Rod Liddle

Can the National Trust please forget about ‘heteronormative privilege’ and just look after houses?

12 January 2019

9:00 AM

12 January 2019

9:00 AM

There is a satirical website called ‘Guardian headline generator’ which purports to offer a service to aspirant journalists who wish to be published in the floundering, godawful rag. Press a button on the site and it will give you your subject matter for a typical article, such as: ‘Islamophobic white men will soon be widening the gender pay gap. This shouldn’t happen in 21st-century Britain.’ It even gives you a suitable name for your byline — in this case Jessica Veryangry.

The problem, however — as the website rather forlornly admits — is that increasingly it is out-satirised by real Guardian headlines. It simply cannot match the woke idiocy and hysteria, nor the craving for victim-hood. Indeed, just before writing this piece I clicked on the Guardian’s site and immediately saw this headline: ‘Carcinogens in your cosmetics? Welcome to Brexit Britain.’

That is every bit as stupid as the one about Islamophobic white men. I sometimes wonder if this is actually a tactic on the Guardian’s part — to deliberately place themselves beyond parody, perhaps following Marcuse’s dictum that humour is the last refuge of the bourgeois, and therefore should be undermined. Becoming more risible than a satirical headline is a fairly potent defence in that it makes parody otiose. The carpet is pulled from beneath the parodist’s feet.

In a normal world it would not matter what headlines run in a very low circulation north London newspaper and so we should not get too worked up about them. The real problem, though, is that despite the complete and utter lack of appetite among the general public for the agitprop drivel spewed out each week by Jessica Veryangry and her many colleagues, the relentless guff is swallowed whole by the establishment, including the Conservative establishment. You will hear the same hogans and shibboleths trotted out every day on the BBC, by Conservative ministers, and by the guardians of every quango and third sector body in the country — even by advertising companies which feel the need to get on board with this sort of stuff. An obsessive agenda promulgated by people whom I consider either psychotic or deranged, which has no pull with the vast majority of ordinary citizens and yet somehow, in our upper echelons, among the people who govern us and tell us what to do, has enormous purchase.

Take the National Trust as an example. Its job, largely, is to look after some nice old houses that elderly people can look around on a Sunday afternoon. Make sure there is a nice guide, an informative booklet, a nice cup of tea and plenty of toilets.

Or that used to be its job. But it has found itself infected by the Jessica Veryangry bacillus and so has taken to doing expositions on slavery, for example, to show the doddering and unwoke old codgers that those houses were built on the brutal exploitation of black folk and that when they get back on the coach they should think long and hard about the privileged situation in which the bastards find themselves.

Or there was its exciting series from 2017 entitled ‘Prejudice and Pride’. Nothing to do with Jane Austen, of course, this was instead a series of events and installations that ‘told the stories of the men and women who challenged conventional notions of gender and sexuality and who shaped the properties in which they lived’. This entire year of programming aimed solely at the LGBTQI community included a series of podcasts delivered by — yes, you’ve guessed — Clare Balding. I would have thought even homosexuals were getting a little weary of Clare’s ubiquity, but there we are.

The Prejudice and Pride report also suggested that the leaflets which accompany those elderly folk as they wander from Jacobean drawing room to Regency kitchen, tended to place an unnecessary emphasis on the family history of these great houses, and thus resulted in a ‘narrative that privileges heterosexual lives’ leading to a ‘hetero-normative emphasis’ on succession — when perhaps the visitors should have been marvelling instead at the revolutionary, if sporadic, acts of sodomy, probably unalleviated by lube or poppers, which occurred on the Chesterfield or in the master bedroom when nobody was looking.

The language employed by the National Trust takes you straight to that Guardian headline generator: ‘Heteronormative Privilege In Our Stately Homes — Welcome to Pre-Brexit Britain.’ The Historic Houses Association offered a very gentle and measured rebuke to the National Trust in the last edition of its magazine for this all–consuming obsession, and having first praised the NT for its, uh, inclusivity, made the observation: ‘The danger for the Trust is that this is the point at which its custodial position begins to jar with the realities of history. Does it mean, for example, that in future the Trust will be reluctant to discuss succession at all?’

The point being that without the unspeakably ghastly concept of primogeniture, most — if not all — of these houses would not exist in the state in which they are today. It was heteronormative privilege which ensured that we can still look around them, that they still appeal, that we can marvel. Which to me suggests that hetero-normative privilege has one or two things going for it, as well as being the institution greatly preferred by Jesus Christ. Historic Houses also pointed out that the National Trust’s own history contained its own contradictions and complexities that were ‘not reducible to a single (progressive) story’.

But Historic Houses are, somewhat counter–intuitively, on the wrong side of history. Everything these days is reducible to a single (progressive) story which takes no account of historical realities. The past is not, as Historic Houses quietly suggested it was, a foreign country where people do things differently. The past either did not exist or should not have existed, and those aspects which conflict with our modern sensibilities must be airbrushed out of the picture.

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