Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Layer 518 . . . Feminism, Burchill, Friendship, Pampering, Whining, and Masters of the Media Universe

Julie Burchill has always been a loose cannon - a kind of anarcho-feminist. Recently she popped up (again) in the Observer with this interesting column on women, men and friendship:
Spare me from the whining women who are giving feminism a bad name
The 'girls' night in' antics on Celebrity Big Brother highlighted all that is wrong with female friendship

I have experienced jealousy, possessiveness, verbal abuse and violence from men, but I have also experienced jealousy, possessiveness, verbal abuse and violence from women, usually when I failed to respond to their advances. 
There are aspects to broad-bonding that make me feel I'd rather be a surrendered wife for an evening than have a girls' night in. At least you'd get some proper sex out of it.
"Pampering", for a start. When did women whose looks are not their living start conducting themselves like the simpering inmates of an Ottoman empire seraglio? Tellingly, spending a huge proportion of one's income on preening oneself for men's approval ("I'm doing it for me, not for men" – oh, give it a rest, you lying cow!) as a leisure option has gone hand in hand with the rise of ceaseless recreational moaning about men, and if I thought that I had to spend three-quarters of my time and money turning myself into a hairless, poreless living doll in order to get someone's affection, I'd probably resent them too. 
But the cult of pampering – like fashion – is not a thing that straight men make women do. Straight men couldn't care less – they generally just want women to have a wash, bring beer, show up and strip off. Women do it to themselves.
Sadly, a lot of what passes for feminism these days is just moaning about men, congratulating ourselves on nothing in particular, and mocking them for being big kids while doing everything we can to keep them that way.
But moaning about men doesn't make you a feminist – it just makes you a moaner who can't get along with men for reasons that are probably at least as much to do with your failings, flaws and foibles as they are with some imagined horridness on the part of men. 
Lots of women love to accuse men of being immature when the fellow in question displays a reluctance to "commit" – though what is childish about being self-sufficient and showing understandable reluctance to throw oneself into a smothery relationship with an obviously unhappy fellow human being (because surely only extremely unhappy people look to others for salvation) escapes me somewhat.
As a kid, I grew to define what I didn't want my life to be like by sitting behind moaning women on the bus, hearing them bang on about their aches and pains, both real and imagined. Too many allegedly smart women these days have merely substituted males for maladies and seem hellbent on moaning their lives away rather than changing them.
Einstein said that a definition of insanity was doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, and I think of this when I hear a friend describing men – yet again – as fuckwits. Look, hon, I want to say, if men don't suit you, go celibate. Go lesbo (but not with me, thanks) but stop moaning!
The older I get, the more I find that the friendships I treasure, which leave me wanting more, are those based around doing specific things – from the living hell of kettlebell classes to the transcendent bliss of learning Hebrew – rather than just sitting around shooting the breeze in a gender-specific environment. Because even the most well-moisturised girls' night in tends to trickle down to a pity party as the years take their toll.
Still, it's just a bit of fun, right? All girls together! Put on the Adele records, break out the cava and let's pamper ourselves stupid. But there will be tears before bedtime, more likely than not, and men for once won't be to blame. The party's over and we did it to ourselves.

Over the past few years Oxzen has banged on somewhat about economics, finance and banking - subjects not exactly guaranteed to thrill or even interest the average blog reader. Paul Mason, Newsnight's economics editor, has become a particular favourite of this blog for his work on BBC2 and for his articles in the Guardian. How interesting, therefore, to come across this excellent 3-page spread in the Observer Review:
New masters of the media universe
Before the global meltdown, financial news was strictly for geeks and struggled to get on the news. Now, financial correspondents have become celebrities
by Elizabeth Day

Over the last four years, since the global financial crisis was triggered by the bursting of the US housing bubble and the domino-like fall of a series of over-leveraged, under-regulated banks, something curious has happened to business coverage. Where once it was the preserve of financial policy wonks and secretive, high-powered bankers who liked to discuss credit default swaps over breakfast, now it has emerged, blinking, into the mainstream.
We are, it seems, a nation now obsessed by business and economics. In March, the writer John Lanchester publishes Capital, an epic novel examining the fall-out from the economic crash. A six-part docudrama about the city, produced by the team behind the psychological crime drama Luther, is being developed by the BBC.
Paul Mason, Newsnight's economics editor, says: "Our audience research has shown that despite the fact that we've massively upped our coverage of the economy, the audience wants even more. For our audience, who are very professional, Volvo-driving types, they want to see the big business people grilled."
Stories about the economy – the bailouts, the losses, the bankers' bonuses – have jumped to the top of the news agenda, replacing the slots previously occupied by political, sport or showbiz scoops.
For the first time in living memory, business correspondents are basking in the warm glow of the limelight. Every one of them I speak to recounts their own anecdote about the moment they realised their specialism had suddenly become cool.
What has driven this upsurge in interest? There have, after all, been recessions and bank collapses before (albeit not on the same scale). But the current financial crisis seems to have captured the public imagination in a particularly potent fashion.
According to Peston, the answer lies in the fact that we are now faced with an economic implosion . . .
"Suddenly it became clear in 2007, when the markets were closing down and then Northern Rock collapsed, that what was happening in these funny organisations called 'banks' mattered to all of us because, as taxpayers, we're bailing them out," he says. "We're getting poorer as a result of their actions. People just got it overnight, about how important understanding business is."
People have realised that the way money goes round the world really matters.
"As journalists, we had the immediate short-term issue, which was that people needed to understand the recession. But I like to think there is a wider civic issue too, because it's outrageous how long the public at large have been so laidback about understanding what goes on."
"It's like food: we used not to care so much about how it was produced but now we want to know what goes in it. In the same way, people need to understand that finance is about understanding how the world operates."
The desire of vast swathes of the television audience to get a grip on what is happening means there is an ever-more pressing need for a communicator to act as go-between. In the conjoined spheres of business and economics, the role of the correspondent is paramount.
Faisal Islam agrees: "At the heart of the financial crisis is complexity and people are looking for ways in which that complexity can be decoded. It poses a challenge for journalists because, essentially, complexity has been used and abused by financiers and politicians to mask what they didn't know and we, as journalists, have to explain that.
"We have to get to the bottom of what really happened at RBS or HBOS because the people who caused it really haven't been held to account."
It helps, of course, that many of the disgraced financiers are such extraordinary characters – there is nothing better designed to leaven a dry discussion of off-balance sheet securitisation than a Bonfire of the Vanities-style tale of excess, ego and self-destruction. In the UK, there is Sir Fred Goodwin, the disgraced Royal Bank of Scotland chief executive, who lavished £350m on new office headquarters, enjoyed the use of a private jet and admitted having an affair with a senior colleague in the run-up to the bank's collapse. After RBS's £45bn taxpayer-funded rescue, Goodwin left with a £342,500 annual pension.
In America, there is Dick Fuld, the former CEO of Lehman Brothers, modern art enthusiast, real-estate millionaire and a man with a manner so gruff and brutal, he was nicknamed "the Gorilla" on Wall Street.
"It's almost like a soap opera you get locked into," says Jeff Randall. "If I tell the story with dividends and yields, I've lost you, but if I tell the story of Fred Goodwin, it becomes more engaging… There are all these characters who can be power-mad, slightly crazy, venal, weak – all the human foibles – and that would make a good drama, except these people were playing for real and for higher stakes."
With friends like Facebook…
Facebook's reaction to proposals to tighten up on privacy rights shows its lack of respect for others
by John Naughton
Facebook made this announcement on its official blog: "Last year we introduced timeline, a new kind of profile that lets you highlight the photos, posts and life events that help you tell your story. Over the next few weeks, everyone will get timeline. When you get timeline, you'll have seven days to preview what's there now. This gives you a chance to add or hide whatever you want before anyone else sees it." Note the authoritarian tone: "Everyone will get timeline." Translation: you'll get it whether you like it or not. We will return to this later.
The truth is that companies such as Facebook are basically the corporate world's equivalent of sociopaths, that is to say individuals who are completely lacking in conscience and respect for others. In her book The Sociopath Next Door, Martha Stout of Harvard medical school tries to convey what goes on in the mind of such an individual. "Imagine," she writes, "not having a conscience, none at all, no feelings of guilt or remorse no matter what you do, no limiting sense of concern of the wellbeing of strangers, friends, or even family members. Imagine no struggles with shame, not a single one in your whole life, no matter what kind of selfish, lazy, harmful, or immoral action you had taken. And pretend that the concept of responsibility is unknown to you, except as a burden others seem to accept without question, like gullible fools."
Welcome to the Facebook mindset.

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