A little Russian performance art (reblogging)

29 October 2009

I am reblogging a post from a Twitter friend whom I accomapied to see ‘Made in Russia’ at the Chelsea Theatre on Saturday night:

What happens when you take two Russians, heavily involved in dance, and allow them to collaborate together on a theatre piece that both explores their own identity as performers but also interweaves a narrative of past experiences? Made In Russia is the outcome. A slightly surreal and bizarre post-modern theatre piece created, conceived and performed by Andrei Andrianov and Oled Soulimenko.

It truely was a fascinating piece of theatre, charting (i thought, at least) changing approaches to theatre in the context of perestroika. If you’d rather read a view from someone who has more of an idea of what he’s talking about then click here.


Meat, Fur and Blood

27 October 2009

So restaurant critic AA Gill has admitted he shot a baboon on safari “to get a sense of what it might be like to kill someone”. For fun. He’s apparently been attacked on Twitter and by columnists for the insensitive way he expressed his desire to feel what it’s like to kill a person. The League Against Cruel Sports. “If he wants to know what it like to shoot a human, he should take aim at his own leg”.

A food blogging Twitter friend of mine rightly said that the Twitter mob out to get him was ‘absurd’: “Can’t believe AA is now [a] trending [topic on Twitter]. The twitmob is absurd sometimes. Yes, it was a cruel, stupid thing to do. Get over it”. But he then went on to link to a piece by AA Gill “arguing fur is a good thing”. You know, he may have a point (I admit, I didn’t read the article). But I Tweeted back – “You have no problem with fur?!” I said, “Maybe if you’re in the arctic – but there’s a difference between ‘fashion’ and ‘practicality'”, then got very riled by his response “Fur predates concept of fashion. Arguments against it based on same class hatreds as arguments against fox hunting.”. I replied that “fur is generally unneccessary, unlike leather (where good alternatives are rare and expensive) – i am fine with it’s use when necessary but not as a fashion extra. [The use of fur] predating [fashion] is a ridiculous argument as [there have] been many advances in fabric technology since”. My friend pointed out that he’d bought a rabbit fur hat in Russia (to which I replied “let the russians wear rabbit fur hats. it gets cold there. you don’t need a rabbit fur hat, or fur trim collar, in London”) which he wears for skiing. Now I have no problem with the use of fur where justified but i think that “if there’s a viable, affordable alternative that works well, fur is unnecessary & shouldn’t be used”.

The debate continued, moving into the realm of fox hunting – the argument being that arguments against fur were based on class hatred, just as for fox hunting – dislike of “arrogant horsey people” by “angry poor people”. The argument was put that recreational hunting is “not pretty, but it’s not evil either, and nor should it be banned” and that “The fox isn’t tortured: it’s ripped to pieces in seconds. And the chase is as natural as anything you could think of”. Now I have no problem with nature, animals chase and kill each other all the time. But they do so for a reason (usually food) – not generally for sport, followed by a bunch of men in red coats with horns. Another friend of mine joined in and pointed out that an official inquiry identified that “foxes were often not killed by bites to the neck but further down the abdomen”. Not only that, but the argument that – prior to the (to my mind, traumatic) kill – the fox is chased counts as torture. I argued that “fox hunting is clearly an unnecessary, cruel and barbaric blood sport”.

There was another, far more important story, in the papers today about animals. It’s not about going vegetarian to save the planet, it’s about the need to think about the implications of your diet on the environment. Climate change expert Nicholas Stern has said:

I think that once people understand the great risks that climate change poses, they will naturally want to choose products and services that cause little or no emissions of greenhouse gases, which means ‘low-carbon consumption’. This will apply across the board, including electricity, heating, transport and food. A diet that relies heavily on meat production results in higher emissions than a typical vegetarian diet. Different individuals will make different choices. However, the debate about climate change should not be dumbed down to a single slogan, such as ‘give up meat to save the planet’.

I’ve posted about this before but it’s worth saying again. Food production accounts for 15-20% of the UK’s carbon emissions, much caused by livestock. One study from 2007 suggested that the CO2-equivalent emissions of global warming gases from beef production could be as much as 50 times the weight of the meat itself. Chris Goodall has pointed out that “the reaction to Lord Stern’s statement has been unpleasantly vicious. People have seen his views as another illustration of how “climate change” will be used as an excuse for the elite to limit the choices of ordinary people. We are already being told to drive less, not to fly and to buy dim lightbulbs. Stern’s comments suggest a future campaign to reduce our hamburger consumption”.

But we certainly need to do something. Perhaps a large climate footprint can become as socially unacceptable as drink driving, as Stern has suggested. Do you really need to eat meat as often as you do? Think of the impact you’re having on the planet (let alone the impact on your own health) next time you’re grilling your sausage or buying a chicken sandwich.


Vilification? Vindication?

27 October 2009

A couple of things have been causing a fuss this last week, there’s been a lot of fuss about the BNP’s appearance on Question Time and ongoing debate about Jan Moir’s article in particular.

Earlier this week I was convinced that Question Time was the wrong format if you thought it was going to show the BNP up. Well, was I wrong? I think it’s fair to say that the normal Question Time format was abandoned. People agreed it was a five against one kicking of Nick Griffin with Dimbleby and the four panelists directing their views very clearly. Even Griffin agrees. The questions chosen were challenging Griffin – there was nothing on the Postal Strike, for example, which would have clearly appeared at any normal Question Time. I’d agree that a low key grilling on Newsnight would have been better and less sensational. People, though, seemed to agree he performed badly, even his adjacent pannelist said he was creepy.

Which, incidentally, is what Griffin called gay people. Or at least, he said most people (particularly christians) find the sight of two grown men kissing “…really creepy”. Now this was in response to a question about whether the Daily Mail should have printed Jan Moir’s article (which I have posted about here and here). Moir, of course, ‘clarified’ her story on Friday. Apparently. Not only did she only actually apologise to Gately’s family for the timing of what she wrote, not the content, there are many people who think she’s trying to rewrite history, not clarify what she meant.

And when she says her “observation that there was a ‘happy ever after myth’ surrounding such unions was that they can be just as problematic as heterosexual marriages” I’d have to question who actually promulgated this myth about civil partnerships all ending happily ever after? As a Twitter follower of mine said “No-one. The myth itself is a myth”.

So what of these two stories? There’s something as worrying about the acceptance of public pronouncement of such views – whether they’re racist or homophobic – as there would be if they were silenced. The debate about whether the BBC or Daily Mail should have allowed publicising of such views is as worrying as the fact that they did. Because there’s freedom of the press, but there’s also a need to think about the way you say things. Whether it’s the way you question a BNP member on TV, or the way you express uncertainties about a death, there’s a responsibility. I’ve already posted on the implications of publicising ‘hate’ – the increase in homophobic attacks and hate crimes and implication of acceptibility by what people write, or the BNP appearance on Question time being “the trigger that turns into an attack”. And sometimes maybe you have to question whether it’s actually the right thing to do, to use the right you have. Or whether, for the benefit of your business, your medium, the public at large (people have been vocal in saying the BBC should take it’s share of blame for any increase in racist attacks, and there’s been concern that BNP membership will increase), you should think twice about whether you use the right you have to say what you want. Or whether you should think twice before you make a decision – whether you think about the implications before you say it. Because the responsibility is in your hands. Will your actions be vilification or vindication for people’s actions? And, frankly, is it really worth it?


If you want to BNP to be ‘shown up’, Question Time isn’t the right format to get the results you want to see

22 October 2009

There’s been a lot of discussion recently about the appearance tonight of the British National Party on BBC Question Time. When it was announced that the BBC intended to invite Nick Griffin, BNP leader and recently elected (by the British public) Member of the European Parliament, on to Question Time there were mixed responses. Some political parties thought it was the wrong thing to do because it would give them legitimacy as a political party. Other parties were refusing to put up pannelists – refused to appear on the same stage – but as some parties agreed to participate so they all did.

Now, Im not going to express a view on the legitimacy or not of the BNP, but I do have a concern about their appearance tonight. And that’s about the format of the programme on which they’re to appear.

Let’s just think about Question Time for a minute. Five pannelists, usually three politicians, one academic or similarly opinionated person, and one more populist person (a columnist perhaps), chaired by David Dimbleby. Members of the audience ask questions and the pannelists opine and respond one by one. Perhaps there’s some more pointed questioning from the chair trying to get a response to the question.

And this is the point i’m making. It’s not the kind of format where a party like the BNP will really get probed on their policies. There’s no Paxman (not that he succeeded in the past) or Frost really making them uncomfortable, getting to the bottom of what they really mean, and what they imply. It’s a question, an answer, some political responses and questioning from other pannelists (they have their own point to make, and Question Time is about the audience questions, not politicians asking each others views), and moving on to the next point.

On Twitter this morning there’s been some debate about the show tonight. I don’t disagree that primetime TV is the place to point out to the UK what the party actually thinks – but I do think that this format is not the best one, particularly not for those people who really think the party will be shown up on tgeir views. I’m also not a person that thinks gagging works. I’m not apathetic to watching or disengaged from democracy, whether I’ve made up my own mind about them or not. Surely it’s better to let people hear what they think – some may argue to give them enough rope to hang themselves with.

Taken an example about road congestion in our cities. The BNP answers – “road congestion in our cities is a terrible problem, something must be done about it”. What do the other party members do? Disagree vocally with the BNP point of view, or sit there and nod along, agreeing with Nick Griffin? What will this type of questioning and response do for those people who are already of a mindset that could be persuaded by the other arguments they make? A similar appearance by France’s far right political party in the 1980s saw their membership soar and could so well do, or already has, for the BNP.

Question Time is a format that is about swift answers, soundbites, not detailed probing and questioning on what the politicans really mean, what the real implications of their policies are. After my recent posts on undercurrents of hate and what these legitimise, is this really the platform people really think it is to try and show the politics of this party in a truer light? I don’t think it is. Now I may be wrong, and I hope that there is real opportunity for their policies and views to be probed in depth, but I’d just like to end with a thought from Ken Livingstone on Nick Griffin: :”He comes on, says his bit, but for the angry racist, it’s the trigger that turns into an attack.”


A comment on hate crimes

21 October 2009

Last week I posted about about an Daily Mail comment piece by Jan Moir with an undercurrent of homophobia and thoughtless premise. This week the BBC are reporting that homophobic crime in London has risen by nearly a fifth, according to the latest figures on incidents reported to the Metropolitan Police.

The article says that while it’s believed that more people are reporting homophobic crime that’s most probably not the only reason for the increase. The increase is real. And it’s happening. “I don’t know why it’s happening but homophobic crime is definitely increasing,” says Kate, manager of gay pub George and Dragon in Hackney Road – reports the BBC. Just last week Ian Baynham died after a homophobic attack in front of many people in Trafalgar Square, right in the heart of London. Patrick Strudwick, writing on the Guardian’s Comment Is Free pages today also argues that the increase in hate crime is real, and not just a product of greater degree of reporting and measure of Police success.

It’s not that long ago that David Morely was killed on London’s South Bank and just ten years since the Soho pub bombing.

It’s important not to be complacent about hate crimes and homophobia. Jan Moir’s article and dismissal of gay relationships, and the others that still appear, does nothing but continue to undercurrent of homophobia – it does nothing to fight hate crimes and arguably fosters them. Hate Crimes need to be fought against and clearly unacceptable. People who take a laissez-faire attitude to homophobia need to consider what impact this can have on people who feel that hate crimes are justified, are OK.


I’m not saying Stephen Gately died because he was gay, but he obviously did.

16 October 2009

Jan Moir’s article for the Daily Mail this morning was – at the least – badly conceived and at worst homophobic and bigoted. It’s been a massive story on Twitter all day, and led to the Daily Mail pulling adverts from the page.

Jan’s article

Let’s start by pulling out a few snippets of what she said (I am selectively quoting here, read in context here):

The sugar coating on this fatality is so saccharine-thick that it obscures whatever bitter truth lies beneath. Healthy and fit 33-year-old men do not just climb into their pyjamas and go to sleep on the sofa, never to wake up again. Whatever the cause of death is, it is not, by any yardstick, a natural one. Let us be absolutely clear about this. After a night of clubbing, Cowles and Gately took a young Bulgarian man back to their apartment. And I think if we are going to be honest, we would have to admit that the circumstances surrounding his death are more than a little sleazy.

The reaction

Moir suggesting there was nothing “nautral” (her quotes) about his death has provoked a strong reaction:
It is “little more than ill-informed conjecture and sickeningly insensitive bad taste” and she “implies that there is something inherently immoral, dirty and wrong about same-sex relationships by dragging poor Matt Lucas [whose former civil-partner recently committed suicide] into her vile logic”.
• She insinuates “Gays can’t help but be hedonistic and do drugs, are rampantly unfaithful, unhappy and DIE!”
• Her train of thought is obscure: “Is Jan Moir really trying to link drug use with being gay? Or saying that civil partnerships will lead to death? Or what is she trying to do?”

What was she going on about?

So what was she saying? And what should we think about it?

Firstly she seems to dismiss that Gately died of natural causes. As far as I know she’s not a medical expert, nor does she have access to more autopsy information than the rest of us. Even the Daily Telegraph point out that this is like Chris Morriss’s Brass Eye “Genetically, paedophiles have more genes in common with crabs than they do with you and me. Now that is scientific fact. There’s no real evidence for it, but it’s scientific fact.”

But more worrying is what comes next. She talks about his sexuality and clearly states she thinks there is something sleazy about his death. She points out that Gately and his partner had been out clubbing the night before. She points out they brought somebody back to their apartment. She makes accusation and innuendo that is very clearly bigoted. And implies that this caused his death. Now then Jan, it’s one thing to make unfounded medical claims that you know nothing about, but it’s another to make a thinly-veiled attack on gay relationships implying that they’re sordid, they result in drug taking and unhappiness and lead to death.

Finally she concludes that Gately’s death “strikes another blow to the happy-ever-after myth of civil partnerships”. (I don’t know who she’s aiming this at. Has somebody said that Civil-Partnerships are more likely to be happy-ever-after than heterosexual marriages?) She links Gately’s death to that of Matt Lucas’s former partner. There’s a clear underlying tone that implies gay relationships are the cause of unhappiness and – well – death.

Moir has since issued a statement that she only wanted to point out that there are unanswered questions about his death (I guess she knows something that the coroner, his family and we don’t – I wish she’d tell us), and thinks that “In what is clearly a heavily orchestrated internet campaign I think it is mischievous in the extreme to suggest that my article has homophobic and bigoted undertones”. She is wrong. Firsty the the campaign against her was clearly not “heavily orchestrated” – the outrage on twitter was the result of many individuals showing disgust – even some Daily Mail website comments showed the same disgust. But – and this point is key – if this was what she wanted to say she should have done so without the undercurrent of bigotry, sordid accusations, wild medical claims and veiled implications that homosexual relationships are invalid. She’s a clever woman. She could have done so.

More reaction

The Daily Quail parodied her article wonderfully: “Some might say the death and the fact that the deathee was gay are unconnected. To them, I say: ‘no’. Look at the facts – he died, and he was gay. Therefore he died of gay. If a young, healthy man dies whilst suffering from a cold, obviously nobody would suggest that the cold had killed him, but with gay it’s different. Medical reasons, and that. Isn’t it? Yes, I think it is.”

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Follow-up, 7pm:

Two brilliant pieces by Charlie Brooker and Alistair Campbell


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