“The personal is political” used to be the mantra that many “second wave” feminists screeched during the counterculture of the 1960s. Timothy Leary the infamous American psychologist advocated that we should “Turn on, tune in, drop out” during the same time period. The spiritual offspring of this ongoing counter-cultural revolution have combined these two mantras into a single unyielding monolith now: “The personal is political and you can’t drop out.”
In a previous age, there was a golden era (to be fair it was only the 80’s and 90’s) when the political was political, the personal was personal and culture was culture. Much like a Venn diagram, there could be overlap between the three spheres, but they could still be recognised as three distinct entities from one another. Now the formally overlapping areas are gradually being moved, like the lenses of a strange optic device with the beam focussing on the activities of the individual at every level and in every area of their life.
Almost every indulgence, pastime, hobby, pursuit and show of gratitude is now is met with a disdainful “tut, tut” from some joyless and unrepresentative spokesperson.
Our cigarettes were the first to go. Next, on the hit list, it was alcohol consumption. Now it is fatty foods and sugary drinks. Once one perceived societal issue has been dealt with, the puritanical Generals begin preliminary planning for the next lengthy campaign in what’s looking increasingly like a war on anything that the populace enjoys that is deemed as unhealthy or likely to “trigger” an overly sensitive undergraduate by our unelected moral guardians.
However, with reductions in smoking and alcohol consumption in the UK, having largely been achieved, what’s the next target? Indeed the latest report from ASH states that smoking has largely been “de-normalised” in society. An interesting and loaded phrase to use with subtle overtones of behaviour modification and conditioning. Indeed to use the clichéd and well-worn phrase, it’s almost “Orwellian” in its usage.
Of course, improving public health is a benefit to us all. In general, it means less care support when we are older, less public expenditure and people living healthier, longer lives. But it also takes agency away from the individual.
It’s also natural that all organisations have a will to perpetuate themselves. People work within them and they have jobs. Would ASH just disband itself if smoking rates dropped to zero? Of course not. They would move onto the negative effects of e-cigarettes or something along a similar line that they perceived as an existential threat to our existence. Of course, once funded, pressure groups gain traction, donations and a modicum of political clout. It’s inevitable that they will move on to other targets, often beyond their original remit. Much like an army that has been ordered to requisition from the field, they leave little in their aftermath before moving on.
However, what concerns me is this process of “de-normalisation”, which requires a significant degree of politicisation infecting other areas of our behaviour and our activities, which have hitherto been unmolested. No one is spared from this. No activity is too small to be focused upon by the unrelenting beam anymore and our relatively mild cultural activities look like they are at the beginning of the process of “de-normalisation.”
It used to be, we could go to the cinema for a bit of escapism from our sometimes monotonous lives. Now our films, some of our cultural and nostalgic touchstones, are needlessly rated by how much screen time the female characters are given. Star Wars, essentially a fairy tale in space has been given the once-over by an academic from the University of Glasgow based on female screen time.
Digital Spy has also ranked the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe by female screen time. Did you notice that Agent Margaret “Peggy” Carter is on screen for only 14% of the running time of Captain America: The First Avenger? Oh, you didn’t? You were too busy watching a ripping, retro-futuristic yarn about a weedy man from New York being granted superpowers with the help of a secret serum and “vita rays”. You bigot! I bet you’re a hetro-normative cis-male as well!
Even the humble cup of normal, regular tea is being politicised. In 2015, The Guardian published an article about tea drinking and how it’s colonial. Apparently, it’s legacy of Great Britain’s Imperial past. Really? Partly, this will be typical Guardianista stuff; having a jab at a traditional working-class beverage. I wonder if expensive imported coffee is colonial? Or what about the Mao Feng blend, green tea that you’ve been drinking? What about the environmental impact of that? This entire article may have been a parody, I mean we do live in a ‘post-parody’ world where the boundaries between truth and un-truth are blurred.
You aren’t even free from being disturbed in a café anymore either. Imagine sitting at the themed “Blighty Cafe” in London, You’ve paid for whatever you choose to have from the menu, (Please don’t order the tea, you’ll only make it worse for yourself) waiting for it to arrive, and then you’re suddenly accosted by a group of left-wing students who obviously consider you to be on the wrong side of history just for being there. I’ve visited Beamish, the Museum of the North. I wasn’t there to revel in the reconstructed Edwardian Street and bask in Britain’s Imperial past (Okay, maybe just a tiny bit) but the notion of the social justice left being present to protest its mere existence is no longer impossible to imagine.
However, this politicisation of what can only really be considered trivialities (and on the scale of Brexit, mass migration, climate change, living costs etc such issues are trivial) is making me less likely to engage with real political issues that are actually important and can determine my life and the health of society in often innumerable ways.
Much like the SJWs who have used the words “Nazi” until it has lost absolutely all meaning, weight and gravitas, I feel that this is the same sort of phenomena.
Such “political” concerns as to what my fellow citizens eat and drink, female screen time on films and broadcast media, oppressive cups of tea and themed cafes are of little concern to me. I’m not a member of the “chattering classes” and their endless and inane chattering about these non-issues is starting to grate.
At the moment there are enough sensible people to hold the line against such intrusions, but for how much longer? Imagine the Britain of 2037. All films have to reflect the exact mix of the population, even if it’s about shipbuilders on Tyneside during the early 20th century. Tea is rationed to two cups today because too much caffeine is bad for you and it represent a colonial past which you were never involved in. Concerts now consist of people listening with headphones and showing their appreciation by using “jazz hands” due to clapping being banned by parliament. Terrifying.