The U.K. spent the dying days of 2018 in a panic about a so-called ‘migrant crisis’ even though the numbers of people involved are dwarfed by those affected by the food bank crisis, the housing crisis… and lots of other crises.
And yet the media and politicians were all motivated enough to spend countless column inches and broadcast hours on the issue of a few migrant boats coming to our shores, filled with people who want to contribute to our society because their own is dangerous, dysfunctional and/or non-existent.
We are told repeatedly that the Brexit vote of 2016 was ‘about immigration.’ Among those who opposed the vote, many blame the fact that the ‘threat’ from immigration (legal and illegal) was relentlessly touted by vote-seeking, populist politicians, and racist tabloid hacks. This feels true to me.
Why then, do we allow the news agenda to be set for us in this way? Why do we allow the manipulation to continue? Why, when the problem was adequately diagnosed so many years ago, cannot it not be countered? Why is our opposition to this pernicious messaging so inadequate? Continue reading “Perpetuation”
At last! A neologism for a concept that I have long believed needs to be named and critiqued.
In a discussion about political correctness on the Ezra Klein Show podcast, journalist Adam Serwer describes what happens when members of a politically powerful group get outraged. When candidate Barack Obama said that certain people ‘cling to guns’… when candidate Hillary Clinton called a segment of the electorate ‘deplorables’ … when Labour MP Emily Thornberry posted a picture of white van and an English flag on the streets of Rochester… they were vilified.
Both long-time readers of this blog will be aware that when I’m not musing about the intricacies and indignities of free speech, I enjoy thinking about storytelling forms and structures. In particular, how new technology can inspire new narrative forms. This question was at the heart of the Sweet Fanny Adams in Eden project I worked on all the way back in 2003. Its also relevant to other shows I worked on with 59 Productions, and the also the ‘grammar’ of modern film and TV editing.
Many of us enjoy stories where the structures and conventions of one form of communication are deployed in a fictional context. Epistolary novels like Les Liaisons dangereusesare an old example of this – the conceit being that you are reading letters from different people, when in fact it’s all one author (the modern variant is the e-Epistolary novel, like Matt Beaumont’s E).
Other examples: Orson Wells’ version of War of the Worlds, done as a radio news bulletin; Jorge Luis Borges ficciones disguised as academic essays; fictionalnewspaperreviews; ‘mockumentaries’ like This Is Spinal Tap and The Office; and ostensibly ‘found’ footage like The Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield.
Events have over-taken this prospect. The Chair of the 1922 Committee received the required 48 letters on Tuesday, and so on Wednesday Theresa May had to weather a confidence motion from Conservative MPs. The opposition parties are keeping their powder dry on a confidence motion of their own. There is now no vote to avoid by proroguing parliament.
Nevertheless, the very thought of such manoeuvring should give us pause for thought. In the case of this Government and this embattled Prime Minister, the tactic would have surely backfired. While proroguing parliament is procedurally allowed, the British public would have considered it somehow ‘cheating’ and taken a dim view. Meanwhile, Members of the House of Commons would have been angry at having been denied the opportunity to censure the Government before Christmas, and would have returned in the New Year smarting for a confrontation. Continue reading “Proroguing Parliament and the Trampling of Tradition”
I just noticed that the International Observatory for Human Rights put up a video last month, publicising the demonstration they did outside the Embassy of Myanmar in September. The ‘occasion’, so to speak, was the ridiculous jailing of Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo.
I was at the demo, representing English PEN, and am featured briefly in the video, calling on The British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt to put pressure on Aung San Suu Kyi.
Anecdoche — I stumbled into this word recently. It defines that condition when everyone is talking, and no one is listening. I see people expressing very polarized, angry views. I see people speaking from hurt, from fear and from hate.
For a moment I was slightly shocked that I had only just learnt the word now. It’s so useful and apt for the way online discourse (and indeed, political discourse in general) seems to unfold right now that it should be in common use.
It turns out that the word is a deliberate neologism, an invention of the Dictionary is Obscure Sorrows, a creation of John Koenig. Here’s his version:
a conversation in which everyone is talking but nobody is listening, simply overlaying disconnected words like a game of Scrabble, with each player borrowing bits of other anecdotes as a way to increase their own score, until we all run out of things to say.
While it’s great to be able to express this concept, it’s also slightly annoying, because the word does not mean what one might expect it to mean. Anecdoche is clearly a portmanteau of ‘anecdote’ and ‘synecdoche’.
An anecdote is an account of a personal experience, usually retold to make a point or reveal some truth;
Synecdoche is a part that stands for the whole. “Send me fifty swords” to mean, “send fifty people armed with swords”.
So an anecdoche could be a single story that becomes a stand-in for, and accepted truth of a particular issue.
This would be a useful word to have because this sort of thing happens all the time in political debates. It’s particularly relevant to transgender activism, which appears to have been reduced to a single, unhelpful question, over whether trans women should be able to use women’s toilets and gym changing rooms. The issue is way more complex and interesting than that.
Darkness. Brazil elects a proud fascist. A gunman murders eleven people at a Pittsburgh synagogue. The EU is becoming unsafe: authoritarians are on the rise in Italy, Hungary, and Poland; Journalists have been murdered in Malta and Bulgaria. All around the world, politicians, the press and the people are asking themselves how and why things have declined so quickly and catastrophically.
Icing is a medium of expression. I think often of this marvellous interview with the musician Todd Trainer (drummer in Steve Albini’s band Shellac) with the music journalist Holly Day:
Yeah. Icing has definitely always been a part of the visual aspect of Brick Layer Cake. All four records have had icing on the covers, both front and back covers – literally all the artwork that has ever appeared on my records is icing, so that’s a theme, an aesthetic theme … Icing is a rather limited medium – I shouldn’t say “limited”. It’s an unforgiving medium to work with, because you only get once chance to really do it right.
Trainer’s album covers, with their naïf cursive, are a thing to behold, and I wonder if there are other modern artists working in the medium. There are probably similarities in technique to art made from neon tubing, as practiced by people like Bruce Nauman or Tracey Emin. And since icing is very much a craft, it is surely ready for a Grayson Perry subversion. Continue reading “Gayer Cake”
In debates about reproductive rights, a crucial concept is over ‘when life begins’ and when a complex collection of human cells starts to have a moral claim. Some people say this must be the ‘moment of conception’. Others talk about ‘viability’, when certain senses come online; or they talk about the moment of birth.
For a long time now, I have been meaning to write a post about the ‘free speech moment’, after which we have a moral duty to defend the right to freedom of expression, even if we find the speaker or their statements odious. During a free speech controversy, asking oneself when that moment might be is a useful exercise, which helps to clarify what one thinks.
The Free Speech Moment I refer to might be the point of publication. Or in other contexts: The clicking on the ‘tweet’ button; The curtain up; the the exhibitionopening; The opening notes of the first song; the speaker clearing their throat.
Listening to Carol Anderson talk about her book One Person, No Vote on the Ezra Klein Show podcast; about voter ID laws and other measures that actively prevent black people from voting; about gerrymandering and electoral college distortions that allow the party that loses the vote to win the election…
Watching Brett Kavanaugh testify to the US Senate Judiciary committee; where he refused to answer or evaded questions; where he perjured himself; and where his white male colleagues apologised to him for having his honour questioned…
… I found myself thinking that American democracy is on the decline. That it may even be irreparably damaged.