I watched The Incredibles with the Anonymous Economist earlier this week. It is superb. See it. The movie takes a strong philosophical line on the question of unusual excellence and the way contemporary institutions, especially educational ones, do their best to smother it: “When everyone is special, no one is.” This quote encapsulates the underlying ethos of the British comprehensive school system, though it doesn’t capture the hypocrisy of the middle-class “socialists” who play it to their advantage.
In England and Wales we live at what I hope is the peak of the Pop Idol / Big Brother / National Lottery / I’m A Celebrity… age. The popular media seem to broadcast the same message over and over: that fame, fortune and adulation are the right of any mediocrity who can cultivate Madonna-like self belief or is simply lucky enough to catch God’s eye—“God” being the media themselves. At the same time, they mock anyone doggedly pursuing greatness the old-fashioned way as “sad”.
There is an interesting article about Bill Cosby’s recent pronouncements on “black” “culture” in the US in Newsweek currently, which goes well with their Barack Obama front cover. Hard-working black American school kids complain that any effort in school results in their being branded “white”. Reading that piece I laughed as I thought of my own experience of moving from a working-class environment, where people knocked my teeth out because I was “black” and because I worked hard, to a middle-class environment (I use the English meaning of “middle-class”), where people questioned my “blackness” because my behaviour and appearance didn’t fit some “street” stereotype they had fixed in their narrow minds.
(Curiously, when I describe myself as “coloured” a standard response I get from some non-white Britons is “What’s wrong with calling yourself ‘black’?”. My answer is that it’s not accurate. Even the “diversity monitoring” forms have a box labelled “Mixed: Black African/White British” for me to tick now. If American blacks can reclaim the word “nigger” from white Americans, I can reclaim the word “coloured” from white Africans. I’ll never forget reading an interview in The Guardian in which a white “poet” described his children with his black wife as “people of colour”. If my dad called me and my sister that I’d have to disown him. He’s a working-class Lancastrian—no danger there.)
Tom Hamilton at Let’s Be Sensible has found something in The Sun newspaper that says too much about the sorry state of our “meritocracy”. The full article, I should warn you if you are reading this at work, comes with an image of a woman’s breasts covered in artificial snow. And not covered in artificial snow.