Wednesday, December 23, 2009


In Britain and indeed Europe, we are consumers. We do what the capitalist system expects and needs us to do - we buy things. Nowhere is this clearer than in the snaking queues at department stores this Christmas.

Trapped in this conformity of action, we turn to images and objects - we are now defined by the objects we own, rather than the deeds we do. We buy objects not for what they are, but for what they seem to be - even the most simple of objects projects a complex brand identity, a kind of appealing hologram; turn it to the light and see it for what it really is. Adverts are the way that companies project an object's identity, exaggerating the product's powers and personifying it, giving the product human characteristics: family-orientated, environmentally concerned, caring, macho, attractive. Every object now has a human face: its brand.

Advertisers are personifying objects here, this is metaphor on a vast scale, only the metaphors are deceptive rather than descriptive. In literature, a metaphor will shed light on the true nature of the object. In design, the ad acts as the product's false face - a mythic mask which seeks to conceal the ordinary, unethical origins of the product, giving it a heroic backstory and alter ego.

Instead of being given real information about the product - where it was made , by whom, under what working conditions - we consumers are given a brand, a name, a 'face' via advertisements - thus we choose the object on the basis of its projected persona, and overlook its inherent value as a product. Through these objects' personae, we seek to define ourselves too: just as we choose friends to reflect well on us, so we choose our brands on the basis of what they say about us.

Yet the only thing they say about 'us', the human race, is that we are easily fooled. An advert is not purely the face of an object; collectively adverts form the cultural surface of our society. They change the way we look, think and talk. They distract us from the reality of the product and the world, and they falsely reassure us. Nescafe, endorsed by G. Clooney, is trusted by consumers who like the actor. Distracted by his catchphrase 'what else?', which suggests that there is little 'else' beyond the realm of this advert and his reassuring smile, consumers forget to ask questions about Nescafe's business dealings with third world coffee growers. We are distracted from the political reality.

Interestingly, people have taken to advertising themselves on sites such as Facebook and Twitter, consciously shaping alter egos and mythic masks, projecting a new flawless version of their identity out to other people. The internet is perfect for this, as its mixture of image, text and sound enables full-scale advertising and content does not have to link to reality in any way: images and sounds can be created on the computer, virtually, without any need to resemble external reality.

Thus with the internet we move towards a virtual world with little need for stable, fixed reference points in reality. We have search engines that can 'read' the internet and programs that can 'draw'. Though the internet was created and interpreted by people in reality, its importance as a cultural phenomenon lies in its capacity to detach from the real world.

Of course, artists and graphic designers have always looked beyond reality during the creative process. I'm not calling for a return to purely realistic art. The world of the imagination and of visual arts is a wonderful place. But it's dangerous that this world is no longer free- that it is being exploited by companies to deceive and brainwash - rather than stimulate and liberate consumers.

(This post was inspired by a lecture at Middlesex University and none of it is particularly original, just a synthesis of ideas I've heard about advertising, hyper-reality and the internet).

Sunday, November 29, 2009


"Ca fait chier!" is probably the most (m)uttered phrase in Paris. 'Chier' being the verb 'to crap', it comes as no surprise that the idiom is so popular in Paris, probably the most crapped-upon city in Europe. Pigeons and dogs express their appreciation for the city perversely, by defecating all over its beautiful cream-coloured skyline.The phrase itself: "ca fait chier" or "ca me fait chier" means "that pisses me off" or "That bores me". It expresses an irritation or boredom that seems to be frequently experienced by people here. I quite liked the expression as a little defiant nod to the bodily basis for human civilisation, the boring mundane things people have to do, like eat and sleep and go to the toilet, before they can be civilised, cognizant beings.

I liked the expression, that is, until a little old woman and her mutt decided to make a toilet-stop on my street. Her well-groomed terrier turded the terrain right outside my flat. I went batshit. Gesticulating wildly at the dog and his gutter-gift, I walked after the woman and asked her to woman to remove her dog's faeces from my front door.The parisienne looked at the steaming pile of poo and shrugged. "Ca fait chier, huh?" she said, and walked on.

Well, quite.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

life drawing

She thought she saw herself once though, in the shimmering torso of the naked man. They had come for drawing classes and were met with Adam, the nude. The door was pulled open by a man with a moustache and a mischevious regard. He tugged them into his world of sin (what would her mother have said?) and there, before the bright lights and crimson curtains was a naked man lying on a canape. He was very intently still whilst twenty women art students focused on him, trained their eyes on his shadows.
She didn't know where to look, so she fixed her eyes on his torso and drew in a frenzy. She tried to untangle the scene but from any angle it was licentious. Life drawing. This was what she'd signed up to: sketching this naked man all flesh, displaced from Eden, ballerinaed against the blank bright screen. These women were all pursuing knowledge. They drew the blocks of shade and light over and over again, exploring the demarcations of sin/virtue with their hazy 2B pencils. Thought in the act.
His cures intersected ruler straight lines. She found she could not bring herself to draw the dangling fact, so left it blank. A neat square space between the dip of the hips and his two legs.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

latex heads and lather

Latex heads and lather sounds like it could be some kinky ritual in the shower, but actually - sorry to disappoint you - I'm talking about my local pool. Having swum on my return to the UK and enjoyed it, I promised myself I would take a dip with the Frogs. French swimming pools couldn't be that weird, could they?

My trip to the local pond proved more complicated than I'd imagined. Feeling exposed and foreign, I tried to tiptoe into the changing rooms, only to be stopped at the border and ordered to take off my shoes - wearing them beyond this point gets you a 5 euro fine. Entering the pond included dodging lilipad-swarms of AquaFitness classes and sporting a skin-coloured swimming cap, which stretched ears back beyond recognition.

Swimming with the frogs became swimming among the Frodos; our shiny bald heads and stretched ears certainly placed us in the land of sci-fi. The feeling that I had landed in some fantasy novel was confirmed by the wacky orange walls resembling Martian craters (let's face it, swimming pools are not the best place for the 1970s colour scheme that seems ubiquitous in parts of Paris). The turquoise and purple lockers were computerised and whizzed shut, nearly slamming my fingers in. Annoyingly, they did not respond to normal things like keys and thumping. Instead, I needed an 8 digit pincode to recover my possessions.

In the swimming pool, the Aquafitness class had luminous faces like distant stars. Pregnant women doing backstroke kicked the water viciously as their faces curled into sweaty masks of pain. One woman passing me had a bump like an island that she seemed to be trying to swim away from. Listen ladies, I wanted to say, save it for the delivery room... An enormous man in a tiny speedo wailed to himself as he swam. When a young and overeager kid dived into the water and missed, crying loudly on the side, I decided it was time to leave.

Swimming with the frogs was interesting, but I think I'll wait till the pond's empty before I try again.

do sculptures get crushes?

Leaves fall on them. So does faeces, rain, dust, sometimes snow. Love, never. Scuptures in Paris certainly don't get crushed by the heat of the moment, but they must get crushes - with so many beautiful people walking around, how could they ´not? Human hearts crafted these sculptures, remember - something of love still fizzles along the stone outlines.

Paris is alive. To be in a city of busy traffic, buzzing telephones and racing pulses, among scattered couples - to be among all this, and yet stone, motionless, eternal, must be torture.

Sculptures that see this vivid living daily - of course they desire it! Of course they chase it, the way men in bars chase women in red skirts and smiles - how could you not covet the life that flows through people here? Imagine being a sculpture here - perched among trees that blossom, leaves that fall, fertility consummated and confirmed before your very eyes, yearly anew, whilst you - fruitless, barren, old - are strapped in stone for ever.

I like to think that every now and then, one of these statues slips out of her stone chrysalis, winks at a beautiful young man with Monoprix bag, and smiles a little sadly when he saunters past, oblivious.

Friday, September 18, 2009

I buy a ticket and take the train. “I am a rock, I am an island,” is singing somewhere at the back of my head. If I’d never loved I never would have cried. Simon & Garfunkel: the inseparable duo who separated, the proof of human division, of communication break down. I am a rock, I convince myself, and a rock feels no pain, so it is better to be a rock, after all. I travel abroad and I am anonymous, independent. I travel abroad and the closest thing to home is the little purple passport in my back pocket.

A few weeks on, the same story: I buy a ticket, take the train – from Cardiff, this time. There are scatterings of Welsh-speaking softness on the platform, people here and there with a lilt of homeland about them. I listen in, briefly, but choose a different carriage to the silver-tongued Celts. I have no need of home, of attachment, of hiraeth, I tell myself. And an island never cries.

I get off the train, haul my blue suitcase over the bridge. The suitcase has a faded brown leather tag on it, with my grandparents’ name and address handwritten on it. Return to sender: the suitcase and I are going home.

Lemon sole, chicken soup, crème catalan. I produce tokens from my rucksack: a yellow eggcup and a flowery china mug for tea. There are really beautiful buckets of roses on the landing.

After the operation she has lost a stone and a half. Her smile and her eyes are the same crinkly marmalade though.

We eat together. They normally divide the labour up, and Emi does the potatoes and the bread and butter. Now though, after the op, Emi has had to take on all the food-furnishing. The family are sending Waitrose food hampers up so that they have plenty of ready meals and fresh fruit and veg, to make mealtimes easier. Of the food hamper items, the lemon sole and crème catalan rule supreme. It's great that she's eating now. Each mouthful disappears like a stealthy cat around a corner, but the mouthfuls are thin as petals and her appetite is wilting. We start the crossword, but she wants to go back to bed. Emi and I chaperone her up the stairs and it is the most important thing I have done all month, all year maybe. We are supposed to stand behind her in case she falls but it is not our bodies which protect her from falling.

I come back down the stairs slowly , trying not to let feelings form like thin skin atop boiled milk. I am not a rock, nor an island. Simon and Garfunkel were wrong, totally wrong. When I get to the bottom of the stairs, thinking about the food hamper, the cards, roses, visits, presents, my grandfather looks up from the crossword. “to support another, six letters. What d’you think that is?”

It’s family, I want to say. It’s love, Emi. It’s you.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

sainsberries and bustivals

The sweet-sweating physicality of it, the way the words run their way around your head without stopping for breath, the way their imprint leaves its inky footprint on your thought-tracks like print from a newspaper, the trace of which will just not leave your fingers.
She would not leave my mind. The bus was heaving with shopping, earphones rollicking as the back of the bus bumps and grinds with modernity. I see streetwise kids spitting music like it’s white fire or fruitstones - the heavy beat of R&B on their phones is a pallid imitation of the real thing: women kids men rapping on the street at Carnival, colours swaying and rubbing, exploding. She got on the bus quickly, heaved her Guantanamo orange Sainsbury’s bags on top of mine on the luggage rack and sat down.

“I’m so sorry, would you like me to move my bags?”

She smiles, her nose gem sparkles at me in the electric light. She has a soft voice that reminds me of sundried apricots, and her skin is the warm brown of light muscovado sugar caramelized. “Nah, darlin’, don’t worry, it’s fine. I just wanna keep my guitar next to me.”

Curious, I sneak a peek at her Sainsbury’s bag. Gluten-free Fairtrade chocolate stars and organic muesli. Her handbag is made of gold-sprayed Coke can ringpulls. I always thought that recycling ringpulls, one of the brash symbols of consumerism, would result in tackiness. Not so: her handbag looks pretty damn fine. She has fashion-friendly sandals and full makeup on, but when she picks up her designer phone it’s to tell someone that she’s been, “In India. Yeah. What’ve I been doin’? You know me, darlin’, pretty much huggin’ trees the whole time. Yeah. Just been to the Southbank actually. Hmm? I was busking. Yeah, thought I might catch some inspiration.”

She is a paradoxical mix of urban and nature-loving, of eco-friendly and consumerist. Here she is, looking like the hottest woman around for miles, on the latest mobile phone with her non-reusable Sainsbury’s bags, yet she is also a tree-hugging busker with a tendency for ethical eating. I love her, because her environmentalism is a positive part of her life, intertwined with having fun and making clothes and music. I love her, because her love of life radiates through her. Her urban and eco, her fashion and ethics, are not conflicting spheres ( I realize): here is someone who loves life, and who also wants to protect it. Who seeks harmony in every sense of the word.

A mother gets on, hauling a baby in one arm and a pushchair in the other. The young woman and I shift our stuff quickly, so she can get on.

Behind me, a South African woman chuckles: “Ladies,” she giggles, “would you ever see men carrying such baggage? Never! Never! We always do the shopping, we always pick up the clothes from the launderette! We always carry the load! Men never carry anything!”

The young sugarbrown woman winks at me. “I don’t do nobody’s laundry, babe!” she exclaims, and we all giggle. I feel sorry for the man hunched up behind us, reading the Telegraph. He is pretty defenceless against our sexism. He is carrying nothing.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

London Underground II

She glanced at the man who got on at Goodge Street. City type shoes and handsome face cast into a bored over-boiled sort of mask, mouth turned down, humbug-sucking. He looked heart-stopped, or else had pulled out the stops from his heart & drizzled it dry, draining it away for the six-figure sum he earned at work, the funds he ‘managed’. Yep. He was definitely one of those cityslick sinners who sunk whole companies with their sneaky share trading. She already had the measure of him. He'd snatched the pearl from the purse of his own oyster heart, and sold it for stocks and shares a long time ago.

Of course, within a few seconds he had pulled out the Times. His predictability sickened her, sank in the pit of her stomach. Businessmen will always look like this, and the world will go round and they thrive on money and society showers them with status, though their morals rise and fall with the share price.

Those bigshot Merchant Wankers, Rachel thought, viciously twisting her tongue around a cherry stem. She had taken to knotting cherry stalks in her mouth, as a distraction from her perennial chewing gum habit. A stem snapped in her mouth. She dropped it into her hot cupped palm and stashed it in her pocket. She kept the successfully knotted stalks in her left pocket, and the disappointments in her right. She liked the the unevenly blunt jangle of the pockets against her thighs; she liked the idea that beneath the boring denim exterior she carried unpredictable hand-delves of colour.

The doors slid open like a sleek dress, revealing London's shimmering skin. Rachel hurried down the platform, suffused with desire for the shining world around her. She marched along the dirty yellow line at the edge of the platform, using it to navigate past flumes of saris, badly fitting pink shirts , a man’s skinny bottom wiggling unconvincingly in cream denim, women bedecked with gold jewellery and jangling hipsways.

Rachel kept moving – yet the sudden sneaking suspicion of a voice, of a complication, made her turn back. The train doors slammed shut and a swift surprise in the form of an almost- broken nose hit her, hard.

“Oh, shit, I'm so – so – “ Her brown eyes flashed and swelled indignantly, golden flashes of fury like sparks bursting from the brown earth.The bespoke suited man soothed his shoulder where she had collided with it. He smiled and held out a stroke of luck in the palm of his hands.

“You left this on the train, I thought you might want it.” The knotted cherry stem glimmered on his fingers.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

43 bus journey

Naath Laaandaan. Get the '43 winding around Tavistock Terrace, Alexandra Road - the automated lady voice seduces me with the sound of memory itself, smoothing the bus short and stopping before a tube station - a park with exercise bikes - a church fete dubbed 'feel good festival' - a shrubless scrubland ironically bearing the words 'Islington was in finals for Britain in Bloom'. The sign shines in earnest, seemingly unaware of its own self-ridicule, and I realise that this concrete cornucopia is the place that I call home.


A stinging spike like a burn in the back of the neck, no, in the back, like an icecream cone of steel in the stick of the spine.

It happened in the sea by the rockcombed beach. We were swimming with the moss tangled around our feet, stars of seaweed blossomed at the bottom of the sea or sky as we swam in circles around the grotesque, inflatable green crocodile. We'd bought it from a dusty shop nearby, selling tat & packed with French families.

I felt the sting in the small of the spine. It bit and the pain held on, like a furious lover's parting shot. I turned my hand to my back in an admonishing slap and found soft mollusc wobble...I screamed; the jellyfish inflated to a suffocating balloon, formed a suction around the patch of skin and pulled...

I shrieked and shoved. The jellyfish lump parted like that jumped-up lover leaving, through the briny ocean of memories. Gone. I swam back to what I knew with a lump in the small of my back, wounded by the whispers of the deep.


I sit here in the small of the back of London, crouched, tense in the hollow at the base of its Underground spine, only stopping through. In just twenty hours, I have seen the vivid, thorny green of my home: the wild garden, the grapes, the cream and the raspberries. Here I lived, living, live? Impossible to translate into present the beauty of the past: walking through Alisa's room is like walking through a ruin: it seems like relics, and it's difficult not to drift back in time. I come back home - home- home - and brim with love and sadness in the dark sweet night. Mum is writing a piece about lodgers, about the last great lodger - Alisa - like the great Roman ruler at the end of an empire. Soon she'll sell this place, and then we'll have to leave it behind, our great home, our great lives here. The photographer comes and we stand on the stairs, in her room, in the garden, and swap smiles that are so real . And so, in one big burst of love we reduce the moments of the past, the years, our house in Green Eggs And Ham to a few flat photographs. Yet we all live on; I joke that mum's stolen my novel, reduced my debut drama to some piece in the Home pages, but I'm secretly not afraid - there will be far more tales to tell along the way - in which Alis, Mum and Shaz will doubtless make quite a few appearances...


The green grey landscape, turquoise baths with golden Roman columns and silver rusty springs filling pools with antiquated coindrops of water, fountain money... outside the rain strikes like slim silver, threads silver steam so it's rising from the blue green pool like Time: eternally escaping...leaving only tiny water droplets, the residue of memory, in our palms.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009


Nothing fits my fretting state, so I trip
into a chintzy charity shop and quickly strip
off my own tear-stained stock, only to slip
my fingers into silk rosed topshop frock and quip
to myself that it’s far too baggy for my newfound
state,that even if I bought it I would hate
the bump of fabric at the front,
the little rosy tucks,
the cotton crib at the pit
of the stomach, a reminder of the blip
that forces me to peel the dress from skin and slip
it on the hanger, return it to the plummy woman
at the till, lower my pregnant glance and quickstep out of
the shop of hand-me-downs, eyes bursting at the seams:
from this gold-daisied dress I glimpsed or guessed
the shape of things that might have been.

Monday, June 1, 2009

The Red Academic

Property is theft anyway - at least, that's what I tell myself when stealing from my flatmates' shelves in the fridge...

"If property is theft then intellectual property is just stealing from the communal body of knowledge. My only hope is if ideas cannot be owned by anyone, if ideas exist purely as selfless facets of human wisdom rather than claimed & copyrighted snippets of someone's thoughts. Losing copyright over intellectual property would mean that no-one would strive for originality, to say something new, because they could not derive personal glory or fame for it - if good, it would be shamelessly repackaged and plagiarised. That way originality would no longer be the pinnacle of human achievement. This would leave people free to learn for learning's sake, not for fame, and search for what is 'right' or what seems truthful, rather than what is original. Too often people say something purely because it's new, exciting, unusual - with little regard for the truth of their statement.Surely pointless to distract readers from the pursuit of human truths, in search of novelty?"

Monday, May 25, 2009

The lips of two hands, curved and flashing flesh:
the white drug in the dip, fingers that reach
to sip hallucinogenic hazards like hot milk -
For both are white and tenable
in the tipped hot cup of hot-cupped palms
poured out like life-source, sipped, kept
warm on the lips of kids in schools
and drug addicts alike. What is it about white
light that so kindles love?

This stuff's not firelight, yet pills and milk
both bring the mind
to another plane. How strange
that the liquid love donned out in broad daylight
by schools and mums trains tots
to seek as teens the soft warm love
of the drug, the E, the pills cupped like a breast
in the hot held hand at the back of the club,
the stream of milky white, the next best

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

St Davids

If like some nutter combing coast, I searched
for Stuff we'd left behind along the shore
and gathered it all up into a poem
for some other nutter to find once more

The poem might look like this: four teabags
and tin foil nicked from shelves, a pack
of CDs wedged with salty towels, one Crazy,
a heap of shells, some wood, a ruddy rack

of words that try too hard to re-
create creation, attempting to retain
moments like butterflies, whose beauty lies
in fleetingness: the transience of passing rain;

your brown eyes; iris-sparks bursting from the soil;
your hand in mine: moments that words would only spoil.

Monday, April 13, 2009

the bath cycle II

He sinks skyward, and by the sudden cold all over he knows he’s reached the clouds. He ran this bath to escape the hot brown earth, the dusty summer sun, the heat, and when he lowers himself into the bath it feels like he’s risen above this world, weightless in the water, soothed and refreshed by this cold climate, this thick new cloud-element for him to exist in. The sky, the sky: blue sometimes, gray others, polluted always. Shuddering he thinks of the sun: a blazing foghorn torch in this cityscape, just strong enough to push through the crowd of fuggy fumes, determined to drench the ground in its life-force. Climate change feels like it’s coming on fast. The paranoia’s struck, and every time he pounds the pavement he feels like pollution’s parading toxic in his lungs. Cars, fumes, flames: he fears them all, not only because of their macho machinistic power, their capability to crush human bodies into nothingness, but because of their environmental impact. He fears not the here and now, but the future, and if WallE has taught him anything, it is that eco-disaster is not so far away. He seldom goes out these days, and when he does he drops his hands in his pockets and tries to breathe in as little as possible. The bath seemed his only escape, the pure cold hope of the water rising around him, cleansing him of the fumes and the flames that he so feared.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

the bath cycle I

Skin submerged, heavier than milk. The womb of water’s supplied by two metal taps at the top, dispensing liquid that’s clearer than memory even. The poet, immersed in words all day, finally sinks herself into the liquid substance, reveling in the sheer physicality of it. Not words, but water – though she can’t escape language, even lying here in this languid state. Alliteration at its worst, a rift of rhymes drifts over her with the song-steam from the bath. Kids in the street drinking wine on the sidewalk, saving the plans that we make till it’s night time… it’s cliché but effective, a lyric that tugs along a kite of memories, swaying in the wind like she swayed in that club, the wine-mouths on the pavement, her friends leaving her on the desert streets…too much, too much. She blinks it back, and her eyelids are like the thin skin atop boiled milk, barely a defence against the rising steam of the bath, essence of the past. Her body swirls, she hesitates as she pulls herself pulsating from the womb of memories, the water womb, emerges triumphant from the sour sticky liquid that is Radox bubble bath and soothes herself back into her clothes, to her conscious self. Behind her, the water absorbs the imprint of her body and her dream-state is left to darken and brew in the bath like a warning. A sitting storm.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Detective III

Her grin used to stretch as wide
as the lake in Port meadow, used to override
the rules and flood the banks of her cheeks
with warmth. But now it was tired,

a punctured tyre of a smile, a half curl,
a quick muscle tap, like the flick of the finger
on a cigarette dropping ash, draining the dust
of the past.

Her filofax was full of ex
boyfriends' numbers, flagged up
like busstops and as on a tea-stained map
you could run the route of her life with your nail,
trace the heartbreak signs around London
to that boyfriend on Hampstead Heath - with the Mini
and the massive bank account - who was hers last year,
whose money woudn't stretch
as far as a family or kids. And so she left,

to wrinkle and stain her teeth with sour coffee
that kept her eyes awake
but couldn't resuscitate
the faint beat of her heart.
A year on yet
her pulse would pump again in a culprit's clutch,
a big-time thief who would rob her memory bank
of sadness, stand her back on her own two feet and leave
his tender fingerprints on forehead,
bring her hot tea in the mornings
and sweeten her smile to the tulips
that she blossomed now as far as her sparkling
eyes, seraphin-style.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Detective: II

He'd searched
for clues too many times
not to spot the signs.

The shimmering fishscale smile in her eyes
swooped to the surface of the iris-pond,
swirling like light on lilipads
was as clear a clue to him as any footprint

her new dress might as well have been a shred
of clothing caught on a rusty nail or hung
on the body; for her body, though unbloodied,
was the scene of the crime.

He didn't need hard evidence
to read the story right - the sight
of her soft back in bed
her shoulders turned to him
left him startled, suspicious, bereft-

enough clues to look back. So that when she left
with that other man he was already there,turning it
over in his mind, their bodies in the sack,the
broken love, the knife stuck
in the back.


Our society is not a just place. We live in a hierarchy whose flexibility is superficial – a hierarchy which crushes the brightest of kids and elevates the laziest, sometimes – a hierarchy which makes numerous mistakes. We elevate some people and lower others: even a perfect meritocracy has to have a scale, yet if we think we can rank people according to any set yardstick then we are blind to the human condition. For the value of people is in their diversity; any yardstick we measure people by will shove some good, decent, hopeful people to the bottom of the pile, and put some greedy, dishonest, indifferent people at the top. Hierarchy is inaccurate; what’s more, it’s the ultimate tool of prejudice against individuals, since your place in the hierarchy is often decided by your parents’ place. Moving up or down is like swimming against the tide: nigh on impossible.

Yet even that statement does not express my meaning: it suggests that the hierarchy is inefficient, inaccurate, that the hierarchy sometimes keeps ‘the wrong people’ in the slums. It’s not that the hierarchy’s flawed process is immoral: the hierarchy itself is immoral. There are no ‘wrong people’ and ‘right people’; nobody should be in the slums, nobody should feel like they’re at the bottom of the pile, should have to feel worthless or disrespected, even if they are really stupid or lazy. Everybody should be treated like a human being. Everybody deserves respect, because everybody has feelings and hopes and dreams and emotions; nobody else has a right to crush these.
Yet my ‘respect’ is not the same as the system’s ‘respect’. When somebody like Tony Blair talks about ‘Respect’, what they mean is: you should have respect for us. You rabble, you ‘scum’ (as Sarkozy so despicably put it) should have respect for us politicians. What they mean is: you should have respect for the system that put us at the top and you at the bottom. What they’re saying is: you should believe in a system that thinks you’re worth next to nothing, that pays you next to nothing, that will deliver you next to nothing in terms of ambition or education – and you should respect and uphold this system. Essentially, the ‘Respect’ agenda equates to politicians asking poor people to agree with and partake in a system that places them at the very bottom – to agree that they should be at the bottom, to be complicit in their own poverty.

The problem with the political ‘Respect’ agenda is, that it doesn’t work both ways: the police aren’t seen to have respect for muslim and black people or protesters when they deliberately target them on the streets; the politicians don’t have respect for young, poor people as a voting demographic. Their policies appeal to middle class morality, not people in poverty. They say, if you don’t adhere to the rules, we will limit your freedom further. They don’t say, why are you acting like this? What are the problems in your life? How can we solve them? Fair enough, in a smooth-running society with limited funds and limited interest. Yet by enabling police to stop anyone they deem suspicious, and by imposing ASBOs and thereby criminalizing young people who have committed no criminal offence, politicians are intervening in people’s lives, are taking an interest, are spending funds – but in a negative way, in a way that treats people as worthless, in a way that denies them a backstory and therefore deals with them more like a number than a human being. Human beings have backstories, problems: numbers don’t. Thus politicians toting the Respect agenda – from Margaret Thatcher in the 80s to Blair in the new millennium - have effectively created a society in which young people, poor, black and asian communities are treated as potential offenders, as alien threats, as ‘them’ against the ‘us’ of society, often arrested without sufficient evidence. That’s not what I call respect.

Entre les murs: The Class: a film by Laurent Cantet, adapted from the novel. Really interesting on social class and the clash between (school) institutions and young people, and the extent to which their destinies are predetermined by their class, and by the way society treats them, dismisses them, writes them off.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

masks of mascara

Women who use makeup are literally self effacing, scrubbing off their real identity only to paint on a new appearance using mascara, black slightly smudged eyeliner, concealer, foundation, blusher, lipstick and blonde hair dye. Women at work literally constrict and limit themselves, deforming and reshaping their real bodies in cinched clothing, high heels and tight skirts.

So what? you say. The make-up's empowering. It's a way for women to assert their feminine identity at work, express themselves regardless of society's and men's desires, and paint themselves purple.

If only.The fact is, women change their appearance to be clones of the same blonde, busty woman with pink cheeks and thick black eyelashes. The way that all women strive for this particular Barbie look indicates the existence of a prototype of feminine beauty, heralded by the ironically misogynistic women's mags. A so-called 'enhancement' of women's appearance is a way for them to feel powerful at work, and a way for them to bridge the gender gap, some say. Yet the disparity between expectations of women's and men's appearance in a professional context indicates an aesthetic gap that still points to the pay gap - 12.8% - between men and women in full-time work. Women use make-up to make them feel confident and strong, rather than relying on inner confidence and strength, and in doing so they perpetuate the idea that a woman still needs to appeal to a male sexual appetite in order to succeed in the workplace.

Maybe makeup enables a woman to feel confident and strong at work- or maybe women's use of makeup is a denial of their identity, their make-up. Maybe the slap is a signal that, even at work, women are still just eye candy.

The Red Academic

Property is theft anyway - at least, that's what I tell myself when stealing from my flatmates' shelves in the fridge...

"If property is theft then intellectual property is just stealing from the communal body of knowledge. My only hope is if ideas cannot be owned by anyone, if ideas exist purely as selfless facets of human wisdom rather than claimed & copyrighted snippets of someone's thoughts. Losing copyright over intellectual property would mean that no-one would strive for originality, to say something new, because they could not derive personal glory or fame for it - if good, it would be shamelessly repackaged and plagiarised. That way originality would no longer be the pinnacle of human achievement. This would leave people free to learn for learning's sake, not for fame, and search for what is 'right' or what seems truthful, rather than what is original. Too often people say something purely because it's new, exciting, unusual - with little regard for the truth of their statement.
Surely pointless to distract readers from the pursuit of human truths, in search of novelty?"