Worst Case & Ariel

“You either love it or you hate it” was the slogan for Marmite because the people who did their marketing were smart enough to know this was the truth and they weren’t convincing non-buyers to get it so they just ran with this idea that had fallen into common vernacular. Bands, Books, People could all be described as “Marmite” meaning you loved or hated it, no middle ground. Today this partisan mentality has extended to EVERYTHING, nothing is seen as middling anymore or can simply be ignored, it is either the greatest thing to have ever happened or the worst. It will either save us or destroy us. The thing I found to be most interesting in all this is how this extends to the topic that has been the preoccupation with popular culture for the last 15 years or so: The Apocalypse.

The Left see an imminent apocalypse due to climate change, economic collapse and escalating wars whereas the Right see it in the rise of political correctness, social justice or just anything that doesn’t grossly benefit white dudes. Now the important distinction here is how both define these futures for society and civilization, for the left it’s a Dystopia that awaits but for the right it’s a Utopia. The pejorative use of the word Utopia has always perplexed me. Why is the idea of a prosperous, equitable society that benefits all seen as such a bad thing? I think the first thing to understand is that the people who complain about “Utopian dreamers” are normally the people currently living in a Utopia themselves: privileged, wealthy white people who have never known real conflict on their shores in their lifetime and are rarely said no to or not catered for, but it also seems to boil down to a total misunderstanding of what Utopia is.

I just finished reading Thomas More’s book ‘Utopia’ which is where we get the word and its general meaning from. Unfortunately, little more than a basic precis is given to us by the modern definition of the word Utopia if you haven’t read the book. The book itself is about a mysterious sailor named Raphael who tells Thomas of an island nation that he visited/discovered off the coast of South America. It is a seemingly ancient society and civilization of total harmony and the more it is described the more we realise how difficult it is to see happening at the time the novel was written but thanks to a surprisingly nuanced and detailed explanation of the different aspects of Utopia by Raphael we can see reflections of the country in our own contemporary society, references to courts and policing, sales and taxation and even home ownership and gardens are discussed as the perfect model for a well maintained civilization. Thus, the most striking thing reading Utopia today is that by the book’s definitions it already exists in the western world, but only here and only to certain class of people.

The other thing that struck me was something that seems slightly abstract about the book: it is not a first-hand account, it is an account of a first-hand account. Anyone who is aware of the ‘Unreliable Narrator’ trope in stories will know this is one way of being given a story that may or may not be true. Or both. Any book you are reading purports itself to be the objective truth, be it written first person or not, you take the story at face value even if you know the person telling the story is subjective. In the case of Utopia you are hearing a subjective account of a subjective account and this places Utopia in an interesting place not just as a book but an idea that has come to define the word. Even in the context which defines the idea of Utopia it is seen from a distance, it is a myth even in its own story explaining it. Utopia is a country viewed from afar, never to be landed on, that we see as perfection but can never attain. Perfection has always been unattainable, as any wise person knows, so Utopia can only ever exists as an idea even in its own story. Therein lies the difference between the Left and Right visions of the next stage of civilization, the left knows aiming for Utopia is doomed to failure for “a man’s reach should exceed his grasp” but we equally fear the reality that a dystopia is achievable due to its definition being founded in very real and present concerns. The Right, however, are the opposite. Their Utopian hell is unlikely to ever happen but they inch ever closer to a dystopian present of their liking and design.

Another text that uses a mythical island to confront us with a form of Utopia and Dystopia is Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’. Whilst Prospero’s island is not a Utopia, nothing more than a rock really, it is easy to see the way everything on the island, embodied in Ariel and Caliban, is depicted as being Utopian or Dystopian depictions of humanity. Even the way the survivors of the shipwreck see the island is the opposite to one another:

Adrian:            … the air breathes upon us here most sweetly
Sebastian:        As if it had lungs, and rotten ones.
Gonzalo:         Here is everything advantageous to life.
Antonio:          True; save means to live.
Gonzalo:         How lush and lusty the grass looks! How green!
Antonio:          The ground, indeed, is tawny!
Sebastian:        With an eye of green in’t.

An island that depicts both the best and worst in people seems a perfect sister to More’s Utopia (a text written 100 years before the Tempest) that reflects the problems of the contemporary England of More’s age to a dream-like, mythical place of societal perfection. Prospero even says in his “we are such stuff as dreams are made on” speech, the implication that everything there on the island is false, this “insubstantial pageant”. At the end of the play both the selfish and greedy Caliban and the righteously furious but altruistic Ariel are freed from their servitude to Prospero by him as the survivors along with the Magician himself and his daughter leave the island to return to the ‘real’ world, this could be seen as relinquishing the notion of the dichotomy presented by the island of good and bad or black and white thinking (Ariel in performance is often White, Caliban is typically depicted as Black). As such we could see Prospero’s island as both Utopia and Dystopia that the characters can return to civilization with knowledge of, in the same way as Raphael returned with an understanding of the Utopians.

The point I am trying, laboriously, to reach is that the Hegelian argument of Thesis and Antithesis (the need for two opposing arguments to decide on a synthesized method to progress with) need not be embodied in reality. Diametrically opposed views are useful in debate and thought experiments as there will always be a counter argument for any point of view or belief but its usefulness in day to day life is not beneficial, as we are seeing today. Whilst this may sound like an attempt to say “Can’t we all just get along?” it isn’t. I do not believe in liberalism or centrism, I believe in everyone being educated and intelligent enough to understand an argument from each extreme and be able to utilize this knowledge to better approach a topic as opposed to simply taking an oppositional or dogmatic stance on any given thing. We need be neither Ariel nor Caliban, we can be Raphael and see the ideas of perfection or corruption without making them a reality and know there is something better to aim towards.

Having said all this, I admit this was one hell of a reach. I based this article on the title which was given to me from an autocorrect mistake by my girlfriend when she meant to say ‘worst case scenario’ but I liked it so much I wrote it down to use as a title later. It kinda makes sense though. And I highly recommend reading Utopia, fascinating reading given the current political climate, especially in the UK and USA. There’s nothing wrong with being a Utopian dreamer, Shakespeare clearly was.

American Blood

It’s Independence Day here in America. I’ve been spending a lot of time here over the last three years or so, what with having an American girlfriend and all, and I must say I really do have a lot of love for the country and its people. The British and Americans have that stupid ‘special relationship’ which seems to me to be the same language and a seething resentment for each other but I think most people from either country, once we get past the stereotypes, will enjoy the other’s. That does not mean, however, either country is without faults. Britain is in the throes of some serious existential crises currently and it is costing lives. Being British though I feel much too close to give a proper appraisal of the situation. In America, however, I’m in a unique position to be very close to it yet from a different culture which gives me a slightly more ‘arms-length’ view of the nation. Consequently, after President T*umps election I felt compelled to write something about an outsider’s perspective on the United States. So just before last Christmas I put together a long essay about America’s own existential crisis it is living through but without mentioning the current President. At the time I had just been to see Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell as well as purchasing my own copy of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, all of which had profound effect on me. I was aiming at something like Paine’s ‘Common Sense’ (obviously not as good or as impactful but a Brit commenting on the issues facing the Nation’s survival as an Independent Union) in that it is indeed polemical but hopefully poetic too. It’s too long to be submitted to any magazine and no publisher seems particularly interested in a 30 page essay so I sent it to a few close friends out of the blue and received largely positive feedback. It’s been 7 months or so and I don’t think its going to see ‘proper’ print so I decided, on this July 4th, to post it here. Pdf below.

 

America is a great country with a remarkable foundation. The Constitution is the modern blueprint for how to found a Nation and that intellect wins over brute force every time. I really do have a lot of love for America despite its issues (stop being racist and get rid of your guns are the main ones I think) and would love to spend more time here. Every country is going through a difficult time right now and the USA is no exception. I don’t pretend to know the answers but I think I can see what the problem is. So Happy Birthday, America, may there be many more to come.

Now get rid of the orange twerp.

My Summer with Jez

If you cast your minds back to the dim and distant past (those of you who are old enough) some of you may remember the heady June of 1996. It was a hot and bright summer in the southeast and I was freshly free as school had just broken up. The internet was not what it is today. Whilst my Dad had a modem he used it for work, this was in the days of dial up and high cost for usage, as well as the fact you couldn’t pick up the phone while online. All this is to say as an early teen I wasn’t sitting around watching YouTube (it was still a decade away). It was the year of the N64 release but I wouldn’t get my own for a year or two yet (still the best Christmas present I ever got). As such I buried myself in books in my free time or found my one local friend and played outdoors. I also did a lot of writing at the time, telling epic tales that were light rip-offs of other favourite books/films/comics. Whitstable was less gentrified back then, still a bit grotty with the fronts of houses having last seen a lick of paint in the 70s and the front gardens having over grown in a charmingly wild way, pre-Titchmarsh and Co. Mr. Green was yet to takeover the town so the beach was a bit grubby, the notoriously lethal pre-‘health & safety gone mad’ diving platform still stood in the sea, the Neptune was still allowed its outdoor stage for music day and crowds only flocked into the town during July and August for the summer and the Regatta which always reminded me of that scene in Jaws. John Major was still Prime Minister having limped his way out of Black Wednesday 4 years previous to enjoy something of a reinvigoration of the markets that would lead to the now legendary Labour win the next year. The biggest boon at the time was in British culture, Cool Britannia (bleurgh) was on the up, post Grunge music meant giddy hedonism was in the music charts and it has never been so diverse. The world of modern art led by popular mouthpieces Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin was breaking up taboos and causing controversy. Television was enjoying a renaissance thanks to Channel 4 pushing the stuffy old BBC into more esoteric territory with shows like The Word having ended and TFI Friday and the Big Breakfast ruling the airwaves and setting the anarchic tone. In short Thatcher was gone, culture was fun and the sun was shining. Even for a kid as totally disengaged from reality as me the summer of 1996 felt optimistic and happy.

I have no interest in football. Or any sport for that matter. Unfortunately in Britain that doesn’t matter. During our MANY sporting events you are forcibly swept along and in the pre-digital multi channel days of the 90s, programming and discussion of sporting events dominated everything. World Cup 1990 and 94 were unavoidable, Wimbledon is still a source of national pride, the Ashes and the sodding ‘Ball of the Century’, was in every pub, every paper, every radio and television station bumped usual programming to favour overtime and rain stopping play. Into this all permeating culture of sport and summertime came Euro 96. Sick of the previous World Cup I was delighted to have a 4 year break from inescapable football coverage, sadly Euro 96 appeared and, in some ways, proved bigger mainly because it was held in England. What cut through to me most back then was the football superstars of the decade like Lineker, Seamen and Gazza but after 96 I knew all their bloody names and still do (some of them anyway): Pearce, Ince, Southgate, Platt, Shearer, Sheringham, Anderton, Redknapp, Campbell, Neville, Ferdinand and probably a few I’ve forgotten. As usual for England it was a deliriously gleeful charge toward the semi-finals against Germany prompting what I now recognise as rabid xenophobia and jingoism but was dismissed in the Sun(t) as “Bantahh”. We scraped a draw then lost on penalties because Southgate missed, which was soundly mocked to the point of Gareth being sent up in a MacDonald’s advert. As stupid and pointless as it all was, the march to almost glory caught everyone’s imagination created a new vigour in British pride (Scotland did alright too) and combined with our other cultural exports at the time, the mood was jubilant and even got to a spotty 12 year old me. Out of all this came an unlikely hero: Des Lynam who presented the BBC coverage with a dry humour and genuine warmth. He was a long-serving presenter of sport having even been present at the tragic Hillsboro Disaster 7 years previous, but after Euro 96 he was anointed National Treasure status by many. His stoic manner in the face of such hysteria and hyperbole (and bitchin moustache) seemed to capture everyone’s hearts and he still sticks in my mind as the gold standard for this sort of thing.

In a jump forward to the 1998, Britain was off its nut on itself, high on its own supply of British fervour. New Labour were in on a landslide, Conservatism was dead, Lady Diana’s death became a strange outpouring of grief far beyond that of the death of a former royal seeming to personify an overburdening sentimentality that had been growing and every part of culture was on that odd interim moment of being off your face when the jubilant part of the high has worn off but before the comedown when you’re doing everything to fast, too loud, too often and you’re starting to get on everyone’s nerves. Into this rather explosive mix came the metaphorical ‘second pill’ or ‘fifth line of the night’ that was the World Cup, reinvigorating the waning national fervour for Queen and country, Three Lions on a shirt, etc etc. As a sort of metaphor for this decline towards the millennium and the crashing, toilet coating come down that was to follow, England didn’t even make it to the quarter finals. But to coincide with the start of the tournament the BBC aired a one off TV drama written by comedian Arthur Smith and starring the then ultimate footy lout and man behaving badly, Neil Morrissey and a relatively unknown Rachel Weisz, called My Summer with Des. It’s a Rom-a-Com-a-ding-dong very much in the 90s mould of a Curtis-lite Four Weddings-a-like but played out against the backdrop of Euro 96, even featuring cameos by David Seamen and Peter Shilton. Lynam acts as a commentator on the fairly paint by numbers love story and that’s about the extent of it. It wasn’t particularly good or that bad but what it did do was crystalise that strange period in British culture beautifully and only two years later. It acts like a historical document to a bygone era yet made only 36 months after. Britain was different place and everyone seemed to be longing for that carefree time again. It sticks in my mind as a moment that changed my perception of change and of time, I could already be nostalgic for two years ago as the wizened, aged crone of a 14 year old wistfully remembering his youth and the heady days of summer. The summer of 96 still holds an oddly magical, probably mis-remembered charm to it even now. Abiding memories of reading book after book in the sun but every time I walked past any other part of humanity seeing or hearing three lions, or Blur and Oasis still duking it out in the charts, getting that weird green colour wash over your vision when you head inside after being in the sun all day, watching Dad at the sink whistling to the neighbours parrot through the window, cycling to the golf course to watch thunderstorms roll in, using my imagination everyday and filling whole worlds and my hometown with monsters and adventures I can barely summon through the clouds of cynicism these days, performing a newly learned magic trick to anyone I could collar for longer than two seconds and generally getting a lot out of life without realising it.

Everyone has a completely incorrect appraisal of their youth and loves to roll around in the warm, soft down of nostalgia these days. The digital revolution has killed the wonder and many levels of innocence that the pre-9/11 world preyed on and it is unlikely to get it back. With an electorate pummelled by constant innovation, terrorist extremism escalating, foreign wars, rolling news constantly informing you of it, endless REALITY television, meta-post-modernism being the basis of every artistic output, the lack of any centralised culture like the music chart, a shift by the media in response to all this towards clickbait and highly opinionated argument, all of which is another planet compared to the total stupidity and naivety of the 90s.

But this summer…

The snap election this year was met with a groan by the whole nation suffering from a morbid political fatigue post-EU referendum. With all the problems of the above and the cultural, artistic and commentariat class distancing themselves from any sort of collectivist arrangement, engaging instead in the increasingly niche sectors where their ‘fanbase’ can find them and add to the viewer or follower count, these disparate elements of British society looked set to desparingly nod along with the Tory party line and accept the vitriol and ignorance poured into the water supply by the print media.

Except that didn’t happen.

Instead of riding a wave of national pride and cultural fervour like Tony Blair and New Labour, Jeremy Corbyn shot a flare in the air to start the wave machine rolling. And roll the wave did. Anyone on the ground could see not just a meek and faltering optimism growing but a full-throated roar of hope and glee but that was completely either ignored at best or disparaged and insulted at worst by the media, the political parties (including most of the Labour Party) and wealthy business and investors. Unlike in the 90s the national media is not the main source, we are not limited to a small number of radio or television channels, and newspapers, for once the internet had made a community for the electorate to rally to instead of send everyone skittering away to their dens. Contrary to what many say about “not wanting to be dictated to anymore” by the media I find the reverse to be true. The Murdoch papers and TV love to get vox pops, act as your friend, use the chummy, post-modern, self-referential Bantz of the pub, nudge nudge wink wink, we’re all in it together aren’t we readers? mentality. Looking back to 96 when there was a national contest to rally around where we were GIVEN the story of Cool Britannia which became as self fulfilling prophecy and a tweedy Des Lynam warmly and comfortingly guiding us through it all and softening the blow of defeat. Corbyn did the same. He talked at us, gave us a narrative to understand that could be easily passed on and far from being ordered to your civic duty like the Daily Fail, Corbyn gave you his story and said do what you like with it and like Pavlov’s social reflex we gathered round it for warmth in such a bleak and dark time. As things grew bleaker with three terrorist attacks in two months we huddled closer, finding comfort in each other and a collective movement, a community we all fostered. I have never actively read the paper and certainly didn’t as a teen but I know the wave that met Blair’s campaign in 97 was a response to the ground born, cultural dialogue of the mid-nineties. The same is true of Corbyn, we all knew it, we just couldn’t articulate it, had nothing to rally behind. We just needed to be shown what it was that was pissing us all off. And then there it was, plain as day, and everyone who felt it teamed up and we were back to it being part of culture again with Grime superstars behind it, new media behind it, an en masse shift toward community thinking and rejection of the current political model. Everyone in that Establishment HATED it because you couldn’t make money out of it. This was the major difference with the Blair years, that kind of cultural revolution you could market and sell very easily, this kind you can’t. What Corbyn and his Manifesto offered was something not seen since Labour’s last boon in the post war years and it wasn’t just a return to Socialism. It was an interest and investment in contemporary culture. Labour was a Modernist movement in the post WWII era, using modern art and graphics, investing in new technologies and thinking, radical methods of education and restructuring, real boots-in-soil development of ideas and this was what Corbyn and his team understood but the rest of the party didn’t. Blair saw this was already happening and jumped on board instead of the Conservatives who were actively resisting it or just ignoring it. Corbyn wanted in on the ground floor and importantly LISTENED to what was being grumbled, what was wanted, what was needed: Change.

This early summer and Corbyn’s joyous, friendly campaign has created an undeniably buoyant mood (for those that agree with it) in a time of bleak and unremitting horror. His supporters understand the need for change and we voted for it. In droves. Unfortunately it wasn’t enough, largely because most voters (older voters) have not felt the pinch or seen the depravity to which the Conservatives will stoop. The past and nostalgia is comforting, many want the Blair years back but they won’t come. It was an audacious but failed experiment to try and promote that kind of community but appealing to it through centrist politics as opposed to actual community thinking i.e. respecting diversity of opinion and appearance and integrating it into policy not working around it. This election, far from crushing any will I had for the future of this country as a progressive, intelligent and contemporary element of the modern global society, has instead lit that same fire of the will I had way back when. That general feeling of good being done. Its not perfect and we still live in challenging times and I certainly don’t want to go back to the bloody 90s but I do want that sense of optimism and friendliness to return, the element that has been hammered from us these last 15 years. And for the first time since I was 12 it really feels like its back. So with a long hot summer ahead I hope we can all recapture that sense of community, helpfulness, enjoyment and positivity but minus the rose tinted nostalgia.

And all the bloody football.

Designing the Future

 

In a sea of hot-takes and off-the-cuff put-downs regarding the current snap election in the UK, I realise adding yet another one to all the noise has all the effect of a fart in a tannery but I want to look specifically at the aesthetics of these campaigns and how it reveals more than you might think. A close look at the Labour and Conservative manifesto’s graphics can tell you just as much as the policies inside. In addition I want to look at some of the language used by both sides and how that also – literally – speaks volumes for their ideologies. I won’t be looking at policies necessarily and while there is some cross over this isn’t necessarily a criticism of either parties pledges or policies. Here is a link to Labour’s manifesto and the Conservative manifesto so we are all singing from the same hymn sheet.

Let’s start with the most glaring difference between the two: Web optimisation. Labour has dedicated an entire subsection of their site to their manifesto, each section of it has its own webpage making it quicker to load. You scroll or swipe down to carry on reading and on the desktop version an image is justified to the left and remains static. There is a menu for each chapter allowing you to jump easily to the section of the chapter you want to read. This all speeds up load times and is very efficient. The Conservative manifesto is pdf in a media player on a single page of their website. In the page it is small and difficult to read but you can full screen it, however it still displays as a pdf in a book format (complete with animated page turning) and does not fill the browser. The player is much slower to load too due to the more complicated requirements of the animated elements. In addition Labour’s is more web native so downscales well for mobile devices which is how a majority of people will get their first access to it whereas the Conservatives’ relies on the ISSUU player and does not alter its appearance depending on what device you view it from, whilst this maintains consistency cross platform it makes it much harder to read if you’re viewing it on a smaller device. Now, importantly, the Conservative web manifesto is less friendly to the differently abled, certainly people without finger dexterity or who have vision problems, whereas Labour’s is much simpler to use and easier to read.

Now let’s look at font and text layout. The Conservatives have gone for a classical serif-based approach with Garamond (the font this article is written in), Labour instead have gone for the sans-serif, clean lines of Helvetica. As well as being visually opposite to one another the history of these fonts is poles apart too. Garamond was designed by engraver Claude Garamond in the 16th century for old printing presses, Helvetica on the other hand is a modernist font from the 50s by designer Max Miedinger. Generally in English we are used to seeing the printed word in a serif type like Baskerville or Times New Roman (named after the paper it was designed for) as it more readily appeals to our eyes that seek more human handwriting patterns, whereas Helvetica is much more a display font due to its clarity (used in the logos for American Airlines, Toyota, North Face, FedEx). Now on the printed page I’d argue Garamond works better in the lengthier prose sections except it has the effect of making the Conservative manifesto look dense an impenetrable, like the long form prose of a novel. Labour’s font may be plain and rather flat but it looks much easier to take in at a glance and therefore more welcoming. Online however it’s a different story. There are more sans-serif fonts on websites than serif, Helvetica is a fit for purpose multi-platform font that is clear and simple whatever device you read it on, Garamond is not (he said, writing in Garamond). Whilst it is definitely not like other web fonts and certainly looks ‘classier’ it is neither inviting nor easy to read. Unfortunately the Conservatives further compound this illegibility by seriously messing up the kerning (the spacing between characters). The Initial (those big letters that start the chapters) is really badly cramped against the paragraph, to the point of nearly overlapping – a design no no. Labour’s kerning is on point however, plenty of spacing between characters, aided by Helvetica’s clean lines, and a pronounced white box around the Initials Also the Conservatives’ page layout is cluttered and dense, Labour’s is sparse and minimal. The Conservative Manifesto reads more like a text whereas Labour’s reads like a power point presentation. The former is undoubtedly ‘powerful’, with more gravitas, but Labour’s is much more like the bulletin board it should be.

Labour’s Manifesto is much more in keeping with the design aesthetic of today (specifically web design) whereas the Conservatives’ is more like what we picture a formal legal or government document to look like. The latter is very much in keeping with the repeated dirge of ‘Strong and Stable’ and portrays the Conservatives as a more classical, traditional party but it is undeniably drab with it’s dour palette of Black, White and Blue. Labour’s on the other hand looks like every pamphlet you get dropped through the door: bright red, with the white shining cleanly through and – importantly – full colour images and colour coded sections. This speaks of Labour’s idea of inclusion, it is open and inviting with pictures of different people of varying gender and ethnicity. The Conservatives’ speaks more of its belief in individualism and the state stepping back to allow you to imprint you personality on to the policies and their presentation. In both cases both designs are not bad at all, they both reflect the message the party wishes to impart in the content of the writing itself and does so admirably, the point I’m making is that these designs are specifically tailored to appeal to their core voter and any undecided voter. Personally I find the Conservatives’ design to be an ugly, cluttered, austere mess with kerning issues and a shocking lack of understanding about web optimisation, whereas Labour’s is a minimalist, modernist’s wet dream i.e. Me.

Then there is the question of cost. Labour provided a financial break down of their manifesto promise in a separate sheet that broke down the costing. This was due to constant criticism by the press and the other parties that the socialist program was a myth and could not be properly funded. The Conservatives, with no such pressure, have provided no information on how their manifesto pledges will be paid for.

Now let’s look at the language of these manifestos and their respective launches. The Conservatives seem to be pushing the party to the background by constantly referring to Theresa May and her team, her foreword is littered with “I” and “My”, promoting the idea of individuality and (rather ironically given her and the party’s criticism of the ‘identity politics’ around Corbyn) that you would be voting for the leader who is much more popular than her party because apparently people still have the Mummy issues left over from the Thatcher era. Ahem. Labour talk about “we” “us” and “our” promoting their ideology of a shared society, community and a government integrated with the populace instead of one that steps back at times of crisis. Then there was the way the leader’s introduced their manifestos. Alright this is where I really get on my soapbox. Jeremy Corbyn used the same language in introducing his policies in an open airy space, unmolested or delayed by protesters. Theresa May’s however was delayed not just on the day but the manifesto’s printing itself was delayed four times (allegedly). Corbyn spoke of we and you and us and our where May talked of I and me and my. For all the talk of not trusting Corbyn you had better really bloody trust May as her words were that this was “My manifesto … a vision of the country I want this to be after Brexit”. That to me is terrifying and the true politics of identity. She spoke of wanting “to build a country” and that is telling. Brexit to her means destruction. It means the collapse of the previous Britain with its worker’s rights and moves toward equality, so the Conservatives would then have the ability after Brexit to build the country anew in their own image, or should I say hers. Corbyn’s introduction spoke of “unleashing Britain’s potential” after Brexit not attempting to reconstruct and introduced the policies saying “I am very proud to present OUR manifesto”. Believe what you like about the cult of Corbyn he is not the one publicising it, Theresa May – despite point blank denying it – most definitely is relying on the cult of her own.

My personal politics and loathing for the Tories and Theresa May aside what the manifesto launches and the manifestos themselves make plain is what is on offer from either party and not just in the policies themselves. On the one hand you have a severe, cold, austere, classical, stately manifesto of gravitas and great circumstance and on the other you have an open, warm, colourful, modern, simple manifesto of inclusion and assistance. I know which one I’ll be buying a hard copy of.

There’s still time to register to vote. Takes two minutes. Click here. Then vote for anyone except the Tories.

Generation Loss

Generation loss is a term for when something is transferred, replicated into another format or reproduced and the quality decreases incrementally with each copy. This happens across all formats, analogue and digital, be it a negative that has another negative made from it or an online video that is downloaded, no replica is ever perfect. This theory has been explored in science fiction fairly regularly when clones deteriorate at an accelerated rate or when multiple clones are made the later ones are less like the original, this was confirmed when the world famous Dolly the Sheep, the first living clone of an animal, was found to have debilitating arthritis and died relatively young. The more you reproduce something the poorer the reproductions become. Have you ever played chinese whispers? The final phrase, announced after having been heard and retold to a group of people, has suffered from generation loss. The photograph of a beautiful valley reproduced a thousand times becomes and green and blue smudge.

Socialism is (contrary to popular belief) not Communism. Communism is the opposite of Capitalism, Socialism accepts Capitalism but believes in democratic state intervention to curb its excesses. Y’know, the ones that result in people dying or being abused or discriminated against. It’s original meaning, coined by Henri de Saint-Simon, was to refute the individualism espoused by liberal politics i.e. that people prosper when we work together for a common goal as opposed to everyone being “out for themselves”. Socialism developed into a genuine political force in the 19th century and whilst the history of it is convoluted and difficult, one of its first major ‘wins’ can be seen in the Paris Commune of 1871, a short lived French Government post Franco-Prussian War that didn’t result in many decrees being passed but ones that did were significant. The separation of Church and State for instance. But in Britain in 1900 was when socialism took a larger part in the politics of this country. The Labour party was formed under the banner of socialism and rights for workers (hence the name) and overtook the Liberal party as the major opposition to the Conservatives. Since then the Labour party has remained the main ‘other’ party in Parliament.

Rather amazingly Labour’s impact is profound on any British resident. Even people who claim to be adamant Conservatives still believe in an awful lot of socialist principles: free health care, legal aid, social housing (to combat those pesky homeless people who want your change), maternity leave, and a myriad of other things that we in this country, when we are not taking them for granted, overwhelmingly agree with and actively fight to maintain. The post WWII two Labour government developed the Welfare State and the NHS, put many services into public hands by Nationalising things like the Bank of England. After the decimation of land, property and populace wrought by the war something drastic had to be done and Clement Atlee’s Labour Government, with the help of William Beveridge and Aneurin Bevan. developed this rather radical socialist agenda into policy. It worked and within 6 years the country was transformed to the point where, even though the Conservatives won the 1951 election, it was only by accepting these substantial social changes as a rousing success known as the Post-War Consensus. A lot of these ideals did not survive Thatcherism but some did, notably the NHS and the Welfare State and it is rather encouraging that even as Labour shifted right in the 90s many of these ideals were still maintained. Until today.

The generation loss of socialism has come to the point now where it is so muddied and unrecognisable that people cry foul at its nearest mention and, as mentioned earlier, confuse it with the unmitigated disaster of Soviet Communism. With names like Social Justice Warrior, Feminist and Do-Gooder used as pejorative terms this shows the deterioration of an ideology that was seen as a consensus, an objectively beneficial set of economic and ethical principles. From generation to generation we have been handed these political ideas but shuffled in amongst growing disparity in class and increasing austerity from every political party in the UK. This has created a contempt for this mode of political thinking whilst taking the surviving elements still seen as good and repurposing them; the Conservatives notably referred to themselves as the ‘Party of the NHS’. The result is that the Labour Party of 2017, despite having the largest membership of any party and espousing policies that benefit a massive proportion of the country of all classes, is rife with civil war from its own MPs who demand Labour return to its more right leaning ways so it might win the snap election against an unabashed and staggeringly popular Conservative Party that are doubling down on a glassy-eyed nationalism and individualist manifesto. Politics that once saved and united a nation is now dismissed as a chaotic mess and actively maligned as out-of-date and impractical. Socialism’s generation loss has left it barely perceivable from its source.

This is not unique to the UK. You need only look at the dawning of the Trump era of Rule by Whim and Oligarchy, the rise of sanitised Fascism in Le Pen in France, North Korea’s existence under the boot of a Dictator, Syria’s near total collapse under Assad, Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte saying he literally doesn’t give a shit about human rights and is “angry. I will kill people” make it quite clear that in the 70 years since the greatest humanitarian disaster in human history, there has been a deterioration in the memory of that era that revealed to everyone the depths of depravity and unconscionable evil mankind can stoop to under the guise of individualist pride and nationalism. As a child, the values espoused by socialism: fairness, equity and altruism – seemed to be a given, countries and people that did not go along with these kind of egalitarian and (I believed) forward thinking ideas were confronted and taught “that’s not how we do things now”. In the last 3 years or so this seems to have done an about face. Endless reams have been written on the subject, analysing why from every side of the argument but, to me at least, they all fall short of describing the paucity of humanity inherent in nearly every nation across the globe today. That verdant green valley and it’s crystalline blue river, now nothing but a hazy cyan smudge.

When Theresa May wins the General Election in June and England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland become single party Nations, when we leave the EU to our unmitigated detriment due to a myopic and over inflated sense of self worth, it is unlikely anyone reading this will feel the sociological tremors resulting in the genuine catastrophe that awaits. That will be the next generation. The next generation, in the wake of unchecked totalitarian political control, fascist governments, nationalist policy and a total lack of diversity in any field, will lose more than we can comprehend. In just this country alone the NHS will be privatised, the Pound will be one of the lowest valued currencies, class divisions will result in substantial ghettoisation, a hard border in Ireland will plunge us back to ‘The Troubles’ of the 70s that cost thousands of lives, all combined with general economic disparity that will produce a generation bereft of any of the socialist ideals that, ironically, the right wing trumpet as our great institutions. It is the next generation who will be described in history as the Generation of Loss.

Let us hope they develop a radical political idea of working together for a common good. A party of, I dunno, being social?

Give Us Moor

 

‘Get Out’ stormed to the top of the box office upon release and proved/disproved many conceptions/misconceptions about what makes a popular movie, from a film whose plot is built largely on race and social issues. Most notably it, along with films like Moonlight, Rogue One and Hidden Figures proves inclusion, diversity and representation sells or at the very least does absolutely no harm to ticket sales. A bad film effects ticket sales. And Get Out is most definitely a good film. As a fan of Key & Peele I had no doubt about the kind of quality Jordan Peele could muster but the viewing public and certainly THE MARKET was rather surprised by its success. Garnering near universal praise it is a standout horror/thriller classic already and hopefully marks a watershed moment for racial attitudes within Hollywood. And it is that last point that is so interesting to me. Plenty of films have been made that discuss similar themes and even have a similar story (Peele himself calls it ‘Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner?’ vs ‘The Stepford Wives’) so what about Get Out really captured the imagination? There are a lot of answers to this, the most important being the racial tensions at play in societies across the globe right now, but also the idea of gentrification taken to its absurd extreme. For me, it’s all about the last 20 minutes or so.

Much was made of the opening 3rd of the film that displays not just the pernicious effects of negative racism but equally the troubling effects of “positive” racism i.e. delight at a relative losing to Jesse Owens, wanting to vote Obama for a 3rd term, generally over praising the main character and his culture and so on thus excluding as exceptional Daniel Kaluuya’s character Chris rather than including him. But I found the thing that made me most uncomfortable as the credits rolled was my feeling and assumptions as to how the film would end which I discovered were… actually pretty racist. This is 100% because of the way Hollywood portrays POC in movies and as a film fan these assumptions were built into me so I made assumptions as to a twist. What do I mean by this?

At the end, after the family’s plot for Chris is revealed he begins his escape and this is where my ‘I know how films work, me’ assumptions kicked in. Chris flat out murders the entire family in various gruesome ways and you are WITH him the whole way, an excellent display of how Peele has got you rooting for these odious monsters to die despite the fact, as a majority white audience, they – sadly – represent us, but at every turn I constantly was waiting for the about face. “There’s no way he’s gonna make it” I thought, waiting for the rug to be pulled from under me. But he doesn’t. Through wily cunning and determination Chris ploughs on, even trying to help the maid who we know to be with the family as he makes good his escape and destroys the house in his departure. Even up to the last minute I was internally begging for Chris to make it, to survive, to Get Out, but knew, because I know how films work, that wasn’t going to happen. Chris was doomed. The whole finale was a dream, I thought, a hallucination brought on by the hypnosis, or the police car was a real police car and Chris was about to become another young black police statistic, or Rod was in on the whole thing or had been hypnotised too etc. But when the credits finally rolled and Chris Got Out I was left with a horrible sense of guilt at how I had spent the whole film waiting for the black guy to get caught or fail or die, i.e. my own racism. The opening 3rd hadn’t affected me that much, I’m sure I have acted questionably around BAME people but never that bad and was brought up well enough to be polite and genial to everyone whatever their race, gender or creed, but my instant assumption that the black guy couldn’t win, that he could not succeed where so many other white protagonists did (particularly white female protagonists), that the black character could not triumph, made me very ashamed. And that is what is most incredible about the film.

As well as being a tour de force of small scale but big idea filmmaking, with a faultless ensemble cast, a near total lack of CGI, minimal gore but used to wince-inducing effect, pitch-perfect tone and a lean yet well paced script, what amazed me the most is how the very structure of the film itself asks you to question racial assumptions. The very existence of the film in the mainstream demands discussion as to why we expect it shouldn’t be there. For me this is the absolute triumph of this movie. In an interview Jordan Peele expressed his dislike for the sledge-hammer politics that surround the race debate in America, saying that the “conversation is broken” around race, by which I think he means the topic is continually brought up but either side continues to be combative and no ground is made. The miraculous thing about this film is that, on every level, it offers up a question to a white audience and a white industry as to what our assumptions and prejudices about race are. From the surface to the very meta notion of a movie about a black man getting revenge with no comeuppance (just like every white protagonist in cinematic history) being such an alien and revolutionary thing, Get Out asks ‘why do people of colour get treated differently?’ This was brought shattering to the foreground when Moonlight was robbed of its moment at the Oscars by the false announcement of La La Land as winner of Best Picture. An all black cast and crew forced to share their win with an almost all white cast and crew and – most uncomfortably – every pundit who immediately heaped praise on La La Land as a deserving win having to then instantly back track and say exactly the same about Moonlight, quickly proving how hollow that praise really is. Not to insult La La Land at all as I have not seen it yet and heard nothing but good things about it but the response to the screw up was most revealing.

Race and nationality is the topic of our time. As every country closes its borders in support of the fringe voices demanding a backwards step to nationalism and exclusion in its political policy, it is culture that needs to open its borders and be more inclusive and open up the dialogue, something the powers that be are insistent on shutting down. Support for films that are inclusive and take risks (so long as the film is actually good) and condemnation for films that whitewash (I’m looking at you Gods of Egypt) are what shift industry standards and most importantly move the fucking MARKET away from the homogenous white mess we’ve been fed from a shit coated trough for the last few decades. If you’re at the cinema and have a choice between another white populated blockbuster and a film with even just one POC or non-binary character go and see the latter. Its a small start but we can already see the positive results.

Get Out’s budget was a paltry $4.5million (that sounds a lot but it really ain’t. That wouldn’t even cover a Marvel movie’s food budget), it has so far made $160million at the Box Office and it’s still going. The studio that sponsored the project, Blumhouse, have a track record for sniffing out a success. Saw, Insidious, Paranormal Activity, The Purge are all multi-sequel box office smashes from that same studio which indicates they understand audiences and Get Out is no exception. Film studios realised recently (prior to the Marvel boom) audience numbers were slipping again thanks to streaming services and 3D being the giant pile of dogshit that it is wasn’t helping, so they very sensibly attempted to diversify and take a few risks. Pleasingly this paid off and over the last few years we’ve seen the biggest studios go out on much greater limbs and surprise, surprise it has paid off. It is laughable that making a film with two female leads or with non-white or non-English speaking actors should be considered ‘Risky’ but that’s the kind of dumbass hacks we have in charge, be it a film studio or a country. What Get Out is the poster boy for is that inclusion matters, representation is beneficial to everyone and most importantly don’t patronise your audience. Get Out is a multi-layered GEM of a movie that doesn’t talk down to its audience whilst confronting a large part of it with a very real, very horrific issues that is quite literally killing people. Now if we could just get just one film, just ONE, with the positive portrayal of a Muslim man or woman then we might really be cooking with gas. With films like Black Panther from Marvel on the way though and I don’t doubt Jordan Peele’s ascension to the Hollywood director A-list the future is looking a lot darker. But, like, in a good way.

Post Script: So chuffed to see British actors like Daniel Kaluuya, John Boyega, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Idris Elba being the leading men in all the modern cinema classics as an antidote to white guys named Chris. If you haven’t watched Daniel Kaluuya’s episode of Black Mirror do so now. It’s a pip.

Arriving at Another Language

A lot is made of what we say at the moment. We are made to choose our words very carefully. Saying the wrong thing can get you pilloried, abused, shamed or even fired in this day and age due to the immediate and vociferous reaction by online mobs who are only too happy and quick to reach for the torch and pitchfork. Both the left and right appear to have their demands on how sacrosanct language is and how it should be deployed and used; the Nu-Right delight in using inappropriate language, pleased when they offend by using racist or sexist slurs, complaining of political correctness gone mad, whilst the Left angrily demand all discourse be pulped through the fine mesh screening filter of tolerance and inclusion. Ironically the roles of both have reversed, the typically free and liberal Left demand control and censorious guidelines for discourse and the traditionally control loving Right dislike the control imposed upon their vocabulary. Some more sensible people would argue that the best method lies somewhere in the middle, that one side shouldn’t be so quick to clutch their pearls and the other should not so deliberately try and goad and insult. The trouble is the whole debate isn’t as cut and dried as this. Ironically both sides are guilty of the others sins yet are seemingly unable to recognise the deficiencies in their argument. Language (whether it be English, Spanish, Cantonese, Flemish or any language) is a strange and capricious beast that has been variously described, mainly in science fiction, as living creature, totem and even a virus. For a better understanding of how language can affect us on a fundamental level there is a modern treatise for just this topic in the recent film ‘Arrival’.

*Spoilers for Arrival ahead*

Directed by Denis Villeneuve and based on the short story ‘The Story of Your Life’ by Ted Chiang, ‘Arrival’ is ostensibly a science fiction film about invading Aliens. This is far from true it turns out when the Aliens try to communicate with us and by learning their language the lead protagonist discovers it has altered her perception of time. Events of her future appear as memories and events of her past appear as current. Whilst the film itself deals with determinism (an interesting source of intense debate in the field of physics as the Uncertainty Principle comes under closer and closer scrutiny thanks to developments at CERN) it is a profound indicator of how language, on a fundamental level, changes a person’s perception. A study by Georgetown University in America discovered that learning two languages and developing an increased vocabulary increased the Grey Matter in the brain but the European Commission published a study in 2012 that showed people fluent in more than one language suffered from poorer verbal skills because they carry two or more languages with them every time they speak thus creating difficulties whereby they use fewer words day to day and have more frequent tip-of-the-tongue moments as the brain tries to compute a vast library of sounds, this means being bilingual effects your speech on a lexical level but also a syntactic one. Therefore while being bilingual does effect your brain development, increasing the efficiency of the brain’s executive control system that looks after high-level thought, multi-tasking, and sustained attention, and the increase in grey matter, no study exists that shows links between bilingualism and executive intelligence, emotional intelligence and intelligence quotient, i.e. being bilingual doesn’t actually make you smarter (despite what a typically histrionic and poorly researched article by the Daily Mail may have said). What it DOES do, rather amazingly, is changes the actual physical structure of the brain and its processes. So on a very basic level we are defined by the language we speak and how often we speak it. When it comes to perception however things get even more interesting.

Much is made of ‘The Right Word’. Certainly as a poet this is always the bullseye you aim for but what it implies is how the wrong word can create a really deep shift in a discourse or simply total confusion. By omitting a word or clarifying clause to a statement, or simply emphasising the wrong part of a phrase, a jovial conversation can quickly become an argument. The joke of the little boy asked to go down the road and see how Old Mrs Kettle is only to return with the answer “78” contains an inherent truth that our moment is defined by the language we choose to employ. Time itself can be warped and changed simply by shifting tenses, something many note in the English and French languages as being particularly odd. Gone, go and going; past, present and future, if misused can create a strange logical time loop. “Where have you been?” when asked of someone not completely fluent in English, replied with “I go to the toilet” taken at face value means they are going to the toilet at that moment (and more importantly didn’t answer your question!). Of course we know this is malleable, especially when dealing with people who do not speak our language, but when taken on a broader scale we are essentially walling ourselves into our cultures with our given languages. In literature, particularly poetry, much is made of a translation because something written artistically in its mother tongue will be intrenched in cultural nuance, aphorism, argot, idiom and technicalities not present in the other language, therefore something is missing in transference, typically the inherent ‘sense’ of the original is lost. The first line of Albert Camus ‘The Outsider’ being a fine case in point. In poetry there is an oft ignored method called the ‘Version’ whereby you do not translate the poem necessarily but re-write it, hopefully capturing its essence, in your own tongue and hopefully impart that which the original did and it is this that creates the most interesting response to those who argue over language via the notion of language as response to perception rather than perception as a response to language and therefore a way of ‘translating’ an idea/poem/image so it is better understood in its nature by those reading/seeing/hearing it.

Nietzsche once said: “I am afraid we are not rid of God because we still have faith in Grammar”. Which feeds in well to the major political arguments surrounding the Left and Right’s demands on language; both sides are failing their respective battles because they both believe their language is the correct one and not the fallible creature it truly is. The flaw that Nietzsche, I think, is trying to wrestle with is that language indicates the way things are, not that the way things are informs language. As an example, if you were to see a four legged animal on a lead in the street you might say “that’s a dog” and you would be right, we have the word Dog so when it is said our mind immediately conjures up the image of a dog. The trouble is we then imagine a Platonic ‘Form’ of a dog, an ideal dog that doesn’t exist or is probably our favourite dog from real life or fiction, until we begin to describe it with an endless stream of adjectives: its a short haired, jack russell terrier, with a loud yip and a milky eye that farts when it sneezes and doesn’t eat dried food because… etc. Language does not account for the uniqueness of the dog in an instant when attempting to communicate this. We can see and absorb the individual nature of it but have to create a spider graph of words around it to lock down it’s reality in conversation or dialogue. An ideal language would be able to invent a word upon seeing the object that perfectly communicates its individual features, its nuances and its character, something that Ted Chiang and Denis Villeneuve approach in their story of a language that can perfectly communicate between species because it relies on an entire lifespan of the individual to find the correct instance or example of something that needs to be communicated as Amy Adam’s character does to the Chinese general which in turn saves the globe from intergalactic war. A language that communicates totally and completely in the briefest time would be incredibly freeing, imagine being able to gather all the nuance and empathy of a political argument in a sound.

Sadly we aren’t there yet. As Nietzsche said we are still ruled by our God of grammar, that god in our syntax that still says “It is raining”, “What time is it?” The magical IT or THEY that controls our structure of speech and ultimately our reality, or at least our perception of it. France even has its Conservatoire which perfectly maintains the French vocabulary so no foreign words can intrude unnecessarily, a true example of the tyranny of language personified as a loop; we define language, language defines us. Which, for me, is where poetry comes in. The poet Don Patterson described poetry as “A method of failure”, by which he meant poetry should always exceed its grasp, trying to capture the ineffable in a word or phrase, so that whilst it may fall short we do then have a more appropriate short hand for a given feeling, emotion, state of mind, place, time and so on. Shakespeare was the master of this, a neologist of such depth and complexity nobody goes a single day speaking English without quoting him. No one individual has done more for English communication and expression since. The notion, so beautifully captured in both the short story and film of Arrival, that every facet of our lives is defined not just by our experiences but how they are communicated is one that everyone speaking any language today should heed. With societal division at its highest in centuries the need for better communication, a more frank and nuanced dialogue, is desperately needed and – for me at least – that means: more poetry.