There are only two types of people. Those who divide people into types of people and those who don’t.

Only those who don’t. Don’t exist.

Ever since Genesis got oddly specific in dividing things into categories, heaven, earth, “grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit,” and the frankly catastrophic decision to allow man “dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth,” humans have been obsessed with justifying that supremacy through systematic categorisation.

By the time the Victorians rocked up we thought we’d nailed this categorisation game producing the Dewey Decimal System, Rogets Thesaurus, the Oxford English Dictionary, and most of the research academic institutions that are still providing grants and jobs today.

And every time we find and name something, we can divide it up into ever finer grains and names: from atoms and molecules, genomes and bacterium to the Higgs boson “god particle”; as if we might one day peel back the final layer of the universe’s onion and behold its ultimate secret.

The Victorian mathematician Augustus de Morgan quickly spotted the problem in all this, adapting Jonathan Swift’s couplet:

“Great fleas have little fleas upon their backs to bite ’em, And little fleas have lesser fleas, and so ad infinitum. And the great fleas themselves, in turn, have greater fleas to go on, While these again have greater still, and greater still, and so on.”

There is a sort of primal superstition behind all this, an ancient belief that may well have inspired homo sapiens to language: once you can name something you somehow have power over it. I helped name all my kids and I can tell you now, it’s not true.

The notion of magic, the sort practiced by Scottish hags, Faust and Harry Potter, is predicated on this power of verbalising. The idea of a spell is that certain words in a certain order have the power to make manifest or, at the very least, summon some slobbering supernatural creature to make it so. It goes against all our rational thinking to suggest that a simple assembly of words, a string of sounds from your voicebox, could bring about something concrete and real. Yet the possibility of this is so ingrained in our imaginations, kids’ magicians try to disempower it with “sizzling sausages” and “Izzy Whizzy Let’s Get Busy” whilst J.K.Rowling used Codum Latinus invocations, rather than anything that sounded like it might possibly have a chance of summoning the devil.

The magical belief that somehow “saying it makes it so” goes beyond art and conjuring, not just in the power of prayer, and “positive visualisation” but in the cold cash of advertising and politics. The phrase du jour post-Brexit was “a period of uncertainty”. Was it any wonder that the Conservatives campaigned for re-election in a direct response to that? “Strong and stable” was their simple substance-free mantra used so monotonously, it was as if simply saying it enough times would make it true. Like “Make America Great Again” it was a phrase full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Of course words can have power as persuasive tools and information carriers, just not in themselves. Great speeches have convinced people to do extraordinary things. Religions are founded on writings, and just the words “Allah Akbar” have been co-opted to strike terror. Jokes, well told, can bring forth involuntary laughter. But even in this world of technology and rationalism a belief persists that you can cut out the middle man as such, the agent of change, and simply affect change with words themselves.

A few years ago, when Islington Council found the end of a Tax Year looming, with some extra budget to spend for a project to improve the community, they canvassed the locals where it would be best invested. Perhaps a kindergarten, towards drug rehab, or a children’s playground? No. The scheme that won was, basically, an incantation. They invested in street signs telling people that they were in the “Neighbourhood” of Islington as if, once stated, it would somehow make it a real neighbourhood where petty crime, graffiti, fly-tipping and the ASBO magnets would magically disappear. Or, as Yul Brenner in The Ten Commandments kept repeating, “So it is written, so it shall be done.” Honestly – I’ve been writing for over thirty years and I still can’t get anything done.

But the potentially diabolical power of words is reaching its apotheosis – and words like apotheosis will be the first up against the wall when this revolution comes – thanks to a growing movement to disempower our language.

Jacques Derrida

Half a century ago Jacques Derrida, the French-Algerian deconstructionist philosopher, believed we should strip power from words by pointing out their constantly slippery, endlessly different, meanings. He saw this as a revolutionary act. Because language is, historically, developed by the wealthy, literate, educated classes, Derrida argued, clarity in speech promotes and prolongs the rule of the elite. The many should reject clarity and develop their own gobbledygook. At this point it’d be great to give you a pithy Derridean quote to back this claim up. Unfortunately he practiced what he preached and his writings were somewhere between impenetrable and gibberish. And worse than that, in French.

But basically: words and grammar and the like are them things the elite use to show they’re superior and enchant and entrap us with their spells and suchlike.

Well, against all the odds, Deconstructionism has made it to the mainstream. A populist movement led by no less than the Commander-In-Chief of The United States is stripping away the very point of words by rendering them meaningless. He tirelessly tweets authoritative untruths and a covfefe of meaninglessness. After which, his press secretary confirms that he doesn’t mean exactly what he says. His administration constantly assert inconvenient facts are “fake news” and there are always “alternative facts” anyway. You simply can’t rely on words anymore.

Political movements in other countries, wanting to recreate the popularity of such revolutionary linguistic anti-elitism are embracing this paragon of meaningless wordage.  So what if a lie appeared on a Brexit battle bus they were only words and what do they mean anyway? We’re not experts and we’ve had enough of them.

Finally, reason has won. That superstitious belief in the power of words – used by the expensively educated, Politically Correct, liberal elite to terrify us plebs – has had its day. This baby can go out with the bathwater. Whatever that means.


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You’re once, twice, three times…

If I had a pound for every woman who found me unattractive, by now they wouldn’t find me unattractive.

And although that is basically the same joke as Jane Austen’s “It is a truth universally acknowledged…” my inner feminist still makes the telling a little uncomfortable.

You see, feminism had made such an impact by the time I was growing up in the 70s I was not alone in suffering tangible gender guilt. Men, we were told, (the rotters!) had suppressed women throughout history and I, having been born with a willy, was guilty by association. Like any young idealist I was convinced that I would be a beacon, supporting women in their struggle against male oppression. I modelled myself a New Man, a fad with the longevity of a postcoital erection, which quickly shrivled with the publication of Loaded and the rise of the 80s ‘lad’ as depicted with bandwagon jumping, excruciating, awkwardness in the TV series Men Behaving Badly and still being rehashed by the elderly dissidents of Top Gear.

Of course those “lads” can act as complete twats and they suffer no status loss. But since Mary Wollstonecraft’s 1792 Vindication of the Rights of Women there seems to have developed a golden rule that women in books, theatre or films can never be idiots or fools. Men in comedies and tragedies can be downright morons and twits but woebetide you if a woman is depicted as anything less than smart. You laugh with, not at. Personally I can only think of one idiot female in modern comedy, Alice in The Vicar of Dibley, but then she was curate to Dawn French, by far the smartest, most sensible, person in a village full of dolts. It seems that decades of the perennial smart woman/dumb man dichotomy has not been without effect on male self-esteem.

When I went to university, feminism chimed in nicely with academic trends. Post-structuralist theory set out to prioritise culture’s fringes, taking the focus away from the centre, in order to discover the truth about history; not by re-examining what we’ve been told to look at, but by looking at the periphery where unvarnished reality might show itself. There was more to be learned from a Clapham omnibus ticket than the works of Winston Churchill. Feminists argued that women were the denizens of those unseen margins; they had succumbed to pushy testosterone-led, male chest thumping and had been relegated to be the quiet underdogs of history, doomed to getting on with the important jobs of humanity: child bearing, rearing, nurturing, fuel/food gathering and praising sisterhood whilst simultaneously sharpening nails for eye scratching. It was a potent argument and I’d take my hat off to the feminists… but they really don’t like that.

The dictionary (and yes I do realise the irony of referring to a book that trumpets the androcentricity of language by starting with the word “dick”) says feminism is “the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes.”

But, now, over fifty years since the flammability of Playtex was tested, the meaning of “Feminism” is being torn apart both from within and without the movement. Indeed, just in case we had forgotten, last year reminders were issued to celebs on T-shirts claiming “This is What a Feminist Looks Like” – mostly worn by blokes on Instagram as a sort of dare. But if Glamour Magazine had to name U2 frontman Bono “Woman of The Year 2017” maybe there really weren’t enough people who actually menstruate ready to stand up and be counted.

So now “Third Wave” feminists are looking to broaden the definition, arguing that feminism should intrinsically embrace the LGBT community, while old-timers fear that forgery devalues the currency. On the other side, a virulent anti-feminist agenda is emerging in the form of “Men’s Rights” groups. “Feminists claim they want equality,” whines the Red Pill Handbook, the user guide to one of the internet’s most popular Men’s Rights forums, “but what they really want is power without responsibility. They desire both male and female privilege consolidated into one … They want the privileges of being women (privilege such as being economically provided for, getting opportunities based on their beauty and protection from physical harm by others) as well as male privilege (authority, respect for having a career, to not be judged so harshly based on appearance etc.)”

And the trouble is, though I find the messengers abhorrent, I can see the attraction in their iconoclasm. I have always just accepted that the reason men appear to have dominated the shaping of our species and civilization has been, in part, through forcing women to succumb and take a back seat. But, men’s rights activists argue, it is women who are not only responsible for their place, it’s actually the best place to be. Women have created their own coy, eye-lash batting, ‘little me’ subservient role to exploit men to do all the hard, hunter-gathering, defending, protecting business whilst they get a free ride, make all the sexual selection choices, and play with the kids. The androcentric world is not the result of male suppression, it’s female strategy.

Furthermore forget equality. “Women are irrational and inconsistent,” claims the handbook, “they have a capacity for logic but it is not their modus operandi, that is to say that they must exert effort to be logical as it is not their factory setting. A logical woman is easily baited into becoming emotional; women are easy to compromise. Their decisions are based on their current emotional state rather than the abstraction of logic. It’s this proclivity to change so quickly which causes them to act inconsistently and in contradiction.” Whereas men, I presume, are Mr Spock and entirely rational all the time.

Don’t for a minute think that these arguments are only appealing to some sad-sacks on the internet. I guarantee you know a bloke who will nod at these ideas. This is sophisticated thought-candy, designed to press the buttons of disenfranchised, dispossessed and disappointed men. And there are a lot of those. Men who’ve found themselves working for women, or rejected in love, and wondering why this is happening when they were brought up to believe they were the dominant gender.

“Women are hypergamous,” says the handbook, “they feel entitled to a superior mate. You have to be richer than her or at least equally rich, more educated than her or at least equally educated. You need to be better looking than her or at least equal looking, you need to be more popular than she is or at least equally popular. You can offset one area (LMS – looks, money, status) with another, but if you’re lower in at least 2 areas just forget it… this is why 20% of guys are fucking 80% of the chicks, women date up, men date down.”

These little insecure male, back of the mind, suspicions are given air on these forums. The idea that women in general are manipulators and should be treated with equally manipulative contempt is attractive to those who feel disarmed in the battle of the sexes. And of course behind sites like Red Pill, Adam Smith’s invisible hand of the market is in play. They are justifying and promoting a slew of “dating coaching” courses and advice books all teaching how to act and respond to manipulate women during pick-ups and dates to increase your shag hit rate; teaching how to appear alpha to get laid.

So maybe it’s about time to congratulate Feminism. It’s not facing its greatest challenge in the ivory towers of academia but in everyday discourse and as a way for angry men to get laid. The closer any cause gets to its stated goal, the more fervently it will be tested. Judging by the number of people ready to tear Feminism apart, it must be approaching it’s own ground zero. It’s been a long hard slog but if you’ve got this many enemies, you’re winning.


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Christmas Ghosts

As this year grinds to an end, you’re not alone in thinking “thank fuck for that.” It is a truth almost universally acknowledged that 2016 has been one of the crappest in recent history. Now, when the media traditionally do their rundowns of the year, all they can show is the world’s run down. It’s been a car crash year, whether it’s the whitelash rise of Farage and Trump, the deaths of icons from Bowie and Cohen to Wood and Wogan, almost an entire Brazilian football team and, most personally, my friend Adrian (AA) Gill, or just because Inferno, one of the most ludicrous films in history, was released. It seems the unpalatable prospered and the good died.

Now is the time to think of them. The dead have a history of being summoned up as the year draws to its end. The Christmas ghost story is a meme that stretches back much further than Dickens’ Christmas Carol. A quarter of a century before Shakespeare wrote his Winter’s Tale, it was already a tradition for Barnabus in Marlowe’s The Jew of Malta (1589) who says, “Now I remember those old women’s words, Who in my wealth would tell me winter’s tales, And speak of spirits and ghosts that glide by night.” It’s no coincidence that James Joyce’s The Dead is set at a Christmas time gathering.

In my own family it is Uncle Edgar who lives with the dead and loves to tell stories of our ghosts. He’s a fanatic for family trees and history, but then there’s not much to do out in the steppes of Norfolk where he lives, where the earth is steel hard in winter, the air is so cold just breathing in hurts and breathing out creates a fog thicker than Katie Hopkins. From his front window you can see for miles over the frozen levels, each tree a craze of lines in the flat December daylight.

Every other Christmas we schlep up to his house, a pretty converted vicarage with timber beams and a roaring fireplace beneath a mantelpiece hung with paperchains and festooned with Christmas cards mostly addressed to “Dear Valued Customer”. And every year there’s some relative he has discovered in the annals whom he reckons could just be a Royal bastard but more usually, with a bloodline chockful of cads and bounders, was a right royal bastard.

a doll idle idol

Illustration ©Alice Stallard for KCW Today

Edgar lives alone but he always invites his mate Steve to Christmas. Steve’s a single dad with a tiny daughter called Emily who is the proud product of parental overcompensation. ‘Spoilt’, is too slight a term, like slightly off milk; Emily is the full Petri dish of bubonic fungal growth. Last year she was dragging around one of the most expensive dolls known to humanity, an “American Girl” almost as big as her. The sort that have such realistic eyes you will them to blink. But Emily had absolutely no sense of value. The doll was clearly pretty new when I saw it but she had already smashed the right side of its face, the head was cracked and deformed. She didn’t care.

I had come up ahead of the rest of the family to help Edgar with the dinner and avoid having to go with the rest of my family “last minute” gift shopping.

Emily answered the door and sneered at my Tesco shopping bags. “Where are the presents?”

“Nice to see you too.” Inside, I pulled my frost bitten muddy shoes off and traipsed the shopping bags to the kitchen. Emily stayed in the front hall, heaving her doll on to a chair. I put the food away while she gave her American Girl a gruesomely detailed lecture on road safety.

Edgar came in. “I thought I heard someone.” He gave me a hug. “You’re the first then?”

“Came to help with the food.”

“Plenty of time for that.” We went through to his living room where the fire was already roaring.

We drank and chatted as the light faded outside and Edgar told the story of a distant cousin of my great grandfather who had been a very successful medium when Spiritualism was all the rage. Recently he’d found an old newspaper clipping about a spirit visitation she had conjured up but I never got to hear his ghost story because it was then the rest of my family turned up, setting off a maelstrom of voices and activity. It was just before dinner when my youngest asked about Steve, who still hadn’t come down.

“Oh,” Edgar sighed, “he’s, he’s not coming.”

I wondered for a moment if something bad had happened; that was why he was looking after Emily.

“Emily, you know Emily,” Edgar said. We all nodded. “Last week she had an accident. Just outside here. He pointed at the dark window and we all looked up for a moment to see our reflections in the black glass. “Playing with a doll. Run over. By a van. Crushed her skull. Steve’s just not up to anything. She was his life.”

“But…” I started looking around for Emily.

I ran to the front hall. The doll was still there on the chair by the door. The head crushed, the plastic skull cracked, the glass eyes staring.


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Sex and fear: What can I do you for? 


“What big eyes you’ve got Grandma.”

All the better to ogle you with my dear.”

“So this red cape, thigh boots and cleavage thing is working for you is it Grandma?”

Grandma drools and howls at the moon.

If you’ve popped into a costume shop looking for a little something for Halloween it’s almost guaranteed it will be a little something indeed.

In the last decade shop-bought Halloween costumes have become markedly less about the vampire and all about the vamp. This trend to sexualise our dressing up and put the whore into horror has been dubbed “Slutoween”; a meme that is currently exercising feminist debate especially for our puritan dissident descendants in America.

Fancy dress has always had a frisson of ‘what you fancy’, a chance to fantasise for a moment and unbutton from our daily uniforms. But in the last decade costume shop stock, especially for women, has been increasingly more revealing.

So, if you are a female habitué of Halloween attire, you can forget the seasonal “beach-ready body” pressure, the sand and sunshine will bleach out the bumps anyway, you’ll need all your will power to get fit for October 31st to strike a pose in your Sponge Boob No Pants, Princess Lay-Her or Fairy Queen Titty-ania outfit. With costume choices increasingly about how bare you dare it’s not long until we see gyms advertising programmes that promise to have you ‘fit to frighten’ for Halloween.

Complaints about the sexing up of Halloween have a particularly American twang and a whiff of the Scarlet Letter. In Britain where, it seems, many of us would rather express through dress than talk it out American style, dressing up is an integral part of life. All our youth movements had dress codes, an Oxbridge degree does not come on a certificate but confers the right to wear a particular gown and where else could transvestism in the shape of the pantomime dame become an institution? There was a time in the 80s when you not only assumed that everyparty was fancy dress, the influence of the New Romantics made sure that every photo we own from that period is excruciating.

In America fancy dress is more for special occasions and their special occasion par excellence is Halloween. But ‘moms’ are getting distressed because their teen and tween daughters are going straight from Pumpkin Pies to Treacle Tarts.

In the 2004 high school melodrama Mean Girls, Lindsay Lohan says, “Halloween is the one night of the year when you can dress like a slut and no other girls can say anything about it.” Unfortunately, in the real world, Lohan needed every day to be Halloween because, until her publicity machine eventually buried her, just about every day was filled with people calling her on her slut status.
‘Slut-shaming’ is still an all-girl sport in America. Feminist websites are fighting Slutoween’s sexy dressing up pressure, ridiculing the costume choices, advising girls on outfits they can make themselves and enlisting the girl band EmotiStyle who have produced a song called Things You Can Be On Halloween Besides Naked.

In this country where, on any Saturday night out in any provincial city the dress code is pure skin and stilettos, have we simply become inured to the likes of the Sinderella or Captain Hooker costumes? Or is prudish, party pooping, puritan founded America actually expressing its horror of sex itself? Halloween is all about what we fear. Sex is one of the most confusing isn’t it/is it taboo areas for teens and tweens and they’re the ones buying the Sexy Firefighter/Nurse/Cat/Dinner Lady costumes.

In an article in The New York Times called Good Girls Go Bad For a Day, one of America’s biggest Halloween costume retailers, which sells outfits with names like Little Bo Peep Show and Miss Foul Play, reported that, “Probably over 90 to 95 percent of our female costumes have a flirty edge to them,” adding that sexy costumes are so popular the company had to break its “sexy” category into three subdivisions.

So has America, the world’s largest consumer market, led the global costume industry to capitalise on one of its greatest fears, sex itself? And has that then turned the tap off on all the under selling frumpy costume alternatives?

Of course if Britain led the world consumer market then we’d all be dressing up as embarrassment on Halloween.

The marketing genius who came up with “Sex sells” forgot to add “but fear sells faster.” If Slutoween is fear and sex bundled together its appeal is unstoppable. I’m just waiting for the marketing geniuses in ISIS to catch on to this one. Watch out for Sexy Jihad.

Have a frightful Halloween (if you’re not having a filthy one).


Photo By: © Paramount Pictures

Source: Sex and fear: What can I do for you?