Today I joined another vigil for freedom of expression in Saudi Arabia, along with friends from English PEN, Reporters Sans Frontiers, the Peter Tatchell Foundation and the Society of Authors. I recorded a short video, documenting the growing number of faces on our campaign placards.
Last year I posted some notes about the famous free speech formulation “I hate what you say, but defend your right to say it” which is erroneously attributed to Voltaire. I think the fact that it was actually written by Evelyn Beatrice Hall about Voltaire’s philosophy is now quite widely known, as evidenced by the extent of the gleeful crowing of ‘well actually’ every time some-one prominent (like education minister Sam Gimyah MP in The Times last year) gets the attribution wrong.
While writing my post about Hall (whose pen-name was S. G. Tallentyre) I naturally searched for a picture of her online. A Google image search for ‘Evelyn Beatrice Hall’ throws up dozens of versions of the image below: a young, determined looking woman with a sword. Many of the images that the search yields include the famous free speech quote, properly attributed to Hall. Continue reading “The Misattribution of Evelyn Beatrice Hall”
At a museum in Haifa, Israel, a sculpture called McJesus has been removed from display.
The name of piece by Jani Leinonen tells you exactly what it looks like and also gives heavy clues as to why it is controversial: it is the crucifixion of Ronald McDonald.
There have been angry protests against the sculpture by Israeli Christians who consider it offensive and blasphemous. There were threats of fire bombing.
The sculpture brings to mind another crucifixion mash-up, Immersion (Piss Christ) by Andreas Serrano (1987). I also think of The Holy Virgin Mary by Chris Ofili (1996), a picture painted using elephant dung and which features pornographic imagery. Rudi Giuliani, then mayor of New York, called it ‘sick’ when the painting was exhibited there in 1999.
What’s in a name? Quite a lot, actually. The labels we put on various phenomena, old and new, profoundly affect the way with think about them.
Writing on GenderIt.org, Sophie Maddocks points out that the term ‘revenge porn’ is a wholly misleading name for the non-consensual sharing of intimate images. Its not ‘revenge,’ its not ‘porn,’ its not entertainment, its not a new phenomenon, and it covers a very wide range of behaviour.
Loser's consent has not been forthcoming in part because Theresa May and her government has made absolutely no attempt to generate it.
The lesson of the 1997 referendum is pretty much the exact opposite of the one that May is touting and reflects terribly on her
— Richard Wyn Jones (@RWynJones) January 14, 2019
This short but compelling tweet thread by Richard Wyn Jones puts a name to the thing about Theresa May’s approach to Brexit that has made me (and I suspect, many other people) so angry. It is that, despite the small majority for leaving the European Union, there was no attempt to seek ‘loser’s consent‘ to the referendum result.
Well okay, it’s not fine. It is almost certainly not true, it is very rude, it coarsens our political discourse, it widens divisions, and I really really wish people wouldn’t do it.
But when pro-Brexit protesters call a Remain-supporting MP a ‘Nazi,’ that most certainly is political speech and should be covered by free speech protections.
By contrast, it is not okay to physically intimidate anyone, whether that person is is a man, a woman… or an MP. Continue reading “It’s fine to call an MP a Nazi. But it’s not OK to threaten them”
It’s been an exciting few months for anyone who is enthusiastic about space exploration. On 26th November the NASA InSight lander arrived on Mars (those tense landing moments are always worth a watch). Then on 13th December Virgin Galactic’s WhiteKnightTwo aircraft reached an altitude of 50 miles, the so-called ‘edge of space’. On 2 January, the New Horizons Probe flew past Ultima Thule, producing the clearest image yet of one of the most distant known objects in our solar system (its about 4 billion miles away).
And of course the Chinese Space Agency put a probe onto the far side of the moon. It’s part of a grand plan for Chinese space exploration, including a permanent lunar base which can itself facilitate exploration to Mars. Continue reading “China’s Moon Landing: When an Oppressive Regime Does Something Amazing”
Happy New Year everyone.
I retweeted this earlier.
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.
Yet somehow, none of these furore were coded as Political Correctness, which was something I moaned about at the time of the Thornberry gaffe. It seemed to me then, and now, that the label ‘political correctness’ is a right-wing stick with which to beat minority group concerns, an act of dismissal and de-legitimisation.
Serwer says that we need to give a name to the kind of right-wing outrage that comes when one of their groups is shown disrespect. He suggests ‘populist correctness’ which sounds just right to me.
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 dangereuses are 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; fictional newspaper reviews; ‘mockumentaries’ like This Is Spinal Tap and The Office; and ostensibly ‘found’ footage like The Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield.
All of this is just preamble before I link to a couple of podcasts I enjoyed recently, that take the conventions of a new technology or media, and wrap a fiction around it. Continue reading “Tech, storytelling and fictionalised podcasts”