Bash Street, The B Word & a search for Castlereagh.

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

image.png

 

It’s 7a.m. in the sauna at the Leisure Centre; a tight dog-leg affair tucked into the corner, to the left of the baby pool.

It’s 7 a.m. and someone said the B Word.

It’s 7 a.m. and someone said the B Word and things are hotting up.

It’s 7 a.m. and someone said the B Word and things are hotting up – and the temperature is rising. (This is somewhat of a first as usually the temperature in this sauna would barely warm a cockle let alone boil a shrimp. If the least that the B word might do is to bring the sauna to a serviceable and job-fulfilling temperature, I’m all for it.)

Someone said the B Word.

And silence falls. 

From me at least. To begin with.

I choose to stay out of it [which for a very over-opinionated man takes some doing]. 

This sauna resides in a broadly LEAVE realm, heavy with the fust of Faragista.

In this particular sauna, tucked as it is into a small green corner of East Sussex, a mix of ages, genders and ethnicities all broadly ascribe to an Anti-European, Self-Determining future with incumbent bumps, recessions (double dip or otherwise) and social crunches as a wholly acceptable part of the bill for the heady freedom.

We’ll struggle through.

We’ll manage.

Sure we’ll figure it out

Ok so it’ll be tough but we’ll soldier on.

And, much like flatulence;

Better out than in.

In the sauna the language is of a wartime nature. Valiant struggles. The underdog. The enemies abroad. The vision of prevailing. The idyll of remaining free! 

What did we fight for in the first place? 

In some ways the years from 1945 to now seem to have simply fallen away.

The odd usurper brings a whiff of Remain into the room, emanating enlightenment. They are mostly brimming with humanitarianism and belief in diversity of culture as a healthier model for that inclusive society. Many of them work in and are supportive of the Public Sector, a strong  social contract, and an inclusive society.

Sensibly [I sense], they hear a whiff of cod Farage/Bojo speak and just stay silent or leave. 

These are not wall flowers – simply people who mostly prefer to discuss the complexity of this matter in a rather less heated, cramped and sometimes overbearingly ‘righteous’ atmosphere.

Now our LEAVERS, lets be clear, do tend to index towards the cliche – being older, white males and females of what someone once cruelly described as the ‘Little Englander’ variety. They are [publicly at least by their own admittance] Express and Mail readers, or, otherwise, don’t read the news at all: 

Its all bullshit

Can’t trust a word of it

All written by lefty Guardian types.

So in the Leisure Centre sauna, as the Weather Girls sang, the humidity’s rising – barometer’s getting low…and, in BREXIT terms, politically at least, its raining men.

White. Privileged. Righteous. Right leaning. Men. To be precise.

Which brings me to the point of this piece, and the types of leader we desire and aspire to. And the issue of whom do LEAVERS respect and laud – and why?

My concern is that the nature of our current slew of would-be LEAVE heroes strikes me as the antithesis of what we need to get through this coming B Word Debacle by the skin of anyone’s teeth.

BREXIT is not a simple puzzle to crack whatever the common wisdom or otherwise about No Deal Dead Stop all out departures

Given:

  • the complexity of the Exit Agreement;
  • Legal mandates, preexisting agreements and precedents; 
  • the supplementary conditions & back stop issues;
  • the number of British & European stakeholders; 
  • the back room Trade Bloc chess game of Yes trade Deal No trade Deal played by everyone including our Special Relationship cousins;
  • the subsequent civil strife, bad feeling, victimisation, bullying, vitriol, political mismanagement, jingoism and blame throwing generated by a referendum based upon a rather spurious question surrounded by disinformation, propaganda, and smoke and mirrors on all sides;

it’s a wonder anyone in the normal world has even half a handle on what’s going on (and some would say that, given the nature and degree of popular feeling, most do not.)

At a time when we need steely resilient statesman-like acuity, a labyrinthine capacity for detail, a prodigious Machiavellian sensibility and most importantly an ability to ‘stick with it’ – the banality of it, the wheezing mind numbing boredom of it all in room after musty, hot-shoe room – to secure the right exit for Britain, what do we have?  

Well at first glance it seems the majority of England have abdicated responsibility for robust discourse, reasoned debate and seasoned global geopolitical nous to the writers of The Beano and Topper.

And it is their characters that we now see striding towards Downing Street, keys jangling in their fat sweaty greedy hands.

And the ‘unts and the Bojos are not the only power players here – we must include the minstrels in their populist galleries, Farage and Rees Mogg. And though down, His Right Royal ’my hand is on the tiller of environmental destiny’  Gove is certainly not out. [I am uncertain as to whether he or anyone else realised that his sole task was simply to make Bojo look more presentable and capable.]

It seems that at a time when we need the zenith of political nous, insight, application and a tireless irrepressible pragmantism, we have:

  • A philandering, straw haired clownish buffoon with a Churchill fetish.
  • The greatest reoccurring spelling mistake in British politics
  • A Gin, Jag & Fag spiv in a camel coat,
  • A turncoat with a cocaine stain on their heart
  • A monocled monochromatic Victorian Undertaker with a taste for off shore trading

Frankly between Bojo’s ego libido sandwich salad combo, ‘unts self righteous ‘only real alternative’ sorry that’s my Olympic accolade shtick, Gove’s yearning hands & insincere masque, Farage’s blatant people-powered self-interest [and tendency to run for the hills at the first sign of real responsibility] and Rees-Mogg’s fun-fair side-show Victorian Toff (there’s definitely a market in putting coin-operated ‘Victoriana Stove Pipe Hatted Rees Mogg Fortune Tellers on every British Seaside Pier), we really have all drawn the short straw.

I said.

Loudly.

In the sauna.

My Inside voice outside voice mechanism had failed me.

Ah well. In for a penny in for a pound.

Yeah and it would be a cent and a euro, not a penny and a pound, if you lot had your way.

The immediate flavour of the room was not favourable

After some uncomfortable shuffling and murmuring I was able to point out that, given the result and what we need to do as a country, I was in fact simply offering an opinion (which in a democracy that sanctifies the freedom of speech I feel more than happy to do). I was offering an opinion on the quality and measure of the politicians the LEAVERS were celebrating as our potential leaders out of this fine mess we’ve gotten ourselves into, Stanley. Leadership Quality of the right calibre and nature to be specific.

My punt is that what we really needed all along was not a Churchill or a Disraeli. We needed a Robert Stewart, Viscount Castlereagh, 2nd Marquess of Londonderry. 

A much maligned yet highly influential British politician of the 18th and 19th Centuries, it is is not for his suppression of the Irish Rebellion, Act of Union, Treaty of Chaumont, Engagement of Wellington (a fellow Northern Irishman) against Napoleon or his forthright Leadership of the House of Commons that I invoke him. 

No.

It is specifically for his dogged resilience in carving out the greatest and most stable outcome possible for post Napoleonic Europe at the Congress of Vienna. In collaboration, collusion and sometimes in spite of and against Metternich, Castlereagh forged something unheard of out of a snake pit of self interest, bile, vengeance and self service: a long-term period of stability in Europe that united the great powers. And he did not forge this through compromise of our trading position. His vigilance in regards to Britain’s imperial interests was unsurpassed.

It is unsurprising that Henry Kissinger, whose Harvard Dissertation was an idealistic entreat in support of the realpolitic of pragmatists like Castlereagh said of him that ‘he developed a reputation for integrity, consistency, and goodwill, which was perhaps unmatched by any diplomat of that era.’ [Kissinger’s re-invention as a widely misunderstood politician and statesman is brilliantly set out by Niall Fergusson in his book Kissinger: 1923-1968:The Idealist]

So, no-ones perfect, but some people are perfect for their time. Castllereagh was just such a man, destined to be in the right place with the right influence to do something humanity struggles to do all to often when left to its own devices. Get over itself.

To exit where we are requires I believe, the irrepressible pragmatism and the stoic ability to ‘stay in the room’ that Castelereagh exemplified in his engagements in the Congress of Vienna – an ability to keep talking, and to not allow a descent in to some bar-room oratory or scrappy jingoistic sleight every time we don’t quite get out way. [Sound familiar?]

When using those leadership criteria, I do not see a man or woman for our time.  I do not see in our ‘leaders’ the requisite traits and character.

If we’re lucky we’ll scratch under the cod Churchillian crack and reveal a streak of Castelereagh in someone somewhere and we might all be better off for it. If not I say lets match the Topper Toff throwbacks like Rees Mogg and raise them – and get The Bash Street Kids to take over the Commons. (Though some might venture that between the Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Labour Parties we have already got that strategy pretty much covered off  – which begs the question who Danny, Plug, ‘Erbert, Fatty, Sidney, Smiffy, Spotty, Toots, Wilfred, Wilfred, Cuthbert are currently masquerading as?)

The sauna fell silent.  

Knob.

Too clever by half.

Got a right to his own opinion though.

Fair enough.

Anyways, Castle who?

 

More from the Sauna soon.

Advertisements

Unicorns, Humanity & the Voices of our Redemption

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

image.png

We are funny.

We’ve spent thousands of years navigating the theologically and intellectually boulder strewn path from the pagan arts and necromancy of the darker older world through proscribed religions to finally arrive at a what we think is a mostly enlightened secular state unfettered from the domain of Church and the blind abstractions of the Faiths they vaunt.

And in doing so we have notionally put most other faiths in the same hell-bound handcart on which we dumped our own spirituality.  This is not necessarily always a disrespectful or dismissive pursuit, though the “My Books better, older and more profound than your Book/Scroll/Tablet” sociopathic bullshit of the more bellicose monotheistic religions might make it seem otherwise.

We tend to quite favour religions other than the one’s we are born into. Vast quantities of westerners raised as goodly Christian and Jewish children have embraced other faiths. We’ve had a good old roll in the karmic hay with all forms of Buddhism recently, and plundered some rather shiny variations on an existing religious theme – Kabbalah for instance – courtesy of Madge and a few A Listers.

But certainly in the predominantly Christianity rooted West, bar the odd few tens of thousands of God fearing Commie hunting, Koran burning, Gay baiting, Abortion stoning, Feminist damning, 21st Century hating, gun totin’ rootin’ tootin’ yihaws; some fiery Baptists; and a clutch of die-hard papal purple purists with a fist full of dollars and an incense ball and chain keeping the dream alive in most of Middle and South America, western religion is broadly redundant intellectually speaking other than as a point of plane to pivot and lever off. 

It has become a vestigial spiritual tail – a divine obsolescence from our millennia in the metaphysically charged dark forests and the last three thousand years under the auspices of ‘pick an Abrahamic Faith, any Abrahamic Faith.’

But in doing so, we never really think through the contingency and legacy planning. Mostly we lean on Science as the replacement – the thing that will fill the void left by what has gone. Bt that is to assume that everyone responds in a non metaphysical left brain attenuated manner in times of distress and duress.

So where do we look to these days when all the dark truths of our humanity hove into view? Where do we cast our eyes when our profligate destruction of the beauty of the planet we inhabit overwhelm us and the darker recesses of our human psyche demonstrate themselves in brutality, cruelty, rape, torture, murder, genocide and war?

Morgan Freeman.

Yes. Morgan Freeman.

In the absence of God, many multiple thousands of us look in reverence and seek reassurance from the 81 year old son of a teacher and America actor and star of Shawshank Redemption fame.

OK. To be fair, the substitute religious reverence things is a little muddy here. Morgan has ‘played God’ which might confuse many – and in a far less destructive way than most of his species and more importantly his gender.  But there is something more about him than his Oscar and nominations and  loose, white, open shirted God performances might predict.

Morgan Freeman’s voice alone can salve the most anxious heart and fevered brow. 

Something I called the Morgan Freeman Effect, when discussing how one might make a film that helps patients to relax and perhaps focus of take in information in the midst of being told some very distressing, complex and frightening news rooted in genetic science. Bring Morgan Freeman into the room and into that moment to pop the bubble:

Morgan: Hey…

Patient: hey…

Morgan: Now…you’re not really listening to what that smart doctor lady’s saying are you?

Patient: No

Morgan: Kind of confused and scared?

Patient: I’m really scared.

Morgan: What say you and me take a walk and just talk – about anything – your favourite John Denver song – favourite Toy Story Character? I don’t care. Anythings fine with me.

Patient: OK then.

And with that, most of us would mostly probably get up out of our chair in that Medical Consultant Specialists room and take a walk with Morgan. With no rational reason for doing so.

His calming modulated tones and open expressive and gentle face are a modern human phenomena.  It is a form of gift – one that is hard to explain in our hard edged data fuelled rationally obsessed world.

There is the sense of everything is going to be OK while Morgan is in the world.

In that way he is remarkable. In that way he is no different to the Unicorns of myth, whom some believe to be a sign of the world being in balance – and their death or absence being indicative of the world tipping toward the dark.

And in Unicorn terms I am most assuredly referring to the horsey single horn mythological creature type as opposed to the over blown silicon valley algorithmically charged frothy Investment stock type of the new digital world order.

Granted – Unicorns can make many people respond with anything from a bluster to an outright screech of derision, and, if the following answer to the question Are Unicorns real? posted on answers.com were to be taken at face value no-one would want to be identified as a believer in any kind of Unicorn:

Actually if you are christian you should know that they did exist well the story begins back with the story of Noah’s ark see the animals were going on the ship but the unicorns just stayed there and played and Noah couldn’t get them aboard so he had to leave them to drown. but many people think (including me) that the unicorn still lives somewhere possibly on an island because unicorns are magical nothing will stop them.

But saying that [and someone really did], lets take this in the spirit in which it is meant. AKA just go with me on this for a minute.

Unicorns represent a sacred creature to whom the prospect, balance and spiritual well being of the world are inextricably attached. Unicorns merely by their presence predict good things – even the briefest glimpse of them augurs a world where good prevails.

On that basis, Morgan Freeman is a Unicorn for millions of people – in that his presence in the world offers us a sense of salve and reassurance. But thankfully for him, he is not alone.

Another of our Unicorns is David Attenborough. One of the most remarkable creatures we share this planet with. His one man crusade to bring the truths and beauty of the natural world to bear across millions of screens in millions of homes is a staggering act of will and craft.

That he creates such compelling and mesmeric filmic storytelling without the sickly sweet confection of Anthropomorphism favoured by Disney et al is even more remarkable. 

Unlike Morgan Freeman, David Attenborough carries the added hindrance to his fantastical mythical Unicorn status of being a die-hard sharp-cornered scientist rooted wholly in the rational world. There isn’t even a whiff of the spiritual about Mr Attenborough. [Even if there was, I sense it would be a be of the swift-5-minutes-of-High-Church-C-of-E-chapel variety, with a cup of tea and a slice of cake in the sacristy to smooth out the God wrinkles in it all.]

But none the less, there he is: the voice of such superior human vantage, such purview, creature insight, expansive understanding and natural intimacy that grown men and women almost weep when they hear him, and people clamour to be near him in much the same way they would pilgrimage to touch the sleeve of their most revered prophets sages and saintly personae.  

Now, is this a male dominated domain, like some throw back to a paternalistic misogynist church or medieval men and their power lusts?

Nope. Oprah is right up there for me on the runway to Unicorn. And Michele Obama [though sadly not the next POTUS – but how we pray!!] is also a Unicorn in waiting.

And death will not silence the Unicorn, however sad its coming. Maya Angelou, though gone from this mortal coil has [and I use the present tense knowingly] a similar effect – her words and recordings chiming the zenith of our humanity and the depth of our feeling in such a way as to give people succour and support and bolster them for what life may bring. She is alive in, with and through them. 

Equally I cite the saintly phenomena that was Mother Theresa, even with all of her subsequently revealed peculiarities and sharpness [who wouldn’t be consumed and sharpened by witnessing and carrying so much suffering].  

So I’d like to give a small ‘praise be‘ on this Easter Sunday, and say, in the increasing absence of any kind of faith in advanced cultures, let alone Abrahamic ones, and in the face of the staggering circus act of hubris currently being demonstrated by left brain reasoning and a blind faith in science knowing all, thank deity for Unicorns in all of their wondrous being.

Something tells me that, as more fires and floods ravage, as more religious fundamentalists scour and murder, and as the pillaging self interest of corporatism supported by the likes of the straw haired idiot to the West continue to thrive, we’ll need as many of them as we can get. 

The Evil Mdudu, Political Correctness & sustainable storytelling

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Screen Shot 2019-04-04 at 13.08.50.png

Sustainable storytelling doesn’t really feel very, well, sustainable. Not in the ‘joyous, must watch, slightly addictive, surprised me’ department anyway.

There’s lots of one off pieces that capture people’s attention. But I’ve seen little in the serial, episodic department to thrill and inspire me to consider a slightly more resilient and sustainable existence.

And my last blog reminded me of some of the reasons for why.

I faintly praised the recent alignment of the Thomas The Tank Engine franchise and the 17 Global Sustainability Goals. The reason for the faintness lay in the need of someone to reengineer the narratives and characters to make them more ‘correct’ – balanced, even, fair and ultimately, possibly anodyne?

Re-engineering narratives and characters to remove friction, discomfort, distaste – the inappropriate and the sometimes highly imperfect humanity of them – leaves a massive hole in the realm of sustainable communications.

In the blog I referred to what I see as a fundamental truth. Doing good does not require everyone to be insufferably ‘good’.

Bad is good, especially in storytelling. Bad provides friction. Discomfort and imperfection make for more interesting narratives. Fact. Ask anyone who has to do this for a living.

And ironing out the creases of our imperfect humanity –  our need to swear and cuss, our inappropriate and sometimes sleepwalk stereotyping; our baseness, our old prejudices and new loathings; our lazy referencing; erasing all of that makes no sense to me. 

People love a good baddy. In fact our waking dislike of goody-goodies mostly outweighs our dislike of baddies.

This came to me like a rather late, lazy lightning bolt [ my lightning bolt had obviously chosen the slowest Southern Rail train, two buses and a walk] as opposed to the one that once released from the hands of the gods, scorches through the sky to light up what it strikes like a Christmas Tree [a theologically and culturally specific reference that may exclude some rather arch followers of monotheistic faiths other than the Christian one that bore the cultural ritualism of the Christmas Tree but I’m not changing it – as in this lies half of my point].

The lazy bolt struck me while in the middle of a conversation with Mark Downes, an old colleague and friend of mine. We were discussing how to develop his Alphabravos idea further – develop the story arcs and the characters.

Now the Alphabravos is Mark’s idea for an episodic Children’s film/tv series designed to entertain and educate children about creating a more sustainable world, using 5 key Alphabravo characters and a slew more for good measure.

What struck me was that our focus lay in the purposefully decent, cool and quirky good guys – the Alphabravos themselves. And therein lay a missed trick.

The baddie was our best bit. The mad, bad and dangerous to know Mdudu was the greatest unrealised character in the whole idea. In fact, in true megalomaniac socio-psychopathic fully paid up narcissist fashion, it was all about him. 

Yes, the individual Alphabravo characters would allow various children of various [self identified] genders to choose their favourite character to emulate and through which to learn the behaviours of a more sustainable life, but Mdudu was the flame that the moths would fly to. The deeper, richer, most enduring and attractive human element in the whole thing.

Because thats what we do. We need the baddie to be the best character because in most traditional storytelling, the baddie is usually us at our ugly worst. Our unvarnished heavily flawed now – the perfect arrive starting point – and the heroes are us as we could be. The baddie is the measure by which we mark our hope; our optimism of what could be and the journey to it.

So baddies are the best.

So in Alphabravo world that meant that Mdudu, in all his camp, scratchy, self-obsessed sightly savant, childish, distracted, brutal and nihilistic ugliness was the most beautiful thing that we have.

And he must be developed. But more importantly than that, he must be protected. Because if the PC Police got half a whiff of him, heres how the conversation might go:

So Mdudu, great name. What’s that about?

Mdudu. yeah he’s our big bad baddie. We love the name. Its actually a Swahili name, originally from the Arabic, for a large parasitic insect.

Hmmmn. Well that’s not very cool. A little ethnic stereotyping there perhaps? 

Huh?

The blight on the world comes from Africa and the Middle East. Is that your point? A continent exclusively populated by despots, megalomaniacs,tyrants, environmental spoilers and murderers?  That won’t do. Especially when your baddie is shaped by a western, white hand. Oh no. No No No! Thats just perpetuating ancient prejudices and colonial propoganda. So there’s a real ethnic defamation issue here. Anyway. Let’s keep it positive. Lets see if we can salvage this. Why is he called that?

Because it rhymes with ‘poo’.

Well thats very mature!

Well its not meant to be. This is for 6-8 year olds. Everything is a fart gag and a poo joke.

Is it though? Really?

Yes. And I forgot to include bogies [boogers to our American cousins]. 

But that is so…so, infantile

We can’t go telling a 6 year old that Mdudu is a socio-psychopathic megalomaniacal destroyer of the planet’s natural capital, who lays waste to communities through flood, famine, war, pestilence and environmental degradation. Its far easier to say Mdudu is a big fat poo.

I’m sorry – a what?

A big fat poo.

Well that’s incredibly insensitive.

What is?

Calling someone big and fat? We just don’t appreciate that kind of language. Very negative. Judgemental. That really won’t do.

He’s a giant, animated, vaguely camp, clumsy baddie who’s a bit crap at his job. C’mon!!

No, really! First off, why is he a He? Pretty standard gender stereotyping of human tyranny and venality as being the sole domain of the male if you ask me. Psychopathic elitism. Ergo; Man strong woman weak. Sexism – pure and simple. And its all so SENSATIONALIST! Why can’t it be more, well, relevant. Laying waste to the world? Who does that? And I really don’t appreciate the recidivist cliche of baddies being camp – obviously playing back into some post-WWII caricature of the cruel, lisping Nazi Gauleiter – and making him clumsy to boot – an object of ridicule! Surely we are more advanced than this? 

Nope. And I didn’t mention the speech impediment by the way. You said lisping. Not me. But I like it!

That’s not helping. And ‘big’ and ‘fat’ are clearly, well, fattest and sizist, so they are a No from us.

What?

And ‘poo’? Really. Can;t we do better than Poo?

We? When did my Me idea become a We idea? 

Wisdom of the Crowds is everything – surely you know that? And wheres the redemption in all of this. Surely Mdudu is on a journey to redemption, no? On a journey to, errmmm, a less pooey future?

Not really. His job is to be what we kick against. What we fight. The possibility for bad in all of us. His job is to be BAD!!! What do you want him to be? A giant, humourless, flawless, good natured global gender-fluid mostly misunderstood Being (as we wouldn’t want to offend a species or genus – insect or otherwise – now would we): a Being of no real provenance or roots or ethnic specificity, with redeeming features like attending Mindfulness counselling when he’s not trying lay waste to the world?

You’re doing that sensationalist thing again – but yes, so let’s work with this. Collaborate and co-create it. So Sure. let’s say for example we keep him in the rhyming world. You could call the baddie Being ‘Do’ instead of Mdudu. It’s positive, action orientated, non gender specific. And if you really have to make a poo rhyme you still can. And yes, mindfulness counselling sounds terrific. Positive attributes. Striving for better. Optimistic.

OK so let me get this straight: the baddy is called Do, as in ‘doing’; is a broadly good natured slightly misunderstood gender non specific with no ethnic or genus specificity, whom, between doing vaguely unpleasant non-sensational things, attends self-help groups for mindfulness and anger management. And perhaps runs a Clean Up campaign in his local park?

Perfect.

Wow.

What?

You just sucked the light out of the world. I want to go and hide in a very, very dull, dark room.

Now you’re just being childish.

Yes. That’s the point. Its called aligning with your audience.

Still childish

Fart face

I rest my case.   

 

To find out more about the Alphabravos, go to: https://alphabravos.com

Lego Batman, Man Crushes & the original Sustainability Vigilante.

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Screen Shot 2019-04-01 at 12.30.33.png

Ok, I admit it. I have a huge Man Crush on Lego Batman.

Yes, Lego Batman.

Nope. Not Batman. Or the Dark Knight. This is not a homo-erotic entreat to the wiry, muscular Christian Bale, or a slightly sloppy hug for big bad Ben [pre or post cocktail].

And though I feel that Keaton’s socio-psychopathic gift to the Burton Batmans was remarkable [is it me or do the Burton-Batmans sound like a rather smart family from Cape Cod?), and gorgeous George is always worth a mention, it is the small plasticky, modular superhero who has my heart.

Lego Batman is petulant, childish, misguided, isolated, narcissistic to the level of a clinical pathology BUT he’s still fundamentally a good and fun guy – and the ultimate role model, both literally [he’s modelled out of plastic pieces] ethically [he’s aways trying to shut down or thwart some toxic shocker or other] and symbolically [the Bat Sign is a beacon in the world that says bad awful things will always get their just and plastic desserts in the end].

Unlike the Dark Knight – he who broods in an enormous bat-winged cape on various V tall buildings – Lego Batman’s super-power resides in his all round, kinda clumsy unfunny dork-like coolness – or as a social strategist might say, his social reach. He is simply a lot more attractive and palatable to a far wider range of type and age-groups of people.

Lets face it, the highly cinematic and terribly troubled Bruce Wayne can get a little ‘BORING’ – but as soon as he is rendered in very shiny black plastic, has ‘Nope nope nope no no nope no Nope’ tantrums  and crunches his way through microwaved Lobster claws, shell on, whats not to like?

Lego Batman’s love of industrial metal & grind core, and working with black, black, black and very dark grey, though broody and nihilistic in some ways, is really quite chirpy and redeeming.

And sure, he has a tendency to pop off with his Star Wars buddies just at the moment when he’s meant to be helping his Lego Movie buddy Emmet save everyone – and he struggles to maintain a text-book balanced and mutually beneficial relationship – but who wouldn’t; and doesn’t sometimes.

But my main love for characters like Lego Batman is rooted in their ability to be transcendent – to be able to be dark and light and left and right and rare and middle and base and grubby and funny and sad and inspiring; all at once.

It is an ability that the realm of Sustainability, Social Impact and those who’ve tasked themselves with rebalancing society could do with embracing far more.

The sustainability agenda needs all the transcendence it can get in the human department.

Though enormous steps forwards have been made [even getting it on the agenda of some corporations took decades of work and the relentless commitment of some very professionally brave people], there is still a deep division between the engineered integrity of the organisational, systemic and material change being undertaken at scale in large organisations and corporations and the insight and subtlety of the communicating voice and tone of the messaging that announces and celebrates these transformations for all the world to see.

It is the lightness of touch and the ability of characters like Lego Batman to appeal to all age groups in a very human and funny way that I find the most powerful. Especially in this space. The chiaroscuro of human nature, including the more childish and incorrect aspects of who we are as creatures needs to be front and centre to engage people.

But there seems to be a view amongst those trying to do something serious in the world that levity and playfulness diminishes or infantilises otherwise serious issues or points to be made. And that even when something childlike is to be used, it has to be ‘corrected’ in a trough of vanilla moralising and social engineering to make it finally palatable to a pungently consensual audience of rare intelligence. 

The recent Thomas The Tank work around the Global Sustainability Goals, though wholly admirable, still ended up quite prim, was overly gender engineered, and in doing so ended up lacking humanity for me. 

Friction is a human truth – friction tension and raw energy are essential in characterisations – even in children’s characters. The Homogenisation and cultural symmetry being inflicted on a lot of characterisations in pursuit of correctness these days seems inhuman to me. Humanity is imbalanced in so many highly nuanced and inextricable ways that to remove all imbalance between good and bad seems a fruitless pursuit.

Roald Dahl was the master of exploring dissonant and highly complex narratives inside beautiful whimsical and ultimately charming storytelling. The unvarnished nature and grimness of some of his characters made the stories all the more compelling.

Is Lego Batman on a par with the conflicted beauty of BFG or the moral ambivalence of Willy Wonka, the staggering and mystical precocity of Matilde and the creature narcissism of the Fantastic Mr Fox? Probably not.

But I’d still like to put Lego Batman forwards as the new prince [or princess; croissant or cork wedge shoe, depending on what gender he is identifying with at any given time] of sustainable communications.

I would rather have the 17 UN Global Sustainability Goals unpacked by the schlocky, childish, self-obsessed and mostly black plastic Lego Batman to a soundtrack by Ensturzende Neubauten than be cudgelled quietly by the imperious correctness of the reengineered Thomas The Tank Engine.

The Sustainability Vigilante picking on poor unsuspecting people with utterly inappropriate levels of vigilantism, weaponry and violent attrition for even the smallest infringement of a Global Sustainability Goal objective could be VERY funny. 

Commissioner Gordon’s wife bins three perfectly recyclable containers…dun dun dahhhhhhh…without rinsing them!!!……arrggghhhh …cue trip hammer drum riff and crunching guitars…the roof ripped off the apartment block, a salvo of bat rockets pummelling the front room, followed by bat-swooping beatings metered out to her and everyone else in the block for good measure.

Lego Batman stringing up the old man from the Soda Shop as a highly sexually-suspect chauvinist and patroniser of women [how can I help you this fine sunny morning little lady?] or battering three men to a pulp with Bat hammers because they were found to be using face Scrub with Micro-beads could make for highly entertaining mini episodes of a whole series of ‘GSG themed’ Lego Batman content. We’d still get the point. But we’d also manage it with a little bumpiness and some conflicted humanity.  

Doing good things and being a force for good in the world is not predicated on being insufferably GOOD. Goodness needs a foil to be real to the majority of people. People can learn immeasurably good things from bad or flawed people. And good people can only find their edges when confronted by bad things and people. The friction is essential.  Adopting a Pilgrim approach to communicating good things is not the answer. But we are still doing it.

Perhaps the pilgrim piety that is still shaping sustainability communications is the same malaise that is rendering out safe space thinking in universities so that children and young people grow up believing that it is also possible to get through life without ever having to listen to something we disagree with or find unpalatable – simply by forcibly exorcising it from our immediate society – and see that as a ‘good’ thing. Dunno. But, as history has shown us, both the ‘Crusader’ thing and seemingly benign regimes where control is increasingly applied to blot out dissenting voices, when done with little or no humour and a highly tuned sense of irony, tend to end badly most of the time. 

So blah blah blah. We must learn to speak of sustainability in human terms without homogenising and cleansing it of all human flaw and friction.

If we are to cross the chasm and move to engaging a far, far broader church of people and inspiring them to happily act upon more sustainable lifestyles it has to feel less goody goody and less pious.

We need to ‘lighten up’ and be prepared to be messy – because being human is messy. And we’re humans first and foremost.

Now where’s that Lobster Claw?

‘Funny’, Political Correctness & Modern Family humour.

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

modern-family.jpg

 

So shoot the dinosaur if I am not understanding this correctly BUT I am wholly confused about how humour and the topics of gender fluidity [in which I include LGBT as a ‘topic’], ethnicity, disability and beliefs collide. There’s a rule book somewhere that is, from what I can fathom, as fluid as the Gender identity it sometimes defends.

So, I understand the opening premise. That we are all human inside; the universal organism truth of us in which lie the seeds of Equality for All. Clear. And agreed.

And in the immutable words of a 90s Blur anthem, regardless of whether I am a boy who likes girls like their girls like their boys; or a girl whom wishes to be a boy; or a boy who wishes to dress like a girl; whether I have a Koran or a bible or a Torah or a light sabre (jedi numbers in the UK stood at 176,632 in the 201census, the 7thlargest religion in the UK after Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism, Judaism and Buddhism); whether I have black, brown, olive, bluey white, or any other skin colour or patina you can name; regardless of how I speak – by accent, idiom, dialect or impediment; whether I have all of my limbs or just some of them, flaws, glitches, disease, chromosomal or neural disorders or again, any other condition or illness that renders me ‘imperfect’ in the eyes of the zealots, we are still all the same sentient human creature and should be treated as such.

This is where normailsation or universality should apply, calibrate and enforce itself. At a regulatory, political and constitutional level.  This is the nature of Human Suffrage. And these are societal and cultural truths that need to be enforced if needs be, especially if someone in flouting these human truths chooses to act maliciously against any one party to the detriment of that party and the benefits of themselves.

But the tension point on all of this for me is around humour.

Humour is a kicking post. A buffer to what sometimes feels like an imbalanced world or our own individual tribal and societal failings or myopia. Yes, it is turned cruelly against some people and beliefs – as is every technology humanity has ever created [ and yes I am referring to humour as a technology]. But broadly, humour is as much a tool of the oppressed, the marginalised, the down trodden, the forgotten and the set against as it is a tool of the bully and the racist.

Satire has been used as apolitical weapon for millennia, especially amongst those who felt they were incapable of confronting on equal terms a politic, leader, party, belief or philosophy that they found diminished their equal right to inclusion,  peaceful living in equality with their neighbours.

Is satire a moral instrument? Yes. Whether it is being wielded by some homophobic, racist, right-wing, liberal-hating cyclops, or by some bullying, socially psychopathic vegan eco-fetishist, it is being used to promote a particular moral/immoral/amoral world view or perspective that truly believes in its righteous self. [We must remember that morality, like sexuality, is fluid.]

But it seems that one of satire and humour’s redeeming traits is that it is mostly fired up in favour of the underdog or the insurgent spirit in any given situation.

From the walls of the palatine Hills or the Senate baths; Diogenes in his barrel in the square, the rapier wit of Rowlandson and the satirists of western Georgian society all the way through to the agitating propagandists of ‘pick a world war any world war’, the revolutionary guard of 1968 and the journalists and cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo; humour is a leveller and a balloon popper; a stick with which to hit the stuffiness and humourless, po-pious self-righteous pomposity of those people seeking to rule through some self-ordained permission and assertion.

I love humour. And the more edgy and raw and punk it gets – the more hackles it raises – the more I like it.

Perhaps I just don’t like the smug controlling satisfaction written over the faces of what seem quite joyless people in any given situation.

Agreed. The catch all of the foot-in-mouth ‘truth as bullets’ insensitive twat ‘humour’ of ‘I was just saying what everyone else was thinking’ …displays a crass insensitivity and lack of even a shred of the kind of diplomacy that is a primary facet of any socialised human being. But my greatest issue is that it is frankly usually just lazy. And it is rarely funny. [The greater sin.]

But back to the upside.

A lot of humour for me is predicated on challenging every norm, status quo and given wisdom around identity truth, practice, posture, habit, behaviour, viewpoint, politic, assumption and directive. Anything that seemed to adopt a tyrannical, humourless, bullying self-referential righteousness.

It is there as a relentless counter balance to what is presented as ‘right’ or ‘normal.’

It is at its least a projection on to a higher plane of ‘taking the piss’ – a pastime created to keep people from getting ‘ideas above their station’, ‘too big for their boots’ or ‘too clever by half.’

In recent times once we’d cut out way through the smoky bullying humour of the working men’s clubs of the 1970s, aimed at ‘er indoors, the mother-in-law, women drivers, people of colour, homosexuals, ginger haired kids and the ‘t’ick’ Irish (or the Polish in North American Society) we got to the stand-up revolution of the 1980s.

Barbs and parodies and small humorous cruelties where now aimed at Maggie Thatcher, racist coppers, bent politicians, pig-ignorant gin & jag Middle-Englanders, Kebab Shop Men, gobby builders, Gap Yar students, Hoorays, PR queens, and every other shade of the establishment (who could forget Alan Beresford  B’stard).

Then the Noughties switcheroo mix-up of geo-gender-livestock-foodstuff-education-politics had us all getting more and more confused. Suddenly Left was Right. Up was down. In was out.

One example of this lies in the roots of the recent Anti Semitism row in the Labour Party.  And there ain’t nothing funny about that.

Was a time when supporting Palestine against state-funded [The American state to be precise] Zionist incursions and hegemony in the Middle East was particularly a stand against Israel’s state-terrorism [as it was perceived], not against the Jewish people. That support became an alignment with the PLO, who tripped and passed the baton to Hamas, who buddy up to the Hezbollah, who’re in bed with nascent IS militancy and suddenly a lot of people in the Labour Party are all confused. Pro PLO was not meant to be anti-semitic. But then again was it? If Israel is a secular state, then everyones fine. If it’s the homeland of the jewish people then that gets complicated. Back then Pro Palestine was definitely anti America and Anti Global Money. But it certainly wasn’t meant to be pro Hezbollah; and as for IS, well… Anyway. pick the comedy bones out of that if you can.

And the idea of sustainable lives and living within our means was a good thing. Cheap meat and its industrial production was killing the planet and our health and well-being. A more balanced diet was called for. More vegetables. A more vegetarian diet became suitable and vegetable-led diets are becoming far more normal. But the Vegans got super militant and a lot more aggressive. And suddenly they are the tyrants encroaching on free will. WTF?

And then as the Gay Agenda is usurped by the Gender Agenda, who’s rights come first? LGBT thankfully stepped in as the umbrella collective to champion all rights equally but the Gender Agenda could not be denied. And its confusing out there. [As Joe Lycett, the currently Bi-sexual comedian pointed out on Radio 4 recently, the Gays are controlling the Bi agenda, so Bis have to speak up for themselves.]

Although statistics reveal that 1 in 16 people are either gay or lesbian, we are yet to see what the true number of the transgender population might be.

We also need to allow for what I like to think of as  ‘settlement’ – where the very universal nature of youth’s fierce pursuit of identity might predispose more than are actually truly transgender to pursue it as an option of identity while ‘churning’ through their individual activism years.

Yes. That idea of transgender possibly being a phase– shoot me now for suggesting that just maybe, transgender, like many other things, sometimes politics, sometimes philosophy, sometimes religious, sometimes physical, can be put in the tumble dryer of puberty and the fierce crucible of early identity and come up looking like an absolute, an emphatic truth; and feel that way for some years.

Do I believe that people can fundamentally find themselves in the wrong body? Yes. But equally, do I also believe that transgender has popped itself on the shelf of turbulent identities that youth might reach for? Yes. And that needs to be remembered before we steamroll anything in any direction without letting it ‘settle’. Less haste to the scalpel and more power to the emotional support systems while going through this stuff seems sensible to me.

Veganism and Vegetarianism unsurprisingly also feature heavily in the individual activism years, as they are also most likely to set young people ‘against’ their parents and the existing Order’s politics, beliefs and behaviours.

So what is activism linked to identity and being? And what is activism linked to humanity and existence?

The lazy answer would be ‘its all shades of the same.’ They’re not.

Regardless, that the new tropes of gender, veganism et al are being rendered through the social smack down of the social channels and the twitter model of ‘no right to reply’ leads us to the role of humour and satire.

Tyrannies of social inclusion and exclusion are being undertaken. And revolutions are being foisted on communities and societies.

Small problem is that the gathering norm is coming from the kind of people the humour of the 80s and 90s once set out to liberate.

And the rule book is currently either being used as loo paper in the gender neutral khazi or hung on a hanging tree next to the most recent #metoo protagonist.

Humour is now as likely to target gay rights activists, gender neutral toilets, tech entrepreneurs, hipsters, uber-feminists and fragile millennials as it will the old favourites of Proscribed Religion, philandering and (criminally) bent politicians, oil moguls, bankers, war mongers, child abusers, and Doctor’s Surgery Receptionists.

So does that mean teasing and taking the piss out of transgender is a return to the old days of right wing homophobias; or is it simply humour doing what it always does?

Which brings me to the catalyst for this blog.

Modern Family.

Or should I say my family’s interpretation of Modern Family and particularly the humour involved.

After a particular binge-watching weekend [Bad parenting] we realised that my daughter is sensitive to how women are portrayed in Modern Family. Neurotic Claire. With her over-controlling mania’s and aggression issues. Over-inflated Gloria with her ‘goose honk’ Columbian tone, towering heels and malapropisms. The two Dumfy daughters – one stupid and loose, the other geeky and up tight. So a wholly reasonable perspective and opinion on my daughter’s part.

But she equally seemed somewhat oblivious to the rest of the comedy cavalcade of swipes – the gay stereotypes of Cam and Mitchell and their fatuous statements – “the only gay men to leave LA  on pride weekend because we don’t like crowds” “Oh no, Lesbians” – and hybrid Gay-Asian jokes – “the only two gay men in America to have raised an underperforming Asian child”– the old school, rich white myopia of Jay (he’s a brash crass self-made man with intimacy issues and he did marry pneumatic Gloria after all) and of course, Phil Dumfy’s deeply flawed world view on subjects such as the menstrual cycle and its effect on women – “monstruation” –  his staggering stupidities, fawning salesmanship and general foolishness.

At which point my son chimes in and says perhaps there are gender stereotypes but everyone’s being targeted. And while we are at it, no-one seems up in arms about the prevailing wind in tv drama and comedy of stupid, self-interested, unhygienic, venal, childish male stereotype with a one track mind [whether that be shabby cheap sex, donuts, skipping work, or playing golf.]

We have Brian Griffen in Family Guy; the less said about Homer Simpson the idiot child abuser the better; Richard Watterson, the dad in Amazing world of Gumball demonstrates a staggering level of parental irresponsibility and idiocy; and even Peppa Pig’s father, Daddy Pig, could do with a bath and a fresh injection of brain cells.

The female riposte to this is often ‘well, you guys identify and laugh at those male truisms – and anyway, it’s about time you got skewered after hundreds of years of beating down women’s self-worth and identity – emotionally, intellectually and physically if needs be.’

Fair cop. But if we’re all equal. Surely we’re all up for the rules to be applied equally?

Anyway, where we netted out on Modern families humour imperative was, in my opinion, the right place.

In turns each of the stereotypes is hammered but it is done with a redemptive and cautionary tale ending in mind. Ultimately it says, reach beyond the short-sightedness and human frailty and flaws and we are all equally and without exception allowed and capable of a shot of redemption if we choose to take it.

It is the equanimity of deft cruel parodies, stereotypes and clichés and the purpose to which these comedic cruelties are played that allows all things.

As long as humour is applied equally, and no one stereotype is singled out, then anything goes, the only filter then being to what tonal extremity do you like your humour to play.

South Park far outreaches Gumball in extremity and crass stereotyping. But the premise of using stereotypes is much the same.

But this is a liberal choice. Some would say that as in literature, what constitutes funny it is a question of quality not morality or ethics.

It is the quality of the writing and framing and characterisations in the comedy that should be judged. Not the morality. As Oscar Wilde was said to point out when discussing the morality of a particular book:

“There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book.Books are well written, or badly written. That is all.”

The source code of humour is the human condition, in all of its flawed, raw truth and sometime often-time ugliness and inappropriateness.

Lazy humour tends to just be cruel for cruelty’s sake. Humour that tends to just seek to make people feel less shit by demeaning someone else to make them feel shitter – that’s not only lazy but spiteful and negative. That’s not OK. There is no counterpoint or greater purpose to it.

Even if the purpose is just to put a pressure valve on something that would otherwise explode into something far more destructive, at least it has a role in society.

Humour with purpose is a beautiful thing. Because it reminds us that power in all its forms, shiboleths, hysterical and aggressive assertions, trumpeting identity and righteous untouchables are all fodder for the excoriating blade of wit and humour.

Humour is the raw blunt edge of humanity. And like all evolved practices behaviours and traits, it exists for a reason. As I have said. Humour is a Human Technology.

As Sy Benson, the erstwhile Head Comedy Writer character in the film My Favourite Year promounced:

“You don’t cut ‘funny.’”

He also pronounced on the morality of a philandering Actor’s right to appear on a family show:

We’re discussing morals. We’re talking generations to come here.

To which Alice, another writer, responds:

“you’re not qualified to discuss morals, Sy”

to which Sy intelligently replies

“Up yours with a Mello Roll, Alice!”

Now what are we to do with this? Accuse him of misogynistic and aggressive use of language and making threats with a pastry, and have him arrested? Undertake a thorough investigation to define which ‘hole’ he is referring to, to define whether this is indeed gender specific abuse or a more universal aggressive attack? Shame him on twitter in the absence of context? Send him home with a pat on the head saying time to hang up your comedy typewriter? Or accept that humour like humanity has rough and imperfect edges, points of discomfort and areas of uncertainty, and having accepted that just apply a little wit and wisdom in the judging of it.

Anyone one for a Non Vegan, Camp Comedy Night Out?

 

 

Class, satire & the dark art of playing the gallery.

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

th.jpeg

At a point in history when the nuance, deft politic and human insight of a Castlereagh might come in handy – and the strong hand, fierce purpose and earthiness of a Boudicca wouldn’t go amiss; what do we have?

Jacob Rees-Mogg.

Our representative for the broad constituency of ordinary people in the UK is a comical Toff who seems to have fallen off the pages of Topper Comic (well, the 1970s version).

There is a sublime logic in this as the Brexiteers seem to have decided that, if we’re going to apply a Back to the Future strategy, 1970 seems like a good Back to start a Future from; This obviously falls far short of the idyllic late 1940s and early 1950s that some Brexiteers would rather hark back to, the zenith of our victorious pre-Windrush Post WWII Golden Age, when you could still happily and openly show prejudice against anyone you so chose while playing an Over on the Green under a Spitfire sky, eating trimmed sandwiches of fish paste and cucumber and sipping lemonade and lashings of ginger beer; all played out amidst the buzz of an endless British summer.

There are the upsides: Britain in the 70s was a crash of paisley purple and burnt orange, brilliant Bowie,  Prog rock, Punk, Disco and the chiaroscuro of British Light Entertainment: the brilliant beacons of the Two Ronnies and Morecombe & Wise peppered with the misshit social commentary of ‘Til Death Do Us Part (Alf Garnett being to the 70s what Loadsamoney was to the 80s – both caricatures being an exercise in sharp satire gone horribly wrong.)

But it was also the decade of sclerotic public services and infrastructure, lazy builders, 3 day weeks, dusty industry (why change what’s worked for 100 years), street battles between Right and Left and, of course, Maggie Thatcher, the goddess in Jacob’s temple.

So our champion – Jacob Rees-Mogg – whose first tweet was in Latin. What a knob.

One would hope that the lower echelons of the Daily Mail readership (as they choose to self identify) will welcome having a bucket of cold water poured over them and a toe swung towards their arse for good measure when they realise what’s being done to them in the name of BREXIT.

But I have a feeling they are going there willingly.

This kow-towing and fawning adulation is simply the saloon-car-driving, beige-coated, ploughman’s eating, comfortable-walking-shoe version of the chimpanzee putting their wrist up towards the alpha and bowing their head. Or arse kissing upwards to put it in coarser, more feudal terms.

Far too many of the Great British public are playing out some twisted piece of Tom Brown and Flashman theatre – and gleefully so.

It seems a large swathe of the Great British public are seemingly more than happily prepared to play ‘Jean Ainslie’ to Rees-Mogg’s ‘Graham Dashwood.’

In the film, The Most Exotic Marigold Hotel, the Jean Ainslie character is the epitome of the small-minded, deluded, disappointed and utterly class-fixated snob (a rather smarter and more polished version of Hyacinth Bucket – pronounced ‘Bouquet’ – from Keeping Up Appearances). And Graham Dashwood is the dashing, elegant, intelligent, worldly (and quietly gay) Barrister from a much higher social order.

Everything crushes into one moment where she states in a moment of professed love and adulation:

“In fact I think I’ve been looking for you for a very long time.”

There is the populist voice speaking.

Right now it seems that the Great British public are staring into Rees-Mogg’s eyes and professing much the same sentiment.

So how has Jacob conjured this whorl of feeling? What is it about him, his nature or his background that makes the masses lick upwards?

Well he ticks every box, in many more ways than Boris.

He is of good stock – but not a toff by birth. Tick.

(His father was only made a lifetime peer in 1988. So an ‘arriviste’ by old money standards. And they bought Ston Easton Park in Somerset, not inherited it. So in Alan Clark’s world view on inherited class, Rees Mogg’s family ‘bought their own furniture.’)

Jacob attended Eton and Trinity, Oxford. Tick.

Jacob made an extraordinary amount of money in Fund Trading, so he can claim the status ‘self-made man’. Tick.

But most importantly he ‘looks and sounds’ the part. Double Tick.

Jacob is the epitome of the Comic toff caricature that many over 40s grew up on. He is in that way a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Rees-Mogg realised long ago that image is everything (whilst still at school if the highly confected nature of the Eton College Collections portrait is to be believed). And presentation is nine tenths of the social law.

If you believe that people are still inherently feudal and like the idea of some Brideshead meets Downton Abbey world of ‘them in the big house up there and us down ‘ere doffing our caps’ model of social order and happiness – then you play to that gallery. Starting with your veneer.

Jacob realised the value in looking like you are from central casting’s stable of fragile toffs with a wilful streak and a stubborn self-righteousness born of an irrepressible Right of Entitlement. People look backwards at times of volatility and chaos. They seek older orders and touchstones to reassure themselves – even comic book ones. Nostalgia is a powerful opiate.

But that on its own is not enough. There is a darker, smarter judo move in Rees-Mogg that points to a very media savvy individual ‘playing the moment.’

Rees-Mogg has self-selected himself to be parodied, lampooned and satirised – he has made himself the butt of his own jokes. Genius.

This garish characterisation delivers on two counts. It makes him highly visible and discernible. And it presents him as self-deprecating – a faux proxy for humility in this case.

Everything he does presets him to ‘control’ the satire against him. (Sound familiar?)

So while Boris attracts all of the rockets with his stamping politic and straw-haired buffoonery – and Farage continues to present himself as the self-interested, small minded provincial barracker that he is (noticeably still collecting his MEP cheque and watching the World Cup from another EU subsidised bar in Brussels), Jacob slithers into every vapourous opportunity and out of anything solid or substantial with a whiff of the snake charmer wafting about his overly-combed head (brilliantine wouldn’t go amiss).

He is the quietly sneering, self-preening critic sitting in the corner seat at the dinner party, using the compound effect of his coy theatre of fragile child, his ‘blinking’ intellect and uncomfortable pauses to be eviscerating while seemingly ameliorating.

Some would venture that we get the politicians we deserve. If that is the case then the UK is generally suffering from a desperate case of ‘doffing’ – junked up on the need to be ruled by some retrograde smugness of the ‘Big House’ variety.

Thank heavens for that. There was a danger there for the briefest moment of us looking like an advanced, enlightened society with a clear understanding of the diversity of humanity that shaped us and a clear line of sight on the delicious collision of natures, skills, outlooks and open optimism we need as a nation to evolve and thrive.

But sanity prevails. And with the rise of the Rees-Moggs of this world we show ourselves for the fawning, recidivist, class-riddled, insecure ‘know your place’ society we really are.

Irritatingly I have to take my hat off to him. He knows his audience and their fragile desires intimately. He’s good. Really good.

So I’m off to buy a new cap to doff!

Obesity, dog packs, dating delusions & WTAF!

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Screen Shot 2018-06-26 at 10.36.22.png

 

So just a quick sojourn into some of the things that have beggared belief this week (in my tiny mind at least).

First up on the No-shit-Sherlock-o-meter:

Plus Sizes increasing propensity for obesity. Well, I never. Who’d have thought that telling morbidly obese people that ‘Fat is where it’s at’. ‘Bigger is beautiful’ and ‘be your big gorgeous self’ would inspire people with a potentially life-diminishing weight problem to eschew any kind of reflection on their consumption, and the nature of why they eat the way they do and just crack on with the triple, super-size tortilla melted cheese, ‘quarter pounder with sleaze’ approach to a dietary regime. And just to top it all off: remove any sizing that points to comparative sizing and markers that potentially might make them ‘feel bad’ about themselves or by which they feel ‘judged’ – thus normalising unhealthy body weights. I understand how one would not want people who ‘struggle’ with their weight to be pariahs in the zero-size eating disorder tyranny of current fashion trends. A bunch of leaf movers tucked into clothes designed for prepubescent boys evading any form of proper nutrition in pursuit of their beach ready body is bad enough. But really? Have we really become so meek? If we have put on too much weight. Call it. Accept the truth. We wouldn’t do this with an alcoholic.

Second up. Suing a dating company for not delivering a rich husband forward slash man of my dreams forward slash potential father. Christ on a bike. What on earth a perfectly intelligent and purportedly mature person thinks will be the outcome of suing a business that peddles ‘perfect love with a minted bloke’ I am not quite sure. I suppose it may eventually stop them from also hiring out the Tooth Fairy and getting the Silver Fox dating monopoly on Father Christmas in future – as they obviously see fantasy product promises and experiences as their forte. How do you sue someone for a fantastical promise? I am really curious. I would love to see the contractual terms – the legally binding document that will have them bang to rights for selling the impossible. However fragile we might be at any given time, have we really descended into a moment where this is regarded as a realistic possibility? All I wonder is…where were her friends?

Thirdsies, the gang culture that celebrates 20 people ganging up and chasing down a lone teenager and stabbing them to death and then claiming bragging rights. What for? A towering demonstration of group cowardice? Top rating for the International slimy Hyena Gold Star? I’d love to see the youtube channel video where these people set out their manly credentials. It probably appears alongside like-minded videos that celebrate Baby Kicking, stealing the wheels of a Paraplegic’s wheel chair and Pregnant Woman Slapping. Is there no-one, even in the utterly toxic and twisted world of gang culture and male uber-violence, to point out that this is not a brag. It’s a pitiful demonstration of the most cowardly kind of attack.

Anyway, that’s it. Bored myself.

So, I’ve popped on my ‘slim look’ kaftan and I’m off to tuck into a Man vs Food scale twenty-stack Burger & Doritos ‘salad’ with triple-Ceasar dressing at the Single Women Seeking Minted Dream Blokes Night at 5 Grand a pop – with a police escort. Wish me luck.

Hashtags, social scolding & the Fragility of Freedom.

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

trump-nude-troll-doll-chuck-williams-4.jpg

Who’d listen to an apparently ‘recidivist’, feminist academic and some right-wing lite writer of semi erotic literature?

Me. I happily listen to, read and respect (though not feverishly) the positions of both Germaine Greer and Jilly Cooper for exactly the same reason that I read Barbara Ellen, Naomi Woolf and Kathy Acker.

Do I always like what they say? No. Do I find some of it a bit one dimensional? Yup. Do I sometimes react like an overly defensive bloke? I’m certain I do. But do I find a lot of what they say illuminating, transformative and inspirational. All day long. Do their perspectives improve me? Without question.

I read and engage with them for exactly the same reason I like P. Funk, Christopher Hitchens, Family Guy, the Antiques Roadshow, Gogglebox and Byron: for the human colour and texture delivered by opposing narratives and the frictions held within them. They often fundamentally contradict each other – and throw spanners in each other’s engines and excreta at each other’s windows. That’s good. That’s one of the greatest upsides of enjoying Freedom of Speech.

Where would the joy be if we weren’t free to mock Donald J? That’s satire. That’s a healthy reaction. A massive baby Donald is a perfectly acceptable scale of riposte to a man who holds the attention of the world in his twitter-like hand, and shakes his status like a plastic rattle.

As long as it is done openly, in the light of day, spoken with the courage of one’s convictions, in a peer reviewed, open-sided environment with some basic rules of engagement – that’s all good.

But recently, as the darker corners of the #metoo, clean food and transgender campaigns have demonstrated, it can get ugly our there even when you begin with the best intentions in the world. Boisterous debate, informed discourse and heated discussion can quickly be replaced by something far more insidious and, to me, more dangerous.

I am talking about our provisional transition from open debate and respect for free speech (and the accompanying chimpanzee-like pooh flinging) to a narrow, closed form of cod-intellectual ‘social shout-down’ and the deafening absence of the Right of Reply.

There needs to be a tension, a friction in our evolutions – that’s human – and some subjects need to be approached with a degree of disruptive vigour.

There needs to be some punkish and raw fire blown into some social constructs and mores, mostly because they have become sclerotic. And Free Speech is about giving the fire the oxygen it needs.

But for some, Free Speech is seen as a Trojan horse for self-interest, bullying, dogma, schism, proselytising and propaganda. Well, no shit Sherlock. The openness of Free Speech means that, at some point, some very twisted and odd individuals will abuse the ability and opportunity to state their case.

But Free Speech’s defence mechanism against the twisted idiots and cruelty mongers prevailing lies in its very openness – and an environment rooted in an open Right of Reply on a mass scale. In each person resides the right to say No, I disagree, or ‘that is bad’, or ‘this could be better.’ Free Speech is a human block chain system by which we manage the security and integrity of our social, cultural, ethical and moral codes

It requires us all to be open to a reciprocal respect in the exchange. And it requires us to accept that the outpourings of Free Speech may very well make us feel very aggrieved or uncomfortable, and often so.

That’s its point. It is meant to be the valve in the pressure cooker; the thing that mostly helps to stop large swathes of people feeling they have no voice and reaching boiling point.

Free Speech is a good thing. But it does come with rules of engagement, and with responsibilities and accountabilities that we need to accept.

Free Speech has consequences. And we need to accept these in the brutal cold light of day. Framed in human, living terms, – not just in its philosophical and notional or legal and constitutional terms.

What do I mean by human living terms? Just the random and chaotic emotional truths of how people respond to stuff they are wound up about. Feelings can be uncomfortable. Insights can seem loaded. Emotions can be raw. Thoughts can be dangerous. Beliefs can be murderous. Never more so when they are voiced into the world with seemingly little attention or consideration for how they may be received.

But this is Free Speech is it not?

Freedom of Speech also means that we have the freedom to respond or not to statements and polemics however hateful with greater wit, charm intellect or persuasion than that with which they were served to us.

But sometimes the response is brutal, mindless or violent with little opportunity for debate or discourse.

The French satirists of Charlie Hebdo making cartoons of the Prophet can be viewed as either extraordinarily disrespectful smart arses who misread their right to mock with dreadful consequence or brave defenders of Free Speech. Regardless, most would accept that they knew what the extremity of the response might be. That is where courage or recklessness must step up and accept that the consequence of its actions though inhuman or horrific or criminal are none the less potential consequences. Je suis Charlie.

Free Speech is, in itself, open and equal – but that comes at a price.

Firstly, that we have to also listen to preachers and proselytisers of all kinds of shite wanging on endlessly with their propaganda or their misshapen and offensive views. And secondly we must accept that Free Speech is there to defend our right to have a voice, not to protect us against violent, harmful of hateful riposte. That is the role of the laws and systems of our democratic constitutions to uphold that side of the Suffrage bargain – that I am free to state my views and beliefs openly without fear of violent or harmful response. But in real, raw human everyday terms, might a psychotic or a fundamentalist or worse still a foreign government actor ‘get’ to me before the police man or woman (or howsoever they might identify) placed there to protect my Human Right to Free Speech. Yup. Jo Cox paid the greatest price for the freedom to voice our beliefs and politics in an all too human realm of ignorant response.

Silencing voices we do not like the sound and metre of is not democratic. Suppressing opposition is not how an open society operates. But we do it anyway. And sometimes the most successful way to hide something slightly dodgy is in plain sight, in this instance dressed up as a digital pillar of freedom of expression.

Here we return to the issue of No Voice or No Right to Reply and the socio-cultural twitter smack-down of Free Speech

The Oxford Union’s persistent need to silence hate mongers, sexists and racists disguised as authors, politicians, artists, academics or celebrity speakers, citing them as evil, is, I believe, a childish response from what is supposed to be a bastion of enlightenment, intelligence and wannabe stalwarts of the freedom to practice and speak freely.

I expect them to be at the forefront of this issue. Not on the back-foot.

That the Oxford Union cannot a) manage just 1 hour of ‘discomfort’ (the discomforting effect of listening to some twisted manipulator of reason and belief) in a seat in one of the most socially comfortable and privileged environments in the world and b) find the wherewithal to illuminate the insanity and misguided-ness of those people beggars belief.

If the intellectual bastions of a democratic society are too fragile or easily damaged by the turgid minds of the extremist, then we have a problem.

If you believe someone is citing or excusing violence, suppression or prejudice against the person either emotionally, physically, philosophically, spiritually or politically; make your case. Take the podium and illuminate the insanity of their bullshit through reasoned and sometimes unreasonable discourse.

But perhaps therein lies the point. Charlie Hebddo has demonstrated that you have to do this in the full knowledge that the boisterous but ultimately harmless debating society approach to conflict and problem resolution is a luxury that few people have and even fewer respect.

The world does not always respond in the measured, monochromatic mid-tones of a Mid-Western Psychologist.

Maybe that’s the issue for our delicate intelligentia?

You need to be prepared for what humans throw at you. And its messy.

We resort to chimp like shit flinging at the drop of a hat. And if we can beat our chests and rally a crowd of the intellectually lazy, spiritually misguided or emotionally stunted to our cause, chances are, we will, regardless of the veracity of our arguments or the quality of their support.

When we close down or silence those voices (instead of hearing them out and then deconstructing them at scale) we create a vacuum; an absence of natural tension. And history has shown that the smallest, pettiest, most vicious personal human agendas can rise up freely inside a vacuum.

If we don’t like the language or the statements of the likes of Donald J Trump or Germaine Greer, we need to use our own to rebuff them. Not just close them down.

But if we do that in the belief that everyone will play fair, we are ignoring the bestial creature truth of humanity.

Hopefully we are learning to understand that free speech, shaped as it is by the human psyche, is often going to be incendiary, disgraceful, unpleasant or, mostly, disagreeable, (unless I happen to be the person freeing my speech of course).

Free Speech has consequences, for the listener, and for the speaker. In the basest human terms those consequences can be hostile, violent, diminishing, degrading and sometimes criminal. This is the cause and effect of being human. Our beliefs whether communicated through speech, action or gesture will be both proselytised in a raw human manner and received in the same. Often an extreme response cannot be claimed to be truly surprising. Shocking perhaps. But not surprising.

For example:

If I am a man (or, more likely in this example, a sexually retarded fantasist game designer ‘child’ of a man running the upgrade on Grand Theft Auto), who has spouted the twisted belief that every rape ‘wants it’, and, subsequently, I get violently anally pegged by a troubled-turned-violent rape victim in some act of vengeance against my publically spouted beliefs, so be it.

Now that may sound a little extreme but is it wholly unexpected? How could it be? We know that trauma scars people physically and emotionally. A victim of extreme physical abuse can sometimes be driven to consider undertaking vengeful actions. Fact. This is not some movie fantasy of revenge. It would be naive to pretend it was.

So, if I voice an opinion, even as an ignorant provocation, I know what I am saying and my intention in saying it. Does that deserve a criminal or life disfiguring act against me? Or even a murderous one? Possibly not. And there are laws to dissuade someone from thinking otherwise.

BUT it IS a possibility I must consider when I open my mouth and speak, especially on incendiary topics. Because I live in a raw and human world, democratic or otherwise.

We are creatures with a genetic lineage that was shaped across hundreds of thousands of generations before we even thought to set up one camp together, let alone a civilised society. The complexity of what runs beneath the surface of us – what systems we’re running behind the interface of our conscious self – is only just beginning to be revealed by science and psychology.

We are ancient creatures with a modern veneer of civility.  We are, in phone terms, a Nokia 100 with a state of the art Android interface. And Freedom of Speech and people’s responses to it are the raw proof of that.

The language we use when we spout anything – from the sublime and enlightening to the ridiculous and disagreeable – is a powerful technology that we’ve been honing for a while. It has impact and reach. Wrap an opinion or a belief in it and we in effect light blue touch paper. It can be devastating. In some instances Sticks and stones would be the kinder option.

The learned experiences, beliefs and strategies that we use language to communicate are not always positive or palatable ones and they are not always done with a view to the common good (unless in some weird moment you think that the common good might be served by all-white sections of the UK, a transgender ban, and men-only golf clubs!). It goes with the territory.

Human language is a sharp tool that can both help and harm. And like all sharp tools, we need to tread cautiously in how when and where we use it; and to whom. And take responsibility for what happens when we do.

Regardless of the nature or capability of your exercising your right to use language freely to make your point, the main thing again is that it is undertaken with openness and the Right to Reply.

Tyrannical smack downs of someone who says something we don’t like are an unsurprising emotional reaction. Humans don’t like being wrong but, more importantly, are truly dreadful when they are feeling ‘really’ right.

This is less about the mitigation of the wrongness that sometimes occurs in environments of free speech, and more about the application of Righteousness in those events.

Righteousness is a wonderful word for a dreadful human nature. It brings together the spirit of divine complicity (support from on high) in your cause or belief, with a big slather of super conservative institutional rigour and supposed socio-cultural substance (regardless of whether ‘the party’ is of a left wing or right wing disposition).

And righteousnessis the only thing I could call the cultural shift that now has us banning dickheads from publically spouting their dickheadedness in environments like the Oxford Union where they can at least be dis-assembled publically – and the twisted logic that led a large number of smart intelligent people to not only take Margaret Atwood to task on her watch outs for #metoo but to damn her outright with no Right of Reply. Smackdown!

If the ‘Snowflake generation,’ as Millennials are so called, are at the forefront of these shifts, then we simply need to be conscious of that old cause and effect paradigm and be aware that the effect may be equally distasteful .

The Snowflake generation are called as much because they are seen by some as insufferably fragile – children in the world, bred to be easily damaged, hurt or offended by even the slightest harshness in tone, content, belief, polemic or politic. In this world view, everything becomes viewed through the filter of a threat to be shut or shot down.

The proof given is that when people cite something that doesn’t suit their world view, it’s damned or dismissed as recidivist or self-serving. (That it might just be a well founded and timeless piece of wisdom, or intelligently arrived at point of view worthy of consideration seems to be irrelevant.)

And therein lies the cliché. The Smackdown is simply another tyranny to replace other tyrannies. I had hoped we were less obvious but we’re not. The seemingly weak being in fact aggressors in the exercise and application of their fears in the world is a reoccurring human truth.

Tyrants do not like Free Speech. Especially the real kind. Hence the Fake News campaign of one Donald J.  Am I comparing #metoo and Donald J’s Fake News? Yes – but only in the fact that they both have used social networks, especially that of the unsophisticated, stunted responses of twitter (AKA Troll heaven) to silence and shame their detractors.

I am not for one moment venturing that their politics or ethics are similar. Just their tools and the spirit in which they apply them.

They have both adopted the same mechanism – of scolding and damnation – by which to quash what they don’t want to hear.

So my hope is that Free Speech, the real version will a) be recognised for the powerful and democratic tool it is b) respected as something that has consequences for both the speaker and the listener. Both good and bad.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A New Deal on Data.

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

shutterstock_589327709.jpg

Articulating the contract between science and people

By Anna Middleton1, Vivienne Parry2, Julian Borra3

ARE YOU WITH US?

For most of us it is hard to unpick the various declarations, assurances and guarantees made regarding the sanctity of our data. Even the General Data Protection Regulation still feels quite far removed from the everyday lives of ordinary people and is seemingly absent of any consultation with them. People need to both see and hear proof that they’ve been listened to. And they will act against anyone who seems to wilfully dismiss or disregard them – with every right to do so. With Facebook recently under the spotlight, there is tangible alarm about the use of our personal information by others. A breach of confidence or inappropriate access to data becomes really sensitive when we consider our most precious and personal information. In a health sense, what is more personal than our DNA? It’s what makes us ‘us’.

We broadly know that scientists, clinicians and academic institutions collect, store, research and share DNA and medical information as part of the global endeavours to understand human health and treat human suffering. As part of this endeavour DNA information bounces around the Internet on an unbelievably massive scale, in ways unknown to the person who donated the data.

We probably expect ‘science’ is gathering, storing, analysing and sharing our data with respect, transparency and integrity. Whilst we hope that there is choice in this and we hope that we have actively consented, have we ever really discussed this as a collective society? Is this even possible?

Is it widely known that particularly for genetic research it is only possible to interpret what a glitch in DNA means if there are hundreds of thousands of DNA glitches from other people to compare it to. So, Big Data and DNA go hand in hand and are necessary for genomic medicine to deliver on its promises.

But, if science is truly going to serve humankind in the best way possible we need to be clear on the terms of the interaction and transaction with people, on their terms. And to do that we need a simple and clear conversation; to be certain that we can fulfil their demands or at least understand their desires and concerns.

The need for a PEOPLE POWERED conversation

THE WHY?

A. The world of data is leaky.

B. Society’ hasn’t yet been part of a clear conversation.

When thinking about A. we have to be honest. Nothing is perfect. No data is 100% secure. No system is flawless. No regulation is absolute. No cache of information is 100% bullet proof – and if anyone promises that, they’re over promising.

This is a given that we have got to accept.

The type of data we are talking about here is the purest most precious kind, fundamental to our identity and existence. DNA and linked medical data – the foundational stuff that makes us who we are. Whilst our data might be ‘de-identified’, i.e. our name and address has been uncoupled from it, ‘anonymity’ cannot be absolutely guaranteed, because health information can always be linked to other personal information that is also on the web, and in our increasingly data-connected world, it is entirely feasible that we could, in theory, be identified from our DNA alone.

Which brings us to the B.

There are a lot of companies and regulatory bodies that broadcast commitments and assurances about data use. But as there has been no collective societal ‘sign up’ – so the pronouncements and commitments could be seen as one-sided. Aside from (relatively small scale) targeted engagement initiatives, there hasn’t yet been a global two-way conversation. No complete consultation. No reciprocity. No serious voice given to the most important people and the principal recipients of the good works undertaken with their data.

This is especially problematic when it comes to trying to get more people to share their precious DNA – their genome – to advance medical research and progress healthcare. Which is why the scientists need to ‘go first’ with starting this conversation.

THE CRUNCH

To move forwards we need:

  • the medical, clinical and academic institutions and the policy makers to clearly articulate the assumptions behind ‘people’s best interests’ and make this available for debate.
  • society to accept the tiny risk inherent in sharing their data with individuals, organisations.

We need the people on both sides to be in this together – mutually accepting and supporting the power of precious data sharing to make life better.

GOING FORWARDS

Drawing up the New Deal

Simplicity is key. Two clear parties. Two clear beneficiaries. And equally mutual rewards.

Consultation

This is a reciprocal people-powered deal that brings both sides together for better. And the people’s voice must be consulted, heard and written into it.

This will require a comprehensive consultation process involving ordinary people from all walks of society.

This should involve Qualitative and Quantitative explorations and interrogations of the topic and the terms of the deal. It should involve experts in large-scale, population engagement techniques.

How do we start the conversation?

We need a starting point for that conversation – an ‘in’; and starting with the genome isn’t it. We know from our own research that the vast majority of the broader public have not yet encountered the term. However, more than 90% of the public are online and feeding their data into the grid. Thus ‘data’ is the conversation starter that can take us to DNA.

The binary algorithms that once sat invisibly inside tech tools that serve humanity –- have now become visible – data has become a ‘thing’. Something we can point at, hold up, scrutinise and hold accountable. Data and its big brother, Big Data, are now discussed, interrogated and judged everywhere from the Senate Commission to Mumsnet.

So, Data; our relationship with it; and with those who harvest, explore and administer it ‘on our behalf’ gives us a rich area from which to begin.

The conversation needs to focus on how science and humanity collaborate and win, together.

Communication

Language and Tone are everything. Pub and school gate rules apply (i.e. it can be discussed anywhere and everyone can participate). This is a People Powered Deal. Not a Protocol.This is a simple deal that respects and honours every human’s right to control their own data destiny. And confidently go into an agreement where they believe that the terms will be upheld to the best of everyone’s ability. Which means it must be couched in clear simple terms.

Distribution

We need the New Deal to be visible to all at every level. This will require a robust channel strategy – so we would also need to test best channels for spreading the word. And answer some pretty simple questions: Is it an event based news worthy event? Is it a web based platform for commitment with visible partners? Is it a socially driven call for better – a clarion call where we give the New Deal to the people and get them to use it as a lever to agitate for better – a movement.

 

We feel it is time for science and policy to scrutinise their direction of travel – with less rhetoric about the benefits of research and delivery of science (i.e. going in one direction from them to us) and more about serving humankind, recognising that we are all in this together. We, collectively are a partnership and we need the people of society to feel they sit with the scientists so that the journey into human discovery is one made together.

 

1Head of Society and Ethics Research, Wellcome Genome Campus, Cambridge

2Head of Engagement, Genomics England, London

3Citizen, Founder of Thin Air Factory, London

 

Birds, language & the Singing Ape

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

th.jpeg

I’ve been considering a collision of sorts in regards to language and what gave voice to the human species.

And listening to The Queen Of The Night from Mozart’s Magic Flute bought it all to a point.

The three pieces that collided in my mind are Mimicry, Trees and Birds.

In regards to mimicry, I was listening to a Radio 4 piece recently where a scientist was discussing her study of Apes and their gestural vocabulary – and exploring whether the linking of multiple gestures could be viewed as proof of how language developed in us as seen through the window of Apes – a clue perhaps to our ancient passage from gestures emphasised and accented by vocal noises to language as a formal technology. The issue seemed to lie for her in the absence of syntax – the absence of a grammar that unified the gestures into threads, or sentences if you will. She was hopeful that continued and rigorous research would eventually answer this question one way or the other.

If the gestures could be linked cohesively and logically elevated by some form of grammatical logic or structure, emphasised by aural accompaniment, it could be possible to extrapolate that human language might have developed in a not dissimilar way.

Where mimicry comes into this for me is in the simple truth that humans learn language through mimicry. As babies we home in on and focus on the ‘voices’ of our parents – initially as a simple identifier – imprinting them as a source code. Then as we listen we begin to learn the sounds and the range of possible inflections, tones and emotional cadences of language long before we know the ‘meaning’ of those words or the structural engineering that brings them all together.

We’ve all heard a small child burbling away and, to all intents and purposes, having a good old chat with themselves, with all the cadences and inflections of sentence structure and frameworks, and with an understanding of the emotions carried within those sounds but without the faintest idea of any formal understanding or definition.

We share a common ancestry with chimpanzees, apes and orangutans – that of the Hominidae – and we are related most closely to chimps in regards to our DNA. When we explore the relationship between our intellect and that of the Chimpanzee we use mimicry as a tool to do this. A kind of Show and Tell and Learn system.

So if mimicry is a trait; an evolutionary ability developed in advanced apes descended from Hominidae, of which we are the most preeminent, then I sense that in mimicry lies an answer to the question of syntax and structural rhythm.

But who were we mimicking? Where? And Why?

The Birdman of Brighton with his small curiosity bird whistles and warblers set my mind in motion. Remembering the wonderment on my daughter’s face at the ability of the small fired-clay bird whistle to light up the air with its sing-song warble gave me the root human desire I was looking for. Its simply wonderful for a human, child or adult, to be able to sing like a bird. Magical. Like a trap door into a mystical place of ‘otherness.’

And this fascination is not only anecdotal and childlike.

In a more rigorous and scientific realm, Toshitaka Suzuki and his colleagues at The Graduate University for Advanced Studies in Japan have revealed that bird song and birdcalls contain complex syntactical structures – ‘sentences’ if you will.

Though the infectious nature and idea of the syntax of birdsong seems enchanting, linguists see the birds as being very limited syntactically. Studied in isolation, I’m sure they must seem limited.

But the curiosity and conundrum for me is this: an ancient creature such as bird has syntax, whereas our Ape cousins, however smart or developed, currently do not. And humans have the most complex and sophisticated language of all earth’s creatures.

Is it our sophistication and evolutionary abilities that drive this reality? Or a simpler and more ‘creature-like’ trait in us?

For my mind, we have to consider the possibility that if we cannot find the direct linguistic link between our Ape cousins and their gestural noises and our own complex, syntactical language , we must look wider and indirectly – and consider some collisions perhaps.

For example; Humans have a very ancient relationship with trees. We have a simple, symbiotic relationship with them at a primal level: we breathe in what they breathe out – and they breathe out what we breathe in. But the root of us and the roots of them are intertwined over millennia. We have evolved around and within them, developing under the cover of their canopy, drawing from the soil beneath them, hollowing them out as hallowed spaces. Taking refuge in their boughs. Living amongst their branches. Feeding on their fruits. Using their seasonal shifts like metronome for our own existence. Trees are imprinted on us. Which means we could accept one thing as broadly likely: our ancestors would have lived beak by jowl with every shade shape, nature and hue of bird for hundreds of thousands of generations.

We mimic most things when given half a chance. We certainly mimic birdsong – using calls and whistles to provoke reaction from or engagement with the creatures around us.

Why could we not consider the idea that there was an tree dwelling-ancestor in our distant past whose speciality was birdsong mimicry – to attract and to interact with them – either to catch and eat them perhaps, or in the use of them as compasses, weather vanes, soothsayers, or doom-bringers. And consider that those ancestors played a pivotal role in our adoption of the syntactical nature of birdsong. Perhaps they were hugely influential at a pivotal point in our evolution.

This makes complete sense to me. People who spend a lot of time around each other begin to align in all manner of ways. They start to adopt aspects of each other- why not each others communication? Mimicry as part of evolutionary survival over generations must imprint itself – descend beneath the surface of us. There is little reason to believe that the improved nature of our communication between each other would not be adopted by our evolving brain as something useful and therefore code for it. If the nature and syntax of birdsong became second nature to us: if our Ape like ancestors began to ‘pass on’ this ability until it became innate, then I would be able to clearly understand how the ‘Singing Ape’ would develop syntax and start to form the more complex format of communication that we have come to understand as language.

Our ancestors would simply have sharpened this ‘tool’ or technology in much the same way they sharpened stones and sticks.

There is also an ancient cautionary tale in this scenario for me. Something old even in the imagining of it.

Imagine at a point some few hundreds of thousands of years ago, on the great plain, under the cover of some acacia trees, we find a murder of exceptionally clever corvids – crows, ravens, rooks, jackdaws, jays, magpies, treepies, choughs and nutcrackers – and a scrum of our grunty, crass, Hominidae ancestors. They are at the crossroads of time: and they are playing dice.

And here’s for why. The terribly clever corvids have sensed that the Hominidae have something they want. A Prefrontal cortex. The power source of super evolution. So they have tempted our clumsy ancestors into gambling it all for the chance of gaining the sweet ‘voice’ of the corvids, and, ultimately, their ability to fly.

The greater prize? Whomsoever wins the toss of the die, will get all that’s best of the other and ascend to great heights, reshaping the world in their image. And the loser will be damned to be trapped as they are for all time.

The rest, of course, would be evolutionary history (probably).

Lene Lovich anyone?