Friday, 9 November 2012

Everything must go

You may well have heard or read somewhere the appalling news that sex has been commoditised – the only wonder is that anyone imagines that sex is somehow unique in this way.

Just a few days ago, on Facebook, a post appeared from someone saying that they’d applied to be on Jeremy Kyle.

It’s difficult to know why anyone would do that. Their 15 minutes? A night in decent hotel? To be yelled at by Kyle himself?

There can’t be anyone out there who really believes that the people who appear on it get serious help. Because they don’tIt’s about nothing more than presenting people’s problems as entertainment, for others to point, stare and generally feel superior. And for someone to make a financial profit from.

Now it’s hardly as if Kyle is on his in this oeuvre – its apotheosis is probably Jerry Springer, although at least that programme doesn’t seem to pretend to take itself as seriously as Kyle’s modern freak show – both see the commoditisation of dysfunction.

But this type of telly isn’t alone in the commoditisation stakes either.

Only this week, the world discovered that Nadine Dorries is going on ITV’s I’m a Celebrity – Get Me Out of Here.

The MP for Bedfordshire has decided that this is the very best way to make use of a Parliamentary recess – although one might have expected her to spend some time being available for her constituents.

Dorries thinks that girls should have special school lessons in just saying ‘no sex, we’re British’ (but recommends nothing comparable for boys), and is also a campaigner against abortion, desperately trying to get the time limit lowered, for instance, and coming up with spurious claims about the independence of advice available to women on pregnancy issues.

She says that she is going to sit around the campfire in the jungle and discuss these issues with her fellow contestants – to ‘spread the word’.

In the meantime, of course, it’s pretty clever ‘casting’ by the makers, since it pretty much guarantees that plenty of people will tune in and (more to the profitable point) spend money phoning in just to make sure Dorries gets as many nasty ‘bushtucker trial’ tasks as is possible.

Indeed, perhaps the almost orgasmic pleasure some people are getting just thinking about her being made to eat insects could constitute a new form of phone sex.

The commoditisation of ego and ideologically-induced discomfort for the sake of an almost sexual pleasure.

In a delightful example of a lack of self awareness, the Parliamentary Conservative Party has suspended Dorries, since none of them have any interests outside politics that rake them in oodles of cash and consume time that could be spent helping constituents or on other matters political.

Dorries is not the first sitting MP to agree to appear on a celebrity ‘reality’ TV show: that honour goes to George Galloway, whose vomit-inducing performance on Celebrity Big Brother was not only the first of this sub genre of MPs making tits of themselves on reality telly, but possibly also its apotheosis.

The news that Dorries was flying to Oz emerged just days after Labour MP Denis MacShane was found to have submitted 19 false invoices for expenses – shouldn’t they be banged out of office (and up) simply for being so incredibly stupid as to keep doing things like this, given the scandal of 2009?

But it throws Dorries’s celebrity ambitions into a certain perspective and reminds us of how some politicians have commoditised their representing of us into financial gain beyond their legitimate remuneration.

In a delightful sleight, the Guardian – clever for once – produced comedy gold when it persuaded Louise Mensch to opine on the matter, condemning Dorries for ‘demeaning’ the office of MP.

Murdoch worshipper and chick lit author Mensch, who has herself just recently resigned as an MP in order to ‘spend more time with her family’ – possibly the first time this has happened without being preceeded by a sexual ‘scandal’ – enjoyed a high-profile political career (while it lasted), including appearing on topical comedy quiz Have I Got News for You, where she was pretty much eaten alive by Ian Hislop.

But increasingly we can see that politics has been commoditised, with public office a career move and a step into celebrity and/or nice business opportunities in other areas.

I can hardly be alone, for instance, in imagining that, after setting in motion the privatisation of the health service, former health secretary Andrew Lansley will not be forgotten by the private healthcare companies that had sponsored him for years before.

And Tony Blair has been busy making himself a tidy fortune ‘advising’ the despotic regime in Kazakhstan – which just happens to have oil – a move only made possible by his having held high political office.

Now of course politicians, once they leave office – or have its departure foisted on them by a disenchanted electorate – have to do something with their time. We wouldn’t them all to become benefit scroungers, would we?

But herein lies a larger issue: how many MPs, for instance, genuinely had careers before politics and have skills outside of it, that would not simply see them trading on their political experience afterwards?

Should we insist that all those who stand for election have done something other than study for a degree in PPE – that holy trinity of politics, philosophy and economics?

Because while it somehow doesn’t seem as though it should be the main point of standing for office, what is clear is that politics sells: and it sells individuals some very juicy career opportunities.

But some of those same politicians commoditise things themselves. They’re presently engaged in carrying on Lansley’s work of commoditising health care, as they parcel up the NHS and sell it off to private companies to make profit.

Yes indeed – granny’s cancer is being commoditised so that it becomes profitable for someone.

The same is true of the police and justice system, which may have faults, but isn’t going to be improved by being privatised, so that the prime issue becomes the making of profit.

Unemployment has been commoditised – trying to get people into work is a profitable business for the likes of A4e. It’s financially beneficial for large companies too, when they can get free labour via the ironically named ‘Workfare’ scheme and even lay off paid staff.

The disabled can be commoditised, as yet another company (Atos, in this case) profits from it’s update of the old Jesus and Lazarus comedy double act, by claiming that people who are chronically disabled can get up and work, and therefore require no state help whatsoever.

And yet when you hear people worry about commoditisation, it’s almost invariably about sex, as though they’d never heard about ‘the oldest profession’!

Oh, sex sells – and when people are complaining about that, what it seems to be selling most effectively is a lovely diversion from the commoditisation of just about everything else in life.

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