One of my pet hates is the phrase “in vino veritas” – the idea that the “real you” comes out when you’re drunk.
It just seems too pat, too harsh, or maybe I don’t want to believe it. This is because, as some may have seen me mention before, alcohol got me into far more trouble than illegal drugs ever did. It wasn’t ecstasy that turned me into a loudmouth vandal. It wasn’t cocaine that facilitated (coy cough, hair twiddle) ill-advised romantic unions. It wasn’t Class A’s of any kind that made me wake up in a befuddled sweat, thinking: “Oh God, what did I do this time?”
Truth was, while I loved to drink to excess, I simply couldn’t handle it. Still, in a weird way, I was grateful for one by-product – an inbuilt screeching brake on ever passing judgment on others. Even now that I’ve stopped getting messily drunk, I make a point of not droning “in vino veritas” at the afflicted. As far as I’m concerned, people generally aren’t their “true selves” when they’re drunk – they’re just drunk and it’s the sober, smug and judgmental who are being their “true selves” by harping on about it.
I thought of this when I came across the latest instalment in the sad saga of fashion designer John Galliano’s anti-semitic outburst in a Paris bar in 2011, which followed another drunken rant caught on video, where he announced that he “loved Hitler” and that: “People like you would be dead. Your mothers, your forefathers, would all be fucking gassed.”
Now reviving his career, Galliano recently attended a talk with Rabbi Barry Marcus to further apologise for the rant that led to him being sacked from Dior. Galliano explained that, at the time, he was an alcoholic, an addict and under work pressure. All of which should dovetail with my belief that “in vino veritas” is unfair codswallop. Yet still I feel uncomfortable.
Obviously it’s good that Galliano apologised. However, since when did even extreme drunkenness excuse antisemitism? Galliano talked about Hitler, gas chambers, employing nasty, detailed Holocaust imagery. Well, I’m sorry, but this is simply not the kind of thing that emanates from drinking heavily. In my extensive experience of inebriation (my own and others), non-antisemites don’t embark on antisemitic rants, however drunk they might be. This is because when people are sloshed, they are not at their cleverest or most inventive (whatever they fondly imagine) – in basic terms, what’s not already inside a person is unlikely to come out.
It’s true that sometimes people have alcoholic shadow-selves. In this way, drunken behaviour can sometimes be wish-fulfilment, a way of giving oneself permission to behave differently; here, the spectrum is vast. The prim suddenly acting slutty, the shy becoming garrulous, the timid becoming forthright, the passive becoming aggressive, and so on. However, in my experience, out-of-character regrettable drunken behaviour isn’t people suddenly appropriating antisemitic views that they didn’t hold previously.
So why did this happen with John Galliano?
Perhaps there’s a personal sliding scale to this “in vino veritas” thing, and I’m not as wonderfully forgiving about drunken behaviour as I thought? It could also be that I’m being unfair on Galliano,and the “drunk him” wasn’t the real him, just as I like to think “drunk me” wasn’t the real me either. However, I remain extremely uncomfortable with this notion that anti-semitic ranting can be conflated with routine regrettable drunken behaviour, when it’s plainly not equivalent.
In my experience, non anti-semites do not embark on anti-semitic rants when they are drunk – it really is that simple. Did I say that I was uncomfortable with Galliano’s explanation for why he deserves forgiveness? As someone with her own extensive form for drunken misbehaviour, it might be more honest to say that I’m unconvinced.
Remember when CDs were the future? Me too
It’s the 30th anniversary of the CD (or 30 years since Dire Straits’ Brothers in Arms marked the mainstream arrival of the format). Hang out the bunting. Or perhaps not. This is a weird one for me, because it also signalled the time when I gave up trusting technology.
Some of you might recall what was said about CDs at the time: they were the undisputed future of music and they were forever.
They were indestructible: you could drive a tank over them, scratch them with screwdrivers and they would still play perfectly. No other music technology would ever be necessary – the CD would outlive us all. In the event of nuclear Armageddon, only cockroaches and CDs would be left.
Well, what a crock. Loads of my compact discs ended up jumping about like crazy – even the ones I hadn’t driven a tank over.
Vinyl enthusiasts have myriad (often very dull) reasons for preferring their format, but, as it transpired, vinyl was often of better quality, too.
In a wider way, this also imbued me with an inbuilt Luddite-style distrust of any new technology in any sphere making grand claims of consumer invincibility and immortality.
Sorry, techno-geek inventor dudes, after the CD debacle, the trust was gone for good.
Quietly making the case for libraries
There’s an unseemly skirmish at the British Library. On the one side, there are the old-school readers – academics poring over rare texts. Then there’s the new style of user, a group of freeloading student types, who, according to their detractors, barge in, sometimes playing films loudly on their laptops, and are just there for the free Wi-Fi.
I have no direct experience of bad behaviour in the British Library, but it doesn’t surprise me about the infestation of students seeking free Wi-Fi in a place where you don’t have to buy an overpriced latte.
My local library is often full of students and it does seem as though some of them remain blissfully unaware of the tradition of silence in libraries.
However, it’s complicated. One can fully appreciate the frustration of some British Library users, who respect and adhere to rules and traditions. Then again, we need to get young people into libraries, even if some of them are just snaffling free Wi-Fi.
For people like me, libraries were the undisputed heartbeat of our childhood and adolescence, and our best chance of gaining any degree of hinterland, but this idea is fading fast. Libraries suffer from generalised waning attendance, making them extremely vulnerable to cuts.
If free access to the internet is luring in younger age groups, then this can only be a good thing. Conceivably, there could even be the occasional day when only libraries are allowed to give out free Wi-Fi in the high street, thus raising awareness that this facility exists (or even that libraries exist at all) and thus perhaps saving a few more from closure.
In the meantime, all I can say to the noisy inconsiderate British Library students is, well… sssh!