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This article was written on 26 Mar 2016, and is filled under Uncategorised.

Cultural relativism is toss

Once upon a time, there was a professor at either Oxford or Cambridge. I can’t remember which and it’s not important.He gave his students a series of poems and asked them to choose the best. The one that was their favourite was a piece of doggerel called ‘Little Willie’s Woodbines’ and the professor was suitably horrified. These were the finest minds in the country and they’d chosen something which could have been written by a bored monkey with a hangover.

He, and a few others, set about creating a canon of great works that would communicate timeless values. Little Willie was out, Milton was in. In time, people pointed out, quite correctly, that a bunch of old, white men couldn’t be trusted to establish a canon of anything much and set about arguing with it, then overtly challenging it and, finally, overthrowing it. Other books came to be seen as having equal merit, the canon aged into irrelevance and, by the time the sixties rolled around, it had gone out of the window.

Which is where our problems start. We’re all about cultural relativism and, as a result, people are scared to point at something and say ‘that’s shit’ for fear of being traduced as an elitist or, worse yet, having a fixed idea of what cultural value might be. This is all fine, to an extent, but what it does is not just replace the cultural door with a new one, but take it off its hinges and then fires a rocket launcher at the space where the door used to be. Quality control, exercised over who is allowed in, is no longer hip.

Through this gaping chasm, vast numbers of charlatans have strolled. Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin are the most obvious examples, shambling, semi-talented chisellers who thought that putting half a sheep in formaldehyde was brilliant and so was having some other people stitch the names of anyone you’d ever shagged into a tent and calling it yours. I saw some sketches that Emin had once done, incidentally, in a show at the Royal Academy, and they were gratifyingly shite.

Forebear to this generation of dunderheads was Roy Lichtenstein, who simply took comic panels and blew them up so that you can see the dots. If the originals weren’t art, and all the art faction were far too in love with themselves to say they were, then Lichtenstein’s paintings aren’t either. And there’s more art in one of Jack Kirby’s bowel movements than in Lichtenstein’s whole body, but then Kirby wasn’t going to get credit for being copied and ponced out to whatever sucker would pay millions for it.

The list goes on and it certainly extends to literature. Jack Kerouac is an example, popular with students purely because he looks like someone they might like to shag. Get down to reading ‘On The Road,’ however, and it’s a terrible load of old wank. The writer claimed to have bashed it out on one long ream of paper, comprising several sheets stuck end on end, moving Truman Capote, a talent so great that Kerouac isn’t fit to fold his socks, to observe ‘That’s not writing – it’s typing.’ Well, quite, Truman. You took the words out of my mouth.

What these chancers have all been able to capitalise on is people being afraid to say how wank something is because they don’t want to look uncultured. If that cockend on BBC News, Will Gompertz thinks it’s art, then it probably is. Far be it from me to say that an unmade bed is a load of absolute arse-cabbage when we have cultural luminaries like this leading the way. I’d better keep quiet. Well, sorry. That’s a load of balls. Any fucker could call an unmade bed art, and that nobody did before, often feebly advanced as some kind of justification, means purely that nobody thought they could get away with something so preposterous.

There are many, many others. Almost every art installation is an absolute load of bollocks. I went to see an exhibition in Denmark that consisted of a badly made papier-mâché plane with some teeth in it. What was the point? No idea. If you have to read anything explaining what the point is, and it isn’t immediately obvious, then they’re wasting their time. In the same exhibition, I also saw a disc that spun around a bit when you pressed a foot pedal and once, up in Aarhus, saw a cannon firing balls of paint at a wall. It was all very enjoyable, but I have no idea what the artist meant to convey.

Which, I suppose, is rather the point. Just as literature was starting to collapse in on itself, Roland Barthes, an absolute titwank of a man I was obliged to pretend I took seriously at university, came up with the phrase ‘death of the author, birth of the reader,’ which effectively meant that you could forget any context about the person who had actually written a text and bring your own addled interpretation to it. Barthes was all about finding fissures and schisms in text and saying he didn’t know what the author meant, which is fairly useless. If I write ‘FUCK ROLAND BARTHES WITH A DEAD DOG’S COCK,’ you can imagine that my view of him isn’t favourable.

This all collapses in on itself when people stand up and say ‘I’m sorry, but that shark in aspic is a load of toss,’ or ‘Your neon installation is an unedifying load of arseclart I wouldn’t give you a fiver for.’ Or enough people, anyway. I don’t think a work of culture’s value is that easy to determine and I’m not arguing in favour of some old, posh white blokes drawing up a canon. Quite the reverse. But I think that when someone comes up with something that is self-evidently toss, we should all be prepared to call it out for what it is, and not fear being traduced. The old, posh white blokes have been replaced by sneering hipsters. Neither is any use.

It applies to politics as well. The NUS LGBT society, board, committee or whatever they call themselves have decided that gay men aren’t oppressed enough, just as others of the NUS make goo-goo eyes at people who are fairly vile, but meet the ‘oppressed’ criterion. This is wank, the NUS are fuckwits and it should be said more often. But isn’t. The list goes on and on. Art and literature are full of absolute and utter frauds who either don’t know that they’re thick and talentless or do know but are making too much money to care. Well, up your collective arses, you shits. Make your bed, bury your shark, take down your comic book tableau, burn the papier-mâché plane and eviscerate your copy of On The Road. It’s all bum.

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