Posts Tagged 'Guardian'

Comment is free but outrage is easy

The problem with blogging – and it is a trap I fall into myself – is that it encourages extremes of opinion.

For all the blurb about social networks and the global community, posting in the blogosphere can sometimes feel like shouting into a void and listening for an echo, which in the end only makes you shout louder.

Even so-called professionals can be guilty of this sin. Yesterday, on the Guardian’s  Comment is Free section, I read a post by one of their NY-based freelancers, Shahnaz Habib, on the lack of ethics in multinationals.loreal2

Habib is outraged that L’Oreal, the world’s biggest manufacturer of beauty products, sells lightening cream in India. A company that devotes several pages in its corporate responsibility handbook to “skin and hair diversity” and which has run ad-campaigns around their ranges of makeup for people of different ethnicities, she argues, ought to know better.

She writes:

“When international cosmetics companies enter the fairness creams market, peddling in India products that they would not dare stock in the aisles of the politically correct west, there is a layer of hypocrisy that is dangerous to ignore”

Although she admits that “all beauty advertising caters to culturally relative neuroses of what is beautiful”, Habib still believes selling whitening cream is tantamount to promoting racism.

“Even the most naive marketing chiefs at L’Oreal must have had a glimmering of doubt – ‘Wait a minute, is it racist to promote whitening? Would we put these words in a billboard on Times Square?’”

This, she tells us, proves the moral corruption of multinationals that claim to “think globally and act locally” but in fact are merely exploiting the vulnerable people of a developing country for profits.

And so it might seem at first glance. When I first saw lightening creams lining the shelves of supermarkets in India last summer, my first reaction was exactly the same – outrage. But then I started to think about it.

If lightening cream caters exclusively to Asian markets and is deplored by the west, how can it be said that it is imposed upon them? Multinationals may have the GDP of small countries and wield more power than many of them, but they cannot change social and cultural norms.

You can argue that, in India specifically, they are perpetuating the legacy of racism left by the British. But the caste system, India’s very own home-grown brand of prejudice, existed long before the British East India Company had even set sail.

Surely trying to impose western standards of political correctness on the Indian market shows a far more colonial attitude than catering to their “culturally relative neuroses of what is beautiful”. Is selling fake tan or promoting sunbeds perceived as racist in the UK?

This, I believe, is the danger of blogging: it encourages posts that spring directly from gut reaction. Habib is clearly not stupid or arrogant or morally imperious. She was seduced by the medium into writing something that, though researched and articulated with care, ended up as a self-defeating tirade.

But at least it’s a consolation to know that when comment is free, comments there will be – 88 and counting underneath Habib’s article.

Born to be wild

I like to pride myself on being something of a time-wasting connoisseur. Give me an afternoon and I will show you how to do sod all, and take pride in it.

But today I realised that I was playing in the junior league compared to the world of academia across the pond.

According to a report in the Guardian, research by a team of American scientists has come to the astounding conclusion that the rise of the novel in the last eighteenth century “not only reflected the values of Victorian society, but also shaped them.”

Researchers asked 500 academics to rate the personality traits of characters from 201 classic Victorian novels and came up with this gobbet of wisdom:

“Archetypal novels from the time extolled the virtues of an egalitarian society and pitted co-operation and affability against individuals’ huger for power and dominance”

As an ex-English student, I am perfectly aware that I may have something of a chip on my shoulder, but this strikes me as the most ludicrous waste of time and money I have heard of since I read about someone sponsored to work out the equation to describe how a ball of paper crumples. middlemarch

Even the most mediocre of A-level student could have told them that. In fact, anyone who has ever managed the briefest flick through a Victorian novel – the examples named being Middlemarch, Dracula and Wuthering Heights – could have picked it up before the end of the first chapter.

Furthermore, it is not only bad science, it is bad literary criticism. The article goes on to explain:

“They found that leading characters fell into groups that mirrored the co-operative nature of a hunter-gatherer society, where individual urges for power and wealth were suppressed for the good of the community”

So, society good, individualism bad, is that what we’re meant to learn from this insightful study?

Well, if the evolutionary psychologists in question had done their homework, they might have realised that history is, in fact, stranger than fiction.

While Jane Austen was carving her “little bit of ivory”, working on the first drafts of Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensiblity, two men were writing an introduction to a collection of poems that heralded a new era in how man understood himself.

The Preface to the Lyrical Ballads by William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, is generally regarded at the beginning and manifesto of British Romanticism.

In it, they reject the studied artistry of their predecessors, arguing instead that poetry should be “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings” composed by a man “possessed of more than usual organic sensibility [who has] also thought long and deeply.” rebel

That image of the haunted individual, isolated by his superior understanding, has played on our imaginations in its various forms ever since.

From the pages of Wuthering Heights to the James Dean’s Rebel Without a Cause, the image of the lone wolf has become the heart throb of generations.

Aspiration, drive, individualism – these are the features we admire most in today’s capitalist society. We may pay lip service to Mother Theresa, nod sagely at Ghandi, but if it came to the choice, how many of us would, really and truly, chose their lives of sacrifice over that of Warren Buffett?

To say that our genes have been writen by the pages of Middlemarch not only misunderstands fundamental traits of the human character, but also the literature of the period.

As Einstein put it: “The greatest scientists are always artists as well.”

The Da! say Duh

Anyone looking for a way to weather the credit crunch should take a leaf out of the book of the Da! collective – a troop of raggle-taggle anarchists and artists who have taken over a £6m town-house in Mayfair, all in the name of art.

The group have staked their claim to the empty property, hanging a black anarchists’ flag from the first-floor balcony. Inside, many of the 30 bedrooms have been transformed into slap-dash art installations, including, according to the Guardian:

“One room is full of tree branches while another hosts a pink baby bath above which dangle test tubes filled with capers.”

The things people do in the name of art…


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