Death becomes a favourite and love goes terminal;Newsreel;The Week in View

27th March 1998 at 00:00
Not a great week for the Brits, what with tears in Tinseltown and ignominy in Antigua; but the makers of The Full Monty, with one measly Oscar, can take comfort in the knowledge that it will be put to good use in Hull.

Hard on the heels of the chief inspector's broadside on educational research we learn that academics are spending more than pound;4,000 in that city on videos and vodka in an attempt to discover the connections between alcohol, cheerfulness and health. An inter-university group, Associates for the Research into the Science of Enjoyment, is concerned about people's apparent inability to enjoy themselves without feeling guilty.

The lucky hundred volunteers will consume either vodka or innocuous "placebo" drinks while watching videos, like the one featuring the hesitant male strippers from Sheffield, to test the relative ratio of booze to belly laughs. Nice work.

In this post-feminist age, male problems were in the news again: fears about early learning turning boys into truants; Etonians lacking female role models; and an American variation on men behaving badly.

Bristol University researchers analysed a survey of a group of 17-year-old Americans begun in 1980. To their surprise they discovered that those who indulged in under-age drinking had better jobs 10 years later than their law-abiding contemporaries. Comparable UK data isn't available. Mr Woodhead, please note.

Badly-behaved men have spread their flaming habits to the Internet, Janet Morahan-Martin, professor of psychology at Bryant college, Rhode Island, told an international research conference. "Flaming" - Internet jargon for uncensored hostility, deters women so much that many have adopted men's names to avoid harassment endemic in "netiquette". Even the metaphors for the net - information superhighway, cyberspace and the electronic frontier - are masculine, she said. Women who don't use the technology, but whose partners do risk becoming cyberwidows, victims of virtual affairs, cybersex and terminal love.

She warned that computer games reflected male themes of adventure, violence and competition. "What is striking is the lack of female presence. The toy has changed from a mechanical to an electronic one but by implication the Internet is the latest boys' toy."

So it's a relief to learn that a real-life creature has been turned into a toy. The Triops, dating from the Triassic period - 200 million years - lay eggs which do not hatch unless they are in water. Children can watch the three-centimetre, shrimp-like creature sift sand for food in the comfort of jam-jars where they can live for up to 70 days. Eggs can be hatched or allowed to lie dormant for another rainy day. Tamagotchi makers are retaliating with a fighting version of their virtual pet called Digi-Mon. Back to the boys again.

But there will be less of the old school tie about in Blair's Britain with the Foreign Office plan to recruit ambassadors through newspaper adverts instead of the traditional route of Oxbridge and 15 years in the diplomatic service. The mandarins are said not to be amused.

They should not have been surprised as observers pointed out that the Labour Cabinet has just five Oxbridge graduates, a record low as the last time Labour was in power under Jim Callaghan there were 13.

It's not been a good week for Oxford with Booker prize-winner VS Naipaul confessing in a Bombay magazine that he hated the place and tried to commit suicide there. The Trinidadian's comments surprised his erstwhile Fellows. "I don't think he has quite forgiven us for giving him a second-class degree," one remarked.

In any case, is it worth all that work getting a degree, especially one from an ex-poly or FE college said to be not highly-rated by employers? After all, John Major, Julie Burchill and Sir Terence Conran have done quite nicely without.

Many won't get the chance with the Government bent on making higher education increasingly expensive. Perhaps the 6,000-odd students surveyed in the top 19 universities are the last of an affluent era: researchers found they owned an impressive array of the latest technology. More than a half had a television, a quarter owned a video, a third a personal computer and one in six a mobile phone. Nearly a quarter had a car. But one in six said they would have been unlikely to go to university had they been required to pay tuition fees.

Not even for Reading? As margarine tubs signed by Diana, Princess of Wales, raising money for her charities, reached the supermarket shelves, Reading University announced that its masters course called "Death and Society", which was prompted by her fatal accident, has proved immensely popular.

Death is a very fashionable topic, said Tony Walter, the course director, who has illustrated the Web page about it with a graphic of a running skeleton. "Reading has a level of international excellence in this area over a number of departments." And they say that Americans lack irony.

Diane Spencer

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