In his Saturday column last week, Tom Sutcliffe, writing about the failure of modern classical music to attract a large audience, used an illustration from the football terraces. Contemporary composers, he argued, had not troubled to offer their listeners a pleasurable experience: “I could not help but feel that my alienation, as an ordinary listener, was always part of the point as far as its practitioners were concerned. There was a Millwall-supporters quality to the tight sodality of hardline serialists – ‘Everybody hates us, we don’t care.’”
Sutcliffe has misquoted the Millwall chant. It is even worse than he thinks. It is, in fact, “No one likes us, we don’t care.” Strangely, this is not the first time I have seen it thus misquoted by civilised and sensitive writers. Why do they get it wrong? Perhaps it is that the “everybody hates us” version is more accessible to the writerly mind. It seems to express an almost tearful defiance in the face of the world’s condemnation. That is something sensitive writers can understand. The authentic “No one likes us” is farther away from civilisation and humane feeling. The subtext is: “We’re not the kind of wimps who care about being liked.”
The Millwall supporters are not defying the world, which is at least a kind of human interaction, but confronting it with the blank face of mere indifference. Writers, whose stock in trade is human interaction, perhaps find the slogan unnerving, even incomprehensible, and therefore difficult to remember.
Middle muddle: Here is an example of the hatred that does not even know its name – the widespread hatred of the middle class. On Wednesday, Grace Dent launched a philippic against “middle-class” parents who are apparently adept at telling lies and playing tricks to get their children into desirable state schools, at the expense of “kids nearby with poorer, less brass-necked parents”.
The piece did not actually state in so many words that such behaviour is just what you would expect from those awful middle-class people, but the headline had no doubts: “The shifting morals of the middle classes.”
Let’s just apply the standard bigotry test: “The shifting morals of the Jews.” Is that a headline that any respectable newspaper could conceivably publish? Of course not – it is a shocking, awful headline, calculated to provoke irrational hatred. Why does nearly everybody think it is OK to say the same about the middle classes?
Kiss of death: Here is a picture caption from Tuesday’s news pages: “Rodin’s The Kiss wins admirers at the Scottish National Gallery on the Mound, Edinburgh. The world’s most famous sculpture, which was first unveiled in 1898, is on a year-long loan from London’s Tate Britain.”
That is the sound of a sub-editor desperately trying to fill space. Why does the reader need to know that the gallery is not just in Edinburgh but on the Mound? And “the world’s most famous sculpture”? What about Michelangelo’s David or the Statue of Liberty?