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Review of books

October 2012
spiked review of books
A countercultural cuckoo in a nest of super-squares

Fifi Adelsmythe

A countercultural cuckoo in
a nest of super-squares

Can we please all be upstanding for Caitlin Moran and her one-chick war against conformist society and its daft, sexist inhabitants.

O-M-F-G. Not content with having made me piss my Frost&French knickers with her book How to be a Woman - literally the funniest thing my brain has had to compute since Dawn French jumped into a puddle that was actually a hole on The Vicar of Dibley - Caitlin Moran has now published a collection of her Times columns. Loads of them! Covering everything from Lady Gaga’s vagina to Frankie Cocozza’s hair to what it’s like growing up on benefits (*sad face*). All liberated from behind Mad Rupert’s paywall and beautifully bound in a smooth, hardback tome with a cover pic of Cait in unlaced Dr Marten’s (because she’s that chilled out) and holding a TYPEWRITER (because she’s retro, people). Clutching this book in my hands - nay, clasping it to my bosom (not my boobs, thank you) - gave me the kind of kick I haven’t experienced since George Michael joined Twitter or my firstborn arrived. All I can say, in anaemic imitation of Ms Moran’s inimitable writing style, is: SCREEEEEEAM.

For those of you who live under a rock, or somewhere else in what Moran calls ‘the Sea of Bullshit’, let me fill you in on who Caitlin is. She’s a columnist for The Times. But - and here’s where it gets good - she doesn’t write about the economy (snooze) or the war in Zzzyria or any of the other things that the trillion-year-old farts who make up the rest of The Times’ staff write about. No, she writes about Glastonbury, getting pissed, being ‘so laidback and groovy that I named my second child after a Teardrop Explodes album’, why Lady Gaga is a ‘total, total dude’, and why libraries ROCK (because just walking into them gives ‘poor kids [a] fabulous, benign quirk of self-esteem’. This is so true. My local library - I say local. I’m in Dulwich, it’s in Brixton - always has poor kids in it, looking happy(ish) and, more importantly, warm). Also, she uses CAPITAL LETTERS, loads of them, which Anatole Kaletsky (funny name, not very funny guy) NEVER does, and she swears like a sixth-former, all ‘fucks’ and ‘cunts’ and things like ‘this faux-cuntiness is a cunt’s game’. She is basically - and how delicious is this? - a countercultural cuckoo in The Times’ super-square nest, singlehandedly overturning posh stuffy mores one at a time with such searingly radical observations as, ‘Do I regret spending four years off my face on skunk? No, not really.’

In essence, when those rich, pinstripe-wearing, banking fogeys (hello, dad) sit down on the 6am train from the Home Counties to London and open up their crisp copy of The Times, there is Caitlin farting in their faces (sorry, dad). Moran is justifiably proud of her role as the outsiders’ insider (or is it the insiders’ outsider? FUCK KNOWS!), so she frequently trumpets the fact that she’s carrying out a one-chick rebellion against squareness. ‘I’m at Time magazine saying “Lady Gaga’s vagina”!’, she says, of the time she was at Time magazine saying ‘Lady Gaga’s vagina’. ‘I said VAGINA on the Today show!’, she says, of the time she said VAGINA on the Today show. Inspired by such bravery, by such a saucy, relevant spin on earlier women writers’ wars against stiff rectitude, I recently hollered ‘fanny flaps!’ in the biscuit section of Fortnum & Mason. Did I get four billion retweets, like Caitlin always does? Did I bogroll! I got frogmarched to the exit by an Eastern European bloke in a security guard uniform. Only Caitlin can get away with it! I’d hate her if I didn’t lurve her so much.

But, of course, as if this even needs saying amongst us feminists, Moran doesn’t think EVERYONE should, or should even be allowed to, try to overturn conventions by blurting out frowned-upon words or whatever bullshit is lurking in their brains. This is one of the bestest things about Moran: she knows the importance of CONTEXT, and that where her shouting ‘cunt’ at Times readers is a cultural challenge to The Man on a par with anything that that has-been Simone de Beauvoir ever came up with, someone else shouting ‘cunt’ in some other situation is possibly just super-shitty and ban-worthy.

So in her column on internet trolls, she slates those ‘anonymous posters whose kink is making deliberately inflammatory comments, then getting visibly high off others’ subsequent outrage’, like the spaz who logs on to a Beyonce website only to say ‘Yeah, but she’s got a fat arse, hasn’t she?’ EXACTLY. It’s cool - nay, it’s bollocks-out revolutionary - for Moran and the ‘women of Twitter’, as she calls us, to make deliberately inflammatory comments - like holler ‘vagina’ at Time magazine!!!! - and get high off the outrage. Because we’re making a political point, which is that women’s body parts are not dirty, OKAY?, and also, if you’re outraged by our c- and v-words then you’re clearly a bit backward, totally un-with-it, and possibly a member of the patriarchy. But other people making deliberately inflammatory comments about Beyonce’s bum or Lady Gaga’s weight gain? NO. Shut the fuck up you sad sacks.

Moran is so admirably consistent in her insistence that sauciness and sexiness and outrageousness are acceptable in some instances but not in others. She is one of the brave women (I am another - *modesty blush*) who has recently declared war on Page 3, calling on the Sun to dump it in the dustbin of misogyny because, in Moran’s words, ‘Teenage tits aren’t news’. But of course, she - like the rest of us totally ‘laidback and groovy’ lezzer-friendly creatures who live like our entire lives are made of ‘cheesecloth, sitars and hash’ - loved ‘the tits’, and there were a lot of them, in ITV’s nineteenth-century Sapphic drama The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister. It’s all about context, people! Where ‘the tits’, and ‘muff diving’, in that drama were Sapphically erotic, in Moran’s words, and more importantly were watched by the kind of people who are so clued-up and clever that they’re actually interested in the nineteenth century, the ‘teenage tits’ (*shudder*) in the Sun are just vulgarly erotic, and more importantly are looked at by the kind of people who are so hard-knuckled and knuckle-brained that they probably think the nineteenth century was the 1900s (triple lolz).

Likewise, Moran wants lapdancing clubs closed down, because ‘men don’t HAVE to see tits and fannies. They won’t DIE if they don’t have access to a local strip joint.’ But she loves burlesque clubs because they’re ‘lapdancing’s older, darker, cleverer sister’. SING IT, SISTER! I have been to burlesque clubs - in fact I worked in one when I was ‘studying’ for my PPE degree at Oxford - and I can tell you they are full of the kind of people you WOULD want to have a cup of tea with, whereas the ‘local strip joint’ is full of the kind of people you wouldn’t even chuck a cup of tea over for fear they might snap your hand off with their crookedly teethed gobs. In this very collection of columns, you can turn the page from Caitlin singing the praises of the frequently scantily-clad goddess that is Lady Gaga - ‘a pop star with fire coming out of her tits’ - to a page wherein she bemoans ‘MTV hoes’ like ‘poor, cardigan-less Rihanna’, always ‘on her hands and knees with her coccyx hanging out of her knickers’. The difference - for you muppets out there who don’t Get Gaga - is that where Gaga is, in Moran’s words, ‘clearly smart and clearly hilarious’, and is thus appreciated by clearly smart and clearly hilarious people, the MTV women who ‘dress up as hoes’ are just ‘weird and unnerving’ and are probably watched by weird and unnerving teenage boys with one hand on the remote and the other on their wotsit. Feminists know better than most that it is the AUDIENCE, and the calibre thereof, which determines whether outrageousness is super-cool or just a bit shit.

Caitlin is JUST LIKE US: bohemian, un-Brazilianed, a lover of androgynous fiction, totally into Frida Kahlo and shit

But Moran’s book isn’t all cutting expressions of outrageous sentiment and hilarious ruminations on the hair and vocal failings of X Factor contestants! No, it has seeerious bits, too, including about growing up on benefits, helpfully subtitled ‘Being Poor’. Sometimes, us Women of Twitter forget that Caitlin, the wittiest of our number, grew up in Wolverhampton (?), with parents who claimed Incapacity Benefit (??), because in every other way except for those things Caitlin is JUST LIKE US: bohemian, un-Brazilianed, a lover of androgynous fiction, totally into Frida Kahlo and shit. But it’s true - Ms Moran was ONCE POOR! And you know what? I will be forever grateful for the couple of columns about Being Poor that appear in this otherwise rib-demolishing, Gagaesque collection because they have properly opened my eyes to what a pitiful existence some folk lead. I mean, of course I have always been super duper concerned about the people on benefits, and angry with the politicians and bankers (dad!!!) who threaten to take away their little scraps of food and bits of cash. But it is only when I read in Cait’s columns sentences like ‘I know what it’s like to be poor. They took away the TV and we cried’, and descriptions of dole offices consisting of ‘a shuffling queue of limpers, coughers… scared kids with mental problems’, and stories about how some people ‘rely on mercy’ and have a ‘lifetime of bread and cheese’, that I realised just what a totally rotten time loads of little people have. It’s like Caitlin has peeled back a heavy curtain to allow us Women of Twitter to have a gander at the squalor in which most peeps live and I can tell you that I for one will be picking up my phone next time Lenny Henry asks me to during Comic Relief.

Speaking of comic relief, now Caitlin is describing Boris Johnson as an ‘albino shag hound’, and I am laughing uncontrollably again, doubled up on my distressed chez lounge, another pair of Frost&French knickers totally ruined. THANKS A LOT, MS MORAN.

Fifi Adelsmythe is the rock critic at Gardener’s World Magazine.

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