I have not found a book so initially distasteful as this since I read Bret Easton Ellis’s “American Psycho“. I had to persevere at the beginning as much of the content was so unpleasant that it created a visceral emotional response. However, I am glad I persevered as, after a time, the satire of capitalism and consumerism was well worth reading. There are similarities between American Psycho and this book but Houellebecq’s satire is much more wide ranging and scathing. Rather than having an aspect of our society in its sights this book takes aim at the entirety of Western Culture.
This is a book about the end of our culture; a look at the end of a millennium that ‘had previously been known as Judeo-Christian’ and one that appears to be ‘one millennium too many, in the way that boxers have one fight too many’. This is a book about a culture which has lost its sense of love and purpose and has been left only with its desires and the consequential emptiness that this brings.
The narrator, of this story, has little that makes life worth living and only survives, after a fashion, by taking antidepressants to try and keep his brain biochemistry in the range where life is tolerable. He has lost love, both personal erotic love and also agape: the positives of life are absent. Similarly the negatives of life are no longer felt. He knows (intellectually) many things are wrong but he cannot feel appropriate anger or disgust. This is truly a nihilistic story. This is the story of a man, and a culture, who have huge gaping holes at the centre of their being which no amount of sex, pornography, eating or violence can fill. They are left with suicide as the rational options.
Despite these themes the book is well written and at times beautifully lyrical. It is also often very, very funny. A black desperate humour runs through this tale. This may be a problem to some readers as the author’s misanthropy and disgust with our cultural changes is very well described and it can be difficult to see, in back and white, just how debased some aspects of our lives have become. Many will find this story too excessive and gruesome, however, if you can stomach it, then it is a worthwhile read. Indeed, by the end, of this torrent of sadness and depravity the narrator, and reader, discover that only love and self-sacrifice really matter.
A small group of folk in the town had arranged a rather unusual concert for Friday night. They had organised a fusion of WelshCerdd Dant and Jamaican dub poetry. This may sound an unusual mix but there was a reason for this; the group organizing the night were researching the historical links between the local wool trade and slavery.
When I lived in Scotland I was aware of the strong link between the tobacco and sugar trades and the slave trade and there were very many reminders of this in my home town. The street names, statues and buildings all bore witness to this shameful period. I had not been aware when I moved that this was also the case in North Wales, though perhaps I was rather naïve to think there is anywhere in the country, the hub of old Empire, which doesn’t have reminders to squalid aspects of our past. In any event I looked forward to this evening as it promised something different and I had little familiarity with either of the cultural forms.
But as we gathered for the evening I started to realise something was amiss. The night was cold and wet and there had been weather warnings of rain and flooding. We had noted that the town was rather quiet but, as my wife and I sat in the bar, we realised the only others there were either the performers or the theatre staff. Quarter of an hour after the due start time only three other people had joined us – we were hardly a throng being swollen. By the start of the show the audience was outnumbered by the staff and performers by a ratio of 2 to 1, but the show had to go on!
The main act was Yasas Afari. He is a well know poet but he also is a tall, handsome, striking man who has a great deal of charisma. This was a man who was not going to be intimidated by a poor turnout and was still intent of giving his performance. He delivered his poetry with gusto and verve. There was a powerful physicality to his delivery. This was made all the more potent by the fact that at times there were literally only inches between ourselves and the performer.
This evening clearly threatened ‘audience participation‘ and I was not sure my usual strategy was going to work on this occasion. Usually I adopt a pose of studiously looking at my feet, putting a glower on my face and trying to radiate an aura of “Don’t even think about choosing me, it would be more trouble than it is worth” as a protective shield around me. This usually works, but when I comprised fully 20% of the audience I anticipated that this was not going to be successful and I was correct : I had no option but to join in.
Yasus took an evening which could have been awkward and turned it into something quite special. He had us on our feet (all ten of them), we took part in the chorus, we made pledges and said oaths, we even danced along to some of the poems (Though shuffled may be a more appropriate verb than danced). He transformed an a difficult concert into an intimate gathering and we had a great night. We discussed language and culture and the links between language and political power. He made the links between the Welsh Language and Jamaican Patois clear and obvious.
We also discussed Rastafari and whether Yasus realises it, or not, he is an obviously a preacher. By the end of the night I had a much better understanding of this religion than I ever had expected. My knowledge of Rastafari had been limited to knowing some famous names associated with it (Marcus Garvey and Bob Marley) but I knew very little of the beliefs that it contained. Much is very similar to Christianity which, I am ashamed to say, I had not realised. I enjoyed his descriptions which were vivid and clear, and was struck when he said that he though many of our current problems stem from a modern mistake. The mistake, in his eyes, is to view ourselves as bodily entities having spiritual experiences rather than spiritual entities having bodily experiences. I thought this an interesting echo of the old view of the Cathars and early gnostics.
Mr. Afari really deserved a much bigger audience. If you ever have the chance to hear him deliver his poetry give it a go, you will enjoy yourself and find yourself thinking about a variety of issues. However, I am partially glad that this night was a “flop” and had such a small audience. It delivered a great deal more than it would have with a crowd and I would otherwise never had a chance to high five the poet!
Over the last week I had a project to complete. In the lull period in the middle of lambing I wanted to extend our goat yard to create an adjacent sheep and goat pen, with hard standing and some cover, where we could undertake activities like drenching, shearing or foot clipping. We had a good area just next to the barn for this and all we needed to do was make planks and create a post and rail enclosure. While doing this kind of work I like to have a good book with me. It can be a handy companion when the work is laborious, or the weather turns foul. I found “Sapiens” by Dr Juval Noah Harari, who lectures in history at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and saw that the majority of reviews had been favourable. I thought it might be a good choice.
I was glad I did. This is a book written on a huge scale, as the title proclaims it aims to be a “brief history of humankind” and it does not shirk from trying to cover a broad story and starts millions of years ago with the evolution of groups of humans (Neanderthals, erectus, sapiens, etc) and the commences in the stone age. The bulk of the book concerns the last 200,000 years and sapiens’ history and covers the periods through the cognitive revolution, the agricultural revolution, the development of religion and money, the scientific revolution and the industrial revolution. Obviously with such a large filed to cover he needs to use a broad brush. However, this keep the book readable and lively and there are many things covered which will challenge the notions that you had held of our past. Harari has a deft writing style and make difficult concepts easy to comprehend without, I believe, oversimplifying them. He also has a good sense of humour so even sections on potentially leaden subjects become enjoyable.
There are two main strands to the book. Firstly he proposes that “inter subjective realities”, shared beliefs that humans hold (money, God, femininity, Nationhood, etc) act as the foundations of our cultures and these and the cultural impact they have are what have allowed our species to develop to extensively. The second strand of the book is to remind us of just how recent the majority of this development has been: the cognitive revolution and the emergence of language started about 70,000 years ago, but the scientific revolution only 500 years ago, and the industrial revolution only 200 years ago. The last 20 years has witnessed, with the development of the internet, a further revolution with major changes in our species’ community structures.
There is a warning running throughout the book. There is always a tendency to view the world from the viewpoint of humans and to marvel at our progress, our expansion in numbers to every corner of the globe, the domestication of our animals and the taming of our environment. However, if one looked at the history from the viewpoint of other animals now extinct, or enslaved, by our activities; or from the viewpoint of other humans in our genus (Neanderthals or Homo floriensis for example) who we probably drove to extinction; or from the viewpoint of the planet as a whole; then the picture is not as rosy and perhaps history will not be kind to our species. As our powers increase, and our desires also, we have become a very rapacious and dangerous animal. Capitalism, our current stage of development, demands constant growth and expansion to generate increasing wealth and this growth is based on ever increasing consumption. Though there are many benefits from this growth, there are also many dangers, and it is far from clear that this system makes us happier as people. Our religions served us well in times of scarcity and upheld our morals, but they do not seem to have weathered the passage of time. We are increasingly rootless individuals, atomised and alienated, and requiring the state to replace the families and communities we evolved, as a species, to rely upon. In planning for our future, we need to know of our past as blindly ploughing on carries huge risks. As Harari ends his book :-
We are more powerful than ever before but have very little idea what to do with all that power. Worse still, humans seem to be more irresponsible than ever. Self-made gods with only the laws of physics to keep us company, we are accountable to no one. We are consequently wreaking havoc on our fellow animals and on the surrounding ecosystem, seeking little more than our own comfort and amusement, yet never finding satisfaction. Is there anything more dangerous than dissatisfied and irresponsible gods who don’t know what they want ?
Harari, Yuval Noah. Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind (p. 415). Random House. Kindle Edition.
I finished the yard and the book in about the same time and, having thought about our species handling of animals, was glad I’d done something that hopefully will improve their lot.
I was quite unsettled during my recent visit to the chip shop. I was perhaps already feeling unsettled as I went in, as I was breaking all of my good New Year’s intentions. I had intended not to eat take-aways, I’d intended to prepare our meals from scratch and to maintain a healthier balanced diet. But we’d had a difficult cold and wet day in the fields and the chip shop’s warm smells and bright lights were irresistible. I had done my usual trick of thinking of excuses : I had always said I should eat more fish and I guessed potatoes in chips are, in fact, a vegetable. I’d also worked out my escape strategies; eating less the next day and doing a but more exercise to compensate. I am a master of self-deception and despite the guilt I was initially quite content standing in the queue, in the warmth, smelling the chips and vinegar, while I waited for them to deep fry my order.
My disquiet started as I watched the television high up on the wall behind the deep-fat friers. It was tea-time and the television was tuned to a music video station, MTV or something similar, and I started to watch the performances. I didn’t know any of the bands or songs and, to be honest, I couldn’t see myself rushing out to a record store to rectify my ignorance. Though not my taste, the music was unremarkable pop music. What was remarkable were the videos that accompanied the songs.
The themes of the songs, as far as I could judge, were as paeans to the singer’s virility, if male, or pulchritude, if female. I guess so many songs are, but these seemed less subtle, less sublimated than I recall songs from my youth. The men all described their unbounded stamina while the women invited you to compare them with other less-fortunate women. Both suggested you’d be better to drop your current partner and choose them if you wanted any chance at future happiness. But is was not the shallow lyrics, nor such a carnal view of love, that made me feel out of time, it was the accompanying videos.
The videos were comprised of very attractive men and women dressed in very little at all. The dancing, as far as it went, comprised thrusting the genitals, buttocks or breasts towards the camera so as to make their pulchritude fill the frame. Sometimes, lest the viewer had missed the point, it was necessary to jiggle the body parts to catch the attention of anyone who was not paying heed. These movements were coordinated into dance scenes when the dancers skilfully simulated sexual acts with each other just in case the viewer had not got the point of the endeavour. The crassness of the videos unnerved me and set me to thinking about the changes that have occurred in my life and set me to worrying about the future my grandchildren will have.
When I was an adolescent, and my life focussed on sex and all matters sexual, we would sometimes sneak into cinemas showing adult films. At sixteen we could sometimes fool a lackadaisical adult on the desk at the cinema that we were of age to enter. When successful I was able to see films, in technicolour, and with sound, of women with few clothes and some brief nudity. At times I and my friends would see actors simulate sexual acts which were less explicit than the video in the chip shop. The films I was watching in a public space, at tea time, were stronger than I had seen illicitly in cinemas where the wearing of a raincoat was almost compulsory. Times have certainly changed. Early evening music entertainment in my childhood was a man, with a variety of colourful jumpers, singing while in a rocking chair. To spice it up some dancers may have bounced demurely in the background to the beat of the music. (Val Doonican won all the NME awards in 1965 !).
I worry about these changes not because I fear the effects of nudity nor erotica. These are pleasurable. I fear these changes, as I feel pleasure, like many things, is relative. Much of the pain and pleasure we experience in life comes from the change from state to another. If you lived on a very plain diet of beans and rice then the excitement of a meal in a middle-price restaurant would be major. The epicure or gourmand, however, will not be able to enjoy ‘bangers and mash’ after a life of ‘larks tongues in aspic’. The baseline setting of our lives determines what it takes to excite us, to please us or to upset us. I think that there is a danger than this turning up of the background noise of erotica is dangerous.
When we are young we are driven to seek pleasures and focus easily on the erotic. The background setting in the 1950’s and 60′ was quite low. Modesty was considered important and as a consequence it was quite easy to be exciting and sexy – raising hemlines in to 60’s caused a stir as did the wearing of a bikini. Young boys could be excited by an underwear catalogue as it revealed the bra under the blouse. However, the excitement caused by these glimpses of nethergarments had exactly the same frisson as the excitement that boys and girls experience today when they see something risqué. But they start much nearer the top of the scale. My scale started with the excitement of seeing a ‘bra’ or a ‘leg’ and rose from there. When you start with simulated sex and crotch shots there is not a lot further to go. Therefore I fear that the total amount of pleasure that can be experienced will ultimately be smaller.
We know forbidden fruit tastes the sweetest and it is important that we keep some pleasures in reserve. By withholding gratification we allow the potential pleasure to build. If we try and enjoy everything at once we rob it of its value and end up less pleasure than we could have enjoyed. As in the warning of “Brave New World” we could end up with a world of frequent sexual activity but little enjoyment from it. Standing in the chip shop I felt I was almost there already. I felt as if in a scene from Blade-runner, in a brash, noisy, gaudy future with images and video all around, all senses stimulated and all pleasures offered but with little prospect of happiness. Next time I’ll peel some potatoes and put some carrots on to boil, it will be safer.
It seems I am out of step with the world. All of France, every reviewer in the United Kingdom, and each and every member of my book-club thought that “The Reader on the 6.27” was delightful, except for me. This small novella, by Jean-Paul Didierlaurent has won plaudits worldwide and has been successful in many different countries. It is likely to be turned into a film and I can see that this, if done successfully, could be similar to the Gallic hit “Amelie”. A similar tale of quirky characters making their way in a world that fails to understand them.
It is not that I disliked this book. It is rather too slight to actively dislike. It is a short tale of a sad lonely man working in a book pulping factory with a number of rather fantastic acquaintances (For example the security guard who only speaks in alexandrines – verses of six iambic feet). Our protagonist reads out loud random pages he has kept, after cleaning the pulping machine, while on the train to work, to the apparent delight of his fellow commuters (Presumably those not wise enough to have headphones). Once, while on the train, he comes across a memory stick with the writings of another loner, a girl who works as a lavatory attendant, and falls in love with her. After searching, and a period of what some might call ‘stalking’, they make contact and in the tradition of all Fairy Tales ‘they all lived ….. …. …….“(I have blanked out some words so as not to give away the ending).
The writing is descriptive but the characters lack any depth. They are chimera created to tell us something about literature, books and reading rather than descriptions of possible people. Their quirkiness is too overdrawn and starts to grate after a while. It was rather like eating a “French Fancy“, or petit four; a single bite it is sweet and pleasant enough, but any larger and it would become nauseating.Similarly the symbolism is rather heavily applied and we are never allowed to discover things for ourselves as the authors opinion is blatantly obvious with no room for doubt or discussion. But it is a short novel and these are minor gripes, it is all over quite quickly.
Where I seem to be discordant with the rest of the world is that I sense a seam of supercilious, misanthropy running through the text. All the characters who are not saved by a love of literature are guzzling or belching (co-workers), rutting or wanking (speed daters), or farting or shitting (toilet customers). Those who people the world outside the lives of the two autistic main characters would make anyone lock their doors and live alone.
I think this is perhaps part of the reason for its success. It is often touted as the “perfect book club book” and this is correct. It is a book which says : we are those who love books, we are often sad and alone as the barbarians outside do not recognise our sensitivities, we are not troubled by the bodily desires of the common herd, we are above all of that.
I can understand that it possibly is a case of casting pearls before swine, and hoi polloi like myself can’t suspend our disbelief adequately to engage with the novel. Perhaps I am just not sensitive enough to enjoy it. I can be considered as the large oaf sitting with a delicate little book, my big calloused hands having difficulty with the delicate pages. If there is an image of me with this book it would be the Abdominable Snow Rabbit petting Daffy Duck. So think of me as the Abdominal Snow Rabbit and take my advice on this book with this thought in mind. It is quite likely you will enjoy it, the rest of the world did, and you are almost certainly more cultured and sensitive than I am.
“The only cure for vanity is laughter, and the only fault that is laughable is vanity.”
My wife was very keen to watch ITV’s new autumn drama “Vanity Fair”. We had seen the trailers and these had piqued her interest and indeed it did look like a well made adaptation with high production values. However, I didn’t share her enthusiasm as I knew little about the book, other than its title and author, and it looked like another boring period drama and unlikely to be to my taste (I remembered the boredom of the Downton Abbey and later Poldark years). However, I also knew it was very unlikely that I was going to win control of the television remote control on those nights and therefore needed a coping strategy.
It then occurred to me – I have never read any William Makepeace Thackery! I have seen the book many times but its size and weight have always been off-putting. Casual glances inside the covers, and the illustrations inside, tended to confirm my suspicions that it was too dated and I’d be unlikely to enjoy it. But these trailers made me think, why is this book still successful after so many years? I could understand its success when it was published in serial form but why are people still reading it ? I decided that rather than wait for the television version I’d try reading the book. If nothing else came of it I could be a smug know-it-all when we watched the program later on.
I am glad I took this course of action. Not just that I read the book but also that I read the book before I saw the adaptation. The adaptation does not do the book justice. The book is a genuinely funny and biting satire. It excoriates the wealthy, the titled, the self-seeking and reveals their failing through their greed, lust, infidelity, duplicitousness, and vanity. It is a story, as Thackeray says, without a hero – no-one is safe from criticism and ridicule. Much of the writing is dated and the allegories and symbolism, as is much of the humour, relies on a knowledge of both the history of the period (Napoleonic Wars) and classic mythology. I have to confess I was glad I was reading this on the kindle as at a press of a button I could find out details on historical or mythical characters such as the god Hymen (The god of marriage as I was surprised to learn). However, despite this his humour is still wicked enough to cause one to laugh out loud (to the annoyance of my wife as was reading this in bed at night)
The television adaptation does help in that it removes some of the hurdles of the text being antiquated but I fear that it also changes the book such that it looses its heart. Some of the changes I can fully understand. Thackeray was not an abolitionist and he held quite clear racist views. These are clearly shown through the characters of Mr Sambo (‘Sam’ on the television) and Miss Schwarz (who is invisible in the TV drama). I can understand why the racist jokes were omitted but fear that this might suggest that well regarded writers in the past were not tainted with unpleasant opinions. In this book it is important to keep in mind that, although all the characters are sinners, not all men are equal in the eyes of the author. On a similar vein the TV drama seems less able to portray Becky in the harsh light of the text. She is portrayed as a feisty go-getter and we rather skim over her picaresque period of decline, her manipulativeness, her abuse and neglect of her son and her possible role in two deaths. Thackeray was able to display the shocking immorality of his puppets, it seems that this harder to do in our modern age.
I wonder if this problem of the adaptation is also why the humour fails today, When written its audience would have been well aware of the literary allusions employed by the author. Indeed it is likely most of them would have read about Vanity Fair in ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress’. They would have shared a Christian moral code and would have been very well aware when the characters in this tale transgressed, no matter what sugary words they employed in excuse. The gaps between apparent moral society and the real actions and intentions of the cast would be very clear and I am not sure that this is the case with a modern audience.
There was “no hero” in the tale I read, but the adaption possibly created a heroine to dull the edge of this literary weapon. This did blunt the whole enterprise and the television drama did, as I feared, largely end up as a period drama – lots of good costumes and a fair bit of romantic intrigue. Certainly not the funny biting satire that I had enjoyed reading. Though I did manage to become the smug know-it-all that I had hoped.
It is increasingly apparent that the left has abandoned its originators. It was through the struggles of the working class that many of the present left wing organisations were born. These movements had their roots in the organisations formed by the working class to protect their interest and promote their advancement. The trade unions were the stalwarts of the Labour Party in Britain, and to a degree remain important today, but few on the left today have more than a vague awareness that the other strand which pushed the development of the left was Christian thinking. As Morgan Phillips, when General Secretary of the Labour Party said “the Labour Party owes more to Methodism than Marxism“. In any event, any link between the Labour Party and working class organizations and culture has largely atrophied and disappeared. Now, like many organisations on the left, is more concerned with identity politics and intersectional theory than with any class struggle.
Thoughts on this subject were stirred last night when I went to see the Swedish film “The Square” which won the Palm D’or Award at Cannes. I’d heartily recommend this film to anyone who has not yet seen it as it is a biting, vicious satire which is genuinely funny but also very thought provoking. Although the main target is the “Art World” it also takes aim at the progressive elite who run our charities, government quangos, health boards, government enquiries and generally wield a large part of the day-to-day power in our society. These people talk the talk of inclusion, accessibility, sharing and caring and empowering the powerless, but rarely do they walk the walk. As the film reveals they often have a deep seated fear of the poor and have much more interest in satisfying their own needs. In the film they create art to show they care for their fellow man but fail to recognise their fellow man in need when they pass them in the street.
On the left the politics of identity and intersectionality may have been able to help some groups. Although the womens’ struggle and the fight against racism seemed to be being fought with success before this new theory took the high ground, and it is arguable how much added benefit these theories have had in advancing the causes of women and minorities in western societies. Sometimes the focus on cultural issues, and cultural identity, has indeed been counterproductive when one considers the struggles of women, or homosexuals, in Islamic countries where a blind eye has been turned to horrific events and support has been denied to those struggling for liberation. But there has been also an unintended negative consequence of these theories. Now there is a problem of what to do with white working class men and boys.
These individuals have found that ‘class‘ does not count in the hierarchy of victimhood. Poverty and powerlessness do not, in themselves, interest the left. Their struggles are no longer what drives the progressives and their culture no longer has any interest to them. When they think of white working class men they think of brutes, loud scary people with opinions they reject, the wrong ideas on Brexit and immigration. often with attachment to old fashioned cultural constructs and morals. They just don’t fit. In the world of the media and the arts they have all but disappeared. Working class men make up a third of the population but they will not be seen in our plays, films or television series except as in small roles as bigot No#1 or possibly as a wifebeater. In between the programmes on television, the adverts will show every demographic possible with the exception of white working class men. They are an embarrassment which will hurt sales, best to hide them away.
We have a culture that despises them, as Frederick Mount in his book “Mind the Gap” reported they have been “subjected to a sustained programme of social contempt and institutional erosion which has persisted through many different governments and several political fashions”. They have no political project promoting their aims and therefore is is no surprise that as a group they are suffering badly. In education, according to the 2016 report by the Sutton Trust, white pupils on free school meals achieve the lowest grades of any ethnic group. In employment and housing they are also steadily failing. These effects should have been anticipated.
The final, probably unintended, consequence of these changes should worry us all. These people who have a proud tradition of fighting for equality and for the moral good have shown themselves able to transform society. Their rejection by the left and progressive movements creates a vacuum. We can hope that new movements will form and pick up the struggle for social improvement. However, recent experience in Europe and America makes me fearful that other political movements will move to fill this vacuum. I fear it is easy to sell a project based on hate and anger to a group that has been marginalised, alienated and held in contempt. Vengeance is a powerful motivating force !
We need a progressive movement that includes everyone, particularly the majority of working class men and women who make up our society. We need to stop defining ourselves into smaller and smaller groups and trying to create our power bases and start defining what we want a good society to look like. We have to start to think we can change society and that we all have something to gain in the future. As Vance wrote in Hillbilly Elegy “We hillbillies need to wake the hell up.” – we all do – because if we don’t Trump, Orban, and Le Pen are only the first glimpse of our future. We still have a chance to stop it.
There was never any tension in this drama. We knew from the outset that it would be, like all the others, a play in which the woman was the victim telling the truth and the man was the villain. I mean, could you imagine the playwright writing that the woman had told lies ? Think about it. Miscarriages of justice are staple fare for film and television drama; the innocent accused of murder, the unfortunate either deliberately or by coincidence accused of fraud or deception. Dramas of good people trying to clear their name and reveal the truth are mainstream and common. However, though they will consider many crimes (murder, arson, theft, assault, causing catastrophic calamities) they never involve accusations of rape. That would be going ‘off message‘ and suggest that, however rarely, it is possible that the victim is not the woman but the man having been falsely accused.
This drama never deviated from the standard message. Like all clunky propaganda it beat us about the head with the party line. Listen, it said, it doesn’t matter if she has made unfounded accusations in the past, it doesn’t matter if the evidence doesn’t match her story, it doesn’t matter if she has been psychotic and held erroneous beliefs before, it doesn’t matter how you might construe her behaviour that evening – it’s simple stupid – she says she’s the victim so she is the victim. Victims never lie.
And, just to be certain (in case you had any doubts) it doesn’t matter how handsome and successful he is , how believable his story might be, it doesn’t matter that he is a caring and kind doctor, it doesn’t matter that he is a single parent bringing his son up alone after being widowed, it doesn’t matter what he says – he is the man and all men are rapists. He is the one lying.
This was not drama. This was not an attempt to show something that is usually hidden from our view, this steadfastly ploughed the accepted furrow. This was not an attempt to subvert harmful stereotypes or caricatures, this play had the standard new-age tropes a plenty. This did not try and foster sympathy for a currently abused or disadvantaged group. It did none of these laudable dramatic aims. This was simply a play to make sure the plebs “get with the programme“. It was preparation for the jury room. If you find yourself on the jury remember there is no need to weigh up the evidence, no need to consider the testimonies, no need to seek the truth. Because, we already know the truth, just stay strong and remember “the victim never lies”.
I have not seen, and may never see, the final episode but I’d wager it will be the last stage in the public education. It will be an episode which shows how terribly wrong things go when the victim is not instantly believed. If the episodes so far have not made it clear enough this is just the warning of the harm you can do when you step out of line.
Propaganda like this is so crude in its crafting that it resembles the Soviet posters with capitalist monsters (looking like the fat controller from Thomas the Tank Engine) debasing heroic proletarians, or the Nazi equivalents with hook-nosed Jews preying on the fair Aryans. As they become more crass they become more transparent, Hopefully people will see through them and they will loose some of their effect. Hopefully, because this is no way to improve society for women and men. Indeed, this probably worsens matters by continuing to attempt to polarise the argument when it is clearly the case that the truth is equally important to women and men.
Although the writers, Harry and Jack Williams, may deserve (for crimes against drama) the unjust and distrustful culture they are helping to create the rest of us don’t – but we may be obliged to share it. A future where prejudice reigns is unlikely to be a better one for our sons or our daughters.
I watch and listen to my grandchildren growing up and I am aware of a major shift from the days of my youth. It is clear that rewarding and praising children is seen as very beneficial, as has always been the case, but it is also clear that there is a new emphasis on avoiding rebuke or expressing disappointment. There seems now to be a drive to give praise whenever possible, I note the most prosaic of actions being flattered and the most quotidian of results being rewarded. Failure seems something to be ignored, something to be avoided, something that needs to be brushed under the carpet and ignored.
In discussion with my offspring it seems that they are keen to keep any feelings of disappointment, or recognition of failure, away from children for a long as possible. Games are organised so that everyone wins and all get prizes, the belief is that this strategy will aid self-confidence and self-esteem by avoiding damaging early criticism. But is this the case?
Self-esteem arises from our awareness of our talents. It is recognition of our worth based on our achievements. Any self-esteem gained through empty praise of unremarkable actions is surely false. An ego based on such flimsy foundations would indeed be weak. The stimulus of praise to guide us to achieve will be missing and it might prove difficult for children to know how to aim their endeavours.
The absence of the experience of failure will also mean that the child misses out on a vital corrective experience.Wisdom is created by experience, we need to know what fails so that we can avoid mistakes in future. Since the ancient Greeks we have know that we need to try things in which we fail in order to develop :-
“Zeus, who guided mortals to be wise, has established his fixed law— wisdom comes through suffering. Trouble, with its memories of pain, drips in our hearts as we try to sleep, so men against their will learn to practice moderation. Favours come to us from gods seated on their solemn thrones— such grace is harsh and violent.”
and this is echoed in the maxim “Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.” (Albert Einstein)
So far, I think most people would agree with me about the usefulness of the corrective effects of failure. But I feel that there is another wider reason we need to be able to compete and to learn what it is like to fail. When we compete and win we learn about areas in which our skills excel, we learn which skills we possess in which me might take some pride and our confidence and esteem are bolstered as a consequence.
When we fail we learn another vital lesson, we learn that others may be better than us. They may be smarter, faster, stronger or wittier than we are. It is important to recognise this. We are born egocentric and self-centred we need to learn that others are separate and equal characters. We need to know that in some areas other people may surpass us and that we are not the unique focus of the world. It is this balance of aiming for self-actualisation while at the same time respecting the autonomy and equality of others which allows us to develop fulfilling relationship in the world and to develop our character. Our individual and collective future depends upon this and I hope we are not undermining our options by these changes.