Monday, August 15, 2011

The barbarian

I don’t know whether David Starkey is a racist. I doubt very much whether he knows either, because the word has ceased to have any empirical meaning, now being little more than a Humpty-Dumpty term of socio-political abuse (see also “politically correct”). But – probably inadvertently – he has raised another issue, about black culture. Or rather cultures, as his fellow panellist Dreda Say Mitchell argued, rightly pointing out that black British people should not be defined as a group  in terms of second-hand gangsta archetypes.

But if this is the case, that there is no single, homogeneous black culture, surely the same applies to the majority (dominant, mainstream, white, British, Judeo-Christian, whatever you want to call it) culture. Starkey probably wouldn’t wish to be defined by the antics depicted on The Only Way Is Essex. Indeed, I suspect he wouldn’t wish to be defined by comparison with Simon Schama or Niall Ferguson either. And if it’s impossible to define culture at the micro-level of self-publicising TV historians, (What would the collective noun be? A pontification?) then how the hell can you do it on a broader scale? What is white culture, English or British or western culture? It’s everything, and as such is nothing.

While the neds and scallies and oiks and rudies of all colours were smashing windows and burning buildings, it was Dr Starkey who – again by accident – laid waste to culture as we know it.

(Five Chinese Crackers weighs in, with just the right combination of passion and forensics; and you’ve probably already read Charlie Brooker on bling, but anyway. And then Rhodri Marsden on how the above video clip fits into everything. You may be none the wiser, but don’t say you aren’t better informed. PS: And also something about the contribution of urban [non-]planning, by Owen Hatherley. Do I spoil you or what? That said, I might write about something unriotous next time.)


Vicus Scurra said...

Thank you. I think I am in love. I have no idea what my culture is. I do not subscribe to any of the widely held stereotypes about what it means to be British or English. I am a citizen of the world, and 99.99% of me is identical to almost all other human beings.

Richard said...

I think Starkey got caught up in his moment and quoting Enoch was plain daft. I will say what he meant to say: I get pissed off by hearing white kids affecting a cod Jamaican accent in the mistaken belief that by attempting what is no more than a modern day minstrel show they are imbued with some kind of mystical tough coolness. Whenever I venture back to London now it is embarrassing to hear and without in any way trying to be patronising, it must be hugely annoying for black communities to be associated in such a free-form manner with random and threatening violence. This isn't quite the same as Hollywood using English accents to signify crafty villainy, this is in the same manner as every East-Ender being portrayed as a mate of Ronnie and Reggie and living off the spoils of his nefarious activities at the docks. We used to pretend to be cowboys and indians but the accents stopped when we walked out of the school gates.

Geoff said...

Starkey knows his hip hop roots. DJ Kool Herc was from Jamaica. And the kids all idolise him.

Tim F said...

I've seen it argued, Vicus, that the reason white working-class youths have "become black" is because their own culture has been so reviled by the bien-pensant liberal left (as if they give a toss what Guardian readers think). Now that their adoptive culture is being torn to pieces by the right, I wonder where they'll go next? Maybe they'll all become Vicus...

Good point, Richard: it's the inability to snap out of such personas that makes it worrying; whether that persona is a Jamaican gangster, a Bullingdon toff or, as you say, a cowboy/Indian.

And wasn't Grandmaster Flash from Barbados, Geoff? The real godfathers of rap are Prince Buster and Jimmy Savile, but don't say that too loud in the Bronx.