Friday, 26 February 2010

Alex Salmond Lynched in Effigy

I'm not sure, at the moment, when representations of people were first attacked as an act of protest or anger. Probably a very long time ago but the practice is still very much with us. Last year Channel 4 effectively lynched convicted paedophile pop-star Gary Glitter in effigy and now Scotland’s first minister, Alex Salmond, has had a representation of him hanged in a graveyard in a bizarre and pseudo-occult protest rite.

A dummy of Alex Salmond was found on the morning of Sunday 21 February by a pensioner hanging from a tree in a graveyard in Wairds Cemetery near Melrose, in the Borders region of Scotland. The man first thought it was a real person hanging and called the police. On their arrival the police confirmed the hanging figure was an effigy, apparently of Alex Salmond, and discovered a make-shift shrine by the manikin. The shrine, perhaps intended to signify something magical had happened there, was made up of “a wooden cross, three dressed dolls in a makeshift grave and what appeared to be the draped figure of a human skeleton.” All of which brings to mind the old phrase “of ritual significance”.

 This “bizarre way" of expressing dissatisfaction is thought be with the proposed crematorium scheduled to be built in Wairds cemetery. The anger over the crematorium appears to be based on the location, on the lower slopes of the Eildon Hills, rather than for religious reasons.

Monday, 15 February 2010

The Hidden Insult

The sad and untimely death of Alexander McQueen has brought out fond recollections of an urban legend attached to the fashion designer.

The story, dismissed as apocryphal on Radio 4’s obituary show Last Words on 14 February, tell that as an apprentice at the tailor Gieves and Hawkes, scrawled “McQueen was here” on the lining of a suit he was making for Prince Charles.

Which fits McQueen’s fashion enfant terrible image, as does the version that has McQueen chalking “I Am A Cunt” (see comments on this link) into the Prince of Wales’s suit. The story also appears at this site.

Similar stories have been attached to celebrities in the last twelve months. This story appeared in the 2 July 2009 edition of the Popbitch newsletter:

Joe Cole bought a beautiful bespoke suit for his wedding. Unfortunately for Joe someone involved in stitching up his suit rather likes West Ham, the club Cole ditched to join Chelsea. He still had a bit of a grudge about Cole leaving the Hammers.

So it's possible, if Joe w to look at the lining the jacket, that there might be a full West Ham insignia chalked on it, complete with a few choice words, several of which were "Judas".

I think the realms of celebrity gossip sites, like Popbitch, are a new home for urban legends, interesting stories about celebrities are required that have to be surprising and interesting but still have some ring of truth about them. Dusting off and refurbishing a story with a new celebrating and insult is a good way of doing this. The following story appeared in the 21 August 2009 Popbitch newsletter:

Some years ago [the band] Oasis bought a vintage EMI TG mixing desk from a studio in Australia. Before it was shipped to England a famous record producer working in the studio heard about it... and carved "Blur" inside it. He's always wondered if the Gallaghers ever found his handiwork.

If you know as much about music as I know about football you’ll need to be told that there was a very public feud in the 1990’s between the bands Blur and Oasis.

The first time I heard this legend was as canteen gossip at my first job which I started in 1990. It, again, involved royalty and someone with the word 'Queen’ in their name. The version I was told was of car workers who, knowing they were building a car for Queen Elizabeth, would hide pornographic magazines within the chassis of the car.

I would sometimes think of copies of Razzle and the odd Scandinavian publication rattling about as her majesty went over a speed-bump.

Strangely enough the story of the Queen’s car does appear to be true and is a trick carried out by apprentices. In broke ten years after my tea-break chat, an article in the Guardian from June 2001 quotes an (unnamed) Jaguar spokesman saying:

"It is one of those old traditions where people used to write things behind the seat panel of cars and they were never discovered unless there was an accident. But on this occasion it was not very funny."

The spokesman said the practice had been common when he was an apprentice.

I think this one bears closer investigation. Other unverified American versions, always aimed at people buying expensive cares, can be found at the Urban Legend Resource Pages, Snopes under their header ‘The Rattletrap’.

There are two things here. An urban legend of revenge against the wealthy, privileged and famous, brought up and told to communicate the idea of bringing them down, usually secretly, a peg or two, or could be a tradition of apprentices making mischief with the luxury good they are producing.