Monday, 4 May 2009

Bateman Blog 002: Are We Not Men? Yes, We Are Devoid Of Common Decency

As a pre-cursor to the landing of their second album 'Back To The Future' we've invited one of STA's finest wordsmiths Bateman of The Young Playthings to contribute some of his life episodes to the blog. The brief is open-ended and editorial control out the window, - we hope you find his insights contentious, illuminating, scintillating and titillating!

‘The flu has pig material in it and we are not pigs, we are humans’. So says a Mexican woman in the tiny village where the swine flu pandemic supposedly began - and she may be right that it really started with the pigs on the giant multinational pork farm and that she and her fellow villagers are not pigs but decent human beings.

Moments before reading this I was standing in front of two Dutch men with American accents about to board an aeroplane. They’d been talking about women in general, and they’d just spied the pilot of the plane through the cockpit window.

‘Oh my gawd dude, the driver’s a woman’.

‘Fuck, do those tyres look a little soft to you?’

‘Maybe she’s a transvestite – she’ll come over the intercom with a really deep voice’.

Ten years ago I’d’ve been disgusted by this, blush, appallingly sexist chatter, tossed off banally to hurry up the boarding process. Today, I’d’ve told my younger self to stop being such a prim fag and joined in with a manly laugh. Are we not humans? How did I - no, wait, how do men in general become so vulgar?

In the grand scheme of things, these comments are not really indecent. In fact, they’re generally funny and women like rolling their eyes when men make comments like this, and men like the feelings they get when a woman pays them this bizarre, kind of backhanded attention. The reason I draw attention to it is because of the slowly evolving change I've noticed in myself; and that I’m aware of because it’s supposedly quite normal. For example, I remember when Belle & Sebastian refused to do interviews with the NME because the NME used to wind them up because of their reputation for being so precious, famously spending hours tuning their instruments while the audience waited in silence for them to play one of their soft little folk songs. Their reputation for playing twee music was unfair – their early records, though austere in their delivery and gentle in their approach, displayed Stuart Murdoch’s keen and rather cutting wit throughout, and the general air of seriousness on record was always lightened by Stuart David’s spoken fantasies about building space rockets and seeing Elvis about town. But they got this reputation because they seemed to take everything so seriously, demonstrated most apparently by their refusal to engage with the media. Then, on their later records, their playfulness becomes more apparent; they’re more confident in their delivery and not afraid to be light-hearted or tell stories of overt sexuality. Stuart M’s obsession with female naughtiness, only whispered about on the first few records and hinted at in the underexposed, slightly unintelligible sleeve art, comes to the fore on their last (and best) album The Life Pursuit - and the artwork, of three Catholic schoolgirls in short skirts, is positively fetishistic (and their best ever artwork). On tour with The Young Playthings we once stayed with a girl in Glasgow whose ex-boyfriend had written a recently-published book about them. She told us about how they’d gone from being the darlings of the Glasgow effete soft-indie rock scene to being perceived as slightly perverted older men, evidenced most graphically by a story of her friend catching Stevie Jackson getting a blowjob from a drunken teenager in a club toilet. ‘Brilliant’, I thought at the time, but didn’t say anything for fear of being outed as a swine myself. The book, incidentally, chalks Stuart M’s evolution from passive-aggressive poet to an outwardly aggressive sports and pussy fanatic, to his volatile relationship and eventual break-up with Isobel Campbell, who left the band just after they started having fun.

Speaking of which, women aren’t so virtuous themselves. I read a book called ‘Female Chauvinist Pigs’ and then wrote a song called The Beauty Myth, about how I find foul-mouthed, cigarette-smoking, hard-drinking corporate bitches attractive. In the book, the author laments the loss of demure, modest femininity amongst young American women, laying blame at the door of the omnipotent, omnipresent and omnimedium media, who have emblazoned on our brains an expectation that all women should be eternally youthful with figures, in the words of Tom Wolfe, ‘like 12 year old boys’, their physical femininity defined by huge fake tits, collagen-injected butts and lashings of makeup; and with attitudes as no-holds-barred, take-no-bullshit as the next Mr Testosterone. So are we all dirty little swine, turned on by filth and muck?

I wonder if all this has got something to do with the fact that all humans get testosteroneier with age. Ask any red-blooded man and he’ll tell you that the object of his most lustful fantasies is a barely legal teen girl, perfectly, physically mature but ever so girly. Ask any red-blooded female and she’ll tell you that the object of hers’ is an older, experienced man who’ll take her out for dinner without making a show of how gallant he is and who’ll throw her about the bedroom sans inhibitions after a couple of bottles of the bubbly stuff. Skinny little boy teens with their faggy emo guitars don’t even get a look in. The fact is, men get sexier as their skin becomes evermore lived-in and they get grumpier and more stuck-in-their-ways; and women become more manly and insecure that they’ve lost that youthful femininity. Femininity is youth; masculinity is power, influence and experience.

Of course, like who gave the flu to who, it’s not that black and white. A spokesperson for Smithfield Farms, the multinational that owns the pig farm near La Gloria, the village where the flu was originally discovered in humans, said ‘pigs cannot transmit viral infections to humans but it is a scientific fact that swine can pick up the flu virus from humans’. This might not strictly be true, but ‘flu itself probably got into pigs from humans during the big pandemic in 1918. So it’s possible this epidemic is the pigs’ revenge’. Churchill famously said ‘a cat will look down to a man. A dog will look up to a man. But a pig will look you straight in the eye and see his equal’. And when apportioning blame it’s distasteful to lay it at the door of a subordinate, foolish to accuse a superior, but potentially a savvy move to suggest it’s the fault of an equal. Oh, and you know, pigs aren’t really that dirty. But we all know who started that rumour, right?

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