Of Vocal Millionaires

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Hypocrisy lies in being vile and cruel about an individual when he’s alive and then praising him when he’s dead.

It is interesting to see those who are normally outspoken in favour of Scotland’s rights exercise self-censorship on the death of David Bowie, one of many wealthy, successful people who counselled against a return to full democracy. His intervention was out of character, delivered second-hand by proxy. Cameron made the most of it. Would Bowie the iconoclast be comfortable with that association? Who knows? He probably meant well.

I know little of his musical ability, I’m a classics and jazz man. My daughters or wife draw my notice to the latest popular music sensation. Bowie was obviously very talented, his skills much in demand. Sixty-nine years of life is too short for anybody these days. (The theatre and film actor Alan Rickman died at the same age in the same week, two fine talents lost.)

A gathering of cliques and clans

Any number of multi-millionaires rallied to the No campaign’s cause. It was an ugly congregation of fat cats and money hoarders. What was it that gave them fright independence might diminish their standing in society or their wealth if the people of Scotland secured real liberty? I’ll try to answer that shortly.

Their names read like a role call of the Bank of Switzerland’s top tax clients. Ian Wood, oil magnate, the head of Tesco, the head of BP, JK Rowling,  a gag of successful stand-up comics, the former head of the EU commission, President Obama, the (now) deposed prime minister of Australia, various bank chairmen, the boss of Grouse Whisky and of Tunnock’s, Alistair Darling, Gordon Brown, even the doyen of British cod history Dan Snow had a go, married into the enormously wealthy property and land owning estate of the Duke of Westminster. The list is endless. Oh, how the rich are scared of social justice.

The thing to take cognisance of is this, they were all asked to make their opinion public. They had a choice to exercise diplomacy, remain private about their political allegiance, or stay neutral. But they complied, and as we have seen since, some handsomely rewarded.

Right and left in perfect harmony

Right-wing politicians and those on the left were delighted to link arms with each other. Both asked the rich to speak out. That’s how the power elite function, a social evening, a phone call, a direct approach.

Those in the No camp will counter my distaste for those with little or no concern for democracy by making a similar observation to my own. For example, Brian Cox was asked to support the Yes campaign. Like others in the public glare he attracts celebrity interest. I have no idea if he’s a millionaire, but he turned up at events and justified his stand. To unionists he’s a damn nuisance. Cox will be the first to argue his influence was minimal. He would never claim to hold sway over thousands of people, but JK Rowling would.

I am as sure as I can be that Rowling convinced many an adolescent fan to vote No, admiring, unquestioning young people brought up on her 650-page doorstop sci-fi fantasy novels. To advise the young to vote against their nation’s best interests in contemptible.

The right-wing press and media published photographs of, and broadcast interviews with, adolescents saying exactly that, that No is the answer for a safe life. Their reasoning surely was if JK says vote No she must know a thing or two. She’s a bookish person after all. Despite their traditional rebellion, adolescents look to the older and wiser for guidance, especially in political matters.

Shouting from 9,000 miles away

Of course, the same objection can be thrown at Sean Connery, a movie star who most certainly reinforced many a supporter of democratic rights to vote Yes, and helped push a few ditherers to swallow their anxiety. He was consistently denigrated for living abroad and supporting Scottish hegemony. Bowie had two homes I know of, one in Malibu, and one in Ireland, where taxes for creative people are low.

I agree it doesn’t reinforce one’s political candidness to proselytise  from afar, but then no one asked those who could not vote in the plebiscite to shut up, nor any of the Nobel prize winning economists determinedly on the Yes side, experts who proved that a successful independent Scotland is not in question. Remember, the No lobby nicknamed their effort at stifling the democratic process ‘Project Fear.’

Who wants to live in fear, or in the case of criticising millionaires, live in fear of reprisal?

The political power elite and the financial power elite  get to know each other well, to rely on each other, because their respective wealth and authority depend on the other’s activities and connivance. They don’t want their power diminished.

A bitter class war

Be in no doubt, a plethora of millionaires had a crushing affect on Scotland’s democracy.  The mass of the working class voted for democracy, particularly in Labour’s heartlands, Glasgow and Dundee. I include in that term some we might argue, and they too, now middle-class yet still regard their situation, mores and lifestyle as working class.

We tend to avoid the term “working class” these days because politicians of all persuasions have made it a taboo term. We’re supposed to say “middle class,” or daring to allude to the dispossessed, disenfranchised, or unemployed, we must use the term ‘low paid’ because it helps hide the understanding that there’s a class war going on.

Incidentally, two millionaires who supported Scotland’s autonomy are decidedly working class. They won the Lottery. Chris and Colin Weir were vilified for their principles by the press and on the internet. And they live in Scotland.

The business types who advise Scotland is safest servile are concerned their earning power, how they distribute it and keep it hidden, is challenged by a nation state keen to create an ethical society not based on greed or naked power. Neo-liberalism is a brutal and bitter class war. Opposition to the unfettered acquisition of wealth must be diverted or crushed.

You can’t afford it, sir

A luxury car salesman once said to me that if I needed to know the miles per gallon the car managed I couldn’t afford the car. Millionaires are rich because they’re mean. They know the price of everything and refuse to pay a penny more. And they always want something in return for their investment. Millionaires are millionaires because they manage to manipulate or flout the rules and the laws under which the rest of us are expected to labour. They employ lawyers and accountants to advise them of the best methods.

Few unionist millionaires bothered to make a case for keeping the United Kingdom as it is. They tended to say it was a union that benefited Scotland, a phrase used over and over again. They concentrated in telling us we would be financially poorer if we looked after our own affairs,  financially because money is the only status and power they know.

I fail to see how Bowie’s fortune would have been affected by Scotland’s autonomy for he never made it plain how he might be at a disadvantage had the people of Scotland been given their self-respect. One has to assume, therefore, for want of other evidence, he had a sentimental attachment to his working class birthplace, Brixton, London, and saw that as all of Britain. Connery never forgets the modest circumstances of his birth and those he left behind.

Seriously, though, just joking

Ricky Gervais made an acerbic joke at the Golden Globe award ceremony about the attitudes of the wealthy who take moral stands that affect others. The wealthy in the audience appeared to take it in good humour. Of Jennifer Lawrence’s principled stand over equal pay for women in Hollywood (and here) Gervais drew attention to the overwhelming support she received from people everywhere.

Gervais continued, “There were marches on the streets [in New York and Los Angeles] in which nurses and factory workers said, how the hell is a twenty-five year-old supposed to survive on fifty-two million dollars?”

It’s embarrassing, isn’t it?

I don’t regard discussing Bowie an affront to good taste, whatever that is. Then again, I have no opinion of Bowie’s music or life, other than to point out the obvious, extraordinary wealth doesn’t guarantee a long life, nor wisdom accrue from it. One of the greatest of composers, Mozart, was tossed into a pauper’s grave, his plight ignored by the elite of his day, people he had a tendency to insult, his operas written for the lowest classes of his time. Mozart was thirty-five years old.

When it comes to scathing ripostes Frankie Boyle can be relied upon to provide a sharp line in succinct put downs.

I’m as interested in what David Bowie thinks about Scottish independence as I am in Iggy Pop’s views on the CERN particle accelerator!”

In the matter of respect for the dead, and civil good manners, Betty Davis was not in the least reticent. Of her movie star colleague and co-star, Joan Crawford, Davis said:

“Just because she’s dead doesn’t mean she’s gonna change!”

Like other essays I’ve penned on how our democracy is undermined, and how powerful people do it by employing smart PR consultants and buying politicians, my point here is to emphasise the intention of the wealthy is to deflect us from seeing their ambitions and our losses. We don’t have to submit to it. You can point it out, and fight against it, and if you lose one battle, you can fight again.

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10 Responses to Of Vocal Millionaires

  1. richardcain2 says:

    Hypocrisy lies in being vile and cruel about an individual when he’s alive and then praising him when he’s dead.”

    I’ve never understood this peculiar social convention, so I’m glad someone else feels the same. If the guy (or gal) was an arse, then the fact that (s)he’s dead doesn’t change things. That way lies sainthoods and other such historical airbrushing.

  2. Nailed it!

    A cringing society – imbued with a sycophantic tendency to hang on the every word of the “rich and famous” – is why so many people – particularly south of the border – believe every word the Government propaganda spews out. I am not a philistine, but this is like watching the fall of Rome. We pay teachers, nurses, doctors and others a pittance while rewarding the “fire eaters & jugglers” bazillions. The media then neatly conflate wealth with wisdom. Would anybody seriously ask Wayne Rooney’s advice on social policy? Or any member of the rich German family on how best to run a food bank?

    I always had a problem with Picasso and Dali. Dali was a friend of the odious General Franco but his art is – in my humble opinion – sublime, whereas Picasso had political principle yet failed to inspire in me anything other than great respect.

    Better say this now while they are still alive – Jagger & Clapton are both politically vile, yet great musicians!

  3. hektorsmum says:

    I have to say and be as direct as I can that I never rated Bowie as a singer, I have no view on his song writing, as I used to squirm as he struggled to reach high notes that he definitely could not sing, but he is just one of many. What I dislike is this veneration of a man who has been well paid for his services, this has been the main item on the news today. Many people die young, we do not hear a more than a dismissive word about them. A young man of twenty one was found dead in the Marina in Swansea today, he features way down the line, but then he isn’t a millionaire.
    I have been to funerals where I have been tempted to ask them to open the box so I could check if I was at the correct one. One such was one of my Husbands workmates who died in his thirties. He was a nice enough guy, heart and soul of many a party but he often drove and drank. At his funeral he nearly achieved sainthood.

  4. Grouse Beater says:

    After ‘Major Tom’ the only time I took notice of him was when he narrated ‘Peter and the Wolf’, which he did reasonably well, but not as memorably as those who had gone before. His own music has a sameness about it to my untutored ears. He made some poor choices in acting roles but always recovered from failure. I was, however, struck by the different colour of his pupils. I’d only ever seen that in a cat.

  5. I decided to forgive Bowie for his pointless interjection in our bid for normalcy.
    I was a fan of him through the 70s and early ’80s and especially his ‘Berlin’ period.
    I don’t go for the normal sycophancy that accompanies such departures for the same reasons that you have espoused, Gb and I guess in that context Bowie was just one of the ‘elite’. I’m not going to judge him on that basically due to the fact that he provided many of the high points in the soundtrack of my early years.
    My obvious partisanship here doesn’t however invalidate your ownn observations. In some aspects my world feels a little less colourful today, however.

  6. Grouse Beater says:

    Thanks for that, Max. I hesitated on the timing – pop icons have legions of fans. No time is the right time. But the essay isn’t condemnation. It’s an attempt to understand why so many millionaires joined forces. I still find it odd he said what he did. He stood to gain nothing or lose nothing. But for a working class boy from Brixton it was a denial of his roots. I put it down to his love of Blighty. And I take his intervention seriously, as he would have wished it taken. In any event, I don’t think he made any difference.

  7. I think in Bowie’s case it was more through naivete. It’s common enough for even well-disposed people in that corner of England to view the entire island through their own prism. I guess it’s the sign of a successful brainwashing exercise; in this case the embedding of an exceptionalist mindset in even the most benign of southern individuals.

  8. Grouse Beater says:

    You could well be right. Rowling’s intervention angered me, Bowie’s didn’t, but it niggled because it was unexpected, off-hand, and I couldn’t make sense of it.

  9. K1 says:

    I have wondered often whether he even said it…timing…18 months since first diagnosed with cancer takes us back to that period. I don’t trust the corpmedia…would Bowie have bothered refuting it, not if he was ensconced in his own coming to terms with death process.

    That’s why I think I ‘felt’ it was not of his particular character…anyways…enjoyed the read as per Grouse, you make some fine points: why a shower of wealthy people were so frightened of our self determination and in some respects ‘pushed’ to come out for the Union, perhaps GCHQ has a wee file it dips into on occasions such as this and gently reminds the ‘climber’s’ who they crapped on to get there?

    Nah…that’s ‘too’ cynical…eh? 🙂

  10. Grouse Beater says:

    I appreciate your thoughtful comments, Ki. Yes, from the little I know of his character it was a distinctly odd thing to do.

    Two people thought it inappropriate to discuss Bowie in terms of the Referendum. I can’t think why anybody should use tabloid reprisal as an excuse to stay silent. That smacks of fear. Using diplomatic language is a different matter. My essay is respectful. If anybody else feels annoyed here is my answer:

    If it’s tasteless to talk of Bowie’s hope that Scotland remained ruled by Westminster, is it tasteless to talk of those who wanted better but have since died?

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