Author Archives: e.cashmore1@aston.ac.uk

WHY DO FANS HURT THE ONES THEY LOVE?

 

Q: We’re approaching the 34th anniversary of the killing of John Lennon. It seems hardly any time at all, but I guess a complete generation has passed. What’s always made that case so bizarre to me was that Mark David Chapman, the killer, was actually a fan of Lennon’s and had even got his autograph. He also said he received instructions through the central character in J. D. Salinger’s novel Catcher in the Rye. “I kind of felt I kind of was him,” Chapman speculated. Years later, he changed his motive slightly, saying: “I felt that by killing John Lennon I would become somebody and instead of that I became a murderer, and murderers are not somebodies.” But he’s never expressed anger towards Lennon and appears to have been a fan, albeit a very unusual one.

A: Well, not that unusual actually. You have to think about fans as points on a spectrum: at the one end, there are those who admire at distance; while, at the other, there are those who love and identify so completely with the artist that they have strong, sometimes overwhelming, passions that either they can’t control or don’t want to control. For example, Nathan Gale was an intense fan of the heavy metal band Pantera. After the band split up in 2003, Gale carried on following the former band members. He went to a gig at Columbus, Ohio. The band playing was Damageplan, one of the splinter bands. Former Pantera guitarist Dimebag Darrell Abbott was on stage performing, when Gale opened fire and killed him. No one quite knows why he did it because he was killed himself in the ensuing melee. He could have blamed Abbott for Pantera’s breakup, but we’ll never know. The timing of the killing December 8 2008 was surely not accident, being the 24th anniversary of Lennon’s death. There’s actual footage of the incident here:

Q: Can we still call them fans when they have such motivations?

A: I agree that we are stretching the term, but we have to acknowledge a few uncomfortable truths. First, a biological one: love and hate are intimately linked in the human brain, according to a study that has discovered the biological basis for the two most intense emotions. Loathing and adoring can result in similar acts of extreme behavior, such as killing. Fans are prone to emotion, which can feed love or hatred. Second, a sociological fact: the media has changed the way we engage with famous people. At one time, we used to read about them, but now we feel almost intimate with them. That’s because the media, especially social media, has closed the distance between us. The third point is that the passions that celebrities excite in us are, for the most part, controllable: most fans manage their habits and practices; but some manage them in a way that is destructive.

Q: I see what you mean. But, when a fan loves a celebrity so much and manages their passion in a constructive way, what makes them switch to a destructive mode? I’m thinking of that Björk fan who wanted to kill her — and himself.

A: That was Ricardo Lopez who, in 1996, sent the singer a package that, if opened, would have exploded with sulfuric acid and who videotaped himself committing suicide in a perverse supplication. The grim and tragic episode dispensed a reminder that fans can be disturbed by potentially anything. While Lopez’s motives can’t be interrogated, it was thought he became upset on learning Björk was seeing the British artist Goldie. You can see Lopez’s video diary here, but, be warned, it makes for uncomfortable viewing:

Q: I’m reminded of the scene in the 1976 movie The Omen, when the nanny throws herself out of the window with a noose around her neck after telling young Damien she loves him: “Look at me Damien … it’s all for you.” She hangs herself as self-sacrifice.

A: Yes, that seems to be the motive, except that this guy wanted to take the object of his love with him. In the event, he killed himself, but the parcel bomb never got to Björk.

Q: Maybe Lopez had somehow arrived at the thought that Björk was interested in him; does this ever happen?

A: All the time. Let me spell this out. Erotomania describes a condition in which someone believes that another, usually a person of higher social status (sometimes older), is in love with him or her. Such beliefs when held by some fans are resistant to extinction. Fans often actively create conditions under which they appear “true”: they rationalize them, making them seem perfectly reasonable. In this sense, obsessive fans control their own destinies, though only with the unwilling cooperation of celebrities. Facing one such fan, Robert Hoskins, across a California courtroom in 1996, Madonna said of his trial: “I feel it made his fantasies come true. I’m sitting in front of him and that’s what he wants.” Hoskins had made three approaches onto Madonna’s property and was shot twice by a security guard. Sometimes fans remain engrossed for years. Mark Bailey broke into the home of Brooke Shields in 1985, seven years after her film début as a 12-year-old nymphet in Pretty Baby. He was put on five years probation, surfacing again in 1992 when he made threats to Shields. Seven months imprisonment did little to stifle him. A legal order in 1998 prohibited him from ever contacting Shields, though he continued to write to her, prompting his arrest in 2000. He was carrying a three-page letter for Shields, a greeting card and a .25-caliber automatic. Occasionally, fans threaten partners. Catherine Zeta-Jones, wife of Michael Douglas, was threatened by a fan who became convinced she stood between herself and Douglas. The fan claimed she met Douglas at a party in Miami in 1999 and had a two-year relationship with him. In one of her letters to Douglas, she referred to Zeta-Jones: “We are going to slice her up like meat on a bone and feed her to the dogs.” She was jailed for three years in 2005.

Q: Incredible. The Michael Douglas case reminds of the guy in Germany who was fixated on Steffi Graf.

A: You mean Gunther Parche, an unemployed lathe operator from Germany, who was obsessed with the tennis player Steffi Graf. At his home, he built an altar in her honor. When Monica Seles replaced Graf as the world’s leading female player, Parche was stung into devising a way of restoring his idol to her rightful place. When Graf met her rival in the German Open of 1993, Parche ran onto the court and stabbed Seles, putting her out of action. During her inactivity, Graf resumed her place as the world’s number one. Parche ended up in prison, but he accomplished his mission. Graf took the number one spot. The footage of the stabbing has been taken down, but you can view the aftermath here:

Q: I bet that other tennis player Anna Kournikova had her fair share of fans too, eh?

A: Oh, too many to mention, but one in particular made big news. William Lepeska, in 2005, tracked Kournikova to within three doors of her Miami Beach residence and settled down naked at a poolside to wait for her. When police apprehended him, he implored the tennis pro-turned-model “Anna, save me!” and later explained: “I had all kinds of delusional assumptions about Anna’s feelings toward me.” Previously, Lepeska had written letters and posted messages on her webpage and though his communication was unrequited, Kournikova, like most other globally known celebrities made herself or, at least, her representations widely accessible (see below). Dave Gahan had a male fan who kept an all-night vigil outside the Depeche Mode singer’s Hollywood home. Gahan ended up headbutting the fan who then sued, claiming brain damage.

Q: Both erotomaniacs, presumably.

A: Lepeska for sure. Gahan’s fan, possibly: gay fans have much the same motivations as all others, remember. But in all the cases, the fans had got into their heads that the celeb was, in some way, reciprocating their intense feelings. Nowadays there is no shortage of media coverage, in print and broadcast, so we have raw material. So we can imaginatively make up narratives about celebs. Most of us create harmless narratives. Some clearly don’t.

Q: So, have fans just turned ugly since the rise of celebrity culture and the media that’s fuelled it, or are there historical examples?

A: Well, in 1949, American baseball player Eddie Waitkus ensured himself a dubious place in history when a female fan shot him. The obsessive fan, Ruth Ann Steinhagen, died last year (see below). All the same, the preponderance of intense fans does seem to be the result of media coverage: we know celebs much more closely than at any time in history. Being a fan today involves watching, hearing and talking about celebrities, empathizing, perhaps even over-identifying with them and compulsively collecting items, like pictures, souvenirs or other artifacts. Fans often labeled obsessive-compulsives, stalkers or even full-on headcases, do not, on this account, do anything that other fans don’t typically do. Fans who crave a special relationship with celebrities can tolerate ambiguous experiences or interpret events that buttress their personally held beliefs. Potentially damaging episodes can be neutralized, setting in motion a kind of irrefutable, self-perpetuating cycle. Compulsive behavior and obsessive tendencies characterize the fans we’ve discussed already. The point to bear in mind is there might be much more psychological resemblance between this type of fan and those who enthuse over celebs but without expressing any thoughts or behavior that might be considered inappropriate.

Q: So let’s return to Lennon’s assassin.

A: Chapman has much in common John Hinckley Jr, who attempted to assassinate U.S. President Ronald Reagan in 1981. Both Chapman and Hinckley believed they were acting as proxies for others when they embarked on their missions to kill John Lennon and wound President Ronald Reagan respectively. Chapman, as I said earlier, said he received instructions through Catcher in the Rye, while Hinckley was motivated by his erotomaniacal fixation with Jodie Foster. In these two extreme cases we can discern qualities common to most other kinds of fans, albeit taken to extremes. Hinckley in particular shares much with the fans of Björk, Graf and Kournikova, in both their spurious romantic attributions and in their delusion that they were responding to the caprice of others. “The obsessive fan who camps on the star’s doorstep has the potential to become either a murderer or a marriage partner,” the media psychologist David Giles reminds us. “The difference between the devoted admirer and the dangerous ‘stalker’ may be alarmingly narrow.” Giles was writing before the rise of social media. Armed with the force of digitized communications, fans who are vengeful, unwittingly fearsome, or perhaps just plan creepy have found a conduit for their words and images. The practice of communicating deliberately hurtful and malicious messages through social media became known as trolling, and the perpetrators, trolls; though, as Giles’s point makes clear, the difference between deliberately harmful trolls and sycophantic devotees may be narrow. Fans are blissfully aware that they share a pseudoenvironment – in this case, in cyberspace – with others, some of whom will be more virtuous, others more nefarious than themselves. Their judgments are directed at those who either are or purport to be celebrities, not each other.

RACIST? OFFENSIVE? OR POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WITH LEARNING DISABILITIES?

Q: What’s all this about?
A: Well, Peter Lilley, the Conservative MP for Hitchin and Harpenden, has been arguing for a relaxation of the laws on cannabis and was spotted wearing a lapel badge in the shape of a cannabis plant; you know, one of those leaf symbols. Anyway, the editor of a regional newspaper, the Hertfordshire Mercury, thought it would be a smart idea to photoshop an image of him, plonking rastafarian-style headgear (it’s called a tam, by the way) on his head.
Q: So? It’s not especially witty, anyway. So why the fuss?
A: Well, it got picked up by a Daily Mail journo, who tweeted it, and the response suggested some people regarded it as offensive, some even called it racist.
Q: Whoaaa! Racist?
A: Apparently. I’m not sure what the logic of this is, but I’ll take a guess: they assume that photoshopping a tam on Lilley implies that the paper is not taking the rastafarian movement and its belief system seriously and, as the overwhelming majority of rastafarian believers are black (there are a few white adherents), then this is a slight against black people. Another possibility is that they object to the immediate association between rastas and cannabis, which is still a controlled substance, despite changes in the law in recent years. So they might think this serves to criminalize rastas and, perhaps, all black people.
Q: But rastas actually do believe cannabis is a sacred “herb,” don’t they?
A: Yes. I’m only trying to think through why people were offended by this.
Q: Let’s face it: we are all much more sensitive nowadays. I was reading recently that Jeremy Clarkson has put his foot in his mouth again and posted a sign saying “Entrance to Slope” on twitter (see below). What’s wrong with that?
A: The word “slope” is derogatory slang for Asians. It’s well-known in Australia and Clarkson probably realized this, though he denied he personally posted it. I think this is different to the Lilley case because, while the word isn’t used outside Oz, it’s a pernicious term and clearly intended to insult Asians.
Q: The fact that you’ve dismissed one case as a storm in a teacup and the other as properly offensive tells me that there is no hard-and-fast rule over these matters. Isn’t is just a case of political correctness gone mad?
A: That phrase is a pathetic cliché and an excuse for not thinking through serious issues (and by the way, “mad” itself is not politically correct). I often ask if people really know what political correctness, or PC, is all about. The main source for PC seems to be French linguistic philosophy, in particular that of Michel Foucault. His analysis was important in pointing out that the production of intellect and imagination represent not so much the capacities of the authors producing them, but the relations of power and the ideologies that define the boundaries of discourse – this being, in very general terms, the context in which the knowledge is produced. Thoughts are not formed in the human mind independently of the language we use to express them. The world isn’t experienced as a series of facts, but of signs encoded in language.
Q: Hang on! I’m getting lost here. You’re saying basically that there’s a link between the way we speak and the way we think. Thought and language are closely related. So, if you change the way people speak, you change their minds.
A: That’s pretty much it. In the early 1990s, PC began its attempt to counter the Western, or Eurocentric, conceptions of knowledge by targeting language. Terms and text did not carry thought; they perpetuated it, often in an unreflected way. Apart from the more obvious cases where “black” or its corollaries were used in a derogatory way and in terms of implied abuse, PC carefully screened out all manner of words, some argue too many. For example, blackboard carries no negative connotations; same with manhole, this isn’t sexist. Any word with a vaguely sexist or racist inference, or one that reflected poorly on disabled persons, the aged, or the young was anathema. Despite the derision typically afforded PC, its influence spread, albeit surreptitiously and sensibly. “Actresses” became actors, to avoid a gendered the term. Flight attendants replaced “air hostesses” or “stewardesses” for the same reason. Comedians specializing in racist material faded away, as did drama that depicted minority groups in baseless negative ways. Well perhaps not completely faded away; I know this guy Dapper Laughs has been in the news recently.
A: I see, so the effects of PC are all around us. I mean, we wouldn’t use words that devalue women or dehumanize ethnic minorities, at least not unless we deliberately wanted to express racist thoughts.
Q: That’s right. So PC has actually been a positive force overall. The problem is when people seem to search out any tiny item that appears to deviate and elevate it into a big issue. Making a big deal of the Lilley case makes everyone grumble so much that, when a genuinely offensive case crops up, we tend to think, “Oh not again.” I think Clarkson takes advantage of this. He probably knows the boundaries and pushes against them, confident in the knowledge that many people will assume he’s essentially a nice guy, but a bit careless. I’m not so sure. No one owes up to being a racist today: we look for instances of racist behaviour — in what they do, say or write. That’s how you judge someone.

SURELY YOU CAN’T BLAME WALTER WHITE FOR THE RISE IN CRYSTAL METH … CAN YOU?

Q: You’ve been all over the media lately. What’s all this about Breaking Bad and the rise in crystal meth use? You’re kidding, right?
A: Well, there’s a report that there has been a sharp rise in the use of crystal meth across Europe and the upturn started at almost exactly the same time that the US show came on our screens.
Q: And the narrative of the show is about a chemistry teacher Walter White (Bryan Cranston), who is diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer at the beginning of the series. He turns to producing and selling crystallized methamphetamine, in order to secure his family’s financial future before he dies. His partner in crime is Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul). Their transformation from crystal meth cooks into industrial-scale drug producers reflects a well-documented phenomenon in the US. But when the series started in 2008, hardly anyone had heard of crystal meth over here.
A: That’s exactly the point: people started to get curious about this interesting new drug and its effects, so started to make inquiries. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not arguing that this is cause-and-effect. I know some scholars think watching tv changes our behaviour; for example, some swear the amount of violence we see on tv and in movies has translated into actual violent behaviour on the streets. But I don’t buy this at all. So I wouldn’t want to exaggerate the relationship between Breaking Bad and crystal meth use. Equally, you’d have to be naive to think the media doesn’t affect us: it shapes, influences and changes us in all sorts of ways.
Q: But the series is hardly an advertisement for the drug. Matter of fact, it depicts the destructive consequences of longterm crystal meth use.
A: Agreed. That’s not the point. The mere fact that it is a key part of the show’s plot gives it power. We are inquisitive animals and inevitably probe. Nobody just watches television inertly, that is without thinking about it. Watching tv is like reading a book: we engage our minds. So the human spirit of inquiry has stimulated interest in the drug and, eventually, this has translated into more widespread use.
Q: As always, the Cashmoronic theory has picked up more than its fair share of critics. Don’t you think you’ve put your foot in your mouth again?
A: I’m used to it. Anyway, I think it’s spurred an interesting debate. I agree with the critics who argue television doesn’t change our behaviour in any direct way. I’m not arguing we watch the show and rush out to find where we can score some crystal meth any more than we watch Twilight and start biting people’s necks to find out what blood tastes like.
Q: Hang on! I read somewhere there has been a rise in vampirism since Twilight took off.
A: Mmmm. Well, I’m not going that far. Television, like other parts of the media, isn’t just a screen in the corner of the room, or on our tablets. It’s a source of information that we use, not abstractly, but in practice. Film and internet sources affect us, but television remains a dominant influence on us. Advertisers wouldn’t spend so much money on commercials if they thought we remained unmoved. Dramas that portray social issues often sign off with something like, “If you have been affected by any of the issues show in this programme, contact … ” We are affected by tv. I think that much is beyond dispute. Its effects are not always predictable. Anyway, I must leave you know. The X Factor is starting soon.

ARE WE ALL NARCISSISTS?

Q: Who’s that in the picture?
A: Renée Zellweger.
Q: What? It looks nothing like her. That’s her in the picture below.
A: Trust me: it’s Renée herself. She’s been off the radar a bit lately, but she’s back in the news now, largely because of the transmogrification.
Q: Eh?
A: It means a surprising, even magical transformation.
Q: Everything about her seems different; what happened?
A: She attributed the change to “living a different, happy, more fulfilling life.” Most people assume she’s had some plastic surgery: a blepharoplasty, or upper eyelid lift, possibly forehead lift and some injectable fillers that have widened the planes of her face. She might also have had some laser or ultrasound procedures that tighten the skin. In her case, everything seems to have gone relatively according to plan. She doesn’t look much like the “Bridget Jones” we all know, but she’s OK. Which is more than we can say for the British woman who died in Thailand a few days ago. She’d already had some plastic surgery done at a Bangkok clinic and had returned for some more work. This time, it went terribly wrong and she stopped breathing after receiving the anaesthetic.
Q: So why is everyone going crazy to have their faces changed? Is it the search for eternal youth?
A: In the 1960s and perhaps until the 1980s cosmetic surgery was a luxury reserved mostly for stars and elite white women. Now there is a much more access. The surgery is still expensive, but many more people are prepared to pay whatever it costs to effect the modification, and, if they can get it cheaper in Asia or elsewhere, they’re prepared to travel. The reason for this is simultaneously simple and complex. People are increasingly unhappy, frustrated or in some way discontented with their own bodies. Why otherwise would they want them changed? That’s the simple part. What isn’t so clear is whether they have become more — or less — dissatisfied in recent years and why they are opting for what can be discomforting and dangerous procedures, which are usually followed by a painful post-op period. The late American writer Christopher Lasch wrote about what he called The Culture of Narcissism that emerged in the 1970s. One of the most pronounced tendencies to emerge from this climate was “the therapeutic outlook,” in which, as Lasch put it, “the individual endlessly examines himself for signs of aging and ill health, for tell-tale symptoms of psychic stress, for blemishes and flaws that might diminish his attractiveness.” Youth has a special value in today’s culture: no one wants to grow old, but there are prescribed ways we can slow down the process. Exercise, healthy eating and stress-free living can put the brake on for a while, but ultimately the physical appearance needs more drastic interventions. What’s new though is the number of young people who are opting for surgery. The woman who died in Bangkok was only 24. As of now, we don’t know what kind of procedure she was due to have: it could have been some facial work or maybe breast augmentation. Either way, she wanted to change her physical appearance and the lengths to which she was prepared to go suggest how much emphasis we all place on this.
Q: Have we always been narcissistic?
A: It’s a good question — by which I mean: I don’t have a ready answer for you. I think the very fact that we are self-conscious animals means we are aware of our physical presence and, as we interact with others, we become conscious of the fact that other people make evaluations of us based on physical qualities. In that sense we have always been narcissists. I agree with Lasch that, since the 1970s, we’ve placed more and more stress on our appearance, at the same time making every effort we can to maintain a look that we find agreeable. I also believe celebrities have an impact: we tend to look at their faces, bodies and clothes and want to emulate them. We can approximate their appearance quite closely now, thanks to plastic surgery.
Q: You mean we’re all trying to look like our favourite celebs?
A: No, I don’t mean we deliberately set out to look like someone else, although there have been many cases of people striving to resemble JLo, Brad Pitt and others. But celebrity culture has brought with it an even greater accentuation on physical appearance and we’ve responded by paying closer attention to the way we look to others. I don’t necessarily think this is a destructive trend. But every time we look at Renée, we should also remind ourselves that less fortunate enthusiasts of plastic surgery are dying in their efforts to look good.

Why the Rooney Rule won’t work in England

CORPORATIONS RATHER THAN THE FA ARE LIKELY TO PROMPT CHANGE

 

Chris Powell, manager of Huddersfield, is one of only two black managers in England’s 92 league football clubs. How can we change this?

Q: We’ve been hearing a lot about this Rooney Rule lately. What’s it all about?
A: The Rooney Rule was introduced by the National Football League (NFL) to address the shortage of African American head coaches in American football. The playing staff of most NFL teams was dominated by black players, yet there were so few head coaches, that it became an embarrassment. In 2003, Dan Rooney, the owner of Pittsburgh Steelers at the time, came up with the idea of stipulating that, when clubs interviewed candidates for head coach jobs, they should always include a black candidate on the short list.
Q: And did it work?
A: To a large degree, yes. It surprised me that there was little resistance from the clubs and, over time, African American head coaches began filtering through. So, while there were — and still are — critics, the results were evidence that it was effective.
Q: It sounds similar to the British Labour Party’s policy of including at least one woman on shortlists when they were considering political candidates to contest elections. That worked too. So why haven’t we already road-tested the Rooney Rule over here?
A: First of all, many people don’t think there is an underrepresentation of black managers in football over here. If you compare the handful of black managers with the number of black players, there is a problem. But, if you look at the picture in terms of the wider population, then the minority seems a reasonable reflection of the number of black people in British society generally. Second, the NFL is a much stronger organization than the Football Association and runs the league very strictly. Clubs are not allowed to negotiate their own sponsorship and kit deals and there is no transfer system; clubs recruit players through the yearly draft, which is strictly controlled. The amount of independence clubs have over here would be unthinkable in the US. This means that Premier League and Football League club owners would almost certainly resent the FA’s intrusion into what they regard as their business.
Q: But Uefa is imposing Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations, so that’s interference, isn’t it?
A: It is and, already, clubs are fighting it. I think FFP is a good idea and would, if implemented, prevent the perpetuation of a small elite of European clubs. But I fear it will face bitter resistance from club owners, who just don’t like being told how to spend their money. Similarly, I think they would resent being told whom to interview for managerial jobs.
Q: All the same, their arms could be twisted, couldn’t they?
A: I’m not sure. You can bet club owners would engage their legal teams to challenge the legality of the Rooney Rule. Even if they didn’t have the stomach for a legal fight, they could simply pay lip service and include a black candidate on short lists. This would be a form of tokenism.
Q: Surely, when managers are appointed, they are often approached privately and there aren’t interview panels as with regular jobs.
A: And that would also rankle: imagine telling club owners like Roman Abramovich or Sheik Mansour that they have to convene interview panels.
Q: If you don’t think the Rooney Rule would work, what would?
A: It depends whether the corporations that pour money into clubs think there is a problem or not. If the likes of Chevrolet, or Samsung or Emirates decided that there is genuinely an under-representation and don’t want their names associated with the traces of racism that this suggests, they could put pressure on the big clubs to try new initiatives. That would make a big difference because clubs will do anything rather than upset the corporations that feed them.
Q: So you’re saying a form of positive discrimination would be possible?
A: I think so, but I doubt if clubs would declare it openly. If, for example, Chevrolet, which has its headquarters in Detroit where 83% of the population is African American, decided United should take some action, my guess is that the club would respond. Chevrolet pays United £47 million per year to have its logo displayed on the players’ shirts.
Q: As usual, you think money talks in football, right?
A: No doubt about it. The FA will have no joy if it tries to push the Rooney Rule on clubs. But the sponsors with the big money can gently suggest a change and chances are it will happen. But the Rooney Rule, for all its effectiveness, would prove very unpopular with English club owners. They will please themselves no matter what the FA or anybody else decrees.
Q: Finally, I’m getting the impression that you don’t see this as a huge problem. Am I right?
A: I don’t see it as a monstrous problem because I don’t think football management is much of a career path for the vast majority of people. What’s the average reign of a football manager? Twelve months is the answer. Like sport itself, we tend to look at the conspicuously successful figures as typical. They’re anything but: football management is an inherently unstable, unpredictable and often precarious job. Maybe black players, when they’re approaching the end of their playing careers, look elsewhere rather than automatically switch to coaching or management. My guess is that they have their heads screwed on and are not queuing up to be managers. Perhaps the more pressing problem is the over-representation of black people in professional football: again, the small number of successful players disguises the dozens of thousands of other young people who plough all their energies into pursuing a career in football, only to have their hopes dashed. The high number of black players suggests that black people are finding alternative career opportunities harder to come by.

Link
Imagine it is 1965: you are asked which of Britain’s two recently arrived migrant populations will integrate more readily. Your first reaction might be to review recent evidence. Caribbeans come from Christian backgrounds, speak English and are familiar with many British institutions, including an educational system they venerate. In this sense, they need no cultural street guide. The landscape for South Asians is unfamiliar, perhaps even forbidding. Many do not speak English, have no places of worship, or shops from where they can buy their favoured food. Some dress in ways that attract stares. They look set to become an anomalous presence.You resume your accounting 20 years later and, to your surprise, a seemingly permanent underclass of unemployed Caribbeans is now, as research indicates, trapped in a downward spiral of underachievement at school, followed by crime and imprisonment. The stability of the family appears under threat, Christianity is being challenged by the rise of Rastafari and disintegration looks likely. Brixton, Handsworth and other inner-city areas are ablaze, as young blacks serve notice of a crisis.
South Asians, meanwhile, have diffused into commerce, built their own places of worship, worked their way into higher education and are slowly, but cumulatively progressing into the professions. You have to reckon with a kind of Law of Rebounding Returns: every time, they encounter a rebuff, Asians bounce back with renewed determination. While the achievers are held up as exemplary minorities, the lesser-achieving mortals draw scant approval, and even then only for their non-confrontational response to their predicament.Another 20 years: evidence in 2005 further complicates matters. Britons of Indian descent vie with the much smaller Chinese population as the country’s educational high-performing elite, while others, in particular Pakistanis and Bangladeshis (90 per cent of whom are Muslims), struggle in both education and in the desirable professions. There is talk of voluntary segregation, but for the most part British Asians, as they are now called, have ticked all the boxes of integration. Well, almost all of them: a bomb attack in London suggests a rage among some sectors of the population. It triggers retaliatory violence reminiscent of the 1970s, only this time called Islamophobia (though the violence seems to be directed to anyone who appears to be of Asian origin, regardless of faith). Arson raids on mosques and Asian-owned shops become commonplace. Imams are habitually assaulted and hate crimes against Asians contribute to a climate of perplexity and fear.
A few days ago British Prime Minister David Cameron declared: “Adhering to British values is not an option or a choice.” Cameron also announced his government will consider “specific and discretionary” powers that would prevent British terrorist suspects from returning to the UK. At least 500 British nationals, mostly of Asian background or descent, have fled their home country to fight in bloody conflicts in Iraq and Syria alongside extremist groups. Radicalization is the term we use to describe their conversion to the worldview offered by Islamic State, or IS, the Sunni jihadist group that claims authority over all Muslims and claims to be establishing a caliphate, or Islamic state, on the territories it controls in Iraq and Syria. Britain is not alone: several western nations, including France, Germany and the USA, have seen citizens enthusiastically adopting the IS ideology. Recent studies show how British Muslims feel victimized by discriminatory policing, sentencing and negative media reporting. This perception informs a self-understanding as a deviant presence.  So, when young Muslims become aware that, since September 11, 2001, there has been what some understand as a progressive attempt to destroy Islam, they relate their own experiences vicariously to the global situation. The hostilities in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Palestine and elsewhere shape their awareness, suggesting that the worldwide conflict between Muslims and non-Muslims affects the mindset of young people physically removed from the actual conflict. The so-called ‘war on terror’ is imagined as a war on Muslims in the eyes of some British Asians.The global conflict provides a schema — a plan or outline that helps make sense of the world. Believing you are the victim of oppressive, prejudicial policing makes sense if you accept that you are part of an unjust exercise of force that forms a wider pattern. Some have suspected that the renewal of Muslim identity is the effect rather than the cause of conflict in Britain, though there is evidence that forms of allegiance focused on place, nationality, class or profession appear to lack an encompassing worldview and are less persuasive that the most powerful and reaffirming outlook offered by IS. At a different time in history, the behaviour of some young British Asians might be symptomatic of their estrangement from a society in which their access to education, political positions or high-ranking jobs was restricted by institutional racism. These would have been citable reasons in the 1980s, but not in the twenty-first century. Something truly incredible is going on.
Some young Muslims have linked their own situation to a global struggle. Radicalization is not the result of brainwashing, but of re-socialization: experiences of racism and exclusion have weakened the plausibility of the vision of the world offered by the parents and others. Cognitively and affectively young Muslims have switched focus to an alternative conception in which the world is divided starkly between Islam and all others. Cameron’s measures to withdraw passports, citizenship and “de-radicalize” are well-intended, but misunderstand the fundamental causes of the radicalization of Muslim youth: it is right here on the streets of Britain, in the everyday interaction of young Asians. The crisis may be in Syria and the middle-east; its roots lie in places like London, Birmingham and Manchester. @elliscashmore
 

KATE BUSH: A SINGULAR WOMAN

“In the 1970s, women were expected to look good and sing, not innovate creatively”

Bushmania sweeps the nation before comeback gigs

Q: So Kate Bush is making a comeback after 35 years. Her last concert was in 1979. She’s making her return at Hammersmith Apollo. She’s doing 22 nights and every seat was sold in 15-minutes. This promises to be the biggest musical event of the year. Agree?

A: No doubt about it. At 56, Kate Bush has lost none of her mystique. Quite the opposite in fact: her 35 years as a relative recluse have deepened her enigma, made her more thrillingly mysterious than ever.

Q: Well, for people of your generation maybe. She surely can’t appeal to younger people, can she?

A: I’m not so sure. I think she’s a woman for all time. You’ve got to remember, when Kate emerged there were plenty of women singers, but, with the exception of the American Laurie Anderson, there was no female equivalent of, say, David Bowie, John Cale, Bob Dylan or Lennon and McCartney, who experimented with music, dance and other art forms. Kate was the first woman to innovate with music and dance and, in her unique way, mixed and meshed genres. So, I’d say she has a timeless quality.

Q: Why was it so unusual for a woman to be a genuine innovator?

A: In the 1970s, women were expected to look good and sing. Don’t get me wrong: the likes of Donna Summer, Diana Ross and Cher were tremendous. Over here, women such as Siouxsie Sue, Elkie Brooks and others were producing original material, but Kate Bush (pictured above in the 1970s) seemed to come out of nowhere. There were no obvious influences on her work. Apparently, she taught herself how to play a piano and started composing her own songs, then learned dance from Lindsay Kemp, who also taught Bowie. So when “Wuthering Heights” came out, no one knew what to make of it. Think about the very concept of writing a song based on a Brontë classic then performing it as she did. Now, we see women who seem bursting with creative energy and refuse to stick to traditional boundaries. Think of PJ Harvey, St Vincent, Joan as Police Woman (picture below), Bat for Lashes, for example. In the 1970s, there were no female artists ready to challenge like these; and even if they were, they would not stand much chance of commercial success. Kate was a real one-off in this sense. After her, the music industry started to take women as creative artists more seriously.

Q: So why did she just disappear?

A: I’m not sure I can answer that. She has never explicitly said. Celebrity culture was probably a daunting prospect: she never liked engaging with the media much, so she may have foreseen what was coming in the 1980s when women like Madonna appeared and were prepared to get in bed with the media, so to speak. She was also upset when two of her close friends died with Aids. And if you take a look at her concerts on YouTube, you’ll get some idea of how her act was an entire performance rather than a series of songs. So maybe it required too much commitment. The irony is that, during her period away, interest has remained and, as I said earlier, grown in her absence. That’s why tickets for her concerts are reputed to be going at £5,000 a pop.

Q: You’re a fan then?

A: I think you can admire someone and acknowledge their impact without necessarily liking their output. I thought her early work was stunningly original and the 1985 album Hounds of Love was brilliant, but I wouldn’t say I was a devoted fan. But she was the first woman to break the mould and I think you have to accept that she was one of the most influential musical figures of the twentieth century and beyond. I think you could properly call her revolutionary.

Kate Bush’s 1979 concert:

 

 

 

IS KATE MOSS WORTH £20 MILLION?

Vicarious consumption is the key to understanding why we think she is worth it

Q: I see Kate Moss is worth £20 million. I knew she was pretty well-off, but usually a model’s earning power seems to decline as she gets older. Kate’s 40 now. I see you’ve commented on her staying power in the Observer (above). But I wanted to ask you a different question: how do we Brits look at seriously rich celebrities?

A: Interesting question. Of course, Kate is rich, but not super-rich. I mean, Bill Gates, the richest man in the world is worth about £30 billion and counting. Simon Cowell is now worth £300m. David Bowie’s return last year saw his wealth expand to £135m. Pete Cashmore (no relation), who started the social media blog Mashable from a room in his parents’ house near Aberdeen, is said to be worth £120m. But I take your point: we don’t resent these people having so much money.
Q: But I can remember when we begrudged the rich having so much money, while the rest of us scrambled to make a living. When I was a student the rich were a class apart; in a sense they were the enemy in the class war. What happened?
A: First of all, we’ve seen the rise of a new class of rich people who have made their fortune not from industry, or business, but from services, specifically sport, media and other parts of what we might describe as popular entertainment. Think of the three rich Brits I named above: we’re all consumers of their products. Even if we don’t watch The X Factor, or buy Bowie albums, or use Mashable, we are all part of a culture in which these are integral parts. We’re surrounded by their products and effects.
Q: This is something to do with consumption, isn’t it?
A: It is. We used to place a lot of importance on how much money people had. Now we’re interested in how they spend it. So we read about how much money Kim Kardashian (below) earns, and we know she has what most people regard as limited, if any, talent. But do we begrudge her the money? Not while we get so pleasure from reading about her £6 million ($10 million) wedding. We expect wealthy celebrities to entertain us.
Q: Hang on. You’re saying we enjoy watching other people’s extravagance? We don’t mind them squandering  ridiculous amounts of money?
A: That’s it, yes. Think of footballers and their cars. We’ve got past the point when we complain about the so-called obscene amounts of money they earn. We realize that they can earn that much because we’re prepared to pay so much to watch football and buy the products they advertise. So we expect them to provide us with amusement, not just on the football field, but in the way they waste their money. We find this gratifying.
Q: It’s a kind of vicarious consumption, right?
A: Good term: vicarious consumption. We experience in our imaginations how it must be to spend lavish amounts of money.
Q: But how about wealthy industrialists? They don’t entertain us.
A: Name one.
Q: Err …
A: Let me name a few: Srichand and Gopichand Hinduja, combined wealth, £11.9bn. Paul Sykes, the entrepreneur and property magnate who helped fund UKIP, has a fortune of £650m. We don’t get to hear about these people. If we did we would probably feel resentful and aggrieved that they have so much money, but don’t give us any value. I’m not saying they don’t create jobs, generate taxes and make a sizeable contribution to the UK economy. But they’re not in the media. That’s where we like the rich to be — right in our faces so we can see how they’re spending their money and, hopefully, getting into trouble doing it. Imagine if David and Victoria Beckham (worth £210m) stopped appearing in the media and drifted into obscurity. Not that this is likely to happen soon; but we’d think we were not getting much value out of them.
Q: So you’re saying consumption is so important now that we actually consume the rich.
A: That’s pretty much it: we know they’ve got rich thanks to our money and we want something back in return. As long as we are reminded about their expensive clothes, cars, houses, yachts, weddings and so on, we don’t mind. So I know people think Kate Moss has got rich just by appearing in fashionable places and looking good. But it wasn’t so long ago she was called “Cocaine Kate” and criticized for her dissipated lifestyle and her dodgy choices in men. She’s hardly ever been out of the limelight. And we’ve enjoy the Kate narrative so much, we’d probably miss her if she dropped off the radar.
Q: Let me summarize: while some time ago we were resentful of people who had a lot more money than the rest of us, we accept rich celebrities nowadays on the condition that they spend their money and maintain a lifestyle that we enjoy, albeit vicariously.
A: Yes. And remember: consumption isn’t just about buying stuff over the counter or online — though this is part of it. But it’s also about engaging with public figures, reading, watching, judging and talking about them in a manner we find agreeable. As long as they continue to amuse us, we’re prepared to accept their wealth. In other words, Kate Moss is probably worth her £20 million. @elliscashmore