Friday, 14 February 2014

Dacre's Acres

I read recently that Paul Dacre, the editor of the Daily Mail, multimillionaire, scourge of the European Union, stern moralist and famed swearer
according to the book Flat Earth News his own staff g[ave] the paper’s daily editorial meeting the name ‘The Vagina Monologues’ as a result of Dacre’s habit of calling everyone a c***
has bought a 15,000 estate in Scotland, on which he claims large amounts of EU subsidy money despite hating the EU. One of the excellent reasons for Scottish independence is simply imagining Dacre's face as he has to hand over his passport at Berwick on Tweed simply to visit an estate on which the Edinburgh government will hopefully charge huge taxes. Mind you, the owner of his paper is just as bad: despite his patriotism and living in a massive Wiltshire mansion on another EU-supported estate, he claims to be French for tax purposes and owns the newspaper through a jungle of tax-avoiding offshore shell companies. Rule Britannia!

Coincidentally, I'm teaching The Grapes of Wrath in a couple of weeks, Steinbeck's great novel of the Okie migrants. At one point, the Joad family meet a beaten-down man and his son, who explain that the California Dream is actually a nightmare of theft and exploitation. Good land, they say, is fenced off and left unused:
They's a fella, newspaper fella…got a million acres…Fat, sof' fella with little mean eyes an' a mouth like a ass-hole. Scairt he's gonna die. Got a million acres an' scairt of dyin'. 
Why does he have a million acres? Why's he afraid?
I dunno… Guess he's crazy. Mus' be crazy. Seen a pitcher of him. He looks crazy. Crazy an' mean. 

Lord Rothermere. He's French you know.

And the conversation about the crabby rich carries on:
"Don't seem like he's havin' no fun".
"Seems like that's the way. Fella havin' fun, he don't give a damn, but a fella mean an' lonely an' old an' disappointed – he's scared of dyin!"
Pa asked, "What's he disappointed about if he got a million acres?"
The preacher smiled, and he looked puzzled… If he needs a million acres to make him feel rich, seems to me he needs it 'cause he feels awful poor inside hisself, and if he's poor in hisself, there ain't no million acres gonna make him feel rich, an' maybe he's disappointed that nothin' he can do'll make him feel rich – not rich like Mis' Wilson was when she give her tent when Grampa died. I ain't tryin' to preach no sermon, but I never seen nobody that's busy as a prairie dog collectin' stuff that wasn't disappointed".
 Do I resent the ability of millionaire tax-cheats to monopolise the land, then expect our taxes to subsidise them playing lord of the manor? Hell yes. Do I agree with Steinbeck that they're unhappy, deep down? Sadly, no. I don't think Rothermere, Dacre (or should that be Dacres?) have the moral or intellectual capacity. They no doubt think that inheriting enough money to pay lawyers to hide their money counts as 'earning' a living.

Here's Henry Fonda's elegiac speech at the end of the Ford/Zanuck film production. He cheated a little: while Steinbeck's novel is liberal-left call to arms which ends in defeat, the film ends on a note of optimism, choosing to focus on family unity rather than Steinbeck's vision of migrant families uniting into a rural proletariat. But the film does manage to convey the dual-focus that makes Steinbeck's novel so great. The chapters alternate between the Joad family's specific experiences and wide-focus declamatory ones putting them into context, both political and Biblical: a bitter version of Exodus is at the root of their trek.

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