THE LAST OF MAY

vlcsnap-2016-05-31-16h26m48s78I must admit the view from this fence is making me rather nauseas. On one side, I have David Cameron, George Osborne, Theresa May, Tony Blair and Peter Mandelson trying to woo me; on the other, I have Michael Gove, Iain Duncan Smith, Chris Grayling, Gorgeous George, Nasty Nigel and Boris doing likewise. It feels a bit like joining a dating site and being offered two suitable matches – Ronnie Kray or Reggie Kray. Should I refuse the entreaties of either, the consequences will border on the apocalyptic. Every menace that can befall mankind awaits me – war, terrorism, recession, economic catastrophe, the prospect of England never hosting another World Cup (and that was so odds-on that it doesn’t bear thinking about). And I haven’t even mentioned the numerous journalists and media commentators who usually make me want to pull out my own fingernails lurking on either side. Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right – or, to quote another well-known pop lyric, should I stay or should I go?

The one Armageddon scenario I actually can envisage as a likelihood is that if the UK does vote leave, the SNP will instigate another Independence Referendum; having said that, I think the SNP are looking for any excuse to do so, and will keep doing so until they get the result they want – regardless of the opinions of those Scots who don’t want independence. I should imagine Sturgeon and Salmond are praying the Brexit camp come up trumps; it’s just the situation they’ve been waiting for ever since their grapes turned sour two years ago. But Scotland isn’t the only part of Britain divided; traditional divisions in Northern Ireland are also falling into line with this pattern. Recent surveys suggest Protestants are more likely to vote Remain, whereas Catholics favour Brexit. Anyone believing an official separation from Europe will somehow serve to unite this kingdom anew is clearly too blinded by the desire to give the Mandarins of Brussels a shiner to contemplate the realities of the aftermath.

The current holiday from routine Parliamentary business has seen the Devil make work for many an idle hand during the recess. News bulletins have given air time to toadies singing the PM’s praises and denying the Cabinet split over the EU issue will leave permanent cracks in the united front, as well as others within the Government criticising Cameron with uncomfortable candour and even predicting he will be ‘toast’ if the country votes leave. How anybody can realistically expect Dave to resume working with a group of underlings who have aimed the kind of personal barbs at him that are usually reserved for the Opposition should he still be in a job come June 24 is residing in a land consisting of clouds and cuckoos. Few can carry a grudge like politicians.

I apologise to a degree that this bloody subject has come to dominate the blog of late; but it is such a unique occurrence for a Prime Minister to dispense with collective responsibility within his Cabinet that it makes for good copy. To see Ministers let off the leash, actually saying out loud what they genuinely believe rather than toeing the party line and reading from a script penned by the whips is both a rare insight into the personalities behind the bland, spin-doctored facade and a chance to hear the kind of home truths that are generally the preserve of Westminster mavericks with nothing to lose. I’ve never previously known this happen, not even in the botched ‘Alternative Vote’ cock-up of a few years back; and my seven-year-old self was largely oblivious on the one occasion we’ve been here before.

As has been mentioned more than once, my age at the time of the last occasion in which the Great British Public had their say on the funny foreigners across the Channel negated any interest or real knowledge of what was going on; but had I been asked who the Prime Minister was back then, the name Harold Wilson would have come to me as quickly as any other question I might have been posed. My niece, who is three years older than I was in 1975, was presented with the same poser last week (courtesy of me) and she didn’t know the answer; granted, she didn’t know who the President of the USA was either – which surprised me more, considering Obama’s frivolous celebrity – but is that nature or nurture? Anyway, whatever that says about the society she and we inhabit is immaterial when it comes to doing what Bucks Fizz advised when they themselves made a strident entry into Europe 35 years ago.

For every argument I hear in favour of remaining, an equally valid one is made for leaving. I’ve watched and read as much as someone with a life can over the past couple of months and will no doubt continue to do so right up until the moment I embark upon my trek to the local polling station. I’m not ashamed to admit I’m undecided, for I believe I’m not the only don’t-know out there. Perhaps if one of the camps took a leaf out of the Al Qaeda manual and promised a Paradise with umpteen available virgins as a reward for the right vote, that might swing it. But then the police would be obliged to get involved, and I think they’ve enough ‘historical sex crimes’ to keep their quiet lives busy for the next couple of decades, some even coincidentally stretching back as far as 1975.

© The Editor

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PASS THE VIBES, VICAR

GitStreet Cred – don’t do it! It’s Gordon Brown referencing ‘Eastenders’ in a speech and adding the prefix ‘The’; it’s William Hague attending the Notting Hill Carnival in a baseball cap; it’s Tony Blair carrying a guitar; it’s Nick Clegg boasting of his sexual conquests to a lads mag; it’s David Cameron claiming he supports Aston Villa and then confusing them with West Ham because they play in the same colours (Admittedly, I do that fairly regularly with Leeds Utd and Real Madrid). Step back in time and it can also be Jeremy Thorpe jamming with Jimi Hendrix, as well as Harold Wilson hobnobbing with The Beatles. Attempting to shed a little Westminster formality and prove politicians don’t have to be stuffy old farts out of touch with trends is bad enough; but when it extends to a charm offensive aimed at ‘The Kids’ by appropriating their lingo and encroaching upon their cultural touchstones, there are few things in life more guaranteed to curl the toes.

There’s a TV commercial for the Daily Mirror from the early 60s in which a group of teenagers have their enjoyment interrupted by a pompous father figure denouncing their noisy presence, to which an off-camera announcer responds by informing him the kids are entitled to their fun and he’s the one who’s in the way. What’s amusing about this ad is that the teenagers seem less authentic than the old fart, resembling the kind of clean-cut Pepsi-sipping stage-school adolescents ready to put on a show at a moment’s notice that populate the Cliff Richard films of the period – safe, sanitised and utterly unthreatening to a concerned middle-aged audience imagining everyone under-21 is a flick-knife wielding Teddy Boy. It’s not hard to imagine the commercial being dreamt up by the same demographic it’s intended to soothe the fears of.

The two key comedy series of the early 80s, ‘Not the Nine O’Clock News’ and ‘The Young Ones’, both parodied the cringing attempts of the over-30s to present their vision of contemporary yoof in a television setting. The former featured a spoof TV show for teens called ‘Hey! Wow!’ Presented by Griff Rhys-Jones as a laidback, shoulder-shrugging casual character slightly older than the adolescents surrounding him on set, the programme promises music from Lufthansa Terminal and mime from Alternative Car Park, and tries to begin with a debate on the current yoof issue of unemployment; but the host soon drops the trendy teacher act and rapidly reverts to a more authoritarian classroom tyrant. ‘The Young Ones’ eavesdropped upon a similar show called ‘Nozin’ Aroun’, presented by Ben Elton as a leather jacket-wearing member of the target age group, albeit one not quite as ‘street’ as he makes out – a bit like Elton turned out to be himself, actually.

Although understandably rooted in time in place – that time and place being the post-punk era of ‘Something Else’, ‘The Oxford Road Show’ and ‘The Tube’ – both parodies nail it. The moment a sea-change in pop culture is appropriated by adults as a means of speaking the Kids’ language, the moment has gone. This was especially prevalent in the 70s and into the 80s when virtually every year saw a Next Big Thing emerge, though it has considerably slowed down in recent years, leaving the mums and dads free to cherry-pick from slang and symbols that have been common currency amongst teens for the best part of twenty-five years – indeed, stretching all the way back to when they themselves constituted the teenage tribe (which probably makes things even worse for their kids).

The use of the phrase ‘Raving’ in the unbelievably bad Remain campaign ad for the EU Referendum (intended to persuade Young People to register as voters) suggests the word retains the relevance it had when first emerging at the end of the 80s, thus making it easier for those who produced the ad to stitch together the vocabulary of their children in cut & paste Burroughs fashion without much in the way of research – and it shows. The decision to drop the letter G from each word that flashes up on-screen (and dispensing with apostrophes in the process) is a ham-fisted concession to Estuary English of the kind George Osborne uses when donning a hard-hat and luminous jacket during his state visits to workplaces packed with common people who know the price of a pint of milk.

I would rather David Cameron strolled out of No.10 in his Bullingdon uniform, perhaps embellished with a top hat and a monocle, than painfully pose as something everyone knows he’s not. Equally, I’d prefer it if an ad which should be making a valid point didn’t wrap itself in a sequence of clichéd images and phrases the wankers that produced it have figured will best communicate that point to the under-30s. But then, if it hadn’t been as excruciating as it is, I couldn’t have responded with this…

© The Editor

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SARTORIAL EFFLUENCE

SlobIt’s an old saying, but it rings true – clothes maketh the man. I believe they maketh the woman as well. Whether we like it or not, first impressions are often made by the way in which an individual is ‘turned-out’, and sartorial choices can speak volumes as to what kind of individual we are encountering. These first impressions can also stretch to those we don’t even encounter in person.

I was recently watching one of the extras on the DVD of a cult movie, featuring footage from a BFI-type event wherein the director of the film in question attended a special screening of it and answered questions from the audience. I’m sure you’re familiar with the set-up. As per usual, there was a guy with a microphone doing a little interview prior to hands being raised in the auditorium, and as the segment progressed I found myself becoming more irritated by him – not so much the evident absence of interviewing skills that is customary for the amateurs chosen for such a duty, but by the contrast between the dress sense of him and his counterpart on stage. The old director, well into his seventies, was a dapper gent who had clearly made the effort, whereas the interviewer looked like he was attending a gig by a Death Metal band – unshaven, clad in black baggy T-shirt and well-worn jeans. He may as well have travelled to the event straight from the sofa after dozing off with a half-scoffed pizza settled on his beer-gut the night before. No attempt at entering into the spirit of things, just the standard slob chic that now appears to be the default setting for so many men under fifty.

The history books tell us the hippies are to blame, that their emphasis on ‘letting it all hang out’ and dispensing with the straitjacket of the suit has led us to where we are now. This theory tends to overlook the fact that the initial hippies (at least on this side of the pond) morphed out of the Carnaby Street Dandy; photographs from the late 60s prove these were no scruffy hobos. Victorian velvet frock-coats and Regency ruffles were compulsory; only in the early 70s did a more tramp-like variation on the theme appear, most obviously in the likes of Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson. At the same time, however, mainstream fashion retained its peacock aspects and presented the male of the species with a dazzling dressing-up box that even those too old to have participated in the Swinging 60s (i.e. Jon Pertwee and Peter Wyngarde) took full advantage of.

For me, it stems more from the Rave/Madchester era of the late 80s/early 90s, a deliberately slovenly style that was in part a reaction to the suited and booted Yuppie and the most public pop culture promoters of the look such as Rick Astley. Britpop may have boasted a certain debonair eccentricity via Jarvis Cocker and (on occasion) Damon Albarn, but its core audience members were largely disciples of the Stone Roses ‘jeans, T-shirt and sneakers’ ensemble, an unimaginative uniform that has subsequently become the standard acceptable male wardrobe.

There is also the ‘sportswear’ look, which is equally responsible for the decline in dress. This grew out of football fans following English clubs during their all-conquering European sojourns in the early 80s, picking up Italian designer products en route and developing the ‘casual’ look as a consequence. They always looked like thuggish versions of Val Doonican to me, but this style gradually bled into the mainstream and eventually resulted in clothes originally designed for sports arenas evolving into accepted street gear. The most odious of this to me is the tracksuit bottom, the ultimate slob statement, usually worn by people who are the least athletic types one could ever imagine. Sod banning the burqa; ban the bottoms!

Teenagers, I believe, can be cut a little slack. I myself had a proto-Grunge look in the middle of the 80; photos of Kurt Cobain from the same period – and he was born the same year as me – show I wasn’t alone, despite my parents’ best attempts to convince me I was a one-off freak. Teenage studied scruffiness is nothing more than a traditional reaction geared to get up the noses of mater and pater and they do (or should) grow out of it. Any female adolescent is also contending with the narrow role models she’s bombarded with on a constant loop, all those designer dolls endorsing girlie stereotypes that any woman with anything about her would instinctively rebel against. This, however, is no excuse for the most recent female street style that is simply unforgivable. I’m talking, of course, about wearing bedroom outfits outdoors – dressing gowns and pyjama bottoms. I applaud schools and supermarkets that have barred such monstrosities from their premises. What does it say about someone if they can’t even be bothered changing the sweaty rags they’ve slept in when they venture beyond the doorstep? Unless you’re an old dear stricken with dementia, a slipper is not designed for the pavement.

There has been much talk of the Metrosexual male of late – the well-groomed semi-Dandy who actually takes the time to present himself to the world at his best. Metrosexual males may exist, but they tend to be small in number as well as mocked in that predictable knee-jerk manner so characteristic of the man who regards any aesthetic effort to look good as a sign of effeminacy. I do my bit, usually in financially-deprived circumstances; but not having the ready cash to buy the clothes I’d like means I improvise and have developed my own personal look that requires the kind of preparation before facing the world akin to an actor taking to the stage in full costume. Penury is no excuse for the slovenly. Everyone can look good if they want to. It’s just that society is now telling them they don’t need to.

© The Editor

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IF YER NAME’S NOT ON THE LIST…

Polling station, London, 1974Probably like most people, I didn’t even notice the changes when they came in; I’m aware of them now, but only because I’m paying attention. A lot aren’t. I’m talking registering to vote. The law tells us we can all do it once we’re 18 – as long as we’re not being detained at Her Majesty’s Pleasure, of course. So why is it not as straightforward as it once seemed? I doubt the 1.5 million potential voters to have vanished from the electoral roll since the changes came into effect could answer that question. They disappeared because their identities couldn’t be verified via council tax and social security records on the DWP database, initially placing their automatic transference to the new register in stasis; they remained on the register until December and now they’ve gone.

Changes to the way in which the electorate register for the right to vote could reduce the numbers gaining access to the polling booth on June 23, apparently. The PM was urging ‘yoof’ to register and cast their vote this week, yet it is the abolition of the old registration system which he was instrumental in abolishing that could leave many young people out in the cold (and it probably will be cold on June 23, going by our summer climes). Individual Electoral Registration became law two years ago, twelve months before the last General Election. Whereas the previous pattern was for the head of a household to register all residents eligible to vote, with a similar process at universities, where all students would be listed together, the onus being on the individual to register alone means those people who don’t necessarily stay rigid in one place – renting tenants and students alike – are less likely to have their names down on the electoral roll.

Are these potential lost voters more likely to vote Brexit? Possibly. Are these potential lost voters more likely to vote Tory? Doubtfully. But the changes made by the previous Tory-dominated administration could have a far wider-reaching impact on voting than what happens in the EU Referendum.

The ongoing plan to bring in electoral boundary changes, reducing the number of constituencies in the process, is a plan that will base its redrawing of the map on the geography of the electorate, using the list of voters who have registered since the IER was introduced in 2014. With the majority of those registered unlikely to include serial wanderers or students, this means the boundary changes will be heavily favoured towards the traditional, stable and affluent Tory fan-base residing in rural heartlands rather than densely-populated urban areas with an ever-changing population. This imbalance gives the Tories a distinct advantage which, let’s face it, they’d obviously be foolish not to want.

When the Individual Electoral Registration became law, it was theoretically introduced to reduce the prospect of electoral fraud, but a spokesman for the Electoral Reform Society claimed the change could provoke a decline in electoral registration, ‘looking at registration rates in the 50% region’. When the new rules had been in place for a year, the 2015 General Election took place and 186,000 absent voters applied to register after the deadline. There seems to be a strong likelihood the same thing could happen again come the Referendum. How that will affect the outcome remains to be seen – or possibly Remains to be seen.

I suppose it would easy for some belonging to older generations, those for whom voting as a virtual duty was in the blood, to say that those who haven’t registered to vote have only themselves to blame. Fair point. But that implies politics figures as highly in daily discourse amongst the under-45s as it is prone to amongst the over-45s; and by and large, it doesn’t. It’s only when a media bombardment comes around every four or five years that those who don’t pay constant attention realise something is happening. We’ve been rather spoilt over the last couple of years: first the Scottish Independence Referendum, then the General Election and now a Referendum everyone in the UK can actually participate in, so anyone who hasn’t registered has no real excuse, right? Maybe; but wouldn’t it be easier if we could just turn up at the polling station with some ID and get on with it? We have to provide ID for everything else now; it should be sufficient. We’re all supposed to be on file these days, our every move monitored and tracked; so why not just endorse the myth that every free man and woman over 18 can vote and dispense with electoral registration altogether? The new system was allegedly intended to lessen the risk of fraud; it might well do that, but it doesn’t appear to be working where it really matters.

The deadline for registration re the EU Referendum is June 7; despite the fact that Mr Cameron claims a million have registered since the start of the campaign, there could be thousands who miss the deadline and won’t be able to have their say. Will they be back on the register in time for the next General Election? The way things have been going since the Individual Electoral Registration was introduced, there’s a strong possibility they won’t be.

© The Editor

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PRACTICALLY A POLANSKI

AllenThe notorious underground filmmaker, author and disciple of Aleister Crowley, Kenneth Anger got there long before him (fifty-one years before, as it happens), but it seems a current Hollywood B-lister has decided the time is right to expose Tinsel Town as a hotbed of vice and debauchery, that’s if Elijah Wood’s weekend accusation is anything to go by. Perhaps he’s got a movie to plug. Mind you, someone ranking far higher in the constellation of contemporary celluloid royalty beat him to it when she decided to side with the ‘injured party’ in a marital squabble that has been revived after two decades in abeyance. Step forward Susan Sarandon, leading light of the liberal left in Hollywood, the one that was so mercilessly (not to say brilliantly) skewered in ‘Team America: World Police’.

Sarandon didn’t mind getting her tits oot for the lads in earlier cinematic outings which (probably to her embarrassment) have retained cult appeal, specifically ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show’ and ‘The Hunger’; but since her marriage to Tim Robbins and celebrated role in ‘Thelma and Louise’, Sarandon has been elevated to the PC Premier League in that self-important corner of California that reached an apex of patronising preaching at this year’s Oscars ceremony. What Sarandon has to do with the subject she publicly intervened in last week remains questionable; but she has taken sides, of that there is no doubt. And the side she has taken is that of a woman scorned.

Let’s be honest, fewer cases of a woman scorned come more humiliating than the scenario Mia Farrow experienced in the early 90s, when her partner of twelve years, Woody Allen, left her for her adopted daughter from a previous marriage. It’s hard to think of a harder hammer-blow an actress in her late 40s could receive than her partner abandoning her for a 21-year-old, let alone one that had kick-started her serial adoption programme. How did Mia react? Well, she immediately alleged her seven-year-old adopted daughter Dylan was a victim of sexual abuse on the part of the man who had just walked out on her.

It seems a long time ago now, but the whole unedifying Farrow-Allen abuse battle was headline news for a good year or so in the early 90s, long before such things became fashionable. Farrow was quite a pioneer in devising new means of vengeance for an injured party. The director who had revived Farrow’s movie career by giving her 12 leading roles in his films was denied access to his children with her for a period, though when enough time had passed since the height of the scandal, Dylan Farrow started the abuse ball rolling again by making fresh allegations a couple of years ago. In response to these renewed claims, Farrow and Allen’s adopted son Moses retorted by claiming his mother was the abuser, albeit physical and psychological rather than sexual. He also alleged Farrow ‘coached’ her children into believing every accusation she’d flung at Allen.

Ronan Farrow is yet another of the numerous children to have filled the Farrow household during the tenure of her relationship with Woody Allen, yet his paternal parentage has bizarrely been attributed to his mother’s ex, Frank Sinatra, who was in his seventies when Ronan was born, twenty years after the end of the short-lived Sinatra/Farrow marriage. He recently added to the renaissance of the abuse allegations by endorsing his sister Dylan’s accusations in ‘The Hollywood Reporter’ via a piece titled ‘My Father Woody Allen and The Danger of Questions Unasked’. He compared Allen’s ‘immunity’ from the law to the current experience of Bill Cosby, citing the advantages that the so-called powerful have over their accusers when an allegation is made as being responsible for the doubts that continue to plague his sister’s allegations. We’ve kind-of heard it all before over here (at least since 2012), though that hasn’t prevented it – as the Kids say – Going Viral.

Eavesdropping on a famous family at war is a horrible voyeuristic exercise encouraged by media outlets that thrive on such scandals, yet the unnecessary intervention of Susan Sarandon when at Cannes to appear at an event called ‘Women in Motion’ (not to be confused with the parallel Cannes event, ‘Women Stationary’) has merely added fuel to the fire. ‘I think he sexually assaulted a child and I don’t think that’s right’ was the earth-shattering observation made by Sarandon that received the most coverage last week. Sarandon said she had nothing good to say about Allen and then added ‘I don’t want to go there’. Afraid you already have, Susan. Ronan Farrow’s contribution to the ongoing scandal was perfectly timed, appearing as it did on the same day as Woody Allen’s latest movie premiered at Cannes, a red-carpet event at which (unbelievably) Susan Sarandon was present.

I confess I am a long-time fan of Woody Allen’s work, particularly the string of movies he produced from the late 60s through to the early 80s (roughly ‘Take the Money and Run’ to ‘Stardust Memories’), and whether he did or didn’t do the dirty with a little girl won’t alter that at all. But I don’t really believe we’ll ever get to the truth of events that did or didn’t occur when he was involved with Mia Farrow because the nature of the arena in which these disputed events have been played out isn’t concerned with the truth. That’s show-business, honey.

© The Editor

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INTOLERANCE

TrollIs it possible to love the art and loathe the artist? Why not? I’m sure there must be more than one person whose emotions are stirred by Wagner’s music yet who experiences guilt because a part of themselves over which they have no control has responded positively to a composer with well-publicised anti-Semitic views, one who was later adopted as the in-house tunesmith of the Nazis. It’s true that the art is an extension of the person who created it; the art is as much a part of them as their physical being; but it could be argued that the art is the best of them, the aspect of them that matters above everything else, the aspect of them that renders whatever else they do in their lives, good or bad, irrelevant.

If I might be excused a moment of self-indulgence, I remember being devastated as a small child when every picture I drew or DIY comic I made with my own pencil mysteriously disappeared from my bedroom whenever I returned home from school. My mother considering them fit for nothing but the dustbin to me implied that’s all I was fit for. I considered my ‘art’ to be the best of me. There, self-indulgence done. Anyway, this is why it is fundamentally ridiculous that, say, Gary Glitter records are blacklisted from oldies radio stations – a major artist of a specific era in British pop music can no longer be included in the roll-call of its leading lights; and it has nothing to do with his art. For decades after Oscar Wilde’s arrest, trial and imprisonment, his works went unperformed in this country and his name was a dirty word. Hard to imagine now, but it happened; and it was all about the artist, not the art.

It is possible to be fond of or even like a person who has enough good about them to enable us to overlook those elements of them we dislike. It should be, anyway. That’s what being ‘grown-up’ is all about, isn’t it – that ability to accept aspects of others that contradict some of our own aspects, beliefs or opinions? Well, in an online age of instant hate campaigns, that’s not always evident. Discourse has regressed to juvenilia in many cases, so that any unpopular opinion expressed embodies the whole of the person who expressed it. Not in favour of gay marriage? Scum of the earth – end of. In favour of fox-hunting? Scum of the earth – end of. There is no room for debate or discussion. That one opinion represents everything you are. It utterly defines you.

For all its innumerable faults, Parliament could not continue – indeed, could never have existed in the first place – were it to adopt the same attitude. Whenever an especially contentious vote is taken in the Commons, unlikely cross-party alliances are regularly formed for the duration; there may be huge ideological divisions between the respective members of the alliance, but these are put to one side in order that a crucial shared belief can momentarily unite opposites. It can even sometimes stretch to a far longer arrangement. How else was the Coalition Government of 2010-15 able to last the course of a full five-year term? How else has the Northern Ireland Assembly managed to outlive every other previous attempt at bringing the two Ulster communities to the same political table?

If we’re not careful, we could be in danger of losing this skill. We could end up like those fanatical football fans who won’t have the colour worn by the rival team they hate anywhere in their house. Having being a vegetarian for over 25 years, most of my close friends throughout that quarter-century have been meat-eaters. Has this altered my opinion of them in any way? Has it made me think any less of them? Has it placed our friendship in peril? Has it hell. Sure, we all possess certain strongly-held beliefs on some subjects, but to expect everyone in our orbit to fall into line with our own viewpoint on everything is little more than pure narcissism. I used to live with a girl who owned a lot of UB40 albums – and not the early UB40, who were at times on a par with The Specials, but the cabaret reggae incarnation of the band from the mid-80s onwards. I couldn’t bloody stand hearing it. But she had more going for her than what I considered to be an occasionally lousy taste in music. We didn’t eventually go our separate ways just because my ears could no longer tolerate ‘Red Red Wine’ one more time.

It goes without saying that if one is best buddies with a person one discovers to be an active serial killer, friendship should really have its limits. But that’s a slightly different kettle of fish to disowning somebody because they convert to a religion and we’re atheist, or if they vote Tory and we vote Labour, or if they support Manchester United and we support Manchester City. If they’re able to tolerate elements of us that they find not to their taste, we should be able to do likewise. If not, where are we? Probably in the NUS.

© The Editor

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AS NATURE OFFENDED

d7e11002cd980b7e96b55a95b0ac8b0e[1]A paediatrician asks a mother to video her mentally disabled daughter enduring one of her regular spasms in order that he can make an effective diagnosis; a side-effect of her child’s condition is that the spasms cause her to rip her clothes off. Upon being told this, the physician whose job it is to tend to the medical needs of children informs the mother he cannot view any such videos. Despite the fact that visual evidence of the spasms will enable him to treat them correctly and possibly ease the girl’s suffering, he cannot look at it because he fears possession of such material will result in him being placed on the sex-offender’s register. The mother also hesitates at capturing her daughter’s spasms on video for fear she will be charged with making offensive images; sending them to the paediatrician could land her with an additional charge of distributing offensive images. Therefore, a woman who gave birth to a child born naked and a man whose profession sometimes requires him to examine children without clothes on both back away from helping a sick child because of fear. This is a true story, told to me by someone who was told it by the mother of the child. What an absolutely ludicrous, not to say tragic, scenario.

This is an extremely smug century. A consensus is afoot that we are sophisticated, liberated and no longer hindered by the repressive sexual pressures that stifled personal freedoms in the past. If the products of this culture have an imagined nemesis, it is the Victorians. Women couldn’t vote and were second-class citizens encased in constricting corsets; homosexuals were locked away and broken by the prison system; black people were oppressed colonial cheap labour, barely better off than when they were slaves; the poor lived in squalid hovels with no social safety net other than the workhouse. Weren’t the Victorians terrible and aren’t we so much better? Are we?

Last year, a BBC documentary on Lewis Carroll aired, in which the ‘Alice in Wonderland’ author’s pioneering photographs received extensive coverage. Carroll – or as he was known beyond Wonderland, Charles Dodgson – specialised in somewhat sentimental portraits of children that enraptured their parents, most of whom were present when Dodgson’s elaborate set-pieces were staged and captured on camera. Many of these images featured children unclothed, something that at the time was supposed to emphasise the virtuous innocence of vulnerable cherubs whose lifespan hovered in a permanent state of uncertainty. Sensibilities today see such images rather differently.

One overlong segment of the documentary was devoted to an image of an unidentified naked pre-pubescent girl whose identity was speculated as being that of the real Alice’s sister, Lorina Liddell; nobody could even say for certain that Charles Dodgson had actually taken the photograph. But this formed part of the predictable discussion on whether or not Dodgson’s penchant for participating in a late nineteenth century vogue for photographing children pointed to him being a paedophile. The squeamish icing on the twenty-first century censorious cake, however, was that the programme-makers wouldn’t even let the viewers see the photograph in question. A Victorian photo of a girl who will have been dead for at least fifty years – and that’s if she lived to a very ripe old age – couldn’t be shown on television in 2015 because it was deemed to be offensive to the sensitive sensibilities of our oh-so superior age.

‘Victorian Values’ is a wide-sweeping term that is only ever used dismissively; it is supposed to represent everything bad that has gradually been superseded by more enlightened thinking and living. Yet, as hypocritical as the Victorians’ attitude to flesh and pleasures thereof allegedly were, they were not terrified of the flesh of children – and they were not expected to see pleasure in it at all, unlike their ‘sophisticated’ successors over a hundred years on. Of course, there were some adults then who had unnatural sexual desires towards children, just as there were before the Victorians and just as there are today; but the key difference between then and now is that the nineteenth century acknowledged paedophilia as a rare symptom restricted to a minority rather than a commonplace perversion inherent in the majority.

Today, one has to prove the absence of such feelings because their absence is not accepted. It is a given, a presumption that they are in all of us, simply waiting to be exposed. A series of laws introduced over the past decade seem designed to catch us out, to coax these feelings into the open, like some form of thought entrapment; and if they happen not to be in us, they have to be implanted in us because they’re supposed to be there. These laws encourage instant suspicion and rushes to judgement, and they persuade people to think the worst of everyone. They negate rationality, provoke paranoia and self-doubt, inspire mob mentality, and more than anything, they generate a primitive brand of pseudo-religious, finger-pointing fear unprecedented in a secular society.

The Victorians were supposedly so averse to the sight of naked flesh that they covered piano legs because they resembled the indecently-exposed legs of ladies. How silly, eh? But they weren’t horrified by the sight of children as nature intended; we are. And that’s progress.

© The Editor

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