Thursday, October 01, 2020

did he say that? he shaw did

One thing that struck me while reading All Shook Up was the names of the three different sections of the book, as pictured below:


In particular, the title of Part II, He Do The Police In Different Voices, seemed like such an oddly-constructed phrase that I assumed it must be a reference to something else. And sure enough it turns out to have been the original working title of TS Eliot's The Waste Land, Eliot himself lifting the phrase from a section of dialogue in Charles Dickens' novel Our Mutual Friend, his last completed novel before his death in 1870.

The other thing that struck me about the phrase was how I immediately started singing it in my own head to the tune of the "we love our love in different sizes" line from The Beautiful South's 1998 single Perfect 10. It's the same sort of transgeneric synaptic brainfart that resulted in these two posts from way back in 2007 and 2008. It's a good song, but The Beautiful South are one of those groups (Prefab Sprout would be another British example) who do clever, literate pop songs that I can appreciate the craft and cleverness of without ever being hit by them in quite the visceral way I like to be hit by music.

Noticing random scansion matches isn't a thing I came up with myself exclusively, though - following on the heels of this XKCD strip there is now a Twitter account devoted solely to tweeting the titles of Wikipedia articles that can be sung to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles theme song. What a time to be alive, etc. etc.

Finally, a couple of notes on my use of the phrase "Stakhanovite schedule of furtive handjobs" in the All Shook Up post - I have a vague memory of reading a thing on the internet ages ago that was either a parody of a piece of Harry Potter fanfic as penned by Martin Amis, or (less likely) actually was a piece of Harry Potter fanfic penned by Martin Amis. Either way, it included a memorable (if slightly pervy) phrase about Hermione Granger administering "Stakhanovite handjobs in the showers" which I chose to recycle here. Needless to say if you search "Hermione handjob showers" or similar on Google (and I strongly suggest you don't do so at work) you will be directed to a series of Pornhub links featuring a succession of dead-eyed Emma Watson lookalikes (well, if you squint a bit, as you'll probably be doing anyway), which are diverting enough in their own way but don't help tracking down bits of literary satire. It is of course possible that I dreamt the whole thing anyway.

The "Stakhanovite" reference here is to Alexey Stakhanov, Soviet hero and holder of various implausible records for mining productivity presumably achieved in the red heat of a Communism-crazed patriotic frenzy. We can have a good laugh about transparent Soviet propaganda, of course, but inevitably there were British examples as well, during the Second World War in particular. One that I hadn't encountered until a couple of days ago was Frank Laskier, a gunner in the Merchant Navy whose escape (at the cost of one of his feet) from a sinking ship after a German attack made him a perfect choice to be subsequently wheeled out (not literally, he'd had a prosthetic foot fitted by then) on various newsreels to whip up some avenging sentiment and break the news to his sweetheart Mary that she would have to wait until he'd finished the filthy business of dispatching the Hun before she could expect any filthy business of her own. 

Anyway, to cut these ramblings short, the thing that really interested me was Laskier's closing words in the clip here:
Do you think I'm going to let them get away with that? Not likely. Not pygmalion likely!
Listening to that, and the last bit in particular, has an oddly jarring effect - clearly the word "pygmalion" is meant to be some sort of minced oath, but devoid of some explanatory context I think most people (myself included) wouldn't have the first clue of why it's being used here. The answer is that George Bernard Shaw's play of the same name was one of the first plays to feature the word "bloody" as a profanity (albeit a pretty fucking mild one by today's standards), and the 1938 film, which retained the line, was also one of the first to use it. Laskier's cut-glass RP accent is a historical curio, as well, especially when you know that he grew up around Liverpool docks and would probably have started out with an impenetrable Scouse accent - there are echoes of Pygmalion again here as Eliza Doolittle undergoes a similar transformation, indeed this is part of what makes her use of "bloody" notable. Truly the past is a foreign country

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