Monday, 20 December 2010

Outrage at the student violence, or just an excuse to express a long-standing distaste towards university-goers?

The vast number of middle-class students at middle-class universities studying middle-class subjects and leading middle-class lifestyles has caused an explosion of hatred towards a social cohort that was once deemed the revered future of our country. People don’t hate students because they smashed a few windows and vented their anger at the tuition fee rises through violence. They hate them because all they hear about today’s students is that they get drunk, engage in a three-year pseudo-intellectualist ego trip and clog up weekend trains. The violence of recent weeks has finally given the masses a tangible reason to detest the presence of students.

The symbolic outpouring of students gave self-righteous adults everywhere a reason to release their pent-up hatred for their imagined psychoses surrounding the ‘wasteful’ lifestyles of students. Very few tax-paying adults believe that an arts student deserves funding from their tax contributions. Nor do they see that it is their society and their lives that will be enriched as an indirect result of what John Sutherland called ‘the diffuse benefits’ of arts teaching.

Hell hath no fury like an indignantly suited-and-booted ‘authority’, verbalising his disgust at hedonistic students flushing the country’s scarce funds down the proverbial toilet. Such base, simplified ideas infiltrate through society because they are just that: simple. Everyone likes a quick soundbite that they can bleat out on social occasions. With the burgeoning hatred of the student population finally finding its outlet in the violence of the protests, frustration will continue to grow. Vitriol directed towards students is vitriol directed towards the lifestyles of students and the state-funding of degrees where people cannot draw a direct benefit between their taxes and the improvement of the services society receives. It is this narrow-mindedness and the certainty of the people who perpetuate these ideas that will continue to paint students in a negative light. The violence just gave people a way of justifying their long-brewing distaste for students and recent graduates alike.

Friday, 10 December 2010

Wouldn’t it be great if… Simon Cowell didn’t control Christmas

Now in its seventh year, The X-Factor has once more taken over our TV screens in the ubiquitous Christmas countdown. It’s difficult to avoid this whirlwind of pseudo-celebrity hysteria as Cowell and co march into our lives every year, bringing with them a stream of cyclical carnage from which I often wonder if I’ll ever be free.

I could probably manage if The X-Factor was just an innocent TV programme. But it isn’t. I can’t talk to my family on weekend evenings anymore and Facebook is a no-go zone, particularly if there is a ‘shock’ elimination, Cheryl has adopted Minnie Mouse’s ears or Louis has had another binge on the Just For Men. Not to mention the poor old genuine recording artists who struggle to reach No. 24 in the charts at Christmas, thanks to Cowell and his merry band of generic wannabes. And woe betide me if I want to eat breakfast without Jedward gazing out of the window of a sad, sorry advent calendar. I bet he’s elated that we already managed to abbreviate Christmas to ‘Xmas’ ourselves; that’s one X-Factor related prefix that needs no further attention. Perhaps we’re all subconscious suckers to the corporate machine- especially here at eXeter University.

Of course I only intend to use The X-Factor as a symbolic metaphor for all that is wrong with Christmas in the glittering spectacle that is the twenty-first century. I’m not a raging scrooge-in fact I love Christmas. From around the 20th December to the 5th January, I am happy as a twelve-year-old girl in the front row of a Justin Bieber concert. However, given that decorations start to appear in shops in early September and the ‘January’ sales continue well into March, it pretty much occupies half the year. I think that Christmas needs stripping back, not to its religious beginnings, but to what makes it special, year after year.

‘X-Factorisation’ as it shall henceforth be known, takes Christmas away from family, food, community and the exchanging of gifts and turns it into an unrelenting commercial juggernaut. I don’t want to see the world turned into an apocalyptic vision of red, green and gold, but I do want to make mince pies and drink mulled wine. There is a difference. A certain air of joie de vivre pervades around this time of year, but the moans of ‘Tesco had tinsel up in August this year! August, would you believe it!’ mar what would otherwise be an intrinsically warm and fuzzy feeling. We don’t need the excess and we definitely don’t need Terry’s to bring out 4 different flavours of Chocolate Orange, when Milk is always going to be the best anyway. I don’t want an uber-deluxe cracker containing a bejewelled crown and a full size chess board and I would rather buy my little sister something tasteful than a JLS album.

Christmas is a brilliant excuse for catching up with family, visiting friends that have been unintentionally neglected and spending time on things that really matter. Simon Cowell wouldn’t have it this way. He wants you all to eschew Saturday and Sunday night invitations and stampede around HMV buying thousands of copies of The X-Factor winner’s Christmas single, which will undoubtedly reach No. 1 unless a global campaign blights chart domination.

There’s also a sense of ‘togetherness’ that is forgotten through X-Factorisation. Those of us without bottomless wallets can still enjoy Christmas to the maximum because it shouldn’t be about the biggest or most expensive present. It’s about enjoying what you’ve got with the people that you have. This year in particular, the spending cuts have ensured that extravagancy is no longer relevant. If you expend vast amounts on the products of X-Factorisation then redundancy will not a merry Christmas make. Moreso than ever, we need to ignore the bells and whistles of Simon Cowell’s monotonous, materialistic venture in order to find that satisfaction is gained whilst beating tipsy relatives at Trivial Pursuit.