(Photo by Andy Pixel)
Tolerance, you may come to find, is an asset assailed by age. Tolerance for beer, tolerance for bullshit and - at the nexus of both - tolerance for staged pictures of modern political figures drinking beer, for we have reached a point in this country's history when the myths prodded and infused by all that chummy imagery just cannot hold. The fib of commonality between the leaders and the led has burst its bladder; the idea of the Great British pint, with all its associations, has crashed to the floor.
It is an old habit of those seeking consensus in these islands to drink or pour beer on camera. The politician's pint is kind of indoor-kissed-baby, a quick step to authenticity with no risk of tears. But while rubbing your lips on an infant says, "We love life, even as we close the hospital," the pulling of pints says, "Trust me, high-five me, even as I am balls deep in whatever you hold dear." Ahead of next year's general election, pints are in real trouble.
In the past, pints have been a sign of shared intentions and a signifier of our national identity. But, in 2014, the 568 ml miracles that once bound us are falling flat, or at least undergoing painful reinvention. In those pubs that are still open, something else is stirring and being stirred. The pint we once knew is priced beyond purpose. The image of the new pint serves two main agendas; those of artisanal craft beer fantasists who think sincerely that "there has never been a better time to be a beer drinker" and political figures anxious to exploit whatever connection remains between the pint and the common man.
N. Farage still morphing into work of F. Bacon. pic.twitter.com/JWUIlUWVk8
- Michael Holden (@thewrongwriter) October 20, 2014
As with so many of Britain's modern woes, there in the rubble of the issue like some kind of superhero in reverse stands thumb-faced everygit and default liberal blame doll, Nigel Farage. The UKIP leader's bar stance has evolved into a kind of meme that is slaying the very things it is intended to evoke. It is a peculiar subset of society that might gaze upon such images and think, 'I'll have what he's having.'
The definitive link spotted by @wb_gooderham pic.twitter.com/HcvVcd4iYp
- Michael Holden (@thewrongwriter) October 23, 2014
Farage's look while drinking has evolved into a kind of wild political sex-face. A troubling montage of features, part war cry, part dim glee but absolutely a vision of conventional biology fading, a sense of something primal that might at any moment shrug off human form. In these moments he seems to slither right across the Venn diagram from corny to chthonic, somewhere between roast beef Rotarian and one of Francis Bacon's screaming Popes. An image so stirring, singular and ubiquitous you might find yourself looking at your own drink, whatever its dimensions or alcohol content, and wondering whether it's really a good idea.
But there are darker things even beyond the Pontiff of Pilsner, the abyss-jawed bishop of Bombardier; Nigel, his glass and all the other things he clings to smiling are but fresh convulsions of a thing already rabbit punched and gutted by bigger boys and girls. Farage is just the latest face in a parade of "trust me, trust my pint" pirates, but he remains the junior barman. Our real landlords have told the greatest lie and still have real power.
When George Osborne began appearing in pub photos following the ending of the Beer Duty Escalator in 2013, the resultant images were meant to signify a good bloke doing a good thing. It is a stunning piece of subterfuge that one of the architects of an administration whose ideological hostility to the idea of social living can be read almost entirely through the decline of British drinking culture can walk into a pub, pull a pint badly, smile and say not just "It wasn't me," but "See how I have helped you."
Make no mistake, what you're looking at - should you seek out that set of pictures - is not a photo opportunity but a move from the battlefields of antiquity. That is not just a politician with a pint, but a man drinking blood from the skull of the vanquished. The modern twist, the slice of lemon squeezed then dropped into the eye socket, is that they then pretend it is not so. They have pissed in the pint they're pulling (not from a distance, either), then they serve it with a smile. And it is with that level of core duplicity that you can make Nigel Farage seem like a reasonable fellow. And then it gets worse.
As is traditional when a good thing shrivels, the bourgeoisie have evolved a narrative of their own that permits them to avoid feeling bad about it. In this case, the narrative is "Craft Beer". While the message to those British drinkers who are disinclined or unable to pay between four and nine pounds for a pint is implicitly "go to Wetherspoons and die", those inured to such realities appear to be having the fruit-flavoured time of their lives.
While the supermarkets' loss-leading, state-sanctioned price war has shunted a swathe of drinkers out of sight, the public and media endorsed story of modern British beer is a micro brewery magical kingdom where palliative tales of industry and quality abide. Truly though, what price a perceived improvement in the quality of your beer while the quality of life for others gets demonstrably worse, and everyone you drink with looks just like you?
Set down your clever pint, lose the beard and man the barricades before a country whose facility for shared intoxication informed much of its greatness, transforms entirely into a vile casino where we drink alone or separately as our collective wealth (in every sense of the word) is sucked away. Because that's what you're looking at - not Farageland or Craft Beer Albion, but a metropolitan money laundry washing its poor toward the sea; Switzerland with piers.