Social Politics


Why Rubberbandits Matter…

It’s high time the comedy hip-hop stars were given credit for their insight and intelligence.

YOU MOST LIKELY KNOW Rubberbandits for something daft. It might be that ‘Horse Outside’ video, their numerous appearances on RTE’s ‘Republic of Telly’, or an episode of ‘Rubberbandits’ Guide To…’. You might even remember their channel 4 outing with the ‘Almost Impossible Gameshow’. In the latter, they had contestants complete ludicrous mini-games like ‘groin croissant’, in which the frustrated participants had a few seconds to shake free a plastic pastry attached to a certain part of the outside of their jumpsuit with velcro.

They are, in short, quite exceptionally silly. But their satire also has a tendency to shine a light on Irish society. Put aside the croissant shaking, or songs about ‘Spastic Hawks’, and some corners of their professional output is subtly but brilliantly political.

They take a satirical look at race relations on ‘Black Man’. ‘Spoiling Ivan’ documents the friendship between a grown man and a child, playing off the inbuilt societal assumption that labels such a friendship as somehow wrong. There’s even an ode to holding off on sex, and its relationship benefits.

Far beyond the music, their use of social media, and public comments on sensitive issues have stretched in scope and become ever-more assured. It’s a trend that seemed to really kick off when Blindboy Boatclub called into Joe Duffy to debate the drug references in ‘Horse Outside’. In doing so, he absolutely shredded an irate caller, confidently explaining the duo’s thinking in the process.

OJ: ‘not’ Guilty, Your Honor

When it comes to strategically running quickly between large commercial breaks, OJ Simpson was one of the best. He started his ten-year NFL Running Back career as a first round draft pick. He ran over 11,000 yards, averaging 4.7 yards for every time he took a knock to his all-over body armor, and finishing 61 of those split-second mini sprints the right side of the scoring line. He could have lived out his life as a football (wow, that really stuck in the throat) legend. Clearly being a legend just wasn’t enough publicity for the big man.

Now, it would be unfair to say that publicity is why OJ might have killed his ex-wife. In his book ‘If I did it’ (the ‘if’ is strategically hidden, which is a pretty sure sign he thinks the whole thing is hilarious…) he explains that had he killed Nicole, it would have been because she annoyed the hell out of him. Of course, he didn’t kill her, this is just an interesting and completely non-factual idea he had for a novel.

I mean seriously, for a man many believe got away with murder, it’s not the most intelligent move, is it?? He’s already been found financially liable for the deaths in a civil court, and avoided paying the fine by declaring himself bankrupt. Then OJ decides the best way to make money is to ‘pretend’ he did do it. He was probably wrestling with the possibility of making a demonstrative video.

I can’t help thinking that in extreme cases there should be a charge for stupidity. OJ’s defense lawyer realized early on that the less the man said, the more chance he had of getting off. It might be a good idea if he applied that rule to the rest of his life: OJ, you’re dim, son.

OJ’s in prison anyway, of course. He was found guilty of a whole host of offences including armed robbery, assault and kidnapping in late 2008. Maybe he’ll write a book about that, too. Not forgetting to mention all the stuff he wasn’t caught for, of course.

As published in Bling Magazine, April 2009

Seoul’s Dogs: Friend or Food?

James Hendicott explores the changing fortunes of Korea’s long persecuted canines

It’s Sunday morning in trendy Apgujeong, Seoul, and twenty five year old Hwang Hye Young and her two friends are slurping on their Cappuccinos and mulling over the weeks gossip. They raise their voices every so often, straining to be heard over the equally passionate nattering taking place between their five pampered pooches. Hwang beckons the waiter, ordering a second bowl of strawberry milkshake from the café’s special menu, and passing it swiftly to her enthusiastic pet. ‘We like it here’ she explains as she reaches into her Louis Vuitton handbag for payment, ‘the dogs get a treat too’.

Across town in the working class district of Gangseo Gu, fifty five year old businessman Chun Oh Kyu is tucking into a late breakfast. He went drinking with customers last night, and has settled on a traditional hangover cure: dog soup. Chun sees dog meat the same way your average carnivore sees a steak. ‘We don’t eat pets’ he’s careful to emphasise. Press coverage has made him wary of his Sunday morning ritual, but he’s been eating dog meat since he was a child, and knows this restaurant breeds the animals specifically for eating. Besides, he wouldn’t feel any different if it were any other meat in front of him.

In South Korea, man’s best friend divides opinion in a way that only government attitude towards the Communist North can match. Doggy digestion is a newfound taboo, largely imported over the past couple of decades alongside Hwang’s designer wardrobe and a whole host of other Western influences. Dog meat dates back to harder times on the peninsula, and is still accompanied by other wartime staples such as Silkworm Larvae (a popular boiled snack) and a fondness for foods crammed full of Spam in Seoul’s diners. Chun’s parents may very well have depended on his hangover cure to get enough protein in their diets, and – despite Korea’s modern day economic success – Chun sees no reason to change. Hwang, on the other hand, is somewhat embarrassed by the subject.

Chun’s breakfast is, in fact, technically illegal, and he’s finding it increasingly hard to find somewhere to pick it up. ‘This is my third regular restaurant this year’, he explains, ‘it’s getting harder and harder to find’. Despite the decline, eating dog meat is a practice commonly accepted amongst older generations, and the police rarely enforce the law. In fact, an attempt to legalize the butchering of dogs as livestock this April was quickly quashed by angry animal rights protests. An Indian MPs suggestion that stray dogs in New Delhi be sent to Korea for ‘disposal’ was greeted with equal disdain, and even became the root of a minor diplomatic dispute between the two nations.

This newfound awareness – though far from universal – is a sure sign of things to come. This kind of public uproar over dogs has long been levelled at Koreans, but until now the protests have rarely perpetrated by them. Korean culture has a reputation for being stunningly slow to change, but Hwang is typical of a younger generation who are gently bringing in a long awaited change in attitude.

That’s not to say it’s over. The dog’s journey from plate to palate is entrenched in Korean culture: barring a dramatic crackdown, man’s best friend will still be filling Seoul’s soup bowls for some time to come. The shift in thoughts and feelings, however, it clear to see. Dog is going underground, and sooner or later the collective conscious of Korea’s youth will be the death of it. The soup, that is.

As published in K9 Magazine issue 27, March 2009.