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I wanna be anarchy

Via dsquared, I see that Conservative MP and Times columnist Michael Gove, author of one of the worst books I’ve read in recent years, is insisting that he is a “punk”. I take it that he means he has no skill on his chosen instrument (in this case, English prose), and that he tends to make everyone around him yawn at his tedious provocations?

  1. 1  Gregor  February 3, 2009, 11:26 am 

    When you previously asked suggestions for potential targets, I considered mentioning Gove, but decided against it. Whilst ‘Melanie Phillips’ is quite possibly a parody, I just can’t believe that Michael Gove is a real human being. He looks like ‘Stork’ from Animal House, and keeps drivelling gleefully about men in uniform blowing up foreigners. He is a parody neo-con.

    And this is possibly the worst article I’ve read in recent times (yes, even worse than Wurzel’s):

    Amongst my friends I am infamous for being easily amused. But even I know that the ‘bore’ pun (or homophone) has suffered from overuse in the past few decades. And as far as I can see Gove generally defines a bore as someone who disagrees with his viewpoints. And he has a real nerve speaking about bores and then finishing:

    ‘Which is why I ask, what lessons from the Thirties do we still have to learn?’

    And this gem:
    ‘But 2008, as well as being the year of a world financial crisis, was also the year a resurgent Russia attempted to snuff out democracy on its borders’

    ‘Resurgent Russia’? ‘Snuff out’? The clichés in style are matched by the clichés in thought. How exactly did ‘resurgent Russia’ attempt to ‘snuff out’ democracy in Georgia? Did they attempt to install a dictator (like the Americans tried to do in Venezuela)? No. Did they annex South Ossetia when the majority of people there wanted them to? No.

    As for being a ‘punk’… I have no idea what he’s on about.

  2. 2  Steven  February 3, 2009, 11:55 am 

    Part of the “idea” seems to be the notion (peculiarly widespread among his fellows) that there is something brave and iconoclastic about being an apologist for official violence, the prospect of which gives any right-thinking “punk” the horn:

    Do you go gooey at the thought of Imagining All the People Living for Today? Or does your pulse quicken when you hear that War is Declared and Battle Come Down?

  3. 3  john b  February 3, 2009, 12:01 pm 

    Perhaps he’s going for the traditional definition of the term:

    Punk: (adj) bum, cheap, cheesy, chintzy, crummy, punk, sleazy, tinny (of very poor quality; flimsy)

  4. 4  Adam  February 3, 2009, 12:18 pm 

    It’s particularly interesting that the only punk lyrics he quotes are from the Clash – a fairly obvious choice of band which would suggest no deep degree of engagement with the products of the punk movement.

    It looks like he’s trying to do a Blair: proving he’s down with the kids because he listens to what he imagines to be ‘yoof’ music but actually coming on as a rather sleazy BOF glomming on to a nubile eighteen year old and trying to get her to trade ‘naughty’ remarks with him for his puerile, grinning amusement.

    Dirty old rotter.

  5. 5  Steven  February 3, 2009, 12:45 pm 

    And yet he doesn’t mention the Clash song that would seem most appropriate to his geopolitical views, viz. “Rock the Casbah”.

  6. 6  ejh  February 3, 2009, 2:45 pm 

    I think we may be operating on the same principle which has enabled Andrew Neil to spend decades claiming he’s anti-establishment, to wit you’re anti-establishment if you didn’t go to public school and are more in favour of the free market than Edward Heath was. From there, we have anti-establishment = punk, particularly if (as the OP suggests) you engage in a little iconoclasm, albeit the “saying things that shock the liberals” kind.

    It’s for kids really. Or kids that haven’t grown up.

  7. 7  richard  February 3, 2009, 4:27 pm 

    ‘Resurgent Russia’?
    Surely you remember Putin “rearing his head” (over Alaska, as I recall)? I think we’re dealing with the same level of discourse.

    Perhaps he could be persuaded to listen to the Dead Kennedys’ immortal “Nazi punks, fuck off.”

  8. 8  Alex Higgins  February 3, 2009, 5:06 pm 

    ‘And yet he doesn’t mention the Clash song that would seem most appropriate to his geopolitical views, viz. “Rock the Casbah”.’

    Just as well – Joe Strummer was very upset when ‘Rock the Casbah’ was misappropriated for warlike purposes during the first Gulf War. If Gove even thinks about it, he would be dishonouring the dead. In fact, he appears to have done so:

    “Instead, we thrilled to the idea of punk. We wanted an authentic sound of the suburbs, and we found it in music whose rawness was a deliberate provocation.”

    Er yeah, the Clash were trying to provoke Tories like you. They really, really didn’t want you to listen to them and think, “If I say I like this, maybe people will support the Iraq War and a return to the economics of Herbert Hoover’s right-wing critics”

    And where exactly is the contrast between John Lennon and Joe Strummer here anywhere?

    “Do you go gooey at the thought of Imagining All the People Living for Today? Or does your pulse quicken when you hear that War is Declared and Battle Come Down?”

    They’re both anti-war songs! Or does he think the Clash were relishing the prospect of the aftermath of nuclear war in London?

    Do you go gooey at the thought people Doped on Religion and Sex and TV/You’re All Fucking Peasants as Far as I Can See? (h/t John Lennon)

    Did Lennon come from ‘the English middle class’? Was Strummer the “sound of the suburbs”? Is there a single sentence in this whole article with an accurate premise?

    “I may be stunningly wrong in my analysis, but at least I know I’ve started a fight where none existed before.”

    He really is a neoconservative.

    New rule – from now on, everything Gove says must feature that quote prominently.

  9. 9  Gregor  February 3, 2009, 5:30 pm 

    ’Surely you remember Putin “rearing his head” (over Alaska, as I recall)? I think we’re dealing with the same level of discourse.’

    Indeed, ‘resurgent Russia’ is such a common sound-bite that it slightly ruins his efforts to portray himself as an edgy outsider.

    Maybe I should add that I am no fan of Medvedev or Putin and am shocked at news of increasing press censorship. However, I don’t know if doing so would make my criticisms of ideological bias against Russia any more valid?

    Possibly the worst thing is that with their hysteria about ‘Vladimir Putin’ (Medvedev is ignored) and their wholehearted defence of Saakashvilli and Boris ‘emigre dissident’ Berezhovksy, the MSM has drowned out the respectable voices of Russian liberalism.

    When ‘punks’ like Gove use the totally outré, mind-bending argument invoking the 1930s, it isn’t very helpful.

    ‘Part of the “idea” seems to be the notion (peculiarly widespread among his fellows) that there is something brave and iconoclastic about being an apologist for official violence’

    I think they call it ‘Moral Courage’, superbly defined here:

  10. 10  BenSix  February 3, 2009, 6:21 pm 

    Pssht, the difference is that the Sex Pistols only had fascist affectations

    I’ll get me coat.

  11. 11  Adam  February 3, 2009, 8:10 pm 

    Looking at his byline photo again…Is ‘Michael Gove’ some alternate comedy persona of John Hegley?

  12. 12  fmackay  February 3, 2009, 9:18 pm 

    About a dozen years ago I was in the audience for an STV “zoo tv” type programme, on which Michael Gove was one of the guests/targets. He was promoting a book which as far as I recall claimed that the aristocracy had made Britain what it was today, that this was a thoroughly good thing, and furthermore, hurrah for the nobs. This went down with the half-pissed Glaswegian audience about as well as you would expect . But the curious thing is I can find no record of this book anywhere online – it doubtless sold only in the low two figures, but you’d think it would feature in some bibliography somewhere, even if it can’t be found on amazon or abe. Could someone be keeping this embarassingly un-New Tory tome quiet?

  13. 13  sw  February 3, 2009, 9:23 pm 

    The other night, I was asked where I get my news, and I said “mostly from” – the querying party was, for the record, a reader of this site, so we had a pleasant chuckle.

    The reason I mention that is because I was, perhaps not surprisingly, unfamiliar with the oeuvre of Michael Gove, and now, thanks to you, I have learned something. I think I now hate Michael Gove more than just about anybody I have ever come across. I imagine that non-Nazi punks, both living and dead, are screaming like vampires with stakes driven through their hearts, screeching like werewolves in torn denim who have just been shot by a silver bullet, zippered zombies whose heads are exploding . . . To think that this man has claimed their art must be a murder that endures beyond the grave.

    Gove clearly is – to cop a phrase from Adrian Finch, the Conservative candidate in the West Chelifont bye-election, at Alan Partridge’s roundtable, Partridge Over Britain – a “bloody shit, a bloody, bloody shit”.

  14. 14  Steven  February 3, 2009, 10:29 pm 

    You tease, sw: I know you really get all your news from here.

  15. 15  sw  February 3, 2009, 10:35 pm 

    That’s not “news”, that’s . . . life. And, since you did mention it, or link to it, I did have a thought today that – well, I’ll share with the Unspeak Community – it is related to that link, music-related and, indeed, possibly even punk-related. I was listening to The Smiths’ Meat is Murder, several times over, and decided that that album fulfilled rockabilly’s promise.

  16. 16  Steven  February 3, 2009, 10:51 pm 

    Faint praise, no?

  17. 17  sw  February 4, 2009, 12:01 am 

    Sweet Jesus – I throw down the gauntlet to the Spirit of Joe Strummer and you think that is faint praise? I expected to return to Unspeak to find Clash fans calling for my immediate expulsion from the Unspeak Community forever. Indeed, I was secretly hoping that Gove himself would join in to defend punk as rockabilly’s fulfillment.

  18. 18  Steven  February 4, 2009, 12:20 am 

    I’m afraid I just can’t get my head around the idea of “rockabilly’s promise”.

    Anyway, Justin at Chicken Yoghurt has pointed out the definition of “punk” of which Gove may have been thinking:

    [U]sually a small nonviolent male inmate that is bullied into becoming a bigger and stronger man’s property.

  19. 19  David  February 4, 2009, 11:37 am 

    The logic seems to be:

    Among the people that punks don’t like are lefties.

    I don’t like lefties.

    I am a punk.

    As for the article itself, “I may not agree with a word that’s said but I have to admire the style” would be half right.

  20. 20  ejh  February 4, 2009, 1:43 pm 

    Neither the British Library nor the Bodleian online catalogues help identify the mystery Gove book mentioned at #12, unless it be “Michael Portillo, the future of the Right” (1995).

  21. 21  Andrew Bartlett  February 4, 2009, 2:12 pm 

    What is going on? Some Republicans also seem to be trying to claim that they are ‘punk’. Is this a concerted effort, of just convergent stupidity?

  22. 22  Tawfiq Chahboune  February 4, 2009, 4:49 pm 

    Punk has never been my thing, but wasn’t part of the whole punk “experience” spitting at one another? After all, Gove does spit on his readers. Ergo, Gove is a punk.

    In an article a while back, Gove wrote that the word “gove” can be found in the OED: It is a “verb in fact. Meaning to stare stupidly.” And write stupidly, one might add (Oliver Kamm rates him highly as some sort of writer and thinker, but then he also rates Updike as one of twentieth century America’s great novelists).

    What is it about the Times? Are they recruiting every rightwing scribbler, neoconservative fruitcake, propagandist and downright imbecile going: Gove, Kamm, Aaronovitch, Appleyard, Liddle, AA Gill (the finest words in the English languade: “AA Gill is away”), Clarkson, Andrew Sullivan (the madman who demanded the nuking of Iraq because of the anthrax attacks in Washington!), etc, etc.

    I have this awful feeling that Gove will be PM one day! I really hope I’m wrong. Thankfully, I was wrong in thinking that if Updike lived long enough he’d get his trip to Stockholm.

  23. 23  fmackay  February 4, 2009, 8:44 pm 

    ejb: Perhaps time has warped my memory, and Gove was merely promoting himself, rather than a book. He was certainly advancing the argument outlined above. This was after his Portillo book; he was introduced as Portillo’s biographer, just to get the crowd onside from the get-go.

    The more I consider it the more plausible the idea that there was no book seems. How embarrassing to find myself posting falsehoods on the interwebs. I shall console myself with the thought that, as this was in 1997 or so, I have almost certainly been despising Michael Gove for longer than the rest of you.

  24. 24  Steven  February 4, 2009, 8:51 pm 

    “Michael Portillo, the future of the Right” (1995).

    He has form in predicting domestic political developments, at least.

  25. 25  Dan G  February 4, 2009, 9:18 pm 

    Is this punk?

  26. 26  meatwork  February 6, 2009, 1:57 am 

    The enema of my enemy is my friend.

    As Andrew Bartlett (G,day, Andrew) mentions, someone called TenNapel at claims that “Republican is the New Punk” and that “Johnny Cash was punk rock”. At the excellent Sadly, No!, sponsored on the Blogrolling, thread here by Barney, commenters have attempted to make sense of this.

    I mean, your argument goes
    punk = anti-establishment
    Obama = establishment
    GOP = anti-Obama
    Therefore GOP = punk
    That’s incredibly silly. Did that make Walter Mondale punk?
    Hint: Walter Mondale was not punk

    Things that are punk:
    Chunks of masonry
    Tissue paper
    Also all nouns.

    Punk behaviour:
    Not doing drugs
    Not having sex
    Neither rocking nor rolling.

    Republicans = punk.
    I suppose so, in the same way that hemorrhoids = acne.

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