Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Toot toot!

Feminist pundits have called it “an outrage against womankind” and warned of an increase in incidents of violence against women, campaign groups have accused the bosses of totally disregarding equal opportunities policies and Mumsnet are urging their members to boycott Marks and Spencer, condemning the company for “selling women and girls down the river in order to make a fast buck”. Toot toot! Hooters has come to town.

In case you’ve missed the storm in the DD-cup, Hooters is an American restaurant chain specialising in beer, burgers...and waitresses with big boobs (‘hooters’ is US slang for breasts). The chain has over 400 venues across the globe, and is aiming to establish a presence in 36 locations throughout the UK by 2012; the invasion of the (hot) body snatchers is underway - and Bristol (on a site owned by M&S) is its latest victim.

Personally speaking, I find the massive success of a company that promotes an ethos based solely around scantily-clad, curvy women serving cheap fast food to self-consciously ‘macho’ male saddoes yet another tragic indictment on the cultural state of the western world. But given the state we’re in, surely Hooters only symbolises what a tissue represents to a bout of flu: a mere accessory to address the symptoms (but most certainly not the cause) of a virus that we could have stopped becoming a pandemic decades ago.

If all the folk who have joined the anti-Hooters crusade had regularly lobbied magazine publishers, the Advertising Standards Authority and fashion designers asking them to desist from perpetuating unrealistic images of ‘the ideal woman’, would Hooters even exist? If they’d all put their energies into campaigning against sex trafficking or the sinister realities behind the ‘massage parlours’ that have crept into every city, might sex have been taken off the mercantile market? If everybody joined Women’s Aid (the national organisation aiming to stop domestic and sexual abuse of women by influencing policy change, raising awareness and supporting survivors), might giving men a license to treat sexual harassment as a leisure activity be off the menu? While supporting women’s rights is a lifelong mission, Hooters is merely a circus that provides a fleet of bandwagons for the chattering classes to leap on; if “Outraged from Clifton” had attempted to challenge the ringmasters when the company was established in 1983, the parade might never have come to town.

Meanwhile, what right has anybody got to dispute the free will that the original feminists fought for? Rather than being dragged off the street and forced to wear revealing outfits (unlike most of the women in the aforementioned massage parlours, many of whom have been brought to the UK by sex traffickers), Hooters staff voluntarily elect for the position knowing full well that the uniform is part of the job - and not too dissimilar from outfits they may choose to wear for a night on the town. Surely loudly expressing negative opinions about skimpy clothes - often laced with veiled threats about the consequences of choosing such attire, usually blatantly denouncing an individual’s moral standards and even IQ in the process - is almost akin to condoning the belief that, in order for women to protect themselves from apparently completely acceptable male deficiencies when it comes to ‘self control’ (a subject that few of the Hooters shooters address at all), burkas might be a good idea after all.

Hooters is, on one level, just another city centre sports bar aimed at gullible men: a version of TGI Fridays with Benny Hill as CEO and KFC doing the catering. Consider it as a direct result of not bothering to take action against the exploitation of women every day (and not just when ‘family life’ is threatened by dad’s instant access to women who look like the ones he brings out of hard drive storage when mum isn’t using the computer to corral a crusade against Marks and Spencer), however, and we’ve really only got ourselves to blame.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

So here it last!

Before we begin (or perhaps after you've digested my latest rant, below), please do drop by the Venue food and drink pages where you can read my considered opinions on scoffing in and around Bath (including a recent Faulty Towers experience - and no, that wasn't a typo!). Also, news just in: read my ramblings about growing up and learning to eat in Liverpool here. Meanwhile, back at the disco...

The streets in the city centre are hung with as yet unlit frosted stars indicating a blaze of cheer soon to light our way as the nights draw in. In the shop windows, faceless cardboard dummies draped with dreary displays of school uniforms and drab winter coats have been replaced by elegant models wearing jewel-coloured velvet frocks, fake fur shrugs and sparkly stockings, while plum puddings, chocolate snowmen and crackers of both the edible and the frivolous variety have started creeping onto the supermarket shelves; any day now, I know I’ll be greeted by the sound of Roy Wood wishing such frothy frippery could be part of an everyday routine as I walk through the door. Bring it on! As far as I’m concerned, Christmas can’t come soon enough.

Of all the weary adages spouted by people who don’t know what to talk about, the one regarding Christmas coming earlier every year is, to my mind, the most tedious, unimaginative drone of all. Christmas does, of course, fall on exactly the same date every year, and the commercial calendar adheres to the festive kick start date with precise regularity. To be fair to the fat cats, they never really start whispering the C-word much before the clocks turn back - and they never did. Even in the days before Halloween represented a lucrative cash cow all of its own, the mercantile merriment started in mid-October and has yet to be usurped by the green face paint and mechanically-lit pumpkins that in themselves bring a flourish of novelty to the otherwise prosaic shopping experience.

But on a less pedantic note, why do so many people put so much energy into hating the fact that, for an average of around 10 weeks of a 52 week allocation, we’re subjected to a far less subtle but substantially prettier marketing campaign than we are all year round? Come the start of November, the very same folk who dominate dinner parties with dull, lengthy debates about buy-to-rent properties, interest-free credit cards and the pros and cons of price comparison checkers are talking about the Christmas campaign as though they’ve never noticed the presence of a shop, TV advert or inflated price tag in their lives. How does a big red bow stuck to the corner of the 31” HD flatscreen TV that they secretly covet or on a box containing the latest toy suddenly turn these already unnecessary fripperies into wildly offensive representations of capitalism and greed? Far from being the arch social commentators they think they’re showing themselves to be by spouting all the cynical anti-Christmas clichés they can muster, all the noël naysayers really do is show themselves for the gullible fools - part Grinch, part green eyed monster - that they really are. Nobody is ever forced to go shopping and marketing campaigns, however pernicious, only make you feel obliged to spend, spend, spend of you’re stupid, stupid, stupid enough to do so. Anybody can choose to ignore the bright lights, the tinsel and the flashing reindeers that dominate the urban landscape, and wear earmuffs to block out the sound of Noddy Holder bellowing the inevitable if they so wish. But what a waste of a free-for-all frivolity that would be! By cherishing the cheer and allowing a little sparkle into your soul before the inevitable January blues bring the UK back down to earth again with a tedious thud, the miserable, dreary state of UK business as usual is transformed into a winter wonderland all the way through to the January sales. And who’ll be first in the queue when the leftover tat gets reduced to half price? The very same Scrooges who dissed public displays of greed in the first place. But before all that, the 70 days of Christmas are upon us; in my opinion, they can never come too early...or last long enough.