Nice is half way to evil

I’ve been decorating a crappy house I’ve bought recently.  It’s made me think about the way we cover unsightly things to make them “nice”.   Skirting boards, soffits, fascias, paint, wallpaper and polyfilla are added in layers which, when removed reveal an archaeology of taste over the lifetime of the house.  But the strata expose not only previous taste but also the process of disguise – masking the stains of damp to trick gullible tenants or prospective buyers for instance.  That itself is a useful allegory for a lot of 21st century capitalism – what I call “stick on culture”.

Owen Jones got it right in Chavs when he pointed out that the droves of wage slaves in offices doing ordinary jobs for ordinary wages are the new proletariat.  And yet white collar work is meant to be a cut above common “working class”.   I suggest that “nice” is what is used to perpetuate a meaningless distinction – such is the level of self-hatred of the British working class.  Rather than feel compassion or solidarity for fellow workers – the reaction of the British proletariat is to jump ship and pretend to be nice.

One could point to the numbers to demonstrate the impossibility of everyone being well-off, but the British think they are above numbers.  Michael Gove called it when he exposed the perverse Tory take on Stalinist tractor production targets by declaring the aspiration to make all school children above average, without any shred of irony.  We do it with lottery tickets, and with our willingness to believe we are invincible by eating a diet of lard and sugar before reacting with surprise to a diagnosis of diabetes or heart disease, and with our insistence that it’s not our car that contributes to heavy traffic.  So it is with being common – by definition most people are common and it’s not pejorative. But oh no, not the British working class.  We aspire to be nice.

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His failure lies shamelessly exposed in the gutter.  A bit like a flasher.

The disastrous flaw in the logic, however, is affordability.  We might think we’re nice, but our wages don’t.  So capitalism responds as capitalism does best – it delivers nice on a plate.  On nice, cheap, IKEA plates.  Nice just has to look nice and be affordable.  It doesn’t have to be good quality, as long as it costs slightly more than the cheap tat but not as much as the good stuff.  ALDI and LIDL are prime examples of the way the nice goods have been delivered by the good ship Capitalism.  Affordable luxury is taken seriously rather than as an oxymoron.  And where capitalism can’t delivery quality at affordable prices, debt comes to our rescue.  Private debt has ballooned to staggering levels through our addiction to car loans, mortgage debt, overdrafts, credit cards, store cards, HP and any other finance we can get our hands on.  Consumer spending follows suit to prop up the economy and everyone’s happy.

But the problem with cheap tat that’s also nice is that it’s still cheap tat.  It breaks.  It gets superseded.  We don’t actually value it and so we just chuck it over the fence.  Or bury it in landfill sites.  Or paint over it.  Sometimes the lipstick comes off in the rain – have a listen to Classic FM and marvel at how much film music and instrumental versions of Queen songs masquerade as classical music.  Which is where we get back to layering.

Nice has the sinister edge of exclusion.  “It’s a nice area” means “there are no poor people here”.  That’s also mixed up with race, but the primary driver is (self) hatred of the poor.  Where we can’t afford it, we just pretend.  We pretend by painting over the cracks.  By dressing up.  By decorating rather than reconstructing.   By shutting the door, pulling the blinds or growing a leylandii 8hedge.  By changing the name – doesn’t The Jewellery Quarter sound nicer than “Hockley”?

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“Do we extend the beautiful row of lombardy poplars and wait fifty years? – Nah, sod it, let’s just plant some leylandii.”

The social mobility of the post war years was funded by burning fossil fuels, exploiting colonies, exploiting the unpaid labour of women, by technological and financial innovation.  Continuing those expectations is impossible without accepting that the faceless masses the economy is meant to provide for are exactly that – average, typical and ubiquitous.  In other words, the opposite of nice with its intimations of luxury and exclusivity.   Bullshit jobs in the “knowledge economy” chasing sales of bullshit that no-one needs don’t generate solidarity.   But it’s OK – we get to wear nice office clothes…

I’m hoping that nice is a baby boomer hangover.  Many young people, especially in London, recognise that they will never be able to afford to buy a house of their own and as a result prefer to blow their money on artisanal haircuts rather than turning into mortgage-owning wage slaves.  The rental business model of Uber, Airbnb and Spotify may swing the achievement of status away from ownership to creative ways of expressing experiences.  It’ll hurt when they’re too old to work and lack any form of security, but until then we’ll have good coffee at least.

 

Turds tied up in trees: it’s the thought that counts

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Tied up turds in a tree.

When I was young, I loved the joke that went:

“I thought about getting you a really expensive present whilst I was shopping on Oxford Street last week. But then I realised it’s the thought that counts, so I didn’t bother.”

I would have loved to have had the guts to get away with that.

When I see dog turds tied up in little plastic bags in trees, it’s as if someone has done exactly that. “It’s the thought that counts – you take this home, shitpicker!”

This is what they think whilst they carefully tie the bag of turd to the nearest tree to the crime scene:

“I have my mock Tudor-fronted pseudo manor on a cul-de-sac with a mortgage I can’t really afford, with my fortified leylandii hedge and my carriage – and so I have my hounds.

I exercise my hounds around my extensive estate, which, if I shut my eyes whenever any shitpickers walk past, I can pretend is all mine. But I am an ethical employer, so I don’t want any servants.

Considering that I have a Bachelors of Arts (hons), and am a Professional, it really is inefficient for a person of my social standing to carry the stools of my hound. There are people that I pay for through my taxes to do that. Council people. I provide them gainful employment as shitpickers. Maybe if they work hard picking up my dog’s turds, they can end up like me one day. Besides, it’s really not a good look to be seen carrying bags of shit. Someone else can do that.

I know that dog excrement is foul and that it is such a pain to tread in it. So I have picked it up and put it in a bag and I tie it to this tree so that one day the Council people will pick it up. It’s the thought that counts.”

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Almost exactly like a Jacobean manor house.