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Who’s your daddy?

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In the news this week, British jockism scored a smackdown at international sports day in China, with tellies across the country sagging under a brief and terrible invasion of those kids who were popular at school. Oh, and Peaches Geldof got married to her boyfriend of one month. Hold the front page.

Can anybody tell me the point of Peaches Geldof? What is she for, exactly? She seems to dabble in all sorts of things – music, modelling, journalism, presenting – as mere facets of an amorphous party-going social entitlement born of pop-heredity. It troubles me, because I know so many brilliant, truly talented aspiring musicians and artists and writers and models who aren’t making it, who may never make it, not because they aren’t good enough but because they don’t get the breaks, because their daddy isn’t anybody important. Meanwhile, Peaches could fart and SoHo would applaud.

See also, Daisy Lowe. See also, Pixie Geldof. See also, Mark Ronson, Alice Dellal and Alfie Allen. See also, Jaimie Winstone, noted daughter of Ray, who’s currently starring in the 3rd-wave feminist retrospective,‘Donkey Punch’. See also, Coco Sumner, she of the broad shoulders, glossy tawny locks and distracting tartan mini-skirts, noted daughter of Sting. See also, every damn member of the gurning post-adolescent Hanoverian clan, grown up soured by grovelling, fawning, belly-exposing media worship. What the hell happened to meritocracy in this country?

At a recent debate at Portcullis House, David Lammy MP, Minister for Skills, noted the stalling in social mobility that has dogged the UK for the past decade and more. “Class is still very firmly on the agenda,” he said, “and we need to start thinking about what stories we can tell about class, education and social mobility.

“I think it is legitimate for the Labour party to have something to say about excess in the upper eschelons of society. It’s not the politics of envy – it’s the politics of humanity.”

Every morning, I drag myself onto the bus to work or school or my other work and am assaulted by lazy press adoration of a clutch of young people the same age as me and my mates, purely on the basis of their wealth and heredity. Was it really ever thus? The truly fascinating thing about the Geldof, Lowe, Allen and their ilk is that their parents’ generation really were, in many ways, self-made. They came from an era where celebrity actually meant something because it demonstrated that, for example, four young kids from lower-middle-class Liverpool could take on the world and win if they tried. An era where talent and ambition and charisma could win you success no matter who your daddy was. Where you could go to university and work hard and make something of yourself. But a generation later, the snivelling, forelock-tugging British obsession with lineage seems to have reverted to type, and with it, a new acceptance of social class as a measure of worth and entitlement.

Heredity is the rotten trench running through this society, and after barely two generations of social progress we are reverting to type. The sons and daughters of artists, musicians and politicians who made their names the hard way are raised for a life of privilege in which the cringing British press supports them from the moment they’re old enough to be papped. Celebrity used to be aspirational; it used to mean more than who your daddy was. We used to be better than this. Let’s hope we remember it before too long.

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About Laurie Penny

Author, journalist, social justice bard.

25 responses »

  1. John Angliss

    I think part of it is that consumers of these newspapers are predominantly of “their” (c. baby boomer) generation rather than ours, so it means a lot more to them that someone is Bob Geldof’s daughter than, say, that they are a member of Sugababes or whatever crazy comparator you can think of.

    Reply
  2. I hate to point it out, but heredity is actually a fact of life, not an ideology to argue against.

    Like it or lump it, parents are important, both biologically and emotionally, and that is what you are seeing reflected, not some class conspiracy.

    You also can’t blame people, I don’t think, for exploiting the opportunities that come their way.

    On top of this, I don’t think you really need to fear that someone would have Beatles-scale success without any talent whatsoever of their own. Celebrity-worship may exist but talent-worship I think is far more powerful.

    On the subect of Peaches G though, I can understand being interested in people who had interesting parents, but what baffles me is that Bob Geldof was a relatively minor one-hit wonder a long time ago, plus he is boring as hell, and Paula Yates was cringingly dysfunctional. I do not understand the media fascination with their children one little bit.

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  3. I know what you mean, I’ve known quite a few really hard-working, talented people and they end up giving up on what they do, not even because they want to get anywhere in terms of fame or fortune, but because they can’t scrape together the funds to do it anymore. In fact I remember hearing some trip-hop tinged dance music by this friend of a friend who was working as a street-sweeper at the time, and his stuff was way better than a lot of the artists I actually owned albums by (Massive Attack, various Warp records acts…).

    In a way though, someone like Peaches Geldog is very unfortunate too. Most people who are going to be famous or get anywhere get a chance whether to massively sell out or not – and once they’ve been in a chart pop band or on reality TV, that’s pretty much it, they can’t be taken seriously ever again. It would be that much harder for Emma Bunton, say, if she suddenly wanted to be an underground DIY punk act – in fact, it would be impossible, and ill-advised to try. For someone like Peaches Geldof, she was born like this. On the one hand, she doesn’t have to try for people to notice what she’s doing, but on the other hand, she can never do any of it seriously.

    If you or I won the lottery tomorrow, we’d lose absolutely everything we’ve ever worked for. Imagine having 18 million quid or whatever. It would be living death, pretty much, and that’s the thing about aspiring to obscene amounts of wealth: those lottery tickets aren’t selling you happiness and peace of mind, they’re selling you a suicide wish, and the possibility to be expensively embalmed if you succeed. And that’s what Peaches Geldof was born into, she has no opportunity whatsoever outside of that world.

    What’s sad is that for anyone who doesn’t aspire to that in some way, it’s increasingly difficult to succeed on different terms. But when you’re trying and failing, at least you’re alive.

    I think if there is any class of celebrity socialists and feminists should be sympathetic towards, it’s celebrity kids, especially the daughters. The self-made celebrities are largely bullshit, otherwise how come we can’t all do that, and how come they turn into Mariah Carey when they get to the top?

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  4. James Ivens

    I don’t say this very often, because it so rarely happens that I find an opinion expressed so compellingly, and more rarely still one so interesting, but — thank you, Zenobia, I think that’s given us all something to think about.

    Reply
  5. Zenobia, that sounds like the argument some people use for taking pity on the poor royal family for having paparazzi waiting in every bog waiting to take a picture of them wiping their ass.

    I don’t feel sorry for these people any more than I feel sorry for the royal family. If they benefit from serious inherited wealth/inherited prestige – unless they choose to be a class traitor – they’re on the other side. So what if it wasn’t their fault? Should we also not attack someone who exploits workers from their position of ownership of their dead father’s company?

    Also, they’re really, really annoying. Sometimes it’s possible to over-theorise about this and forget just how damn annoying they are.

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  6. Zenobia, that sounds like the argument some people use for taking pity on the poor royal family for having paparazzi waiting in every bog waiting to take a picture of them wiping their ass.

    I don’t feel sorry for these people any more than I feel sorry for the royal family. If they benefit from serious inherited wealth/inherited prestige – unless they choose to be a class traitor – they’re on the other side. So what if it wasn’t their fault? Should we also not attack someone who exploits workers from their position of ownership of their dead father’s company?

    Also, they’re really, really annoying. Sometimes it’s possible to over-theorise about this and forget just how damn annoying they are.

    Reply
  7. tim f – what about people who benefit from moderate inherited wealth then? where exactly do you draw the line? everybody benefits from things their parents bought them, no matter how poor.

    and what about people who benefit in other ways from inherited poverty? or is money everything as far as you’re concerned?

    and if you had a child, wouldn’t you want to help it in life if you could? hmm?

    this whole ethos of “us” and “them” is utterly divisive, simplistic and wrong-headed, not to mention ever so slightly misogynistic. buy the Socialist Worker, do you?

    Reply
  8. Marie –
    how, in your view, does anybdy benefit from inherited poverty?

    Reply
  9. Zenobia, that sounds like the argument some people use for taking pity on the poor royal family for having paparazzi waiting in every bog waiting to take a picture of them wiping their ass.

    Good point, but there’s a huge difference between the Royal Family and Peaches Geldof, first of all in terms of the amount of wealth, the Royal Family have huge amounts more, celebrities have quite a lot compared to most of us but all the lavish lifestyle is more advertising than fact, and I mean all that stuff they show on MTV Cribs is a pile of crap really. And then in terms of political power, the Royals have a lot of unspoken power due to who they are and how much land they own, how they’re still presented as some kind of Great British Institution, etc.

    And then in terms of power over your own life – there’s a big difference between being a celebrity mascot, and being a Royal. They have the opportunity to do good stuff with the money, to renounce their status, or at the very least to not act like huge douchebags. So no, I don’t feel sorry for them in the least. Also, people tend to have more respect for the Royals that’s totally undeserved, for instance it’s assumed that they’re all really bright and talented, something that’s generally not assumed of Peaches Geldof.

    Actually, I think even someone like Paris Hilton has a better deal than Peaches Geldof, I mean she’s an heiress, she’s having her wild years now, or she was, but she’ll have plenty of opportunity to tone it down later on and she won’t lose her wealth because of it.

    And that’s the other thing with more normal female celebrities, what wealth they have depends on them continuing to act like mascots.

    In short, Peaches Geldof is just a tool for a bunch of people, at not much gain to herself, whereas the Royals, well, they’re a whole other kettle of fish really. Almost seems ridiculous to compare them.

    Of course, I still think the world would be better off without either of them, and I don’t know how either sleep at night, when it comes down to it. But what’s really tragic is that the value of the work people do is translated into money, possessions, and fame, which are presented as more desirable than the actual effort and the fun of doing it, so that everything that’s not purely work, eating, sleeping and watching TV becomes reserved for the bourgeoisie and whoever can afford it, and I think someone like Peaches Geldof is more a victim of that, whereas the Royals are most definitely perpetrators.

    That’s a bit of an oversimplified picture, but that’s basically it. I mean, there’s no point in going into art at all unless you have the means or someone with the means will finance you, and music’s not that much better these days, a rich daddy certainly helps, and literature’s the same.

    And, er, Marie, I second Laurie’s question – how in blazes does anyone, ever, benefit from inherited poverty?

    Reply
  10. “and if you had a child, wouldn’t you want to help it in life if you could? hmm?”

    Surely that’s the whole point? Some people are able to help their children more than others, and that perpetuates the class system, inequalities and most of the stuff that is bad about our society. Rich parents don’t give their kids stuff out of an evil desire to perpetuate capitalism, they do it because they want to look after their kids. But it has the same effect.

    “where exactly do you draw the line?”

    Well, you’ll be pleased to learn that I am okay with trinkets etc being inherited. I wouldn’t expect the state to confiscate family photos, for example. Until we can build more support for the idea that unearned wealth is not deserved and it is better to redistribute it to the society that helped the owner build their fortune in the first place, the line is probably in the right place. Given that the top 5% wealthiest people are the only ones that pay inheritance tax, having the line where it is makes it easy to make the case that this is about fairness not about punishing people and that ordinary people don’t have to worry about it.

    “and what about people who benefit in other ways from inherited poverty?”

    I presume poverty was a typo and you meant wealth? If so, I don’t like the fact that some kids get better home educations that others, some get more parent time than others, some get fed better than others, etc. (That’s why I like Surestart.) Please explain why disliking those things is inconsistent with disliking unearned wealth.

    I noticed that you didn’t argue against the point about how annoying Geldof’s children are. It’s nice to see we agree on something.

    I’d be genuinely interested in your explanation of how the rhetoric of “us” and “them” is misogynistic? Unless you have an image of the us that is just male workers in factories, surely there are more women in the “us” than the “them”? And if you’re going to argue that the language excuses or disguises oppressive relations within the “us”, tell me why opposing one crap system of relations means I have to excuse another?

    Oh, and I hate to disillusion you, but I’m in the Labour Party, not the SWP. You don’t have to be a revolutionary to want unearned wealth to be returned to those who contributed towards it.

    Reply
  11. Assuming you follow Tim F’s worldview, then people fairly obviously benefit from inherited poverty, because it makes them not be inherently evil, first-against-the-wall, etc.

    Also, I don’t think it’s fair to put Mark Ronson and Daisy Lowe in with the Geldofs and Jaimie Winstone. Ronson’s parents were rich, rather than famous; he’s successful because people liked his DJing rather than because they liked his name. And Lowe’s mum is an almost-unheard-of Britpopper from 15 years ago – she’s successful at modelling because she looks like a model…

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  12. “In short, Peaches Geldof is just a tool for a bunch of people, at not much gain to herself, whereas the Royals, well, they’re a whole other kettle of fish really. Almost seems ridiculous to compare them.”

    I agree with most of what you say, Zenobia (or at least the logic of it) but I think when you say “at not much gain to herself” you maybe underestimate the extent to which most people would love to have the lifestyle that she enjoys and would trade the kind of inflexibility Peaches Geldof has (compared to someone, as you say, like Paris Hilton) for the kind of inflexibility they have any day.

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  13. I agree with most of what you say, Zenobia (or at least the logic of it) but I think when you say “at not much gain to herself” you maybe underestimate the extent to which most people would love to have the lifestyle that she enjoys and would trade the kind of inflexibility Peaches Geldof has (compared to someone, as you say, like Paris Hilton) for the kind of inflexibility they have any day.

    Quite possibly. If I try to think of what about Peaches Geldof’s lifestyle would make me envious, the first thing I think of is decent healthcare, relative financial security, and then there’s the opportunity to get whatever education or do whatever degree she wants to.

    Then again – and that’s where the fact that she’s a teenaged celebrity daughter comes in – she’s in a position where there’s very little chance of her doing anything positive with that education. Basically, she’s completely disempowered. And to be honest there are plenty of invisible guys with far more money, and far more power to do lots of good, and who choose not to for personal and ideological reasons. That’s where I’d direct my anger, to be honest. Peaches Geldof? Sure, she’s irritating, and sure, she has the opportunity to write newspaper columns, where my next door neighbour of the same age can barely even dream of being a waitress one day. But she’s just a mascot, at the end of the day.

    In fact, that’s true of 99% of the ‘omg they’re so rich’ celebrities you see on TV.

    Frances Bean Cobain is another one, she’s been famous since she was a baby, and she has plenty of stuff that she probably doesn’t deserve, but does she have the opportunity to do what her dad did?

    Although in terms of celebrity, someone like Jade Goody is probably in the worst situation. I mean, she’s an object of ridicule, she basically provides working-class blackface comedy, and in order to keep her current financial security she most definitely has to keep doing it.

    Reply
  14. Lowe’s mum is an almost-unheard-of Britpopper from 15 years ago – she’s successful at modelling because she looks like a model…

    And who decides what constitutes ‘looking like a model’? The fashion industry – and that wouldn’t have a whole bunch of ideology underlying it, would it, by any chance?

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  15. Actually (apologies for the multiple commenting) I think the most gut-wrenching thing about celebrity culture is seeing people selling the Big Issue, and there’s an article about Most Successful Young People in Britain on the front with a picture of Daniel Radcliffe. Plus, they have to wear that ‘working not begging’ thing, like we’re supposed to believe that they have the same chance of appearing on that cover as the celebrity who’s already there.

    Plus, aside from the material benefits, the whole idea of celebrity as a form of success is a massive lie.

    Reply
  16. Actually (apologies for the multiple commenting) I think the most gut-wrenching thing about celebrity culture is seeing people selling the Big Issue, and there’s an article about Most Successful Young People in Britain on the front with a picture of Daniel Radcliffe. Plus, they have to wear that ‘working not begging’ thing, like we’re supposed to believe that they have the same chance of appearing on that cover as the celebrity who’s already there.

    Plus, aside from the material benefits, the whole idea of celebrity as a form of success is a massive lie.

    Reply
  17. john b has answered the question of benefitting from inherited poverty (no it wasn’t a typo). i could add to his answer, but i’d ramble.

    tim f, yes it’s true that some people are able to help their children more than others. some people pass on dna that makes their children more attractive, or more intelligent, or more able at different skills than others. some people are also better adjusted than others, and this helps their children too. if you are against parents sharing wealth they have earned with their children, then you must also be against DNA, and against reproductive freedom, and I hate to point it out, but that’s going to be an uphill struggle.

    this may seem a trifle radical, but inherited wealth is a symptom of class inequity, not a cause. people need to wake up and realise this, otherwise things are never going to change.

    on the subject of inheritance tax, i believe you may be misinformed, or misinterpreting a statistic. with rising house prices in recent years, and no corresponding change to the threshhold for inheritance tax, rather large numbers of otherwise not terribly wealthy people have been pushed above the threshhold.

    on the subject of “unearned” wealth, i’m not sure there even is such a thing. if i earn money, then even if i choose to give it away, that doesn’t take away from the fact that i earned it. and if i earn money, and, crucially, earned it fairly, then it belongs to me, and therefore, it is up to me what i do with it.

    the problem is nothing to with people doing what they want with their money, and everything to do with the inequitable system of wage allocation, and a taxation system within the lifespan that seeks to preserve advantage where it exists. 10p, anyone?

    it is nice to agree on things, but it is not Geldof’s children that irritate me, just the media’s insistence than anyone should be remotely interested in any of them.

    i will post on the misogyny question forthwith, as long as i haven’t already pissed Penny Red completely off by splurging her comments box…

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  18. Marie – “unearned” wealth refers to inheritances that people have already received where they didn’t do anything themselves to earn it. I would love a more progressive tax system but I think ALL forms of wealth should be taxed. In an extreme case, where someone lives off a fortune they have inherited but doesn’t do any work, why should that person not be taxed while someone who earns the average salary is?

    Please do answer the question about “inherited poverty” – John B didn’t answer it apart from with an illogical slur that was so silly it didn’t merit a reply.

    As for your “you believe in x, therefore you also believe in y, y is wrong therefore x must be wrong too” argument, you’ll have to explain why supporting a manageable tax is equivalent to the state deciding who can have children and with who.

    Can we also please dispense with the argument that “if I earned my money it’s up to me what to do with it and who to give it to” – it isn’t. There are lots of things you can’t do with it by law. What’s wrong with saying that if you want to pass it on to your kids after you die, there are conditions attached to that (ie some of it gets used to benefit other people’s kids who haven’t got rich parents).

    I look forward to your point on why anyone who takes sides in the class struggle is automatically guilty of misogynism.

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  19. some people pass on dna that makes their children more attractive, or more intelligent, or more able at different skills than others. some people are also better adjusted than others, and this helps their children too. if you are against parents sharing wealth they have earned with their children, then you must also be against DNA, and against reproductive freedom, and I hate to point it out, but that’s going to be an uphill struggle.

    this may seem a trifle radical, but inherited wealth is a symptom of class inequity, not a cause. people need to wake up and realise this, otherwise things are never going to change.

    So are you saying that poverty is in people’s DNA? You and all the other eugenicists and Sigmund Freud then.

    I’m also confused as to how being a socialist makes you a bit of a misogynist, I haven’t seen anything in Tim F’s posts so far that suggest anything like that.

    Reply
  20. some people pass on dna that makes their children more attractive, or more intelligent, or more able at different skills than others. some people are also better adjusted than others, and this helps their children too. if you are against parents sharing wealth they have earned with their children, then you must also be against DNA, and against reproductive freedom, and I hate to point it out, but that’s going to be an uphill struggle.

    this may seem a trifle radical, but inherited wealth is a symptom of class inequity, not a cause. people need to wake up and realise this, otherwise things are never going to change.

    So are you saying that poverty is in people’s DNA? You and all the other eugenicists and Sigmund Freud then.

    I’m also confused as to how being a socialist makes you a bit of a misogynist, I haven’t seen anything in Tim F’s posts so far that suggest anything like that.

    Reply
  21. Hmmm… you what?
    If I won the lottery I’d find all manner of interesting things to do with the money. Obviously.

    Yeah, heres the problem, why should we all have to support the children of people we don’t know. If you want to give your money to charity to encourage others to breed in your sted, thats fine, but to force others to do the same seems a bit OTT.

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  22. Yeah Mark – and in the same stead, why not get rid of state nursing homes and introduce compulsory euthanasia for old people who can't look after themselves & whose family won't fork out for private care?

    Reply
  23. Why not rely on the good will and kindness of like minded people.

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  24. Yes Mark just like in the good old days of Victorian London where kids died of water-borne diseases, elderly people froze to death in hovels, the infirm begged in the streers and everyone was free to rely on the charity and good will of others.

    Christ, 60 years since the foundation of the NHS and right wing loons are still banging on about the superiority of charity.

    I’d like to see some more slightly idiotic rambling from Marie while we’re at it, too. It’s always a pleasure to have one’s prejudices confirmed – in this case that conservatives are unable to think very deeply (certainly not critically) about anything.

    Reply
  25. To what extent have advances in the quality of life (since the victorian era) been due to improvements in technology and increases in productivity?
    If people don’t care about each other then why on earth are we trying to force them to help one another?
    I find the assumption that it is neccesary to force people to be compassionate offensive.

    Reply

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