Having finished (well, almost finished) a humongous heap of exam marking yesterday- I must be one of the few to have breathed a sigh of relief at the great East Anglian Bank Holiday washout- I decided to give my Dad a call. I hadn't spoken to him for a little while and he doesn't mind if you call him at half past ten. The problem with calling Dad at half past ten is that his brain still works at that time, whereas mine often seems to have short-circuited, a state of affairs that becomes particularly probable if I've spent all day marking. Anyway, he asked me to define 'polemic'- I don't quite recall why- and I mumbled/ rambled about Juvenal, Jeremy Clarkson and A.A. Gill (who I believe I referred to in a piece of writing that at least engaged the polemical last week).
I also made the slightly- okay, extremely- contentious claim that most, and certainly the best, polemicists are politically inclined towards the right. In the harsh light of (to)day, I'm not entirely sure that that's correct: it's more the case that the right-leaning essay, with its autocommission to penetrate the perceived Doublethink of liberal opinion, has a sense of entitlement when it comes to wearing the obvious garb of polemic. The conservative essay, the terms of which are more or less set out by Juvenal, is always performative. It turns on particular gendered notions: the conservative is 'independent', the conservative 'has the balls' to flick his fingers at cultural consensus. Real men, men of the right, don't mince their words or equivocate or shilly-shally. No, they get in their bloody cars and break the speed limit, never mind the bloody speed cameras! The police should be out catching the real bloody criminals anyway!
Having ruminated a little on this, it strikes me that the anti-ruminatory rhetorical trajectories of right-wing polemics impose the terms of a different kind of performativity on the left-wing polemic. I'm not suggesting that Slavoj Zizek is the natural intellectual opponent for Jeremy Clarkson- let's face it, you're not going to catch Clarkson or Richard Littlejohn wasting precious petrolhead minutes by burying their heads in the New Left Review and getting to know their enemies- but I'm of the opinion that the capacity for demonstratively polemical writing on the modern left has been circumscribed by the willingness of the intellectual, and not so intellectual, libertarian right to stake a claim to the heritage of Juvenal, Swift, and Orwell. I enjoy engaging with the intricacies and verbal shimmies of Zizek et al but it often seems a shame that there is a gap in the ranks of the intellectual left (as opposed to the intellectual centre-left) for an Orwellian straight-shooter.
I'm sure Peter Hitchens would have us all believe that this is because of the intellectual elitism of the left manifested as a tendency to create verbal Chinese walls in order to keep out the proles they purport to speak for. This isn't the case, as far as I see it, though such an analysis pertains to the reason. I think that it's more to do with anxiety. If the voices of the right have inveigled themselves into a particular rhetorical genealogy, I think it's fair to say that they also have a monopoly on the calling of hypocrisy. In Britain, since Thatcher, the left has been expressively hamstrung by the fear that its polemics will be speared on this particular argumentative device. No left-wing speaker ever came off the podium- or, more likely, the soapbox- without the allegation of hypoctisy ringing in their ears either from a real listener or from the the internalised political superego...
...but that all goes somewhere rather different from where I intended. It doesn't matter what one's political proclivities are- everyone should be allowed a slice of the classical pie and, in particular, everyone should have the right to set their internal monologue to 'Juvenal' once in a while without worrying about hypocrisy. I can, however, say one thing for certain in absolute confidence that no-one shall rail against my hypocrisy. I will never, ever, wear Crocs.
I don't want to put a picture of a pair on here because I fear it would threaten the aesthetic unity I've tried to achieve with this blog. If you don't know what they look like- which is probably the case if you come from a southern European country in which stylistic aberrations are not made acceptable on pseudo-ethical grounds- then I suggest you go on Google Image Search. When you find out what they look like, imagine them on a grown man's feet. You probably won't recover until tomorrow.
Now, I really don't care if Crocs are digging wells in Tanzania, replanting rainforest, or forging George Bush's signature on the Kyoto Accord. If they're in one of those space-scraping planes, all grinning like an eco-aware charabanc of Shoe People as they mend the hole in the ozone layer, I still don't care. They could all make like Bruce Willis in Armageddon and do some good work in the field of asteroid deflection and I still would not care, nor be inclined to put my feet into them. Crocs are rank.
Fathers are supposed to wear sensible brogues or, if they're of the County Durham beer-and-tabs variety, winkelpickers. They can wear wellingtons, walking boots, smart shoes for work or a pair of dirty trainers for bike rides and runs.
Mothers are allowed more flexibility in shoe choice. In fact, it's hard to prescribe the right shoes for mothers. I mean, there's plenty of choice, isn't there?
Girlfriends also have plenty of choice in the field of shoes. They probably shouldn't wear the same trainers as their boyfriend has on that day, because that looks weird, but otherwise anything goes.
Boyfriends should wear smart shoes or a decent pair of trainers.
Babies should wear booties or endearingly miniatuised versions of adult Converse hi-tops.
These rules stick. So why oh why oh why oh why do I repeatedly see whole families- mother, father, son and girlfriend, daughter and boyfriend, smaller children, grandchildren, grandparents- all out together wearing Crocs? What message is this supposed to convey? Are they really saving the planet by walking around en masse wearing so-called shoes which make them look as if they belong to a particularly pathetic religious cult? They might be preserving resources by wearing recycled shoes, but if any aliens with fashion sense that extends beyond high tensile body armour and bulbous space hats ever sees the Crocs family on their intergalactic telescope, it won't take them long to decide that we're an aesthetically bereft race who need to be eliminated from the cosmic gene pool. Just don't do it. They might be watching up on Teletraan 8.
A lot of people these days get stick for dressing in cliched gear, even though they look pretty good. It takes something to wear a nice suit out and about, or to dress like James Dean or Marlon Branco or Gene Vincent. You'll probably get a lot of people who wear Crocs looking at you if you do, as if you were unbalancing their eco-karma in your 'efforts to look cool'. If you do dress like John Cale or Humphrey Bogart or Eva bloody Peron, please take some consolation from the fact that your sartorial statement doesn't read 'my house smells of yoghurt and bananas'.
One last thing. I've been pleasantly amused by the appearance of cut-price (ie, snide/ knock-off/ not actually recycled) Crocs on markets recently. Nothing enlivens a hangover more than watching ecobores excitedly handing over cash to opportunistic criminals and thereby exacerbating the problem they think they're addressing. Idiots.