Julie Burchill: They had Elizabeth Taylor. We've got Gwyneth. This is the age of the phoney

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The Independent Online

There's been quite a bit of chatter about who should play Elizabeth Taylor in the proposed biopic, and it got me thinking about how very phoney modern actors are, compared with the old breed. You'd think when they abandoned the studio system, the Phoney Quotient would have gone down – now people weren't being forced to change their names and hide their sexual preferences, surely a new sincerity would sweep the bazaars of Thespus?

But instead, phoniness has flourished in La-La Land. It's hard to imagine a modern actress saying what Taylor did to a gossip columnist when asked if she was having an affair with a married man after being widowed: "What am I supposed to do – sleep alone?" When Richard Burton would drunkenly recite Shakespearean poetry in company, and then accuse her of having no education, Taylor would often reputedly recite the following rhyme: "What'll you have?" the waiter said, as he stood there picking his nose? "Hard-boiled eggs, you sonofabitch! You can't put your fingers in those..."'

Somehow, you just can't imagine Gwyneth Paltrow sending herself up in the same way; she'd be too busy instructing you how to crochet your own karma on her totally phoney website. Neither can one imagine an actress stripping off for a nudie mag and explaining in the way the young Ursula Andress did: "Because I'm beautiful." These days it would be because showing your bum to strangers – like a souped-up, air-brushed zoo-chimp! – is somehow "empowering", as that half-witted MP said about the burka.

The Phoney Quotient among MPs has sky-rocketed also, when you'd think it would have gone down considering the increased election of those who are considered the enemies of phoniness – the young, the female, the gay, the ethnic. But all that's happened is that EVERYONE gets their snout in the trough – like the end of Animal Farm, when the previously-oppressed pigs start strutting about like humans.

This does lead to the interesting question: what's the difference between a hypocrite and a phoney? Of course there's plenty of crossover, but generally an old-school hypocrite knows what he is doing is wrong and seeks to do the dirty on the sly – the classic Tory MP screwing his secretary while parading his family values in the Mother of Parliaments and his actual family like prize cattle at a country show in the media.

A phoney, on the other hand (which is often in the till, while pretending to be busy doling out soup at a local homeless shelter), will often completely deny that they are up to anything, even to themselves. But then, when surprised by the facts, the phoney either concocts a ridiculous excuse (the Lib Dem MP David Laws, who claimed he fiddled his expenses because he didn't want people to know he was gay – yeah, right, in the land where Stephen Fry is king, that would've meant instant disgrace!), or fall over themselves admitting to being a phoney (Diane Abbott and her son at public school) as if this last-minute embracing of frankness makes up for all the double-think.

A hypocrite caught with his trousers down will stay with his wife and two veg, as Tories always do; a phoney will choose his mistress, as Robin Cook and Chris Huhne did, and then expect a round of applause.

But surely the real mark of a phoney is that he/she often offers up would-be endearing little critiques of themselves which are in fact soundbites for The Wonder Of Me. "I'm a perfectionist" is one (usually means that they're a nit-picking procrastinator), "I always have to finish things" (ditto), "I'm not a team player" (means that they're really rubbish at the most simple of tasks and terrified of everyone else finding out), "I don't suffer fools gladly" (permanent hangover and/or PMT), "I expect too much from people" (see Fools Gladly, Not Suffering) and even "I'm too patient", as recently claimed by Jamie Cullum ("I'm shagging Sophie Dahl, suckers, and therefore feel A VAST SENSE OF PITY AND CONDESCENSION towards the rest of humanity.") "I'm fearless to the point of stupidity. Maybe I should have a little more fear," swanked Angelina Jolie the other day. In which case she must be welcoming the publication of Andrew Morton's book with open arms, rather than armed lawyers.

As the least phoney person I've ever met, it stands to reason that I am glad to stand up and be counted as a corner-cutting, project-abandoning, team-playing, fool-suffering, impatient coward. And also as someone who returned their iPad after a week as I didn't care for it one little bit. For iPad users, a recent survey claims, are wealthy, educated and selfish, valuing power and achievement and scoring low on kindness and altruism. In short, PHONEYS! And don't get me started on the iPHONE, where the clue even comes in the name....

Afghanistan: Talking to the Taliban is for quitters, not fighters

It does make me laugh – albeit in a hollow, bitter way – when I hear various tools, clowns and cowards suggesting that Talking With The Taliban is inevitable.

We're not talking about conceding a few feet of territory here. How do you negotiate when the other side are stark, staring nutters and nihilists who literally believe that freedom is inherently evil? That'll be the little freedoms like playing chess and flying a kite, and the big freedoms like changing your religion and marrying who you like.

I'd give an arm or a leg – which, in the case of young women who flee abusive marriages, noses, is not entirely a metaphor – to be a fly on the wall of this putative negotiation room. How do you barter away a people's freedom? Say "OK, you can stone women to death for adultery but you can't hang 12-year-olds for being gay?" Or vice versa? Decisions, decisions!

And why am I so sure that the people who surrender the freedom of a country to the Taliban will be white, heterosexual men? Maybe, in the interests of diversity, they could put some women, homosexuals and chess players in the talking team. Or just don't be so keen to give away other people's human rights for a quiet life. There are reports of Afghan adults and children alike crying as they relearn their traditional songs – banned by the Taliban, as was all music – from aid workers. If the Western quitters have their way on this war, the rest is silence.

Memories: I was the Dorothy Parker of my day – or was I?

A fifth of us fondly recall happy events WHICH NEVER ACTUALLY HAPPENED, a new survey from Hull University claims. I think so, too. For years I've suffered the delusion that I was once slender, pretty, clever and funny, the toast of the Groucho Club, a veritable Dorothy Parker filtered through the motor-mouthed medium of the finest Peruvian marching powder.

And now it transpires that I was only ever a fat bird in a blue raincoat, mumbling in an unintelligible West Country accent to whatever poor sap I could corner! Still, mustn't grumble. All the more impressive, the way I see it, that I've made millions doing the thing I love best for near on 35 years and never worked a day in my life.

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