Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Strictly Serious

I adore Strictly Come Dancing. Accuse it of being twee or dated; hate on the presenters or the contestants; question the place of a novelty show in the current climate; do as you will - I will still adore it.

Image Source: bbc.com

You see, everyone has a favourite song, everyone loves singing along to the radio, or dancing stupidly in the kitchen while you're waiting for the kettle to boil (I know it's not just me!). Not everyone has a favourite scientific theory, or would queue for hours for tickets to a lecture by an academic mathematician. So why are subjects like music given less credence in the curriculum and the world of academia than so-called STEM subjects. Especially in this country where the arts and culture form such a huge part of the income for UKPlc, and have been proven to have an impact above and beyond their initial investment.
I could argue for the impact of the arts on lives, and yes, I understand that scientific advancements and engineering developments have had huge impacts on the human species. But music speaks to us on a level other than science; art puts onto canvas or into sculpture what mathematics cannot express; we lose ourselves in a good work of fiction rather than an engineers manual when we want to wind down.
The arts are a very human way of expressing what it is that makes us human, as I argued in my degree artefact. They bring us together, and this is needed more than ever as forces across the world seem intent on tearing us apart.

Image Source: scifabric.com

In an oft-misquoted quote, when Winston Churchill was asked to cut funding for the arts in order to support the war effort, he was supposed to have said "Then what on earth are we fighting for?" While I am given to understand that he never actually said that (as with so many wonderful witticisms attributed to the man), I still think it bears repeating. Art is created in a free and open society, because it is a free and open expression. I remember being told, during my music A-Level, when we were studying Shostakovich, that during the years he spent being patronised by the Soviet government, he had to compose his music according to strict communist doctrine; that each note had to appear an equal number of times, that every musical note had to add up to the same value over the entire piece. How exhausting and restrictive must that have been for him?
Art flourishes when society is free to flourish.

The Remembrance Day edition of this years competition brought me to tears; the pro-dance, which depicted through a group number the story of Basil and Madge who met during World War Two; and the celebrity guest performer, Andre Rieu and his Orchestra, who performed a beautiful rendition of Hallelujah by one of the many losses of 2016, Leonard Cohen, as two of the pro-dancers swept around them. It reminded me that we, humans, are capable of such beauty and empathy and creativity; and yet we all too often turn to discord and disagreement instead of discussion.

One of the 2016 Strictly contestants, Ed Balls, former Shadow Chancellor, appeared on another of my favourite television shows, The Last Leg, the day after the American Elections. He was asked, by the host, whether today was really a day for dancing. And he gave a wonderful response:

Image Source: digitalspy.com

Imagine if we could come together over policy or politics in the way that we do over things like Strictly, or Bake Off. I mean, I know that the outcome of a talent competition, however entertaining it may be, does not have an effect on whether people have enough money to pay their bills that month, or whether the potholes in the road get fixed, or if the country renews nuclear weapons, or how we deal with numerous crises across the world. But if we can unite over the small, unimportant-seeming things, then I think it proves that we have the ability and the capacity to unite over the bigger things.

And, as far as I know, no wars have ever been started because of the 'favourite' losing in the dance-off.

Friday, 11 November 2016

A Dirty Word

This was originally posted on LibDem Voice on 10th November 2016.  This is the extended, personal version...

There has been an upswing in certain sections of the press of the condemnation of a particular demographic: the “liberal, metropolitan elite.” 

When did 'liberal' become a dirty word? Why is it being used as a word to mock, or incite loathing? It is defined by the OED as a willingness "to respect or accept behaviour or opinions different to one's own..." and as someone who is "open to new ideas". That all sounds great. Perfectly reasonable.

Why is this a bad thing?

It's concerning, then, that the word is being twisted to suit an agenda that runs on stoking fear and hatred. When it becomes disgraceful to show empathy with those who are suffering, just because those people are not from your country of origin, that is scary. When people who have gained positions of responsibility are told that it is because they are part of the 'system' (alright, sometimes that's correct!) rather than because of their own merits and work ethic, that's disturbing. And when a politics of scaremongering, scapegoating and 'other-ing' becomes acceptable, and electable, rather than a politics of understanding, rationality and inclusivity, then I worry for the future of the world.

Politics aside, I would say that most of my friends, acquaintances and family members would identify with the OED definition of the term 'liberal'; believing in equality, and willing to respect other people's views, opinions, lifestyle choices, religions, etc. 

So when, and why, did having a liberal outlook become something that others believe we ought to be ashamed of? When did a pluralistic, optimistic, inclusive agenda become something to be vilified, and an insular, nationalistic, blinkered view become the accepted norm? That people who hold liberal views are somehow not "normal", or have led privileged or sheltered lives, or don't understand how "ordinary" people live, and think, and work, and worry. 

It's wrong, it's deeply troubling, and something that needs to be countered at every turn.
I rent, can't afford to buy, feel as though I am being priced out of a city that I love, and work part-time in a service industry.

You see;
I am a working-class white girl from a small Northern city. I grew up on what could be termed a council estate (it was a lovely estate, don't get me wrong, but all of the houses were council-built, and my parents camped out overnight outside the housing offices to be first in line for one, as previously they had been living in a caravan on my grandparents drive).
I went to a normal primary school and a normal secondary school, and was on Free School Meals for the first three years due to my family and living situation which was, let's say, unstable for a time.
Due to the same circumstance I was eligible for full financial assistance when I went to college, and I always had a job at the same time. I was once unemployed for several months and it was the worst.
I love the monarchy and believe that democracy is the best workable form of government. I watch TV like Bake Off and Strictly, and enjoy chilling out in a pub with friends, drinking shandy or cider and gossiping about who got voted off this week.
Therefore I am, I guess, "Normal, Honest, Working-Class, Hard-Working, Decent and Ordinary."

Image Source: motherjones.com

I live in London. I work freelance in the arts and cultural industry. I trained in Musical Theatre and worked as a Cabaret performer throughout my twenties. I have friends from outside of my own age-range, class, faith, ethnicity and experience.  I read The Guardian, The Independent and The Stage, and books about politics, dramaturgy, theatrical theory, history and dystopian fiction. I like to go to cocktail bars, or wine bars and discuss things like this over a glass of prosecco. I go to the theatre as often as I can, and visit museums and art galleries for fun rather than because I feel as though I *have* to, or *ought* to. 
I sponsor several charities and support community initiatives. I am a feminist, and believe in true equality regardless of gender identity, age, ethnicity or any other arbitrary assignation. I have a degree. I am a Liberal Democrat voter. I believe that Parliament, and our elected representatives, have the responsibility to act in the best interests of the country and not according to the whims of the country. I voted Remain because I think that, in an interconnected world, we should be aiming for closer bonds and not isolationism. I passionately believe that we should do more to help those suffering, both here and abroad. 
I am, by almost every media standard, a reviled "Liberal", part of the "Metropolitan Elite."

Image Source: wiskundemeisjes.nl

I find labels a lazy way of attempting to define how another person fits into your own view of the world. I've written before about how I find some forms of specification limiting, and I believe that they can often become debilitating, both to the person being defined (i.e. offensive), and to the person defining (i.e. unwilling to consider viewpoints other than ones own) - and thus, we have come full circle.

Maybe, instead of either slapping a label on a person, or taking self-defined labels and attempt to turn them into ill-thought-out, poorly researched insults, we ought to practice a little more empathy and liberal thinking.