The Null Device


As Britain's higher education minister puts forward a plan to teach "core British values" in schools, hopefully reducing the number of kids who turn into happy-slapping hoodied thugs and/or radicalised Islamist jihadists, Grauniad blogger Stuart Jeffries looks at just what these values could be:

We must try to help Mr Rammell and find out which values are characteristic of modern Britain. Here are three that occurred to me:
  1. Drinking to excess in order to obliterate feelings of social awkwardness, existential angst and the fact that there's nothing worth watching on television.
  2. Invading other countries and imposing our values, even though we aren't really sure what they are, on them. Then feeling terribly guilty about the mess we have made and doing a lot of (1) to make the guilt go away .
  3. Having a marvellous tolerance for other people's rudeness, vulgarity and impoliteness - mainly because we're too worried that the rude, vulgar and impolite people we encounter might hurt or kill us if we complain about their anti-social behaviour. Hence the national sport of moaning about anti-social people who aren't there, which helpfully reduces the risk of hospitalisation, while never really confronting the core problem that bedevils British society.
None of these values, I submit, should be taught to secondary school pupils. In any case, kids will learn them just by living here for five minutes.
In her book Watching the English, social anthropologist Kate Fox concludes that there are three English values. They might not be quite the same as British values, but let's assume that they are for a moment. She suggests that the values are fair play, courtesy, and modesty. When you've quite finished laughing, let's review them as contenders. First, fair play. Has Fox ever seen an English premiership football match, where fair play has been substituted for feigning injury to deceive officials and mobbing the referee until he concedes that they were right and he was wrong? True, there are many English idioms that invoke fair play such as That's not cricket, Live and let live, but not Did you spill my pint" and Did you look at my bird, you slag? Fair play is about an aspiration to be better than the base behaviour we see around us.
How about modesty? Is Britain really a country where everybody (man and woman) wears burkas to conceal their naughty bits? Sartorial modesty isn't really what Fox means. Rather, she means that the British detest boasting and self-importance. True, the countervailing bling culture may represent a counterexample to this, as may, for example, Jordan's autobiography and the fact that every cough and spit of her worthless life is seen as fit material for weekly magazines. Fox contends that this modesty is a form of self-deprecation which is usually found by us saying the opposite of what we intend people to understand, or by using deliberate understatement. Hence what she calls the English sport of one-downmanship, whereby we deny wealth/class/ status differences for the sake of some polite egalitarianism. As Fox suggests this ironic self-deprecation often acts as a counterbalance to our natural arrogance, and so is rather hypocritical. Our values may in fact continually be at risk of being destroyed by from our uglier impulses. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't stand up for them.
Jeffries concludes that actually teaching values in a classroom would be futile. The idea strikes me a bit like the endless pontificating about "the Australian national character" that happened in Australia, and the compulsory subject of "Australian Studies" which the state government of Victoria introduced into schools in the early 1990s. This was generally a load of hot air seasoned with left-wing identity politics (at least before the conservatives took office, and presumably reduced it to its core component of hot air), and ended up involving assignments like "watch an episode of Neighbours and write about how work roles are represented in it". Perhaps they could adopt this, replacing "Neighbours" with "Eastenders" and "work roles" with "extra-marital sex" or something.

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It looks like the new, less-draconian copyright laws in Australia won't be all that much to be happy about. Under the laws, whilst ripping non-copy-protected CDs will be legal (though only to other formats), you will only be allowed to watch a recorded TV programme once, and then obliged to delete it. Taping a TV show for a mate will be a crime. Which means that Australia will once again be a nation of criminals, unless, of course, all personal video recorders sold in Australia are configured to enforce the view-only-once restriction. And before you go off to start your BitTorrent client, keep in mind that, as a concession to Big Copyright in return for allowing you to rip your CDs, your taxes are paying for police officers to monitor internet connections, having access to the surveillance infrastructure mandated after 9/11 and using state-of-the-art automated tools to detect, trace and prosecute file sharing, and that the burden of proof has been shifted to make it harder to evade prosecution. If you break the law, the law will break you.

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Melbourne underworld hitman/standover man turned spoken-word artist/painter/celebrity/brand Mark "Chopper" Read's latest venture is a board game based on his criminal career:

Using bullets for pieces, the game starts at the dole office, and players visit brothels, standover notorious criminals, get busted by police, go to court, go to jail, before finally making their way to Tasmania.
For their sins players also have to go through a shocking form of Russian roulette. At the roll of the dice, put their fingers in a silver vice - and one of them gets a small electric shock.
Chopper, his marketing people and the game developers (a Queensland outfit who call themselves the Blowtorch Group) haven't neglected the brand tie-in potential either, recommending that players may care to consume Chopper Heavy Beer (which, from what I recall, is quite decent) and Chopper Nuts whilst playing.
"It's no longer illegal what I do these days but it's bloody criminal what I get away with," Read said. "But I haven't had a penny out of it so far."
It's interesting to note that board games are considered so safe these days that the chorus of condemnation has been all but absent. Certainly there have been no wowser politicians promising to see about getting it banned, as happens in Australia whenever a controversial video game or non-mainstream movie comes out.

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