The camp response is always tougher than its enemies suppose


Down at the Music of Black Origin awards, trouble is looming. Along with some much more familiar names, a couple of Jamaican dancehall artists have been nominated for awards.

Down at the Music of Black Origin awards, trouble is looming. Along with some much more familiar names, a couple of Jamaican dancehall artists have been nominated for awards.

Now, the Mobos are intended as a celebration of black culture, and have done a good deal to bring the music of a racial minority in this country to wider appreciation. With these nominations, however, the rights of a different minority are being brought into question, and a certain amount of discomfort is evident. You wonder if the people organising the awards are trying to make some kind of point.

Among the nominees is an artist called Elephant Man. In common with most people in this country, I had never heard of him until gay activists, in particular Peter Tatchell of OutRage, started a campaign against him and similar dancehall artists. His popular hit "Log On" includes the chorus "Log on and step on chi chi man/Dance wi a dance and a bun out a freaky man... Step pon him like a old cloth/A dance wi a dance and a crush out dem... do di walk, mek mi see the light and di torch dem fass." Glossary: chi chi man, homosexual; freaky man, homosexual; bun, burn.

Another track by Mr Man, as I like to think of him, runs: "Battyman fi dead! Tek dem by surprise/Ghetta in shot head, cau me big gun collide... Gimme me Tech-9, General B wid de chrome an waa shine/Harry Toddler shot out a bugger-man." Glossary: Battyman, homosexual, bugger-man, homosexual. Waa shine and Harry Toddler, your guess is as good as mine.

Of course, we can choose merely to giggle at all this tough-boy posturing, or just raise our eyebrows and decide to dance to what, in the end, is quite a catchy number. I believe that down at some of the capital's black gay nightclubs, Elephant Man's most virulent numbers can be relied on to fill the dance floor. The camp response, in the end, is always tougher than its enemies can suppose.

Alas, some people find this sort of thing less incomprehensible than I do, and less likely to extract any kind of ironic amusement out of it - at any rate one must conclude so from the number of gay men in Jamaica who have been murdered in exceptionally unpleasant ways in recent years.

Alas, too, it can't be thought that such people are everywhere famous only because they voice these Third Reich sentiments. Though I'd heard of most of them only because gay rights activists have propelled them to a wider fame, and though you've probably heard of them only because a right-on columnist like me is now telling you about them, that doesn't include everyone. In Jamaica and, increasingly, elsewhere, they have a substantial following.

But what we have to wonder is what on earth the Mobos think they're doing by proposing to consider such unpleasant stuff for awards. Brought to task, the most extreme dancehall homophobes have consistently refused to apologise in specific terms, and their defenders have hardly done them any favours by insisting on the integrity of black culture, and stressing that white commentators have no right to complain about the incitement to homophobic violence - an incitement which is far from theoretical in Jamaican society.

I have two questions. One is a hypothetical one. If a white commentator remarked that intrinsic to black culture, and to Jamaican society, was a murderous intent towards a beleaguered and threatened minority, would we not regard that as an obviously racist and contemptible opinion?

The second is a more practical one: why does Mr Man have so many enchanting synonyms for "homosexual" at his fingertips? He just seems to have devoted rather a lot of his imaginative energy to the subject, if you ask me.

Heard the one about the art of rubbish? Thought so

Now nice when an urban myth turns into reality, and perfectly innocent citizens start following a long-written script. This week, it was reported that cleaners at Tate Britain had committed a terrible crime against art. The German avant-garde artist Gustav Metzger in the 1960s specialised in what he called self-destructive art - canvases which would fall apart before your eyes after being treated with acid. One such work, included in the Tate's show of Art and the 1960s, seemed so unlikely to the museum's cleaners to be a work of art that they bundled it up with the rubbish and put it into a crusher. Lost for ever.

Well, I have my doubts about this perfect silly-season story. To be honest, one has heard this exact tale so many times that, if it is not an urban myth, the art galleries of the world ought to start sending their cleaners on art-appreciation crash courses. The first time I heard it was about Joseph Beuys's work of art, Dirty Bathtub. It was a dirty bathtub. The story went that some diligent German cleaners got at it with a bottle of Cif, and gave it a jolly good polish, after which the insurers had to pay up an enormous sum to re-dirty the thing. And then there is the same story told about Marcel Duchamp, Blinky Palermo, etc, etc, etc. It's a nice story, but by now, I honestly doubt its plausibility. For a start, how much real old rubbish is ever left lying around Tate Britain's galleries for anyone to pick up? In any case, surely even the Tate's cleaners have heard the urban myth by now.

Wayne's world

Mr Wayne Rooney, the talented footballer, apparently enjoys going to prostitutes in his spare time. Well, what do you know? If you give an extremely fit, not overly educated, cheerful teenager an obscene amount of money, and surround him with other extremely fit, not overly educated, cheerful millionaires, then I imagine the end result is that he quickly discovers that he can spend it in ways which many grown-ups do not find easy to approve of. See page 7 for our exclusive, Dog Bites Man.

Deplorable and rather pitiable though Mr Rooney's behaviour may seem to us, it does display a rather shocking ignorance of human nature to be surprised at it. Of course, we would all much prefer that he settled down with his charming fiancée and took on the task, unappealing to most teenagers, of becoming a Role Model to the young. Failing that, we might put up with his picking up glamour models in nightclubs. But - the popular press thought - there was nothing to be said for the habit of visiting prostitutes, and they seemed to be under the impression that it was an unusual thing for men of working-class background to do. The thing which made me laugh, however, was their emphasis on the fact that some of the prostitutes were rather plain. That, of course, in some people's opinion, compounds the offence.

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