When Ed Became a Man

A real man: Sir Roger Moore.

Three years ago I attended the Women of the World (WOW) festival at the Royal Festival Hall. The aim was to finally empathise with women and their concerns, having deeply despised the bevaginated up to that point. It worked but left my masculinity in crisis. Until WOW, all my assumptions about being a man were safe as overpriced houses. Signing letters with my ink-dipped Gentleman’s Relish, percussing a lady’s buttocks to make a backing track for homemade music, building cars from old computer bits; this seemed to me the quintessence of the male experience.

But now, though I regarded all the feminoids in my life as fully rounded human beings; an observation they really appreciated; life was harder because I couldn’t fall back on those comforting, lazy behaviours; those handy bits of social programming that had hitherto formed the pillars of my identity. I was lost, deeply unhappy and, as you’ll have read recently, approaching a decade without second party genital stimulation; something I assumed to be a direct result of radiating contempt for anything with breasts for so many wasted years.

What I needed was an orientation in how to be a man in an era where showing up and placing your testicles on the counter was no longer enough. My old chum, Katrina, who’d originally insisted that I attend WOW as she could no longer explain to mutual acquaintances why I violently threw up whenever unisex socialisation was mentioned, again gallantly rode to my rescue, in a conscious inversion of the damsel in distress dynamic of yore.

There was a new event at Festival Hall, though complimentary, not a competitor – competition’s the regressive imperative of the caveman. Organiser Judith Kelly, who’d later tell us she loved men despite the WOW 2013 observation that we were all potential rapists, had called it BAM: Being a Man. That’s being a man, as in exploring the condition of maleness, rather than any unreconstructed notion of manning up, drying any tears and thumping the first bastard who ogles your life partner (formally bird).

Why, that being the case, had she chosen a violent sounding acronym; the onomatopoeic evocation of an upper cut to some bloke’s Chevy Chase? Why did the women get something positive and complimentary, “Wow!”, while we were stuck with brutal and loutish – the sort of word men use when recounting a fight to other men after ten pints? Or could the title be an unconscious throwback to the Wham Rap (Enjoy What You Do), when saying wham, indeed, bam, was a prelude to saying “I am a man”, and being proud of the fact, even if the song positioned it as something hedonistic and economically inactive? We’d never know for certain.

So on a cold Saturday in November, Katrina and I once again met at the food market outside the Hall and prepared for re-education. She was looking forward to learning the potential of maleness, perhaps even adopting some of that potential if she liked what was on offer, whereas I was nervous. What if, with each alternative iteration laid bare, I fancied my old way of thinking? What if I was bloke-shamed and couldn’t windmill and use gynocentric insults with the same abandon as before? Katrina, sensing my anxiety, tried to put my mind at rest. “You’re not much of a man, now,” she reminded me, “so whatever happens in there can only improve the situation. Who knows, after this, you might even be able to pull someone desperate, assuming you don’t mind bed sores and drooling!” Good ol’ Kat. She always knew what to say.

Having decided to avoid ‘How to be a Superman’ as neither of us approved of eugenics, our first event was a debate entitled, ‘Language Police: Can Men Say What They’re Thinking?’ This touched on the thorny issue of male expression, and how a changing political climate and new consciousness, sensitive to the arguments and demands of identity politics, had the potential to rob men of their voice. If I couldn’t be misogynistic, crude, boorish, aggressive and imperious, insisting on controlling and dominating every chat of which I was a part, then I might end up with no words left. I’d have to grunt and nod, and even that might be considered a bit much.

Chair Tim Samuels offered up the nightmarish spectre of political correctness as a form of tyranny; a brave position to take in an audience of beards and feminists, who were in no mood to be told that a mass no platforming was potentially unhealthy and might lead to some kind of reactionary backlash, an example of which is fortunately lacking in recent history.

Arguing the case for self-censorship was young buck Ben Norris – a poet, so on the sensitive side of the male spectrum, but also tardy; the seventh man to register his name on Twitter. Norris thought men, free of women’s civilising presence, needed “better jokes” and more self-discipline. He was part of the new generation of metrosexuals that watched their P’s and Q’s on social media – in fact, all ferry companies, and decreed that it was every man’s duty and responsibility to be a feminist, whether female activists and thinkers wanted it or not. He’d made this declaration because journalist Andrew Hankinson, the third man, had recalled being told to “fuck off” when weighing in on the subject by a defensive female comedian who saw any male thinking on the topic as a land grab. I reflected that I was a feminist, and that no one, of any gender-stripe, had the right to tell me otherwise. To do so was tantamount to policing thought; a view that put me both at odds and in agreement with Norris. Man, being a geezer was confusing.

With the temperature in the room rising (the air con was broken) and Hankinson getting a barracking from an angry gay man who took him to task for presuming to legally define hate crime (in a clumsy response to a question on the right to be offended), Judith Kelly, watching from the dugout, now intervened to re-frame the debate. Feminism wasn’t about excluding men, she explained, contradicting some of the evidence given by Hankinson, and BAM wasn’t about pulling men up on their deficiencies, though most of the sessions assumed they were profound, rather it was a celebration of brothers, lovers, fathers and sons. There was no mention of single men without family or a partner, but everyone agreed such a person wasn’t strictly human anyway.

I found the intervention strange, and by extension indicative of the fact that the longer a conversation on men being able to say what they wanted persisted, the uglier it was bound to get. Yet letting it go where it would was, I thought, the difference between a truthful exchange and one that made you feel better. What did Katrina think? “I want to talk to you about this but we’ve got to get on” she said. Denied a voice. Again!

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The mind your language debate, or whatever it was called.

Next was a session entitled ‘Youth and Young Manhood’, ostensibly a discussion on “how youth and subculture is used in men’s fashion” but actually a group of Grime artists and writers, including Grant Brydon and Halfbrother, who I obviously knew a lot about, talking about their music and influences. Comparisons with punk were fallacious apparently, as Grime had not yet been co-opted by the mainstream, and its appeal lay in men who liked to go out, fuck and whatever, recounting their experiences, as such things were otherwise never discussed. I learned that something called The Flatbush Zombies existed, which sounded great, and from Katrina, an artist called Skepta, that didn’t. We left after a man channelling Steven Toast asked if the gang were aware that the organisers of a Brighton music festival had been worried about booking them because they were black. They didn’t know that and, one sensed, didn’t want to.

A note passed during the Grime discussion. Mine is the neat handwriting, obviously.

A note passed during the Grime discussion. Mine is the neat handwriting, obviously.

‘Shy Guys’ was a discussion around, er, shyness and introversion, which though celebrated in women, as no one likes a loud and familiar lady, ‘cause it’s vulgar and unvarnished, was considered a real handicap if you had a wang. Successful men, goes the old thinking, are assertive, voluble and confident. Those that have these traits get on, not to mention being revered, hypocritically, by women attracted to the qualities they are themselves encouraged to suppress, and which patriarchy in its wisdom has coded as male.

Joe Moran, chairing, turned the heads of the assembled inside out, articulating the thoughts of those in the room, male or female, who found this idiotic veneration of extroversion and brio both suffocating and anathema to their constitution. Shyness, we all understood, was a nuanced and ever shifting phenomenon that plagued you at certain times of life and varied according to context and company. That it was debilitating could not be denied, but only, one realised, because it was not understood (particularly by those of a different temperament) and had never been celebrated.

Alan Bennett, recalled Moran, was one writer who saw shyness as a virtue, signalling a thoughtful and refined mindset. I wasn’t going to be the one to say that when stumbling on my words and unable to make conversation I’m usually thinking of bare breasts clashing like symbols. Still, I left happy that as a shy man who often avoids social contact, because the prospect’s overwhelming, and who often makes mistakes when live, on account of feeling uncomfortable and self-conscious, I was normal, and it was those who shouted louder and made better connections who were attention seeking freaks just as I’d always suspected.

A shy snap of the discussion on the joys of being timid.

A shy snap of the discussion on the joys of being timid.

At this point we were due to see a session on Pornography, in which we expected to be told that it was about power, control and the crude, guilt-free objectification of ladies. The debate was to centre on how porn was warping male sexuality, normalising fantasy, ruining the act for women, not that I needed a primer on that, and retarding a generation. But when we got there we hit a tell-tale queue of men anxious to learn about something they’d never consumed, and knew only from media coverage. I imagined this less as a debate, more than an open invitation to therapy, but unable to join in, we left it behind, and perhaps the last chance I’d ever have to find out if joining a bukkake circle was a reasonable pre-condition for library membership, or just the twisted wheeze of my local council.

Following a lecture on masculinity by Grayson Perry, which I don’t recall in detail as I was focused on his shoes and how I’d love a pair just like them, Kat and I topped out our day with a debate on gender quality, imaginatively titled ‘Equal Rights’. This was the nub of the matter, how men could not only find it in their cocks to embrace a world in which they were no longer unconditionally dominant, but help the women in their life rob them of the power and privilege they’d worked so hard for since birth.

Judith Kelly was once again on hand to offer advice on maleness, as were a panel, who tackled thorny subjects like men checking out of feminism between ejaculations of activism, what the average man could do to expedite the revolution, and why expectations related to maleness, like being a father, earning a crust, were cruel constructs that had the potential to ruin lives. I listened hard and emerged with this simple five point guide to being a man.

  1. Being a man is giving yourself permission to fail at everything, especially your write up of BAM.
  2. Alpha males are indeed twats as we’ve always known, and can be ignored, as one day, a few centuries hence, they’ll be regarded the way we look back on slave owners today.
  3. Having a penis is a licence to have fun with your hair and clothes but it’s also a responsibility.
  4. A man who listens is much more likely to hear his name being called, and;
  5. Real men know women aren’t the enemy, just a critical friend who hates your guts.

As Katrina and I left Festival Hall, forever changed, she turned, daring to look me in the eyes for the first time that day. “Just so you know,” she said, “I’ve never thought of you as a man. I wouldn’t pigeonhole you.” And we made our way along the riverside, with enlightened tears of gratitude streaming down my bestubbled face.

The sun setting on the day and all my lazy male assumptions.

The sun setting on all my lazy male assumptions.

BAM was at the Southbank Centre from November 25th-27th 2016. If men survive, it will return. #BeingAManFest

Published in: on November 28, 2016 at 19:33  Leave a Comment  
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In a Lonely Place

bogie

For most of my life I’ve felt alone. Not Ancient Mariner alone, but pretty lonely nonetheless. My reliable companions have been waking dreams, fantasies and a thousand slimy things. But all too often the tangible connection with other human beings that settles the mind and gladdens the heart has not been there. Oh no, you’re thinking, a woe piece. Well, get comfy, there’s a working reservoir of self-pity to walk around and we’ve barely reached the first water turbine.

From the age of 16 to 29, for 11 of those 13 years, I was involved in what are sometimes called “serious relationships” with people I now know to be women. These were the kind of unions where you’re asked questions like, “where is this going?” and “what are you thinking?” Back then, without Siri’s help, there were no good answers. I never felt anything other than insecure, frightened, inadequate, ill-equipped and misunderstood.

But on the plus side, at least there was a dug to suck.

Did those girlfriends notice? I can’t ask them, they live in the past. I recall them interpreting any statement that encroached on honesty and soul baring as excuses; the kind of thing men say when, reduced to an abstraction, “men”, they’re labelled as shit. Misandry has its own self-sustaining logic. But these were only excuses the way a man with no legs is being lazy when he says he can’t wiggle his toes.

If you rally against cookie cutter expectations you’re a deviant, an oddball; you deserve to be the object of ridicule and pity, left alone to become the kind of poor bastard that decades hence is labelled a loner by a tabloid journalist in connection with a brutal homicide. But no one I generously shared those precious months and years of my life with was ever interested in me as I was.

By that I mean, they benchmarked me against an archetype, of the kind drawn in Disney studios and played in old weepies, and found me wanting. Curiously, I don’t share the outlook or values of a gender construct. That’s the boon that comes with being a real person. It’s a sure fire bet that anyone who does identify with a set of clichés has never had an original thought in their lives. I could never get excited about playing a role so a woman brought up on fairy tales could regress to childhood and enjoy that fantasy, feeling the false security that comes with it. Fantasies are wonderful; I know, because as an aforementioned real, three dimensional human being, not just the wang to someone’s fouf, I’ve enjoyed a few treasured scenarios of my own. But reality, problematic though it is, can be even better, not least when it takes the form of two people who understand and complement one another.

Ten years ago this weekend, figurative loneliness became real, perhaps permanent. I went from having the emotional and physical intimacy that comes with a long-term relationship to having nothing at all, not even the comfort of the concept, or the belief that for all my shortcomings, which are considerable, someone out there could see past them, as perhaps someone looks past yours.

I ask all the happy and loved amongst you to believe (wherever you place yourself on that northern hemisphere sized spectrum) that being told you are not loved by that special someone, is like being downgraded to a person of no consequence. This is knowing cruelty, vested on you by the custodian of your self-worth. It’s brutal, like bear baiting and ITV2.

Your constituent stuff – your soul, your mind, your heart, whatever you call the abstruse elements that make you Ingeborg Kristiansen (if that’s your name), struggles to recover. This is your own personal 9/11, it’s Brexit of the brain. Every day is President Trump’s inauguration. Maybe you’ll love again, perhaps others will take a fleeting interest, but the good times, if they ever existed, are over. Never again will you believe that affection doesn’t come priced up. You intuit it’s a loan not a gift, and one administered by those usurers at Wonga.

I’ve always taken the lion’s share of the blame for my losses; after all, the entirety must be doled out, takers or no. Guilt, inadequacy and a brief glimpse at your caricature, as imagined by the other party, allow masochism to thrive. Just don’t talk about the truth. The truth’s a great leveller.

Wounded by past struggles, and desolate at how little of what I shared in a bid to manage expectations was absorbed or understood, I’ve made no attempt this past decade to find a new companion. But I take a small crumb of comfort from knowing that I won’t be patronised when I get home tonight, or dragged into an argument about nothing, or forced to show an interest in something I don’t care about, or told to get my glad rags on (bought for me, naturally) because Torben and Lucy are coming round for drinks. Yes Torben, with his boorish car obsession and tendency to stare at my other half’s breasts, and Lucy who I know tells her she can do better when I’m safely out of earshot. There’s worse things than being single, you see. Like being alone in a relationship.

By chance and association I’ve met wonderful women who’ve tickled my brain and shaken my loins (not literally), but I know, because I’m one of these awful people sensitive to psychological cues, that they think less of me than I do of them. Some just haven’t found me attractive (the blind, the insane, the terminally ill), whereas others have judged me as remote, boring, cold, damaged, wrongheaded and weird. I’m not fishing for compliments; I don’t need plastic reassurance, and I‘ll pass on the comedic (or indeed, sincere) undercutting of the same too, e.g. “I agree, you’re a CUNT”. It’s what others think, it’s not what I know. But they think it anyway, and the effect is the same as it being true – a gulf opens, then widens. It’s a rum do.

It’s hard to be indifferent to this stuff. I don’t think I’ve ever been indifferent about anything, bar Galactica 1980. Knowing you’re judged makes you withdraw. You feel unable to reach out to people. And whereas I used to take some comfort from knowing that most peripherals remained so because we were temperamentally mismatched, even ideologically opposed – just too different, I’ve since lost purchase on people I fancied as kindred spirits. But then one of life’s cruel ironies is that even if you recognise yourself in others, they don’t always recognise themselves in you (or don’t want to).

As I lumber toward this unfortunate anniversary, my decade on the shelf next to old 8mm snuff movies in dusty cans, I feel regret at having not taken more chances to enjoy being myself, free of others’ expectations. There’s still time of course; time enough to embrace Satanic worship, gangsterism and living under a tree. I just have to push myself.

For years I’ve been prone to bouts of what I now recognise as depression, as well as health scares, family worries and acute anxiety about the future. I’ve by and large kept these things to myself, occasionally sharing with a trusted few. It’s crowded out headspace that might otherwise have been reserved for more desirous things like going to a Harvester and breaking bread and all-you-can-eat salad with a loved up lovely.

Will the lonely decade become two? It’s not a bad bet. But then, Andy Burnham as Labour Leader, Remain winning the EU vote, President Hilary Clinton, and a second series of John Gordon Sinclair sitcom Nelson’s Column – all were certainties once. Fancy a punt?

Published in: on November 25, 2016 at 15:47  Leave a Comment  
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High Court rules “Thinking Allowed” in Brexit debate, Press Appalled.

gina-miller

It’s official, Britain’s now a country officially suspicious of nuanced argument – a post-fact society. The High Court’s ruling on triggering Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, the starting gun for our exit from the EU, has caused moral outrage in the popular press. The judiciary dared to side with a concerned (and whisper it quietly, educated) citizen, Gina Miller, respecting the efforts of her and her lawyers to understand and interpret the law of the land. Contrast this with the increasingly belligerent and thought terminating mass of Leave voters; 17.4 million, who, just like the SNP in Scotland, now presume to speak for all of the people, just as I’ve presumed to speak for all of them.

The Mail was one of many rags incandescent that Miller, born in Guyana, which isn’t even in Britain, if you can believe the fucking cheek of it, had dared to challenge the Prime Minister’s naked attempt at political sleight of hand. May, with a wink and a grin, argued the referendum result gave her the authority to bypass Parliament and trigger the treaty’s get out clause, using enabling powers wrestled from the Crown; you know, the lever the Monarch used to pull when enacting God’s Will, that most divine instrument of mass democracy.

But as our terminal rights as EU citizens are guaranteed by an act of parliament, namely the 1972 European Communities Act, one can’t, to paraphrase the great philosopher Sean Bean, simply remove them using the Queen’s authority. You may remember we fought a bloody civil war over principles like this; the idea that Parliament was sovereign, and it should decide, as a law making body, representative of we the people, what we do or don’t enjoy. In fact, the Guardian pointed out that the legal precedent in question stretched back all the way to 1297 and a ruling against Henry IV, who tried to implement a blanket ban on merchants’ rights to work in London.

As UKIP and their ilk love Britain’s illustrious history and traditions (bar its post-war immigration policies), one would think they’d be delighted by this judicial history lesson, and affirmation of Parliamentary supremacy. Yet weirdly, Nigel Farage, Paul Dacre, Rupert Murdoch, and other patriots, saw it as an affront; a finger to the millions who understood, because David Cameron told them so, that their decision would mean an end to all debate on the subject, forever.

That’s right, there’d be no thought, post-referendum; no scrutiny, and certainly no changing of minds, which once upon a time was considered a sign of rude intellectual health. The 16.1m who voted to remain were expected to return to their lattes, gym memberships and Scandinavian boxsets, and close their blow holes. And that went double for their MPs.

You might think it healthy that Miller and her fellow campaigners, some of whom voted for Brexit, cared enough about our constitution to challenge May’s hijacking of Parliament. After all, how many people do you know understand that Bagehot isn’t an urban word meaning “great tits”?  How many pub Brexiters, knocking back a pint of dirty pipes and whining about their Columbian Doctor, have ever taken an independent interest in our great institutions of state?

Miller et al. fought for the principle that now the public’s made its light touch contribution, subjecting that simple, school leaver’s in/out choice to variable levels of scrutiny and understanding, our elected representatives should earn their salaries and thoroughly debate the terms of our departure, crucially reserving the right to vote against it if they didn’t like the direction of travel.

An affront to direct democracy, you say? Well, that’s the problem with referendums isn’t it? They only signal the destination, not the journey. That’s fine if the question is something elementary like choosing a voting system or changing the currency, but leaving the EU is an absurdly complicated business, impacting on every aspect of British life; it touches all our institutions, our economy, our culture, our rights. May, in effect, was saying, “I understand it’s complicated, but we’ve taken our instruction from those who at best were misinformed, at worst, driven by factors that had nothing to do with the cases presented in the campaign, and despite our contempt for these people and our belief that the subtleties of the argument are lost to many of them, we’re going to shamelessly appropriate that vote, recast it as moral authority, and use it to bypass those who would subject our approach to proper scrutiny. In short, the brain trust comprised of me, Liam Fox, David Davis and Boris Johnson – a man who actually invoked the Titanic when talking about our successes to come, are handling it. Now go back to sleep and we’ll see you in 2020.”

No one wants Brexit scrutinised, or even debated, least of all Nigel Farage and his retinue, because they quite rightly fear the consequences. You see, it’s just possible that when the terms of our exit are suggested and washed through the parliamentary system, subject to debate, legal opinions, upper house scrutiny, amendments, more debate, more thought, further amendments, more scrutiny, and so on, it may start to look somewhat problematic. It’s even possible that the public, as the reality dawns on them, may start to look at the problem more closely, demanding a general election to have a further right of reply.

Naturally, the “winners” in the Brexit debate are desperate that this doesn’t happen; that docility reigns. Consequently, the Europhobe press, who continue to write for those with a reading age of 11, have moved with rapidity and the panic dial set to the same figure, to quash their invitation to look again, before it gains troublesome momentum. Farage’s sheep, and their media apologists, want to keep it simple, because this both flatters their intellectually wanting conception of the issue, and remains their best chance of achieving a dream built on a boorish identity under threat.

Brexit’s disingenuous intellectuals, who’ve always known that their best chance of achieving a cultural and politically favourable nirvana was to appeal to the laziest instincts of the people, while burying the root causes of their discontentment, have declared war on argument and by extension, fact. The devil’s always been in the detail, but in our new post-fact culture, there’s a sinister new development. The devil’s now committed to denying the detail – neutralising nuance, terminating thought. Lucky for us that Gina Miller cared enough to use her own money to challenge that strategy. Thinking’s won its first post-referendum victory. Let’s hope it’s not the last, for the road ahead is so very long.

Published in: on November 4, 2016 at 15:16  Comments (1)  
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“Have you seen the Brian De Palma film, Sisters?”: Opinionoid sits down with Jeremy Corbyn

jc

In the wake of his decisive victory, I sat down with the Labour leader to discuss where he and the party go from here.

Ed: Jeremy, congratulations on your victory.

JC: Thank you.

Ed: But it was a pyrrhic victory, wasn’t it?

JC: I don’t know what you mean.

Ed: Oh, come on.

JC: No, I mean, I don’t know the word, what are you asking?

Ed: I’m suggesting that the 172 MPs who voted against you in the no confidence motion still don’t want you. You’ve essentially used the members to delegitimise both them and clause one of your own constitution, the party’s obligation to be a fighting force in parliament, gunning for government.

JC: But what does legitimacy mean in this context?

Ed: Que?

JC: Well, the current intake were elected on a prospectus which, as I’m sure is now obvious, no longer has any real relevance within the party. They’re products of an era of ideological infirmity within the Labour family, a time when we said, ‘Thatcherism’s the fashion and one has to wear the clothes to be accepted in polite society’. It’s not unlike when you’re a teenager and you feel you have to like a certain band or support a rugby team to fit in. But you grow out of it. We all grow out of it. I think we gave the PLP their head for a long time, and we were right to do so, because you have to give people their freedom to go out into the world and make their own mistakes, but rightly we’ve now taken a look at things and realised that mental discipline is more important. The party’s reasserting itself.

Ed: What did you wear when you were a teenager?

JC: Pretty much what I’m wearing now.

Ed: Are you saying your MPs are aberrations, then?

JC: No, that’s reductive journalism on your part, what I’m arguing, in fact saying, is that between say, 1983 and 2015, the Labour Party was subject to a period of faddism and silliness, which resulted in many people being brought up through the party who, through no fault of their own, simply weren’t up to it. They’d been conditioned to believe that the party had to reflect society as it was, and was becoming, rather than being clear that society must be rethought and remodelled, so it works for the party intellectually.

Ed: Rethought using old and flawed models like Maoism, that sort of thing?

JC: I see what you’re trying to do, I’ve read your blog, but collectivism is an evolving ideology, it’s not just a snapshot of late 19th, early 20th century political philosophy that dogmatically tunes out the experience of real people. It’s a lot more than that.

Ed: Right. So your MPs, then – you’re not going to deselect them?

JC: You’re obsessed with deselection, but I think you have to remember that the real question is about whether they’d want to continue, once their stabilisers are removed. Right now, many of them, and I do feel sorry for them because it’s not their fault, are going through that difficult period where they come to understand that every naïve and half-baked idea they’ve ever had is not reality. It was wrong of Ed Miliband to let them run on the basis that this would be the party’s programme going forward, because that was clearly a sort of waking dream on his part. So I’m saying to them now, ‘get on board, forget the past, understand that you’re a Labour MP and this is what we stand for’. Some will be able to internalise that and support the party and its members, and some won’t. But those who won’t should consider giving way to one of the new and enthused members of the party, the disciplined body that’s coming through, who understand our philosophy. Staying will only make them confused and unhappy.

Ed: But you’ve been an MP for the entire period you’re now saying has been a sort of child-like catatonic period. How is it that you and people like Diane Abbot and John McDonnell were immune from this infantilising?

JC: Have you seen the Brian De Palma film, “Sisters”?

Ed: No.

JC: It’s very good. Basically, it’s about twins who grow up together, one normal, one psychotic. So it makes the point that differences in people’s makeup can cause them to veer off on dangerous tangents. For every me, there’s a Tony Blair. For every Diane, there’s a Harriet Harman. Not everyone’s mentally robust; some are well intentioned but intellectually wanting. There are men and women, and there are sheep. I like sheep, I have to say; there’s a place for them in the party, because Labour’s always been a broad church; but you can’t have them telling the farmer how to run his business. We got timid in the ‘80s, and we didn’t slaughter them, or shear them – we just let them get ridiculously puffed out and old.

Ed: Right, so they have to fall into line or lose their seats?

JC: Well many of them will lose their seats next time anyway. You know, there’s going to be a recalibration of British politics as the electorate adjusts to the breadth and depth of our policies. I’d expect some to stand down, because I don’t think they’d take themselves seriously in an ideologically rich climate – they’ve been reared on platitudes and nebulous notions of compassion, etc. And they’ll be boundary changes of course, and some of those new seats we’ll want contested by serious candidates who believe in a comprehensive re-landscaping of British culture, with affordable ideas built on top.

Ed: So you wouldn’t interpret a wipeout of MPs as failure, then?

JC: Heavens, no.

Ed: What, even if you were reduced to a ton?

JC: A ton of what?

Ed: MPs. A hundred MPs.

JC: Oh – no, because it’d be the right one hundred.

Ed: What about fifty?

JC: Yes, fine.

Ed: Wait, so there’s no number of MPs that would stop and make you think, ‘perhaps the country’s not going for this’?

JC: Ed, listen – the party is a mass membership movement – all the Ms. It doesn’t exist simply to bolster parliamentary representation. We’ll get there, but we first have to find the human distillate of our philosophy and offer it up for the people to taste and study. Scrutiny follows, then enlightenment, then government.

Ed: So if the Labour Party was just you, Diane and John, you’d be okay with that?

JC: It was for thirty years; it could be again. Change takes time.

Ed: Okay, just quickly then – could we discuss some of the issues with your leadership?

JC: The myths, you mean?

Ed: If you like.

JC: Well, it’s terribly tedious, but fine, ask your questions.

Ed: Were you a friend of the IRA?

JC: I believe in a United Ireland.

Ed: Brought about by terrorism?

JC: No, not terrorism. But I support armed revolutionary struggle; I think freedom fighters must use whatever means necessary to overcome armies of occupation.

Ed: Thanks, that’s clear. Israel, do you support it?

JC: I support it in the abstract, naturally.

Ed: What about in reality?

JC: Well it doesn’t exist at the moment.

Ed: Huh?

JC: What exists now is the footprint of occupation; a gangster state. So when there’s a legitimate country there, backed by consent and democracy, of course it’ll have our support.

Ed: I think that’s what the Israelis already believe to exist.

JC: I know, tragic isn’t it?

Ed: Okay, what about the idea that you’re a hypocrite, because you’ve agitated to remove every Labour leader since Kinnock but now expect loyalty from people whose trust and respect you haven’t earned in parliament, whose entire political careers you’ve worked to undermine?

JC: Move on to your next question.

Ed: Many say you helped condemn Britain to Brexit by being deliberately low key and ambiguous during the campaign. They say you saw the EU as a capitalist cabal, that you’re secretly thrilled we’re leaving, and that the only thing you like about it – free movement of people – is antithetical to the values of the people you’re supposed to represent, namely the UK’s working classes, but you like it because it chimes with the metropolitan, café culture liberalism that you actually represent; a sort of left-wing middle class sect that doesn’t understand how ordinary people live. Any truth to that?

JC: Well, I don’t drink in cafés.

Ed: What about the more substantive points?

JC: I campaigned for Remain, I made it clear that I superficially understood the hopes and aspirations of young people who wanted to be a part of it. I understand it’s been fashionable for 40 years.

Ed: Fashionable? What, like, the movement to the right within the PLP? That kind of fashionable? Something that needs to be corrected?

JC: I’m very sorry, but your time is up. I have a rally to go to.

Ed: Fine. Jeremy Corbyn, thank you for your time.

JC: Thank you for filling it.

Jeremy Corbyn is represented by John McDonnell Management Ltd.

Published in: on September 25, 2016 at 19:01  Leave a Comment  
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The missing article on the new Ghostbusters movie

Sick children, their critical faculties ravaged by illness, unable to get to a cinema, had to endure a live action version of the new Ghostbusters.

Sick children, their critical faculties ravaged by illness, imagining themselves to be safe from the burden of cinema attendance, had to endure a live action version of the new Ghostbusters.

With the recent news that every article on the new Ghostbusters movie had been written bar one, I’ve bravely stepped in to complete the conversation. Feminists, film critics, feminoids, barely cognisant members of the commentariat – take a seat. It’s going to be a long few paragraphs.

To begin, let’s admit something to ourselves and mark this knowledge as an essential precondition for sensible, humane debate; the new Ghostbusters is a terrible movie. You can read my review of it if you like, but I ask you to accept, in the name of sanity, that it is a witless, underwritten, poorly structured, badly edited, ill-conceived (and we’ll return to that one), franchise embryo, that has no life or personality of its own, just the DNA of its grown up, sophisticated parents – Messrs Murray, Aykroyd and Ramis. Yet, unlike very similar films, like last summer’s Adam Sandler bomb, Pixels, it’s a terrible, lamentable Happy Meal of a flick that was critically cleansed and marked as progressive, pre-release, via politicisation. Whenever this happens in art or entertainment, though the new Ghostbusters is neither, it is inevitable that the conversation will shift from what’s relevant – i.e. is the work under glass any good, to the meta-narrative.

Let’s be unequivocal. There were people on Twitter and other social media that used the female leads of this movie as lazy shorthand for their general contempt for the project which they, like millions of others who hold the original film in high regard, intuited was a fucking terrible idea. They are misogynists. There’s no but, just a however.

However.

If we unpack this a little, and ask what this uneducated, sexually retarded group feared, it was, on closer examination, deficiencies that have been culturally coded as feminine; the idea that the film would be superficial, nonsensical, weak and flamboyant (a.k.a. theatrical). Why worry about this? Because the 1984 Ghostbusters has qualities which have, erroneously, been coded as male; it’s witty, deadpan, cynical, self-deprecating, grounded and structured. The “haters” as they came to be known, should have, to use a boorish male-centric sports metaphor, played the ball not the woman. But they either couldn’t, because they didn’t understand the difference between a woman and that which is culturally catalogued as female, or didn’t because they can’t identify with female characters, because they don’t like women.

These miscreants set the terms of trade; they made the conversation about whether male characters should be replaced by female characters, as if Paul Feig’s broad bit of schlock was a superconductive antenna for pulling in and concentrating castration anxiety. We should have been asking, what was great about Ivan Reitman’s version and did the new filmmakers have the talent to recapture that? These ghouls ensured that when the new film crowned and turned out to be, yes, you’ve guessed it, superficial, nonsensical, weak and flamboyant (a.k.a. theatrical), it was no longer possible to say so, because that, far from being a legitimate criticism of material originally constituted very differently – like remaking A Night to Remember as a slapstick spectacular, would be giving succour to misogynists.

One can imagine the anxiety that filled preview cinemas as critics, as some audaciously call themselves, sat down to watch the new movie for the first time. Just as it’s a critical sin to decide a film’s bad before you’ve laid eyes on it, there’s also a strict rule, or at least there should be, against deciding you’re going to like a movie, or are pre-disposed to like it, because you associate its pre-release detractors with the ugliest elements of society and yourself.

Ghostbusters 2016 wasn’t just another summer movie, it was the victim of trolls, and an apparent lightning rod for the kind of stereotypical and largely imaginary fanboy that ordinary people, who are also imaginary, despise; the obese, bespectacled manchild, living at home with his parents, masturbating between Babylon 5 episodes, brushing junk food detritus from gynaecomastic tits. To vouchsafe their own progressive credentials, whether the movie was progressive or not (it wasn’t, it just swapped casual misogyny for overt misandry), to make an emphatic statement that they were against these trolls, to be able to look their partners in the eye, or enjoy that scheduled drink with girlfriends, it was necessary for the glass to be half-full on this one. And thus, a film as bad in every way as Pixels, opened to overwhelmingly warm and positive reviews.

But for some critics it wasn’t enough to talk up the new Ghostbusters, one had to attack and denigrate the object of the haters’ affection, their prized original. Revisionism was the new reappraisal. Michael Hogan wrote an embarrassing piece that told people who knew the 1984 film better than their families, that it was slow, that there was no chemistry between the leads, that no-one had ever quoted this so-called quotable movie. Sure, no one had, apart from any film fan of a certain age who you’d heard reciting lines from it all your life (I’d like a sample of Hogan’s brain tissue), and yes, there was no chemistry between the leads, apart from that which was evident on screen and had always been evident, and right, the film takes a while to get going, which in the old days we used to call the story progressing and building toward the climax at a well-judged pace that allowed the premise to develop and the characters room to breathe, enhancing the viewer experience, but that aside, Hogan was spot on.

He was joined on the stump by the New Stateman’s Ryan Gilbey, who told a disbelieving world that Feig’s movie “improved in every way on the original”; a statement of profound critical illiteracy that would, were there any justice, be career ending. But that wasn’t all. He went on to argue that László Kovács’s original “stately cinematography” was, er, wrong for a comedy. Gilbey liked the new film’s cartoon tone, apparently the only legitimate comic mode, and the colour scheme that matched. What’s that, you thought the original Ghostbusters was full of joyous understatement and great comic tension from the collision of grounded characters with outré situations? Well, why don’t you fuck off and join your wanking buddies in their childhood bedroom? You know, the people Melissa McCarthy and Paul Feig talked about when building a rapport with fans of the film they were about to cluelessly reimagine.

So the new Ghostbusters is out and it’s awful. Not because it stars women – some of the best entertainments ever made have starred women, His Girl Friday, Alien, Eve of Destruction – but because it’s broad, self-conscious, badly-improvised and one dimensional. It is, to the original movie, what the BBC’s recent Brexit comedy special is to Brass Eye – a mirthless ghost of the original. In conclusion, and I’m sure you’d accept, to end this Ghostbusters conversation forever, let’s agree that from here on we’ll take care to keep commentary on a production and the finished product separate, lest we forget what a good or bad film actually looks like. Now if you’ll excuse me, I just heard a growl coming from my fridge.

Published in: on July 22, 2016 at 11:50  Comments (1)  
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Why you can have Jeremy Corbyn or the Labour Party but not both

British Labour party leadership contender Jeremy Corbyn poses for pictures with a tie that he was given by a charity worker as he arrives to address a public rally in Glasgow, Scotland, on August 14, 2015. Voting began Friday to elect the new leader of Britain's main opposition Labour party, with Jeremy Corbyn, a veteran socialist who would move the party significantly to the left, favourite to win. AFP PHOTO / LESLEY MARTIN (Photo credit should read LESLEY MARTIN/AFP/Getty Images)

Welcome to my inaugural post from Brexit Britain – a country broken just as David Cameron promised (assuming I interpreted his 2010 election sloganeering correctly). Leave voters should note that in line with the now universally accepted notion that you’re thick as wet concrete, a single syllable version of this blog will be published tomorrow in Warm Glow magazine – still just half a crown.

Last September we all got together and agreed that the test for Jeremy Corbyn’s then presumed leadership would be cultivating the dormant radical instincts of the millions he, John McDonnell and Diane Abbott, daughter of Newton, imagined to exist. These were the discontents, the victims of capitalism and decades of laissez-faire dogma, who didn’t vote and weren’t served by neoliberalism. Surely they’d show themselves once JC became their cheerleader?

We laughed about it and concluded that their existence was currently a matter of intense speculation, like dark matter and the God Particle once were. Because they didn’t turn out on election day, or register their support in opinion polls, their existence was theoretical, or a matter of faith for non-Marxists. But like the aforementioned dark matter, that’s thought to signal its presence by the difference between the gravity required to form a spiral galaxy and the potential of the visible bodies therein to generate it, young activists, who joined the party or paid an affiliate fee to guarantee the Corbyn succession, were thought to be the planets and gaseous swirls that proved a greater movement existed.

These kids – who’d devoted many weeks of their lives to politics, indifferent to its archaic mechanics and attendant complications, were vouchsafed by JC and his retinue as the first trickle from a cracked dam. They only numbered in their hundreds of thousands, and were to typical voters what the Eurasian Lynx is to the domestic cat, but when they filled a town hall or student union, it must have felt the world had finally woken up to the Bennite project. Soon, went the thinking, their peers would reverse decades of political disengagement and revive mass membership. Soon, inspired by JC’s rambling rhetoric, the millions who’d voted New Labour following Thatcher’s recalibration of British society would be comprehensively re-educated. But weirdly, this hasn’t happened.

Perhaps it could have, but as soon as Jeremy Corbyn became Labour leader it was apparent that beating the system was harder than even Twitter realised. By winning the way he did, from the bottom up, JC broke all the laws of political advancement. His supporters’ code for this was “anti-establishment”; the idea that Corbyn, unlike the Blairite quislings in parliament, wasn’t part of the system, just an MP and part of Westminster’s closed shop since 1983. For anti-establishment read non-conformist and for non-conformist read campaigning socialist; a man with no ambition to advance his cause using the machinery of government, rather content to be a martyr to the same. Say what you like about Tony Blair, and I hope you will, but it took him 6 years as Prime Minister to hit that mark.

Because JC’s never had the tenacity and strength of character required to take on colleagues with different views and win them over, he’s not been subject to the usual shaping forces that prepare most would-be leaders for the tortuous slog that accompanies the top job. Parliament isn’t just a chamber for MPs to congregate. It’s a finishing school for debaters, orators and opinion formers. The word careerist has now become derogatory, but a political career is not simply a power trip for the unprincipled, though that’s one of its many attractions. It’s a test of will and character, a battle that can and does last many years. And in the midst of it all, with all the compromises, frustrations and media exposure that comes as standard, politicians are forged; politicians who impress their colleagues and the country with their presence in the bear pit and their ability to cut through and mediate their message to you, the barely cognisant horde.

When JC leapfrogged all the stages between lowly backbench rebel and party leader, he also skipped the trials that make MPs contenders; tests of mettle like the ability to communicate and build alliances. And whereas no one would argue the deserving always make it – William Hague, IDS and Ed Miliband being examples of how preferment, or not being someone else can inadvertently push the wrong person across the line – they’ve usually impressed enough of their colleagues to be given a fair shake. Corbyn circumvented that process, and curiously for a Labour politician, the principle of meritocracy. In so doing, he presumed to lead a party he’d never worked with.

Standing as the anti-politics candidate was an extraordinary idea; a conscious appropriation of the myth that you can institute meaningful change without first engaging with the system. Imagine applying to be an engineer on an anti-maths ticket, or applying to medical school singing homeopathy’s praises. But politics is a strange fish, because it’s a cerebral pursuit often conditioned by anti-intellectual forces. The public’s lack of nuanced understanding is breathtaking, which suits our rulers fine. Anyone who mischievously pretends that the game’s simple, or stacked against the righteous, is deemed to be a man or woman of the people – fatuous and meaningless a title though that is.

The kind thing to do would be to tell Joe and Jacinda Public to sod off and study politics, or perhaps watch the parliament channel all day, every day for a year, so they understood what the fuck was going on. But Jeremy Corbyn, the anti-politics candidate, gave newbies permission to know dick sizzle because he promised to change all the rules. He sold the dream of a new politics, one apparently divorced from the imperatives that shape the thing. It was the idea you could mount a parliamentary offensive without the hard won consent of your parliamentary colleagues. Incredibly, his supporters thought mystified MPs should give him that chance, which is a little like parents voting to let Brian Meek, the quiet school porter, become headmaster. Why won’t the teaching staff just let him try? Why are they so determined he should stand down? Why won’t the bloody establishment respect democracy and let Brian have a go, despite him being profoundly underqualified?

In office Corbyn wasted no time confirming the worst fears of well wishers. He was obstinate and uncooperative with the media, who he saw as propagandists rather than a mirror to people’s values and preoccupations; he was stuttering, long-winded and incoherent at the dispatch box; he was slow to react to events and hopeless at capitalising on them. And in an unprecedented situation for a new leader, his long standing opposition to the mainstream of party opinion made unity impossible; unity being, yawn, the prerequisite for strong opposition.

The party’s policy was to retain nuclear weapons, though Corbyn was unequivocal in saying that as Prime Minister he’d never use them. The party supported military action to tip the Syrian civil war in favour of the dispossessed but the leader did not, as all such action is a symptom of Western imperialist aggression. The party was overwhelmingly pro-European but JC saw the EU as an insidious capitalist club and affront to democracy. Arguments about whether he gave his all in the referendum are ludicrous, given his arguments for Remain came with a dozen caveats. Supporters liked Diane Abbott called it “nuanced” but desirable though that is in general debate, in a referendum where the choice is binary and the aim is to galvanise and maximise you support there can be no half measures. JC told interviewers he was “7.5 out of 10” in favour of Remain – overstating his support by a factor of 7. Subsequently, only 6.4 out of every 10 Labour voters turned out for the cause (the same number that March, pre-campaign polling for Remain said would do so anyway), though this may not have made any difference to the final result.

If there was any doubt, his passion for retaining his stranglehold on the leadership has been far greater than any exhibited during the EU campaign. That shouldn’t surprise anyone; JC’s finally fighting for something he believes in. Having waited all his adult life to have some influence on the direction of the Labour Party, he and his retinue are not going to give it up, just because 81% of his MPs think Tim Farron would make a better leader of the opposition. Nor will you hear him tell miserable and confused young fans why he didn’t wholeheartedly defend something they saw as integral to their future. He could try telling them they don’t get it; that the EU is ideologically impure; but when you’ve counted on the ignorance and historical illiteracy of your natural supporters to protect your position, you dare not draw attention to it.

If you try and explain this to “the movement”, as it’s sometimes known, and groups like Momentum – the cult’s campaigning wing, you’re told that any attempt to dislodge Corbyn is illegitimate, that the members are sovereign, that feckless and self-serving MPs, who only care about forming a government and implementing Labour policies, exist in a bubble divorced from political reality, if you can imagine such a thing.

Diane Abbott went on the Today programme and witheringly denounced talk of winning elections as “Westminster-centric”. Billy Bragg told Facebook that the coup against Corbyn, that now includes famous Blarites like Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband, was based on a fallacy, because JC had won three safe seats in by-elections – proof that a 2020 landslide was a mere formality. Paul Mason, furious at Labour MPs’ disloyalty to a man imposed on them against their will, argued that the referendum result was just a pretext for removing JC, and this despite 64% of the party’s supporters voting Remain. Sure, there was no evidence Corbyn’s lukewarm endorsement informed that figure, and Nigel Farage, who’d barely shut up on behalf of Leave and had made himself ubiquitous on TV and radio, managed to deliver 93% of his supporters, but so the fuck what?

Then, last night on the BBC’s This Week, journalist and Corbyn cultist, Rachel Shabi, told a dumbfounded Michael Portillo that he was a fantasist for suggesting Corbyn would doom the Labour Party to the worst defeat in its history. JC’s supporters didn’t care about party unity or his MPs endorsements, she said; his popularity, in as far as one could measure it accurately, came from the country. A smirking Portillo replied, “you’ve just made my day”. Here was the Labour schism laid bare; those who believed Corbyn would win because their faith was indicative of those hitherto untapped and formerly voiceless millions, versus commentators – some at Westminster, some old enemies like Portillo, who looked at the sweep of electoral history, and the most up to date indications of how people vote, and saw a disaster unfolding in slow motion.

The masses, whoever the fuck you think you are, typically don’t vote for weak leaders or divided parties, or indeed a party that appears to be disinterested in the type of voter you imagine yourself to be – say white, working class and angry. Corbyn’s supporters see disunity as a symptom of treachery and media scrutiny as propaganda, but party discord’s inevitable if the parliamentary wing has not fully endorsed the candidates that finally get offered up to the membership. The Tories may be bastards but they understand this, hence their system that only lets card carrying Conservatives vote once MPs have whittled down candidates to two. Ed Miliband’s reform of the system for choosing the Labour leader dissolved the distinction between MP and member, and in doing so delegitimised the role of parliament in a system where having command of the parliamentary party and the chamber is a copper bottomed necessity.

So Labour’s PLP, directly elected by the general population, stands on the precipice, forced to contemplate either an ugly leadership contest or the nuclear option, unilateral independence and the search for a new base and party machine. Faced with his refusal to resign, they must contemplate the awful possibility that you can have Jeremy Corbyn or the Labour Party but not both.

History, it’s over to you.

My EU Nightmare Is Over

Lasted the Longest

It’s taken a while, four months to be precise, but I’ve finally reached a decision on how to vote on referendum day. Because this vote’s about me and not your so-called lives, the journey to the ballot box has engendered self-doubt and profound political anxiety; in short, an existential crisis.

Though liberal and internationalist by constitution, I’ve not been content to enjoy the virtue signalling arrogance and contempt for Brexiters that’s been the hallmark of chaise lounge pundits lacking the courage to reflect upon and challenge their most cherished assumptions, or the will to read around.

Yeah, that told you, didn’t it?

Back in February, as the referendum campaign yawned into life and the hawks on both sides began urinating on their favoured chunks of discursive territory, repelling neutrals and cats alike, I decided to benchmark my soft Euroscepticism, record where I was at the beginning as it were, and blogged a corrective to what I saw as a Europhile truism, the idea that the EU is a force for progressive politics, adding metropolitan spice to our cultural brew, and broadening our domestic outlook. In doing so, I was conscious that I’d fallen into the Leave trap of wanting to give the aloof, haughty liberal intelligentsia an iron bar to the balls. People like me were the reason they wanted to disenfranchise millions of sentimental Westphalians. You can’t trust an idea as big and important as the United States of Europe with its presumptive citizens.

That the project was clandestine and furthered without popular consent was a huge problem for me, the kind that made me go for Remainers the way a psychosexually damaged person goes for anyone who shows an interest. European institutions and the democratic scaffolding bolted thereon, has been designed to keep voters at least two removes from the decision makers, with MEPs, the only verifiable manifestation of our glaze-eyed demos, elected on a proportional basis from a party list. One imagines they feel as directly accountable to us as a filmmaker does when you complain your cinema seat’s stained with cum.

Yes, this kept me up nights, long after the local prostitutes had tip-toed out, taking the counterfeit cash that they couldn’t quite scrutinise in the gloaming from the bedside table. It made we wonder, just as it plagued Euro-haters like the late Tony Benn, whether the fundamental left-wing case for Brexit was unassailable, regardless of the less cogent or inhumane arguments often grafted to it, then righteously proffered in its name. That’s right, I’m talkin’ ‘bout immigration. And feeling, knowing, that the EU had been built and strengthened as a means to safeguard peace and prosperity on the basis of doublethink like circumventing electors – a matter of record if you care to know it – made confronting the ugly side of the Brexit argument, the domestic violence that comes with the twelve cans of supermarket lager, an uncomfortable and dehumanising experience.

Forget the official faces of the Leave campaign – rabid monoculturist and hypocrite Nigel Farage (autocorrects to fascist), Harry Potter Basil Hallward portrait, Michael Gove, and narcissist strawman Boris Johnson – the problem with having any sympathy for the Brexit case is meeting ordinary Brexiters. Whether it’s the leafleteer on the high street who turns away in disgust when you suggest she may want to live and work on the continent, the man in the pub who conflates pulling out with imperial nostalgia, the dark side of Twitter, that without exception – and here I talk about ordinary epigrammists, not the blue tick brigade – see Brexit as a social cleansing exercise, every encounter is a direct and formidable challenge to the idea that denying these people their say in the country’s future has been an indefensible affront to the Great British Public (GBP). How formidable? Well, I doubt Smokin’ Joe Frasier felt any less apprehensive ahead of The Thriller in Manilla. At least he knew the worst that could happen was death. What’s worse than death? Living with the knowledge you’ve inadvertently allied yourself with the ugliest elements in society and the demagogues who’d manipulate them.

But immigration matters, because of the serious charge that it leads to wage compression at the low end of the income scale and is changing white working class communities beyond recognition. The BBC screened a fascinating documentary, The Last Whites of the East End, showing the 20th century residents of Newham, East London, contemplating white flight to the new safe harbour of Essex, in response to large-scale economic migration having comprehensively displaced their tribe. The argument, we learned, was not that foreigners had taken all the jobs, for such talk as Nicholas Barr at the LSE notes, is bollocks, as an upsurge in population creates greater demand in the economy (the idea that there’s x amount of jobs to go around is called the ‘lump of labour’ fallacy), rather than immigrants had vandalised the culture.

The multicultural dream in Newham was a fantasy, said the would-be Big Brother housemates under glass, as newbies refused to integrate. This made the only viable option moving to a single community where working class whites would do the exact same thing. Yet it was an eye-opener, a film that showed the issue was whatever passed for indigenous values, bound, naturally, to Christian virtues, and the perception these were now under threat. Tony, a West Ham fan who no longer felt comfortable on the streets he’d pissed on as a child, had married a Romanian woman. But there was no contradiction because she shared his moral system. In other words, she wasn’t a Muslim. Watching this fascinating bit of anthropology, the participants unwilling or unable to confront their own hypocrisy, I had to accept that whatever one thought of the locals, most of whom were boorish to the point of inducing coma, they were victims of social policy in which market economics, rather than social cohesion, had been the primary driver. The key question was the identity of the culprit: domestic policy or the EU’s free movement of people principle. If the latter, did I care?

So it was around now, satisfied that I’d identified the key issues, namely sovereignty and immigration, (both cultural and economic), that I returned Daniel Hannan’s book Why Vote Leave to the ICU waiting room at my local hospital, and started to look for facts that would once and for all settle the question of whether the EU was something done to us that was good, like fluoride in tap water, or bad, like ATM bank charges.

I went to debates – lots of fucking debates, in which Leave’s simple message, delivered in the demotic, contrasted with the more nebulous arguments to remain, tellingly framed as a lecture in political science. I listened to hundreds of hours of TV and radio conversation in which representatives of the so-called establishment tried to fight off, half-heartedly, those who argued, with the force of history, that the EU was hostile to reform and allergic to scrutiny, defaulting to the government’s go-to strategy of fluffing your inner monetarist. A case of never mind the erosion of statehood and its social impact, feel the benefit to your mortgage rate, house price and employment prospects. I tried not to dwell on the irony that the tenets of Thatcherism were now being used to defend the creeping union she grew to despise.

But in the end, at long last, real information shorn of propaganda and prejudice, began to trickle though – in print, online, from independent economists I trusted like Paul Mason, and the case for Remain acquired heft. Bagehot was helpful in The Economist, arguing that real sovereignty was relative. This wasn’t just a comment on globalisation, though it informed the argument, rather than supra-national cooperation was a fact of life and would remain so, Brexit or no. North Korea was the most sovereign country on Earth, he said, because it was free of outside interference, though it struck me that even this wasn’t strictly true, as its madness was guaranteed by China and its isolation by the rest of the world – in other words, its xenophobia was conditioned by cultural, economic and politics forces external to it; it was a slave nation.

Depending on who you read, the UK was signatory to anything between 700 and 1400 international treaties, and held hands with the WTO, UN and NATO. Thinking of those three, it occurred to me that the great challenge to British identity came not from Europe but from the US, who’d bled into our language, economic policy and popular culture in a way our EU partners manifestly had not. No one talked about that because the ties that bound were invisible and for the most part, not formalised by a thumping great symbol like the Treaty of Lisbon. Even Kathy Beale on EastEnders drops the occasional Americanism into her chat these days. I’ve never heard her use French.

Paul Mason, writing a mini-manifesto for Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party, whose pro-EU stance on immigration makes Remain highly vulnerable to the wrath of threatened white working class voters, as featured in the BBC documentary, acknowledged that free movement in its current form did hurt low-income earners, and by the same token encouraged immigrants to come to poor areas. But in lucidly arguing for the Islington beard to hike the minimum wage to £12, make it illegal to hire staff from a single nationality for certain jobs, e.g. Italians as baristas, and introduce a training levy for employers hiring non-UK workers, amongst other things, he inadvertently reminded me that extant grievances were a consequence of domestic policy, not EU diktat, and could be changed at Westminster if the political will existed.

The Lisbon Treaty needs renegotiation, he added – debt written off, privatisation initiatives ended, the Stability and Growth Pact mandating austerity scrapped – but the message was, don’t throw the baby out with the goat’s blood. The arguments for these changes, crystallised by the referendum, would now be immediate like ever before. In other words, Europe was having a near death experience. Change or die. If we left, it might die anyway but we’d have the State version of locked in syndrome.

So the EU may have enabled mass immigration but it’s been our unwillingness to control the supply market that had caused social problems. The EU took away some of our sovereignty, but not enough to constitute a coup. 55,000 EU civil servants draft proposed legislation that 393,000 UK civil servants amend, with parliament ratifying the mongrel instruments. The democratic deficit was there, for the people are sovereign and most of them haven’t a clue what MEPs are doing in their name, or for that matter what the UK parliament’s giving away while they’re distracted by more immediate domestic concerns, but this can and I thought, on balance of probability, would be reformed in time.

And with that I decided to vote Remain on June 23rd. It has nothing whatsoever to with our idiotic Prime Minister or his imbecilic retinue, and quietly ignores the harping, sanctimonious Scottish Nationalists, whose hypocrisy is total and threat to decouple from the rest of the UK if England votes Leave, empty and politically unworkable in the timeframe they’d have to carry it out.

Rather, Brexit is a false God – an apparent panacea for our social ills and domestic policy fuck ups, wilfully blind to the interrelated political and economic forces that create them, and an argument for nationalism that masks a deep-seeded mistrust of difference. Its advocates use the language of compassion and inclusivity – caring for the health service, homes for everyone, better public services, while hoping to usher in a new era of hard-line Conservative thinking that would almost certainly destroy all of the above.

It’s been a long journey to end up where I’ve been most of my life then, but I can cast my vote next Thursday satisfied I’ve strength tested my instincts. If everyone who votes next week has also taken time to jump on the floorboards, the result will be considered, not an affirmation of prejudice or self-righteousness, and that can only add depth and understanding to the long and torturous debate that follows.

Published in: on June 16, 2016 at 11:03  Comments (1)  
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The Tragedy of the Just Eat Chicken Madras Girl

Just-Eat-I-See-You-Baby-Chicken-Madras-720p-2

A couple of weeks ago I was lying in bed, eyes closed, trying to sleep, but I couldn’t relax. Time passed and I became progressively more anxious. My heart started to palpate, I tasted acid, there was coal burning in my chest and throat, and I started to weep. I couldn’t stop. This seemingly inexplicable surge tide of emotion was, I later understood, the result of the last thing I’d seen before going to bed – 30 seconds of film squatting in my consciousness; memories and a Manson Family of associated thoughts stalking my interiors, wielding knives. The film? Just Eat’s Chicken Madras commercial; adland’s nadir and a demonstrable tragedy for the jobbing actress in the leading role.

I suppose my brain, prone as it is to moral outrage, calibrated to crave justice, internalised the plight of the Chicken Madras girl and couldn’t help but cry out. Sure, it was impotent rage, emptied into the void; I couldn’t help her; but the more I thought about the events that had compounded on one another, resulting in this half-minute humiliation, perhaps the sad anti-climax of a lifelong dream – the culmination of thousands of hours of scrimping, pressing, phone calls, going to auditions and making ends meet with a job at a North London call centre, begging people to up the money they’d pledged when mugged on the high street – well, tragedy seemed an understatement.

I’m not trying to belittle the Chicken Madras girl. She gives a terrific performance in a thankless role. She moves well, indeed naturally, and the camera loves her. I can understand why, of all the thousands of women who must have auditioned, at a time when the last of their nectarines were spoiling in the bowl on the kitchen top, and when the only foodstuffs left in the fridge were Rivita crackers, two weeks past their due date, half-fat cream cheese, and chutney with a surface layer of mould, the director plucked her from obscure poverty. Once she’d been fitted for that figure-flattering silver outfit with its dynamic stringy accoutrements, no one could have doubted the choice. I’ve seen the ad many times now, and like Jack Nicholson in The Shining or Jim Carrey in The Dead Pool, I can’t imagine anyone else playing the part.

There’s no question that the commercial, all thirty punishing seconds of it, will now become this small screen star’s signature role, but should it? I don’t know her, though I’d certainly like to, but I’m sure that when she became estranged from her parents, who after her Oxford graduation, expected her to follow them into the legal profession; when she moved to London – giving up on the boyfriend who refused to move from the sleepy village of his birth; when she shared a flat for a year with a needy bisexual self-harming cokehead who threatened the sanctity of her bedroom on more than one occasion, so she could save money and remain flexible enough to attend auditions in makeshift offices at the summit of squalid Soho walk-ups, staffed by lecherous agency talent scouts who’d guarantee you a part on TV for a blowjob and a fee, she had greater ambitions than singing and dancing to a retooled cover of Groove Armada’s ‘I See You Baby’, in a bid to sell a takeaway delivery website to lazy cooks.

Just Eat’s ad proves that the Chicken Madras girl is talented and versatile (the premise of the commercial effectively makes it a double role). You wouldn’t blame her if she’d been excited when offered the part, perhaps imagining it to be a springboard to bigger, better things. But watching it back, especially when hungry, it starts to resemble a dead end. It’s not just that the ad irritates, its flat attempt at humour the brainchild of some idiot karaoke loving backside, fat on curry and after-work pub visits in which bored friends listen to him wax lyrical on life in show business, but it makes a fool of an actress with plenty of spicy potential. This ad is the centrepiece of her showreel now, and as such the parts that were once hers in all but name – juicy roles on Poldark, the next series of Line of Duty, a new channel 4 drama about a respectable businesswoman who inherits a brothel from her Madam mother, will now be denied. There’s no seeing past that dance, past the crude sexual objectification of a hot red curry. A career that could and should have peaked in Hollywood movies is now a ruin; a ruin covered in sticky hot sauce.

So the next time you sit down in front of the drool box to engage in a bit of schadenfreude and cast yourself as superior to the Chicken Madras girl, think instead of the waste of talent and the senseless chain of non-creative decisions that lead to the ad’s creation, birthing a trap for an actress desperate to break into an industry whose gatekeepers are crude, manipulative and cynical. All she wanted was to perform. Instead, she was pushed into a showbiz grave. If I were Just Eat CEO David Buttress, I’d consider a written apology, substantial compensation for this fine performer, then blowing my brains out. It’s the least he could do.

Euro-nly Live Twice

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Have you decided how you’re going to vote in the upcoming referendum on EU membership? Today’s Times/YouGov poll suggests we’re heading for “Brexit”- no, not a crunchy breakfast cereal high in fibre, but the figurative exploding of the channel tunnel and a return to Island status, one assumes psychologically as well as politically.

For decades now we’ve endured a disingenuous dialogue on the matter, with the Europhile right claiming the benefit stems from intergovernmental cooperation and a single market, free of tariff barriers, while the left talk about the imposition of progressive employment and judicial measures. Both, in effect, are playing a game of see no evil, hear no evil. They know the EU is a proxy for the kind of social democratic government Britain seldom elects; a centralised supra-national check on the conservative, reactionary forces the Eurosceptic right dream of unleashing. Iain Duncan Smith, Lord Lawson and the like, understand that legislating in the interests of Middle England and their own prejudices would be a doddle if it wasn’t for Brussels, and this is keenly felt now the Conservatives have an overall majority and Labour looks to be entering a long spell in the wilderness with Ed Miliband’s fetid corpse cuffed to its wrist.

Why is this disingenuous, you say? It reads as legitimate to my eyes. Well, trying to curb forces that would freeze Britain in aspic, once we’d regressed a few decades, is a perfectly honourable ambition. The problem is that it ignores the German-Franco elephant in the room: democracy.

We have to talk about democracy when it comes to the European project because the principle arguably transcends all other considerations. When a majority of voters, as things stand, seem intent on severing Britain’s link with the continent, it’s tempting to ask why they’re suddenly interested in the appointed European Commission, and the Council of Ministers, and MEPs, elected using a party list system, so not directly accountable to anyone. Why suddenly give a fuck about the primacy of European legislation, or indeed, successive treaties that have seen, in Tony Benn’s memorable phrase, powers lent to our MPs stolen from the electorate and given away to Brussels? After all, haven’t Eurosceptic parties been drawing attention to these, er, anomalies for decades now? Didn’t William Hague, one time stand in for a serious Tory leader, go to the country in 2001 on a ticket to “keep the pound”, only to be resoundingly ignored? Yes, you’re not dreaming, that all happened and nobody cared.

The reason, suggest political scientists, is that Europe, for the longest time, wasn’t what they call a “salient issue”, in other words, what Joe and Jacinda Public really cared about was the price of their house, their job prospects, how much petrol they could afford to put in their bastard wagon, and where Janette and Terry could go to school. But another thing they cared about, an issue that thanks to reality distorting media hype, feeds itself – that now, thanks to the short-sightedness of UK politicians has become inextricably bound up with the European question, is immigration. And it’s that monster that’s made Europe salient.

For the country’s Eurosceptic horde, what’s relevant is the way that Europe’s free movement of people, a fundamental principle underpinning the union, threatens Britain on an existential level. The working time directive, straight bananas and funding for arts projects doesn’t change the character of a nation but its population does. So now, in what will soon be one of the weirdest debates we’ve ever seen in this country, the right point, namely the democratic question, will be argued for the wrong reason, with those who support the union privately wishing that the ministers responsible for waving through the EU’s enlargement without negotiating either an opt-out or some form of transitional control, hadn’t gifted the haters such an acute focaliser.

Too many are coming, say the sceptics; they’re undercutting wages, leading to compression/stagnation, and they’re not integrating – just setting up pockets of their homeland here in Blighty, which inevitably erodes communities and creates division. Most seriously, mass EU migration dilutes the cultural identity of the indigenous masses, even if said culture, say the young, middle class, internationalist metrosexuals with friends from twenty countries, is constituted of a pie and a pint from Weatherspoons and Ant and Dec on a Saturday night. When you don’t respect Britain’s white working class voters, or give a sod about their low wages because you have a well-paid graduate job, then you can dismiss all this, arguing the fragmentation and forced re-engineering of a degenerate mass is a grand project, and worth backing. But these people have a vote in the forthcoming plebiscite and could yet push us out the door. Europe, after all, has to work for everyone; a guarantor of, rather than a threat to, its citizens’ way of life. The current model, one could argue, has disenfranchised millions.

The dilemma for the fence sitter, then, is how to use your vote to achieve a result that’s both democratic and addresses the very real problems that exist with the European project. In that polling booth it will be tempting to see it as a simple left versus right affair, though with the camps flipped from the 1975 vote. One could think about David Cameron’s deal, assuming he has one by then, tinkering with protocols without affecting fundamental structural changes to the union that could only be implemented by treaty. Thinking about the EU, you soon realise that in order to make it work properly – to build something that respects the sovereignty of member states while promoting intergovernmental co-operation; to make a union that facilitates financial liberty while providing certain protections for domestic industry, all existing EU treaties would have to be repealed; we’d have to start again.

In our polling booth, we should also think about the hypocrisy and/or ignorance of those parties trying to sway us one way or another. In Scotland, voters should reflect on an SNP that once opposed EEC membership, now brandishing our EU status as the latest ultimatum in its sad and destructive campaign to break up Britain. Does Nicola Sturgeon understand the contradiction between arguing for independence from England while wanting ever closer union with Brussels, a set up that gives Scottish voters less say than before and commits them to, er, pooling sovereignty? Does she have any idea that opening UK industry to Europe destroyed it, including the traditional cornerstones of the Scottish economy? Why blame Margaret Thatcher for the reforms that inevitably followed, but not the European project? Isn’t Lib Dem support, which at least has been consistent, just more from a party seeking to circumvent the UK electoral system any way it can in a bid to get its agenda into law? And why should we trust UKIP or the Tory right, when their campaign for leaving is fuelled by a noxious cocktail of imperialist nostalgia, resistance to change and myopia, when it comes to the myriad of EU funding agreements that grease the wheels in science, industry and higher education, on which these sectors in part depend, and which are now a nightmare to untangle?

So whichever way you look at it, there’s a lot for you, the box crosser, to grapple with when the time comes. Whereas it’s clear that whatever happens, the European project, as envisioned by the likes of Jacques Delors, Harold Wilson and Helmut Kohl, and ultimately seen as an ultra-left Trojan Horse by Margaret Thatcher, is dead, we must still decide if we want to hang around to shape what remains. Regardless of the arguments proffered, the real debate will be underpinned by social class, community, status and one’s access to the fruits of union. It should really be about democracy of course, but who, in this self-interested, peer-centric society of ours, is interested in voting for a principle?

Published in: on February 5, 2016 at 12:59  Leave a Comment  
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Dear Chris Chibnall: Think. Are you really the right man to run Doctor Who?

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Dear Chris,

Hello. Ed here. God alone knows if I’ll be around to correspond with you in 2018 when the first series of Doctor Who under your stewardship goes out. Maybe I’ll be dead, having taken badly to the new Star Trek series, or perhaps I’ll have given up life as an armchair pundit to write about my experiences being ignored by Steven Moffat, so I’m writing now instead. Why? Well, I just need to be sure about something. Are you certain you’re the right man for the show runner’s job?

Look, I understand it’s your dream. You were on Open Air back in 1986, showing how much you cared about the show with a withering viewer critique of its then camp direction. 25 years later you showed the world how it should be done by writing “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship”, featuring Mitchell and Webb as comic robots. So when Steven put you forward it must have been the culmination of all your writerly ambitions; like a scientist being inducted into the Royal Society or a sexual deviant becoming a light entertainment presenter. But ask yourself, did you get the gig on merit, or have you made the right friends and above all, garnered the right worthless industry plaudits?

I can imagine that being part of the Doctor Who inner circle, as well as a Torchwood survivor and someone who wrote a middlebrow drama starring David Tennant that drew attention from the all important American market, you pulled on all the right cocks. But when we look at your record a little closer we’re left wondering if your instincts are the ones that will partner with viewers’ desires to produce a new and dynamic era of bold and experimental Who. When Steven leaves to write the long awaited third series of Chalk, we’ll be at a strange juncture; a time when fans will want more meat and conceptual clarity in their Doctor Who diet, but also a move toward edgier, more experimental storytelling.

Forgive me, Chris, but when I look at your work I see a writer who drives on the middle of the road; a man who neatly folds his toothpaste tube and drinks Tesco Champagne. We’re all familiar with the departing Steven’s problems; he’s no dramatist, but a vigorous conceptual masturbator and occasional wit, who isn’t afraid to think big (and indeed long). We’ve liked his ambition but hated his vanity and its warping and irreversible damage to the mythos; we’ve applauded his audaciousness while loathing his inability to write a story; we’ve enjoyed his jokes but despised his propensity to glibly undermine his best ideas. His tenure as overlord has been frustrating and he’s right to think it’s time to pack it in, but no one can say he’s played it safe. Russell T Davies made it broad and mass audience friendly; Steven gave the show some much needed vitality and complexity.

Are you about to take us back to the Russell Dust era, Chris? Because when we look at your stuff, we see a man serving McDrama to a broad church of viewers. Your hit ITV murder mystery, I forget its name, considered by many your crowning achievement, is a soap with thin characters and stark plot contrivances, particularly in the second series; a show built to hook those who dine out on cliché, melodrama and the kind of stock characters, designed to resonate with the boring people at home, who populate them. You were an obvious adjunct to the Russell Dust era of Who, because he shared your taste for this thin gruel; the stuff that builds a big, undemanding audience, but doesn’t stimulate the brains and yearning for something innovative that excites the sophisticated genre literate viewer who’s attracted to a show like Doctor Who precisely because it offers the promise of something off-kilter.

Hey, maybe that’s why you were given Torchwood. Perhaps that’s why when Steven needed a palate cleanser, a solid bit of filler to bridge the gap between more exciting or experimental episodes, he chose you, knowing you’d deliver 45 minutes of alright. But is this what the new era of Doctor Who needs? Five years of “that was okay, and my kids, who aren’t usually into sci-fi because it’s esoteric and conceptually dense, love it, their other favourite shows being Holby City and Endeavour“?

You see Chris, ratings matter, of course they do, but if you want a show that maintains a loyal and devoted audience, instead of a huge disposable one, and garners international acclaim, becoming a prestige showcase for the BBC around the world, thereby justifying its budget, you have to think like the American subscription networks do, the likes of HBO, AMC and Netflix. You make a show that doesn’t worry about broad or populist touches, you just write the best, boldest juggernaut you can, and trust that there are sufficient numbers of people who appreciate such efforts to justify the risk taking.

Sometimes the BBC gets confused and thinks the licence fee means that you have to cater for everyone WITHIN a format, when of course what it means to say is that a flat fee necessitates producing programmes that cater for every section of the audience: niche programming. So if you write a Doctor Who that talks up to a genre loving audience, knowing they’ll pretty much follow you anywhere (while the casuals complain) you’re meeting the remit. Are you with me, Chris? You can break the mould and people who love the show, rather than just see it as comfort food, will approve.

So consider, Chris. Are you the man for the job? Once Steven’s finished with us, his final set of fuck yous due to hit in 2017, we’ll be wanting a transition into an era of confident, varied and intelligent storytelling – the kind that holds hands with the show’s most astute followers, turning around every so often to encourage the rest to catch up. Figuratively, we’re talking about a Barry Letts to Phillip Hinchcliffe type regeneration. Not a shift that disavows the past, merely one that recognises the series can and must do more; that there are no limits and no concessions to those who really aren’t sure about this sort of thing.

A show like Doctor Who can never go backwards, Chris. The time travel must remain in-story. So if you’re not one hundred percent sure you can innovate, talk up to the oldest members of the audience and hire some lunatics to produce head popping serials, then get off your cloud and help find the right person before it’s too late. After all, you don’t want to be the man who killed the show, do you? You don’t want to be the John Nathan-Turner of our time, prompting some poor kid to go on a daytime discussion show and complain the programme’s become a laughing stock?

Thought not.

I’ll be watching you. Maybe.

Ed

Published in: on January 23, 2016 at 22:22  Comments (7)  
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