Sunday, November 11, 2018

the spouse that roared

Ronald Reagan once said that the most terrifying words in the English language are: "I'm from the government, and I'm here to help". And as previously observed here Gore Vidal is reputed to have once claimed that the three most depressing words in the English language are "Joyce Carol Oates".

I'm going to go out on a limb here and claim that the three most terrifying and/or depressing words in the English language are: Military Wives Choir. Whoooaaah, there, you'll be saying, you've gone too far this time with your robustly controversial yet thought-provoking opinions. Have a pop at The Big Guy all you like, he can take it, but Our Brave Girls? You disgust me.

Let me see if I can walk you through it a bit:
  • Firstly, and most obviously, patriarchy. There's a sort of misty-eyed fantasy at work here which envisages these women sitting looking wistfully out of a window waiting for their husbands' return, clad in some demure and respectful clothing - nothing too overtly sexy but clearly not a manky old pair of pyjamas or a crusty comedy onesie either. In this scenario where the women are defined solely by being married to some guy in the forces, and possibly by the requirement to bring up his children during his periods of absence, maybe there is an expectation that they'll have lots of free time, not all of which can be spent wistfully gazing through windows, and therefore the little ladies, bless 'em, need something to occupy them. I mean, it's not as if any of them have jobs, right? No-one's going to be a lawyer, or a fitness instructor, or a financial advisor, or a thrusting senior executive at some major corporation, so why not get together for a bit of an old sing-song in your spare time, in between making jam and that.
  • Similarly, it's not as if anyone in the armed forces is a woman, right? Granted, they could still have wives, but that's not the wholesome corn-fed vanilla family scenario that we're thinking of here, is it?
  • This is a particularly pernicious example of what you might call the Nick Knowles effect, that is to say the inexplicable (to me, anyway) tendency of the record-buying public to purchase stuff based on whether they know of the people involved, and indeed imagine (clearly mistakenly) that they know them personally in some way, rather than on the basis of whether, you know, it's any good.
  • In this case that's reinforced by the weird and, I would contend, generally unhealthy reverence that the British public have for the armed forces. This goes double at this time of year when everyone loses their freakin' MINDS over appropriate poppy-wearing protocol. Combine that with the Nick Knowles effect above and you have a toxic situation where any criticism (such as: Christ, this is all a bit shit, isn't it?) basically prompts the response WHY DO YOU HATE OUR TROOPS and WHY DO YOU HATE BRITAIN and WELL WE'LL JUST GET INVADED AND RAPED AND MURDERED BY ISLAMOFASCIST COMMUNISTS THEN SHALL WE AS THAT'S CLEARLY JUST FINE WITH YOU. It's a short hop from here to showering people with abuse when they make a considered decision not to wear a poppy, or mindlessly recycling a load of Britain First propaganda.
  • Further to the Nick Knowles effect is the Gareth Fucking Malone effect whereby this supremely irritating nerdy bloke tries to get the country singing (endearingly amateurishly, naturally), to lots of furtive OH YOUNG MAN from the late-middle-aged TV-watching public. Malone was heavily implicated in the formation of some of the early versions of the Military Wives choirs, and is, as I think I may have mentioned above, really fucking annoying. I think it's another aspect of communal joinery-innery with the associated curled lip towards anyone who'd rather not, thanks very much.
It was on Chris Evans' breakfast show on Radio 2 that I heard the reference which prompted this post - shortly afterwards I switched over to Radio 4 to catch Melvyn Bragg's In Our Time about Marie Antoinette. About 27 minutes in there's a bit about how the French revolution and its instigators viewed the rights of women, and the verdict (230 years ago, let's not forget) was, and I quote: "women belong in the private sphere; man belongs in the public sphere". Plus ├ža change, and all that.

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