UKIP and Greer – The Second Tragedy

As Oscar Wilde once observed, there are two tragedies in life: one is not getting what you want – the other is getting it.  As an astute profiler of human nature, Wilde saw clearly that human beings can go off the rails just as often by getting what we want as we can when we don’t get it.  Sometimes we’re like a cat that asks to be let out, only to sit and stare at the open door and wonder what to do.  We pine for liberation, but when we get it we don’t know what to do with it.

http://newsthump.com/2016/06/21/cats-would-vote-to-leave-eu-and-then-refuse-to-go-out/

Such is the case with UKIP.  Though they had other campaigns under their umbrella, they were basically a single-issue party set up to push for exiting the EU (as the process was then called.)  And they won – and now they don’t know what to do with themselves.  Instead of disbanding – or staying around just long enough to supervise the terms of Brexit – they have begun an internecine squabble which has resulted in them electing four leaders in the space of one year:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_UK_Independence_Party_leaders

Basically they don’t know what they’re for any more.  They got what they wanted and now they don’t know what to do.

A similar thing happened with Left Unity, a party set up as a response to Ken Loach’s film ‘Spirit of ’45’ in despair of the (then) Labour Party ever doing anything to defend public services:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Left_Unity_(UK)

But when Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader most of us switched back to regular Labour (having found Labour Lite utterly unsatisfactory) and it was thought by many that Left Unity should disband and throw its weight behind a Corbyn-led Labour Party.  But once set up, things have their own momentum (pun not intended) and people are often reluctant to let them go.

It is in this light that I am struggling to understand the recent behaviour of Germaine Greer.  As one who was hugely influenced by ‘The Female Eunuch’ in the ’70’s, I cannot comprehend the person she seems to have become, making statements that seem to wholly contradict the stance she took back then.  OK so she wants women to be strong and to fight back, but to dismiss the #metoo movement as ‘whingeing’ is just plain wrong, as is her insistence that in the old days:

“there were movies – the Carry On comedies, for example – which always had a man leering after women. And the women always outwitted him – he was a fool.”

I have to say that’s not my recollection of the ‘Carry On’ genre at all.

There’s a lot to this debate and this article deconstructs it much better than I can right now:

http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/germaine-greer-metoo-harvey-weinstein-spread-legs-reject-feminism-a8174211.html

Kirk out

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The Thought Police Dismisseth Us

There is much debate at the moment about policing our thoughts; in fact we are probably only a whisker away from yet another compound verb: to thought-police.  But this is nothing new: people were policing thoughts about sex for hundreds of years, especially during Victorian times when even the legs of chairs would get covered up lest men get lustful thoughts about a shapely calf.

People didn’t only police thoughts about sex.  Where certain forms of expression are taboo, thought-policing (there, I’ve done it myself now) cannot be far behind.  Hence servants, for example, would likely censor rebellious thoughts about their employers – or women about their husbands.*  When I was a child you couldn’t swear in public, and when a show-jumper called Harvey Smith raised two fingers at the cameras, he was hauled over the coals for it.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harvey_Smith_(equestrian)

In the age of deference the Royal Family never needed to worry about policing the press, because they policed themselves.  After all, it’s not that long since the offence of sedition was abolished (2009) though in practice it was defunct long before that.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sedition#United_Kingdom

Nowadays nobody is hanged, drawn and quartered for treason; nor are they imprisoned, as poor old William Blake was (probably falsely) for sedition.  But careers can be ruined and lives made impossible by a reckless tweet or a drunken misdemeanour; and last year an MP accused of sexual harassment killed himself:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/11/08/family-welsh-politician-killed-claim-labour-party-warned-mental/

So I reckon we have about the same level of self-policing; it’s just that the areas and the punishments have shifted.  But there’s a problem: whereas in the past it was pretty clear what was taboo and what wasn’t, nowadays it can get a little confusing.  Some things are obvious, such rape and molestation; but some aren’t.  Is it OK for a boss to ask out a female subordinate?  Is it OK if I tell a black guy his dreadlocks are amazing?

As it happens I did offend a guy recently by not realising he was Jewish.  I was looking for a beanie-type hat (I have to say his skull-cap didn’t look very traditional) and when I asked him where he’d got it he said frostily he’d bought it online.  When I said I was looking for something similar he said, in tones of ice, ‘you could try some Jewish websites.’

Then again, how was I to know?  The guy wasn’t dressed in traditional Jewish gear, he didn’t have a beard or long hair; he was just standing in line at the supermarket in a t-shirt and jeans.  He could have just said, ‘I’m Jewish and it’s a skull-cap,’ whereupon I would have apologised, instead of spending the rest of the day feeling foolish.

I guess we’re still working these things out.  But complaints about self-policing are not new: I remember people back in the ’70’s moaning about not being able to use the word ‘gay’ any more.  Gay people retorted that it was a fair swap, since they’d given back the word ‘queer.’  (Mind you, they’ve taken it back since and amended it…)

Yep, it’s a minefield out there.  But just because it’s complicated doesn’t mean we can get away with being an arse…

Kirk out

* in fact the killing of a husband by his wife was until 1826 a form of ‘petty treason’ as distinct from ‘high treason’.

 

 

A Black Peter Badge?

Black Mirror - Fifteen Million Merits.jpg

(image removed on request)

As the whole world knows, there are two types of Blue Peter badge; an ordinary one which you get for sending something into the programme, and a gold one which is awarded rarely for something special – like saving a life.  Such is the Mary Poppins–like image of Blue Peter that it came as a great surprise to me to learn that not only is there a silver Blue Peter Badge but also that Connie Huq – the longest-running presenter of the programme – is the partner of Charlie Brooker, creator of Black Mirror and the sneering anchor of a series of news satire programmes collectively known as ‘Wipes’.  Not only that, but Huq co-authored one of the best Black Mirror episodes, ’15 Million Merits.’  This takes place in a future world where work and its rewards are virtual: those at the bottom of the heap ride exercise bikes which power the TV series that everyone else watches.  It’s the ambition of every biker to get on one of these programmes.  Sound familiar?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fifteen_Million_Merits

I can’t be bothered to review the programme here, especially as OH has done a much better write-up:

https://zerothly.wordpress.com/2018/01/20/heres-one-she-prepared-earlier/

And whaddayaknow?  I thought I was just being cute combining Blue Peter with Black Mirror, but there actually is a Black Peter.  In the folklore of the Low Countries he is the companion of Santa Claus:

Knecht Ruprecht - Wikiwand

I had a picture prepared but I strongly suspect it’s a white woman blacked up, so I’m posting this one instead.  I will, however, post a link to today’s radio 4 ‘Point of View’ which is about ways in which we police ourselves:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b09m1c4w

Kirk out

 

Monster Hits and Monster Directors

There’s a big debate going on at the moment about whether we should support the work of artists who turn out to be monsters.  Where do you draw the line?  I would never knowingly go and see a film made by a Nazi or white supremacist, on the principle that I want nothing to do with such people.  But what about Woody Allen?  I used to love his work but now I don’t know if I ever want to see a film of his again.

There’s a similar question around Harvey Weinstein.  He’s done some terrific work but can I still watch it, now that I know what he’s like alone in a hotel room?  And what about Roman Polanski?  Can we – should we – divorce the person from the work?

I still can’t make up my mind about this.  It seems to me that there ought to be some sort of coherence here; that if a man is a monster it will come through somehow in his work.  But although Woody Allen’s later films are a pile of self-indulgent mush, his earlier work still dazzles.  I still love Annie Hall; and he was a monster when he made it.  So what to do?

It seems clear that there are men against whom the welter of evidence is conclusive.  I firmly believe that Woody Allen and Harvey Weinstein are guilty of the acts of which they are accused (if not all, then most.)  But there are other cases where the accused ought, as in any other case, to be given the benefit of the doubt while investigations take place – and they’re not.  I have no idea whether Kevin Spacey was guilty as claimed, but he’s been made a pariah all the same, along with many others.  Did he deserve this?

I don’t know.

The problem with the #metoo campaign is the problem with public discourse in general.  On one side we have the accusers, supported by feminists and others; in the opposite corner we have the accused, supported by their friends and those who think sexual harassment is either a joke or something women are making way too much fuss about.  This is not simply a case of men vs women: many men have supported the victims and some women have spoken against, notably Catherine Deneuve.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/jan/14/french-feminists-catherine-deneuve-metoo-letter-sexual-harassment

As the Guardian article above points out, Deneuve and others make some reasonable points but have been accused of ‘supporting rape culture’, such is the gladiatorial nature of public discourse.

But there’s another problem with these offences.  It’s not like dealing with murder or GBH.  It’s not even like dealing with a straightforward theft (and good luck getting the police to take any notice of that nowadays).  These offences take place in private, in a situation where it is often impossible to prove or disprove consent.  Rape is of course an offence and can be reported; but what do you do, say, when a man like Michael Fallon (a government minister at the time) keeps putting his hand on your knee despite repeated requests to stop?  What do you do when a man leans in a little too close and looks down the front of your dress, or touches you on the back and lets his hand wander down to your arse or (as Jimmy Savile repeatedly did) sticks his tongue down your mouth?  You’d have better luck reporting the theft of a stapler than going to the police with that.  So what do you do?  The newsreader pestered by Michael Fallon threatened to punch him, but I’m not sure I’d be comfortable with that.

We need to stick up for ourselves and for each other – but more than that, we need to change the environment to make this kind of harassment completely unacceptable.  So, does that involve not going to see Annie Hall any more?

I don’t know.  Here’s an article that might shed some light on the question:

https://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2017/11/20/art-monstrous-men/

Kirk out

Bayeux Beware

The oldest cartoon strip in the world may be coming to Canterbury.  Horrible Histories has nothing on this huge story told frame by frame in sections measuring between three and eighteen feet – and if talks between Emmanuel Macron and Theresa May go well (and why wouldn’t they?  Everything’s been going swimmingly up to now) the tapestry will be coming to Britain.

The most famous scenes in the Bayeux Tapestry are of Harold being killed by an arrow (see above) and the first known representation of Halley’s Comet:

Bayeux Tapestry / B.T., 33, Halley's comet.jpg

https://www.britannica.com/topic/Bayeux-Tapestry

Still, you can’t help wondering at the timing of this.  Why does Macron want to do this now?  Is it connected to Brexit?  Is he digging a virtual arrow in the ribs and sniggering at how, nine hundred years ago, we were overrun by Guillaume le Conquerant?  I think we should be told.

Whatever the reason, it will be fascinating to see it:

http://www.bayeuxmuseum.com/en/la_tapisserie_de_bayeux_en.html

Plus, what with it having survived over nine centuries, that makes it almost as miraculous as Friends.

Kirk out

Futility

There’s something about a Wednesday afternoon.  When I was a student this midweek time was given over to sports and leisure: you would wander round during fresher’s week signing up for boxing and ice skating and generally end up by week three hanging out in the coffee bar with your friends.  But this tradition seems to have gone by the board now, so that, instead of being a fallow period, Wednesday afternoon is a slump, a time when the enthusiasm of Monday has waned and the fun of Friday seems a long way away.

I’ve come to the conclusion that fallow periods are important.  Quakers, for example, traditionally don’t celebrate Christmas as every day is supposed to be special: and that’s fine, except that Christmas and New Year for many people are times of hibernation; a period when you can legitimately disconnect from everything and everyone.

In farming, too, it used to be the tradition to leave land fallow every fourth year in order to rest the soil – but that seems to have gone by the board now in favour of more and more fertilisers (there’s an evolving story on The Archers at the moment where Home Farm seems to have poisoned the River Am with nitrates.)

Then there’s the principle of Sunday as a day of rest (it doesn’t have to be Sunday but it’s convenient to have a day when nearly everyone’s off work.)  This morning on Thought for the Day Giles Fraser talked about the boringness of church being a good thing, as it’s important to allow time and space for the mind to wander.  I agree with him up to a certain point (though as a child my mind was never allowed to wander because you were supposed to pay attention.)  But there’s an important principle at stake here, which is that boredom is not some kind of disease to be eradicated but a fallow state which can be a prelude to great creativity.  When our kids said they were bored, instead of entertaining them we’d say ‘I’m sure you’ll find something to do.’  And they usually did.

I am more and more aware of the need to allow my mind to lie fallow.  It’s all too easy for the work ethic to sit on your shoulder and crack the whip, so that if you haven’t produced a certain number of words, you’ve done nothing.  This is not the case.  When the mind is in that fallow, ‘dreaming’ state, there’s no way to tell what you’ve done, because it’s happening under the radar – just as the regeneration of the fallow soil is happening in subtle, invisible ways.

Even so, on days like today I can feel a sense of futility.  What have I achieved?  What am I doing?  Where’s it all going?  What is the point?  These questions bump around in my head like particles in a Large Hadron Collider.

https://home.cern/topics/large-hadron-collider

But if I stop trying to ‘work’ and just let things be, something interesting will happen.  I’m not sure what, but I’ll keep you posted.

The final thought for today is that there are parallels between the First World War and the state of the NHS – not in the severity of the situation, but in terms of the leaders and those on the ground.  Doctors and nurses working in the NHS today truly are lions led by donkeys – and the sooner we get rid of this government, the better.  So now that we’ve arrived at the First World War, here’s a taste of true futility:

Futility

Move him into the sun—
Gently its touch awoke him once,
At home, whispering of fields half-sown.
Always it woke him, even in France,
Until this morning and this snow.
If anything might rouse him now
The kind old sun will know.
Think how it wakes the seeds—
Woke once the clays of a cold star.
Are limbs, so dear-achieved, are sides
Full-nerved, still warm, too hard to stir?
Was it for this the clay grew tall?
—O what made fatuous sunbeams toil
To break earth’s sleep at all?
Kirk out

Are Friends Eclectic?

I’ve got a confession to make: I’ve been binge-watching on Netflix.  I have no excuse to offer: it’s not even a new series like Black Mirror.  No, the programme I’m currently streaming into my consciousness is one I’ve watched a dozen times before.  Not only that, we have it on DVD (though in storage) and prior to that, we had about a hundred VHS tapes which we gave away to a deserving cause.  Yes, it’s the sitcom which they used to say that at any given moment in time someone in the world would be watching.  It’s Friends, the New York story of three men and three women over a ten-year period as they progress from youth to settling down.

There’s much to dislike about Friends.  It’s kinda schmaltzy in places and, though all the characters claim to have hang-ups about their appearance, they are all quite stunningly glossy (apart from Matthew Perry, which is perhaps why Chandler is my favourite character.)  There are also hardly any black or Asian characters in it – at least until series 10 when Ross dates fellow academic Charlie.  It’s also set entirely indoors, apart from a few outside broadcast scenes at the beach and an unconvincing studio ‘street.’  But aside from these shortcomings, Friends has so many strengths I hardly know where to begin.  Like Frasier, it combines intelligent comedy with slapstick: though less overtly intellectual than the Seattle-based sitcom, there has clearly been a great deal of thought given to the characters and situations.  Where Frasier’s Achilles heel, his ego, lets him down each time, in Friends each person has a different character flaw.  Rachel is self-centred and narcissistic; Ross is the spoilt Jewish Peter Pan; Chandler is avoidant, Monica has OCD, Joey is a hedonist and Phoebe a fantasist.

Friends epitomises the melting-pot of America; each character represents an aspect of (white) America.  Ross and Monica are Jewish, Rachel is a WASP, Chandler is Dutch, Joey is Italian American, and so on.  From time to time their families come into the story and give the characters background and texture: would we understand Monica’s OCD so well if we hadn’t seen how her mother treats her?  Would we realise why Ross is so pathetic if we hadn’t seen him with his parents?  Would we condone Phoebe’s fantasy world if we didn’t know about her previous life on the street?

Materially, they each represent different strata of society: Rachel has a rich, privileged background while Phoebe was abandoned as a baby: Chandler had a materially privileged though emotionally deprived childhood, Joey grew up in a large, hard-up family and Ross and Monica hold the middle ground.

Now let’s consider the story-lines.  These are a brilliant mix of long-term and short-term; the longest-running being the on-off-on relationship between Ross and Rachel which started before episode 1 and isn’t resolved until the last minute of the final episode.  Rachel and Monica went to school together, and we get glimpses into this history from time to time.

The second longest is the relationship between Monica and Chandler.  They get together in series 5 at Ross’s wedding and stay together until the end, by which point they have adopted twin babies.  A comic storyline interweaves between these, centring on the ubiquity of Janice.  Originally Chandler’s girlfriend, the loud woman with the grating laugh surfaces in every series and even turns up to plague him in the very last episode.  In series 4 he has to take a plane to Yemen to get rid of her.

Then there’s work.  Monica progresses through various unsatisfactory jobs to be a head chef: Phoebe is a masseuse (and remains one, as befits her anti-materialistic character), Chandler spends most of the decade in data processing but eventually quits to begin a new career in advertising: Ross progresses from working in a museum of prehistory to lecturing at the university and Joey’s career has all the ups and down’s you’d expect from a jobbing actor.

But the character who goes through the most changes is Rachel.  Jennifer Aniston is far and away the best actor of the six; though it’s a tribute to the levelling effect of the series that she doesn’t appear to be the star.  At the start, Rachel has run out on her wedding to Barry, an unreliable but wealthy dentist, whom she is marrying mainly for reasons of social status.  Rachel is spoilt and dependent and has no idea how to support herself: she gets a job at the coffee-house where they all hang out but eventually quits before she is fired, and finds her way into fashion.  By the end of the series she has become her own person.

Friends is more than a sitcom: there’s a mix of comedy and seriousness which is nicely balanced.  In the saddest moments there is comedy; and in the funniest there is seriousness.  The dialogue is also sparkling: check out the scripts on this site:

http://www.livesinabox.com/friends/1001.shtml

I could go on and on about this.  But I won’t.  And to think, this post was originally going to be about Quakers…

Kirk out