On Being Fashionable

Still mulling over my closest approach to the Guardian in something like 25 years. It felt like getting near Mars or Jupiter or Krypton. You gaze down on the weird critters below, and wonder how they survive on that strange world.

Last Saturday, along with a few other people, I had some words of mine published in the Guardian. And the words attracted comment. One reader didn’t believe I existed. Another thought I was a parody. That was enough for me to beam down briefly onto the surface of planet Guardian, and assure the reader that I actually did exist. I doubt if I convinced him. I wasn’t sure he existed either.

I didn’t stay long in the comments. I have no wish to engage with antismoking Guardian readers, even if I was a Guardian reader myself for several years. I was fighting antismokers in Comment Is Free over 10 years ago until I just got thoroughly sick of them all.

I just don’t want to know antismokers. I have complete and perfect contempt for them. I wouldn’t want to be in the same room as Jeremy Corbyn, for example. He voted for the smoking ban, and that fact is all I will ever need to know about him. Just like it was all I ever needed to know about Hillary Clinton, that she was a virulent antismoker, in order to cease to pay any attention to anything she ever said about anything.

I think antismokers are small-minded people, obsessed with trivia. But then, I suppose I think that Guardian readers are also small-minded people, obsessed with trivia.

Back when I read the Guardian, it was above all a fashionable paper to read. You read the Guardian if you belonged to a metropolitan elite, with fashionably politically correct opinions. You were in with the in-crowd. And you could feel smugly superior to the poor, sodding Telegraph and Times and Sun readers. And back then I did belong to a metropolitan elite, and I was as politically correct as any of them. In fact, when I first heard of political correctness, I was delighted to find that I already was thoroughly PC.

And in that world of fashion, the important thing is to keep up with the current fashion. And being anti-smoking is currently very fashionable. And smoking tobacco has become very unfashionable. Smokers are looked down upon with the same contempt as people who wear bell-bottoms or have turn-ups on their trousers.

Fashions change very suddenly. For a while it was very fashionable for men (and women) to wear bell-bottomed trousers or “flares”. But almost as quickly as they became fashionable, they became unfashionable again. Fashion leaders are always one step ahead of the game. Everybody else is just following them, like runners in a marathon puffing along miles behind the leaders. (and running marathons is also a fashion, of course).

Smoking tobacco has become unfashionable. But fashion is always changing, and so it may well become fashionable again. In fact, I’m sure it will.

And fashion is always a consensus of some sort. In fact, whenever there is a consensus about anything, you may be quite sure that it is a matter of fashion.

Most of what anyone ever believes about anything is almost always a fashionable opinion of some sort. Or was a fashionable opinion at one time or other.

I have no interest in being fashionable any more. I held all the fashionable opinions of the 1960s  and 1970s. I wore the bell-bottoms and beads as well. But I lost interest in fashion, and in fashion leaders. And my opinions have become increasingly unfashionable ever since.

The trouble with fashion is that it’s inconsistent. Things come into fashion, and then go out of fashion, and then come back into fashion. There’s no rhyme or reason to any of it. It’s completely empty of any real content. It’s a form of virtue-signalling. You’re telling people that you’re in with the in-crowd, and that you know what the in-crowd knows.

And fashion is also tyrannical. The War on Smoking is being conducted with great brutality by fashion police. They want to make smoking unfashionable, and they’ve largely succeeded in doing so. And now they’re trying to making drinking and eating unfashionable too.

In fact, you might also say that being pro-EU or anti-EU is a fashionable opinion. The EU was something that became very fashionable in the late 20th century, a bit like bell-bottomed trousers. And now it’s becoming unfashionable again. And the shrieks and squeals of the Remainers are the wailings of people who have been caught wearing the wrong trousers.

It’s the same with Donald Trump. He’s a man who became very fashionable, all of a sudden – much to the dismay of Hillary Clinton, who had all the right fashionable opinions about everything. Her speeches were long lists of all the fashionable causes she supported. Everyone thought she was bound to win. But in the end she was caught wearing bell-bottomed trousers two minutes after they’d gone out of fashion. And the collective fit she and her supporters have been having ever since is really all about having fallen out of fashion. They thought they were the in-crowd.

Political correctness is a fashion. Was it very surprising that, just when I was wearing fashionable bell-bottoms and beads, I was also espousing fashionable opinions? But it’s precisely because it’s a fashion that political correctness is empty. It’s just what a lot of people think these days. One day they’ll all think something else.

One might even dare suggest that being a Marxist or Trotskyite or Maoist is also a fashion. It was very, very fashionable to be one of those in the first half of the 20th century. It still is rather fashionable in some circles. And, who knows, one day it may become fashionable again.

I was listening to Roger Scruton yesterday, talking to James Delingpole. He was someone whom it was as fashionable to detest in the 1980s as it currently is to detest Donald Trump. He appears to have become rather more fashionable today.

He said, circa 15 minutes into the recording below, that he had wanted…

“…to formulate a complete philosophy in answer to the complete philosophies of the liberals and the socialists. Because that’s what was obviously appealing to people in the 60s and the 70s in Marxism and also in its softer variants was that there was a complete philosophy of life contained in it. Whereas conservatives, as I got to understand them, were people who were getting through life without a philosophy, improvising, making adjustments, clinging to the things that they valued but without having any account of why it was that they should value them.”

After which James Delingpole remarked that, in his opinion, “there is no coherent philosophy of liberalism or Marxism.”

Which is also my view. You write an incomprehensible door-stopper of a book, like Marx did, and it becomes a new bible, which nobody reads because nobody can read it, but which is believed – or which it is fashionable to believe – contains profound truths about the nature of the world, which can be discovered like gold nuggets in its muddy silt.

Marxism is empty. It’s completely vacuous. But that doesn’t prevent it from it periodically becoming fashionable again. Like Islam. Or more or less anything else.

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About Frank Davis

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41 Responses to On Being Fashionable

  1. Indeed, fashion is a wheel. The end.

  2. Timothy Goodacre says:

    Isn’t it nice Frank to be part of the Resistance !

  3. Rose says:

    Frank, that was a blood curdling confession, fashion is for the sheep, when everybodys doing it, it’s already on it’s way out.
    You have to be ahead of the trend and already bored of it when it hits the high street.

  4. garyk30 says:

    I have been doing the same things for the last 50 years and find it very amusing that I have been ‘fashionable’, so often, without changing my habits.

  5. Clicky says:

  6. Rose says:

    Could have done with these on 1st of July to use on the “smoke free” denizens of the Guardian comment thread, not that I believe they visit pubs for one minute.

    Alcohol Sales Should be Restricted with Minimum Prices Introduced Due To Cancer Risk, Say Experts
    4th July 2017

    “Alcohol sales should be restricted and minimum pricing introduced in an attempt to wean Europe off its “deeply embedded” fondness for the demon drink and cut cancer rates, health experts have said.”
    http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/health-news/alcohol-sales-restrict-cancer-risk-minimum-prices-public-healh-experts-ueg-a7821361.html

    Britons are among most at-risk in Europe for alcohol-related cancer
    4th July 2017

    “Alcohol is a group one carcinogen and while the evidence shows any level of drinking increases cancer risk, this risk increases in line with the level of consumption,” added Gilmore, an ex-president of the Royal College of Physicians.

    The AHA says that alcohol-related health harm is so great, and awareness of the link between drink and cancer so low at just 10%, that alcohol manufacturers should be forced to put health warnings on the labels of cans and bottles.”
    https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/jul/04/britons-are-among-most-at-risk-in-europe-for-alcohol-related-cancer

    • legiron says:

      All that happens when they crack down on alcohol is that homebrew rates and the dodgy dealers go up. Even in Islamic countries where alcohol is banned, it’s easy to get

      That’s because it’s easy to make ;)

  7. Clicky says:

  8. waltc says:

    Fashion: your essay made me look at a passage from a novel I wrote in the late 80s when anti-smoking was still in its cradle but quitting and other fashions were In, and the “with-it” critters were turning their full 180s on a dime. For the hell of it, I quote:

    “He’d first met Rosetti in ’72 when Rosetti was an ordinary super-bright kid in a flashy little ad shop on Madison Avenue. Rosetti was bearded, had a windowless office with poster of a weeping American Indian, a few sharpened pencils and a tinful of grass, and played Rolling Stones records while he scribbled on a pad…

    “Rosetti came in now, late, looking harried…Kelley looked him over, sipped slowly at his Cutty and decided that Rosetti was a creature of fashion. Rosetti had been hip when it was hip to be hip; only now he’d gotten sharp–Essence of the 80s– all bright and aggressive; clothes by Armani, body by incredible effort at the gym. The waiter came over and Rosetti made a big deal about ordering a white wine spritzer. He didn’t want the house wine. He wanted a half bottle of Clos Blanc de Vougeot, and a very very little spritz of the sofa. Ever since he’d stopped smoking, he confided to Kelley when the waiter went away, his palate had really gotten hip to what’s what.

    “Like strawberries,” he said. “You ever taste a strawberry? I mean really taste it?”

    Kelley lit a cigarette and said nothing.

    “Pussy,” Rosetti started, warming to his subject. “Has a taste–aw Jesus–like I couldn’t believe it.”

  9. And the shrieks and squeals of the Remainers are the wailings of people who have been caught wearing the wrong trousers.

    So what you’re saying is that the Brexiteurs are just sheeply following the latest fashion craze? Brexit the finger spinner of politics? I couldn’t disagree. We know a Kinks’ song about that, don’t we, boys and girls?

      • TheBlockedDwarf says:

        @Clicky, greatest love song of all time. Gruff old dwarf I am , I still tear up everytime I hear it.

    • junican says:

      No, BD, my friend. Brexit WILL become a fashion.

      • TheBlockedDwarf says:

        @ Junican, a brexit fashioned by PMT.May & the DPUnettes will be a ‘brexit’
        …after a fashion. That’s assuming May survives the pending High Court case about civil liberties and the Grenville fall out and and whatever next weeks’ car crash is.
        I’ve had some experience with the Orange Order and trust me, a spoon long enough to sup with the DUP hasn’t yet been forged.

    • Frank Davis says:

      I think TBD was referring to “Dedicated Follower of Fashion” rather than “Waterloo Sunset”.

      Anyway, certainly following the logic of my essay, first being pro-EU, and then anti-EU, is indeed a matter of changing fashions. And I am, as usual, keeping up with the latest fashion. TBD is, sadly, rather behind the times.

      • TBD is, sadly, rather behind the times.
        Behind the times? Au contraire! Whilst you and your fellow Brexiteurs are still pulling up those frilly nylon panties -with the tasteful red,white and blue swastikas-up tight; I’m swinging commando style after the fashion after next! And what, I hear you cry, will be the fashion after next? Easy, about a year after Brexit the Daily Xenophobe will lead with “BLAME BREXIT!”. You know I’m right, even if-against all the odds-Brexit is a ‘success’ (would that be ‘success’ as in the Smoking Ban?) British DNA COMPELS. We have to have something to grizzle about, to feel hard done by, it’s genetic. I’m told the really clever money is already running projections along the lines of us rejoining the EU around 2040-if our Chinese overlords will let us.

  10. alanxxx says:

    Congratulations on getting in the Groaniac Frank, heartening to read you there. Meanwhile, I cannot resist this from 37 years ago, Fashion by David Bowie https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GA27aQZCQMk “Turn to the left . . . turn to the right”

    • Rose says:

      Good choice, I have never quite got over reading a line in Fashion Forecast at work, that simply said “heads will be small this year” which gave me a whole new perspective on life, the universe and everything.

  11. Pingback: The Rebellion of Smokers | Bolton Smokers Club

  12. Dirk says:

    In a 2006 Rolling Stone interview, Vonnegut sardonically stated that he would sue the Brown & Williamson tobacco company, the maker of the Pall Mall-branded cigarettes he had been smoking since he was twelve or fourteen years old, for false advertising. “And do you know why?” he said. “Because I’m 83 years old. The lying bastards! On the package Brown & Williamson promised to kill me.”

  13. waltc says:

    This is all over fb but belongs here too, for those who missed it

    https://blogs.spectator.co.uk/2017/07/smoking-ban-ripped-soul-country/

    • Rose says:

      I still can’t read it , Walt, much as I’d love to, after a couple of seconds a subscription page comes up and covers the whole article.

      Copy and paste?

      • blogs.spectator.co.uk
        The smoking ban ripped the soul out of this country | Coffee House
        Brendan O’Neill

        It is 10 years since smoking in public places was banned in England. Ten years since officials decreed that we could no longer light up at work, in restaurants, in pubs and even at bus-stops. Ten years since you could follow your Tiramisu with the satisfying throat hit of a drag of nicotine. Ten years since pubs were fuggy and convivial, packed with hoarse ladies telling stories and old blokes propping up the bar rather than shiny-haired new dads wearing a baby in a sling and wondering whether to treat themselves to buffalo wings or mac’n’cheese balls. Seriously. Babies in pubs. I’ve seen it with my own eyes.

        I hate the smoking ban. I hate what it has done to this nation. It has ripped out its soul. It has sterilised it, sanitised it, turned this country of the raucous public house and yellowed fingers wrapped lovingly around glistening, gold pints into one massive gastro hangout in which everything is clean and child-friendly and boring.

        It has made us cruel. I’ve seen incredibly ill people, twisted into wheelchairs, smoking in the cold, purple air of a winter’s night outside King’s College Hospital in London. And now Public Health England wants to ban smoking outside hospitals as well as in them, presumably meaning the sick will have to traipse or crawl across deadly roads for their two minutes of tiny pleasure. What has become of us?

        It has made us a nation of grasses. Or it tried to. The smoking ban was accompanied by the introduction of a Smokefree Compliance Line, with officialdom badgering us to call if we witness a ‘smokefree law violation’ — a euphemism for ‘someone having a fag’. The ‘compliance line’ received 2,342 calls in the first four weeks following the introduction of the ban in July 2007. I weep for Britain.

        It made the petty policing of everyday life a normal rather than terrifying thing. Who can forget the government’s promise to send ‘environmental health officers’ — smoke spies — to ‘working environments considered to be at higher risk of non-compliance’. And what sort of environments might they be? ‘Bars and pubs which were commonly used by indoor smokers before the law was passed’, the health tyrants chirped. That is, old pubs, likely full of old duffers, possibly in those non-metropolitan bits of England, where — the horror! — people once enjoyed a puff with their pint. Suddenly such institutions could expect a knock on the door from the Smokefree Stasi. Every generation before ours would have considered this poking of the long snout of the law into the public house an affront to British freedom. Why didn’t we?

        This is what I hate most about the smoking ban: the fact that so few people hate it. The fact that it wasn’t met with hordes of angry boozers barricading themselves into their beloved hazy bars or workers insisting on the right to a have a breaktime fag indoors rather than on the street, in the drizzle, like social lepers. Rather, it was greeted with a national shrug of the shoulders. Even as the impact of the smoking ban has become clear — with many researchers arguing that the crisis of the pub industry, especially of old pubs in working-class areas, is partly down to the ban — still we haven’t demanded a rethink. Still we haven’t rebelled and lit up. Yeah, cool, let those social institutions of the poor wither away — that’s been our heartless response. As I say, it made us cruel.

        This is the thing about the smoking ban, the really bad thing, the thing that no number of graphs claiming to show that the nation’s health has improved as a result of the ban can justify: it speaks to a historic turning away from liberty.

        It speaks to a dramatic backward shift in politics. A shift from a politics concerned with improving people’s living conditions to a politics obsessed with policing people’s behaviour. ‘The politics of behaviour’, as New Labour scarily but aptly called it. It speaks most strikingly to a redefinition of what it means to be left or progressive. Once, that meant ensuring the less well-off had more opportunities, more comfort, more pleasure. Now, as made clear by the mad leftist cheering of the ban and other nanny-state initiatives, it means saving people from themselves. It means depriving people of pleasure for their own good. It means using the law to socially re-engineer the masses so that they’re more like ‘us’: fitter, slimmer, smokefree.

        Thirteen years ago, in June 2004, John Reid, then the Labour health secretary, made a plea for pleasure. As Blairites (and Jeremy Corbyn) plotted to ban smoking in public, Reid said ‘be very careful that you do not patronise people’. He reminded his fellow Labourites that smoking is one of the ‘very few pleasures’ some people have. Smoking is far from the biggest problem facing Britain, he said, and yet it has bizarrely become ‘an obsession of the learned middle class’. He was right. But his plea fell on deaf ears, and three years later these learned middle classes imposed their stringent, joyless moralism on the nation. Ten years on, it’s surely time for a fightback — or at least some recognition of the fact that a ban that possibly made Britain healthier also made it nastier, sadder, more prim, and less free.

  14. Huh? That should have read “refusing to allow a dying woman to vape while she is in the hospice from hell!”.

  15. Joe L. says:

    Great post, Frank. Joe Jackson also touched on the subject of smoking bans being the latest fashion in a comment a couple of weeks ago.

    Fashion breeds trends and fads, neither of which have very long lifespans (how long were bell bottoms trendy? Mod haircuts? Grunge flannel? The Atkins Diet?) Your smoking ban is ten years on in the UK and we’re about 10 years on in the US (on average depending on when individual state laws took effect). If Healthism is purely a fad, it should have nearly run its course at this point.

    However, unlike clothing and hairstyles, Healthism is intangible and revolves around a belief system, and has thus become more of a fashionable religion than a mere fashion trend, so I believe it will take longer to dissolve and fall out of grace, as believers will cling tightly to their scriptures (psuedoscientific studies) and pledge undying loyalty to their prophets (the ‘experts’).

    • Rose says:

      Mini skirts took a very long time to fall out of fashion, they became almost like a uniform and worn by the most unsuitable people. Like that horrible fashion for dresses with drawstring waists so women looked like sacks tied in the middle with string, luckily that didn’t last nearly as long.

  16. RdM says:

    These folk are cleverly having a bob both ways:-

    If you look (sign over 18) into the website, you’ll see that they’re also selling white plain packet Brand A & Brand B to shite-coated (oops literal typo!) white-coated Government sponsored researchers wanting to promote the absurd low-nicotine cig concept idiot ideation to Gov again.

    Aargh! ;=})

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