Sunday, 28 February 2016

Education, education, whatever...

In my last post I argued that BorisTM, is Britain's Trump, not the more obvious candidate, Farage, on the grounds that the eccentrically-hairstyled duo don't appear to be particularly interested in policies, except as semi-disposable vehicles for promoting their own personal brands, whereas Farage is utterly fixated on the policy goals of getting the UK out of Europe and keeping foreigners out of the UK, positions which you can't imagine him ditching under any circumstances.

Perhaps the reason that people don't make the Trump-BorisTM connection is education.  The Old Etonian, BorisTM, is only too happy to flaunt his classical education, but to hear Trump talk you wouldn't think anyone had ever bothered trying to teach him anything. For a man so apparently immune to shame, it's almost as though Trump is ashamed of his briefly-interrupted* progress from fee-paying prep school to expensive private universities.

It's a big contrast, but I think it owes more to Anglo-American cultural differences than to any fundamental difference between the two individuals concerned. Both are relentless self-publicists, but one is operating in a nation ostensibly founded on the proposition that "all men are created equal", where Joe and Joanne Public can theoretically work their way from a log cabin to the White House by sheer grit and hard work (plus the odd "small loan of a million dollars" from the Bank of Daddy).

In a market that's predisposed to be suspicious of anything that smacks of over-educated fancy-pants elitism, Trump markets himself as the über-regular guy, so he's not going spoil that illusion with damaging revelations about having been to a big-ticket Ivy League college or, God forbid, having learnt anything whilst he was there. You don't have to be a sociologist to work that one out - just look at any big Hollywood movie where, if they want a villain, they get themselves a British character actor to creep the audience out with a thoroughly un-Amercan blend of eloquence, book-learning and cynical camp.**

Basic market segmentation theory dictates that the BorisTM  product must have a different look and feel to appeal to a different demographic. In Britain, we have a culture of deference - royalty, lords and ladies, an unelected House of Lords and a highly-developed class system.  When a large portion of your audience have internalised the idea that a certain class of person is born to rule, you don't have to pretend to be a pleb in order to impress the plebs. Just spin the results of that expensive education your parents shelled out for as proof that you're one of those clever cornflakes who will inevitably get shaken to the top of life's cereal packet.***

Not only does the successful con-artist have to change what he pretends to be to appeal to a region-specific audience, but he also has to strike a different attitude. In America, that means dressing down as regular and unpretentious, but with a high-energy attitude of relentless self-belief and unabashed bragging. In Britain, you can come across as an impeccably well-bred member of the ruling class, so long as you replace American-style boastfulness with a disarming display of self-deprecating charm ... I mean, crikey ... well ... gosh!

Differences in presentation aside, I suspect that Trump gave the game away when he announced that "I love the poorly educated", which he surely does, both because he pretends to be one of them and because the last thing a con artist needs is a well-informed mark.  I think that BorisTM is probably feeling the love, too, because what would his privileged education be worth, if it didn't set the clever cornflakes apart from poorly educated people? It is, after all, not enough to succeed. Others must fail.

And there's nothing like dropping the names of ancient dead dudes who the lower orders were never taught about at school for polishing up a chap's clever cornflake credentials.

Fortunately for the rest of us, there are people like Mary Beard around to bring his high-flown classical allusions down to earth:
Something similar is true with the Cincinnatus parallel that Boris himself drew a few years ago, and has been repeated this last week: "If, like the Roman leader Cincinnatus, I were to be called from my plough to serve in that office [ie Prime Minister], I wouldn't, of course, say no."

Cincinnatus was a 'hero' of early Rome, and best known for being called from his farm (and his plough) to take charge of the city when they were in dire straits fighting against their neighbours, the Aequi. And he was so honourable that once he had won the war, rather than continuing in power, he just returned to the plough...

...That's the nice bit. What's less often remembered is that Cincinnatus was one of the most virulent haters of the lower orders (the "plebeians" of A Mitchell fame), one of the most enthusiastic defenders of the privileges of the patricians -- and the keenest to keep the plebs out.

* "Due to behavior problems, Trump left the school at age 13 and was enrolled in the New York Military Academy (NYMA). In 1983, Fred told an interviewer that Donald "was a pretty rough fellow when he was small". Trump finished eighth grade and high school at NYMA."  You can't help wondering what "behaviour problems" and "a pretty rough fellow" mean in plain English. Probably that he was a playground bully, in which case, the adult Trump is living disproof of the claim that you can fix kids' behavioural problems by  introducing a "military ethos" into education.

** The thought about British movie villains popped into my head this week when I heard Cameron sneer "Put on a proper suit. Do up your tie! And sing the national anthem.’’ across the dispatch box and immediately thought of that other connoisseur of sartorial elegance, Dr Hannibal Lecter:
You know what you look like to me, with your good bag and your cheap shoes? You look like a rube. A well scrubbed, hustling rube with a little taste. Good nutrition's given you some length of bone, but you're not more than one generation from poor white trash, are you, Agent Starling? And that accent you've tried so desperately to shed: pure West Virginia. What is your father, dear? Is he a coal miner? Does he stink of the lamp? You know how quickly the boys found you... all those tedious sticky fumblings in the back seats of cars... while you could only dream of getting out... getting anywhere... getting all the way to the FBI.
*** And, if you're going to self-identify as an admirer and, by implication, member of the high-IQ genetic elite, it would be smart to avoid any uppity smart-alec journalist with the impertinence to test whether you're really a representative of the MENSA übermenschen, or just an averagely bright individual who went to a posh school and left with a massive sense of entitlement)..