Onstage, the former candidate for the governorship of Texas inhaled happily and illegally on a fat cigar and confided his thoughts about the wussification of our culture. Kinky Friedman, the country ‘n’ western star, novelist and politician, is touring the UK, and was pausing between songs while his guitarist replaced a string.
He had first realised the power of wusses and sissies while campaigning for state office in 2006. He had been standing in the back of an open-topped car, travelling so slowly as hardly to be moving at all, talking to voters with a can of Guinness in his hand. The next day, he was accused of breaking a law about open containers in cars. There was talk of prosecution. Here, he later declared, was a serious case of wussification. As for the allegation itself, he answered like a true would-be politician. “I did drink some Guinness, he said. “But I didn’t swallow.”
Not for the first time, the Kinkster, as he likes to be known, had spoken a profound truth. The chronically anxious have somehow taken control of our world. Thin-blooded and censorious, they have decided that anyone who is colourful, different or eccentric represents not just a danger to himself but to the rest of us, too. Their response to each new source of anxiety is simple: if in doubt, ban it.
The rule of the wuss lies behind most the government’s many pronouncements. Knife crime, to take the issue of the moment, may statistically have remained at about the same level over the past decade but it has recently become a media obsession and so yet more useless legislation will be needed.
Fear sells newspapers. It keeps people watching the news. There is a growing addiction to anxiety and guilt. The government response – yet another useless law – is designed to make voters feel more secure but almost always has the opposite effect.
A similar state of mind eats into matters of public taste and morality. It is now enough for someone, no matter how bored, bigoted or nutty, to take offence for them to be taken seriously. Such is our state of cultural cringe that the sensibilities of one wuss weigh more heavily in the balance than the views of a thousand people who take a normal, grown-up view. Last month, Manchester Museum responded to complaints from members of the public who had been offended by the dessicated 4,000- year-old remains of Egyptian mummies, on the grounds that the figures were unclothed. The response, inevitably, was a victory for dirty-minded prurience. The figures were covered up.
This week’s menacing idiocy came courtesy of the government minister Anna Eagle. Proposing new anti-pornography legislation to cover computer-generated images, she remarked that cartoons and paintings should also fall within the law. This great leap forward for those who are afraid of everything, particularly freedom, was defended on the grounds that legitimate works of art would never be banned. The only sane response to this argument is derisive laughter.
Objecting to the idea of a potential new tier of censorship, David Hockney perceptively referred to “the mean spirit of the age”. To oppose this scourge of nay-saying nannies, spreading guilt, fear and anxiety wherever they go, is not grumpiness but a positive, life-affirming gesture on behalf of the individual, the unusual and the risky.
As the Kinkster once said in the context of Texas, we must fight back against the wussification of our culture – even if we have to do it one wuss at a time.
Don’t feel too sorry for Leah
In a game but touchingly ineptattempt to bolster her career, a Canadian journalist called Leah McLaren has written a multimedia project – column, film, and probably video game – around the exhausted cliché that Englishmen are bad lovers. She had once worked on a right-wing tabloid in London and dated, as she elegantly puts it, “a lot of crap British men”.
She never apparently went to bed with any of them, a fact that she puts down to their alcoholism, misogyny or repressed homosexuality. She says that behind every well-mannered Englishman is someone “who wants to go home and be whipped and chained”. It all sounds very much like a desperate cry for help. Leah is currently dating an ex-pat Canadian.
* If you are looking for a perfect symbol of the inter-relatedness of British landscape and everyday life, of the practical and the pleasurable, wild and domestic, then a leading contender would be the apple.
This month the importance of fruit growing, and of apples in particular, has received a double boost. Three collections of 1,000 varieties of apple have been sold for cultivation to the Prince of Wales’s Duchy organic food range, to the Co-operative Society and to a private collector in Scotland.
At a more popular level, the environmental organisation Common Ground has published a manifesto and guide for those who want to make orchards part of their community, in the same way as a village green might be. Community Orchards Handbook, promoting the idea of a shared place which is good for people, wildlife and food, is one of the publications of the summer.