Identity, Identity politics, Politics

Dilemma of the Diaspora Darlings: #BlackisBeautiful, #TransisBeautiful – Minority Mania in its prime

The concept of identity is a vibrant one, but although currently susceptible to increasing regression, at least according to the estimable Brendan O’Neill. Certainly – he’s got a leg to stand on (an Irish, Catholic, lower middle class leg – we mustn’t forget that!).

During the “Identity politics dissected” debate at the most recent Battle of Ideas festival, O’Neill was heard to branded gender fluidity as “the weakness of identity” and named the phrase “I identify as” as both “weak and contingent”. Additionally, the concept of an “aerogender” – a newly coined term fresh from Tumblr’s ample uterus, referring to a gender dependent upon one’s surroundings/situation. According to O’Neill, this proposal is “insane”, reminiscent of a “split-personality”, indicative of the irrevocably “fragile, hollow” nature of identity. (My exaggeration detector just went off like mad.)

O’Neill’s attitude is as unhelpful and puzzling as those he criticises. By feeling the need to justify why the existence of an “aerogender” bothers him, he instead appears threatened by these freshly “ludicrous” developments in transgender politics. One is able to envisage a boa constrictor striking forth, immediately imbibed with the need to defend. Is he the white knight, mounting the brave opposition against our teenaged termagants? No. Instead he’s tilting towards the Conservative, traditionalist angle: “this is ludicrous – because I say so”, revitalising the archaic “hysteria narrative” of a bygone age – PC run amok.

“Identity politics”, as it is commonly known, is appealing to the needs of a “minority” or a “marginalised group”. It needs to exist, because our harried, put-upon society does not possess the wherewithal to address each and every concern of these minorities. In its more useful manifestations, it can be pretty darn effective: during the 1960s and 70s, “positive discrimination” allowed for certain economic gains for people of colour, particularly those unfortunate enough to be interred within the stifling, stagnant confines of that ethological horror: the “Southern state”. Now, however, doubts have been cast upon the relevance of its existence.

Currently, to our deepening sorrow, racism has become the only way to beat racism. If being “racially superior” is what gains rights and power, minorities must also prove themselves superior, in order to gain these rights. Let’s consider a black and white example (no pun intended), in which the tables are gradually being turned. White individuals are increasingly being viewed as “weak”, due to their distinct lack of melanin – that esteemed, now enviable chromosome, guaranteed to banish all quenchable “pastiness” and transform you into the much desired, glowing brown goddess. The term “strong, black woman” is now ubiquitous; “strong” and “black” are almost interchangeable within our 21st-century sociolect. Hatred begets hatred – or rather, disdain begets disdain. And how do the non-marginalised respond? Now they’re bemoaning the onset of “white guilt”, and are now compelled to deliver reparations (peruse at your own risk): Each side clinging onto their identity caps, with the tenacity of a small child embracing a much mangled teddy bear. Never was a small child so dissatisfied.

Certainly, regarding the mandatory need these days to “identify as X”, O’Neill clearly has a point. The need to impress diagnostic labels upon ourselves demonstrates our society’s fundamental need to compartmentalise. According to O’Neill, the assertive “I am” scotches all sense of fragility. However, let’s indulge our inner-grammar Nazi for a brief moment – the terms I “am” and I “identify as” are largely interchangeable; both are conditional, based upon context. What is present, exuding potential, within the core of both, it the implacable need for transformation – the desire for a metamorphosis, a transfiguration, a bid for self-advancement. For now, let’s address O’Neill’s biggest concern – the “aerogenders”. So, people feel like a change in accordance with their environment. How exactly does this entreaty pose a threat?

Transformation is the name of the game. ’Fess up to it. Although transgender and gender-fluid teens may cling desperately onto the shores of their “identity”, in the manner of a Catholic priest threatened with a condom, all of us deal in flexible identity cards, hoarding them on the sly. If it’s not your race/class/sex/religion it is instead your position, your Marxist past, your political affiliations, which are transitive. You are the esteemed “education correspondent”, the “luxury automated communist”, the “tech evangelist” or even worse, the “prime minister”. These names also smack of self-importance – another example of a “desperate need for validation”, this time discernible within a wider demographic. An unsettling number of the parental population also feel the need to include their familial status within Twitter bios, alongside their hard-earned noteworthy positions, as if to celebrate the “achievement” of succumbing to one’s biological urges. Again, this is an example of an inherent, congenital fragility – or, in the words of the venerable O’Neill, the “fragile self” in need of a “therapeutic scaffolding”. (Maybe they need to reassure themselves that two years of nappy-changing and vomit-cleaning was worth it. Either way, we don’t need to hear it.) All of us are slaves to our self-image, known to members of our youth as the “#imagegang” epidemic: the evidence is scattered, yet apparent. We are all guilty.

The gender politics advocated by our young, transgender-aware populace – e.g. the usage of the recently coined pronoun “ze” – may, at first glance, appear entirely perverse when compared with the plight of homosexual males in Chechnya. I get it. They’re complaining of a first-degree burn, whilst there are others roasting out there on the spit of their humanity. Get off that cross, kids; someone else needs the wood. As the estimable Joanna Williams  observes, dictats upon language:  “reveals the narcissism inherent in much of the current obsession with the idea of gender as a construct […]The truth about gender, […] is located not in objective reality, and definitely not in biology, but in an individual’s head. People are to be referred to as what they say they are, irrespective of all evidence to the contrary.”

Yes, Mrs Williams, perhaps narcissism is at the root. Regardless, don’t besmirch the narcissistic state – it’s not necessarily a bad thing. What’s wrong with a good, honest narcissist? Half of them are ruling the country – scratch that, the world. If transgender teens were indeed narcissistic, they would be demanding recognition each and every second. Your eight year-old daughter’s desire to hurriedly change clothes every hour is not deemed “fragile” – your small son’s penchant for Disney princess dresses is not viewed as repugnant, or as O’Neill so skilfully articulates, “a bit tragic”. Both are infant expressions of transformation, a desire to regenerate. In a similar manner, the introduction of the pronoun “ze” is by no means revolutionary. This level of disparagement is hardly expedient, nor should it be directed solely towards the “gender-fluid” youth of our society.

Journalists such as Brendan O’Neill have a pay check motivation to criticise the young, I understand. All’s fair in love and business: exaggeration is the aim of the game. But consider this: I’ve never been directly bullied. I have no issues with the gender I was assigned with at birth, when I stop to give it a passing thought. Did I incessantly long for the chance to slam The Second Sex into the face of every classmate who pronounced herself bisexual? (There were ten born every minute; you’d need the I-Spotter’s guide.)

Yes. But I abstained; my fingers stilled, albeit reluctantly, on the sword hilt.

To unequivocally deride those who campaign for social justice is to entirely disregard those who are religiously indoctrinated from birth, and consequentially deprived of knowledge: there is another way of life, in which you are not shunned for your sexuality.  They are not simply “reading a blog post and deciding ‘I feel like that too'” (O’Neill, verbatim). This assertion, whilst exuding  an unpleasant odour of paltry concern infused with arrogance, is also an entirely facile judgement. Not all of us have the good fortune to exist within a heretical, atheist-ridden world, blissfully drenched in hedonism, devoid of such nonsensical, exemplary values. Not all protestors are “Tumblrinas”. Some are facing increasing abuse, and imminent death.

I look upon our young, aerogender, “pro-ze” campaigners as the lesser of two evils. Better to raise the issue than to completely disregard it, or deny its existence. I’m not standing up for Tumblerina caterwauling – I am standing up for sexual assignment therapy in the U.S. I’m standing against the rising occurrence of transgender suicide and self-harm – now at a staggering 30% and 42% respectively. And so what if they use social media as their principal forum? Tumblr may be populated with #fandom, squealing teenaged girl diatribes and the immortal “nyan cat”; however, at certain times of need, it can be put to good use.

If I gave you a gun, or pack of hand grenades, you wouldn’t simply fling them out in all directions, and then proceed to shoot yourself in the head. Or maybe you would. However, if you were of an inquiring disposition, you might instead think: hey. What do I have in my hands? The ability to get others to respond; an indomitable Valyrian-steel sword; imbibed with the power to defend. They will listen to me, when I’m holding a gun to their head. No, I’m not comparing a Twitter feed to being shot in the conk. Perhaps a slight peppering of bullets instead. 

The mainstream media is certainly responsible for shoving a brutal spotlight onto transgender rights: articles consist of purely nonsensical assertions, circulated by anxious parents, who, blinded by false media rhetoric, believe that social media is “convincing” their darling little Tommy that he instead harbours a strong desire to become Tilda. Tumblr, circulating useful information regarding gender fluidity (aero-sexual notwithstanding), can be viewed as an alternative source of information – one of paramount importance to those unfortunate youngsters who remain interred within the tomb of fundamentalist prejudice. These aerogender fanatics may be still in their pre-operational, toddler-tantrum stage of development, but they’ll grow up soon. And they’ll come for you, trailing their social media barrage. O’Neill, you’d better start hiding. We’ll discover your tattered remnants during the next archaeological dig through Twitter.

Screen Shot 2017-06-18 at 18.55.03Above: Final tumblr post of Leelah Alcorn, 17 years old transgender teen: 1997-2014). Just remember: unwavering, derisive indifference can culminate in an execrable end.

Older generations may regard the rise of transgender rights and visibility something that have been manifested through Beatniks – simply a lapse into classic counter-culture, easily disregarded as a “phase”. However, these young activists are also precipitating our society into shades of understanding; scrubbing away the cobwebs of self-doubt, the need for a binary gender. Certainly, those who regard themselves “gender-fluid”, transgender, or aero-sexual are coining rigid, almost absurd terms of identification – but they are present, in all their undisguised, angst-ridden, Tumblr-fuelled nonage. These ideas are gradually trickling into our present rhetoric, flitting from cyberspace, across the border to the “real world”, rootling their way into every waking mind across the world. And that makes them tangible. Their oscillation can be viewed as strength – for an idea to gain such traction, it is satisfying a lingering drought with a long-desired drenching of spring rain.

Ideas are created in response to deprivation. Every social media hashtag, each tweet proclaiming oneself as x/y/z – is comparable to peeling off a wet stocking with ease, allowing the skin beneath to breathe at last.

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Politics

Greening’s Grammars: Irresolute Ideology vs. Rampant Realism

To my twelve year old self, the terms “school”, “education”, and the “Church of England” evoked instinctual obedience, abhorrence and then, finally, through a desperate struggle, a veneer of supreme indifference. Following Justine Greening’s declaration on grammar schools, and Theresa May’s Easter epistle on Anglican archaism, I am again experiencing a similar reaction, ranging from slight exasperation to untempered, fully-fledged repulsion.

Oh Jesus, you think. Here she comes, the latest millennial warrior; an avenging Amazon, emblazoned with righteous anger, determined to knock traditionalism back into the body bag of the twentieth century. The return of the grammar school: a 1960s relic, dragged into a twenty-first century environment. Perfect! Adulation for Anglicanism, dragging us further back into the antiquated realms of the nineteenth century. Why not?

So, grammar schools. What do we know?  How do we win the right to besmirch their gold-paved corridors with our plebeian soles? Apparently, your eleven-year old sprog has to pass the elusive “11-plus”: a scintillating combo of words, numbers and symbols, which supposedly affirm their “IQ” levels. Be prepared to surrender a good chunk of your salary, working-class parents: your darling Tommy, unless he’s a born genius, will have to be grilled through six months’ worth of tuition, costing on average £35 an hour. Is your wallet smarting yet? I’m not done. Then, you’ve got to factor in the cost of workbooks: an average of £8 each. Be prepared to buy up an unlimited number – they’re pumping out new editions every week (marketing. Yes, it always works).

According to Greening, and those backbenchers she hopes to impress, grammar schools will improve “social mobility”. Welcome to the havens of the secondary school system: clean, quiet, strongholds of learning. The “diamonds in the rough” or rather, the “diamonds of the classroom, twinkling IQ points”, cannot be tainted by rubbing shoulders with their inferior, low-IQ classmates – otherwise known as “the Great Unintelligence”. Never mind sticking them at the back of a classroom – let’s just chuck them out on the rubbish heap. You passed an “exam”, consisting largely of circling numbers and symbols, at the age of eleven. Congrats! Welcome aboard – you’re definitely going to succeed in life. My inner oracle confirms it.

But here’s the thing: you’re not judging kids based on their intelligence levels. You’re judging them on their ability to tick boxes and circle letters in a so-called “IQ test”, in which success usually depends upon a sizeable chunk of tutoring. Here, you’re clearly limiting yourselves to a marginalised portion of society: they’ve already got off to a good start. Average “working class” parents, who may already find it difficult to supply their children with necessary revision materials, are obviously unable to meet these terms. Those who score well in the “11 plus” are more likely to come from a privileged background: wealthier parents are clearly able to supply their tuition needs.

“Social mobility.” What’s that when it’s at home? According to Dictionary.com: “the movement of individuals, families and households from one (lower) social strata to the other”. And grammar schools will achieve this – how? Yes, you may get the odd pupil who isn’t trailing familial wealth and support behind them, but these are four-leafed clovers in a sea of un-plucked, disregarded dock leaves. The rest are discarded, flattened out before they’ve even begun. (You need to pop that bubblewrap, drag these molluscs out of their shells, and throw them in a frying pan full of East Indian, culturally diverse spices. Ding! The oven vomits up freshly-browned class warfare. That’ll soon sort them out. Social mobility: achieved.)

I am in no way discrediting the principle of examinations, at any age. Better to have a few hard whacks at eleven, than to trundle through early puberty, without any true academic axe to grind against. I’m no protective mother-bird, anxious to cushion my little sprog against failure: but as soon as high school is reached, there is no shortage of academic tomahawks, trust me. At my secondary school, the multi-cultural, St Trinian’s-esque prototype, we were stuffed into pidgeon holes as soon as we hit twelve. Streamlined teaching is a facet of secondary education; it is a common practice within our loathed comprehensives – that is, if there are any teachers available to impart this coveted knowledge.

Through the implementation of the grammar school policy, Greening is ostensibly pouring money down a sinkhole. Propping up a few more pearl-encrusted citadels of learning will not rectify a broken education system, smarting beneath a chronic lack of funds. The “academic wasteland” of the local comprehensive will remain, looming in the shadows, chock full of forlorn, lost souls, who will go to their graves with the epitaph: “here lies Fiona, the one who failed her eleven plus”.  Why not divert the splurge into our existing comprehensives? Greening is pouring an avalanche onto already crisp, fresh spring-grass, whilst parched scholastic deserts across the United Kingdom cry out for relief.

Picking grammar schools is akin to choosing a crystallised glass of Cabernet Sauvignon over a bottle of good old Pinot Grigio. It comes down to personal preference – a parent’s irrational, self-indulgent desire to retain some semblance of “choice”. Greening’s latest axiom – “ordinary working families” – is contrived in order to garner the support of the lower middle class. It is an example non-specific, generalised terminology with which the majority of the populace will identify, mistakenly believing that the state is addressing their intimate concerns – a classic vote-winner.

Is it ideologically sound? Yes. Is it realism? No.

Otherwise known as “hypnotic language”, this technique has, alas, been used with great success by certain politicians and charismatic leaders (thinking here particularly of that man with the badly-dyed cranial appendage, currently wreaking havoc in the United States). This is the nature of abuse within our misshapen political relationship – falsehoods delivered beneath the guise of love. Perfume sprinkled over garbage.

The idea of the “grammar school” is the manifestation of a desire to propagate a sequestered generation, cushioned within the insular world of “like-minded” individuals. Their success is purely case-study based and therefore, supremely reductionist: it incites instinctual trust, whilst founded upon an entirely anecdotal premise. When leafing through the obituary section of the Telegraph, you will observe the many notable, British-born individuals of the “baby-boomer” generation, many of whom are either: privileged disciples of Eton, or indigent grammar school attendees. Clearly, an entire demographic has been eclipsed: the working classes who were cast off this intermittent social-aspiration ship, now left to drown in obscurity.  5% were allowed to trickle through those hallowed halls, and soar to the heights – leaving 95% stuck on the ground, unmentioned.

Having attended four different schools throughout my childhood, each of varying positions within the hallowed league tables of the Telegraph, I consider myself a wrung-out dishcloth as far as the education system is concerned. I’ve experienced polar opposites: the good, the bad and the beastly. Private, failing, secular, non-secular. One aspect, however, has remained clear: educational attainment is not affected by institutional prestige. Whilst attending what many viewed as the worst institution in my local area, second only to Borstal, I met a variety of individuals, each of varying degrees of intelligence, each possessed with a fierce desire to learn. We were perpetually underfunded, when compared to the numerous non-secular schools in the area. Parents were constantly yanking their kids out of the school throughout Year Seven; the most common response to the frequent “Where have they gone?” apart from the obligatory “Arrested/JDC/deportation” came the oft-repeated adage: “x has gone to the Christian school/the grammar”. Teachers sucked their teeth, remarking to themselves: “She dodged a bullet, that one.”

Nevertheless, we thrived, defying societal expectations. We engaged in scholarly discourse surrounding the prevalence of domestic violence, mitosis, and how to put a condom on a banana (trust me, it’s harder than it looks). We dabbed concealer on our adolescent acne (one of the least-esteemed rites of passage), and engaged in numerous debates whilst stuck in interminable lunch queues. We shed blood, sweat and consecrated tears over Islam v. Christianity (my answer: neither), I befriended individuals who were – oh, shock horror! – different from me; I joined the debating club, the science club, the Young Chamber of Commerce. We were the guinea pigs, injected with every ejaculation sprayed from our famed, reputable teaching profession: each erratic discharge infusing us with heightened academic vigour.

Agonising? Exasperating? Hell, yes. Did I occasionally want to chuck a chair out of the window, and run screaming for the hills? You bet I did. Take the good with the bad; an inexorable firing in the comprehensive kiln can create an individual of iron-clad resilience.

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Identity politics, Politics

Fast and Fascist: Our youthful despots

What is the ultimate difference between a Stalinist, totalitarian state, and the average, 21st century university campus, populated by the fluorescent-haired, bespectacled creature known as the “Tumblr feminist” or the “social justice warrior”? (A better-suited term would be social justice pariah.) The answer: one was headed by an overweight, masochistic despot, whereas the other is propagated by your average tax-evading teenaged son or daughter.

Universities possess their very own hierarchy, almost reminiscent of the blatant class warfare of the 1930s-50s, so successfully satirised by Tom Sharpe. However, we are no longer trading in old English surnames, country estates and inheritance funds (although there are, of course, exceptions to this rule) – instead, it’s an endless competition, a continuous swarm, a catwalk of connivance: the battle over who is the most racially, sexually and religiously ostracized. Step aside, Miss Universe, and welcome Miss Diverse to the stage. There is no longer a middle ground. According to O’Neill, university students have effectively transposed the “fascist model” of the 1930s; they are akin to the Brown Shirts of Hitler’s book-burning, intellectual-murdering regime, obliterating all semblance of free speech. You step into a lecture theatre; they’ll take your coat, whilst they check your white privilege. You’re pale: check. Heterosexual: check. Christian? Check. Your coat’s made of tweed? You must be middle class: check. You’ll have to dodge the flying pens and hard-backed copies of Critical Race Theory as you make for the nearest exit.

But how did this police state begin? It didn’t simply spring up overnight; it’s a product of a prolonged roasting inside a scholastic prison, in which we are condemned to boil from childhood to young adulthood. I served my sentence in a multitude of these, where I was introduced to identity politics and “social justice warriors” in all their youthful, untried, 21st century flesh. Yet I survived. I’m torn, scratched, bleeding, doubting my sexuality, ethnicity and indeed, my sanity, but I survived. How’s that for a victory?

Yes, Millennials are annoying. They’re whiny, bratty, selfie-obsessed; they spend inordinate amounts of time watching funny cat videos and tweeting under: #relationshipgoals. But we are all, to a certain extent, moulded by our environment. Repeated exposure to radiation will leave you with cancerous cells – just as constant dipping into the educational bloodbath may eventually leave you infected with AEDs (Avaricious Entitlement Disorder). According to social learning theory, we tend to reproduce behaviour displayed in our immediate environment – which for most millennials, has largely consisted of the warm, stifling, deodorant-peppered air of the high-school classroom. It sends us forth, armoured in Benjamin Zephaniah, clutching our rape kits to our educated bosoms. These are the people trawling university campuses across Britain and the U.S, armed with their fascist fanaticism. You can’t clap or whoop in order to express your appreciation; perhaps it will “trigger” a few delicate females within the audience. One cannot use the word “slave” without having their current livelihood snatched from under them before they can say “Martin Luther King”.

Such is the regurgitated result of our current education system, in all its mangled glory. Perhaps some of the blame can be directed towards those who have, arguably, helped create these mini-monsters? If you repeatedly pacify a bratty, wailing toddler, it will continue to stamp its feet and wail some more – because it knows that this works. Every single stage of our adolescent lives has been managed by an elusive, extraneous source, which is fiercely rooted within our “auspicious” education system. Some have referred to it as the “nanny state”; the oppressive, governmental influence, robbing us of our fundamental rights in a manner which is largely incongruous: “we can have sex, publicly, on Brighton beach – but we’re not allowed to smoke on it”. (Brendan O’Neill, people – talking about the real problems). Kicking these rather inane issues aside, let’s carve down to the bones.

It’s largely a matter of operant conditioning. You felt safe, secure, validated within school classrooms: each time you highlighted a so-called “minority opinion” in all its stinging fluorescence, you were rewarded with a gold star, a house point, a glowing remark on your report. English literature exams: “Jane Eyre is built largely upon colonial wealth”, “Atticus Finch is a segregationist” – tick, tick. Drag out the injustices, the more the better. Mandatory appreciation of a marginalised race every October – bang. We played the diversity card. The human resources department gets another smattering of government funds.

Two more years of gruelling advanced qualifications aren’t enough for some; instead, it is necessary to popped back into the fiery ovens of academia for a second roasting. University modules: “Empire and the Colonial: Race, Genders, Sexualities”. Let’s break out the brush of the marginalised, and flick multi-coloured drops across our whitewashed curriculum. The real squirts of knowledge and logical reasoning can only be drizzled on a university-cooked pie. Young adults must march directly from the cooking pot to the slaughterhouse, where they must pay to be eviscerated. Seated upon an intellectual throne, they are free to survey the masses, whilst aping the behaviour of their esteemed lecturers, who repeatedly cave to their demands.

Millennials are not a monolithic group. Those shaking their heads and declaiming in horror: “Jesus, this lot are our future policymakers!” – have no fear. There are tons of other young whippersnappers roaming free from the cage, already with one leg up the industry ladder; there’s more than one way to get into parliament, and university is no longer the sole option. They’re out there, people. You just need to get better at looking.

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creative writing, Literature, poetry

Mangled Fledglings

Hegemony Through Perspex

I am plagiarised scum.

Every day I paint the smudges your walls

Collecting spit, dead cells

Think lipstick, a dried curl on frosting.

I like to come to you at night,

When you are clear of congestion

(ugly? I know, it’s a by-product)

 

Lick the gravel. Hint of diamond

Cut; I was a frog. Bulbous,

Tasting blueblood, mechanical riches

Cast from the molten ore, Scavenger abounds

What is significance? – I am to you is to them is to me

Squeeze the wax from the polecat’s ears

 

Drag out thick wire mesh of brain      Ambivalence, fuck you ambivalence

Pull fat sausage guts, pustules steeped in vinegar

They’re behind me, spit, howl for blood.

To taste that cold gun metal

Moulds each ligament of your mail, each burnished plate.

 

Stuff your pearls down your oesophagus,

“We regret to say that we cannot accept –”

 

Ebstein Barr

Bites

Harshly pulsates, mottled crab mountains on a shit-stained envelope

Why do I come swallow so quickly?

Fifteen Minutes

Nuts and bolts in the back – Put up your Dukes!

Lions fuck every fifteen minutes

Barbed vegetable, my weapon of choice

You

Caught writhing on a fingernail,

Don’t waste your fears gripping away at broken strands

Strands broken bite pull the weed

Raw, tempered steel feathers

Oculus – Boiled, blistering, torrid

Unhatched

Crush your china teeth on silk.

 

They

Frigid

“An ordinary resting heart beat ranges from 60-100 beats per minute.”

Puer – devour, gorge, feast.

 

Beautiful girls. I hate beautiful girls with warm ochre glow, exquisite supple roughness of a russet coat                they grow, plump apples, snatch, throttle   cherubic purity of face dark almond windows to a gooey, half-risen loaf                 as malleable as clay     once I sprinkled arsenic on your toast and you fed it to the cat                     stupid dead cat       you had a crack down the middle of your left brow and your dick was mottled like raw ham and smelled like it, too        dirty drains dirty words dirty dogs    the silk wrapped around shelled mollusc, vile            I raised the hulk of poisoned flesh, felt the warm silkiness of the liquid seeping down my legs, threw my head back and breathed –

 

“Don’t you want to see it?”

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Uncategorized

(Day 4) “No extra words than a machine would have extra parts”

The above quote, my friends, describes exactly what a sentence in a good article should be like, according to the esteemed Mark Gilbert, Bloomberg News, who graced us with such wise words at the end of today’s session. Instead of admiration for his skill with metaphors, I felt a sense of dread. If anyone is guilty of putting extra words in a sentence, it’s me.

IMAG0471 (My mug shot.)

And of course, in the harried, harsh, unforgiving world that surrounds journalism and news today, I would certainly find it difficult to conform to the word limits of editors (time constraints could be met, perhaps, with practice). One of the skills so prized by Mark Gilbert is the skill of self-editing, which I unashamedly admit is lacking in myself. However, I think that the ability to self-edit effectively comes at a price: to an extent, it is almost self betrayal. When I type a sentence or paragraph that I can approve of completely (which is rare enough in itself) I am loathe to edit it in any conceivable way. Now, that may seem vain, but it’s the truth; if you take pride in your work then consequently you cannot bear it when the red pen slashes through your hard written work with as little mercy and as much brutality as a sharpened dagger.

But what I have found is that writing, when it is good writing, shouldn’t be at all hard to accomplish. Realistically, something that did not take a great deal of effort to write – almost none at all, if possible – would be better than an essay in which the author has struggled to pen two sentences that flowed, and tried and failed to make sense of their own mind and internal voice. Because that’s what it comes down to: the fluidity of the internal voice. It should be as serene and eternal as a flowing river; ever present, resurfacing at times of need. Unless of course you hit, as many writers have, the inevitable dam of writer’s block. I suppose that one of the beauties of journalism is that there is always something to write about; there is always a story, it is just a matter of finding it. You must probe the person you are interviewing to eke the story out of them, as if wringing out every drop of water from a dishcloth. As Mark Gilbert advised, it is better to sit in silence when interviewing: “Learn to shut the fuck up, and let them fill the space with words. People hate silence, it makes them uncomfortable.” This is certainly true; pretty obvious, when you realize it.

It is clear to me even more now, after today’s session and the sessions that preceded it, that to be a journalist you cannot be a one-trick pony. You must be “a carpenter with a toolbox” to quote Mr Gilbert, who also verified that you certainly don’t to be an expert on economics to work at a financial magazine.  If the job today does not require a screwdriver, get the hammer out instead, and wield it with the same scrupulous precision. When asked if he found financial journalism hard or boring, he answered, “It’s terrifying; but never hard. It’s about people, and people are always fascinating.” He likened it to throwing darts at a blackboard littered with topics; whichever one you hit is the topic of the day, and you make it into something worth reading. And this proves my previous point to be valid: it all depends on your own internal monologue, and whether you can make something interesting to the reader. This is why I am unable to convey any sense of aloofness or dispassion when I write, as I mentioned in one of my previous blog posts about the Mick Hume session we had on Saturday: how is one able to be less opinionated, yet still maintain the reader’s interest and allow for their own personal style? The answer is: you can’t. No, I will backtrack with haste; hell, of course you could, but it would be a complete waste of time for someone like me, who is unable to maintain any impartiality when discussing anything. The opinion is what makes it worth reading. If there’s no passion, there’s no point. Why should someone enjoy something you have written, or be affected by it, or experience any emotion whatsoever from it, if you yourself haven’t felt the same? And if you felt like shit when writing it, or were so dispirited and blasé about the entire thing, it would come across in the finished product. How do I know this? I read voraciously, any time, any place, anywhere. I read to take my mind of my own problems, I read to educate myself about other people and their problems, and other lives and times and places so different to my own. Having recently read Gone with the Wind (I intended to tackle it for a long time, but never got round to doing it until about a week ago) I can certainly detect fervour, zeal and vehemence when it drips off the pages of this book. The vibe, whether it is remorse, agitation, dedication, resentment; it should be as tangible as a boiled sweet. The aftertaste should remain on the tip of your tongue. I’ve been writing as long as I’ve been breathing; that’s what it seems like. Why should I stop writing? Why should I stop breathing? The response to both would be the same. For the true master of penmanship, writing should be what eating is to a starving person: a constant joy and craving. And if I have to relentlessly pimp myself to get what I want, then I will do it. In the words of recently deceased icon, Robin Williams: “You’re only given one little spark of madness. You mustn’t lose it.”

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(Day 3) Paul McCartney… nope. Unfortunately it was Paul McCarthy.

This beautiful summer evening would certainly have lost a significant amount of appeal, had we not been graced with the presence of Paul McCarthy, previous sport editor at the News of the World and Managing Director of MaccaMedia at Canary Wharf today. Prior to this, we went through the gruelling experience of being nagged about lateness. God, there’s nothing I loathe more than adults assuming an authoritative air over young people who are classified as young adults (as we were reminded multiple times on Saturday, to the point where I longed to throw a brick at the next person who mentioned it). Not to mention being rather pointless, (as such reprimands are always disregarded, trust me) it also seems rather hypocritical. As I have thought often and oft throughout my twelve years of full time education; to earn respect you must give respect, and if you expect someone to act like an adult do not treat them as if they were a child, and presume to tell them something they already know.

Anyway, onto Paul, who also toppled dramatically in my favour. He began with the stale, hackneyed term: “It is difficult to get into journalism.” (Well, no shit. If I thought it was easy, I wouldn’t be here.) He wanted to be a footballer, got injured, dreams crushed…but realized that he had to be involved in football, in whichever way possible (right there, I lost all ability to relate to him. The idea of dedicating your life’s work to a sport is entirely too foreign to me). Of course he had worked for his local paper as Alain Tolhurst recommended…nothing I didn’t already know. All that was really apparent was his bubbling enthusiasm and delight in his job: the amount of times “fantastic” and “best thing in the world” were repeated, I practically lost count. We were advised to record anything we saw or heard that could be of any interest, and “get our own writing style”. Another banal sentence I’ve heard too many times this week. It’s really not possible to “get” your own writing style, in my opinion. You’ve either got one, or you don’t, and if you claim otherwise, then how the hell did you write before you became aware of this?

Lots of c words were standing out to me during Paul’s rant: Have strong opinions, CONVEY your opinion, maintain enthusiasm as your writing reflects it, CAPTURE it, do it with CONVICTION and CONFIDENCE. Which is all well and good, but pretty much impossible if you have no conceivable interest in sports. This made the writing task also difficult for me, knowing nothing of Luis Suarez at all, and having no idea that the biting footballer was him. Well I warned you, didn’t I? Don’t look so astonished at my ignorance.

“Don’t be scared to let people see your writing. Get stuff out there, learn from criticism.” Well, I’m doing that right now, aren’t I? Putting my work up on the internet for all to see and bombard with insults: oh, the joys of social media. McCarthy informed us, self importantly, that sport provokes emotion and passion, which must be reflected your writing. Well, he certainly hit the nail on the head there; that much was obvious to me. Passion: any kind of zeal, enthusiasm, emotional intensity…all of it must be conveyed through writing. And I hope I am conveying to my rabid readers right now the sheer indifference and dislike that I have for something as mundane as sport. And before you start spouting any sexist bullshit: no, it’s not because I’m a girl. It’s because I simply do not give two shits about it, regardless of my gender. It really is ridiculous, the amount of times that basic fact has to pointed out to people: neither your gender, nor your sexuality, has any impact on your likes or dislikes of certain things, whether it be sports, makeup, the colour pink, whatever.

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(Day 2) Photoshop is for the lowest of barbarians

And now for an account of the much anticipated photojournalism session at Thomson Reuters, creators of the Wider Image app (an app I have never heard of but will certainly download when I get the chance to use someone else’s Wifi).

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I learnt that all forms of Photoshopping, also known as photomanipulation, are for the lowest of barbarians. (The vigour of hatred for Photoshop made me regret all the times I had ever used such vulgar software.) The slideshow of photos we were shown at the beginning of the session sent a number of important issues circling through my mind: War, obesity, Poverty, Horse racing, Breastfeeding in public, the status of royalty… I might as well tell you now that I absolutely despise any person who idolises royalty. In actual fact, I despise any person who idolises any celebrity (discussed in more detail in my Society’s Need For Role Models post, feel free to check it out. *Winks* I personally give zero shits about the colour, design and cost of Kate Middleton’s clothing, but that’s just me.) Anyway, after this well-edited, musical slideshow dripping with professionalism, the visual journalist, Russell, gave us a look as if expecting us to be bowled over by such expertise…Which of course we were, if our respectful silence was anything to go by. Normally I’m forced to fake enthusiasm in such a situation, but in this case I was genuinely impressed, and Russell didn’t seem like the extremely irritating type that oozes arrogance and self-esteem (and as there are many irritating types of my acquaintance, I can spot them from a mile away).

Russell continued to talk at length about the 2,000 pictures Thomson Reuters moves daily and the 20,000-27,000 pictures they see every day (I had the mental picture of hundreds of sacks of photographs before I remembered they did it in cyberspace), the 3,000 full time journalists they had, the 600 photographers they had, the 160 years their company has been around…if he was attempting to gain our respect through figures he was certainly succeeding.

What I also found interesting was the discussion concerning the impact of social media on photography, and the importance of watermarking any published images to promote the company and prevent stealing. Unfortunately what was not quite so interesting what the sound of Gabrielle Fonseca Johnson’s monotonous voice. God, people with such prosaic voices simply shouldn’t speak. Thankfully, not all of what she said was as tedious as her tone. We were again regaled with the fact that Photoshop is simply “lazy photojournalism” but when employed with skill, can be effective in times of need. The issue of photos hitting social media websites (Twitter, Facebook and Instagram) before they could be captured by professional photographers was then discussed. Of course, it is unfair when a paid photographer is unable to capture the scene of the incident, for example, a house fire, before it explodes all over Twitter from the iPhones of eyewitnesses. In the sagacious words of our good friend Russell:”If they get there first, they get the picture.”

I am reluctant to admit that I did enjoy the activity on photo editing that we were presented with at the end of today’s session. Pretty grueling to leave out some amazing, iconic photographs and only choose three to display in our presentation. However, I quite enjoyed the process of elimination by which we chose our three main pictures: I suppose it brought out my strongest overbearing streak and I enjoyed dismissing the ones I thought we didn’t need. Oh the joys of being an editor! We attempted to “make the best judgement” and “avoid being excessive”. I am well aware that I would fall into a guilty trap when accused of excessive writing, a fact I can unashamedly accept. Although I do, of course, want to be a journalist, and I acknowledge the word limits and time constraints such a job automatically comes with, I don’t wish to remove all the uniqueness and flair from my writing. Such predictability and stodginess found in media today is, I would imagine, a result of this. Give me individuality over conformity any day.

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