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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