Right. Name two hits by Beyoncé. Take your time. Spelling doesn't matter. Have you got them? Are you confident? If you have and you are, then stop reading now.
No no, I don't want to know what the hits are. I won't have heard of them. I just want to avoid unpleasantness. Because if you know enough of Beyoncé to name two of her hits then what follows here will probably cause you to write rude things to me and there are enough rude things in the world already. I have a box devoted to them by the back door. A composting service empties it once a month. So turn the page and off you go.
That's better: a very warm welcome to those still here and in particular to those who have hung around in the hope of discovering who or what a Beyoncé is. Your innocence is admirable.
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Beyoncé is an American singer. Whether Beyoncé is her actual name I have no idea and no curiosity to find out. Life is brief. How good a singer she is I am not qualified to judge, but her singing has made her a multi-millionaire so I am willing to concede that she can probably snap a wine glass at 50 paces. But it is not for her singing that I am mentioning her today. It is because of the following headline in my local paper: Beyoncé: God gave me twins to right my ancestor's slave wrongs.
Are you feeling a premonitory hint of the rising gorge? Then you are not alone. But first let's listen to what Beyoncé has to say: "I researched my ancestry recently and learned that I come from a slave owner who fell in love with and married a slave. I had to process that revelation over time. I questioned what it meant and tried to put it into perspective. I now believe it's why God blessed me with twins. Male and female energy was able to co-exist and grow in my blood for the first time."
It's hogwash, of course. In fact, if my calculations are correct, this single paragraph embodies five distinct varieties of hogwash. And if you wish to hold your nose I'll take you through them.
Let's begin with the language. What does Beyoncé mean by "I had to process that revelation over time" or indeed by "male and female energies"? The answer is nothing at all. She is merely spouting the emotive jargon of the spiritual wellbeing crowd. It is language that sounds weighty but has no definable meaning. It is the hogwash of pseudo-profundity.
Let's turn next to the slave owner who married for love. This, says Beyoncé, is where she came from. Well now, the marriage must have taken place at least a century and a half ago, which is five generations or more. So, as a minimum, the happyish couple were Beyoncé's great-great-great-grandparents. And as such they were not alone. For Beyoncé, like you, me and Uncle Tom Cobleigh, has 32 great-great-great-grandparents, every one of whom is equally where she came from. But of the other 30 she has nothing to say, perhaps because they lack the victimhood glamour of slavery.
Every one of us, on a clamber through our family tree, could find abundant branches of injustice and suffering and cruelty. But to claim that any one such branch was exclusively where we came from would make us guilty of the hogwash of selective ancestry.
Then there's God. Beyoncé's loving, caring and omnipotent God cares enough about Beyoncé to bless her with twins and thus to right the wrongs of the past. But that same loving, caring and omnipotent God didn't care enough about the slaves to bless them with a little thing called freedom when he could have actually done them good. Beyoncé's blind egocentricity is one thing. But the rational contradiction, the inherent inconsistency, constitute the standard hogwash of what passes for religious thought.
Hogwash variety four is the hogwash of transferred expertise. To pay attention to Beyoncé's pseudo-philosophical blather because she sings well is like admiring your plumber's political views because he unblocked your toilet. Expertise in one area doesn't confer expertise in an unrelated area.
And finally the saddest point of all. Every day the paper publishes perhaps a dozen or so international stories with which to represent the rest of the world. That this story should be one of them illustrates only our dumb addiction to the all-pervasive hogwash of celebrity. (Which phrase would make a splendid title for the next Beyoncé hit.)