Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Theatre Thoughts: Can Art Show The Way Forward?

or, Why We Need Shakespeare and Disney Movies

It's a crazy world at the moment. Every day it seems that there is something new and terrible for the newsreaders to report. I don't know whether there's always been this much going on and I've just not noticed, or whether there genuinely is more news around at the moment, but either way it can sometimes feel overwhelming.

I don't know what to do. I don't know what to do about it, whether I can do anything about it. But I believe, as naive as it sounds, that hope, understanding and love are the way forward, and this is why I believe Shakespeare and Disney movies can show us that way.


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My love for Shakespeare is not a secret. I know that the language can seem obscure, and that his work can be seen as elitist and irrelevant. But I would argue that he has never been irrelevant, and even less so now.

Shakespeare's language may appear opaque, but his characters tell us the truth of humanity and human nature. His plays dissect the very truth of what it is to be human in all of its messy beauty, and presents it as art, the thing that I believe can unite across seeming boundaries. You don't need to understand art to appreciate it, and you don't need to love it to take the messages away from it.

His work is as urgent now as it was when it was first written, and if you don't believe me, please watch this performance of one of the most incredible speeches ever written:

The stories and messages cross boundaries, and are as apropos in England as they are in Russia, or Africa, or South America. The Globe Theatre launched an amazing project several years ago to prove the truth of this. The cast list may call for kings, queens and knights, but the people behind these titles are instantly recognisable for the flawed and frustrating humans they are. And we are all humans, aren't we?

It is my belief that if we start recognising the essential truth of humanity, we may become a little more accepting of one another. It is also my belief that the stories committed to history by Shakespeare can provide a means for theatre to do this.

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I know, I know. Disney is a capitalist, consumerist conglomerate, brainwashing millions of people into buying into a heteronormative, whitewashed, warped reality. But, I recognise this and I love it, in spite of its faults.

I love Disney because, especially in recent years, we have been presented with strong, sassy women (Tiana, Ana, Dory...) who may fall for men, but do so on their own terms and not as a means to a socially acceptable end. I love Disney because the heroes and heroines are presented with seemingly insurmountable odds, plunged into unacceptable conditions and yet still retain an essential goodness and inner beauty, managing to sing happily to animals and cook a three course meal whether they have been chased out of their homes, transported into an alternative universe, or turned into a frog. I hope I would have the strength of mind, fortitude and courage to face those situations with the same amount of sunshine as those girls do.

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Disney movies, for me, have always been my escape when the world seems dark, scary and full of hate. They show me that, despite how bleak things may seem, hope and love always triumph over evil and distrust. I learned, through Disney, to always greet the world with a smile, because everyone is fighting a battle, no matter how many tweety-birds they're singing to. And Disney movies give me hope for hope itself; it will triumph, there will be a happy ending; and if you're not happy, it just means that it's not the end yet.

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Garden Party

Yesterday I attended my first political meeting. I say 'meeting', it was the annual Summer Garden Party for the local branch of the Liberal Democrats.

Homemade Lavender Sugar - my hostess gift

My boyfriend came with me for moral support, and there were a couple of people there who I recognised from the HOPE not hate meeting the other day, and, as with that meeting, there were people there of all ages and backgrounds which was lovely.

I didn't get chance to speak to many people, but I did have a couple of nice conversations. Tom Brake, MP for Carshalton was the guest speaker, and it was very interesting for me to hear from a long-term Member of Parliament. A lot of the conversation and questions, obviously, revolved around Brexit and the fall-out from the referendum, and occasionally the debate became quite passionate. I found it fascinating to listen to the different opinions, and I learned a couple of things that I hadn't been aware of previously. And, as with anything and anyone, I found it reassuring when my opinions or thoughts were validated (albeit in a much more eloquent manner than I could have put it myself!).

All in all, it was a lovely afternoon, spent in beautiful surroundings with very interesting people, and although I didn't win anything at the raffle, I look forward to the next one!

Saturday, 23 July 2016

More In Common

If you know me in real life, follow me on Twitter, or have had a look around this blog, you'll know that I follow the work of the organisation HOPE not hate - they have several strings to their bow, and one of those is Community organisation. So, on Thursday evening, I popped to my local meeting.

HOPE not hate tote bag

The meetings have gained strength post-referendum as people begin to realise how fractured and fractious our country actually is. The idea is to work out ways in which to bring the community together, start small and build up, and come out with workable plans to take forward.

It was very well attended - the organiser hadn't set out enough chairs and tables, so there was a bit of a scramble to reset as people squeezed through the doors. There was a real mix of people as well, from a recent graduate, all the way up to a couple of ladies from a nearby sheltered accommodation. And you know what, we all had More In Common than you'd initially suppose!

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We began by introducing ourselves, and saying a word or two about why we were there - the general consensus seemed to be that we were all sick of just 'saying' and not 'doing'. Because the group was so large, and debate, ideas and sugestions flew back and forth, we didn't come away with an action plan as such, but a local #MoreInCommon Facebook group has been set up, and there will be another meeting shortly to whittle down the big ideas into smaller steps!

There were some lovely suggestions, everyone was very passionate and proactive, and through the power of social media, we will be able to stay in touch, and to put the ideas into action.

Monday, 18 July 2016

Fair Fight

It has been a turbulent time in British politics recently, hasn't it?

I have been thinking a lot about the future, and my place in the world. and while looking back at previous blogs, I realised that I've been thinking about this for a lot longer than I initially realised! Last year I had a very honest moment, thinking about my passions, my skills, and how I could combine them and make use of them. I realised that I was deeply passionate about theatre and the arts (obviously) but also empowerment and helping others. I had always drifted in and out of charity involvement in the past, but this epiphany helped me to recognise that this was something that made me happy beyond monetary recompense.

It may seem strange, but it was the shocking murder of MP Jo Cox that led me to my most recent epiphany; the details that came out about her life, her work and the type of person she was - I was looking at the type of person I wanted to be. I made a tentative decision then that if Jo Cox, with all of her empathy and talent, decided that politics was the way for her, then maybe it could be the way for me as well?

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It was a new, and scary, thought. I, like many people, always had a level of disdain for politics in general and politicians in particular. I felt little to no connection with the be-suited men in the windy Westminster halls of power, and the rhetoric of political discourse left me bored and cold.

But then the referendum happened, and suddenly politics was everywhere. It started as easily dismissed newspaper articles, snippets on the ten o'clock news, and clickbait that was quickly scrolled past on social media. It grew and became grotesque; something that reached its tentacles into almost every home in the country, sometimes tearing that home apart before slithering onward. And everyone became a politician. I initially accepted this with a dismissive eyeroll, but it sucked me in too, and soon I was watching every debate, reading every article, researching facts and figures to see whether claims from both sides stacked up, talking with friends to gauge opinion and find out more. I was hooked. It was like a damned drug.

And then Jo Cox. Someone who had done so much good, and had so much good left to do. I am slowly but steadily coming to the realisation that in order to get your voice heard and, by proxy, enable others to be heard as well, is through politics. A friend who runs a charity reluctantly agreed with me, in that even the most well-meaning of charity organisations often find themselves aligning with political lobbies and pressure groups in order to project their messages. 

@neilslorance on Twitter

I want to be the one to help. I want to be the one to make that change and be that good in the world.

So, in the first of the baby steps I'm taking, I joined the Liberal Democrats. Yes, I know it sounds like I would have joined Labour, and maybe, given my roots I should have, but I didn't.

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This is why:
Read that paragraph from the LibDem website. Tell me that's not the kind of society you want to live in. It seems almost Utopian, I know, but surely working together for something better is the best thing you can do when things seem bleak? Most especially when things seem bleak. Seriously, read the rest of the Preamble to the Constitution - it's a manifesto for a better world. At least in my view.

I accept that during the coalition the Lib Dems got things wrong, but they got a lot right as well, and they restrained the worst excesses of a Conservative government - for example, no, they didn't abolish university fees, but they did manage to get a cap, against the Tory objective of unrestricted charges. Sometimes you have to hedge your bets, and who can honestly say that they've never got something wrong? (It's just that most of us don't get things wrong on a national or international stage!)

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It's my feeling that the two main parties, Conservative and Labour, have become ossified through so many years see-sawing in and out of power. Both parties tore themselves apart in the aftermath of the referendum - although the Tories have, T1000-like, coalesced once more. The Liberal Democrats are the only party that have remained strong and united. I read the Preamble and found that my personal values align with the Party values, I spoke to 'Lib Dem Newbies' on Facebook and found the community welcoming, diverse and accepting. I did look at the other party websites, and I also spoke with my local party representative before making the decision to join. It was a considered, thought out choice.

In the aftermath of Jo Cox's murder, all MPs made a solemn pledge to moderate their language, and be more respectful, as it was accepted that perhaps their 'charged' speech could have contributed to the atmosphere which fostered conditions that made the man feel compelled to act. I estimate that this pledge lasted all of about two hours and forty-three minutes before it was business as usual. I find it sickening. It's repulsive to watch grown adults hiss, and boo, and jeer at one another, forcing the speaker to shout over the din. Maybe I'm wrong, but I have yet to see a mud-slinging article from the Lib Dems, hurling derogatory comments left, right and centre (pun intended). This kind of juvenile behaviour across the board is degrading and disrespectful and I can't fathom how these people are leading our country - although it certainly explains a lot...

Confucian political theory

On June 24th the country announced that change was wanted and needed. I feel that the direction of this 'change' was mismanaged and unnecessary, but it has brought to the surface a lot of things that many were content to ignore as they simmered away, waiting for a time to boil over. Change is needed, it is vital now, and I don't think that our current government or opposition can provide that, because they are too afraid of their pinkie-fingers slipping off the precipice of power.

It has been said that the vote to Leave was more a vote against the establishment rather than a vote against Europe, per se, Well I am not the 'establishment', I am not from a privileged, sheltered background; I didn't go to private schools or posh universities and only made the decision to complete my degree when I was nearly 30. 

But I have a voice and I want to use it for good. This is why I joined the #LibDemFightback 
** Also, if you have the time, please check out Jo Cox's Fund on Go Fund Me **

Monday, 11 July 2016

American Tragedy

Once again we are sat watching a tragedy unfold in America. I’ve lost count of the amount of times that we have had the conversation around gun laws, gun control and the ‘right to bear arms’ that is the crutch upon which the powerful gun lobbies prop their feeble arguments. I don’t understand that mentality, but that’s not really what this blog is about.

It’s about Black Lives Matter, and their campaign. And, the concurrent ‘all lives matter.’ This is how I saw it explained earlier:

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I am not Black, obviously, and I don’t live in America, so I’m not able to comment with any degree of clarity. This isn’t about judgement, it’s about attempting (in an albeit clumsy manner) to show my support and, admittedly limited, understanding. And that is surely what all campaigns like this want? Understanding and unity?

I read somewhere that if you have to question the Black Lives Matter campaign, then you are part of the problem. A sort of deeply ingrained, almost subliminal racism that is not consciously acknowledged, but is reinforced by society at large. I mean, think about it; who plays the ‘baddies’ in movies and TV shows? Upper-class British men, and Black American men. But, the difference is, we don’t have the gun culture that America clings on to, like a barnacle on the side of a sinking ship.

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Popular culture creates and reinforces the stereotype; rappers and R&B stars have, historically, bragged about guns, and being thugs and gangsters (I can’t bring myself to type that with an ‘a’); so are the stars reflecting society, or is society reflecting the stars? I touched on this issue in a previous blog. When we are bombarded with these images on a regular basis, we become inured to them, and then we accept them as truth. We need to actively and critically look beyond the media representations and determine the real truth, not the “truth” that sells newspapers.

The shooting of Philando Castile is truly shocking: there was an American commentator on the news on Friday, questioning the video evidence, trying to argue that “we don’t know what he was reaching for as we only have the testimony of the woman next to him that he was reaching for his ID and License.” This commentator said that police only fire when they believe that there is an immediate risk to life, their own or others. So, he said, this officer must have believed that Castile was reaching for his gun, despite his girlfriend clearly saying that he had informed the officer about the firearm, and that he was retrieving his documentation as requested.

This is the kind of institutional racism that is causing the problem; the fact that a Black man, who owns a gun, immediately poses a threat. Because it’s a popular culture image that we are fed, day in and day out. I would argue, as I did previously, that if we want to reform society, it has to start with our cultural experience. They say that ‘art reflects life’, but I think it’s the other way around, and that life reflects popular culture. How else to explain the emergence (pardon the term) of the vajazzle?

Maybe I’m wrong; I have never been a victim of racism, or discrimination. I have never been arrested, unfairly or otherwise; and I live in a country that has markedly lower levels of gun crime. I’m lucky, but it shouldn’t be down to luck. Every person deserves to be treated fairly, and sadly, many aren’t. Many are prejudged before they can be judged. And that is wrong.

Friday, 8 July 2016

Two Weeks

I've been trying for a while now to write a current affairs blog. It's a Sisyphean task; there seems to have been more news in the past fortnight than there has been all year.

It's only been two weeks...

I voted Remain. Most of my friends and many of my family voted Remain. As I wrote in a previous, pre-Brexit blog, I was under no illusions that the EU was perfect, and that change wasn't needed, but in my opinion, staying was for the best. A tiny, facetious part of me wanted to see what would happen (which made me think of this clip from Family Guy!) if we left; in the same way we watch YouTube 'fail' clips - you know it's all going to go wrong but you simply can't look away.

I'm over the shock now, but I'm still angry. I'm not angry at the majority of people who voted Leave; they did so for the same reason that I voted otherwise - they considered the evidence and the arguments and decided on what they thought was for the best. What I was, and continue to be angry about is that the campaign was built on misinformation, xenophobia and a complete disregard for facts:

"We made a series of promises that were possibilities"
Post-Brexit I've been told "Well, all politicians lie." Yes; about using public money to build a house for ducks. Not about the uncertainty of the economic and social future of the lives of millions of people.

"Number 10 should have come up with the plan."
The official standpoint of Number 10's occupant at the time was Remain, so why should they have been the ones responsible for coming up with the plan? The ones campaigning vociferously for Leave should have had the plans; Farage, who has campaigned for decades to leave the EU should have had a plan, but, oh wait, he's gone now, hasn't he? Boris and Gove, who led the official Vote Leave should have had a plan, but, dagnabbit, they've gone now too. It's like children who fight so hard to grab a toy that the toy breaks, rendering it unappealing and untouchable. And did you see Gove and Johnson's faces on the 24th? Did they look like the faces of winners to you? No. They were the faces of naughty boys who'd been caught pulling the girl's pigtails and were being forced to apologise in front of the whole school. They didn't expect to win, and I don't think they wanted to win. They wanted to advance their own personal political aims, and it backfired quite spectacularly for all concerned.

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Most of the main promises - sorry, possibilities - posed by the Leave campaign are now appearing to be unattainable. Immigration is unlikely to be able to be halted if we wish to remain part of the EEA; the amount of money that's going to have to be spent in negotiating new trade deals will mean there will be little, if any, left for services like the NHS (and in a wonderful irony, foreign experts are going to have to be employed to negotiate these deals as there is no one in this country sufficiently qualified or knowledgeable enough!); and the fallout of the scramble to escape from 'unelected Brussels bureaucrats', will result in an unelected bureaucrat taking control of this country (but at least she's not from Brussels, so maybe that's the point?)

There have been over 8,000 reports of race-related incidents in the past two weeks; people have been told to 'go home', individuals and communities have been targeted, and the government can't answer as to what the status of EU Nationals in this country (or UK Nationals abroad) should be now, or in the future. As someone who has spent the past four and a half years building a life with a person who is in this category (damn these immigrants, coming over here and stealing our women!) I am worried. We are now presented with futures that we never even considered that we'd have to consider.

Please note, I am in no way implying that Leave voters are racist or ignorant. I know some very intelligent, compassionate people who voted this way; as I said before, because they believed it would (eventually) be the right thing.

"Just Get Over It"
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I've been told to 'get over it'. I've been told to 'stop complaining about it'. I've been told that I 'just need to get it out of my system'. I've been told that 'everything will be fine'. And I've been told that I'm being undemocratic by continuing to rail against the result.

a) I will not get over it. Not yet. At the very least, not until there is a considered, considerate, logical and workable plan. There isn't. At the moment that I'm writing, there's not even anyone really in charge since the major political parties are imploding spectacularly. And the main contenders for leadership could make Cruella DeVil hang up her fur-covered mules and start working for PETA.
b) I will not stop complaining about the way this has happened. The Scottish referendum lasted for two years. Two years. Political, social and financial issues were debated for months on end. There was a solid plan for exactly what would happen should the result be to leave. We had less than a third of that time, a fraction of that level of debate and discourse, and, I repeat, No Plan for what a post-Brexit Britain might look like. Everyone who should have had a plan has bolted. What does that tell you? 
c) I do need to get it out of my system. I need to shout and scream, and vent my frustration. Then I need to tidy the house, pick up the bits of broken crockery, and decide how I can stop feeling so helpless. Full disclosure; I'm at this latter stage now, hence the blog post. But, getting it out of my system doesn't mean that I'll also stop talking about something that I believe has made a mockery of democracy. I honestly believe that the referendum was created as something for the country to shake a stick at, to distract us from more important issues, and for the media moguls to sell more newspapers.
d) Maybe everything will be fine. Maybe it will all work out for the best. And maybe it won't. We don't know because we were lied to from both sides. And right at this moment, it's definitely not fine as far as I can see, so I have a right to be angry. It's like telling me not to complain about it raining while I'm wearing flipflops, because the rain will stop eventually and I can dry my feet off then. Sure, I know I can. But right now I've got wet feet, and that makes me unbearably grumpy at the best of times.
e) It is my democratic right to protest. The referendum is not binding (Farage himself said at the start that if the vote was what it was, but the other way around, that he would continue to challenge the result) and I'm incredulous that everyone seems to be treating it as such. It was always declared an 'advisory' referendum; what should happen now is that our MP's, those people that we elect to make the big decisions for us, because we're all too busy deciding what to have for tea, should debate the issue in Parliament, and they decide what is best for the country. After all, they have access to all of the facts and figures whereas we were given skewed statistics and told to distrust expert testimony.

#StandTogether at Trafalgar Square

Our government is a shambles, my beautiful country is been torn apart ideologically, and even the weather hasn't been playing ball since Brexit. Maybe Free-Movement applies to the sunshine as well, so Europe is keeping it all for themselves.

I feel increasingly as though the country is actually a massive 'Truman Show' style drama series, written by Rupert Murdoch, who is throwing in increasingly bizarre plot twists in order to keep us hooked. 
I'm dreading the season finale...

Friday, 1 July 2016

The Times, They Are A-Changin'...

Yes, it's been a week of a lot of changes, hasn't it? Lots of changes and yet, not much demonstrable change.

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However, this season of change has inspired me to make some changes myself. One of the small, but significant ones is, as you may be able to tell, I'm using my original blog address again. The reasons for this are myriad but have to do with decisions I'm making regarding my future and my intentions.

While studying (it seems like a lifetime ago now!) we were encouraged to start a journal, and this is a habit I have kept up. It's very therapeutic, and it allows me to have the occasional rant without either upsetting those around me, or airing my dirty laundry on social media. It has also proved useful over the previous, difficult months, and the past, difficult week.

I haven't make any cast-iron decisions yet, but I have started to take baby steps, working out my way into this new, and previously un-thought of arena. I want to make change, positive change, in the world, and I want to find creative and constructive ways in which I can do this.