not yet as apparent as McEnroe’s.

It all expresses the appalling decadence of capitalism, where cash is king and whatever makes money, however execrable it may be, has to be good.

Fast food philosophy

The Wimpy burger chain are clinching a deal with Bulgaria to set up trash-food joints in that Russian-bloc country. Wimpy’s marketing director, Trevor Barnes, said on BBC Radio Four (Friday 20 March) that he wanted to “put across a philosophy” in the famous buns.

A fascinating example of metaphysics here — the trans-substantiation of hamburgers into philosophy. Better watch it, the next time you tuck into a Wimpy (if you can bear to, that is): strange things may begin to happen inside your stomach and brain.

They already have, obviously, inside Trevor Barnes’s. . . .

Nostalgia

The fortyish middle-management people with 1.8 children, a Volvo and a building society to support, yearn for those balmy student days of ’68 when they took part every week in the demonstrations intended to revolutionise society. Now, when they read the Sunday heavies, the colour supplements are full of nostalgia — forties furniture, fifties fashion, sixties music. Victorian values, all carefully packaged, sanitised, made desirable. There’s money in nostalgia.

Stand in a Post Office queue when the pittance called a pension is being collected by someone whose life has unwittingly been devoted to the continuation of capitalism. Ask them about the good old days. Listen as they recount stories of hardship and poverty. Finally they tell you. with pride, “Everyone was happier then”. Through NHS rose-tinted spectacles, they remember balls of whitewash, the sixty-hour week (if you were lucky enough to have a job), fighting for their (?) country and being skint three days after pay-day.

SuperMac said, we’d never had it so good. Did he mean us? As a member of the producing but non-possessing working class, you’ve never had it at all. Every politician both before and since has endeavoured to con the working class that the capitalist system of society is the only one capable of fulfilling the workers’ aspirations. But if these are the good times we’ll all back on tomorrow, the future appears quite bleak. Colour television sets, 200 shares in British Telecom and Ford Fiestas are a poor panacea for the ills of the working class.

Poverty, homelessness, wage slavery, making do with second best, are these the things that we want to be nostalgic about? Forget about the past, look to the future. Look to Socialism.

Business as usual
Obviously assuming that no one would object to such an assault on their visual senses, a company called Henderson Administration took advantage of the election furore to publish an advert showing photographs of every prime minister since Ramsay MacDonald in 1934.

It was an uncomforting sight. Baldwin in his bowler hat and wing collar; Chamberlain looking stubborn; Attlee smiling diffidently; Eden earnestly handsome; Callaghan grumpy; Thatcher strong and noble. . . .

“Since our formation in 1934” said the advert. “We’ve seen 21 general elections and 12 Prime Ministers”. Through all that time — bull and beer markets, war and peace. Henderson has succeeded and has grown. Now it describes itself as one of the largest “independent” (whatever that may mean) investment management firms in Great Britain, organising over £7 billion worth of investments.

Now this is very illuminating. A general election is — every one of those 21 was — an opportunity for the capitalist political parties to make extravagant claims about the blissful progress which would follow their return to power and then to warn us about the awful consequences of victory for their opponents. To elect the other side, they have asserted, is to risk a rapid descent into ruin and decay.

Since Ramsay MacDonald’s nominally National administration the people of this country have experienced Conservative, Coalition and Labour government. They have tried them all. While all this has been happening, through all the changes, amid the parties’ promises and threats, the normal, essential business of capitalism has carried on. Money has been invested; workers have been exploited; fortunes have been amassed; a small class of social parasites has kept its privileged, secure, opulent position.

The small segment of British history contained in that advert told us that anyone who voted on the assumption that they were making a choice about society was wrong. They were wasting their time and their vote. Whatever the parties called it — the Tories with their people’s capitalism, the Labour party with their “socialism” — the social system remained the same. Whoever was prime minister capitalism continued with all its problems of repression, war, poverty, famine, disease.. . .

Come the next election the same advert could well reappear, with another photograph as the only difference. The smug message, on behalf of the ruling class to the working class voters, will be the same. We’re doing very nicely, thanks for keeping it that way.