Tyranny is the removal of nuance. See ballroom dancing.
November 30, 2014 4:11 AM   Subscribe

Guardian: Alexei Sayle’s Marxist demolition of Strictly Come Dancing. In which the English Marxist-Leninist comedian and author details his dislike of the British version of Dancing with the Stars.
posted by Wordshore (54 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
 
This from the man who did adverts for pot noodles. No wonder they made him march at the back of demos.
posted by MartinWisse at 4:21 AM on November 30, 2014 [9 favorites]


He's a bit of middle class Bloomsbury bore now but Alexei going on would be one of the few things that would make me watch Strictly. OK boots, do your stuff!
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 4:36 AM on November 30, 2014 [6 favorites]


I love Alexei, though he's far from Marxist-Leninist these days.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 4:42 AM on November 30, 2014


I sort of wish he had done it a few years ago because him responding to Bruce Forsyth's laboured quips would have been worth seeing.

I still treasure his verdict on the Goons, which approximately went

"It was the Goons who taught me that comedy didn't have to have punch lines. It didn't have to be "funny"; it could be free-form, it could be like like jazz. A load of wank."
posted by Segundus at 5:00 AM on November 30, 2014 [7 favorites]


This from the man who did adverts for pot noodles.

Not to mention the Peek Freans Trotsky Assortment.
posted by sobarel at 5:03 AM on November 30, 2014 [8 favorites]


Some of Sayle's prodigious dance floor talent can be glimpsed in this rare 1984 footage, doubtless captured at an underground Argentine Tango Collective.

I'm extremely upset that the bicycle commercials he did in New Zealand in the '80s aren't on YouTube. Those are practically the only thing I remember from my otherwise happy childhood.
posted by Sonny Jim at 5:16 AM on November 30, 2014 [4 favorites]


I can salsa as well as any North London social worker, and I’ve been known to attempt an Argentine tango when drunk.

I have a love/hate relationship with dance competitions. Dance is dance. The act of moving to music. No goal post and rarely is a ball used or needing protective equipment. Well occasionally knee pads when there is a leap that lands on a knee. But it's for the joy of movement. The closeness with a partner, that soul inspiring moment of synchronization with another.

But on the other hand, competitions are the best PR. I expect more folks get interested in getting out there from the excitement of these silly shows, and that's a good thing also. So this guy should sign up, enjoy the process, embarrass himself, and just grin like a crazy if he's voted off.
posted by sammyo at 5:47 AM on November 30, 2014


what the celebrities who appear on Strictly are doing is taking part in the ongoing cultural war on critical thinking

Oh fuck off. He's done lots of voice over adverts so apparently he can pick and choose when to fight the good fight and when to accept lots of cash to sell shit to the proles.
posted by billiebee at 5:48 AM on November 30, 2014 [7 favorites]


Everything is wrong with ballroom dancing: the clothes, the music, even the expressions on the dancers’ faces, plus, of course, the dancing itself. The reason for this is simple: you get points for it. Ballroom dancing is an aesthetic pursuit, an art form, that has been turned into a competition the result of which is that everything is done to attract the attention of the judges.

Meh. There are point-dispensing judges at, say, tango competitions as well.
posted by Sticherbeast at 6:18 AM on November 30, 2014


Oh, that's rich coming from someone who's already appeared on Eurovision.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 6:36 AM on November 30, 2014 [2 favorites]


Thus the propaganda role of the talent show is to promote the idea of simplicity over complexity, of popularity over talent, of banality over genuine invention because complexity encourages critical thought and critical thought is the enemy of authoritarianism.

This would seem to describe, very accurately, the entire genre of "reality" TV.
posted by localroger at 6:37 AM on November 30, 2014 [4 favorites]


It's almost as if he were using some kind of humorous ironic device whereby people are not completely in earnest about what they say.
posted by Segundus at 6:44 AM on November 30, 2014 [21 favorites]


Tyranny is the removal of nuance

See, he got that off Russell Brand.
posted by Segundus at 6:59 AM on November 30, 2014


as a result of making the series he does now consider Liverpool to be his home, and he has vowed to go back there more often in the future.

Curiously, all the people on my Facebook page who actually *do* live in Liverpool were talking about him and his remarks re. Strictly yesterday.

The general consensus was that he's now a posh Islington bastard, and he should just stay down there where he belongs.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 7:05 AM on November 30, 2014 [4 favorites]


Whatever commercials he's appeared in or other Not A Real Marxist stuff he's done, his point is still apt, especially about reality TV.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 7:10 AM on November 30, 2014 [8 favorites]


Reality TV does a disservice to us all. It turns us all into the dancing poodles that entertain each other while the powerful continue to steal away our freedoms. Bread and circuses with less of the bread to go around these days.
posted by arcticseal at 7:38 AM on November 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


I heard him narrating the cartoon "Olive The Ostrich" on TV last week, so he should get down off his high, err... ostrich.
posted by w0mbat at 8:10 AM on November 30, 2014


1980s era alternative comedian despises ballroom dance, misses point entirely. Film at 11.
posted by Sportswriters at 8:12 AM on November 30, 2014


I enjoyed this article. Thanks for posting!
posted by spoobnooble II: electric bugaboo at 8:18 AM on November 30, 2014


He's done lots of voice over adverts so apparently he can pick and choose when to fight the good fight and when to accept lots of cash to sell shit to the proles.

It's funny, you don't hear the same criticism of soccer players for selling stuff, even though they are literally covered in the logos of advertisers.
posted by The River Ivel at 9:10 AM on November 30, 2014 [2 favorites]


In my ideal reality-tv world, competitions would be limited to professionals or pre-professionals being judged by experts in the field, along the lines of "Project Runway," and there would be a separate category of "non-professionals learning how to do stuff" that wouldn't be judged at all and would be more about how fun it is to learn things like dance. There would be no audience voting ever on shows in either category.

Because why are people watching non-dancers dance rather than watching professional dancers dance? It makes no sense to me, except exactly in the way "popularity over talent" way Sayle puts it.
posted by jaguar at 10:16 AM on November 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


Because people like watching charming, familiar non-professionals try to dance at a professional level. I'm not interested in it myself, but there's nothing sinful about it.

Besides, So You Think You Can Dance is already the dance-related version of the show you're describing. It exists alongside Dancing With The Stars. People are not without their chances to see real dancers really dancing.
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:39 AM on November 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


It's funny, you don't hear the same criticism of soccer players for selling stuff, even though they are literally covered in the logos of advertisers.

Footballers rarely set themselves up as the defenders of Marxist-Leninist ideals so are less likely to attract accusations of hypocrisy when they lend their voice to the tools of Capitalism.

Because why are people watching non-dancers dance rather than watching professional dancers dance? It makes no sense to me, except exactly in the way "popularity over talent" way Sayle puts it.

For me the pleasure in watching shows like this is seeing people who are not professional dancers learn a new skill and be pushed out of their comfort zones. I can watch dancers dance and that's fine. But watching someone who is an actor in a show renown for its gritty, depressing story lines discover he's capable of learning a kick-ass Salsa in a week is somehow more satisfying.
posted by billiebee at 10:41 AM on November 30, 2014 [4 favorites]


Why can't Marxists make money from endorsements? Are they supposed to take a vow of poverty? This is about the same level as criticising climate change activists for flying on planes. Marxists live in a capitalist world, and have to get along in it, and of course Sayle wouldn't have a platform to inject even the little he does into the discourse if he rejected it and didn't participate. Engels, you will remember, ran a factory in Manchester...

Incidentally, it's always the entertainers who get this shit. Don't recall ever seeing a thread on Chomsky criticising him for selling books through mainstream publishers who make a profit. Who do we hold to account for less than perfect adherence to ideology? COMEDIANS.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 10:56 AM on November 30, 2014 [13 favorites]


Having to fly to a destination rather than find alternate transport is one argument. Choosing to take money for advertising products when your entire schtick is based on your Marxist ideals is something else.
posted by billiebee at 11:03 AM on November 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


Because people like watching charming, familiar non-professionals try to dance at a professional level. I'm not interested in it myself, but there's nothing sinful about it.

Besides, So You Think You Can Dance is already the dance-related version of the show you're describing. It exists alongside Dancing With The Stars. People are not without their chances to see real dancers really dancing.


I did not call anything sinful. And I do watch "So You Think You Can Dance," but they've got an audience vote, so no, it's not the show I'm describing.
posted by jaguar at 11:03 AM on November 30, 2014


I liked that. Thanks.
posted by benito.strauss at 11:16 AM on November 30, 2014


Winning SCD is an odd mix of popularity and skill, since the rankings from the audience and judges have equal weighting, and at least one of the judges (Craig) did mark their dancing technically (Len used to but then went a bit off-piste, possibly because his own TV career means he wants to be liked, I don't know). The "dance off" (where the judges pick who is dropped from the two lowest ranked couples) does prevent some of the sillier results they got when they just went for a straight combined ranking. I don't know how this compares to other TV talent shows because I've never watched any of them, but unless SCD is doing a lot worse than the other talent shows, it seems odd for Sayle to pick on it for that reason.

Of course, within the programme itself there's lots of other bollocks which has little to do with art or skill, so Sayle's right about that, which is why I got bored with SCD. Alas, Sayle seems to have falsely conflated the whole of ballroom dancing with SCD. As tangokitty says in the comments at the Guardian, this neglects the large number of social dancers. One unfortunate effect of SCD is that it leaves people (including prospective and newbie ballroom dancers) with the impression that true ballroom dancing will culminate in fake tan and sequins.

Sayle's free to prefer chocolate ice cream to strawberry, but some of the reasons he tries to give for his tastes don't make much sense either: Northern Soul (which isn't a partner dance, so is an odd choice for comparisons, as tangokitty rightly says) is "unselfconscious" (nope, it was showing off, just like a lot of dancing is), ballroom tango is "robotic" (just taste: I say staccato, you say potato) and the music is terrible (no, SCD's bizarre music for tango and paso doble is terrible: if you're dancing either of them outside of SCD, you're probably dancing to Latin music, not pop). Sayle's at his best when talking about how crappy popular TV is, but knows bugger all about dance, basically.
posted by pw201 at 11:22 AM on November 30, 2014 [2 favorites]


He could be shilling machine guns to repressive dictators and if he's right, he's still right.
posted by maxsparber at 11:35 AM on November 30, 2014 [7 favorites]


I RTFA but couldn't figure out which points I was supposed to interrupt with PARKLIFE
posted by Spatch at 12:00 PM on November 30, 2014 [2 favorites]


No, no- you're supposed to interrupt with "Didn't you kill my bruvva?"
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 12:27 PM on November 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


'ULLO JOHN GOTTA NEW MOTAR?
posted by MartinWisse at 12:44 PM on November 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


Which spawned this.
posted by arcticseal at 1:06 PM on November 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


First of all, I'm happy to see Alexei Sayles still exists- as an American, I haven't known anything about him since the mid 80s.

Second of all, I was recently at an International Sweet Adeline Barbershop Harmony Chorus competition. This is a world hidden from most of humanity, but I happen to know someone from Harmony Region 15 (did you know the United States was divided into Harmony regions?) and she invited me to a rehearsal for her chorus's routine in the international competition. It was very interesting/horrifying. They are a very good chorus, and they were singing songs (one slow and one fast) that showcased their talent. Their coach told them they were good, but that all the choruses were good, and they needed to push the boundaries to win. He then coerced them into grimacing overacting, massive jazz-handing, and vertigo-inducing swaying. For each of these things they got graded by judges. It turned them from good singers into the kind of sterile, prancing robots that Sayles was talking about in ballroom dancing. I think he's right: competition turned artistic expression into something grotesque.
posted by acrasis at 2:13 PM on November 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


Which spawned this .

Wow that is some deep history. Was that Arthur Smith?
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 2:56 PM on November 30, 2014


Harmony Region 15

If I ever get so desperate that I attempt to write a dystopian YA novel, it will totally be set in Harmony Region 15.
posted by Grangousier at 2:58 PM on November 30, 2014 [3 favorites]


he's now a posh Islington bastard

Who's that fat posh bastard?
posted by octobersurprise at 4:44 PM on November 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


it will totally be set in Harmony Region 15

I am interested to hear how Harmony Regions differ from Districts.
posted by localroger at 4:46 PM on November 30, 2014


I can see where he's coming from. I used to ballroom dance at school. I joined our competitive team, but soon realized that actually competing was my equivalent of one of the outer rings of hell.

So, you've got two days worth of heats. 99% of the time you're not dancing. Which would be okay, except you can't really see any other dancers except from the waist up and there are ~50 on the floor at one time. People around you are HOLLERING and slapping noisemakers (AT A DANCE! COMPETITION!).

The competitors are dressed identically (if they're the male lead)* or in the same genre of dress (if they're the female follow) with specific restrictions on how shiny it can be. Everyone's hair is as identical as possible. At each level there's a syllabus of moves that you can do. At higher levels you're allowed to do more. The only improv is in trying to avoid hitting your competitors. Throughout you have to maintain a rigid smile. The music is categorically terrible. I quit the team soon after.

Please compare Lindy Hop.

* leads are male follows are female no exceptions kthxbye
posted by BungaDunga at 5:02 PM on November 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


Argentine Tango, Lindy Hop, Northern Soul are all vernacular dances. Modern ballroom- as competed- is less a dance than a sport and his comparison with rhythmic gymnastics is spot on. Ballroom Dance barely an organic thing. It takes other dances, smooths out the edges and turns it all into a big mush, "all gurning faces and robotic, angular, hideous movement" indeed. They're really very different things.

Compare Jive and Boogie Woogie. You couldn't bust out Jive on the street like that- or, more to the point, you don't.
posted by BungaDunga at 5:12 PM on November 30, 2014


When Alexei writes, it reads to me like a somewhat tipsy dinner tirade by a grown up Rik to the mortification of his teenage children.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 6:17 PM on November 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


Was that Arthur Smith?

Ian Dury.
posted by arcticseal at 7:36 PM on November 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


when your entire schtick is based on your Marxist ideals

Is Sayle really a Marxist? I've only ever heard him trading on his parents Hoxhaite affiliations and he's always been pretty equivocal when talking about his own politics/belief system.

I always assumed he was just another New Labourite with a brief teenage dalliance with the far left.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 12:29 AM on December 1, 2014


Is Sayle really a Marxist?

Tendance Groucho.
posted by Segundus at 1:34 AM on December 1, 2014 [2 favorites]


I always assumed he was just another New Labourite with a brief teenage dalliance with the far left.

As far as I know he was definitely anti-New Labour. I read in an interview that he probably hates Tony Blair more than Thatcher. And he said in 2011:

‘I still would adhere to those philosophical and economic ideas of Marxism that I got when I was sixteen...it’s seemed to me as true now as it did then....’
posted by billiebee at 2:42 AM on December 1, 2014


When Alexei writes, it reads to me like a somewhat tipsy dinner tirade by a grown up Rik to the mortification of his teenage children.

Not seeing what is wrong with that.
posted by glasseyes at 4:08 AM on December 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


The ad hominem is strong in this thread. He may be a hypocrite, but I think he articulates well what many people feel about the show. But I once bought a coffee in Starbucks so don't listen to me.
posted by Acey at 4:41 AM on December 1, 2014 [4 favorites]


There aren't many activities that get better for becoming competitive, unless they are designed to be competitive (i.e sports). Competitive yoga and tai chi (or any other martial art) are possibly worse than ballroom dancing in the sterilisation and denaturing of useful skills to create quantifiable criteria for scoring.

I agree with Sayle that there is something insipid and draining about most television entertainment and I can only agree with Chomsky saying that it is designed to “amuse entertain and inform, and to inculcate individuals with the values, beliefs and codes of behaviour that will integrate them into the institutional structures of the larger society. In a world of concentrated wealth and major conflicts of class interest, to fulfil this role requires systematic propaganda.”

Unless we are all agreeing with Bill Hicks that taking money from advertisers means you are off the artistic roll call for ever, then Sayle's Pot Noodle voice over has little to tell us about his right to an opinion. That he takes money for his services is hardly a mystery in a capitalist society.
posted by asok at 6:01 AM on December 1, 2014


Unless we are all agreeing with Bill Hicks that taking money from advertisers means you are off the artistic roll call for ever

*raises hand*
Especially if you're going on a rant about the dissolution of an art form.

The snobbery of those who think the sort of people who like this show are falling foul of propaganda, as opposed to being people who understand the concepts which Alexei is espousing but happen to think he's talking shit, is rather annoying.

Flackers to win!
posted by billiebee at 6:14 AM on December 1, 2014


I don't think (or care whether) Sayle is a sellout. I think that this piece is just weak sauce. For those who like Strictly Come Dancing or Dancing with the Stars, it's not written to be persuasive to change their minds. For those who don't like Strictly Come Dancing or Dancing with the Stars, it doesn't say anything new or particularly interesting. What's that--competitive ballroom is a soulless simulacrum of the passionate and joyful artistry on display in dancehalls, where people who love to dance do it far from the sour faced judges and their tick boxes? Next thing you know, he'll tell us that there are wonderful dogs--mutts even--bringing happiness to families even if they are not the best of breed at Westminster.

That's what makes me think of Rik--the sense that he's blowing your mind by speaking truth to power, but it's just a bit left of center with a Trotsky quote as a shibboleth of its radicality.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 6:53 AM on December 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


I'm still slightly staggered to remember that Alexi now writes an motoring column for the Daily Telegraph (unless he's destroying capitalism from within or something)

Still I remembering him dissing the majority of comedians going on Comic Relief merely to improve their careers (and why he's never done it)
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 10:29 AM on December 1, 2014


I am interested to hear how Harmony Regions differ from Districts.

A far greater committement to Sparkle Motion.
posted by MartinWisse at 12:14 PM on December 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


When Alexei writes, it reads to me like a somewhat tipsy dinner tirade by a grown up Rik to the mortification of his teenage children.

Not seeing what is wrong with that.


We have less Rik in this world right now. We need more Rik.
posted by maxsparber at 12:22 PM on December 1, 2014


I guess I read that less as "grown up Rik" and more as "grown up Rick".
posted by billiebee at 1:22 PM on December 1, 2014


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