Category Archives: vulgarity

On slappers

Dalrymple remarks that slappers

are notable for their vulgarity.

What lies behind Grant’s adoption of gutter language?

Dalrymple explains that Hugh Grant (left) was the star of the film Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994) and once had some kind of trouble with the police

A tweet by the actor and thinker Hugh Grant, addressing the British prime minister, reads:

You will not fuck with my children’s future. You will not destroy the freedoms my grandfather fought two world wars to defend. Fuck off you over-promoted rubber bath toy. Britain is revolted by you and you [sic] little gang of masturbatory prefects.

Dalrymple comments:

No doubt the space allowed by Twitter does not encourage profound or logical reflection (though in the Analects, Confucius manages concision and compression somewhat better than Mr Grant). What is important in the above mental eructation is not its thought, or even feeling, but its mode of expression.

Grant’s dull and tedious adoption of the language of the gutter is

much more significant in the long term than Brexit or the actions of the prime minister. It points to the cultural degeneration of a nation that, insofar as it has an ideology at all, has made vulgarity posing as egalitarianism its ideology.

Grant’s greatest rôle: defender of freedom and democracy

Grant, says Dalrymple,

if I have understood correctly — though I am open to correction — has made something of his character as an upper-middle-class Englishman. But he is at one with the British cultural élite in vulgarity of expression.

We may be sure that,

irrespective of what the prime minister does, Mr Grant will be able to arrange for a bright future, at least in the material sense. We may be sure that, if any government were to threaten that assured material future by genuinely and inescapably egalitarian economic measures, his howls of indignation would be a good deal more sincere than in the tweet above.

Dalrymple notes that vulgarity as an ideology

is a substitute for economic egalitarianism, in which neither I nor the ideological vulgarians such as Mr Grant believe, and which both of us fear. Mr Grant, however, thinks that he can deflect some of the envy no doubt directed at him if he can show by his employment of vulgar language that he is really in the same boat as the most subterranean members of the underclass. He is asserting some kind of equality with them by his use of debased and inexpressive language.

The tendency to act down,

which occurs in spheres other than language, does not derive from any guilt about social or economic inequality, which, on the contrary, it is designed to preserve and maintain. It is rather a camouflage or smokescreen for privilege, whether that privilege be earned or not. But though it is playacting — indeed, defender of freedom and democracy may be Mr Grant’s greatest rôle — it is not without real cultural effect, an effect that is baleful if you do not approve of the coarsening that it brings with it.

Moreover,

lack of verbal restraint is not liberation, it is impoverishment of thought.

Vulgarity of expression in the British cultural élite

Leafing through the cultural section of the Observer, which Dalrymple explains is

the Sunday newspaper of the intelligentsia (at least, that part of it that still reads a newspaper),

he comes across the following statement, by a playwright called Lucy Prebble, about her latest work:

It’s a risky, clumsy motherfucker, this play.

The accompanying picture is of the playwright,

dressed in a rather pretty and no doubt expensive flowered frock, smiling and looking exceedingly pleased with herself.

Dalrymple notes that

apart from the obviously bogus self-deprecation of the statement,

the use of the word motherfucker

is clearly intended as a signal of her liberation from supposedly bourgeois restraint and her desire to assert her membership in the linguistic underclass. We may assume that as a successful playwright she is capable of more expressive, less uninformatively vulgar ways of describing her doubts about the value of her play. Her choice of word is not to convey anything meaningful about her play, which it is clearly incapable of doing, but to establish her social and political virtue, that is to say her nonmembership of an élite that once upon a time would not have used such a word, and certainly would not have wished it to be published that it had used it.

Exceedingly pleased with herself: Lucy Prebble

The Petronian-Calvinists

Grande has traded in public as a person of the easiest virtue, whether or not she is so in reality (if celebrities such as she have a reality)

Swing of the pendulum between lascivious licentiousness and vengeful censorious puritanism

The actress and chanteuse Ariana Grande, writes Dalrymple,

is not exactly the soul of discretion when it comes to public sexual display, but rather has made a career (and a fortune) from lascivious vulgarity in word and gesture.

Dalrymple is no expert on the career of this Grande,

and indeed had never heard of her before the bomb went off in the Manchester arena during her performance there (‘concert’ seems too refined a word for her activities) and killed 22 people, including children.

When he looked Grande up on the internet he saw at once that her act

was not one that was suitable for children as young as eight years old to witness, and that there must be something very wrong with a culture in which parents thought that it was. I could not say this at the time, because of the horror of the attack, from whose evil I did not in the least want to detract. I did not want to give the impression that the parents were in any way responsible.

Fumbling cleric: Charles H. Ellis III, former Presiding Bishop of the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World and pastor of the Greater Grace Temple, Detroit, gets better acquainted with the actress-singer Ariana Grande

Yet

actively to connive in filling eight-year-old children’s minds with such vulgar rubbish is a dereliction of parental duty. It is scarcely a wonder that so many British girls appear by the age of 12 to look as if their ambition in life is to be a street prostitute.

The affair of Grande and the bishop

None of this

would or does justify any assault, physical or sexual, upon Grande. It is no defence against a charge of such assault that she has traded in public as a person of the easiest virtue, whether or not she is so in reality (if celebrities such as she have a reality). She is entitled to the same protections as everyone else.

Dalrymple asks us to consider the matter of prudence.

No one has the right to break into someone else’s house and steal his belongings. But many burglaries are opportunistic; a person being inclined to steal notices that a door or window is open, and takes the opportunity, without having set out to burgle. I have a perfect right to leave my door and windows open, but surely no one would deny that I had been imprudent in doing so.

The Grande-and-the-bishop affair

exposes (as the actress said to the bishop) a curious and very unattractive aspect of our modern culture: its pendulum swing between lascivious licentiousness and vengeful censorious puritanism.

Grande has made a career — and a fortune — from lascivious vulgarity in word and gesture

We take eight-year-old children to see Grande on the one hand,

and are appalled at the faintest whiff of pædophilia on the other.

We sexualise female children as early as possible,

and recoil with horror like Victorians (or rather, like the Victorians as we imagine them to have been) when someone calls a female on the stage an actress rather than an actor.

We really are, says Dalrymple,

very peculiar, a mixture of Petronius’s Rome and Calvin’s Geneva.

No doubt

the dissolution of the distinction between the public and the private sphere has played its part in this unpleasant evolution.

Dalrymple longs for a world

in which it is still possible to be a secret and private hypocrite, so much more interesting than all this vulgar openness.

Fuck me! as the bishop said to the actress, more in hope than expectation

Dalrymple on the alleged improper fondling by a man of the cloth of an actress-singer who has herself made a career out of lascivious vulgarity in word and gesture

Macron’s display of vulgarity

Dalrymple writes:

Emmanuel Macron’s vulgar and undignified conduct in the stadium in which the World Cup victory took place was no doubt intended to demonstrate that, contrary to the impression that he has so far given his countrymen (our builder in France calls him Napoléon IV), he is a human being, possessed of the same emotions and tastes as M. Dupont as he drinks his pression on the café terrace and as les jeunes on their outings to Les Halles. It won’t work for long.

Les Halles

Britishers are vulgar to the depths of their being

Clearly, writes Dalrymple,

vulgarity has its place. No one would want to live in a society composed entirely of well-brought-up young ladies.

But

vulgarity is interesting and amusing only in contradistinction to something else. Bawdiness is, or should be, parasitic on refinement, sometimes as a satire on, or corrective to, over-refinement.

Nor is it always and everywhere appropriate.

Even Mistress Quickly reveals herself to be a woman of fine feeling and humanity when she describes the death of Falstaff.

When, as in Britain today,

vulgarity achieves cultural hegemony, when it is praised, flattered and deferred to, then people will be vulgar to the depths of their being.

From our vulgarity correspondent

There is, writes Dalrymple,

no plumbing the depths of vulgarity, especially in England.

A newspaper asks him to attend

a so-called concert in a hall normally used for exhibitions. Goodness knows how many spectators it contained—several thousand, at any rate.

The act was American,

a rock band who dressed all in black adorned with skulls and like motifs, and who specialised in urinating and vomiting over the front rows. There was no lack of volunteers for this treatment. In between their ‘songs’ (a crow was a nightingale compared with them), they abused the audience. The only words I could make out were ‘You sick motherfuckers!‘ The audience seemed to love it. It was a scene of mass masochism.

By far the worst of it was that

British parents thought this all a suitable spectacle for their six- or eight-year-old children, which many had brought with them. It was as if the parents wanted to induct their children into this vulgarity, as being something good. It was vulgarity erected into ideology.

Dalrymple points out that vulgarity has

a proper and necessary place, when it punctures the self-importance, complacency, or censoriousness of the respectable. There is also an innocent, unselfconscious type of vulgarity that is often charming. But this kind of commercialised vulgarity is without redeeming features.

The uses of vulgarity

Pieter Claesz, Still Life with Herring, 1636

Dalrymple writes that if you look at something as simple as a herring on a plate, beautifully represented by a great artist, you never look at such things in the same way again. You no longer take them for granted. Taking everything for granted leads to boredom and the need for excess to drive out that boredom.

Of course, he says, next to Pieter de Hoogh, you have Jan Steen. We know from the Golden Age scenes both of refinement and excess, and no one would want a life that consisted only of the greatest possible refinement. It would be boring; people would become narrow-minded. The vulgar has its function in culture — as a court jester versus refinement. It keeps us grounded and creates a certain existential modesty.

What bothers Dalrymple is that in the modern Western world he sees a great deal of Jan Steen and not much Pieter de Hoogh.

Pieter de Hooch, Courtyard of a House in Delft, 1658

Als je naar zoiets eenvoudigs kijkt als een haring op een tinnen bord, in grote schoonheid weergegeven door het vakmanschap van de kunstenaar, kijk je daarna nooit meer op dezelfde manier naar zulke dingen, dat wil zeggen: je neemt ze niet meer als vanzelfsprekend aan. Alles als vanzelfsprekend aannemen, leidt geheid tot verveling en tot de behoefte aan excessen om die verveling te verdrijven.

Ik weet natuurlijk best dat je naast Pieter de Hoogh ook Jan Steen hebt. We kennen uit de Gouden Eeuw zowel taferelen van uitspattingen als verfijning en ik denk dat niemand zou wensen dat het leven uit alleen maar de grootst mogelijke verfijning zou bestaan. Dat zou saai zijn en de mensen zouden er kleingeestig van worden. Het vulgaire heeft zijn functie binnen de cultuur als een soort hofnar tegenover de verfijning. Het houdt ons met beide benen op de grond en zorgt voor een zekere existentiële bescheidenheid.

Wat mij dwarszit, is dat ik volop Jan Steen zie maar niet veel Pieter de Hoogh.

Jan Steen, The Doctor’s Visit, 1660

Jan Steen, Beware of Luxury, 1663

Het eenzame hart: curlygirl24

Dalrymple schrijft:

De Britse krant de Guardian, ongeveer vergelijkbaar met de Volkskrant, heeft een website voor mensen die een partner zoeken. Die mensen krijgen de gelegenheid zichzelf te beschrijven om zich voor anderen aantrekkelijk te maken. Hoewel zo’n beschrijving niet helemaal waar hoeft te zijn – zo zegt iedereen een goed gevoel voor humor te hebben – geven deze zelfportretjes ons toch enig inzicht in wat mensen denken dat anderen aantrekkelijk vinden.

Onlangs las ik zo’n zelfportretje van een vrouw van 30 die als nom d’internet had gekozen voor ‘curlygirl24’. Laat ik hieraan toevoegen dat de Guardian voornamelijk wordt gelezen door mensen die tot de 5 procent hoogstopgeleiden van de bevolking horen. Inderdaad hebben alle gebruikers van de datingwebsite een beroep in de artistieke, intellectuele of wetenschappelijke sfeer, althans dat beweren ze.

Dit had curlygirl24 over zichzelf te melden, en bedenk dat ze hier probeert aantrekkelijk te zijn voor anderen: ‘Ze zeggen wel over mij dat ik een paradox ben: ik heb de emotionele vaagheid die je als meisje nu eenmaal hebt, naast het vermogen om heel veel te drinken zonder om te vallen en daarbij mijn vrienden en willekeurige onbekenden in de zeik te nemen.’

Anders gezegd: ze veronderstelt dat een man zich tot haar aangetrokken zal voelen door haar vermogen of bereidheid om wildvreemde mensen grof te bejegenen. Dat is toch een interessant commentaar op de cultuur waarin zij denkt te leven. In dezelfde beschrijving van zichzelf zegt ze dat ze financieel journalist is, toch geen betrekking voor iemand zonder opleiding. Curlygirl24 behoort dus tot de intellectuele elite. Wat voor cultuur kun je verwachten van een elite die bewust prat gaat op het in dronken toestand beledigen van onbekenden?