Grayson Perry, the Turner-prize-winning artist, is guest-editor of this week’s New Statesman. He takes the opportunity offered by that dizzy-making eminence to launch an attack on what he calls “Default Man”. By this he means white, middle-class, middle-aged, straight men, whom he reveals, with astonishment tempered by disgust, to be the people who run the country.
“They dominate the upper echelons of our society,” Perry thunders, “imposing, unconsciously or otherwise, their values and preferences on the rest of the population. With their colourful textile phalluses hanging round their necks, they make up an overwhelming majority in government, in boardroom and also in the media.”
One could argue that the current Parliament’s legalisation of gay marriage doesn’t really suggest that it’s comprised of a 600-strong cabal of heterosexual males “imposing their values and preferences” on the population; one could murmur that dark two-piece suits are the defining uniform of Perry’s anathematised tribe, rather than ties (which haven’t been worn by anyone in the media for several years); but let us not stop the nation’s top potter in mid-rant.
Perry fumes that Default Man has “a strong grip on the keys to power”, more by virtue of who he is – well-educated, rich, well-mannered, charming, confident – than what he has achieved. This is incontrovertibly true, and was almost as true a whole century ago, before working-class men, women and homosexuals started to get their hands on the keys of power. They may not be in charge yet, but that’s evolution for you. Perry also claims that the bourgeois straight male, if accused of being a member of the group, will always deny it.
There’s something a teensy bit smug about the way Mr Perry exempts himself from being part of the bourgeois herd he so despises. “By coming from a working-class background and being an artist and a transvestite,” he assures us, “I have enough cultural distance from the towers of power.” Well lucky old you, matey, is all I can say. Those of us stuck with being white, straight, middle-class and middle-aged British men know that it’s no stroll in the park. It’s tough being ordinary. Look at this crown of thorns we wear:
1. Frankly, there’s little chance of persuading your bank manager to loan you large sums of money if you go to see him wearing a lovely red-white-and-gold chenille smock, a green-and-yellow patterned skirt, pink platform heels and a caramel Huggy-Bear handbag. It may be fine for Grayson Bloody Perry but not for the rest of us.
2. Straight, middle-class etc chaps can yearn all they like to go on television quiz shows and be interviewed on a sofa by camp entertainers who encourage them to describe their encounters with A-list celebrities, and greet their replies with knowing laughter but, trust me, it’s not going to happen.
3. If you’re not an artist, merely a boring politician, many innocently fulfilling activities are out of bounds. Gilbert and George have spent years showing off their genitalia and rectal cavities in pictures at the White Cube Gallery. But let a Default Man emulate that innocent behaviour by, for instance, sending pictures of his ham javelin to a foxy political PR, he’ll soon be up to his neck in crocodiles.
4. If you’re middle-aged and middle-class, the chances of being allowed to eat roast chicken with sage stuffing, or similarly comforting dishes, are severely curtailed. When visiting friends, you’ll be expected to endure uncomplainingly the kofta b’siniyah with tahini sauce and kohlrabi salad from a simply diviiiiiiiine Ottolenghi recipe.
5. Default Man seldom strikes out on bold, original notes by learning Mandarin Chinese, kite-surfing or playing the single-stringed Gambian fiddle. Unless he wants to have his peer group think he’s been out in the sun too long, he’ll stick to watching Boardwalk Empire, taking up golf and listening to London Grammar.
6. Under no circumstances can you so much as broach the possibility of buying a leather jacket or a Caterham 7 sports car without everyone muttering “midlife crisis”.
7. Displays of weeping in the boardroom, the Commons or in front of the camera are considered pathetic signs of weakness, as are screaming, running about waving your hands, or clutching your COE/chief whip/studio manager round the shins and begging him not to fire you. The strongest emotion that Default Man is allowed to express is embarrassment. Not a big advantage in life, though, is it Grayson?