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Red rag?

[ 2010-10-26 13:37]     字号 [] [] []  
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Red rag?

Ted asks:

Please explain the phrase “red rag” as in this: “To Michael Collins they were a red rag.” Do you have more examples?

My comments:

They make Michael mad, angry and furious. That’s what “red rag” means.

More examples I do have, but first definitions.

Red rag refers to the piece of red cloth that bullfighters wave at a bull with in order to entice, or rather enrage, the foolhardy animal.

The full phrase, hence, is “red rag to the bull”, figuratively meaning something that makes people mad and angry.

If you’ve ever watched bullfighting, you’d have seen, um, among other things, how terrible a sport it is.

I mean, the bulls actually believe it’s a real sport (not murder). They throw themselves at the moving red cloth for fun because that’s something a lot of animals would love to do. Be it with a cat, or a dog, the same thing happens. Likewise use a piece of green rag or yellow, no matter. They would chase it, like a monkey would play with his image in a pond. He puts his hand in the water to catch his likeness, only to raise ripples and thus destroy the image. Then he waits for the water to calm and the image to weave its way back again and he’d splash the water one more time, seemingly making magic. A lot of fun to be sure.

A lot of good fun, too, so thinks the mighty bull, plunging his full weight into the red rag, not knowing, however, that the two-legged friend who plays with him is actually the same one that stabs him in the back.

Backstabbing aside, bullfighting is a thing of the past, as is the gladiators (who actually were the victim against the wild lions and tigers they were forced to play with) of ancient Rome. Expect all the brave matadors of Spain, and elsewhere, to lose their jobs some day – They can always do something else with their life – so that their playmates won’t risk losing their lives every time they gallop into the arena.

Anyways, you’ve got the picture. Hopefully this, um, terrible picture will help you remember the phrase from now on. Here are two more media examples:

1. The Guardian Media Group's director of digital strategy has told an industry conference that newspapers need to ‘think beyond Google’ to find a rights system for aggregated content.

Speaking at the Beyond the Printed Word conference in Vienna, Simon Waldman called Google a ‘fantastic red-rag’ that had, over recent months, got the newspaper industry ‘excited and infuriated’.

He said newspapers needed to address a fundamental shift in how news was distributed online - calling it a ‘shared problem that needed a shared solution’.

“This is not just about now, it’s not something that we want to crack this year or next year . . . it’s not about an individual player, it’s about an over-arcing trend in how content is distributed,” he added.

Mr Waldman said new online revenue streams were needed and that advertising could not be relied upon for sole income. He also said legislation might be needed to make search and aggregation services pay for content.

“I want our content to be distributed widely and I want a fair share of distribution rights,” he said.

“It’s not about putting company X out of business, it’s about creating a business distribution model.”

- Google is a ‘red rag to the newspaper industry’, Journalism.co.uk, September 11, 2006.

2. There is a myth that freedom of speech has been safely protected in England by the jury. This is almost precisely the opposite of the truth. Old Bailey juries (comprised until 1972 solely of property owners) usually did what they were told by judges, and convicted. Until 1959, the publisher of a book that contained any “purple passage” that might have a “tendency to deprave and corrupt those whose minds are open to such immoral influences” was liable to imprisonment. Literary standards were set at what was deemed acceptable reading for 14-year-old schoolgirls – whether or not they could, or would want to, read it. Merit was no defence: in 1928 Radclyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness was destroyed by a magistrate who realized to his horror that one line in the novel (“and that night they were not divided”) meant that two female characters had been to bed together. He said this would “induce thoughts of a most impure character and would glorify the horrible tendency of lesbianism”; the prosecution had Rudyard Kipling attend the court, in case the magistrate needed a literary expert to persuade him to “keep the Empire pure”. Censorship of sexual references in literature was pervasive in England in the 1930s (there was a brief respite for James Joyce’s Ulysses when a sumptuously bound copy was found among the papers of a deceased lord chancellor). In the 1950s police seized copies of the Kinsey report and prosecuted four major publishers for works of modern fiction – three were convicted. In this period, books by Henry Miller, Lawrence Durrell, Cyril Connolly and others were available only to those English readers who could afford to travel to Paris to purchase them.

In 1959, persuaded by the Society of Authors, parliament passed a new Obscene Publications Act with a preamble that promised “to provide for the protection of literature and to strengthen the law concerning pornography”. The distinction was to prove elusive, certainly to the attorney general, Reginald Manningham-Buller. In August 1960 he read the first four chapters of Lady Chatterley’s Lover on the boat train to Southampton and wrote to the director of public prosecutions approving the prosecution of Penguin Books (“I hope you get a conviction”). The key factor in the decision to prosecute was that Penguin proposed to sell the book for 3/6; in other words, to put it within easy reach of women and the working classes. This, the DPP’s files reveal, was what the upper-middle-class male lawyers and politicians of the time refused to tolerate.

The choice of Lady Chatterley as a test-case was inept, but it suited the anti-intellectual temper of the legal establishment and it would mean the defeat of an impeccably liberal cause. Besides, DH Lawrence had form. Back in 1915 all copies of The Rainbow had been seized by police and burned (as much for its anti-war message as for its openness about sex). In 1928, police threatened the publisher Martin Secker with prosecution unless it removed 13 pages from Pansies, a book of Lawrence’s poems. The publisher complied, but sent all its unexpurgated copies abroad. The following year police raided an exhibition of Lawrence’s paintings and seized every canvas on which they could descry any wisp of pubic hair. For the next 30 years British customs erected a cordon sanitaire to keep out smuggled copies of Lady Chatterley, which by this time was being published in France and Italy. So Lawrence was entrenched in prudish English minds as the filthy fifth columnist, an enemy much more dangerous than predictably dirty foreigners such as De Sade or Nabokov (whose banned Lolita would have been a more sensible target). With parochial arrogance, the prosecuting authorities ignored the New York court of appeal, which in 1959 had overturned a ban on Lady Chatterley because it was written with “a power and tenderness which was compelling” and which justified its use of four-letter Anglo-Saxon words.

Those words were a red rag to Manningham-Buller and the “grey elderly ones” (as Lawrence had described his censors), a breach of the etiquette and decorum relied on to cover up unpleasant truths. In 1960, in the interests of keeping wives dutiful and servants touching their forelocks, Lady Constance Chatterley’s affair with a gamekeeper was unmentionable. The prosecutors were complacent: they would have the judge on their side, and a jury comprised of people of property, predominantly male, middle aged, middle minded and middle class. And they had four-letter words galore: the prosecuting counsel’s first request was that a clerk in the DPP’s office should count them carefully. In his opening speech to the jury, he played them as if they were trump cards: “The word ‘fuck’ or ‘fucking’ appears no less than 30 times . . . ‘Cunt’ 14 times; ‘balls’ 13 times; ‘shit’ and ‘arse’ six times apiece; ‘cock’ four times; ‘piss’ three times, and so on.”

- The trial of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Guardian.co.uk, October 22, 2010.



About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at chinadaily.com.cn. He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at: zhangxin@chinadaily.com.cn, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.


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