Well, my first Edinburgh Festival for around 17 years has come to a close. I think I’ve enjoyed this one even more than the ones of my youth, partly because of the range of stuff that we’ve seen, from the Foodies’ Festival to experimental theatre to the Book Festival to folk music to modern gothic horror to bedroom farce to macabre cabaret to The Tattoo. Outside the realms of the Festivals and Fringe proper, we’re going to round things out with a trip to the Liquid Rooms on 31 August for The Smyth’s tribute to The Smiths. Assuming they’re not so faithful that faux-Moz doesn’t turn up.
This is quite different to ye olde days, when Pre-Stroke Bloke’s Fringe calendar would be built around stand-up comedy shows. So it was quite interesting to stumble across the Edinburgh Comedy Diary of The Guardian’s comedy critic the other day. Brian Logan (for it is he) last came up on my radar when he wrote a piece carefully calculated to suggest that Richard Herring (the comic behind 2009’s Hitler Moustache) was a racist, while using lawyerly language (Bastard!) to maintain plausible deniability. In the face of Herring’s incensed response to Logan’s original piece, The Guardian’s critic wrote that “[w]hen describing Herring’s material, I took care to use words like “purported” hatred of Pakistanis, and “claims” to support the BNP, to distance him from these actual sentiments.” Herring certainly plays it close to the bone, and often describes himself as an idiot, but if there’s one thing he’s not, it’s a racist. Or an idiot.
So, it seemed appropriate that this week I should find Logan tempting me to click through to a desperately concocted piece of comment and hit bait. To be fair to him, he was on the right side of the argument this time. The piece in question was filed by Mona Charen in the Chicago Sun-Times. Surprisingly, from the author of such considered tracts as Useful Idiots: How Liberals Got it Wrong in the Cold War and Still Blame America First, it’s a truly incredible piece of shite. Although I suppose it’s one definition of impressive to be able to get a major US newspaper to publish a 600-word piece on the largest annual cultural festival in the world simply by cobbling together some material cut-and-pasted from the Fringe and Scotsman websites. The article’s opening answer to Groucho’s question, “Where do you usually go [to be insulted]?” — I went to Scotland — can surely only be intended to reflect a… poetic truth.
Just based on the descriptions available in the local paper, The Scotsman, many of the offerings [on the Fringe] were repellent.
There’s no indication that Charen was insulted in person by any of the acts briefly mentioned in her piece. I can only assume that if she made it to Edinburgh, she stayed holed up in her hotel room — in the words of the properly offensive (he does it right, and for good reasons) Dandy Darkly — “clutching her pearls as she typed”.
The Sun-Times’ columnist’s main complaint seems to be that the country that raised Adam Smith and Andrew Carnegie “is deep-dyed in socialism.” More particularly, that the Scottish government of the Scottish National Party, “favors… ‘free’ education through university, unilateral nuclear disarmament, steeply progressive taxation and the ‘eradication’ of poverty.” Repugnant, I know. And even worse, “of the 51 members of the House of Commons representing Scottish constituencies, exactly one is a conservative.”
Regular readers can probably guess where I stand on this stuff, but as Richard Herring might say, some of my best friends are (fiscal) conservatives. But if you don your snorkel and carry on into the depths of the article, it seems Charen also objects more generally to the “cultural waste [the Scots] are enjoying.” Cultural waste of the sort peddled by pooves like NPR’s David Sedaris. No doubt she would have been appalled by the aforementioned Dandy Darkly’s Gory Hole and it’s spirited championing of an out and proud gay identity. Dick Gaughan’s prospective marking of the anniversary of the Thatcher government’s declaration of war on the working class would no doubt have received short shrift, notwithstanding his plea that ”friendship and honour unite and flourish on both sides the Tweed” and his very (god forbid) brotherly sentiments regarding having lived happily in England for many years, on and off. Gaughan’s (extraordinary) renditions of Johnny Cash’s ”Apache Tears” and his cover of Michael Martin’s ”Geronimo’s Cadillac”? Clear anti-Americanism.
Trash Cuisine‘s horror in the face of an eye witness description of the electric chair as used in the State of Georgia? Never mind that it’s part of a show “mesmerising and exhausting in its sincerity.” Or that the description of the apparatus is cold-eyed and clear:
The seconds go by incredibly slowly as 2,400 volts of electricity are pouring through him…. So they had that on for a set amount of time, it seemed for hours, and then you, you heard the tone go down and that’s when they have it on a different voltage.
They do that for longer and then they crank it up again and you hear it going back up again.
And all this went on for several minutes… um, it seems like several hours of course when you’re there.
And yet, Beth has had a lovely reception in our Old Town. And the New Town. All it takes it a quick nod to how much she’s enjoying living in Scotland, and the rabid Scot pulls in his fangs to more clearly suggest places to visit and that we pop round for tea. And that, it seems to me, presents a more accurate view of Edinburgh.
As seems to be the case across the internet this week, the litmus test is one’s reaction to the more recent developments in the Chelsea Manning case. The Sun-Times article dismisses a play titled “The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning.” I’ve not seen it, I’ll admit. Though neither has Charen, I’ll wager. But that it might offer a “critique… of western culture… that reacts to any breach of discipline or convention with a fierce, repressive violence and a demand that we all conform, or be silent” is grounds enough for contempt.
I’m reminded of this piece, which popped up in a friend’s twitter feed this week. It offers a thoughtful, coherent and undeniable case for treating the transgendered and questioning with respect. But notwithstanding the article’s careful approach and preference to work with specifics, the stepping off point is enough:
Let’s talk about this for a second, which came up as part of the new service Chelsea Manning is performing for her country:
eh, he has a penis. Too pc for me [to refer to Chelsea Manning by the pronoun she would obviously prefer]
As so often, if you substitute “courteous” for “pc” or “politically correct,” the statement makes perfect sense and that ought to worry the speaker. But let’s tease that thought out a bit, in specifics.
I don’t think that this would have to be spelled out to any of the socialists, queers, Buddhists or Belarussians whose work I’ve had the pleasure to enjoy this month. In fact, American friends, I’d encourage you to check out the Edinburgh Festivals next year, if you fancy a good dose of warm, rational humanism. The Cadbury’s Dairy Milk with Oreo is an incredible thing, and knocks the Hershey’s Cookies & Cream into a cocked hat. We’ve bought up five million Krispy Kreme donuts at just one store in just six months. It’s just as wholesome a home. There was even a Mickey Mouse Clubhouse “tribute” going on at Meadowbank last weekend….