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Tuesday, December 17, 2013 

Worse than selling out.

Just about the best riposte to those quick to shout sell out came, naturally enough, from two people who despite everything, haven't really sold out (at least if you overlook all the merchandise that came out following the initial mega success of their series). Yep, we're talking about Trey Parker and Matt Stone's South Park, and that classic of the second series, Chef's Chocolate Salty Balls. Having sold his version of the Mr Hankey story to a grasping film producer and been stiffed in the process, Stan explains to Cartman that he deserves it for selling out, as anyone who makes money in the entertainment industry is by definition. Away from television but just as scatological, there's Tool's Hooker with a Penis, featuring Maynard informing an "OGT" fan who accuses him of selling out that he did so to make a record in the first place, and his critic "bought one".

Calling someone who's found success a sell out is then just about the stupidest possible criticism you can make. You can dislike an artist's output if they've watered it down so much in an attempt to find a wider audience that they fail to carry their original fans along, but then again, all of us need to eat. You can do much the same if they've done a complete change of direction, or indeed if they then fail to acknowledge their humbler beginnings, especially as success is often fleeting. Harsher, more vitriolic reactions can be justified though if either hypocrisy is involved or indeed, the individual belittles their previous work, or for that matter those who have clearly influenced them, for which see Disclosure and an upcoming end of year post.

We come then to Jack Monroe, the young woman with the austerity cookery blog, now column, soon to be one of the stars of a few Sainsbury's adverts providing tips on what to do with leftovers from joints. Monroe's rapid ascent to sort of celebrity, described by the Graun as the face of modern poverty and included in their list as one of the people of the year, has not gone unnoticed.  The ever lovely Richard Littlejohn dedicated a Mail column to Monroe and the Graun's version of what poverty is, and amid all the familiar nonsense, stupidity, deceptions and unnecessary meanness that characterises a Littlejohn column, there is something resembling a point struggling to get out.  Calling someone the face of modern poverty or as Littlejohn puts it, "a poster girl for poverty" is all well and good, except poverty no longer has a face, if it ever did.  As figures released last week revealed, more than half of those measured as being in poverty are in work, so applying easy labels or generalising becomes ever more redundant.

With the very best will in the world, nor are Monroe's recipes, despite her protestations, always the humblest or easiest to procure.  Yes, kale is an easy target, but then there's the beetroot, feta and lentil salad, or the chickpea and aubergine curry recipe.  I'd like to know where she got a large aubergine for 53p from (presumably Sainsbury's), as while you certainly can get them cheap, not everyone's going to be able find one for that price outside of say a deal or the reduced section.  She also somehow managed to get two sprigs of fresh parsley for 8 pence (try asking someone for two sprigs of fresh parsley from a market stall or in a shop and see them either laugh at you or narrow their eyes) for the smoky herring roe recipe, as well as 100 grams of green beans for 15 pence, which I again can't see as being based in reality unless they were massively reduced.  The point is that you can eat well for £10 a week, but that also assumes you have the time to find the items she suggests and to prepare them, not necessarily things those in such a situation have, or indeed an internet connection or the £1.40 for a copy of the paper she writes for to get the recipes in the first place.

This isn't to doubt Monroe's passion, and amid the many like Littlejohn who think nothing of demonising the poorest and those subsisting on minuscule amounts, anyone fighting back against such slander deserves support.  Nor is her decision to take Sainsbury's money for their adverts selling out, nor would it be had she not split the remuneration between charities and local food banks.  It does however come quite close to breaking what she wrote in her response to Littlejohn, that she didn't go in for product endorsement posts or guest or sponsored posts.  Let alone the adverts, her response to the claims of selling out is practically a paean to the supermarket and how brilliant they are.  Littlejohn, naturally, has seized upon this, and you can't for once exactly blame him.

All in all, rather than focusing attention, the pushing of Monroe has been a distraction from the harsh reality those who remain in penury are having cope with, as continues to be chronicled by Amelia Gentleman in the... Graun.  Poverty doesn't need a face; it already has far too many.  Whether we choose to acknowledge them or not is what matters, and while it's not her fault in any way, shape or form, A Girl Called Jack isn't helping.  And that's hell of a lot worse than selling out.

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I don't agree at all on the 'sellout' issue - AFAICS if you set out to gain public trust and then take corporate money, you've blown it. But I do agree that this Jack person is a sideshow at best. I can't think of a worse way to personalise poverty than drooling over a Ruby Tandoh-alike and her scrummy healthy cheap recipes. The faces of poverty are the people in that Amelia Gentleman article - ordinary people who've had some bad luck and are now being crapped on by the government.

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