Bem Bulletin #1: November 2014 – Julien Blanc, Building Castles and the Negative Dialectics of Myleene Klass

Clash of the titans
Clash of the titans

This month at Bem Towers: we lamented society’s magpie-materialism in the wake of the release of Apple’s iPhone 6; we got annoyed at blatant BBC bias as it stuck to its guns over excluding the Green Party from next year’s leaders’ debates; and in the third and final part of what we might as well call our Pretentious London Trilogy, we finished our politicised amble around the capital in the plutocrat’s den itself, Canary Wharf.

And, on the Bemolutionary turntable this month: wholesome wanky guitar music from the glorious Guitar Trio, in our continuing tribute to dear departed flamenco messiah Paco De Lucia; and squeaky banjo-communist Eugene Chadbourne, with his perennially relevant geopolitical ditty, ‘Dirt’.

In this month’s Bem Bulletin:

1. Welcome to the jungle/first Bem Bulletin

2. The Negative Dialectics of Myleene Klass

3. Julien Blanc, ‘Pickup Artist’

4. Big buildings, wastes of time, wastes of life

1. Welcome to the first Bem Bulletin! In the old, Further Education-related days, the then-embryonic Bemolution put out about two issues of the Bem Bulletin, a rubbish half-satirical newsletter filled with in-jokes written for and read by five people.

Ever on the lookout for ways to avoid having to think of anything original, we’re now nicking the name and sellotaping it to an entirely different concept – namely a new monthly blog feature in which we prod at mainstream news stories we haven’t got the time/mental stamina to cover in customary 1.5k-word shamblo-essay format. On the side, we’re also going recap what we’ve been writing this month and talk about what we’ve got lined up for next.

We’ve always been fascinated with how people’s worldviews are shaped – and how those worldviews can be incredibly biased, selective and self-deceiving without the individuals themselves knowing about it. We all think we see and understand the world as it really, clearly, objectively is. But we don’t. So many of our values and attitudes and social norms, the things we think we ‘know’ about the world, are arbitrary, anything but natural and inevitable. In fact, they, and the way we think in general, are shaped by the cultures and societies we grow up in.

Philosophers call it ‘ideology’. Marx called it ‘false consciousness’. It’s one of very few circumstances where we prefer the Marxist jargon-term. When society and its cultural institutions – especially the mass media – are run by a rich elite, you don’t get a balanced, neutral picture of the world coming out at you from the 6 o’clock news. You get a profoundly ideological one. But when the telly and the radio and the papers have been feeding you the same your whole life, you don’t notice. That skewed vision of reality becomes ‘normal’. The fact that someone dies of starvation every three seconds or so on the same planet where half the food produced gets thrown away is barely noticed, let alone deemed comment-worthy. People can’t even imagine a world without supermarkets, border-straddling corporations, multimillionaires and poverty. And that’s the whole point.

What the Bem Bulletin is going to give a go at doing, then, is digging the ideological out of the seemingly mundane – looking at fairly trivial pop cultural happenings and seeing what they tell us about the society we live in, and the worldview that underpins it. Hopefully it’ll feel less like repeatedly slamming our head in the fridge door than our short-lived attempt to keep up with Question Time did.

Steve Bell's take
Steve Bell’s take

2. Myleene Klass. The media mainstream was aflutter this week after Labour leader Ed Miliband clashed with musician-turned-Littlewoods clotheshorse Myleene Klass on rubbish ITV panel show, The Agenda. Klass was angry about Miliband’s now-flagship Mansion Tax, which would see owners of properties valued over £2m pay an extra £3,000 a year to the Treasury. She argued that income-poor, asset-rich “little grannies” and Londoners would be disproportionately hit by the tax – property prices being so steep in the capital that £2m would only buy you “a garage”.

In reality, ‘the Mansion Tax’ is a piddling measure that would barely inconvenience anyone rich enough to have to pay it – just 0.5% of UK householders, and just 4% of Londoners. Originally dreamt up by the Lib Dems, it’s been seized on by Labour under Miliband as a fairly safe, tokenistic way of distinguishing itself from Labour under Blair without spooking Middle England. The principle underlying it is one we need to see system-rattling amounts more of – redistribution, from a rich elite that has seen its income balloon obscenely for thirty years, to the vast majority whose incomes have stagnated or shrunk. In its current form, though, it’s a measly policy hardly worth bothering with.

We’re more interested in Myleene – or more specifically, what her outraged reaction says about the psychology and ideology of the elite, to don our chin-stroking cod-critical theorist hat.

Her outburst offered a fascinating insight into the mind of someone worth an estimated £11m. For the sake of their psychological stability, consciously or otherwise, everyone needs to be able to think “I’m OK” – “I’m a good, decent person”, “I don’t do anything wrong”, “my values are practically everyone’s values”. In a country where thousands live on the streets and fifth of the population live below the poverty line, there’s a huge amount wrong with one person being paid grotesque amounts for doing insultingly little. But our skewed neoliberal values system, one we’ve all had nailed into us over decades, begs to differ – it’s fine to be rich, we’re told. Rich people deserve what they ‘earn’ for all their hard ‘work’. “You’re OK”, society tells the wealthiest.

But when a politician comes along and wants to tax your flashy house in a bit of bash-the-bankers-style populism, that suggests there is something wrong with the way you live – suddenly, you’re being told you’re not OK, upsetting that lovely, lifestyle-legitimising psychological stability. And what do humans do when their status or self-worth is undermined in some way? Lash out, angrily and irrationally. Myleene might’ve just been a narcissistic celebrity having a tantrum, but she was also demonstrating an emotional response that’s millions of years old.

As for her “little grannies” – it never ceases to amaze us how easily the richest can delude themselves into thinking their best interests chime with everyone else’s best interests. Usually subconsciously, they’ll hide their own selfishness and greed behind some other, more socially-minded-sounding excuse. Myleene went for the vulnerable elderly – a solid, sympathy-winning choice. But this wasn’t a cynical ploy. The scary thing is, consciously at least, we bet she believed every word.

3. Julian Blanc. 25-year old Julien Blanc, ‘pickup artist’, has been denied entry into the UK by the Home Office. Blanc travels the world giving lectures on so-called ‘pickup artistry’, a set of techniques that supposedly helps socially awkward men cajole beautiful women into having sex with them. The phenomenon is far bigger than Blanc, and the internet abounds with self-styled gurus offering to teach their methods to lonely, frustrated young men. But after he was pictured apparently choking an unsuspecting female while demonstrating his moves in the field, public outcry ensued – enough to see him thrown out of Australia, and barred from entering Britain.

Earlier this year, we wrote this about a grim fringe of nerdy outsider culture that influenced American mass-murderer Elliot Rodger. Rodger, unhealthily fixated with what he perceived as womankind’s failure to find him attractive, was also known to take pickups artistry seriously – he’d subscribed to a number of YouTube channels owned by prominent ‘artists’. Then again, he also took to forums for disgruntled ex-believers that criticised the method for not delivering what it promised. Suffice to say, most people that get sucked into PUA aren’t little Elliots wobbling on the brink of mass murder – but look into it enough, and you’ll find grim flickers of the frustrated sense of sexual entitlement Rodger demonstrated.

PUA comes with its own twisted worldview. It’s clearly rooted in a hatred of women, viewing them in the most crude, offensive, one-dimensional way possibly. Building on a pseudo-scientific variant of the old idea that ‘nice guys finish last’, PUA gurus teach that there are two types of men in the world, Alphas and Betas. Alphas are strong, arrogant, jock types that feeble-minded women can’t resist. Betas are nice, kind, shy gentlemanly types who womankind scandalously pass up. The kind of people attracted to PUA invariably see themselves as being Betas – and sometimes refer to themselves as ‘incels’, short for involuntarily celibate. The mission statement of people like Blanc is getting people who think they’re Betas to act more like Alphas.

There’s all kinds of shudder-inducing terminology, too. Women are referred to as ‘targets’. Pursuing them is called ‘the game’. The ultimate aim is the ‘full close’, a skin-crawlingly horrible euphemism for having empty, contemptuous sex with someone who, without mind-manipulation, wouldn’t find you attractive. PUA-adherents are taught the ‘7 hours rule’ – 7 hours being the amount of time an individual supposedly has to invest to turn a vague acquaintance into a willing sexual partner. One YouTube video we came across during the obligatory two-minutes of internet research referred to it as ‘hacking into a girl’s brain’.

Blanc’s style isn’t particularly unusual – he’s just the one the mainstream happened to shine a spotlight on. We watched some of his videos. What attracts women in prehistory still attracts women today, he says. He talks about them like they’re simple, production-line-produced machines, and he’s got the users’ manual – just press the right buttons, and you can dial up the exact reaction you want. Filmed inserts show him practicing his aggressive, manhandling techniques on women in the street. Another clip has him instructing his followers to grab their ‘target’ by the head and force it towards their crotch. At bottom, it’s all about tricking, or even co-ercing, women to have sex with someone who they wouldn’t otherwise want to have sex with.

All in all, it’s horrible – and demonstrative of the terrifyingly misogynistic, hate-filled attitudes found not just among embittered old sexists, but young, intelligent, modern men in their twenties, too. Where does that sense of sexual entitlement come from? That anger at women with the sheer cheek not to open their legs to any and every emotionally-stunted man-child who crosses their path? In short, where did it all go wrong?

In any case, Blanc’s been banned from entering England, in a pleasing geopolitical kick up the arse. Alas, that’s not going to stop him or his legions of acolytes, who, given that what they’re essentially looking for is a vagina with no brain or personality attached, might as well spend their money on a fleshlight instead.

Guédelon, the subject of the BBC's Secrets of the Castle
Guédelon, the subject of the BBC’s Secrets of the Castle

4. Castles, wastes of money, wastes of time. The other day we watched BBC 2’s Secrets of the Castle with Ruth, Peter and Tom – a telly programme about a 25-year project to recreate a medieval castle from scratch in a field in France, using medieval construction methods. Parts of it were undeniably fascinating – particularly the insights into medieval ingenuity. The presenters showed how two men walking in glorified hamster wheels attached to a wooden crane could lift nearly half a ton of stone almost effortlessly.

Before long, though, that brief frisson of history student/inner twelve-year-old enthusiasm was sent scarpering, getting a rolled up newspaper across the back of the legs from a grumpier, more political bit of our psyche. It was replaced by two thoughts. One – what a complete and utter waste of time, effort and money. Two – that when we drool over impressive old buildings, we need to stop being so fucking shallow and think about how, why and for whom they were knocked up in the first place.

The patented Bemolutionary outlook on big old buildings, honed during years living in Cambridge, runs thusly – big old buildings are almost always just gaudy, resource-squandering monuments to horrific inequality and exploitation. As a Marx-bearded Frenchman toiled away atop what will eventually become a 30-metre high tower with four metre-thick walls, one of the presenters looked round a replication of the kind of one-room hovel everyone else – including the masons and carpenters and other castle-builders – would’ve lived in at the time. Far-left miserablists ‘til we die, it’s that mind-boggling contrast that means we can never look at a B.O.B. and feel anything other than slightly disgusted.

Next Month! A team of militarily-drilled monkeys is currently shifting a major blockage further down the productivity pipe, and so our reader (hello Jono) can expect a veritable deluge of articles during December – including, in no particular order, ones about Herbert Marcuse’s One Dimensional Man, babies and the environment, Alan Sugar and the NHS, another rambling travelogue about Communism, neoliberalism and the Czech Republic, and a long-time-in-the-making foolhardy attempt to redefine socialism for the ecologically imperilled twenty-first century. All washed down with some Fela Kuti, Robert Fripp, PJ Harvey, John McLaughlin, and whatever else we fancy.

And that’s it. The Bemolution would officially like to thank anyone who took the time to read this far, and anyone who reads anything we put out, for that matter. Wishing you all, and practically everyone else alive, a safe, healthy, rewarding rest-of-November.

And now, for the people dying of starvation at a rate of one every three seconds, and of malaria at the rate of one a minute, and the people sleeping under newspapers in alleyways, and having human beings they’re quite fond of blown to bits before their eyes, and everyone else suffering needlessly in a world that can’t be bothered to do anything about it, please be upstanding for the Bemolutionary anthem, on permanent loan from the late Johnny Cash.