This year's pantomime villains? Politicians and financiers
by Aditya Chakrabortty
This is the charge sheet we like to build for our public villains: immensely powerful, yet thoughtless with their power. They shuffle around billions and cause a massive financial meltdown. Or they pack off youngsters to destroy others (and themselves) in faraway wars. Oh, and they all come from the same elite backgrounds: a private education, then a stint at Oxbridge before floating down to London on a lotus leaf to enjoy careers as unarguably middle class as their Smeg fridges.
If you thought the men and women in frontline finance and politics operated in a hermetically sealed bubble, then Davis has news for you: it's worse than you think. Not only do top politicians and financiers come to their desks with little knowledge of life beyond the Commons or their Bloomberg machines, but that bubble closes in, the higher they get on the professional ladder.
Of 22 London fund managers Davis talked to, only two had any experience in industry. Unsurprising? Consider this: only two had ever visited the companies they invested in – and that was in the distant past. Instead, hundreds of chief executives and finance heads came to them. Invest in what you know, runs an old stockmarket homily; invest in what you can find out about in an hour, would run the modern version, over a glass of fizzy water and in between checking the BlackBerry.
The specialists managing your money, whether in pensions or on prisons, will do well even to gain a puddle-deep knowledge of their subject. Yet politicians and financiers both have to make big decisions at vast speed. Fund managers typically keep a portfolio of 100 companies in their head, while considering whether to buy or sell hundreds more. They might rely on brokers to provide analysis – but they also know these "double-glazing salesmen" (as one fund manager calls them) are really only touting for commission. As for frontbench politicians, Davis describes their decision-making as almost entirely "subcontracted" – with the parameters set by colleagues, or advisers, or the latest fuss in the papers.
I am not asking you to feel pity for these people, or any other such cheap exercise in false consciousness. But anyone who thinks of financiers or politicians as the great men (and, occasionally, women) of our age, making the gigantic decisions on the issues that count, is wrong.
The other impression you are left with after reading Davis's descriptions of nerve-jangled fund managers and panicky frontbenchers is that it is no wonder so many bad decisions are made in both finance and politics.
More on Burlesque
'Any body can do it'
If the content can vary in tone and quality, there are certain consistent conventions; a burlesque show can seem almost like adult pantomime. Cheers are expected at key moments of undress – it's literally rude not to – and the women in the audience tend to offer even more vociferous encouragement than the men. From one perspective, the scene's current popularity means demand is sufficiently high for mediocre acts to thrive. But from another point of view, mediocrity is an asset – that is, audiences are willing to celebrate performers simply for having the confidence to put themselves on display. Amateurism – or at least a kind of permeability between performer and audience – is sometimes the point.
At the Tournament of Tease final, for instance, two separate turns see performers rejected by men, moping to All By Myself then taking self-assertive pleasure in their bodies – one involving a lot of cake – to massive whoops of applause. In another, Betsy Boudoir, an older woman in a white two-piece suit mimes getting trapped in a lift then tearing her clothes off in a frenzy. Her timing is spot on, her enjoyment palpable. When Betsy is announced as winner, the 20-strong party accompanying her, including her mother and husband, go wild. "With burlesque, it doesn't matter what age, shape, size colour you are," Betsy – aka 48-year-old Adele Bolkansky – tells me. "It's about attitude. The human body is beautiful. Literally any body can do it."
"I really like the atmosphere here," says Lisa, a 48-year-old psychotherapist. "It's not lewd. The women chose to perform. To get up there and be proud of their body in front of 250 people is very empowering. A lot of them seem to be working through stuff in their performances. It's a bit like therapy."
Arthur's friends seem convinced, too. I ask one, Ricardo, how he found his first burlesque experience. "Very interesting," he says. "Surprisingly so. I expected the worst – some kind of strip club. My colleague has been trying to drag me here forever. But this was creative, entertaining, very funny. Now I'm upset he didn't bring me before."
Nice comment by AmandaStone:
I find any hint of men enjoying women's bodies to be sexist and disgraceful.
I like a guy with muscles though.
(This is The Guardian, right?)
Down the Road Apiece
A great way to start your day.
Eat your heart out Jules Holland . . .