Grigory Potemkin, the favourite lover of the Russian Empress Catharine the Great built ‘prefabricated’ villages for the Empress Catharine to stay in on her travels. The idea was she would be impressed with the quality of the housing and people (also drafted in from the Potemkin equivalent of central casting) and would think that old Grigory had done a good job developing the area.
Now then, given that they were lovers and she was no fool, there is a suspicion that she knew and he knew she knew, and apparently she kept changing the route to make things more difficult and give him another challenge to overcome.
But whether it happened or not, the idea of sprucing the place up for inspection, drafting handsome and pretty people in for the photographs, and generally making sure that there is nobody there to rock the boat is a well practiced one.
A nice current example is occurring in Baku where there is going to be a motor race and the eyes of the world will be on the city. Given that the eyes of the world include the world’s TV cameras, an effort is being made to spruce the place up. Even fine examples of Soviet Brutalism can be transformed into something much nicer with the addition of Styrofoam mouldings and cornices. A few balconies never go amiss, although Styrofoam isn’t in the list of recommended materials for them.
This does raise interesting possibilities. Obviously some of the buildings do look better for the treatment, but the treatment is only temporary. I haven’t a clue how long Styrofoam will last out there. But when it inevitably starts falling off, will the inhabitants miss it, and even contemplate having it re-done? Or perhaps have it re-done with a different design, perhaps mock Corinthian columns, or Gothic tracery, or perhaps some of the fantastic blues you get in Samarkand. Has a whole new industry been inadvertently created? It would be a happy irony if the income generated by the Styrofoam architecture industry exceeded that contributed to the economy by the motor racing.
But the thing about the Potemkin village is that it tells you who is important. For Potemkin, there was only one person who mattered and who had to be impressed and that was the Empress. One woman, one vote, and only one vote mattered. Obviously the peasantry didn’t matter, the fact they could see the man behind the curtain was irrelevant.
It’s the same with Baku. The audience that matters is not the local people; it’s the TV cameras of the world. Whether it’s a political gesture to show what a wonderful place it is under the current government or a cunning attempt to lure tourists because it’s a wonderful place to visit I don’t know.
But all in all, the creator of the Potemkin village knows her market. She has set her stall out to target one particular sector of the ‘electorate’ and to convince them of what she or he has to say.
What is embarrassing is when somebody makes a great effort to target their audience only to discover their audience is utterly uninterested. All that does is proves how out of touch the perpetrator of the scheme is.
A fine example of this is the current ‘scandal’ over Culture Secretary John Whittingdale. For non-UK residents he is a single man who had a six months relationship with a woman he met over the internet. It turns out that she’s a sex-worker. He claims he didn’t know and on the assumption that meant she wasn’t invoicing him, fair enough.
Interestingly the newspapers knew about it but largely ignored it as a non-story. ‘Single man has relationship with single woman’ isn’t news. Apparently the relationship collapsed when a journalist quietly phoned Mr Whittingdale and told him about his girlfriend’s day job.
But the story gets interesting. In the UK we have a pro-privacy lobby group called Hacked Off. They were apparently furious that Whittingdale’s relationship with this woman was not exposed and in a BBC Newsnight interview said newspapers had an ‘obligation’ to tell the story.
Read that sentence again. Please note I didn’t make this story up. I write fantasy and SF, there are rules about suspension of disbelief that reality obviously doesn’t feel obliged to follow!
The suspicion is that because Whittingdale is the one who could decide about reforms for the BBC under charter renewal, the BBC jumped at this chance to start a scandal which would cause Whittingdale to resign, with the hope that his successor would be more nervous about upsetting the BBC.
But stop and think about it. However you frame it the story is still ‘Single man has relationship with single woman.’
Unless of course you’re seeing things through the prism of the teaching of St Paul where he says in 1 Corinthians “Do you not know that whoever is united to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For it is said, ‘The two shall be one flesh.”
Here Paul is only following Christ who said ““Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’ So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.”
But what the BBC forgot in its enthusiasm for a good scandal is that in the UK we are a post Christian society. Most people seem to feel than monogamy is a good thing, and most people would frown on a husband or wife having an affair. But in a post Christian society who cares about a single man having a relationship with a single woman to whom he is not married?
It’s rather amusing to think that the trendy intellectual types at the BBC have got so out of touch with the rest of society that they haven’t realised how the world has changed. Even more ironically it has changed in the direction that a lot of them were pushing for. But it does make it considerably harder to blackmail ministers.
Certainly Grigory Potemkin would never have allowed himself to get so out of touch. That could have been why he was the favourite lover of the Russian Empress Catharine (as opposed to just ‘a lover’.)
And with this shocking revelation, Aunty BBC has doubtless thrown her skirts over her head and rushed hysterically from the room.
Yes, it has been a quiet day today, only a set of triplets last night, two sets of twins this morning and another set of twins this afternoon.
In a post Christian society does the devil still make work for idle hands?