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.

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Try and have Merry Christmas

I’ve been remiss on this blog this year but I mean it’s been pretty quiet hasn’t it? Not much has happened. Will try and pick up the slack next year but feel like everything I need to say is being said online at the moment, a lot. The internet is just becoming background noise to be honest. 2017 is probably the year we start getting back to the real world as it seems we’ve been neglecting it and it has turned to complete shit. In the spirit of that, here’s you annual Christmas Poem from yours truly:


Merry Christmas Mrs. May

With snow gently lilting to the ground

Christmas lights casting their pearlescent glow

And a brass band blowing their mournful sound

Now wreaths of holly hung from doors to show

a welcome inside from a gilded tree,

mulling wine, chestnuts and the mistletoe

then comes a knocking and outside we see

wrapped up carolers singing songs we know.

“Do you have a license? And the volume’s

too loud. Make sure that brass band doesn’t stay,

I don’t think that’s a British seasonal tune

either. And mistletoe’s poisonous! No grey

area there, best take down this holly

wreath too. Is that snow white enough to play

in?” Poor No.10 (it’s not so jolly)

But have a Merry Christmas Mrs. May.

 


Also I made a Christmas song with my friend Christiana you can download for free over on Soundcloud. Click here to listen.

Be kind to each other. Except the 51% and anyone who voted Trump. Fuck them. They’re wrong and you need to tell them so and importantly show the evidence why. They don’t have facts to back up their racism, homophobia, misogyny and xenophobia, that’s why it’s called ‘ignorance’. Fuck 2016, let’s try and make next year better.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Sold Out

judas

Once upon a time there was a notion, seen as unforgivable, called  “selling out”. This was the idea that your integrity in whatever field was up for sale and whatever it was you had to offer, once bought, could never be retrieved as it was now “sold out”. It is often used in reference to artists of various kinds. The most egregious cases of selling out were when it was to do with advertising. It is often used as a weapon by seething rivals to wave at their more successful peers to draw attention to their lack of integrity and that their talents are for sale to the highest bidder. Some would argue, however, that utilising the money and exposure offered by some form of larger cultural presence, such as a business etc, is a great thing as it allows the artist to develop without the constraints of poverty and allows a greater audience to see their work. In a capitalist society the latter is generally seen as the focus for any artist but never more so than now.

The notion of “selling out” is all but gone today. The young creative sector of society’s only goal today is to sell their creations or  ‘content’ to the highest bidder at the earliest available opportunity. Youtuber’s (almost universally between the ages of 16 to 26) main aim is to gain a large enough following to tempt companies to advertise on their channel for an intermittent and wildly unrepresentative fee, singers and musicians believe their only route into success is to now use the various television “talent” contests developed purely to make money for the hosts and to be owned, wholesale, by the promotion company owned by oily, bleach toothed, hair dyed, billionaires. Fine artists and graphic designer’s greatest goal seems to be that their art is used in an advertising campaign.

Then there are the deluded artists (like me) who believe that integrity is all that matters when it comes to art, in whatever form. That believe art should not be censored or compromised for any reason, least of all money. That any creation is compromised the moment it requires substantial financial input, because that means that there a many more vested interests that believe they know how best to create the thing for the maximum return on investment. Whilst larger artistic works certainly require involvement from people other than the artist to create a piece, there tends to be a guiding hand. Which is where the idea of selling out came in. To make a film say, requires a lot of money up front to develop and produce and in western society that is an investment (and a high risk one at that) and the more input from outside sources the less control there is from the artist but for a book say it just requires the writer and their editor, right? Not any more. The publisher needs to cover costs too and the Big Six publishing houses need to turn over massive profits every year to maintain their lists so there will be executive input there too. What this amounts to is the fact that if you create anything of any kind your next step to being able to earn money from it is to literally sell it i.e. give away the thing you have created for a fee so it no longer belongs to you. Many business minded people would see not agreeing with this as precious but many artists (like me) see this sale as an unnecessary step it the creative process.

I think this death of the idea of selling out is largely due to the death of foundations, institutions and bodies that would assist artists or talents in their develop with the knowledge they would not make their money back, that their investment in culture was the return. In an age where universities now charge £9k per year – a figure set to rise in the coming few years – and where students are treated as consumers and then duly act like consumers, their education a commodity, the notion of social enterprise for no financial reward is an unthinkable concept. Therefore any creator’s drives must be largely financially minded today, you can no longer want to do something creative purely for the sake of creation, there must be recompense. As such, you must then sell. This sale is so much part of every industry today it isn’t even referred to so selling your product isn’t an unpleasant route that some artists or creations mistakenly take to be rich and famous, it is the goal in western (but let’s be honest, global too) society.

My utter utter despair at my fellow countrymen at the beginning of May for voting in such an unashamedly cowardly and self-centred way was also tempered with surprise at my own naivety that people would not vote for the outwardly cruel and despicable bunch of self serving cunts we now have in power by virtue of the slimmest majority possible. Scotland and Ireland voted (rightly) for themselves and so did England. The majority of voters in England sold out any notion of integrity for personal gain this last general election because they voted for their own pockets, to stay rich, middle class and take care of themselves and their own families knowing full well they were voting for five more years of food banks, public sector cuts, austerity, punishing the poorest and sickest in society and generally a government that any so-called ‘civilised’ country would be ashamed to have rule them. That to me, is the definition of “selling out” and the simple fact that but for one march in London little has been done or said to protest this fact means this mentality is the prevailing wind in this country I now bitterly call home.

I don’t deny I want to be a published author still as I would like to make a living from my writing but in light of our current regime and overall disgust with the attitude of the people in England I am more resolute in my desire than ever to not accept that to succeed is to be selfish. To truly succeed is to be selfless. Altruism outlives you and affects far more than your children or grandchildren. I have been long-term unemployed for the last 3 years (yet mercifully found a job just as the money obsessed Conservatives gained power) and was able to survive purely through the kindness of other people. My Dad was not wealthy and I did not inherit any great deal of money but I did inherit a support network of hundreds of people who have all in small or large ways kept me going over the last three years. I can tell you who hasn’t: British social institutions, our government and by extension our society as a whole. Every time I went to institutions for help they were either entirely unhelpful or incredibly bitter that they had to help me at all and when they did it was made as difficult for me as possible to garner any assistance at any turn. I was made to feel like a criminal and villain simply for the unforgivable crime of not earning money. This sanctified notion of “working families” that is all any political party cares about. The government sells its wares and expects returns despite being malfunctioning and piss-poor in its delivery and effects, my Father gave his away and his legacy is still present today. The same goes for most of the good people I know. If you sell yourself all you get in return is more money which many say is enough, I don’t. I’m greedy. I want to be happy and want other people to be happy and safe and fulfilled and creative. Money never has been able to and never will be able to purchase that.

Judas Iscariot was paid 30 pieces of silver for betraying Jesus’ trust and in so doing, causing Jesus’ death and then later his own suicide. All for 30 pieces of silver. Those coins are long since lost (if they ever existed) and would never be recognised amongst the currency of the day as it is. Judas sold out, it earned him little but cost him everything.

If you are looking for compassion here in England now, I’m sorry. We’re all sold out.

An addition to the ‘Canon’…

Given how disgusted and appalled I was with the result of the 2010 general election you can probably guess my utter despair at the result from the weekend. My contempt for the Conservatives and their media “supporters” (read as: sponsors, legislators and best chums) now borders on that of the worst far right parties of history. After the last election I self-published a small pamphlet of poetry that raged against the dying of the light but that just seems too puny to fight what is apparently the national public opinion that right wing politics and selfishness is the way forward. But frankly it’s about all I can do now.

Below is my first of no doubt many anti-Tory/austerity poems and would love it if you could share it, particularly to people you might know who are inclined to the right. Written in the Victorian style Gove loves so much and using the Conservative Party font, I hope the message isn’t too subtle to sink in. Please share the jpg or the text, I’m not fussed about credit, just get it out there. I’ll be tweeting it too if you’re so inclined.

Keep the faith, people with a soul and consideration for others tend win through in the end. It’s going to be a looooong 5 years.

giantsofalbion

The Public Gate

Voters at the polls 1945
Voters at the polls 1945

We are a month away from the next General Election here in the UK and in case you hadn’t noticed it is something I feel very strongly about. Cards on the table I despise the Conservative party for what they did in the 70s and 80s and especially for what they have done in the last 5 years. They have improved nothing but their own pocket lining and, yet again, ruined the lives of millions. I will also admit I am prejudiced against them by an inherited dislike courtesy of my parents, in exactly the same way as Tories have an inherited dislike of everyone that isn’t wealthy because of their parents. I am saying this now so you know I am biased against them and I have my own agenda in asking you to vote I do REALLY want you to Vote. Whoever it is for.

In the 2010 election the voter turnout according to parliament.uk was just 65% and we ended up with a hung parliament that no one wanted and a government that was elected on just a 36% share of the vote by forming a coalition with the Liberal Democrats. In the years since the Lib Dems have been sidelined so that it has essentially been a Conservative government for the last few years. In summary this was a mess, nobody got what they wanted, except the Conservatives perhaps but even then a lot of back benchers were made unhappy by the coalition. The reason I’m saying all this is everyone seems to have a very short memory and we could really do without a repeat of that. If you don’t want a repeat of that, you should vote.

To those who choose not to vote I fully understand your apathy. The system is broken and we live in a world run by banks and companies, not elected officials but I believe that because voter turnout is so low that is precisely WHY this has happened. People who don’t vote are ignored by policy makers and if you truly believe the anti-voting rhetoric that a “revolution is coming” that is the last thing anyone wants or needs. If anything we need more democracy not less. Abstaining from voting does not help this process at all, things have rarely changed for the better with a violent revolution. What should happen is that everyone turns out to vote and votes for whoever the hell they like. Then, if there still isn’t a majority the powers that be will recognise they need to change and diversify and actually structure themselves around these people who are voting. We are a large and increasingly diverse nation, the current main parties are not treating us as such; prove them wrong.

A former friend of mine published a ‘Zine prior to the 2010 election in which I contributed a piece about why you should vote and she contributed a piece about why you shouldn’t. I’m not going to be so fair minded. You should absolutely vote. My argument then was mostly centred around the fact that the right to vote is a hard won privilege that people within living memory have died to offer you. I do not take that lightly. During WWII there was no election and Churchill remained in office with the Conservative party with a caretaker Government and a wartime coalition. I admit the Conservative ideology is a much more practical and functional system of rule in wartime. We are not at war. But also, by comparison to what was going on in Europe in the 10 years Churchill was in power, the British were paragons of democracy.

1f80eb8d6a8f1abafbe15b483d085463In the Autumn of 1938 there was a by-election in Oxford as the sitting MP had died, Civil war was happening in Spain and the Munich agreement was being arranged, this served as the backdrop for an Epic Poem in 24 Cantos written by Louis MacNiece. It is an incredible piece of work that plunges you into the atmosphere of pre-war Britain but Canto 14 is to me an incredibly relevant poem at the moment. It would be histrionic to claim the Conservatives and UKIP are akin to Hitler but they are certainly doing a lot of damage and MacNiece’s defence of our system of democracy at a time when it was never more under threat is rather pertinent. As such I am going to replicate it in full here and I encourage you to read it but if not do skip to the end.

Autumn Journal – Canto XIV, by Louis MacNiece

The next day I drove by night / Among red and amber and green, spears and candles, / Corkscrews and slivers of reflected light / In the mirror of the rainy asphalt / Along the North Circular and the Great West roads / Running the gauntlet of impoverished fancy / Where housewives bolster up their jerry-built abodes / With amour propre and the habit of Hire Purchase. / The wheels whished in the wet, the flashy strings / Of neon lights unravelled, the windscreen-wiper / Kept at its job like a tiger in a cage or a cricket that sings / All night through for nothing. / Factory, a site for a factory, rubbish dumps, / Bungalows in lath and plaster, in brick, in concrete, / And shining semi-circles of petrol pumps / Like intransigent gangs of idols. / And the road swings round my head like a lasso / Looping wider and wider tracts of darkness / and the country succeeds the town and the country too / Is damp and dark and evil. / And coming over the Chilterns the dead leaves leap / Charging the windscreen like a barrage of angry / Birds as I take the steep / Plunge to Henley or Hades. And at the curves of the road the telephone wires / Shine like strands of silk and the hedge solicits / My irresponsible tyres / To an accident, to a bed in the wet grasses. / And in the quiet crooked streets only the village pub / Spills a golden puddle / Over the pavement and trees bend down and rub / Unopened dormer windows with their knuckles. / Nettlebed, Shillingford, Dorchester – each urolls / The road to Oxford; Qu’allais-je faire tomorrow / Driving voters to the polls / In that home of lost illusions? / And what am I doing it for? / Mainly for fun, partly for a half believed in / Principle, a core / Of fact in a pulp of verbiage, / Remembering that this crude and so-called obsolete / Top-heavy tedious parliamentary system / Is our only ready weapon to defeat / the legions’ eagles and the lictors’ axes; / And remembering that those who by their habit hate / Politics can no longer keep their private / Values unless they open the public Gate / To a better political system. / That Rome was not built in a day is no excuse / For laissez-faire, for bowing to the odds against us; / What is the use / Of asking what is the use of one brick only: / The perfectionist stands for ever in a fog / Waiting for the fog to clear: better to be vulgar / And use your legs and leave a blank for Hogg / And put a cross for Lindsay. / There are only too many who say ‘ What difference does it make / One way or the other? / To turn the stream of history will take / More than a by-election.’ / So Thursday came and Oxford went to the polls / And made its coward vote and the streets resounded / To the triumphant cheers of the lost souls– / The profiteers, the dunderheads, the smarties. / And I drove back to London in the dark of the morning, the trees / Standing out in the headlights cut from cardboard; / Wondering which disease / Is worse– the Status Quo or Mere Utopia. / For from now on / Each occasion must be used, however trivial, / To rally the ranks of those whose chance will soon be gone / For even guerilla warfare. / The nicest people in England have always been the least / Apt to solidarity or alignment / But all of them must now align against the beast / That prowls at every door and barks in every headline. / Dawn and London and daylight and last the sun: / I stop the car and take the yellow placard / Off the bonnet; that little job is done / Though without success or glory. / The plane-tree leaves come sidling down / (Catch my guineas, catch my guineas) / And the sun caresses Camden Town, / The barrows or oranges and apples.

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That says what I want to say better than I can but the main point there is that our vote is a hard won victory that must be used and make no mistake there IS a beast prowling at every door and barking in every headline. I would rather you didn’t vote for the Tories or UKIP but if you truly believe more cuts are a good idea and that class division is beneficial and that the poor are to blame for all that is bad right now and that millionaires should be subsidised and avoid fines or jail time and paying tax, if you REALLY TRULY TOTALLY believe that then for the love of God sign that box so hard the pen snaps. So long as you get up off your arse and go to the polling station. As you read there, MacNiece drove to Oxford just so he could drive people to the polls, he made an active effort in a time when the vote was most needed and valued to help people sign their cross. I don’t need to do that because you can vote however you like now (You can vote in person, by post or by proxy, couldn’t be easier! And most importantly there is still time to register! If you are eligible it takes 5 minutes, max and you’re doing your part. Click here and it’s done.) But this is my effort to drive people to the polls. From now till May 7th I will do all I can to get people into that booth but without telling them who to Vote for. But I may still point out who you shouldn’t vote for…

I am encouraged, however. The recent turnout for the Scottish Independence vote being so high was incredibly positive, Twitter is taking an active roll in reminding UK users when the cut off for registration is and initiatives like vInspired’s Swing the Vote campaign has incorporated the youtube generation to help get 18-25 year olds voting. With UKIP continually putting its foot in its mouth and THEN shooting it, they do bring (inadvertent and stupid) media attention to the debate and all publicity is good publicity. Add to that everyone’s unhappiness with the last election being dredged up and displayed as the wrong way to do it, I have a little hope there will be a pretty good turnout this time. What the result will be is anyone’s guess. It’s a worryingly close race all round so don’t let anyone tell you they know who the winner is, your vote could quite literally be the decider.

It is too easy to be lazy when it comes to voting. The great, and wholly incorrect, saying that “If voting changed anything they wouldn’t let you do it” is an easy shield to hide behind, said by ‘progressive’ people so they can feel free to pass comment on the political landscape without taking an active role in its shaping. It also recalls the Self and Other linguistic nuance I mentioned in the last post. Actively listening to the Other is what democracy should be about now. Voting is not a very loud voice but it IS STILL A VOICE. If you don’t use it you are not being heard.

If you are eligible please please please please please register and then vote in the General Election on 7th May. Keep your private values by opening that public gate.

The Other’s Way

Benjamin Franklin's cartoon of the Colonial Union in America from 1754
Benjamin Franklin’s cartoon of the Colonial Union in America from 1754

The Other is a philosophical idea coined by Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel in the 18th century. It posits that the idea of one’s Self is defined by exterior forces, or an Other. The Other is not us but it shapes us. As babies we exist in a world of pure self, similar to dreaming, we can see and hear only indistinct shapes and sounds. When a baby moves its arm it does not understand why the rest of the world does not come with it, as the child grows it separates further from this world as it realises its own desires and pains are unique and distinct from it. Over the years we refine this into seeing into a broader sense of ‘Self’; the self of community, family, ideology and so on. This serves an evolutionary purpose as it is what helped early man hunt in packs, have a tribe that would look after children etc. This kind of “social reflex”, as Pavlov put it, can be seen in any church, a human need to metaphorically huddle together for warmth, to create a community. We see anything like us or with the same values as being like ourselves. A high and definable sense of self is healthy and natural.

But what of the Other?

The Other is all that we fear. It is all the things we are not. The Other stands against us, moulding us and shaping us. The Other is basically anything and everything we are not or we do not identify with and on a deep level we, for good reason, mistrust this. We have personified this hard-to-define Other as the ubiquitous ‘They’. “They don’t care”, “They are wrong”, “They think it is stupid” and so on. How often do we say “It’s raining”? Who is this ‘It’? The world? The It and They are the Other that we have created so we can stand as an individual in our lives. It is a ‘necessary evil’.

Far be it from me to question the father of modern philosophy but I don’t think Hegel’s idea of the Other is helpful anymore. Why am I saying this? Because we have an Election coming up here in the UK and that Other is being used really rather terrifyingly to remove our liberties and sway our decisions.

The Other is now so ingrained as a human model in the social sciences we never question it and it is part of our speech but this idea is now being used to manipulate people. You need only look at any advertising campaign to see how the Self is used to make you think you are missing out on the product or service they are selling: “Doctors recommend”, “here for you”, “real beauty campaign”. In short they say these people are you or are part of you culture/experience and they use this product and/or service so if you want to remain part of this social self then you had better buy into this. What troubles me the most is how insidiously the notion of the Other is being used. The rise of a Nu-Right in British politics is a prime example of this. UKIP stands on one policy: Immigration. The very notion of Immigration is a Hegelian legacy writ large – “THEY ARE NOT FROM HERE. THEY ARE NOT YOU. BE AFRAID.” UKIP uses this evolutionary fear of the outsider on which to base its policies. George W. Bush summed up this notion during the height of the “War on Terror” by stating simply: “Why do they hate us?” The Other is the language of politics, the ‘if-you’re-not-with-us-you’re-against-us’ mentality is now so loudly trumpeted it is deafening in the run up to the Election.

This needs to change.

I make no claim to being a great cultural theorist or critic but I am able to see problems where there are clearly problems. The notion of the Other was co-opted by Nazism, McCarthy-ism and eastern European communism in the 20th century to generate hate for people that were considered ‘Not Us’. For the Nazis it was non-Aryan people, for the Communists it was Capitalists and for the Capitalists it was the Communists. And we know how that all turned out. UKIP and the Conservatives, more so than any other parties, not only speak the language of the Other but actively propagate our hatred of them and drive a greater wedge between the Self and the Other. Yes, I am comparing UKIP and Tories to Nazis because it is the same ideology that drives them. A few friends of mine are academics and they have nothing but contempt for George Orwell’s novel 1984. This surprised me as I rather like that book and it has proved startlingly pertinent (ironically, since 1984). When I asked why he hated it, my friend pointed out “it has done more for the rhetoric of the Right than it has for the Left”. The more I thought about this the more I realised how easy it was for the Right to co-opt this vision of the future as the Other and use it to their advantage. You hold up the nightmare of big brother and parody it, make it a TV show, laugh at how wrong Orwell was, show how luxurious we all have it, create a new middle class that has everything with its iPhones and internet and loudly cry: “We’re not like that grey dystopia!” “Nobody wants an Orwellian regime” “This is why 1984 won’t be like 1984” all the while Edward Snowden points out exactly how we are having our liberties taken from us. A fascist culture of control is never going to be like 1984 because it can’t happen like that, we would see it coming. The true 21st Century oppressive society is one of extreme decadence, giving everyone what they want so we can continue to live happily with this sense of self, meanwhile ostracising, vilifying and ultimately destroying The Other. I would hope I am not perceived as ‘Other’ in that scenario…

This is not a new cultural theory and seems resoundingly hysterical to posit that we are heading for another controlling system of Government but every time I look at a news outlet or talk to my friends in any industry this is all I ever hear. That our culture and society is being shaped to fit a very small percentage of people with substantial penalties if you fail to comply. This CANNOT be allowed to go on. The world is changing and everything we consider the norm is going to be very different by the end of our children’s generation. We can no longer fear the outsider, we are literally running out of time. With the growth in communication and the distribution of knowledge the world is a tiny place and there is no excuse not to understand or communicate with one another. Borders are human inventions built to keep this ‘Other’ out, the cities and their industries came first and then the borders were built up around them to create a stronger sense of self. These borders are actively being felled both metaphorically and literally every day. To quote a recent blockbuster “We must not act as individuals but as a species”. Do not listen to the backwards thinking of the modern Right because it is so transparently and incredibly damaging we may not be able to recover.

The reason I am saying all this is because the Election looms here in the UK and we really badly need a change. I won’t tell you who to vote for but I can’t in good conscience say it is okay to vote for either UKIP or Conservative. What I will say is that EVERY VOTE counts, really and truly and deeply. I am writing another post to follow this about why you should vote but for now hopefully you will be given an inkling into why we should mistrust the established political model and the language they use but instead of simply removing the voting system as the Russell Brands of the world would have us do the best we can do is nail our colours to the mast so the mast is weighed down with sails and flags of every colour. If we do that it shows a faith in a DEMOCRATIC system that we all want to be involved in, a system we all consider part of our Self. If we can take that back maybe then we can start listening to that Other and maybe help shape it as well as it shape us.

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Register to vote here.

Have a look at who you should be voting for here.

UKIP Manifesto Here

Labour Manifesto Here (pdf)

Sort of Tory Manifesto Here (an actual manifesto by them is actually hard to find but they are banging the Economy drum hard apparently) and their pledge on Europe here (pdf).

Green Manifesto Here

SNP Manifesto Here

Plaid Cymru Manifesto Here

Liberal Democrat Manifesto Here

All you need is right there. Please register to vote. At least enter the debate. Apathy and ignorance are no longer (and never have been) an excuse.

Thank you.

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Mockingjay & Paddington as Protest

*SPOILER Warning: Plot spoilers for both films below video. Go and see them both before reading. They’re both worth it.*

I saw the third instalment of the Hunger Games franchise Mockingjay yesterday and just got back from seeing the latest incarnation of children’s literary favourite Paddington at the cinema. I thoroughly enjoyed both but not simply as sheer spectacle but they both had some subtle and not-so-subtle critical points to make on western history and on modern politics that I was nothing short of delighted to see. They are both worth the price of admission at the cinema and certainly worth a look when they get released on DVD/Netflix as they are both action packed and rather fun but equally far more intelligent than they are being billed.

Starting with Mockingjay is easiest at its politics are the most obvious parts of these films. It is a really rather open attack on American domestic and foreign policy, its use of media and its dehumanising effect on a populace and a stringent and almost enforced class disparity. Contrary to what a woefully inept critic said in the Guardian not so long ago (whose protest seemed to be so dogmatically old school and anti-populist he came across far more as a Tory than any kind of ‘lefty’) this is not purely an attack on the state its an attack on a set of values now inherent in modern politics and society. This kind of questioning, especially when aimed at the young, should be endlessly encouraged and not whinged about for not picking a target you dislike more. HOWEVER, in this particular part of the Hunger Games series something leapt out at me far more strongly than its anti-westernising ideology; its historical political narrative.

Mockingjay Pt.1 has a very neat set of historical references throughout that compound its initial message that to my eye (and ear) were far more than its tubthumping neo-liberalism (which, again, I like). What brought this to my attention in this film more than the others, was the music. A frequently used fiddle is heard at key moments, the sort of folk fiddle sound you would associate with the American west, certainly at the time of the American Civil war. Katniss’ return to the Victor’s Village at two different points in the film compounds this music with set design. Having recently toured the MET in New York (*CLANG* sorry that was a name I just dropped…) I was particularly interested in the American history section. They had several mockups of mid-19th century households, something near immaculately replicated by the set designers in Mockingjay. Plush 19th century furniture, raggedy work clothes as seen in many photos of the period, wood slat and Queen Anne houses and victorian pastoral scenes are all depicted in the film. Taken together with the western swing style fiddle and the beautifully orchestrated a cappella work song (performed very well by Lawrence) this comes over as an overt commentary. Combine this with the notion of districts being fired upon, especially District 13 depicted as a ‘fort’ which is often seen as the start of the Civil War when Fort Sumter was fired upon. Compound that with the depictions of the districts (certainly in the books) as being populated by different races, most obviously the district from which Rue comes has a nearly all black population. The very notion of each district as slaves, be that logging, coal mining or road/railway building is inescapable in its parallels with the Civil War.

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Another interesting note is that the supposed ‘good’ side of the rebels is not depicted in a favourable light either. Totalitarian, grey and uniform is admittedly the exact reverse of the gaudy Capital but is equally depicted as not exactly an ideal replacement for the gross indulgence of the Capital. This again is a major theme in both the films and the books but the commentary of the literal Capitalism of them is often brandished by its fans and detractors far more than their criticism of the mad, communist utilitarianism of the rebels. Coyne is just as vindictive, steely eyed and (as Pt.2 will no doubt reveal) just as heartless as President Snow. This is perhaps a more subtle sub-text but very much there in District 13’s lack of amusements, prescribed quarters, use of literally ‘red’ propaganda, brutalist architecture and dislike for cats (…you get what I mean). Most notable for me was wonderful character beat between the late Philip Seymour Hoffman and Elizabeth Banks where he tells her ‘the door is unlocked’ to which she replies there is nothing  out there for her. Very much a parallel to the communist notion of ‘do as you will’, the notion that restrictions are not placed upon the populace but upon their belongings and allowances. I may be taking it too far when I point out the exciting yet hushed finale is played out under bright RED lights but mise en scene is a powerful cinematic device too and no imagery is innocent.

Put together this creates an actually rather sophisticated extension of the film’s political criticisms making the Hunger Games franchise a series that I hope will warrant further critical study in the future and mass appeal for many generations. To say nothing of Lawrence’s genuinely all-encompassing performance. The woman’s a marvel. Paddington’s political merits, however, are somewhat more implied.

Other than it being a really lovely, old fashioned fable of family and friendship, set against a Mary Poppins back drop of America-friendly London, Paddington came across as a rather determined stand against the rise of the Modern Right. With UKIP now having a seat in parliament the complete implosion of the Liberal Democrats, not to mention the slow ‘Rightification’ of Labour and an unelected Tory government, right wing politics – as the Hunger Games argues – seems to be the norm today in our mass globalised world. A hot button topic going hand in hand with this the world over is Immigration. UKIP itself stands (or sits) on this one issue almost and the fact they now have a voice in government should worry us all and amazingly enough Paddington spells that out for you.

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A Bear Called Paddington was written by Michael Bond in 1956 and the eponymous character’s now famous introduction was prompted by very real events. During the second world war children were evacuated from their homes in London and sent to the countryside for safety away from notorious bombing sites to live with rural families. In addition to this the film makes it clear many european families were separated during the war too, many also sent to England to escape the conflict, in particular – Jewish families. And we all know why they didn’t want to hang around Europe at that time… The film explains this in great detail, even giving it its own little animation that reminded me of the Three Brothers fable that struck me dumb in Harry Potter. But Paddington goes even a little further.

Every nation on earth is built on immigration and humanity’s evolution depends on a diverse mix of our various cultures and creeds, the utterly asinine rhetoric spouted by the Nu-Right attempts to undermine or disprove this by indirectly promoting a fictitious type of National Purity where only a poorly defined idea of a ‘British Person’ may reside on our shores. That may sound hysterical but that really is the ground politicians are fighting on right now. Throughout the film Paddington is resolutely portrayed as a refugee: his home in darkest Peru is destroyed, he stows away to reach London and arrives with nowhere to stay. It does not patronise and even makes a rather satirical joke of the sort of deplorable conditions immigrants can be left to suffer in: Paddington says he will sleep in a bin for the night near the beginning and is later seen sleeping rough on a bench in the rain. London is not initially depicted well at all: commuters ignore the talking bear, pickpockets roam the streets and Mr. Brown is immediately depicted as the kind of ‘pull-your-socks-up’, old school tie Tory I loathe, sniffing at Paddington’s homeless state, calling him a liar, demanding his children lock their doors, etc. But by the end Paddington’s differences are embraced and incorporated by the Brown family, making them far better people and the immigrant Paddington notes “London is a place where anyone can fit in” and “whilst I’m not from here, it feels like home”. Of all the carefully structured heartstring tugging moments that one got me. Yes, Britain and London are places where anyone can fit in, whatever your colour, creed or nationality. Diversity is what makes any country tick and contributes to a rich, interesting and broad cultural pot I am proud to call my home nation.

I admit Paddington and Mockingjay both miss a few things in their keeness to state their case. For a multi-cultural London there aren’t that many people who aren’t white seen there, similarly in Mockingjay despite the token black guy its a pretty WASPy film and even the slummier parts of London are coated with a nostalgic Victorian sheen. These small quibbles aside both film’s hearts, and more importantly – their wallets, are in the right place: their mouths. It appears the most compelling opposition in modern politics comes from the cinema.

With a general election just around the corner in the new year and immigration a key point in every party’s manifesto, a film with Paddington’s box office pull and no doubt due for home release in the spring near election time, it could not be more of an obvious protest against the current political landscape. It is a great fun family film with laughs aplenty and a lot of heart but more importantly it carries with it a warning from history in the same way Mockingjay does: its never those who seek power that change lives, it is those closest to us that do and can do so in the smallest of ways. Ways like volunteering for a sibling or offering a bed for the night. Or simply a helping hand.

To deliberately mis-quote our unelected Prime Minister: We are in this together, they aren’t in it at all.

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