Thursday, 5 May 2011

kultuR studies

Cultural studies is bad enough, a micky mouse, middle-brow mash-up of sociology and misinterpretation tarted up with quotes from dead Frenchman, but cultural commentators are in a league of cockness all of their own. These rent-a-bollocks zeitgeist surfing dicksplashes* provide colour like toddlers paint; terribly important for all those directly involved, but meaningless drivel to everyone else. And so in an Evening Standard article about new Missing middle (class) consumption patterns the cultural commentator Stephen Bayley was quoted saying “You either have to go super-bargain or super-prestige. There is no room for mediocrity”. To substantiate this point the article quoted a different, unnamed commentator; “(i)n car terms, everyone wants luxury German or cheap Korean”, which is very lovely I guess except its bollocks.

Here are the top ten cars sold in Britain in 2010:

1. Ford Fiesta … 103,013
2. Vauxhall Astra … 80,646
3. Ford Focus … 77,804
4. Vauxhall Corsa … 77,398
5. Volkswagen Golf … 58,116
6. Volkswagen Polo … 45,517
7. Peugeot 207 … 42,185
8. BMW 3 Series … 42,020
9. MINI … 41,883
10. Nissan Qashqai … 39,048

Now maybe the point was it’s not what people buy, but what they aspire to. But, then that’s also to claim Ford Fiesta drivers actually want Kias, which they don’t. And sure plenty aspire to the latest tuned up BMW, but then they always have.

Then I found another quote elsewhere from Stephen Bayley and just thought WOW!

In an age robbed of religious symbols, going to the shops replaces going to the church. We have a free choice, but at a price. We can win experience, but never achieve innocence. Marx knew that the epic activities of the modern world involve not lance and sword but dry goods.

I mean seriously, WOW! The contents are such incoherent bollocks they simply don’t warrant scrutiny (other than to highlight the US example of mass religion and mass-consumerism shits on the opening assertion), but the language does illustrate how the (ab)use of portentous words and phrases is more important to this kinda of shite than dull things like accuracy. What, I wondered, was the point of shite like all of that?

That was where my head was at as I sat reading my “essential executive toolkit”, the British Airways business:life magazine. In it was an article on “The mindset revolution” by James Reed, chairman of the Reed global recruitment business his dad founded in 1960. Nepotism, schempetism I say, yer man Reed is also a member of the UK Government's National Employment Partnership, a fellow and regular speaker to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, a former associate of the Prime Minister's Delivery Unit and a member of the Institute for Public Policy Research Taskforce on Race Equality and Diversity in the Private Sector. So in labour market and employment terms he’s quite a big cheese and worth a peruse at the very least.

Now James paid some bods to ask thousands of top employers what they “really look for in employees”, then do some “groundbreaking” research and even run a few workshops. What these discovered was revolutionary, 96% of the employers surveyed would pick someone with the right mindset, but not the complete skillset over someone with the complete skillset, but not the right mindset. As I was reading this on a plane I started praying like a Sunday shopper that the employers surveyed didn’t include those of pilots.

Prayers cast I read on to discover this research “totally undermine(s) one of the central tenets of the job world that better skills equal better jobs”. Again I was shocked. I didn't realise that was the case or at least hadn’t since I read Richard Hoggart’s 1957 musings on how certificates were all very good, but things like personal character and class really mattered when it came to the distribution of economic rewards (in The Uses of Literacy).

Perhaps Reed was simply using rhetorical devices here, building a straw man to portentously knock down with further revelations? Nope, I think he actually believes this shite, so much so he’s written an entire fucking book on what he calls the 3Gs that constitute the “fundamental components” of a winning mindset. These are the Global, the Good and the Grit (rhymes with…....). I kinda lost it at this point when it came to understanding what these entailed, but they followed on from a bit about top employers stating en masse that they value honesty, trustworthiness, flexibility, commitment and so on above all else. Thankfully, top employers it seems attach no importance to the servility, obsequiousness, fear, aggression, sycophancy, hypocrisy, double-think, arrogance and so on, the "behaviours" I’ve seen pretty much every day of my working life alongside those other more admirable traits. Except,my personal reality would suggest yer man Reed is clearly talking bollocks, so much so I started thinking about the question the cultural commentators had prompted; what’s the point of such drivel and does it actually matter?

Starting with what’s the point, for Reed and British Airways, there’s some obvious pragmatism at work given the article meant free advertising/free copy and the high heid yin of a company that probably uses the airline a bit getting his obvious ego massaged. So that’s tickety-boo then, except this shite is being presented as something to be taken seriously and isn’t that a bad thing given the co-author of the book the article was drawn from is a guest lecturer on the Harvard Business School Executive Education program i.e. he influences global multinational executive thinking? Like wouldn’t we rather the people that run things were schooled in reality as opposed to bollocks? I don’t know, I mean I’m one of those na├»ve feckers that thinks the only theories worth having are ones that abstract from the reality they try to explain and that the ones worth pissing on are biased shite imposed like dogma on a reality that is then butchered to fit.

The other thing is that this kind of shite, besides being shite,is profoundly conservative because at no point does it threaten the self-image or sense of self of the executives being sold 3G mindset courses as I write this. This is a pity; given top employers only recently did their best to drive the advanced Western economies over a cliff, perhaps a more introspective, critical assessment of top employer mindsets is in order? And instead of fixating on the individual given the recent dominance of group-think and herd behaviour perhaps a more sociological assessment would be more appropriate? And anyhow, I reckon anyone that takes shite like the above seriously is a fucking idiot and not to be trusted with anything more important than his or her own spoon and pusher.

Sadly none of this will turn out to be the case. Instead, a few years from now poor sods across the globe will sit down in neon lit rooms staring at flipcharts and workshopping their mindsets for 2 hours before being handed a voucher for staff canteen sandwiches. They’ll turn up for work the next day clutching a course folder and a new desk tidy spattered with truisms and get back to the real business of sucking up to their boss’s boss. As for cultural commentators, well at least no one is forced to workshop them, they don’t influence the culture of the organisations we endure 5 days a week and they don’t piss away shareholders’ cash either, so I guess they can be safely disregarded as a bunch of ignorant tossers.

* Or has some other word replaced zeitgeist rendering my use of it tragically jejune?

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