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The Myth of Phoebe

So breaking the habit, if not of a lifetime, then certainly a sizeable and deliberate chunk of one, I actually watched a bit of Friends earlier on.

It was alright for a while. But then about the fifth time the audience laughed because Phoebe Said A Thing, it all got a bit too much…

See, I always felt some of the gag-writing in Friends was pretty reasonable. But then inevitably when it comes around to being time to Learn That What’s Important In Life Is The People Around Us That We’re Closest To (and we’ll be right back after these messages…) it exposes its manipulative centre, and right at the heart of it all we have the Myth of Phoebe.

You know – Good Ol’ Pheebs. Aw, look at her, she’s so quirky and adorable. Is she bollocks. She’s vain, egocentric and spiteful, and – here’s the thing – she exists solely to flatter and vindicate your sense of entitlement. She’s the one who makes it okay for you to be a dick, because it’s such a matter of warm, cosy certainty that all your friends will continue to love you for your many charming and wonderful qualities that you won’t have to go to the bother of actually having any. What do you mean, ‘you take it she used to be my favourite character’? Well screw you too.

So anyway, there we have Phoebe Buffay, in all her phonetically-rendered-so-people-won’t-pronounce-it-to-rhyme-with-‘stuff-it’ glory, sailing through the show alternating between self-centred oblivion and Gomer Pyle-level schlock sentimentality. And it falls to us to salute that same myth of quirky adorableness every time it gets run up the flagpole, or else run the risk of being… THE COMPLAINER. And, well, salute it I did. For a while. After all, nobody wants to be that guy all the time. But twenty-one years later (gee, thanks a ton for that nut-punch, Channel Five) I don’t see the point any more.

Then again, maybe I was just bummed out by being reminded of how a certain negligible cock-hole I once knew used to base his entire personality down to every last mannerism on Joey Tribbiani. So there’s that.


The Public, Pi, and the European Court of Human Rights

In a recent edition of BBC’s Question Time, a devoutly religious interlocutor was the occasion of much quizzical amusement for panellist Will Self when he, shut up, it’s perfectly obvious which one I’m talking about, described the concept of gay marriage as ‘ontologically impossible’.  It wasn’t a tactic that went well for him; he didn’t seem able to provide a great deal of clarification as to exactly in what way it was that the essential notion of same-sex conjugation is analytically negated by a theory of the fundamental nature of existence, much to everyone’s surprise. So, an own goal, then. The trouble is, considered from one point of view, such a statement is as utterly preposterous as it appears at first glance to be. Considered from another, and it’s a fairly widespread one, it actually makes perfect sense.

See, if you only accept for one moment that, as so very many people continue to believe, that this entire universe is the creation of a conscious and omnipotent entity, God, then it follows that any of the said entity’s pronouncements effectively have exactly the same ontological status as e.g. the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. If there’s a God, then its words are what calls the essential nature of reality into being. So, once you’re easy in your mind on the question of what He, She or It has actually said, it follows that the essential nature of reality as regards the point addressed will actually be unarguable and fundamental, in exactly the same way as a mathematical function.

And the thing about this is this: it’s okay. Well, it’s faintly unsettling, perhaps, but it’s okay. Have a think for a moment about a society which actually, legislatively and enforcably, prevented people from entertaining and choosing to live their live according to such conceits; shudder; move on. All of which makes it of all the more desperate importance that we define a wholly distinct arena of statements, and of societal propositions which follow from them, which are in some sense tenable and commonly establishable: an arena of statements which are of a public kind.

Because without this clarity of definition what you start to get is attempts to encroach upon and to blur the boundary between the arena of statements and propositions which are objectively tenable, and those which aren’t. Like the nurse today, who, having had her bid to be allowed to wear religious jewellery at work rejected by the ECHR, complained that there was a ‘balance between Health and Safety and moral imperatives that needed to be adjusted’.  Erm, no there ain’t. There can be no balance of consideration between the tenable and the untenable.

Or like the Tory spokesman who was on Radio 4 not but an hour ago bemoaning the decisions to uphold the sacking of the registrar who refused to conduct gay marriages, and the counsellor who refused to counsel gay couples, and who repeatedly invoked something he was pleased to call ‘common sense’. Sorry, fella*, but what you’re calling ‘common sense’ is really just the bizarrely-waddling extra-terrestrial of your own preferred value system hiding under an innocuous-looking bedsheet with holes cut for eyes.

There’s absolutely no necessary societal value in forcing people to agree on the colour of shite. But that’s what makes it all the more indispensable that we engage in formal agreement to distinguish between the colour of shite and the value of pi.


Don’t Let The Scouse-Bashers Off The Hook

Amid altogether unsurprising revelations today of the South Yorkshire Constabulary’s acrobatic dissembling over the true causes of the 1989 Hillsborough disaster, you can expect to hear sundry, equally predictable, pleas that the tragedy not be ‘politicised’. But, while the police’s original and indefensible doctoring of eye-witness evidence may be as straightforward a piece of wriggle-outery as it looks like, the question of the over-effusive running with the ball of the police-syndicated version of events by certain sections of the press and political classes takes the whole issue beyond mere non-partisan head-shaking.

Consider the matter in context. At the end of the 1980’s the city of Liverpool was widely associated in people’s minds with economic adversity.  The perception of this particular link, however fair or unfair, was especially prevalent amongst the ranks of football supporters, making it the theme of many contemporary terrace chants. Taking this fact, together with the horrific events of the day, as raw material, those elements of the right-wing establishment that took the opportunity to perpetrate the  outrageous canard that was to follow did so with a specifically political agenda in mind.

The object of the exercise was to try and create in the public imagination a link between lack of conspicuous economic success, and lack of essential moral character. They wanted to portray Liverpudlians as vermin – as sub-human animals. They accused them of urinating on the bodies of the dead and the dying, and upon those attempting to come to their aid. There should be no doubt that their aim in doing so was to erode and overturn in the mind of the imaginary voter that old, late-nineteenth century concept, the one that led, throughout the subsequent century, to our slow march towards civilization via the gradual construction of the social state: that of the ‘deserving poor’. People, runs the fundamental message being disseminated here, are poor because they are disgusting. They are poor because they are contemptible and ultimately dismissable excuses for human beings. Never suppose, we are being asked to believe, that any possible social or structural narrative exists or might exist that explains poverty from a wider perpective. People are poor because they are fucking animals. Look at them; just look at them.

And in such a fashion the narrative is constructed and the way prepared to facilitate the ongoing undermining and rolling-back of all those same social institutions that an understanding of the true nature of poverty originally allowed to develop. Tories and their fellow travellers had no global economic downturn to seize upon in those days, remember. They were content to take any opportunity to smooth the way for their preferred narrative that came their way.

This is why we should be rightly scornful of any calls not to ‘politicise’ the tragedy of Hillsborough. Here, as in so many cases, the truth has a political slant.