Are white middle-class men discriminated against? No, seriously.

Well, they are, if you believe one Mr Jeremy Paxman. It seems that race relations have progressed so far in this country, that beyond mere equality, bigotry in its latest form means that white middle-class men have no hope of making within the television industry.

At a pre-recorded interview at the Edinburgh International Television Festival, Paxman said:

“The worst thing you can be in this industry is a middle-class white male. If any middle-class white male I come across says he wants to enter television, I say ‘give up all hope’. They’ve no chance.”

Pardon me if I’m perhaps just a tad sceptical. 🙂

Don’t get me wrong; I love Paxman’s irreverent interviewing style on Newsnight (who doesn’t!?) Much to the amusement of the British public, Paxman has provided countless classic moments of TV gold, as many an arrogant, slippery politician makes yet another futile attempt to try to evade his aggressive and persistent line of questioning (“Did you threaten to over-rule him?” 😉 ).

Afterall, only Paxman alone could ask Tony Blair whether he and George Bush pray together, for example. 🙂

However, in recent months, Paxo has been prone to gaffes on more than one occasion. First, there was the rather sensitive issue of Marks & Spencer’s underwear (the less said about this, the better – I’d rather not elaborate 😯 ). This was closely followed by a rather serious “incident” where Paxman managed to offend the whole of Scotland, by lambasting the work of celebrated poet, Robert Burns as “sentimental doggerel.”

And in his most recent error of judgment, Paxman appears to think that white middle-class men are the most disadvantaged when it comes to employability, in the television industry, at least. This is a comment that could only really come from someone who’s probably hasn’t experienced much prejudice and bigotry firsthand.

Needless to say, Paxman’s comments have received much criticism and ridicule. Channel 4 news presenter, Krishnan Guru-Murthy, said:

“I feel awfully sorry for white, middle-class men who went to Oxbridge… but I’m not sure they are the ones at the greatest disadvantage.

“Obviously, the people who really are facing the biggest struggle to make it into television are those from working-class backgrounds and people from ethnic minorities. If they are both working class and from an ethnic minority, they really are up against it.”

Whilst it’s undeniable that there’s been significant progress when it comes to eradicating discrimination, nevertheless, there is still a long way to go, and to claim that white middle-class men face a greater struggle than women, ethnic minorities, or the working class, is simply absurd.

Paxman’s bold, outlandish claims that white middle-class males are society’s most neglected minority group seems to indicate that he is completely out of touch with reality.

Despite this latest faux pas, to remember Paxman at his most memorable, check out this video that features some of his best moments:

Aah, that’s better. Classic Paxman at his finest hour. 🙂


Street art at the Tate: bland, boring and no sign of Banksy anywhere

If you’ve read my About Me page, then you’ll know that I love street art. Monday is the last day of the Tate Modern’s iconic street exhibition, so last week, I decided to catch the exhibition while I still had the chance.

Whilst I acknowledge that the presence of a street art exhibition at the Tate is a milestone in allowing graffiti to be recognised as a genuinely credible art form, I can’t help but feel that the exhibition missed the point. Whilst it may have made urban art more accessible to a new audience, it failed to capture all that is fascinating and unique about street art.

Association with left-wing politics

Although urban street art has been popularised by British graffiti artist, Banksy (the Keyser Söze of the art world), it’s a global art form that’s long shared an intimate bond with socialism, radical politics, and the anti-war movement. Most recently, Orwell’s most famous works, (the visionary dystopian novel 1984 and the satirical allegory, Animal Farm) were reissued with visually stunning book covers designed by guerrilla street artist, Shepard Fairey.

Shepard Fairey, most famous for the iconic Obey campaign, recently created this limited edition print to show his support for Presidential candidate, Barack Obama. Not only did the print sell out in minutes, but also support from such a popular cultural figure did wonders for Obama’s campaign. As Fairey explained on his website:

”I believe with great conviction that Barack Obama should be the next President. I have been paying close attention to him since the Democratic convention in 2004. I feel that he is more a statesman than a politician. He was against the war when it was an unpopular position (and Hillary was for the war at that time), Obama is for energy and environmental conservation. He is for healthcare reform…”

Whilst the exhibition at the Tate (which also included an urban walking tour) mostly focused on Madrid street art, the lack of political messages meant that the exhibition failed to capture the revolutionary spirit at the heart of the guerrilla street art movement.

In addition, given that Banksy has popularised the art form and brought it to the mainstream, an exhibition where his work isn’t mentioned (at all) seems somewhat incomplete. Whilst the exhibition’s curators argue that they wanted to bring a more international flavour to the Tate, I suspect that the noticeable absence of arguably the world’s most famous anonymous artist may have been more to do with the anti-establishment nature of street art.

Anti-establishment art doesn’t have corporate sponsors

A particularly salient point to note about the Tate street art exhibition is that it’s sponsored by Nissan, ironic given the anti-capitalist nature of the movement.

The work of James Cauty, for example, is unlikely to ever receive a sponsorship from Disney, despite featuring its most iconic star in a variety of different guises. 🙂 And, this piece from Banksy probably won’t do any favours for the marketing department of a certain American fast food chain.  😉

The epitome of freedom of expression

In 2005, Banksy sneaked into four New York museums to hang his own work. That’s the point about street art.  It doesn’t need permission. It exemplifies all that is beautiful about freedom of expression. And, it democratises art, rather than limiting it to a small, privileged elite, who may or may not get the chance within their lifetime to display their work to the general public.

In some ways, Web 2.0 shares many of the characteristics of street art, which rather aptly explains my fascination with both. Like street art, the social web has democratised information, through bloggery, and other forms of user-generated content.

Moving on from this, the internet has been instrumental in popularising street art and bringing it into the spotlight. Sites such as Wooster Collective, Art of the State, and Streetsy, as well as blogs dedicated to individual art projects (such as the Little People blog) have propelled the movement to spectacular new heights.

An exhibition that doesn’t capture the evocative soul of street art is short-sighted, bland and ultimately, “not so street.” Street art has long been dismissed as “graffiti” and criticised for its lack of credibility as an art form. Whilst displaying this art at the Tate is an important step in helping to give street art the respect it deserves, as this blog post points out:

“What does it mean to just choose a few street artists and paste work onto the side of an art institution? If it already exists outside on sides of buildings what makes this so special?”

…Although (it) gives street art the respect it deserves, it also tells us that it still isn’t as valued as other modern and contemporary art practices, by denying it the space inside the museum.

It is only as valid as its increase of visitors and sponsorship money. A friend answered my questions by saying, “They’ve had to bring the street art to the middle classes, so they can feel cool. Or they can feel cool by slating it.”

I conclude that this was a wasted opportunity by the Tate.”

In summary, urban art is about radical freedom of expression: anywhere, any place, any time. The essence of street art lies in the fact that it’s subversive, it’s controversial and most importantly, it’s not pretentious.

Displaying street art in a museum perhaps defeats its core purpose and message. Perhaps we need to ask ourselves whether such art forms belong in the Tate at all. Even if it’s possible to institutionalise street art, perhaps this exhibition could have been better executed.

Could it be that the Tate missed a genuinely exciting opportunity to bring underground art to an increasingly enthusiastic public?

Positive discrimination is still discrimination

It’s a tragedy that the ugly disease of racial and gender discrimination still plagues our society. Fifty years after the civil rights movement, one can’t but help feel that not much has changed, or at the very least, not enough. Rather than defeating the very core of racism, British politicians seem content to replace true notions of equality with the hard, shiny, plastic exterior of mere political correctness.

This is demonstrated no more clearly than by Harriet Harman’s plans to allow employers to discriminate in favour of women and ethnic minorities over white males. Whilst it’s true that on-white unemployment is overall higher than for white ethnic groups (as the following statistics from the 2004 National Census show), favouring women and ethnic minorities for the sake of a quota and for mere political correctness is not only highly patronising but also deeply divisive.

Stats and chart from the UK Office for National Statistics (2004)

Harriet Harman’s recent speech in the House of Commons is riddled with contradictions and inconsistencies. For example, she talks about addressing inequalities through creating a “fair and equal society”, and that “no-one should have to put up with discrimination.” That’s all very well, but it seems our politicians have misunderstood the very definition of discrimination itself:

Discrimination: treatment or consideration of, or making a distinction in favor of or against, a person or thing based on the group, class, or category to which that person or thing belongs rather than on individual merit:

Simply put, discrimination, whether in favour or against a particular group, is still discrimination. Putting “positive” in front of the word doesn’t make it a good thing! To quote Sidney Poitier in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,

“It’s not just that our color difference doesn’t matter to her. It’s that she doesn’t seem to think there is any difference.”

How can we expect to move forward and eliminate discrimination once and for all, if even our politicans have got it so wrong?

Addressing inequality in the workplace is imperative now, more than ever, in a period of economic instability, where employers need to have access to the best skills, to sustain competitive advantage.

Positive discrimination is highly patronising. The fact is, statistics report that girls consistently outperform boys at all levels of education. And yet despite this, National Statistics Online still report a gender pay gap of approximately 12.6%. Clearly, when it comes to salary, it pays to be a man. But, the point is that forcing employers to hire women just because they happen to be women undermines the fact that women are skilled and qualified and able to perform the job just as well as men.

It’s important to note, however, that Harman said firms should be able to choose a woman over a man of equal ability. In reality, however, I think one candidate always outperforms another, even if by only a slight margin, so firms should choose the candidate with the best ability, rather than using gender as a basis for a decision.

Despite all the doom and gloom, however, I firmly believe that change is inevitable, given that the gender pay gap is closing, though we still have a long way to go to achieving equality. And, more ethnic minorities are entering university and achieving the right skills that employers are looking for.

Looking at education levels, in terms of GCSE exam results, Chinese and Indian pupils are the most successful, whilst white males trail behind in last place. Even the focus on  the underachievement of Afro-Carribeans has been called “statistical racism”, as statistically, Afro-Carribean pupils do no worse than white British from similar economic backgrounds.

We need to get to a place not where we prefer to employ women or ethnic minorities over white males, but where we are blind to differences in gender and race and reward people on the basis of their ability alone. It’s obvious that deep racial discrimination still exists in our society; it’s just that positive discrimination is not the answer.

See the video of Harriet Harman’s speech in the House of Commons here.

Cool advertising: Trublood – the synthetic blood soft drink

So I’ve just come back to the UK after a two week holiday (“vacation”) in the States, where I visited New York and other parts of the East coast. As it was my first trip, it was pretty interesting to see the cultural differences between the UK and US, the most obvious one being that the Americans are a lot more friendly than the Brits. It’s a shame to perpetuate the myth of British people being more reserved and maintaining their “stiff upper lip,” but unfortunately, the traditional cultural stereotype is truthful to some extent.

Whilst in New York, I was intrigued by an advert, apparently for a bottled synthetic blood-flavoured soft drink called Trublood. Having a rather sick sense of humour, as well as a (perfect healthy?!) interest in human physiology, I was hoping to sample some of this interesting beverage during my stay in the US. Admittedly, I did find the concept of a drink disguised as human bodily fluids rather strange, but given that this was my first trip to the US, I guess I just dismissed it offhand, and thought “Only in America…”

It was only when I got home, that I got the chance to do some much needed Googling to find the drink online, only to find that rather than encouraging members of the public to drink your own blood, the ad was actually a rather innovative campaign for HBO’s new television show, “True Blood.”

As well as having to admit that I was gullible enough to get sucked in by American  advertising, I also have to take into account that I would have been willing to sample synthetic blood, if it had been readily available.

I’m not quite sure what this says about me, but this gets to the heart of why this marketing campaign is so clever.

  • The campaign understands its audience: people macabre enough to consider the possibility of drinking synthetic blood for fun are probably also the ideal audience that HBO is looking for.
  • Good understanding of the relationship between online and offline marketing: with little additional purchase info provided on the billboard itself, the ad acts as an effective driver of traffic to the website.
  • This also encourages users to visit, a dedicated microsite for the drink, that “reminds vampires to drink responsibly.”

The microsite extends advertising for the drink in an inventive, innovative and realistic way.

I especially love that the Tru Blood apparently comes in four distinct flavours: Type O, (“Hearty and Satisfying”), Type A (“Light and Delicate”), Type B (“Aggressive and Energizing”), Type AB (“Smooth and Refined”).

I’m not quite sure what type would suit me best, but the Type Finder rather helped in that respect. After answering a series of questions, I found that I was “The Cultivated Aesthete – Type A” and apparently share similar taste in blood with Oscar Wilde.

And, apparently I wasn’t the only one taken in by the campaign: bloodthirsty consumers have apparently made efforts to purchase the product or locate a dealer.

To some extent, the tactics employed are similar to a campaign last year for Showtime’s Dexter, which fooled some viewers into thinking that they were the next victims of a gruesome series of murders by a notorious serial killer. Both campaigns use shock tactics to resonate with consumers and viewers, as they play on the sense of the macabre and sheer morbid curiousity.

Overall, the ad does a great job of standing out amid the wealth of advertising messages – whilst I might not ever get to find out what synthetic blood tastes likes, I’m sure I’ll be one of many bloodthirsty viewers checking out True Blood, the TV show when it’s broadcast later this September.

“TrueBlood,” the new series from the creators of Six Feet Under starts on HBO on the 7th of September.

Photo credit: “Comic-Con: Trueblood billboard,” Mitch Wagner on Flickr.