December 20th, 2006


Being narsty to carnts

I think I was probably the narstiest person in my family, but it wasn't major stuff. I nicknamed my sister "Little White Pig" just in case my mother's affectionate name for her, "Little White Pet", went to her head. It was for her own good, you understand. Apart from that, everyone in my family was gentle and supportive and civilized to each other. We grew up in an atmosphere of mutual support and kindness which only broke down into mildly sarcastic recrimination when my parents divorced.

Where I really learned about narstiness, though, was at boarding school. Between the ages of 9 and 13 I received a full crash-course in it. I was physically and mentally tortured, and I learned the extreme difference between running with an in-group and being an out-group of one. (Clue: It was mainly that you didn't get beaten up daily.) Now, although my ultraviolent public school was particularly British (think Lindsay Anderson's "if..."), I won't argue here that narstiness is an entirely British pursuit. There are massacres, torture, cursings and stonings all over the world. But I do find that a certain kind of low-level narstiness is considered acceptable and even amusing in the UK. Narstiness (rather than outright brutality, let's say) seems inherently British.

I don't just see this in Britain's notoriously narsty tabloids, although I think an unholy alliance between Rupert Murdoch and British class hatred has a lot to answer for. It's all over the blogs and bulletin boards I read, the ones frequented by British people, anyway. You can't read far without being forced to agree or disagree with the proposition that someone is a "carnt". One friend's recent blog entries ("friends only", so I won't link them here) have identified several.

There's the woman who exaggerated the damage to her Collier's Wood home caused by a recent freak tornado. She's a carnt, apparently, because she said, in an article for the Standard, things like "My home has always been my sanctuary, a place of exquisite beauty and calm." I'm not quite sure, but I think Caroline Phillips is supposed to be an acceptable target because she's precious, hysterical and bourgeois. Perhaps also because her house really is nicer than ours, or was before the freak tornado struck. Anyway, she had to close the comments thread on her LiveJournal because so many people were dropping in to call her a carnt.

Next there's Liberal Democrat MP Lembit Opik, who split from his TV weather presenter girlfriend in order to date one half of East European novelty pop outfit The Cheeky Girls, known in the UK for their saucy seaside postcard pop hit "Touch My Bum". My friend links to the BBC article about this earth-shaking event (and I'm rather surprised the BBC -- still, I think, a public service broadcaster and not a tabloid newspaper -- covered it, unless their agenda is being set by the tabloids) with the terse comment "What a twat". Again, I'm not quite sure what this man's error is. Dating a pretty Romanian novelty singer? Splitting up with a weather presenter to do so? Exchanging a partner close to his own age for a younger one, or a British partner for a foreign one? Whatever it is, the comments thread more or less agreed that Tornado Lady and Cheeky Man have rendered all satire irrelevant.

Things get truly narsty, though, when the news story involves an alleged serial killer. When the police arrested their first suspect in the Suffolk Strangler case this week, the British press made a big deal of the fact that the man was called Tom and had a MySpace page. Despite stern warnings from Suffolk police that the man's name not be released, the Mirror published an article about him on Sunday, and the whole British media then set about discovering everything they could about the Tesco manager, including publishing links to his MySpace page. One of his seven friends was a woman, and this woman's MySpace page quickly filled up with abusive comments. She too was apparently a "carnt" for having friended the suspect. I suppose it's the internet-age equivalent of being stoned in the market square. Anyway, the following day the police found a new suspect.

Personally, I blame Rupert Murdoch for the virulent state of British narstiness, and the large number of carnts per square metre -- sorry, foot -- in the UK. Of course, by pointing the finger at a narsty carnt myself, I'm playing the national sport. But, don't you see, if we all agree that there's just one gigantic narsty carnt in the world, we can all love each other unconditionally. If not forever, at least until Rupert pops his clogs. As those Dutch carnts would put it.