I don't wish to comment on Joey Barton's latest piece of performance art, but I continue to be intrigued by his portrayal in the mainstream press. This today from The Guardian's Five Things We Learned From the Premier League This Weekend:
For all that he has tried to reinvent his image this season and make himself the poster boy for fascinated intellectuals with little interest in football – mainly by showcasing an in-depth knowledge of where the CTRL C and V keys are on a keyboard – this was Barton at his worst: vicious, thoughtless and selfish.
Interesting, this, given that, as I believe Jon Bon Jovi once put it: "THE VAST MAJORITY OF BRITISH JOURNALISM ADOPTS EXACTLY THIS NAKEDLY ERSATZ APPROACH TO THE USE OF LITERARY QUOTATION".
But seriously, if you don't believe me, check out something like this, from the New Statesman. In my experience, this is what most reviews in these sorts of publications (TLS, Guardian, LRB, etc) look like. You begin a piece by parachuting in some quotation/anecdote from somewhere or other as a way of showing off erudition and wide-reading. Okay, you could defend this on postmodern grounds (all writing is quotation blah blah), or by arguing that alluding to others shows a certain scholarly deference, but more often than not the contemporary habit is much closer to a wider culture of casual namedropping and the gossipy, celebrity-ish adoration of Great Men and Women. Merely adopting this stylistic tic is a sort of class password, a shibboleth of sophistication, a fast-track to the inner circles of court.
As such, isn't Joey Barton actually doing something quite interesting, quite revealing, in recognising that this simple methodology is a shortcut to power and influence in the modern mediascape? See also his fawnish Twitter exchanges with Piers Morgan and Alan Sugar (ie. the most repellent, reptilian Great Men in the postmodern universe). Why is Barton any different from those journalists who wheel out risible morsels of Philip Larkin's un-poetry for the umpteenth time in articles about the sixties? Why are his quotations of Smiths lyrics a topic of condescension and ridicule, while J.K. Rowling/David Cameron/Boris Johnson have adopted exactly the same point of reference as a way of shoring up the intellectual/moderately-radical-in-youth side of their PR bios?
Why are Barton's displays of erudition automatically dismissed as fake opportunism? Might I take the opportunity, by way of an answer, to reintroduce an old-fashioned phrase that is unfortunately becoming increasingly apposite in all kinds of contexts right now: class prejudice.
Not saying Barton isn't a tool, of course. I just think it's important we try to ascertain exactly what kind of tool.