Tag Archives: sociology

Facebook? – One reader says: “Alas the only solution to this is (literal) civil war”

On 25th April this year, I wrote a somewhat tongue-in-cheek blog entitled:

ARE THE FACEBOOK POLICE ABOUT TO BAN ME BECAUSE OF MY SEXUALLY RISQUÉ NAME?

Today it received a reader comment from someone calling himself or herself or ‘they’selves ‘Republican Realism’ which I print in its entirety below.

I am keeping schtum…


(Photograph by Vlad Tchompalov via UnSplash)

Alas the only solution to this is (literal) civil war. In every country. Scorching the earth clean of, firstly, those who believe in copyright – meaning those who believe journalism, music, “design” or any form of “talk” constitutes actual productive “work” (it doesn’t). And secondly those who believe that there is any such thing as an original thought (there isn’t). And war on those who believe in such crimes against logic and reality itself as anti-“hate speech” laws, laws that conflate fiction/hypothesis with fact (not just the “cartoon porn laws” but all laws pertaining to threats and “conspiracies”) and all those who believe that their interpretations of anything anyone “communicates” (sic) invalidate the “communicator”‘s own intentions. Fact: Your feelings exist only in your own head. Therefore they don’t exist and are no-one else’s business. But this cannot be explained to people who are incapable of rational perception. They are an intractable threat to the sane, the competent, And you know what we do to intractable threats. Ownership is inherently abusive, and governance inherently destructive. Alas, governance cannot be transcended. To turn the other cheek is to be complicit.


Schtum. That’s what I am keeping.

 

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“The gendered experience of sexist humour”- New research shows how audiences react to comic Lewis Schaffer

Lewis Schaffer: creating a cult

Lewis Schaffer – a sign of the Thames

London-based American comic Lewis Schaffer puts himself about a bit… Well, he puts himself about a LOT in London. The Independent newspaper recently called him a “London institution”.

Week in/week out, he has been performing five days every week for quite a while now.

Every Monday for the last five years, he has hosted his half hour Resonance FM show Nunhead American Radio with Lewis Schaffer.

Every Tuesday and Wednesday for almost five years, he has been performing his hour-long (or longer) Lewis Schaffer is Free Until Famous show (currently at the Rancho Grill in Mayfair).

Every Thursday, he turns up to perform a spot at the Monkey Business comedy club in Kentish Town.

And, every Sunday for almost two years, he has performed his hour-long Lewis Schaffer: American in London show at the Leicester Square Theatre.

Now he seems to be cornering the market in being analysed by university students.

Liam Lonergan meets a man with answers

Liam Lonergan got First in Schaffer Studies

In February, my blog carried extracts from academic Liam Lonergan’s interview with Lewis Schaffer for his (Liam’s) BA (Hons) course in Creative and Media Writing at the University of Portsmouth

In April, Liam got a 1st for his thesis. I posted part of it.

Then, last Friday, Rose Ives got a 1st in her Sociology BA course at Goldsmiths College. She has been following Lewis around and observing audiences at his gigs for perhaps two years. Below, with her permission, is an extract from her academic piece which examines how audiences react to Lewis Schaffer’s performances.


Rose and Lewis Schaffer in Edinburgh yesterday afternoon

Rose reacts to Lewis Schaffer at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2013

From the three pieces of ethnographic data I collected in the field, comparing and contrasting and thematically analysing the three methods of data collection, four key themes emerged.

AWARENESS

When watching the reactions to the six jokes selected, the women in the audience looked around at whoever they were with (this occurred in couples and non-couples) before they performed any of the gestures I had codes for on the Joke Sheet. This did not happen with the male members of the audience who mostly maintained eye contact throughout and laughed openly without looking around.

If the men did look around at other audience members it was whilst laughing or to signal an inside joke. The women looked around at other audience members with caution as though they were seeking approval. When asked about this in the ethnographic interviews, many were surprised that they had done such a thing. They did not deny that they had done it (not in the way they denied the gestures described in Denial of negative reactions) but they offered no explanation for their own actions, although some offered an almost psychological explanation for it, dissociating themselves from the action in the process.

One woman in her late twenties answered me when I asked her about why she looked around before not laughing at a joke about having sex with a transsexual: “I thought it was fucking hilarious but I’m not about to go making a fool of myself and have everyone think I’m some woman who loves dirty cock jokes.”

SEPARATING JOKE FROM COMEDIAN

Lewis Schaffer performing in London last night

Lewis Schaffer performing for no reason without his shirt on

The data from which this theme emerged were the ethnographic interviews I conducted after the show and during the intervals.

The men I spoke to, and this was across all ages and regardless of whether I interviewed them in a couple or as single, spoke about the joke and comedian as a “He” – the joke was “his joke”, their opinion on the show was “he is funny”, “he is crazy” – whilst the women at the show, again this was across all ages but particularly prevalent amongst women under 30 years old, spoke about the jokes, the material and the comedy as a whole as an “it.”

One woman who was in her early twenties and with a group of female friends of a similar age said: “It was certainly interesting. I’ve not seen much stand-up like this, it was funny. He’s sweet. (Referring to the comedian)” and this is a good representation of the shorter conversations I had as some people were eager to leave the venue after the show ended.

The men in the audience talked about the comedian as though he were a friend and therefore spoke about the jokes with forgiveness, as though it were friendly banter in the form of “Informal comedy”(Mulkay, 1988) whereas the women in interviews, many of which were couples with the men, were reluctant to engage personally with the comedian as if to do so would be condoning the sexist jokes.

Most women avoided critical engagement with the jokes when directly asked and used measured terms such as “perhaps you’re right” and “maybe it was because…” whilst the men interpreted my questions as an invitation to critique or praise the comedian in absolute terms – “He’s a pro (professional)”, “He’s a good guy” – which highlights a great contrast in the gendered experience of sexist humour.

DENIAL OF NEGATIVE REACTIONS

Lewis Schaffer on stage in London this week

Lewis Schaffer performing for no reason with his jacket on

If the Approval section was the first step in the process of reacting negatively to a joke, the second stage was the gestures that I had coded on the Joke Sheet.

When reacting to jokes concerning the comedian personally – self-deprecating jokes about the comedian’s age or appearance – the women in the audience covered their mouths whilst laughing (this is one of the symbols on the Joke Sheet) as though they didn’t want to be seen laughing at the comedian. This gesture doubled as embarrassment, especially when coupled with looking away from the stage (also a symbol on the Joke Sheet).

The most interesting aspect of the reaction patterns that came from the Joke Sheets were the explanations that followed in the ethnographic interviews.

When I repeated the jokes I saw them react negatively towards, they denied that they had reacted in such a way, brushing off any words such as “sexist”, “offensive” or “taboo” with laughter and changed the words to “dirty” or “naughty” to articulate their thoughts. This showed how they were both embarrassed and ashamed of the sexist material as well as being embarrassed and ashamed of their reaction to it. This also approves the results of the humour and context work by Gray and Ford (2012).

THE PERSONAL TOUCH

Lewis Schaffer, shoeless man

Comedian Lewis Schaffer, not performing, with his shoes off

Although the focus throughout this research has been the consumption not the production of the comedy, it would do the data an injustice not to discuss the patterns of techniques the comedian uses and their effect on how the women in the audience perform their gender roles.

As a known friend of the comedian, the main obstacle of the interview process was attempting to get the participants to stop asking me questions about Lewis Schaffer. Both men and women (although the majority were women) asked me if many of the jokes he had made about himself were true – if he really was living in a council flat, if he really was a divorcee etc.

“The ironist insincerely states something he does not mean, but through the manner of his statement, rather through its formulation or it’s delivery, or both, he is able to encode and counter proposition its real meaning, which may be interpreted by the attentive listener.” (Nash 1985:52) or, as the comedian Lewis Schaffer explained it, “All jokes are opinion with deniability. If people actually thought I had sex with a horse they wouldn’t be too happy about it. As it happens, I’m not allowed within 50ft of a stable or Camilla Parker-Bowles.”

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Stealing songs from Rodriguez. Stealing words from posh girls on a tube train.

Rodriguez last night at the Hammersmith Apollo

Rodriguez on display last night at the Hammersmith Apollo

I saw a Rodriguez concert at the Hammersmith Apollo last night. I was at the front of the Circle and, looking down on the Stalls it was, at some points during the show, as if people were holding masses of candles aloft. But they were not.

The lights were the screens of phones and cameras.

Occasionally, up in the Circle, Apollo staff would ask individuals to stop videoing the songs, but it was a forlorn and rather out-dated task.

Around ten years ago, I told a comedian he should not allow his act to be videoed by people in the audience because it would affect sales of any videos he himself might release. But that was in another world, before the widespread use of still cameras which shoot videos and mobile phones which shoot photos and videos.

You cannot change technology; you have to change WITH technology.

Especially with an act like Rodriguez, where it is less a music concert and – for people who have seen the documentary Searching For Sugar Man – more a life-enhancing experience like seeing Jesus alive on stage in Galilee.

Rodriguez being helped onto the stage last night

Rodriguez being helped onto the stage last night

Another show had been added at the last minute because this one had totally sold out. Occasionally, last night, people in the depth of the full house would shout out the single word “Rodriguez!” and occasionally “We love you!” The instrumental introductions to his most familiar songs were greeted with an eruption of clapping and whoops and semi-screams worthy of a teen rock band but, when he started singing, the Apollo fell silent.

With Rodriguez, the music is almost irrelevant. People come just to see him standing there, alive on stage: an inspirational  vision of what life can be.

Afterwards, I got a Piccadilly Line tube train back to King’s Cross station.

At the other side of the carriage, two dark-haired girls in their 20s were in an intense conversation. They were talking about their jobs but I think I am becoming a pervert or perhaps it is all that talk in the Guardian and on TV in the last couple of days about GCHQ using the NSA’s Prism surveillance material.

I turned on my iPhone recorder.

I am getting too obsessed by this blog. I need psychological counselling.

“I wanted a ginger Scottish guy,” one of the girls was saying, “but I got second best. I got an Irish guy.”

I could not quite hear every word she was saying, because it was a crowded late-Saturday-night train with standing room only. But her luck must have changed with Scotsmen because, a few seconds later, I heard:

Girls' legs across a crowded carriage in London last night

Girls’ legs across a crowded carriage in London last night

“I just loved his Scottish accent, but I didn’t understand any of what he was saying. Then I met this guy who was small. He said: Don’t get excited. I’m only Welsh. I don’t want to date anyone younger than me. I’m a young soul; I like rock n roll. If I was going to be interested then, maybe like 25-30. Maybe.”

By this time, the tube train had stopped in the tunnel and everyone around me was talking. When I listened to the iPhone recording this morning, the girl’s thoughts were a collection of random words beneath  the hubbub of multiple carriage conversations, but these are the words I could hear – exactly quoted:

“American comedians… The girl I met when I was in Borneo… They’ve bought a house together and she’s had a baby together… massive… We were Skyping loads… loads of drugs from Uni, though…”

At this point, the train’s loudspeaker broke in:

“Apologies for the delay. This is the driver speaking. We have got on the track some type of a smouldering and smoking going on. There are staff on the track. We’re trying to extinguish those smoking and hopefully we should be on the move in a few more minutes. Thankyou very much for your patience.”

“Smouldering on the track?” the girl on the other side of the carriage said, half-laughing, looking across at me. “Might be a little bit on fire.”

“Did I misunderstand that?” a man asked. “Were the staff smouldering on the track?”

The girls continued talking:

“Was it different from your last job, then?… We had a big row in Barcelona… You know what I mean? He’s got a studio in Hackney…”

If I were to be pompous which, of course, I would never dream of being, I would say last night was like life in general.

Intersecting briefly with half-glimpsed sections of other people’s lives.

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Comedy taboos + How British women react differently in comedy audiences

Lewis Schaffer on stage in London last night

Lewis Schaffer on stage in London last night

All through my adult life, I have had an irritating dry cough. My father had the same cough. Eventually, he had to have polyps on the inside of his throat scraped off. His voice was higher afterwards.

For the last week or so, though, I have had a harder, hacking cough. It happens occasionally when I pick up the tail end of other people’s colds.

Having a hard, hacking cough which occasionally drifts into uncontrollable coughing fits is not ideal if you go to see a live comedy show in a small club. But, last night, I went to London’s West End to see Lewis Schaffer’s Free Until Famous show anyway.

Instead of cough sweets, I took a packet of Werther’s Original butterscotch to suck. They are cheaper. I am a Scot who was brought up among Jews. Remember the Werther’s. They become relevant later.

Lewis Schaffer has performed Free Until Famous at the same venue at least twice a week for who knows how long? Maybe three years. He currently performs it every Tuesday and Wednesday. And now he is also performing a £10 show at the Leicester Square Theatre every Sunday.

He tells me that, bizarrely, the twice-a-week free shows do not seem to be affecting audience figures at his Leicester Square pay show. In fact, numbers at his free shows are down and numbers at his Leicester Square show were high from the start and have not dropped. The Leicester Square show was due to end on April 21st but has now been extended to July 28th.

Lewis Schaffer is also being stalked by a sociologist. He introduced her to his audience last night.

“That’s her in the front row,” he said. “She’s following me around. She got the highest grade you can get for a paper she wrote about me. She got a First. She was looking for something to write. She came to my show and she came to a lot of my shows and I thought she was just obsessed by me – it happens. I’m 56, but I’m in great shape. But she wasn’t obsessed by me; she was writing this paper.”

“What was the paper about?” I asked the girl afterwards.

“Comedy taboos,” she told me.

“Why is Lewis Schaffer a taboo?” I asked.

“Well,” she said, “I was looking at taboo material first of all and the real taboo he breaks is that he is not really a comedian. The taboo isn’t in the material, it’s in his performance. The idea that he’s performing but it looks like he doesn’t know what he’s doing. I wrote in my paper that he can say anything he wants because he tells his audiences how shit he is, so no-one really takes his comedy seriously.”

“And your sociology degree was in comedy?” I asked.

“No,” she corrected me. “This is an ethnographic study. The study of people-watching.”

“And now you’re planning to do another one?”

Laughter - according to Wikipedia

Open mouthed male laughter – demonstrated by Wikipedia

“On audience participation. I’m focussing mainly on the audience patterns: what they’re doing. I’m not looking at comedy; I’m looking at people’s interactions. Like Lewis said in tonight’s show that people cover their mouths when they laugh. I’ve noticed more women do that than men. I want to find out why that is. It’s a socially-constructed idea.”

“Women do it and men don’t?” I asked.

“Both genders do it, but women do it a hell of a lot more.”

“Is it because an open mouth is sexual in some way?” I asked.

“I think because an open mouth is unattractive,” she replied. “I wonder if it’s the same idea as covering your mouth when you yawn, because we know certain people do that and certain people don’t.”

“But,” I said, “people open their mouths when they smile, which I’ve never understood. You would think baring their teeth would be an aggressive gesture, but smiling is a friendly gesture.”

“I don’t bare mine,” she told me, “because they’re fucking awful.”

“So…” I said, “what’s the most unexpected thing you’ve found about audiences?”

“In couples,” she told me, “if it’s a man and a woman couple together, the woman will look at her partner for the approval of the laughter.”

“She’ll look before she laughs?”

“Yes. She’ll quickly just glance then start laughing. I’ve only seen this reversed in gender once.”

“What happens if it’s a gay couple?” I asked.

“I don’t know. I’ve not seen many gay couples at Lewis’ shows.”

The sociologist doesn’t want me to name her or her college in case someone steals her idea.

The legs of an anonymous sociologist in Soho

The legs of an anonymous sociologist in Soho

“Someone’s going to nick my idea; I know they are,” she told me last night.

“Well,” I said, “all the more reason you should have your name, university’s name and photo in my blog, so you can prove your idea pre-existed on a specific date.”

“No,” she told me. “You can photograph my leg instead. I don’t even want people to know I’m in a blog. I don’t have Facebook, I don’t have Twitter, I don’t have anything. I only have email, which I give to people I know. I don’t want anyone on the internet knowing anything about me unnecessarily. I think the whole thing is fucking weird. The whole idea that something about me can be seen by anyone freaks me the fuck out.”

At this point, I had a coughing fit and took a Werther’s Original.

“Have one,” I offered.

“No,” she said. “My dad’s allergic to them, so I don’t eat them.”

“Not allergic to other butterscotch? Just Werther’s?”

“Just Werther’s.”

“And you don’t eat them either?” I asked.

“If I ate those,” she said, “and I kissed my dad when I see him tomorrow, his face would swell up. He ate one when he was in his thirties. We were in the car and my mum said Have one of these to suck on. First of all his lips swelled up. Then his face swelled up and then his throat closed up. It came on over a period of about two hours.”

“Any other food problems in the family?”

“My aunt used to be so afraid of tomatoes that she would rather have seen a dead animal carcass in her fridge than a half-eaten tomato.”

“Did some traumatic event involving tomatoes happen to her when she was a kid?”

“It just built up. She used to just not eat them and then, gradually, she got more and more scared of them to the point where, if someone was eating a tomato, she would have to leave the room.”

“And she’s still afraid of tomatoes?”

“No. Because once, when she was sunbathing in the garden, lying out flat, my dad sliced up some tomatoes and put them all over her body. So, when she woke up, she was covered in slices of tomatoes. She screamed the place down and shit herself but was absolutely fine about tomatoes after that.”

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Filed under Allergy, Comedy, Health, Sociology

A canny gaun man, the IRA, the SAS, the Oman war and the plan to assassinate Colonel Gaddafi in 1969

I agreed with Margaret Thatcher when she said Society doesn’t exist. It is made up of individuals. ‘Society’ is something made up by sociologists.

Just like History does not exist. It is made up of and by sometimes extraordinary individuals.

At the weekend, amid all the TV and radio reports from Libya and the non-reports about what is happening in Algeria, Bahrain, Jordan and Yemen, there was a tiny news item about trouble in Oman. This reminded me about one of the most interesting people I never met. He was a man you don’t meet every day.

He’s dead now and we’re back to that famous Rutger Hauer death speech in Bladerunner.

He’d seen things you people wouldn’t believe and, when he died, almost all those moments were lost in time, like tears in rain. His death went mostly un-noticed, but he intersected with History.

In the mid-1990s, I (almost) wrote the autobiography of a Soviet sleeper agent who, let’s say, was called Ozymandias. I have blogged about him before. He believed that the British and the Spanish were the most violent people in Europe. He told me about a British friend called Bill Foxton who, he said, had gone to public school in Somerset, then joined the French Foreign Legion for five years and fought in the Algerian War of 1954-62.

“At that time, a lot of guys in the Legion were German,” Ozymandias told me, “Many of them former S.S. men. Bill told me that during the French Algerian War in the early 1960s, when they entered a village to ‘clear it up’, the Spaniards were the only ones who would shoot babies in their cradles. Even the ex-S.S. men didn’t do that.”

After his experiences in the Algerian War, Bill Foxton returned to England in the Swinging Sixties with lots of money in his pockets and met lots of girls who fancied him and, according to my chum Ozymandias, joined a privately-run special services group. They used to train Idi Amin’s bodyguards in Uganda and there was an incident in Qatar when the Emir’s brother was shot.

“Finally,” Ozymandias told me, “in 1969, Bill was employed as one of a group who were paid to go and kill Colonel Gaddafi in Libya. But they were stopped at London Airport by the British security services and the private company they worked for was closed down. Because of his experience, Bill was persuaded by the British authorities to join the SAS and was immediately sent to Ireland 1969-1973.

In a previous blog, I mentioned an extraordinary true story in which an Irish Republican was kidnapped in Belfast, drugged and put on a plane from Shannon to New York. Bill Foxton was involved in that. He was also a member of the British bobsleigh team in the 1972 European Championships. He was an interesting man.

In 1973, he was sent to fight in the secret war in Oman which, at the time, was called ‘the Dhofar insurgency’ and was said to be restricted to southern Oman; it was claimed the Omani Army were fighting some Yemeni insurgents. In fact, the insurgents were backed on the ground by South Yemeni regular troops supported by East German advisors and troops, acting on behalf of the Soviet Union. Oman was backed on the ground by British SAS troops (plus, in the early stages, the Royal Navy) and by units of the Shah of Iran’s army and the Jordanian Army. The commander of the British forces was an admiral and his problem was to cut the rebels’ supply routes from South Yemen into Oman. The British strategy was to construct three fences along the border, manned by more than 5,000 Iranian troops. Behind these three fences, inside Oman, the war was fought by the British SAS and Oman’s mainly Baluchi army while Jordanian desert troops defended the northern part of the desert in Dhofar province.

In 1975, Bill was inspecting a sector of the border fence when East German troops fired an RPG – a rocket-propelled grenade – at him. He was alone, but managed to jump back onto his jeep and drive off, holding his blasted and bloodied arm onto his torso with a torn strip of his uniform. He held the strip of fabric with his teeth and drove with his other hand, while the enemy troops continued firing grenades at him. He drove about 6km to a British base where a Pakistani medic came out to see him.

“I think I’ve lost my arm,” Bill said through his clenched teeth.

“Well, let’s have a look then,” the Pakistani medic replied sympathetically. Bill let go of the strip of fabric he was holding with his teeth and, when his arm fell out, the medic fainted on the spot. Alan fainted too. They flew him to the British base at Akrotiri on Cyprus, where his arm was amputated and, by the time my chum Ozymandias met him, he had an artificial one.

“I am a big man,” Ozymandias told me, “but Bill has a neck twice the girth of mine. He may only have one arm but, when we met in 1982, I could see immediately he was extremely tough. Red hair, red beard, strong, broad neck. We immediately got on.”

According to Ozymandias, Bill Foxton had won an award from the SAS:

“At that time, Bill had already lost his left arm but was still a serving member of the SAS; he was training in the deserts of Oman with younger SAS troopers closing in on his position from all sides and he buried himself in the sand. He dug a hole with his one good arm and simply buried himself deep underground. The SAS troopers passed over him without realising until he told them and the Regiment was so impressed they gave him their Award.”

After the secret war ended, Bill decided to stay in Oman and started running the Sultan’s Armed Forces (SAF) Beach Club: apparently a splendid, well-organised place with a restaurant full of ex-patriot British soldiers from a wide variety of armies. He had his SAS Award plaque hanging on the wall of his office.

I heard all these stories about Bill Foxton from my chum Ozymandias and then, one day in the 1990s, I accidentally heard him being inteviewed – Bill Foxton – he was by then spokesman for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe and apparently also head of the European Commission Monitoring Mission during the Yugoslav wars.

According to Ozymandias, Bill kept a hat in his living room in Britain. The hat belonged to Serbian General Ratko Mladic – who is still on the run for war crimes as I write this. During the Yugoslav wars, Bosnian forces ambushed Mladic’s car in an attempt to assassinate him; he was not in the car but his hat was. So the Bosnians killed his driver and gave the hat to Bill, whom they admired. That was the explanation Bill Foxton gave.

In 1999 he was awarded the OBE for his work in Kosovo.

By 2008, he was working in Afghanistan, running humanitarian projects.

The next year, in February 2009, he shot himself in the head in a Southampton park with a 9mm Browning pistol after he lost his life savings – reportedly over £100,000 –  in the $64 billion Bernie Madoff fraud.

His death was not news except in the local Southern Daily Echo in Southampton. The BBC mentioned it as a ‘human interest’ aside to the Bernie Madoff ponzi scheme fraud story, like a teardrop in rain. His death went mostly un-noticed, but he intersected with History.

Oh – that British plot to assassinate Colonel Gaddafi in 1969, the year he came to power… it was allegedly stopped because the US Government felt that Gaddafi was sufficiently anti-Marxist to be worth ‘protecting’.

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