‘Keeping it real‘ is an embedded mantra within hip hop culture. It’s always been an arresting check to avoid moving too far away from your community, their struggles, ‘sufferation’ and shared aspirations. Thus the ‘real’ is both a means of self-identification for an individual keen to link with their background and also short-hand of sorts, an avenue of expression for those with a mike, keyboard, megaphone or lectern.
The present participle of -ing means an onus on the involved party to strive to uphold the old and keep striving forward for a particular cause, issue or opinion. As hip hop has broken out of the imposed ghetto to be embraced globally, this three-word adage has been taken up by a wide and disparate collection of people as an endlessly effective tool when deployed in music, politics, art… and now internet-based reality viewing.
Essex native Jamali Maddix keeps it real in his own way. He is a comedian of mixed-race heritage who mines the absurd arguments of various extremist groups through interaction and relatively gentle but persistent conversation. He’s a large, affable guy with a bushy beard and a tat on show.
Posted Insta pics show a lager in one hand, a vaping device in the other. Both his ‘Hate Your Neighbour’ series for Vice and his stand-up sets are garnering him fame throughout the UK, Europe and the States. A recent episode from his Vice series, We are the EDL [sadly not the English Disco Lovers], was recently posted to YouTube as the series becomes freely available on terrestrial television channel All 4.
Man is going places and all the better that he’s engaging with those who are problematic, to say the least, when many of us can only fill – alone – with rage and shame. Just as Chris Morris’ Brass Eye and The Day Today lampooned political pomp and celebrities near-blinded by their own fame, and Louis Theroux‘s documentaries subtly enabled his interviewees to either show their humanity and/or step into a trap of their own making, Maddix tries his hand at simultaneously befriending people and pricking their egos; all the while he either silently mugs at the camera in reaction to a point made and/or uses this as material for a reactive on-stage feature filmed later.
Whilst Muslims the world over currently observe Ramadan, an altogether different activity is taking place here in the North-west of the UK. High on his own supply to say the least, working class wannabe Stephen Yaxley-Lennon aka Tommy Robinson is trying for election to the European Parliament on an tissue-thin agenda which is essentially anti-Islam. Where Theresa May and George Osbourne‘s austerity programme succeeded in building on Margaret Thatcher‘s decade-long depreciation of the North, Lennon/Robinson seeks to capitalise on poverty, general bollocks about Brexit and localised worries by constantly using emotive language and half-baked terms, such as ‘grooming gangs’, in order to scapegoat brown – and therefore foreign – faces.
He and the EDL are being milk-shaked and shown to be no different to the other thin-skinned numbskulls previously seen marching under National Front or British National Party flags on British streets. The parties may fade from view; the cloaks of respectability change, but there is still the continuing existence and increased popularity of right-wing nativist arguments amongst folk who yearn for an unrealistic and unfair ideal.
Keeping it real, in other words. ‘Real’ in this context however means whatever you want it to mean à la Orwell and Trump. Essentially: fuck facts. Repeat the same lies to get enough people on board and we’ll win [Brexit being a similar instance].
The good-natured persona of Maddix, the ‘anchor’ of his ‘Hate Your Neighbour’ series, is thus to be applauded. People’s grievances need to be heard however nasty, absurd or economical with the truth they might be. Division and hatred becomes entrenched and truly worrying for society as a whole otherwise.
The series shows how easy it is to break down a couple of simple but solid barriers preventing understanding between estranged groups, for example: the plainly silly notion of accusing someone of being Muslim on the basis of a beard. Brother man has a backwards cap on, but the EDL members don’t call him out on being a skateboarder.
The notions surrounding superficial or exterior appearances – and what convoluted thoughts can spin off from sudden and/or instantaneous meetings – is a part of Maddix‘s work for Vice. There’s most definitely a sense of both ‘sides’ sizing each other up and allowing time on-screen, but there is a dangerous issue at play here.
Essentially, one guy wants fame; a company wants click pounds; a far-right group laps up the exposure whilst fairly easily deflecting the softly-soaped questioning. Whilst there’s a sense of ‘fair play’ extended to all participants, the abundance of sloganeering is accepted and not questioned in depth. Additionally, the EDL rallies shown are an almost exclusively male environment, an oddly archaic gathering at a time when the global populace is more determined than ever before to hear the voices of women. The one female heard amongst the few seen at an EDL rally is allowed a muffled few seconds on camera.
What the fuck does ‘Englishness’ mean if only one homogeneous group within that broad definition and identity can readily spout the same trite slogans over and over?
best most incisive, subversive and deepest comedy – George Carlin, Lenny Bruce, Dick Gregory, Richard Pryor, Bill Hicks, Stewart Lee – trades verbal blows toe-to-toe. It brandishes facts instead of socially-accepted platitudes; it strips away layers to expose… and this is where ‘Hate Thy Neighbour’ falls short.
It would have been useful to see more sparingly edited shows in order to facilitate longer and more in-depth discussion. Call people out where needed, firmly and fairly, but also give them the chance to put their genuine fears on record in order to sort the truth from hackneyed, false bullshit.
The right-wing have already claimed the life of Jo Cox, our society’s Blair Peach, so the well-meaning but too-obliging side of Jamali and the Vice cameras leaves an meagre after-taste from their brief, unsatisfactory rendezvous.
When reflecting on his EDL encounters, Maddix is at pains on stage to try to identify with the people he met, to laugh with and not at them. Similarly, he is up-front about dismissing Islam in favour of science whilst simultaneously talking of individual lives rather than generalised assumptions. He isn’t a politician – who would be nowadays? – and he’s braver than many for getting up close and personal with the far right. But the most telling contribution is a sober one from a bystander who confronts a leafleting EDL member.
Tommy, the main EDL representative is, at times, likeable and reasonably well-spoken. In his clumsy and blatant attempts to connect with his visitor and camera crew, there is a sense of a somewhat lonely, misunderstood person who – perhaps – might deserve a calmer, longer hearing. Perhaps (he still talks of ‘pakis’ and ‘n…ers’)…
His drink-fuelled argument with Maddix at the close of the episode therefore seems like an inevitable ending which fulfils the usually light, carnival-esque feel to proceedings. Whilst Maddix and Vice‘s intentions aim to be a step above the one-dimensional, bear-baiting depictions of folk on Jeremy Kyle and in some tabloid newspapers, their approach here rarely gets beyond the airing of ‘bruv’ and the exchanging of fist bumps.
‘Keeping it real’ morphs into ‘keeping your distance’. And that doesn’t help to bring us together. For that, we must look to the likes of Building Bridges Pendle, to name one group getting on with direct dialogue in order to create good neighbours rather than those who are without any connection whatsoever.