Thursday, April 26, 2007

War of the Words

Mark Steel's Independent column is always worth a read. He focuses this week on politeness. He points out that the "war" on rude and anti-social behaviour always seems to focus on poor people, when in fact rich people are much, much worse.

When I started out in comedy it was pretty common for new acts to be asked to go out and hand out flyers in the street promoting shows in return for a 5 minute spot on the bill. It's not the world's most enjoyable job but it's interesting because you see the world from a very new perspective - the bottom. Sometimes it was just funny - like the students who bought me a litre of apple juice out of the blue - that's the time you think "I really need to buy new clothes and get a haircut". And not quite so funny - like people offering me jobs as a tequila girl and a "masseuse" ("I don't know how to do massage", "That doesn't matter") but then there are times when it really gets pretty nasty, usually alcohol is involved. Rough drunk blokes will shout "Alright darling, give us a smile then", but the ones that grab your arse or "hilariously" start humping your leg as their mates look on and cheer are always the posh ones. I remember kneeing a particularly horrid one in the nuts as he tried that kind of stunt to which he responded by spitting at me and calling me a lesbian. When they had finally fucked off I was stood in Leicester Square with a sense of disgust and disbelief and then the Polish waiter from the Italian restaurant opposite where I was standing came over with a cup of tea "is ok, on ze house". I cried.

Or to offer another example. Gerrard Finneran, the super-rich financier who was told he wouldn't be getting any more alcohol on his First Class flight. The highlight for me is section 6: "A male flight attendant then entered the first class section and saw FINNERAN with his pants and underwear down defecating on a service cart used by the flight crew. FINNERAN then used linen napkins as toilet paper and wiped his hands on various service counters and service implements used by the crew. FINNERAN also tracked feces throughout the aircraft". Some days you'd be glad you didn't get offered an upgrade.

And then there's the corporate rudeness. Varying from "Your call is important to us and will be answered by the first available operator", and then six hours of muzak to the ones I seem to get every day now "Hello Mrs Smur-i-ta-waite, I'm calling to ask you about your electricity bill", "Is this a sales call?", "No, no, no, I'm trying to save you money", "By getting me to buy your product?", "I'm just calling to let you know", "So you're just an information service, if I want to sign up for your service, you can't help me? ", "You would like to sign up? Certainly, do you wish to pay by direct debit...". Personally I find that pretty rude, not on the part of the guy in India making the call, but on the part of the mega-corporate who are paying him a wage he needs to earn to ring me up and lie to me.

Finally Steel goes on to praise volunteers, who do good in our communities without expecting anything in return. Personally I would advocate a national policy of a 2% tax cut for people who do at least four hours a week of voluntary work in approved schemes: mentoring, fostering, community projects. Suddenly the well-educated high earners would have an incentive to get involved in sharing their skills, and encouraging them to see how the other half lives might just bring them down a peg or two. Plus of course it would boost the voluntary sector to unfeasible highs and give kids across the country access to extra tuition, after-school clubs and mentoring, there'd be shopping services for older people and coffee mornings being organised, and a bunch less kids in care which would in fact save money...! When do I get to be prime minister?


Paul said...

Some very wealthy people behave atrociously. That's because some people behave atrociously. Some poor people behave atrociously. Some people behave atrociously. Some people will always be rude and anti-social.
Is it reasonable to infer, from the actions of a minority, something about the actions of the majority? No. That's what we call prejudice and stereotyping.

What about the people who work and earn a good salary - are you really arguing that they and more rude and anti-social than poor people? Don't you think there's something a little bit simplistic about that?

Perhaps in the pursuit of a fairer and more just society we should not consider some minorities 'fair-game'? Only a suggestion.

Cruella said...

Actually I disagree, I think the very rich are more of a problem than other groups. There are problem characters all across the social spectrum. However I think there is a tendency for a significant proportion of the very rich to feel a sense of entitlement - which leads them to treat others like crap...

Paul said...

Fair enough: I think I know the kind of boorish banker type or trustafarian kid you're talking about. The big egos with big wallets that think they can get away with treating people like crap. It's a stereotype because those kind of people do exist, no doubt about it.
My argument is for every Michael Winner or Naomi Campbell defacating on a hostess trolley (an interesting if disgusting image) there are lots of pleasant and respectable types who you'd never notice were there. So it's perhaps unfair to say the super-rich are significantly worse than other groups because it's perhaps just opinion and a few bad experiences that that lead you to it. But fair enough - we all have our opinions and that's why we're discussing this.
But if you're talking about becoming Prime Minister, Kate, you'll get my vote if you do something about the bad social behaviour I see every day: the person that stole my bike for the second time, the guy who nicked my phone and nearly killed me when I wrestled it back from him, the people sitting behind me in the cinema that beat my friend up when he quietly asked them to stop laughing at shouting during a film, the aggressive beggars who hassle me when I don't give them change or the guys upstairs who play drum & bass all day and night. But let me draw back from sounding like a Daily Mail reader here... 8-)

Cruella said...

Yeah I'll definitely do something about those people. I'll catch them before they get that bad and give them a really good education, and my parenting police will spot their no doubt appalling home situations early on and have them fostered into better homes (who will be rushing forward to volunteer their services under my tax breaks for volunteers scheme).

Although in fairness several of the examples of bad social behaviour you give are in fact just robbery. That's already illegal. I don't think anyone's been getting and ASBO for doing too much murdering...

Stan said...

Great to have you back. Country goes to hell when you leave!

They say rich people are eccentric and poor people are mentally ill. Or differently put, that life is a pooh sandwich - the more bread you have, the less pooh you have to eat.

I have to agree that it's a valid point about social work being all about the poor, and that the manifest antisocial tendencies of the rich are never addressed.

Would love to see the Cru Crew breaking down doors in Kensington to sort out some coke-head rich-kid, his gin-soaked mother and philandering father.