Chamber of horrors

If we took some real risks in life, we wouldn't need to watch Russian roulette on TV.

Patrick West

Patrick West

Topics Politics
  • Chamber of horrors

The reaction to Derren Brown’s Russian roulette stunt has indeed been strange. There seems to be some inconsistency in lambasting it as irresponsible because gun crime is reportedly on the increase. Are we really worried about murderers who own weapons shooting themselves in the head? To me it sounds like a Swiftian solution.

In all seriousness though, suicide is not a laughing manner, as anyone who has experienced it in their family will know. It destroys forever those left behind. It is a clichéd expression, but suicide really is selfish. It is irresponsible to portray potentially killing yourself as a brave or admirable thing to do. For this reason, the Derren Brown programme was in bad taste, even if, as Jersey police claim, it was faked. (But it was undoubtedly gripping stuff.)

On a cultural level, it represents the further ritualisation of risk. Because we are banishing risk from every aspect of real life, we are instead taking it up as a hobby to satisfy our thirst for it. First came fairground rides, then bungee jumping and now dicing with death turned into television entertainment. Perhaps the best way to combat such exploitative television would be to allow risk back into our real lives, before the progress of science comes to a complete standstill and trains are abolished altogether. Then we could all get a ‘buzz’ by travelling on the railways or eating genetically modified foods.

  • He’s not the messiah – he’s a very annoying man

I really don’t understand why Michael Moore is being championed at the moment as the great hope of ‘the left’. If I called myself a ‘liberal’ or ‘progressive’, I would consider him a liability.

Moore, who has just released another ‘funny’ book, Dude, Where’s My County?, is not the most consistent man. For instance, this campaigner against fat cats, who tricks his way into people’s homes in order to expose them, isn’t so keen when the tables are turned. Recently, Alan Edelstein, a producer of Moore’s television show The Awful Truth, was suddenly downsized out of a job. He consequently began stalking his boss for a documentary on why the television star had put him on the street. Moore reportedly responded by calling in the New York Police Department, which had Edelstein thrown in jail and a restraining order placed on him.

Or what about the fact that this champion of the underprivileged who prattles on about his blue-collar background in smalltown Michigan is actually a millionaire who lives in Manhattan’s plush Upper West Side? Or that he sends his daughter to a private school? His grasp on Irish affairs, meanwhile, illustrates that this man really likes to do his research.

‘The British media offer a wide spectrum of editorial viewpoints. No one is left out of the political discourse in the United Kingdom. Except the Catholics of Northern Ireland’, he writes in Stupid White Men. ‘Catholics in Northern Ireland are second-class citizens whose rights are continually violated, who are kept on the lowest tier economically, and who live under the thumb of an occupational force of British soldiers.’ While the bit about the media is simply not true, his ludicrous, circa 1975 interpretation of the military presence in Ulster is not even espoused by the IRA anymore.

However in his recent book, Dude, Where’s My County?, he has surpassed himself. Its essential thesis is that people who are not Democrat voters are literally mad. Writing of his conservative friends, he concludes: ‘It’s clear that they suffer from a unique pathology that is slowly driving them insane. They are, at their core, very, very afraid. They are afraid because, ultimately, they are ignorant’. Accusing one’s opponents of being mad, rather than trying to argue with them, is of course a favoured tactic of totalitarian regimes. Having Moore employ this strategy is really doing his cause a great disservice. The same goes for his rather childish, pop-psychologist observation that conservatives are scared and stupid.

His evangelical tone endears him even less. ‘I firmly believe that many of these conservatives can be shown the error of their ways’, he continues. ‘I think there is a way to convert [them].’ Who does he think he is? An African missionary? The Spanish Inquisition? Mark Thomas? Come on, give us a break from your crusade.

Some might say I’m probably missing the point here. He’s being tongue in cheek, you say. But the problem is that Michael Moore is not remotely funny (unlike Britain’s Mark Steel, a socialist comedian and writer who I recommend to all). Moore is merely an irritating man who dresses like a bum and goes round annoying strangers. In the process he does his cause and his ‘followers’ (disciples?) no favours whatsoever. Give me free thinking libertarianism rather than bovine adulation of this tiresome messiah any day.

  • Noise pollution

A researcher at Leicester University has found that restaurants that play classical music increase their patrons’ willingness to part with their cash, and that it bumps up receipts by more than 10 percent. This is because when there is no music, people become conscious of other patrons listening to their conversations, and leave early. It is also claimed that because classical music suggests opulence and grandeur, punters react subconsciously by splashing out more on food.

Well, that’s all right for some. I loathe restaurants and avoid them at all costs – all the expense, restriction of having to sit in one place for an hour or two, the chore of tipping – so I’m not really bothered about whether they play music or not. I do, however, object to the notion that classical music is there as aural wallpaper: to get punters to eat more, to drive out burly youths in shopping centres (Hammersmith Broadway take note – piped Vivaldi at 9am is far more objectionable than smoking), or as Classic FM reminds us three times an hour, to ‘relax’.

Patrick West is the author of Conspicuous Compassion: Why Sometimes it Really is Cruel to be Kind, Civitas, 2004. Buy this book from Amazon (UK).

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Topics Politics


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