Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Snowflakes falling

Morning, everyone. Or I suppose it could be evening, where you are. Or maybe you live in space, in which case who knows what the hell time it is?

Whatever the time, it's an odd time to be alive. For many reasons. Here's today's.

Yes, it's the Daily Mail again. But don't worry - I'm not here to specifically kick them in their nasty, lying, racist face. Well, not for long. I'm here because they've provided an excellent example of something which has been getting on my nerves for a while.

So. The top of the page is a follow up to a story from yesterday. See the picture of the two women, with their legs all plastered over in red? That's Theresa May - evil Queen of the Country Formerly Known as the UK - and Nicola Sturgeon - First Minister of Place We All Want to Run Away To And Where Midge Ure Comes From.

Yesterday the Mail ran that same picture on their front page, except without the red 'CENSORED' sign over it. They were very excited, you see, to find a picture of two women with legs. They giggled and squealed like tiny little boys might. They even thought of the awesome pun 'Legs-it'. Which sounds a bit like Brexit. Which is clever and funny.

A man opening the Daily Mail, yesterday.

Anyway, many people thought this was terrible and stupid and childish and sexist and the sort of thing only dickheads do. They thought it was demeaning and reductive to define two powerful women by their physical attributes. Especially in the context of it being 2017 and not, for example, one of those films where Robin Askwith climbed up a ladder to see a lady's bum.

The headline we see above is the Mail's reaction to this criticism. They've called it a "Legs-it storm". And they're attacking the people who complained. And it's this that bothers me.

There are two phrases here that have been chosen to attack the complainers. "Get a life" and "Censored by the left". I'm hearing phrases like these a lot recently, and it's no accident.

"Get a life" is a favoured tactic of the right to dismiss the concerns of dissenting voices. I've seen it a lot on comments boards, when discussing the recent protests against Trump, or debating the rise of racism in the UK. It suggests that the only reason you're complaining is because you're a pathetic individual without any friends. A sad, lonely obsessive who gets cross about pointless trivia.

It's part of the 'snowflake' narrative. You've seen that, I assume. The idea that anyone complaining about anything is a delicate, over-emotional weakling, who can't cope with the real world. That the supposed 'heat' of real issues causes them to melt, so they need to hide away from life.

That's why they've chosen the word 'censored', in that headline. They like that word. It suggests that freedom of expression, freedom of thought itself, is under threat from pathetic snowflakes like me. That I'm so afraid of being upset, I'll clamp down on your freedoms to make sure I stay safe.

That I don't like "Legs-it" because it offends me.

But here's the problem with that narrative. It is, as William Shakespeare said, total horseshit based on a false initial premise, and thus totally bloody worthless.

I'm not offended by the Daily Mail. Well, Ok, maybe I am a bit. But that's not why I object to their constant stream of unfiltered wankjizzle.

I object to them because they are morally wrong. Their actions are harmful. The things they say and do make the world worse. That's not being offended. That's having an intellectual opposition to their ideology.

Their emphasis on May and Sturgeon's legs is problematic because, like so much the Mail says, it furthers a narrative which objectifies women. It tells every woman reading it that it doesn't matter how powerful or successful you become, you will always basically be judged on your body. You are there to be commented upon, looked at, evaluated and, ultimately, either desired or rejected based on how well you conform with our idea of what it is to be attractive.

And it tells men pretty much the same. Women are not as good as you. They are not deserving of your respect. They are things. Objects.

It feeds into anorexia. It feeds into violence. It feeds into suicide. It feeds into the constant struggle for men and women to work out who the hell they are, and how to relate to each other.

We're not offended by your headlines, you parasitic worms. We're not crying because we think women's legs need censoring, as if we just got here on a coach party from Victorian England.

Being offended doesn't mean anything. People are offended by seeing breastfeeding in public. They used to get offended at finding a black person in their bathroom. Some still do. It doesn't mean anything. It's certainly not the basis for an argument.

What we've done - and this is what bothers you - is we've seen what you're doing and we think it's wrong. We have a calm, clear moral objection to you. We think your ideology is nasty, cowardly and self serving. We think you are run by old, white men who are terrified of change and will use all their power to stop it happening.

We've worked out that you love money more than reason. That you have no shame. That you are weak minded, timid anti-intellectuals who'd rather make things worse, on a daily basis, than face up to the fact that the world doesn't just belong to you.

That's not being offended. That's having used logical thought and come to a conclusion. You'd love it if we were offended, because that would suggest we hadn't really though it through and were just relying on gut instinct. What scares you is the idea that we have thought it through. Because when it comes down to it, you have no argument.

You are snowflakes. You are cry-babies, who scream "She's offended" every time someone calls you out on your bullshit. You are hypocrites, who pretend that every argument against you is born of emotion, yet spiral into a fits of anger if anyone dare criticise you.

I said I wasn't going to just attack the Mail, didn't I? Well, it's not just them. This is an epidemic, whereby everyone hides from criticism by playing the "Offensiveness doesn't matter" card. It's all over the internet, like a rash. People avoiding responsibility for their words and actions, because they revel in being 'offensive', and their freedom of speech. You don't like my racism? Stop being so easily offended!

And there's Trump and his followers, of course. The thin skinned, easily riled personification of stupidity and entitlement. Assuming that people are 'offended' by racism, sexism and disablism. Rather than, for example, genuinely concerned that such language and behaviour cause massive harm and make the world worse.

Finally, it bothers me because we play into it. By 'we' I mean sort of decent, reasonable people. People who would rather vomit on the Daily Mail than read the thing.  Sometimes we play into the hands of these idiots, giving them ammunition for their stupidity guns, by saying that their words and actions are offensive. We assume that 'being offensive' is inherently bad.

It's not. It's arbitrary, and cultural. Don't fight things you find offensive. Fight things you find morally wrong. Sometimes they'll be the same things, of course, but know why you're fighting. Fight them not because they outrage you, but because you can see that they do harm.

That's how we'll beat them. That's how they'll lose. And, most important of all, that's how we get to keep on being offensive ourselves. Because don't forget - we're kind of dicks a lot of the time, too.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Saint Adric's Day

On March 16th 1982, Adric died, so that we might live.

He didn't mean to, of course. He thought he was going to be fine. He thought that Doctor Who was going to save him.

He was wrong. Doctor Who did not save him. Doctor Who was off doing something else. And so Adric crashed into some dinosaurs and exploded.

It happened in episode four of a Doctor Who story called 'Earthshock". It had been a great story. Peter Davison was Doctor Who, and I was just about getting used to his frantic, excitable version of my hero, after a period of uncertainty following the loss of Best Doctor Who Ever Tom Baker. Davison was particularly good here, careering through the story with energy and humour and quite a lot of exasperated eye rolling which I've only just realised is quite a large part of my personality now.

And there were Cybermen in it! I loved the Cybermen. They looked great - massive silvery giant monsters with guns. And they bickered petulantly all the way through, constantly belittling each other's ideas in a passive aggressive monotone. They seemed like fun monsters, who had weird lives of their own - stars of a TV show called "The Amazing Adventures of the Brilliant Cybermen" which we just saw little bits of.

I watched the story with great excitement. I was 11 at the time, and had just fallen in love with Doctor Who in a big way.

And then came episode four.

March 16th 1982. I sat alone in the living room. I assume I had banished the rest of the family, lest they ruin the experience by talking or breathing. I was eating Smarties which, for some reason, I had tipped onto a plate and separated into their individual colour groups. I don't know why I did it, and I don't know why I remember. Feel free to psychoanalyse.

I was reading a book at the time, which lay face down and open on the chair arm. It was, I'm afraid to say, a Doctor Who book. I was a child consumed by singular desires.

The episode drew to an end and the Cybermen had made it so that a spaceship was going to crash into Earth and explode and kill everyone. All our heroes were on the spaceship too, which was worrying for them. They did not want to crash, or explode, or get killed. And so Adric went, "Oh, I can make it so that the spaceship doesn't crash into Earth." And so Doctor Who said, "Well, good luck with that," and ran off in the TARDIS with all the other companions. Adric got on with doing some sums and prodding a computer, hoping that this would make the spaceship not crash, and thus not explode.

And of course I thought, "Oh, I wonder how Doctor Who will save Adric?" I liked Adric. He was young, and slightly out of his depth, and often made the wrong decisions. Perfect for my nerdy idiotic self to identify with.

Well. Adric did manage to stop the spaceship crashing into Earth, except that he did it by making it go back in time. Which meant that it crashed into Prehistoric Earth instead, which is where the dinosaurs lived. Bad news for the dinosaurs and bad news for Adric, who exploded and died.

I was quite astonished. The credits rolled in silence and I sat, also in silence. I ate a couple of orange Smarties. I picked up my book - The Face of Evil, if you're wondering. But I did not want to read it. One of my TV heroes had died. It was weird and unsettling. Worse than when the cat got run over. Sorry cat.

I'm not sure why the death of Adric was such a thing. I suppose I just expected everything to always turn out OK.  I don't know why, though. The TV of the early 80s was full of death. From the massacre at the end of Blake's 7 to the routine slaughter of everyone in Blackadder, to the Young Ones going over a cliff in a bus to the destruction of the whole Earth in Hitchhiker's. There was something in the air, in the 80s, that suggested maybe we were all for the chop.

An odd place, in retrospect, for a teenage mind to take shape. The death of Adric prompted me and Best Friend Paul McGrath to come up with "Saint Adric's Day". Every March the 16th we would abstain from Mars Bars in honour of our fallen hero. We would draw on our hands a five pointed gold star, like the one Adric used to wear. Sometimes we would draw pictures of Cybermen and then scribble them angrily out.

I don't do those things now. I don't eat Mars Bars anymore, so the sacrifice would seem banal. Drawing a star on my hand feels uncomfortable in these times when symbolism is so easily misinterpreted. I suppose I still do draw the odd Cyberman. I like doing that.

And I do remember, every year on March the 16th, that a fictional character accidentally flew a spaceship into dinosaurs. And, somehow, it brings me comfort. I'm not sure what it means. I'm not sure what anything means. Happy St. Adric's day, everyone.

Friday, 3 March 2017

My Back Pages

Afternoon! How's the wife? The husband? The life partner? The dog? The crippling sense of existential angst? Whoever it is that you go home to. How are they?

Good. Probably. I wasn't listening. I was thinking about something else. I was thinking about books.

Yesterday was World Book Day. And everyone spent all day saying, "Books are ace!" Parents sent their kids to school dressed as characters from books. I know because they put millions of photos of these kids on Twitter. It seemed to be Harry Potter, mostly, which is fine. Though there was the occasional example of a poor child dressed as Offred from The Handmaid's Tale, or something similar - a confused but obedient pawn in the war between parents who were trying to out-clever one another. "Oh, Jemima's dressed as the Struggle of the Proletariat from Das Kapital. Yes it's her favourite."

I did not dress up. Unless, somewhere, there's a book about a middle aged man trying to disguise his excessive wine consumption with a range of exciting waistcoats. That would be a good book. But no. Instead I posted, online, the covers of some books that had meant something to me, in my formative years.

The first of those books was, perhaps unsurprisingly, a Doctor Who book. Doctor Who and the Daleks, to be precise. It's a powerful, totemic item for many a geek of my generation. It was the beginning of many things that are still important to me and, like so many books, a fundamental part of who I was to become.

Here's how it started.

When I was nine I went to Middle School and I was put in Mrs Skelding's class. She was a tall, possibly-Scottish woman who enjoyed reading out loud and was mostly very pleasant. In the corner of her classroom was the Best Thing Ever - and that best thing ever was a shelf.

On the shelf were some books. Very specific books. Doctor Who books. Apparently her son had owned them and no longer wanted them. What a moron! Why did he do that? They're great! And now I was allowed to borrow them!

I first went for The Dalek Invasion of Earth. I'd recently seen the film version on a Saturday morning matinee at the Odeon, and I had loved it with all my tiny heart. And here that film was again, living inside this book. All the colours and explosions and heroes and traitors and races against time. Wonderful.

And that was my gateway drug. Mrs. Skelding's idiot son had given her loads of books, and I read every single one. What an amazing world of stuff to discover. Dozens of wild, insanely creative stories, ranging across time and space. All in the company of a magical crazy space guy who made me feel OK to be weird.

The books existed before VHS and DVD, so they were the only way into the past of Doctor Who. He was still kicking around on television, in the gangly, toothy form of Tom Baker, but his past adventures were a mystery. These stories - novelisations of the adventures that had been broadcast before I was born - were all I had.

I'm glad, for many reasons, that my exposure to these stories was through the novelisations. If I could have watched the actual old TV stories, back then as a child, I might not have fallen in love in the same way. Brilliant as Doctor Who is, there are things in the old TV stories that might have proved offputting to a young creature like myself.

The novels are fast and thrilling where the TV could be slow and ponderous. Monsters, planets and spaceships flew colourfully around my head, carved into life by the words in these brilliant books. Having watched the TV versions in recent years, I can testify that the special effects do not always live up to this promise.

Best of all, for an introverted young thing like me, books allowed you inside the heads of the characters. I could read their minds and know their feelings. I knew that the heroes were often scared on the inside. Villains were rarely just evil, but often believed that their actions really were for the best. Nothing was simple, and that was true for the grown ups too.

The writers of these books gave life to characters who might only have a few lines on screen. Everyone was important. Everyone had a story. As the Doctor would say, years later, "I've never met anyone unimportant."

I loved these books and I still do. They became part of who I am and I was very much formed by them. Unlike Mrs. Skelding's insane son, I never gave mine away. I don't know if I'll ever read them again but they sit in the attic, in correct chronological order, their pages mumbling with tales of Sea Devils, dinosaurs and Daleks. They're wonderful.