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Flying the freak flag

Jessica Berens and Kerri Sharp's book, Inappropriate Behaviour, is a primer for a different way of thinking. Resisting the mainstream view of women found in the media, this book spins feminism into the 21st century. Pornography, guns, satanism, sex - diverse issues are championed by contributors including Annabel Chong, Lydia Lunch, Tama Janowitz and Katherine Gates.

urban75 is proud to reproduce the introduction chapter from the book.


'Women have allowed their thinking to be perverted by thin, white Unawoman, an unthreatening construct that has done much to encourage the buying of handbags and very little to encourage independent thought.'

Super-successful businesswomen flick their Pantene-glossy hair about and move with the times in dust-free corporate environments; petulant uber-bitches dash champagne glasses on the mirror-polished floors of their super-lux apartments then drive off in top of the range coupés; self-satisfied broadsheet readers witter schadenfreude at dinner parties.

He, sexless, reads Men's Health and walks the gormless Labrador. She tosses desperate little salads. These are the icons from which no-one can escape; absurd entities invented by ad-people labouring to deliver narratives about one-upmanship.

A new collection of archetypes has emerged: the successful female neurotic; the lantern-jawed sensitive winner; the smug New Labour dinner-party animal; and the young wacky dressed-down designer. They are archetypes rather than stereotypes because they come with fully fleshed behavioural traits and ambitions.

The advertising industry - ever aware that we can spot two-dimensions a mile off - has done its homework. In these post-ironic times they have gone back to the primary condition: conservatism.


The successful female neurotic will be looking for love/husband/baby; the lantern-jawed winner will have previously shirked his responsibilities but is now facing up to fatherhood; the wacky young designer will be heading up her own media company by the age of 30.

And let's not forget the hardy perennial - the domesticated woman. She's still there, making the stains vanish. The fact is some of us have disappeared from the story; only the perfect, the thin and the smug remain.

We have looked long and hard at these narratives and we can't spot ourselves in there. We are not all svelte or coifed or dull. And we do not want the Renault Clio or the Estée Lauder or the Prada because we are inured by the knowledge that these things will make us neither happy or wise.

But the collective western subconscious is busy running a checklist on stuff it has not acquired yet. It is incarcerated in a constant state of wanting while conversely being told to live for the moment to gain spiritual reward.

The result of this paradox is that we get trapped in a vacuum that tells us everything will be all right when we have bought the goods … but, of course, it never is. As soon as we've acquired one item on the lifestyle list, another will take its place. We just keep wanting more and more stuff.

This perpetuated unfulfilment is having its golden jubilee. The narcosis of high-level acquisitiveness has been mainlined into our psyches. Imprisoning consumers in the twin emotional states of depression and neediness is an effective way to castrate individualism - and net vast fortunes through our complicity in the process.


The worldwide cost of advertising is currently estimated at 435 billion dollars, with the USA accounting for almost 200 billion dollars. That buys a lot of billboards.

Our imaginations - the best thing about being human - are becoming atrophied, and difference is off the agenda. We are getting to a state where we can define ourselves only through what we own and whether we are communing with the latest viral-marketing catchphrase of branded goods - from beer to cars and back again. And it doesn't add up to a lovely pile of beans. Now there are three movies, two chords and no choice.

We all look alike, eat alike and watch the same stuff as everybody else - and their kids. Burgers, baggy clothes and PlayStations for all.

Statistics and the rise of direct action politics are revealing that something is very rotten in the state of WorldWide International Inc. There is a growing underclass whose fabricated desires are not being satisfied, and these people are feeling mighty pissed off.

When winning the National Lottery is seen as being the only way out of your severely reduced circumstances, we've reached a desperate situation - the eradication of fun without money.

And as we are expected to aspire to be well-behaved consumers, we also have celebrity mania to combat - the hideous culture of Hollywood windbags and pap-music fembots that are far, far worse than anything the Catholic church has managed to come up with. And that is saying a lot.


It's taken for granted that we are in awe of celebrity. We want to look like them, spend like them and fuck like them. 'Twas ever thus, you could say. What about Beatlemania, Rudolf Valentino and Marilyn? Sure, successive generations have lost their souls to images of erotic beauty.

Millions bought records, saw movies, put posters up. But nowadays this isn't enough; today we are all expected to ooze the same stuff, regardless of income or circumstance. In the past, beauty was a thing to be admired with the detachment of aesthetic perception; now, though, it is not enough to appreciate the Venus de Milo - you have to cut your own arm off as well.

We are desperate to experience ourselves being regarded as 'perfect' - as having achieved the state of sanitised flawlessness as prescribed by style magazines and their ceaseless implausible fictions.

The result? Women have allowed their thinking to be perverted by thin, white Unawoman, an unthreatening construct that has done much to encourage the buying of handbags and very little to encourage independent thought.

Look at the books that sell and the films that make money. What do they say? They say that the majority of women care about what their bottoms, tapenades and husbands look like. They say that the majority of women do not care that they have very little representation in the realm of world politics. Check G8 - not a skirt in sight.

So, here we are in a world where self-knowledge is a dangerous thing, where individualism incurs isolation, and where Unawoman's taunting presence has hauled us into an apolitical climate of regenerative neuroses.


The unique, the odd, the witchy, the talented - the people who argue and opine and who do not believe the hype - they have all but disappeared from the currency of ideas, when history relates that they are the very ones who have contributed so much to it. Originality of perspective, lest we forget, is the foundation of creative growth and the harbinger of change. The brave shout has long hailed everything from scientific invention to spiritual replenishment.

Resistance to the moribund mainstream is there, however … and it's growing, among the kind of people who've had just about all they can take of po-faced poltroons; those who would rather provoke anarchic carnival than suffer more bland hegemony.

We are revisiting duality, reaction, opposition, resistance. Our imaginations seek to disrupt the rigid order of social conditioning that is being imposed. Throughout history, and across cultural boundaries, carnival has been a place of subversion, realised through humour and ridicule.


Where something is held as sacred, there will always be blasphemy. Where there is smug complacency there will be disruption. Bring on the masked pranksters who laugh in your face. We invoke the spirit of the world turned upside down, the orgy-cum-uprising, the Lords of Misrule and the dancing dead.

The malevolent mavericks and beautiful freaks have not died out. They are lurking about, waiting for the chance to subvert. We have found some of them, leering and laughing and hoity-toity.

We bring them to you in all their weird uncommercial pride - a collection of writers with deviant perspectives and adverse ideas. They are not a target group and nor do they wish to be. They are real people.

Jessica Berens and Kerri Sharp 2002

Inappropriate Behaviour is published by Serpent's Tail of London. Grab yourself a copy at or visit the Inappropriate Behaviour website

» Also by Kerri Sharp: oh bondage up yours!

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