Thursday 18 November 2010
Julie Burchill: Why the holier-than-thou hypocrites will always be rumbled in the jungle
"You are what you eat" – how many times a day do we come across this flagrant lie masquerading as modern wisdom? It's right up there with "If you look good, you feel good" (tell that to Marilyn Monroe) and "The abused abuse" (if that was true the majority of paedophiles would be female, and they're not).
It was also the name of a long-running TV show in which the nutritionist Gillian McKeith would poke around in fat people's excrement and then yell at them, sometimes reducing them to tears, for being worthless human beings. It never seemed to occur to her victims to turn it back on the demented bitch and say "If I'm so worthless, why's it YOU who's poking around in MY excrement and not the other way around, FREAK?" But now, as she falls apart mentally and physically in Ant and Dec's tropical theatre of cruelty, we who believe that there is more to life than health – and that you are what you do, not what you eat – are having our day in the sun.
Watching I'm A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here! from the comfort of my hand-crafted velvet sofa with my snout in a tub of Strawberry Cheesecake Haagen-Dazs and a glass of something lively in my chubby little fist, I was curious as to who they got "instead" of me after I turned the gig down for the second year in a row. I'd say that the nearest to my profile would be Shaun Ryder; the fat, drug-addled chav who selflessly eats everything put before him and never complains.
In contrast, McKeith is a wreck, wizened in both body and mind, physically resembling someone a decade older than her actual age (51, the same as me!) and totally unable to grasp how ludicrous her pronouncements of superiority sound while she repeatedly forces her comrades to go without anything but the most basic food. In her – as in Jamie Oliver, who accuses the working class of poverty of aspiration while freely admitting to NEVER HAVING FINISHED READING A BOOK – we see all that is vile in the health-bore mentality. And in the wider picture, the absolute ocean-going ridiculousness of the holier-than-thou.
The physician Ben Goldacre, appalled by McKeith's voodoo science, was able to attain one of the same nutritionists' professional certificates as on her CV for just $60, when he applied for it online in the name of his dead cat. Nevertheless, McKeith maintained to the Glasgow Herald: "I have nothing to be ashamed of. My qualifications are second to none. People out there would love to have my qualifications and expertise." The same qualifications and expertise as a dead cat? Talk about aiming high!
One of the reasons I love reality TV so much is that it comes with a bullshit detector second to none. Time and again, pompous ponces are exposed by their own pronouncements, and the gap between their high-falutin' theories and their squalid behaviour is hilariously highlighted. For example, the actor Nigel Havers claimed that he agreed to take part merely to draw attention to the declining standard of TV.
You don't have to be a hypocrite to be holier-than-thou, but it helps. Annie Lennox wearing a red Aids ribbon rather than a poppy when she sang her new single on Strictly Come Dancing during Remembrance weekend wasn't strictly being a hypocrite, but I believe that it was still the correct response to feel a fierce desire to shove the ribbon right down her stupid throat until she ceased her caterwauling. Bill Bailey criticising John Lydon for doing butter commercials, while he himself makes a living by telling jokes, was being both. So was Selina Scott, getting herself into a state over being passed over for younger autocuties, while never to my knowledge did she turn down any jobs offered to her when young and beautiful, protesting that some older, plainer talking head should have it instead.
Scott's old mucker the Prince of Wales is, of course, king of the holier-than-thou hypocrites, with his never-ending do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do pronouncements on everything from air travel to adultery. Jeanette Winterson, Stephen Fry, Dawn French – showbiz is lousy with them. But of course we hacks can be HTTHs, too. I've lost count of the commissions I've had to turn down because I would find myself totally ridiculous condemning binge-drinking and drug-taking, as I've had so much fun doing these things for more than three decades now. However, that doesn't seem to stop many of my erstwhile playmates, who can be found on the inside pages on many a morning giving hedonism a hammering from atop their high horses. Ick! Holier-than-thou hypocrite, heal thyself!
Happiness inventory is enough to make anyone miserable
My husband is the cheeriest of souls, but every year, when the seasonal Coca-Cola TV adverts start, he swears that they are singing not "Holidays are coming" but "Harder days are coming". That's the only time he ever looks on anything but the bright side.
My first two husbands were pessimists (the first one always banging on about the Lousy Modern World, the second one bearing the family nickname "Eeyore"), and it was this common element in these otherwise very different marriages which contributed greatly to me fleeing both.
Different scientific surveys come to different conclusions; some that optimists live longer, some that pessimists do. But the poor sod who marries the latter has a heavy row to hoe indeed. Forget chlamydia: they should warn kids at school about the perils of sexual contact with misery-buckets. It may not take actual years off your life, but it certainly feels as though it puts decades on your age.
I thought of this this week on reading that the Government is planning a happiness inventory. Statisticians will visit cross-sections of the public four times a year and ask them daft questions like "Overall, how happy did you feel yesterday?", "Do you get on with your neighbours?" and "How much purpose does your life have?"
But this will only get people feeling ever more pessimistic about their lot. Surely better to advise the population to have loads of sex, loads of laughs and loads of friends who are worse off than they are. That's a recipe for happiness if ever I heard one.
They're going to the wrong lengths for a laugh about sexuality
I love Louie Spence, the queerly leering hero of the recent reality TV hit Pineapple Dance Studios. So I was irked by the kneejerk anti-American conservatism of the reported premise of his new show, wherein he will visit "redneck" towns in the USA, strike a pose and wait for "his sexuality and appearance" to stir up controversy.
This sounds woefully out of date. In the Glee-crazy US, the world's finest comic writer, David Sedaris, has remarked that on national signing tours he is often confronted with apparently redneck men who proudly push forward their fragrant adolescent sons and assure Mr Sedaris that they, too, are gay. If you want to make a point about contemporary prejudice against homosexuals, surely it would make a far more challenging show to go to a series of Muslim states and prance around in pantaloons? But of course, then the consequences would be no laughing matter.
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