Review: Grayson Perry All Man

Last night I watched Grayson Perry’s new series, All Man, on Channel Four. The series explores masculinity from the perspective of an artist. Who is also a transvestite; the latter stressed throughout the hour-long first episode as if dressing as a pantomime dame makes him something of an expert on ‘blokes’.

I should say upfront that Perry’s not a chap I particularly like, his work less so, but he’s a very good TV presenter, and it’s admirable that he can often get ordinary people to open up. I like what he does on telly.

The first episode, set in our own North East, focuses on what Perry sees as traditional northern masculine values and roles. Coal mining, shipbuilding, and in their absence, as an outlet for machismo, cage fighting.

Scenes set in the MME (mixed martial art) gymnasia and changing rooms are truly affecting.  A fighter talks about his brother’s suicide, and all concerned seem well aware that they have, to some degree, constructed their masculinity, mainly as a shield against pain – emotional if not physical.

Equally affecting are Perry’s encounters with the mother and friends of a thirty-year-old, seemingly happy and carefree young man, who took his own life in 2003.

Suicide accounts for three times as many male deaths in England as it does female. Suicide is also the leading cause of death of men between 20 and 49.  Men from lower socio-economic backgrounds are also ten times more likely to end their own lives than those from wealthier regions.

Unfortunately, Perry does not explore the equally frightening statistics around domestic abuse in the North East (up 43% in the past two years).

The elephant in the room is male violence, not suicide. While men are most likely to suffer violence at either their own hands or those of other men, so unfortunately are women.

Violence against women costs the NHS an estimated £1.2 billion a year for physical injuries and £176 million for mental health support.

Still, I guess you can’t cover everything right? On the other hand you can’t talk about masculinity without talking about women: both men’s fear of women and of their own femininity. Perhaps that’s why the show focussed so heavily on recycling the myths of the dour and brutal Northern male.

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During the making of All Man, Perry and the crew dropped into the Tyneside Bar Cafe for dinner. I was DJing there that night with Lady Annabella. The night was a celebration of the life of Amy Winehouse, linked to the screening of Asif Kapadia’s Amy at the Tyneside Cinema. The Bar was alive with queers, trans sisters and brothers, tough blokes and hedonistic partying women, all giving it up in joy at the legacy of a tiny Jewish songstress from North London.

Perry wasn’t keen to chat that night (I know, I tried). Perhaps the cosmopolitan, open, female-friendly atmosphere didn’t fit the narrative that the first episode of All Man seemed so keen to push.

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My books of 2015 … the rest

#2 Not that kind of girl by Lena Dunham
LenaDunhamI shouldn’t like this book, but I do, just as I love Dunham’s TV series Girls, and her movie Tiny Furniture. What’s that all about?

I’ll be open about one thing. I do find Lena Dunham particularly hot. Is that wrong? She’s funny, intelligent, politically liberal (and engaged), interestingly dressed, frequently naked.

Of course I fancy her!

But I also loved the book because it was recommended to me by real-life girlfriends who had found it inspiring and said it reflected their own lives. As much of Dunham’s work, it’s about that period between leaving school and starting your adult life. And the friends, and the shit ushering jobs, and the attempts to write something meaningful. Going to your friends’ piss poor drama performances, or derivative art exhibitions. Their bad bands. Their poorly attended club nights.

I laughed out loud a lot when I read Not That Kind of Girl. Because I recognised my own life and that of my friends at that stage of our development. And that, more than anything, is why I love Lena.

Check out her blog, Lenny, by the way. It’s an excellent daily reader.

 

#3 Live Nude Girl: Chronicles of Sex-Positive Culture by Carol Queen
CarolQueenA delightful treatise on queer life, and a book that offers another way of living, one that is about self-definition, personal autonomy and pleasure.

Carol Queen managed to put into words something I’d been struggling with my whole life – why, if my culture is queer, my politics are queer, my friends are queer and my art is queer, I am defined by who I’m sleeping with at any given moment?

 

#4 King Kong Theory by Virginie Despentes
Essays on rape, gender, sexuality, and punk rock by the writer of Baise-Moi.

Despentes seemed to take these issues back from the realm of theory, and positioned them anew against the backdrop of her own experience.

She’s one of the freshest writers I’ve read for years, and her anger shines brightly and offers hope, not least because she embraces the act of sex and the practice of sexual choice. She doesn’t hold it at arms length.

 

#5 Sick On You: The Disastrous Story of Britain’s Great Lost Punk Band by Andrew MathesonThe_Hollywood_Brats_5
Even though I’d adopted the lifestyle of punk towards the end of 1976, I’d never heard of the Hollywood Brats.

That’s hardly surprising as their ‘career’ had come to an end by 1975. They were possibly Britain’s first punk band, our own New York Dolls.

Matheson’s book is a riotous carry-on, instantly recognisable to anyone who’s been in a crap band. It’s about bedsits and cider and fag butts. It’s about falling out with a succession of bass-players and managers, and about all the times you nearly have ‘made it’; but for your own ignorance, pride, pig-headedness and stupidity.

Mathewson is the punk Withnail, and it could make a fabulous movie. As long as they don’t cast Noel Fielding, Russell Brand or Bill Nighy, it could even be a great movie.

 

#6 Wreckers of CivilisTGation: The Story of Coum Transmissions & Throbbing Gristle by Simon Ford
Leant to me by artist Juli Watson (who has become something of a partner in crime this year), Wreckers of Civilisation was an excellent introduction to the story of Throbbing Gristle.

With a very few exceptions I still prefer reading about TG than listening to their music (this is an exception).

But TG were as revolutionary as the Sex Pistols, Crass or the Ramones. In both art and music, their impact has been enormous. Many people have had their lives opened to incredible possibility by Cosey, Chris, Sleazy and Genesis. I’m one of them.

 

#7 Pirates, Punks & Politics by Nick Davidson
FC St. Pauli are the adopted German football club of punks, anarchists, hippies and larrikins, supported across the globe by those who feel excluded or morally corrupted by the ManYoos and Real Madrids.

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I used to make a living writing about sport. There are times when I still do. I’ve written extensively about the politics and culture of football, rugby league, Aussie rules and wrestling. This book as a reminder of why I loved sport in the first place, and what was missing from so much of the sport we have access to via television, print and radio media.

St.Pauli are run by their fans, and make collective decisions. They’re based in the inner suburbs of their city, Hamburg, and fans still stand up at matches.  To understand why that’s important you probably have to be a football fan. But to understand why football is important, you just need to pick up a newspaper.

 

#8 Low Budget Hell Making Underground Movies with John Waters by Robert G. Maier
robert maierI’m a huge fan of the work of John Waters. I saw a double-bill of Pink Flamingos and Desperate Living at the old Scala Cinema off Tottenham Court Road in the late seventies, and it was as much a turning point as hearing United by Throbbing Gristle or the first Swell Maps records. I thought – I could do that!

Maier was an insider on all of the early Waters’ films, mostly as Waters’ production manager.

He sheds a harsh light on Waters’ single-mindedness, selfishness and meanness in making his movies. And while Waters also comes across as self-obsessed myth maker, often at the expense of his friends, he also comes across as kind and thoughtful, generous with his gifts, a man who likes to surround himself with those he trusts the most, supporting them in their endeavours and personal trials.

 

#9 Carsick by John Waters
ct-watersfrontis1-jpg-20140529On the other hand there’s this.

Probably the most disappointing read of the year. While it had it’s moments (most of these being the factual interludes where Waters enjoys the company of ordinary drivers who pick him up as he hitch-hikes across the American continent), at least a third of the book, perhaps more, is given over to Waters’ sexual fantasies.

These, perhaps inevitably, are about being picked up and tortured by truckers. I love a good sexual fantasy, particularly when they’re being shared by famous people I admire (I LOVED Madonna’s SEX!), but John W’s wet dreams are tiresome and repetitive.

He’s always fun, but this time I was laughing less than usual. Got a signed copy though, courtesy of my gorgeous friend Elspeth.

 

#10 Zami: A New Spelling of My Name by Audre Lorde
AudreLordeIn early summer I asked my friends for a list of great books by women.

The amazing Ami Nisa suggested this book and was then kind enough to lend it to me.

It’s the story of a young black woman growing up in Harlem NYC and her growing awareness of race, sexuality and intelligence. It’s about her writing and her education, and it’s powerful stuff.

She was a contemporary of the Beats, but her story is the flipside of that macho, homo-erotic, misogynistic culture. While the Beats deified ‘negro’ culture (and jazz in particular), Lorde was living with the reality of actually being black in pre-civil rights America. Being working-class, female and lesbian added suffocating layers to her daily struggle, but Lorde is an inspiring figure, tackles life with gusto and triumphs as a writer and as a person.

One of the great autobiographies.