Tuesday, 29 December 2009

The Ballad Of The Naughty Noughties

By Euclides Montes @gatulino

What will be the feature that comes to define the ‘noughties’ whenever future generations cast their critical eye on us? Would it be perhaps the belligerence of our political and religious systems? Or, maybe, the Warholian accessibility yet ultimately transience of celebrity? Or, perhaps, we’ll be judged under a more positive light as the generation where the seeds of environmentalism finally took roots?

As this decade draws to a close, we’ve had lists aplenty organising in a neat order the greatest moments/songs/places/etc of the decade but I’ve been instead pondering about that one defining feature that will always be associated with the ‘noughties’. Regrettably I don’t have the advantage of a magic ball to look into the future but as an avid observer of the “western experience”, I personally believe that the feature that will define the ‘noughties’ generation will be its quasi-instinctual belief that everything they want is not only possible but easily achievable as soon as they want.

This Veruca Salt-like mind set has been the feature that has shaped most of this dying decade and I wonder where it will eventually lead us. The 'I Want It All, I Want It Now' mantra of the noughties reached its logical conclusion in the rather fitting financial crash that plunged us into an uncertain economic environment for the last part of the decade. What the crash also revealed was an almost caricaturised version of the inherent greedy nature of our society in the form of the fat cats bankers and financial gamblers that led our economy to the edge of financial oblivion and also exposed the ideological bankruptcy of our collective political and social systems.

I understand many will view the statement above as a rather critical assessment of our society, but we have reached a point where the ideological glue holding us all together has been stretched to breaking point, revealing its weaknesses and giving us in turn a massive opportunity, if not a mandate, to take the reins again and shape our society into a fairer and more equal one.

It’s said that the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was to convince humanity he didn’t exist. Similarly, the greatest trick that greedy and unchecked capitalism pulled was to convince us that we can have anything we want, whenever we want it and at the lowest monetary cost possible. Do you want your fast food burger and chips? Pay a couple of pounds for it, never mind the Amazon being destroyed to breed cows. Do you want a £1 top? Go to your high street chain and buy it, never mind who made it and under what conditions. Do you want to have 6, 8, 10 holidays a year? Book and check in online and while you’re at it, put it on your credit card, never mind the cost to the environment or the fact you can’t really afford it yet. Do you want an 8 figure bonus at the end of the year? Gamble with someone else’s money, never mind the OAP who’ll have to do with less money since you’ve just lost their pensions.

Make no mistake about this, we’ve all bought into the ‘Veruca Salt mind set and we are partially responsible for the state of where things are. We need, almost like children, to learn the value and worth of ‘no’. No, we shouldn’t always have everything we want. Sustainability shouldn’t have to be a life choice but instead it should be part of the way we interact with our surroundings. I believe we are at a pivotal stage in our development as a species where a few tweaks in our ideological mind set could set us in the right path. And here’s where the heart of my ponder lies. How can we achieve that? We are about to embark on a whole new decade, how do we want the future to judge us? And are we capable of change at a social level and move on from the ‘I want it all, I want it now’ mind set to a fairer one where ‘at any cost’ is no longer part of our vocabularies? Or am I perhaps a raving dog barking at the wrong tree? I don’t know. What do you think?

O, and Happy New Year!

 
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Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Did you hear the one about the Tiger and the penguin?


by Candice Carboo-Ofulue @Candaloo

Yesterday, I received a considerably frustrated phone call from my friend Penguin. It transpired that yet another round of strikes within the Antarctic Post had delayed his copy of the National Enquirer, and he and the polar bears were desperate to know the latest in the Tiger Woods scandal. Surprised that a penguin as educated and informed as he cared about celebrity gossip, I suggested that he should probably be more concerned about the real events of Copenhagen, at which he laughed.

Unfortunately for Penguin I have been righteously ignoring the Tiger Woods story, so I could not divulge much. I half-heartedly relayed what I had glossed over in the Guardian that weekend about the National Enquirer being bribed to “bury” a story of one of Woods’ affairs back in August 2007. Rejuvenated with his celebrity fix, Penguin sadistically mocked that the reason for Woods’ indefinite leave from golf, was because he had been deafened by the sound of his life crashing down, and had lost his balance. I replied that it was wrong that his public life had been so catastrophically affected by personal matters. After all, he’s an excellent golfer, who cares who he sleeps with. Penguin told me I was naive and then hung up.....and I was left pondering.

Why is the world so obsessed with celebrities? Admittedly, this is not a new question, simply type the words celebrity and obsession into your search engine and it will readily respond with an abundance of hypotheses from religion to consumption. But recently, it seems that the slime of celebrity obsession is proliferating, blocking all news outlets with its infectious gunk, and even contaminating the channels of serious news. For those of us who refuse to care, camping out within the pages of the Guardian or other ‘broadsheets’ is no longer possible, with even those publications giddily spooning out celebrity trash as a side to our world news dish. That’s not what we ordered. All we can do is sew our ears shut, but then they’ll just get us through our eyes.

So I propose that we fight back with why? Most answers I have come across fall short of providing a comprehensive explanation. This obsession is more than just passively ‘gorking’ at the rich and famous through the OK window. It’s dynamic. Our celebrity diet simultaneously combines all the virtues and ‘unvirtues’ of human nature; we admire, adorn, mythologize, imitate, criticise, judge, sympathise, desire, fanaticise. In fact, over the last decade we have even been actively manufacturing celebrities through the reality TV machine, so that we can create our very own ‘celebridolls’. It’s more than complex, it’s a phenomenon. And in accordance with the phenomenon tradition it should be awarded it’s very own ‘ology’. So, ‘Celebriology’: The Study of the Obsession of Celebrity - let’s give it a crack.

Hmmm.....

The first important question for ‘Celebriology’ is whether our obsession is instinctual? Possibly. Some essential characteristics that underpin our celebrity fetish also worked for our branch swinging ancestors. Gossip; many evolutionary psychologists agree that gossip was an effective means of helping our ancestors make sense of the world, which may explain why we ruthlessly air Tiger Woods’ dirty laundry through every possible news outlet.

How about the desire to imitate high status individuals; used by our ancestors to ascertain scarce resources and secure their reproductive success, maybe that why we rapaciously consume mags that salivate over celeb lifestyles and offer cheap routes to the latest must-haves flaunted by Posh.

But does our desire to imitate explain why we’re so ruthlessly judgemental when celebs go bad? Maybe we can’t distinguish between their private and public lives? We believe that the price for enjoying life’s luxuries is that they follow a higher code of ethics. The ‘Gucci Ethics Code’. This may explain why Tiger Woods has fallen from the pantheon of Gillet, but it fails to explain why one day we’re pillorying Jordan and the next we’re dowsing her with compliments and admiration. So maybe, familiarity provides a more sufficient answer (another of evolutions wonders). We are more flexible in our judgements towards people we know. Jordan, through living her life within the media, has exposed her many faces, which makes her an intimate and our memories short-term. But the ‘private’ Wood’s is a stranger, so we struggle to be empathetic.

Ahh, the mind ponders and boggles. Don’t even get me started on religion. All I will say is that the distant world of celebrities is looking suspiciously similar to Greek Mythology, with its nefarious and incestuous goings-on. Although, this arguably a product of our desire to mythologize than how celebrities actually live.

So, there it is. The beginnings of Celebriology. Of course, before it can compete with the likes of Sociology, Psychology, Pathology etc, it will need to be developed. Share your comments, so we can collectively build a theory that will contain this monster. Either that or we find a suitable place to hide, and given my discussion with Penguin, the Antarctic is off.

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Tuesday, 15 December 2009

It's The Final Countdown... Of Doom

by Rachel Surtees @RVSurtees




It’s the final countdown do do do dooo do do do do dooo. It’s obviously not the final countdown, simply a ruse to get your attention. This is in fact “The Countdown Of Doom”. That’s right, read on and what you’ll find is a little sprinkling of good cheer to brighten up your day… HA!

The Christmas season is now well and truly upon us - it took a while to arrive this year didn’t it? But what every self-respecting telly addict knows is “The Christmas season” is in fact a smoke screen for the “season of incessant end of year list making and countdowns”. Countdown coordinators at television studios around the world will no doubt be in a perpetual state of orgasmic spasms because this 31st December is not only the end of the year, it’s the END OF THE DECADE.

But, while the shiny faces over at BBC Three try and convince us of the highlights and achievements of the Noughties, what I really want to know is, could it really have been any worse? Genuinely, could anything else possibly have gone wrong? And could any of the things that did go wrong have gone any more wrong than the wrongness that they wrongly became?

I have a theory that every generation has a dud decade. 10 years of misery, hatred, chaos and Cheryl Cole. Think about it, who do you know who’s had a good time over the last few years? Incidentally, if you have spent the last decade riding on a merry rollercoaster of happiness, good health and joy, I’m genuinely pleased for you but feel free not to comment.

I’m aware that there are one or two holes in my theory but I will boldly ignore them and plough forward regardless. It can’t get any worse. Can it? It appears that people only become cognisant of how much they’ve been through in retrospect so allow me to bring some of the forgotten miseries rushing to the fore of your consciousness and present the Noughties’ countdown of doom:

2000: George Dubya Bush is elected for his first term.

2001: 9/11 and its immediate aftermath changes the face of world politics forever.

2002: Bali bombings kill hundreds… The first prisoners arrive at Guantanamo Bay… “The Wall” is built in the Gaza strip.

2003: The million who marched are ignored and the invasion of Iraq begins… Heatwaves through Europe kill over 30,000 people.

2004: The year ends with the Indian Ocean Tsunami.

2005: Coordinated suicide bombers strike in London and a week later Charles De Menezes is shot dead in Stockwell tube station…. Hurricane Katrina hits the East coast of America, 1000s are left destitute in New Orleans and Bush rejects an offer from Cuba to send aid and supplies.

2006: Israel launches a military attack on Hezbollah and sends thousands of troops into Lebanon.

2007: Burmese crisis breaks out… Benazir Bhutto assassinated in Pakistan.

2008: The global financial crisis takes hold… Swine flu breaks out… Cyclone Nargis hits Burma and 146,000 people die… The voice and image of Sarah Palin is burnt onto the world’s retina… War breaks out between Russia and Georgia… Boris the Buffoon Johnson wins London’s mayoral elections… Zimbabwe faces one of its worst periods of civil and political unrest in the face of looming general elections.

2009: Brown loses his already tentative grip on the country… Fascists take to our streets and televisions seig heiling as they go… SuBo becomes the biggest selling pre-ordered album on Amazon (yes she has a great voice but don’t tell me that’s why you’re buying the album)…

It is true that lots of amazing things have happened this decade too - most of them Obama shaped - but for every positive thing that you think of, there were at least three soul destroying catastrophes to counteract them.

I rarely manage to answer any of my own ponders but this time I can: no, it can’t get any worse so prepare yourself for a shiny new decade, full of joy and goodwill. And in the meantime allow me to wish you a Merry Christmas and a very happy New Year.

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Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Am I Really Black?


by Joshua Surtees @joshuasurtees

“But I’m not black” says my sister. We are in the car with our mother driving home from the airport. “Yes you are” I say, mildly annoyed. Since childhood, our white mother has always told us we are black and should describe ourselves as such, even though we are half white. Right now, however, our mother appears to be supporting my sister’s argument, and beneath my growing angst I realise it may be wrong of me to impose my personal view of our ethnicity on to her. And yet I persist.

“No, I’m mixed race” she says. “Yes,” I say “but you’re also black”. “No, I’m as much white as I am black, but nobody calls me white so why should I call myself black?” “Do you really not know?” I say. “If you mean the one drop rule, then yes of course I know” she says “but why should a theory derived from the civil rights movement in the US decades ago apply to me now?” It’s an interesting point…

Let me back track to the conversation that sparked this discussion. In my kitchen at home one evening I’m talking to my lodger. She is of the same background as my sister and I (her father is black her mother is white). We are talking about her imminent return to Suffolk after a year in London. “I’m going to miss London,” she says. “There aren’t many brown people in Bury St Edmunds”. I’m amused by the comment. “You don’t describe yourself as brown do you?” I ask, slightly bemused as it’s been a while since I’ve heard the term. “Yes, I’m not black and I’m not white, I’m brown”. “Oh that’s interesting,” I say, “what does your dad [a black American] think about that?”, “He’s fine with it” says my lodger.

Over the next 20 minutes or so my lodger and I discuss the merits of the various labels that could be applied to us. I tell her that my own perception of the label ‘brown’ is the derogatory, condescending term ‘brown babies’ used in the British post-war years to describe children of white mother’s and black US soldiers. I also explain my concern that mixed race people often refer to themselves as brown out of some residual sense of lingering shame at the thought of calling themselves black. It must be remembered that in the eyes of most of the world, being black is something that only relatively recently emerged as something to be proud of. This is especially so in England where immigration of black people in large numbers only really began in the 50s and 60s. The generation of the earliest immigrants from the Caribbean still to this day refer to themselves as coloured. Because that is what they were told they were. Because being ‘black’ back then was undesirable. The term coloured today is racist, and yet older generations, including my white grandmother, still use it innocently, as if it is the correct term.

At school in the late 80s/early 90s, the awful term half-caste was commonly used. My siblings and I would come home from school describing ourselves thus, having been described as such in the playground or even by teachers. My mum would tell us never to describe ourselves as such, nor allow others to, explaining that the term comes from the Indian caste system and essentially means you are half a person. Of a lower class. Thank god that term is largely eradicated now along with terms such as mulatto or indeed yellow.

I suppose the term half caste came about from a genuine embarrassment in this country about the new phenomenon of mixed race babies. Until a turning point in the 60s and 70s, it was rare for a white woman and black man to have a baby, or vice versa. It is this embarrassment around issues of race that I have a problem with and may be why I am not a fan of the term brown. To me, it feels like an attempt to sanitise, ‘pretty up’ or get out of simply saying black. It is ‘black’, made more palatable for society. To me there should be no sense of shame or compromise with the word black. It should be something to be proud of. That is what was drummed into me by my mother, and indeed my father, and has stuck with me. “People will see you as black and you should be proud to be black, never deny that you are” was their message. “But Rachel [my sister] is lighter than some Italian people” we would argue. “She’s still black” would be our mother’s response.

For me, the black pride factor runs deep in this debate. Many black people require black success stories and role models to identify with, to motivate and to stimulate personal pride. If a half black person achieves success and calls themselves a black man or woman, this represents a greater fillip to black empowerment, than calling themselves brown or even mixed race. Barack Obama describes himself as African-American. What would it do to the psyches of other African-Americans in the States if he instead described himself as multiracial, bi-racial, mixed race or dual heritage? I feel it would be a disservice.

But am I wrong? Is it me who is living in the past? Is it not the choice of each individual to decide their ethnicity, even when those individuals come from the same background or even the same family, like my sister and I? Surely she has the right to call herself mixed race and my lodger to call herself brown? In the months since my lodger used the term brown, I’ve heard it quite frequently, most often from people of Indian or South Asian origin. So, is it just me that’s still living in a 1980s PC ‘Right On’ world where we march against ‘the bomb’ and acid rain and Thatcher and people calling themselves brown?

I tell my sister I find the term ‘mixed race’ unsatisfactory. “It’s meaningless. It doesn’t even describe which races one is a mix of. Ethiopian and Italian? Korean and Mexican? Iranian and Jewish?” In an, ideal world I would describe myself as half English half Jamaican. When I ask my half Norwegian half Guyanese friend he concurs. Yet these are our parents’ nationalities, not really our ethnicities. I think dual heritage is a prettier term. For me, ‘mixed race’ is just the latest in a line of flawed terminologies that the government and equalities agencies haven’t really thought through. I think it will be replaced fairly quickly with another generic, unflattering term.

My sister recounts the a time when a chatting with two childhood friends she said to one “please don’t call me half caste it’s incorrect” and the other joined in “yeah, and don’t call me Indian”, to which my sister had to politely point out “but, you are Indian!”. The unfortunate interjection somewhat devalued the original point but it neatly highlights my previous point; that some people actually are embarrassed or confused about who they are.

Then, she makes the final point that another mixed race friend, a well educated young woman, until only recently referred to herself as half caste. I am shocked.

It seems political correctness is not the solution to everything where individuals are concerned. This is the essence of the debate. Is it the right of individuals to call themselves whatever they want? Whether that be black, white, brown, mixed race, coloured or even half caste? Is it unacceptable for others to label people with official, political or ideological terms?

I think it’s fair to say I have mixed feelings on this one.

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Tuesday, 1 December 2009

The Fear

by Euclides Montes (@Gatulino)

You’re on the night bus, on your way home after a night out on the town. A group of boisterous hooded teenagers get on the bus, perhaps having a laugh about something or other. You can feel the mood change in all of your travel companions. It darkens. The fear can almost be seen by the naked eye. These are no longer teenagers, you see, but they are instead the shadowy demons from Ghost who have come to claim your peace or maybe even your souls. Never mind that 9 out of 10* of all bus journeys will always end up as intended: just a bit late, with us iPoded Britons looking grumpily for a free seat. I could have used many other examples to highlight the explicit fear that I think permeates our society but in all of them, the result is always very clear to me. Even though the odds are stacked heavily against the things that scare us – be it gun crime, immigration causing an uncontrolled increase in our population or the PC brigade trying to ban Christmas – the fear of these things happening is here, it’s obvious, it’s pervasive and, I feel, it’s here to stay. And so, to my ponder. Is this fear understandable? More importantly, is there anything or anyone perpetuating the fear? And for what purpose?

Where to begin? For a start I believe that there are many anthropological/ sociological/ biological explanations of what ‘fear’ is but this post will not attempt to tackle these philosophical musings since the author cannot really claim to have the academic nous to put forward a definitive appraisal of the explanations! However, in the spirit of a good ponder, I have been wondering what it is that drives these waves of fear in our societies, for the simple reason that it’s as clear as day to me we are suffering from a terrible case of collective heebie-jeebies. Since we haven’t got too much space, and time is always a commodity, let me plant my flag and declare my stance on this issue.

I believe that as a species, our brains are wired into feeling fear. Fear of the dark, fear of the unknown, fear of heights. In short, fear of the dangers that in evolutionary terms have been with us for a while. We have now taken those fears and translated them, writing them into the complex socialised system we know as a society. We have understood them, given them fancy names and tried to master them but these fears are part of our biological imprint. They are part of what ‘we’ are. Now, here’s where my piece could be seen as a tad controversial because I believe that what’s different about this particular moment in our social history is that we have not only tried to master our fears but we have also managed to use them as tools of social control. This has happened to such an extent that we are at a stage where we are being constantly bombarded by fear-mongering from all directions with one single purpose: someone wants to sell us something. And in order to do so, our primeval ‘fear’ has been, and continues to be, exploited.

Please don’t get me wrong, I’m not simply talking about the McDonalisation of our private fears. After all, fear has always been used to sell almost anything that needs selling. A religious system, a dodgy war, a government campaign, the latest brand of toothpaste, a xenophobic ideology. In fact, this has become such a repetitive process that we have taken the next logical step in this tale and “The Fear” is now a permanent feature of our daily lives.

And who’s perpetuating this fear on a daily basis if not the media? I’m not saying they’re wholly responsible for this state of affairs but they are certainly liable for at least some of it. The newspapers and news channels that we go to get our daily dose of facts are suddenly now using this sales technique for their own agendas and that worries me.

If fear is part of our psyche and it is being exploited indiscriminately to sell whatever it is you’re supposed to be buying, where does the responsibility of the media start? This question arises because, in my opinion, this was a bad year [and maybe even a bad decade] for journalism. For every positive achievement by the media, there were 10 scaremongering pieces out there. For every Transfigura, there were your Dunblanegates and your racist fau pauxs. For every Aaronovitch, you had your Jan Moirs and your Littlejohns. All in the name of sale figures.

Why? It’s an issue that goes to the very meeting point of our modern society and our primeval fear. We have readily-accessible information everywhere and suddenly every click and every sale is worth a lot more than before. Sometimes I can’t help but feel that certain sectors of the media want you to be in a constant state of fear, scared of everything. It would seem that tales of teenagers killing are better for sales than reporting on fiscal deficits or Prime Minister’s Question Time.

Some of you might say that business is business after all but here is where my ponder hopefully becomes yours. Shouldn’t newspapers be more responsible? Shouldn’t we expect them to be a positive force in our society? Don’t get me wrong, ‘the fear’ came first in this ‘chicken and egg’ scenario but I believe that a few fat cats have made a omelette of it and the result is that suddenly our bearded neighbour becomes a jihadist, a vaccine becomes a poisonous arrow and our children become the goblins who haunt our trips back home from the pub late at night. ‘The Fear’ is here and here to stay. And now the weather...

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Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Caster Semenya: All 'Sexed Up' With Nowhere To Go?

by Candice Carboo-Ofulue @Candaloo

Poor Old Caster Semenya. Is there any light at the end of this controversial tunnel? For those of you whose memories need a bit of a nudge, Caster Semenya sprinted into our collective conscious this summer after her win in the women’s 800 meters was clouded by speculation about her sex. First it was the “leak” that exposed the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF)’s suspicions about Semenya’s sex, followed by a tsunami of angry words from South African Athletics (ASA), the South African Government, and Semenya’s family. Not to mention the preferred tactics of avoidance and defence by the IAAF. Oh, and the public discrediting of Leonard Chuene, Head of the ASA.

Poor old Caster has been left exposed under the microscopic spotlight, publically dissected, and of course ‘glammed up’ for that all essential glossy front page makeover. And yet still the saga continues. There is contradiction between the ASA and IAAF about Semenya’s future: whilst the South African Ministry of Sport has declared that she can keep her gold medal, the IAAF claims to be in negotiations. And the long anticipated results of her gender verification test, which were due to be announced last Friday, are “still to be completed”. Poor old Caster Semenya.

But, can someone please enlighten me. Why all this frenzy surrounding the alleged ambiguity of her sexual anatomy? Seriously, I’m confused. I mean, if her gender verification test results confirm that she is indeed a ‘hermaphrodite’, she wouldn’t be the first. In fact, to be born ‘intersex’ is somewhat normal. Admittedly statistically uncommon, but then there are lots of genetic rarities, not all of them result in outright hysteria. And I refuse to accept that this is some kind of public reaction to the ‘unknown’. Anyone, like me, who was raised on cable TV, will remember the obsession with ‘transgendered’ and ‘intersex’ people on day-time freak shows (sorry, I meant talk shows) such as Sally Jessie Raphael.

For some the answer is obvious. It’s the incompatibility of ‘intersex’ people within sport, which is defined along the lines of ‘sexually decisive’ men and women. Possibly. But that doesn’t explain the confusion. From the leak, to the fact that she was allowed to run despite the speculation, to the protracted gender verification test; disorder is an understatement. Semenya might just as well be a Martian. In fact, that just reinforces my question. How to ‘deal’ with ‘intersex’ people is a well established dilemma within competitive sport; gender verification tests were introduced into the Olympics in 1968 for that reason. Since then there have been a number incidents of gender speculation, such as in 2006 when Indian middle-distance runner Santhi Soundarajan was stripped of her silver medal after failing the gender verification test. Surely, it must have been someone’s job to develop some kind of policy, or at least a transgendered Olympics? But no, just a bunch of headless chickens wearing suits and IAAF name badges.

So I wonder: does the source of the hysteria go beyond the track? Maybe all this bewilderment surrounding Semenya is our belief system in meltdown? I mean, what led to the initial speculation? Was it that this young girl’s body is just too masculine? Her voice just too coarse?

Maybe it’s not that ‘intersexuality’ is incompatible with sport itself, but rather that our sporting competitions fall short in accommodating the sexual variations that actually exist? Do we feel uncomfortable with ’intersexuality’ because it rips the heart out a belief system that masquerades as natural but is in fact socially created? Surely, the presence of ‘intersexuality’ mocks our restricted view of men and women. In fact, many scientists believe that sexual ambiguity is statistically underrepresented, since not all people born ‘intersex’ have external male and female anatomy. What if you have the internal anatomy of a woman, but the external genitalia of a man? Does that make you an ‘unwoman’ or an ‘unman’. So even within the context of ‘intersexuality’ there are variations. Should sex be viewed and understood as a continuum? Furthermore, if nature is content with creating ambiguous sexual anatomies, why are we so absolute?

I wonder if this challenge to our ‘natural’ belief system explains our frenzied and possibly aggressive reaction to ‘intersexuality’? We’re fraudsters. Rather than accept this ambivalence we defend our beliefs. We view it as wrong, abnormal, pitiful. We feel safe in dichotomies: men and women, old and young, ugly and beautiful. So instead, we talk about the need to rectify maldeveloped, abnormal or defective reproductive systems through ‘corrective’ surgery? It is up to the ‘other’ to ’correct’ their reproductive systems to conform to our ’normal’ ideas of sex. Of course, many may chose to have surgery, but this choice should determined by the individual, and not be the result of a ‘gender dogma’. How do we know what is natural if the ‘other’ is corrected and suppressed?

So I’m left in the position where my confusion has been substituted by questions. Is this just an issue for the minority of people who are born ‘intersex’? Maybe there is no need to challenge our entire belief system solely to incorporate a few? But if our collective thinking is so intrinsically intolerant to the extent that our social views create sex, where are the boundaries? Within our present climate of body ‘dysmorphia’, should this be asked? Consider this: last year the number of women seeking labiaplasties (cosmetic surgery on their female genitalia) rose by 70 percent. Women having operations to become more womanly. Have our ‘socialised’ beliefs of sex become so ‘natural’ that now they are ideals to which our bodies should aspire? Now that is interesting.
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Friday, 20 November 2009

My Straight Gay Wedding: What's In A Name?

by guest contributor Tom Freeman

In 342 AD the Christian emperors Constantius II and Constans issued a law in the Theodosian Code prohibiting same-sex marriage and ordering execution for those so married. Things have come on a bit since then. On 24th November at 10:30 am my partner and I have an appointment at Islington Registry Office to give notice of our intention to form a civil partnership. You might think this is a time for celebration, but you’d be wrong. Our notice will not be accepted. The reason? My partner is a girl. The Civil Partnerships Act 2004 says: ‘two people are not eligible to register as civil partners of each other if they are not of the same sex’. In the words of Sam Leith in the Evening Standard on Monday: ‘it is an abomination before Blair to see man and woman unnaturally so conjoined’.

The mantra I have been droning to all and sundry is: ‘separate but equal isn’t equal at all’. Those of you who can remember history GCSE will recognise this idiom from segregation-era America. Derived from an act of 1880, ‘separate but equal’ became a legal principle, not overturned until 1954. Black people were entitled to public services putatively equal in quality – just as long as they were kept separate from services for white people. In Plessy vs Ferguson (1896), the landmark case in which Homer Plessy was prosecuted for riding in a white railway carriage, the majority of the court blindly refused to accept that the law implied any inferiority of black people. In reality the majority had accepted equal rights for the minority only on the condition that they were held at arm’s length. This, in my book, is not what equality is. The analogy with matrimonial law in the UK is obvious: the legal effects of Civil Partnership and civil marriage are identical, the rights and obligations are identical, yet one is for gay people only, and the other – with all the prestige that the ancient institution entails – for straights only.

This throws up a whole box full of ponders. First, is there something inherent in the nature of sexuality which dictates that long-term committed relationships between same-sex and opposite-sex couples are fundamentally different and must be recognised as such in law? In his article, Leith, using the analogy of apartheid, writes ‘the ANC weren't campaigning for the right of South Africa's black majority to call themselves white’. This implies that by seeking a Civil Partnership we are ‘calling ourselves gay’. Is this association of concepts something that can or should be broken down? Plenty of countries have managed it. While the Netherlands introduced registered partnerships in the 90s to give gay couples the benefits available to married couples, this didn’t stop them becoming, in 2001, the first nation to grant same-sex marriages. The Canadian Parliament approved the granting and recognition of same-sex marriages by redefining marriage as “the lawful union of two persons to the exclusion of all others” in 2005. Similar steps have been taken in Norway, Belgium, Spain, South Africa and Sweden.

But I’m being silly, aren’t I? This is all just semantics. Everybody, gay or straight, has the same rights, so where’s the problem? My second ponder therefore is: are labels really important? Leith goes on: The ANC ‘were campaigning for equality under the law. And that's what we've already got... things are pretty much okee-dokee in a society, I think, where the nomenclature is the only thing wrong with a law’. Are they, though? This comes down to the effect of names. Did anyone else notice that following Kevin McGee’s sad death, major newspapers used the word ‘husband’ to refer to his relationship to Matt Lucas, but put it in inverted commas? This is just one example of a trend. Civilly partnered couples are portrayed as imitating their married counterparts, but somehow falling short. I think this is a case of the media reflecting societal prejudices. But consider: how would attitudes be affected if we were no longer handed such an easy line to draw between proper couples and pretend ones? Would this eventually alter our perceptions? I genuinely don’t know. Maybe not. Maybe gay couples are glad to have their own institution and not be assimilated.

Which brings me to my final ponder. Who cares? Who actually are we representing here, except ourselves? How did we end up seeking to be a test case in the overturning of what seemed to us a gross inequality? It seemed like common sense. But if this is so self-evident why are others seemingly blind to it? There is no organised campaign in England on this issue, and a gay male friend tells me that interest in ours among gay men will be limited. I approached a certain prominent charity who were instrumental in lobbying for Civil Partnerships with my idea, and it was met with outright hostility. Does this in itself mean that what we are doing is wrong? Who gets to say? Can someone fill me in on this? I really should have checked.

Because of course we have now effectively excluded ourselves from the legal and economic benefits available to married couples – we are denied civil partnership by law, and we can’t back down now and go off and get married. If change does come, it will be very slow. I understand the Green Party has concrete plans to liberalise the law, but it looks like the Tories are on the way. Labour brought in Civil Partnerships, which is progress, but have no plans to go further. You could even say that accepting a compromise for the time being slows progress towards a goal (actually, it might even occur to a more cynical mind than mine that an understanding could have been reached with those lobbying for Civil Partnership that this would be ‘enough’). So for the time being, we’re kinda stuck.

That’s what’s been on my mind. Can separate but equal really be equal after all? What’s your view?

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Tuesday, 17 November 2009

You, Me and Mr Taxman


by Rachel Surtees @RVSurtees

Who said tax doesn’t have to be taxing? Oh hang on, let me guess, Saatchi and Saatchi in a bid to make the HMRC sexy? FAIL. Maybe, and I do mean maybe, rather than thinking about how to dodge our taxual commitments, we should instead be allowed to decide how the money is spent. I very much doubt that any such declaration would see hoards taking to the streets, lining up to hurl their pound coins at number 11, but, perhaps it would make that tax deduction at the end of the month a little less painful.

Let’s be clear here, when I say give the public more control, I’m not advocating an X Factor style vote off with Rupert Murdoch, Paul Dacre, Dominic Mohan and Conrad Black serving on the judging panel. No? Isn’t that how our decisions are normally made? You’re right, we need a bit of window dressing in there, um, Caroline Flint?

I digress. I simply wonder what would happen if we were left in charge of our own taxes. Not how we pay, nor how much we pay, but more like who we pay. So, if I have a young family (I don’t), and no grandparents (I have one, singular), I might opt out of putting my tax money into state funded care homes for the elderly, and into improving primary education.

Incidentally, I’m fairly certain that I wouldn’t make that change so maybe this is a moot ponder. Maybe nothing would change. Maybe we would all just go on making the same contributions as we do now as decided by, by who? The Treasury? Gordy? Then again I am a pacifist, so much to many people’s dismay I would whip my money out of spending on defence quicker than you can say North Korea. I’m also a rampant socialist so would probably put the money I save from building tanks into building public services, likely with an emphasis on the NHS.

I guess essentially this ponder is less about tax and more about what kind of society we actually are:

1) Are we blindly reactionary? I looked at the figures for 2008 / 09… this is an exact transcript of what went through my head: Wow, £620.685 billion worth of taxes were collected last year. Hmm I wonder who got the most money; I bet it was the defence budget. Bloody hell, £137.7 billion went to The Department of Work and Pensions…. THE DEPARTMENT OF WORK AND PENSIONS GOT THE MOST MONEY???? Is that a joke? Hang on a minute, £62.677 billion of that went on pensions. That can’t be correct. I don’t know how many people there are who qualify for a pension but at a generous guess let’s say 20 million, well, 62 billion divided by 20 million is… actually far less than it sounds. Blimey, writing this article is like being on one big rollercoaster ride. Interesting, if I hadn’t been bothered to do “the sums” my dear old Nan would have ended up pensionless and homeless by the end of the day.

2) Are we inherently socialist or conservative? Would we continue to place our taxes in industries and sectors that are beneficial for others but are not directly so for ourselves? Or, if you have children in private school and your company pays for private health insurance for all of the family would you pull your money out of the NHS and state funded education?

3) Are we socially, economically, politically balanced enough to be able to neutralise each other’s silly choices? Or, same point spoken as a true pessimist, are we so divergent that we would cancel out any good that our clever choices could have made?

Is it worth the risk regardless of whether the consequences end up being damaging? After all it’s our money, our society, why shouldn’t we have control over where tax money goes? I’m quite comfortable with Gordon making my decisions for me now but what happens “if” the Tories get in?

My feeling is that on a national level the likelihood is that it would either have no impact, or a negative impact. But I can see that on a more local level, having a say in how my council tax is spent could potentially have a positive and welcome impact within the local community. Then again, if it’s council tax then the rich will be all powerful and the poor left voiceless again. The fact that the wealthy may act selflessly on behalf of their less affluent neighbours is quite frankly irrelevant - we should all have an equal stake in the society that we live in. Ugh, and so the dialogue goes round and round in my head. What do you think?

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Friday, 13 November 2009

Freak Out Friday? Do Me A Favour...



by guest contributor Hugh Lindley (@HughLindley, normally found trying to tolerate people on Bertie's Bastard Blog)

Today the date is 13/11/2009. It is the second Friday in November. It is 3 days before Monday the 16th. It is one of 4 days in the month that has a ‘3’ in it. None of these things are remarkably interesting. But hang on – if I were to say it was Friday the 13th, it would suddenly make the day seem interesting, eerie and supernatural wouldn’t it?

No. Of course it wouldn’t. You cretin.

It’s been a bumper few weeks for people who are scared of their own reflection, cracked paving slabs and particularly sharp pencils. No sooner have we got the annual farce that is Halloween out of the way (with all the crap fancy dress parties and kids pushing dog turds through letterboxes that it demands) than we have to put up with people rehashing the same old myths about Friday the 13th.

The annoying thing for ‘normal’, ‘sane’, ‘rational’ people like, well, like me, is this: after all the ghosts, ghouls and werewolves of the former (which are still a load of bollards but would at least be genuinely frightening if they existed), the latter’s non-specific threat and general excuse for cowardice is a bit of a comedown.

The former is, at least, one of many spurious reasons for the British population to binge drink and have a bloody good laugh; the latter may well involve some of your friends refusing to come to the pub in case they accidentally fall in front of a bus on the way home… something that could almost definitely be attributed to the ill-advised shot of Pernod they always finish the evening with.

There’s a fairly good chance that somebody will say to you today something like: ‘Oh I’d better not – it’s Friday the 13th, lol!’. Most of these people won’t be saying this with any real degree of seriousness (hence the ‘lol’) but with some you’ll probably be able to tell that they actually believe on some level.

This is very frustrating to me. I can just about tolerate people’s religious beliefs (if forced) but why should I have to put up with somebody who thinks that the date on the calendar has an adverse effect on their fortunes? There’s no element of harmless fun like with Halloween (you get sweets!), or celebrating the brutal execution of Jesus Christ (you get chocolate!). In the USA it is estimated that 17-21 million people have some form of a fear of the day and that it costs the economy $800-900 million (which they can hardly afford to lose these days). What is the point in propagating this myth, sometimes (as in 2009) 3 times a year? How can we convince these cowardly custards that, as Stevie Wonder always says, superstition ain’t the way?

One possible answer is pure ridicule. The fear of Friday the 13th is called paraskevidekatriaphobia. Look at that word. Would you like to be known as a paraskevidekatriaphobic? The chances are that word would get round to your neighbours, who are equally jumpy but for more tabloid-fueled reasons. This would probably result in your house being graffitied, your shed burnt down and your door no longer knocked on by trick or treaters. Your mother would buy you Gary Glitter albums for Christmas in a futile attempt to sympathise. Apart from that, it’s just a stupid word and you probably can’t pronounce it anyway.

However, this massive stick may not be the best answer, so perhaps the paraskevidekatriaphobic community could be persuaded to take off their tin foil hats and mince down to the carrot shop? Or to put it another way, should we waste our time patiently explaining to them that there is very little evidence to suggest that there is any link between Friday the 13th and really bad things happening? Indeed a Dutch study suggests that there is a decreased rate of traffic accidents on these ‘fatal’ days due to people taking extra care.

On the other hand, other studies have contradicted this and shown an increased rate of accidents. No problem for us rationalists though – firstly there are more accidents on weekends anyway due to alcohol consumption and secondly one can assume that some of these are due to psychosomatic reasons: ‘Well I was bound to drive my car off a cliff today wasn’t I? It’s Friday the 13th lol!’.

However… if you’re driving today and at the lights you look to your left and see one man frantically checking his mirrors, tightening his seatbelt and wiping the sweat from his face as he desperately tries not to cause an accident; and you then look to your right to see a man wearing a blindfold and a bodybag, releasing his handbrake, already resigned to his fate… Well, you’re probably better off just staying in aren’t you really? You never know do you?

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Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Is Torture Always a Bad Thing?


by Joshua Surtees @joshuasurtees

Controversial title? Controversial subject. I’m a bit nervous about attracting the wrong kind of right wing blogging attention but this has to be done. We have to keep pondering or we die. Like sharks and swimming…

This feels schlocky, but anyway…. Imagine your mother has been kidnapped by the Taliban in Afghanistan or the FARC in Colombia. You’ve received notice that she will be killed within 48 hrs unless their demands are met. An MI5 agent calls you personally and says they can extract a tip-off out of a captive member of the kidnapping group using torture methods. This tip-off will save your mother’s life. If you had the final say, would you agree to authorise the torture? Would you ask what kind of torture? Would that matter? Or would you let your mother die?

This may sound unrealistic and sensational. It’s not. These kinds of situations happen everyday. Soldiers and the secret services do many extreme and difficult things in the name of protecting us and saving lives. Should torture be one of those things?

We all have our own opinion on this. It is in fact one of those rare issues (like anti-terrorism or freedom of expression) that unites both sides of the right/left political divide. 99% of people profess to abhor torture. I understand why.

But if you polled a million New Yorkers and asked them: If torture had been a viable option to prevent the 9/11 attacks would you have approved it? I think the overwhelming answer would be in favour of ‘yes’.

Torture was used by the Nazis against their enemies in WWII. It was also used by the Allied forces in defeating the Nazis. Never officially confirmed of course. Would we shed a tear if Hermann Goering had his nuts electrocuted in order to ascertain exactly where a train full of Jews was being deported too and prevent their deaths?

This issue goes right to the very heart of the pacifism question. The title could easily have been ‘Is Pacifism Always a Good Thing?’ The gut response of most liberals is that they believe 100% wholeheartedly in pacifism. I am a liberal. I do not believe in totalising catch-all pacifism. I believe in peace, I think there should be no violence or threat of violence to any person in the world. Sadly, this is not a reality. It is human nature to be violent. Just look at Darwinism or any history or sociology text book to understand that.

Violence is a big part of the reason many professions even exist. Soldiers, police officers, social workers, judges, probation officers, councillors, psychologists, doctors and nurses all deal with the after effects of violence and attest to the innate violent streak within many individuals and amongst groups of humans. The question society faces here is ‘how do we respond to violence?’ If the answer is ‘through peaceful means’ then it requires a massive amount of altruistic, sacrificial restraint to maintain such a stance. Gandhi did it. I’m struggling to think of many more examples whose impact was as great. And what if the perpetrator of violence is a state or institution? At what point, and how, is the decision reached to jettison or persist with pacifism? When Hitler enters Austria? Poland? Czechoslovakia? France? When Hitler has murdered a million Jews and communists? Or do we wait until he’s murdered 6 million?

While military torture strategy is a different thing to straightforward belligerent violence and involves calculated, precisely determined, restrained yet intensely focused violence with deliberately prescribed desired consequences, it still forms an important part of the overall discussion on violence.

The notion that a military figure or CIA operative carries out waterboarding, electric shocking, finger nail pulling or psychological torture out of a sadistic psychotic urge is simplistic. Armies have reasons for doing things. Many of which we will never know. They are secrets. To torture somebody cannot be a pleasant thing. We’ve heard the US soliders breaking down in tears recounting the things they were made to do to Iraqi insurgents by their superiors.



Please do not misunderstand me. I am not championing, condoning or supporting the use of military torture. I abhor the countless acts of torture committed over the period of human history, from the Roman crucifixion of Christians to the medieval barbarities of the Spanish Inquisition through to more modern examples such as Stalin’s purges or the disgusting violence directed towards those who spoke out against military dictatorships in countries like Nicaragua, Chile, Guatemala, Brazil, Burma, Cambodia, Thailand, Indonesia, Iraq, Pakistan, Uganda, Guinea, DR Congo, Thailand, Romania, Fiji and on and on and on…(the question of how many of these atrocities were sponsored by the US is another debate).

These acts of torture had no justification whatsoever, they were attempts to destroy people and movements, to debase, demoralise and dehumanise innocent people, they usually ended in the deaths of the torture victims.

However if the question is one of human rights (which, according to most, should be protected at all costs) then at one point do the human rights of one individual override those of a thousand or a million people? If (and it’s a big ‘if’ I admit) six thousand lives could be saved by extracting information through torture from one individual (an individual who had already committed murders or atrocities). Then could it not be said that the human rights of the six thousand were protected? Would torture then be justified? It could be said that torture has already been used to save all of our lives. I refer of course to WWII again, but who knows what other potential events have been prevented by the SAS, CIA, MI5, KGB et al.

It’s up to you to make you’re minds up. Or, if you’ve already made your minds up, to have another think. It’s an ugly subject. But something we should all think about. What’s your opinion?
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Friday, 6 November 2009

Embodying Youth

by Anoushka Boodhna


Last week the world’s media broke the joyful news that Kate Moss had grown boobs and gone “curvy”.

According to some columnists, her most recent advertising campaign for Topshop has ended the size-zero tyranny in fashion, media and advertising (collectively referred to in this article as the Industry), finally lifting an ‘embargo’ on real women’s bodies. A celebrity-watching columnist in The Mail online even went so far as to say that Kate Moss’ rounded belly was akin to Rosa Park’s defiant acquisition of a seat at the front of the bus.

However, are Kate’s pictures simply highlighting how body image in the Industry is being altered more and more in the pursuit of a time-defying youthfulness? The pursuit of youth is one of the core reasons behind the use of young and skinny models in the Industry and indeed a primary reason for the serious problem of body dysmorphia. The obsession with youth in our modern age is worrying for many reasons.

Many contemporary fashion trends have created a form of asexualisation in their attempt to synthesise the pursuit of perfection with the pursuit of youth (the idea of ‘perfection’ appears to be perceived as early adolescence). As Kate pouts seductively at her audience, one cannot help notice that Kate’s new boobs – enhanced cleavage a la Photoshop? – seem strangely disproportionate to her narrow hips. I think of the body proportions of a young girl who has entered the first throes of puberty.

Aren't image enhancement programmes just another one of the many ways in which youth can be pursued? The Industry can tame and perfect the adult human body and create an engineered construct according to its ideals – testing the notions of both ‘real’ and ‘woman’ to its limits – by way of aggressive health decisions and so on. Promoting crash-dieting, slimming pills, cigarettes, drugs (remember ‘heroin chic’?), excessive exercise regimes and, at the extreme end, cosmetic surgery.

The agenda in fashion is frequently changing. Back in the 1990s Kate won her supermodel status for representing alternative slighter body shapes on the catwalk in light of the dominance of the Amazonian-like supermodels, such as Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford and Elle Macpherson – she was one of the shortest and less curvaceous models of her era. Today, the Industry seems to be about preserving that youthful slimness and blemish-free body particularly found in adolescent girls.

Although this obsession with youth has pervaded in society forever, modern consumerism and celebrity culture is new. Alongside the obvious innovations in modern technological and chemical body enhancement there are other features that characterise our particularly modern obsession with body image in the Industry.

Firstly, there has been a downward shift in the age of the trend-setters in popular culture. Today it’s teenagers with pocket money, not adults with salaries and disposable incomes, that direct many things consumable and thus dominate the high street. Facilitated with the increased wealth and liberal standards of their parents they set the trends in music, fashion, even film. With such an invasion, you’re old and past it at 25. Especially if you don’t watch Skins.

Secondly, there are stories of people in the public eye who are aware of this teen dominance and in a desperate attempt to remain contemporary, pursue the projection of their teenage self: an invocation of an empowered (and more popular) version of their adult selves. That transfiguring pop star, Madonna, and her obsession with her 13-year old daughter – “we dress alike, Lourdes is my best friend” – is a good example of that.

Thirdly, there is a greater tendency amongst spotlight-seeking adults to behave like teenagers and view the world through the same one-dimensional perspective that comes from limited experience. And of course, this means claiming to hate politics and/or anything intellectual.

Why? Are these people in the public eye simply creating teen versions of themselves for consumer-ready, idol-seeking adolescents to buy into?

Or does it go deeper? Are they so driven by malcontent with their current adult lives that they find fulfilment in trying to relive their formative years? Are they trying to address adult neuroses by re-staging those painful scenes of being un-cool at the school dance, but this time writing in a happier ending? Or are they returning to a time of supposed innocence and security (before full-time jobs, mortgages, the fear of terror attacks, street crime, obesity) when their best and most exciting years were still ahead of them?

If the Industry (including the more recent growth of celebrity-driven magazines) is responsible for setting these trends then who, we must ask, is responsible for supporting them and thereby driving demand through voracious and indiscriminate consumption their goods and services?

Who these people really are and their psychological motivations deserves some pondering.

And further, if fashion is cyclical, what could come next?

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Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Things To Do While I'm Alive

by Euclides Montes @Gatulino

A couple of weeks ago I convinced myself that I was dying. Ok, it’s not as dramatic as it sounds, the sense of impending doom lasting for just about 5 minutes during an idle bus ride. But with my general clumsiness and medical history, the feeling was very real while it lasted. And the aftertaste it left got me pondering about life, achievements and all that. At 27, have I achieved everything I wanted to? Certainly not. So, what are those things I should, nay, must do before I actually kick the metaphorical bucket?

I should write a small disclaimer at this stage. If in the next few lines you’re expecting to read a great philosophical treatise on the futility of life achievements or the fragility of our existences, I must admit that you’d have more luck finding a YouTube clip of Jeremy Clarkson noisily suckling directly from the royal bosoms. I just ain’t that deep. Instead, I’m offering you a little glimpse into my crazy head and hoping it gets you pondering about (and planning for) those things you’ve always wanted to do.

I started by thinking about some of the greatest achievement in my life so far and the list looked like:

Keep a great relationship with my loved ones Check

Find the woman of my dreams and make sure she falls desperately in love with me Check

Run a marathon, raising £1000s in the process Check

Learn another language to high professional level Check

Grow my beard and hair until I look like a wannabe Messiah Check

Snog Margaret Thatcher Check

Ok, let’s stop there because this is quickly turning into a self-serving exercise, ego blosturbation if you will.

So, there are all of these things that I’ve managed to achieve already in my life, but the list that I wanted to draft was about the things I should get on with doing now that I’d had my new found sense of purpose thanks to my wonderful [read: rather trivial] epiphany.

So I visited the rich literature of ‘thing to do before..’ that abounds online and the choice is endless yet vaguely pointless.

Swim with dolphins? I think I’d rather chase squirrels in the park. Far cheaper and more rewarding.

Fly Concorde to New York? Erm.. Bugger, as late as Silvio Berlusconi’s sense of decorum.

Walk the Inca trail to Machu Pichu? Only if you promise to clear the country of all tourists but me.

Travel into space? Ta but most hardcore drugs give me a fuzzy belly.

In fact, it felt to me that most of these lists had been drawn up by travel agents during the times when we all used 10 pound notes to wipe our arses with. But to me, all these lists rang hollow and pointless. Should I really spend the best part of my year working like the Duracell bunny, saving all of my money only to fly away to Texas to have a go at cowboy ranching? Really? If I was actually dying tomorrow, would I be thankful that the last thing to flash before my eyes was the glimpses of a bunch of cows waiting in line for the slaughterhouse?

No, friends, that’s not for me. So, instead, I think we should draw a better list and maybe even post it to every single person at the age of 16. That way people aren’t going to be disappointed when visiting a casino in Las Vegas only to find that faux-Pharaoh selling them chips is actually a pissed off usher working like crazy so that he can fly to our very own London and go on the London Eye. Hmm.

I’ll start us off, shall I? Here are the first items in my new list and I promise to do all of this (or at least have a proper go at them) and I might even add a few of your suggestions if they’re really, really good.

Keep the first two of the list above going strong until the peaceful day I give up the ghost.

Write that novel I’ve been threatening the world with for so long now.

Become a master in the science of stilt walking.

Get 200 people to re-enact that Braveheart scene (you know the one) in Trafalgar Square with me.

Become best friends with Simon Pegg.

Never shrink from standing up for what I believe.

Age disgracefully and never allow the puerile and immature child in me to die.

Never say no to an ‘off the beaten’ track challenge.

It’s possible that I may be accused of lacking ambition, or some such similar charge, but to be honest I’m not sure I care. I firmly believe that life should not be defined by how many exotically-named facebook photo albums you have.

In fact, the reason that I’ve called my list ‘things to do while I’m alive’ is because we shouldn’t be hankering after these seemingly “amazing things” to do at some point in the future, but maybe it should instead be about finding the beauty and magic in every moment we have right now.

I grant you, it’s probably not possible to achieve your greatest conquest every day. But each day that passes could be a stepping stone toward getting there. That way, when you’re actually facing the grim reaper at the final stage you’ll be able to hand in a well worn body, a memory full of wonderful victories, a heart overflowing with happiness and a bright and wide smile that says ‘no regrets’.

Right, I better quit while I’m ahead lest I embarrass myself any further by sounding like Oprah’s Christmas Special. To come full circle, I reiterate that I hope this silly post gets you pondering about those things you’ve always wanted to do with your life. I’ll certainly get on with mine! Now, who’s up for some kilt-wearing hilarity in central London?

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Friday, 30 October 2009

Pornography?

By Jason Todd - Guest Contributor

Pornography. Escapist fantasies? A bit of harmless fun? Sexually liberating? Plain old wrong? Whatever your view, because let’s not pretend you don’t have one, porn is here and it’s here in a big way.

Porn has moved off of the top shelf and is in our homes. You may think this sounds a little like something Mary Whitehouse would storm the BBC saying, but none-the-less, it would be hard to deny that it’s true. Pornography has crept onto mainstream television. Films like 9 songs have brought it back into the cinema and with magazines like Nuts and Loaded it is still firmly in the newsagents.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that I think in the main, pornography is ok. Well, at least in the sense that I don’t see anything inherently wrong with a consenting adult(s) watching another set of consenting adults having sex for the purpose of sexual gratification, or just for a laugh. In fact, one could argue that pornography has done some good. I think on the whole people today (certainly those of my generation - the ’20 something’s’) are more open and confident about their sexuality and sexual practice. They are more aware, and have better sex as a result. I’m not sure many people would argue that we should return to the sexually repressed age of doctors inducing orgasms for stressed women… although, judging by some porn titles, apparently some people do.

But here is my ponder, when did this happen? When did porn become ‘OK’ and do we really think that it is actually all ok? Gone are the days of having to travel to a seedy shop in Soho and leave with a paper bag. Now pornography is well and truly out in the open. People talk about porn, people buy it openly, hell your nan’s probably seen it.

I am opting to avoid any huge social commentary, because there are more able and eloquent people amongst us who can do a better job, but seriously, when did this happen? And whilst we’re at it, by having this ever more open view of pornography have we opened the door to something seedier, that by default we all now have to accept? Gone are the days of having to hide porn away, but gone too are the days of Shannon Tweed politely bobbing up and down on some mullet-wearing man in time to Santana-esque electric guitar, and in are the days of “gagging”, “puking” “abuse of drunks” and the now infamous ‘two girls one cup”. By opening the way for porn in its most general sense, did we also inadvertently invite these more extreme forms into the open? Did we legitimise them?

I stated by saying that I don’t have any real issue with pornography in the abstract sense, but I’m uncomfortable with the idea that this means I then have to also accept it in its extreme forms. Sex should be fun, it should be pleasurable, and so too then by extension should pornography. So why then is it now nasty? Something happened in society to make pornography acceptable, but what on earth happened to make this new form ok? My original reason for writing this piece was a conversation I had with a friend. Although never explicitly stated it was clear than in our time we had both watched porn and by the sounds of it enjoyed it. What concerned us was not people watching porn in the abstract, but rather what it purported to tell or show us about socially acceptable norms of sexual behaviour. The subsequent risk then of course is the impact that extreme but recently legitimised forms of pornography could have on young, sexually na├»ve minds.

And there folks is the heart of my ponder, when did it become ‘ok’ and where do we draw the line of ‘ok-ness’? This musing is full of questions, perhaps then it is fitting to take you back to the title: pornography?

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