What is Reality? Just a few thoughts

I have recently been looking at very early examples of what is today called “Reality TV”. Every Tuesday, I am the guest on a podcast called Survivor FSFW Rewind. It is mind-blowing, frankly. On the one hand, Survivor anticipates today- the sort of communication it demands is exactly a formula for today’s social media in its aggressive simplicity and apparent immediacy.  Today we take this immediacy for granted as a normal means of communication. On the other hand, it is unashamedly manipulative and cruel, also something we have got used to in the way our 21st Century society operates.

There are ethical issues sparked by a string of news stories about depression and suicide. Often the media trots out the same line about participants having “problems dealing with fame”, but this seems far from the truth; many reality “stars” have staggered into the tv world under a smokescreen of misinformation and manipulation.  I also read another trotted-out trope that has forced me to write a brief piece today. Specifically, that contestants “brought it on themselves” or they were “a little bit daft to apply”.

Let me make this clear. Many of the contestants I have spoken to, like me, did not apply to be on reality tv at all. They were head-hunted by very industrious and wiley producers who know what and who would make good tv. Frankly, my producer found me and I had every confidence in him. In my case, this was a process that was completed with astonishing speed in the run-up to filming, so speedily, in fact, that my contract arrived only days before I was due to begin the shoot. I have no doubt that mine is not an exceptional case, therefore and that very few contestants would have time to take any serious advice.

Here, I part company with many of the sob stories that I have read or heard recently, because for the duration of the show, I was treated magnificently on set and had a wonderful time. I had a very close relationship with the production team and forged strong friendships.

Many issues in Reality tv are about the level of competition, public humiliation, deceit and mis-editing that often goes into getting a good story. I was exceptionally lucky. The circle, for all its obsession with lying or catfishing did not nurture a “nasty nick” and certainly I felt there was an overall warmth in the way the show was put together. I hope this is retained in future series, though a more strategic form of the game has certainly emerged in the Brazilian, French and US versions all bizarrely filmed on the same set and at about the same time.

There are two or three ethical considerations in the format that cannot be overlooked and should not be overlooked by a professor of Theology! The first is about the professional standards of the production team, and its responsibility to the audience and to the participants, the latter’s rights and the team’s responsibilities, both ethical and legal. Essentially, this amounts to doing no harm to either, but I would argue that it may be doing good to both, especially when it stresses the element of social experiment. This was certainly the tag-line of Big Brother, which, to judge from the clips recently put out on channel 4, was actually one of the most repulsive, distateful and exploitative pieces of television ever recorded. It was also, I can well-believe, absolutely bewitching to watch first-time round. It is Brillaint television. This is why it has lasted for 20 years.

And the levelling effect of such reality TV: I was astonished to finally see the George Galloway scene. What a plonker he is. In those few minutes where he pretends to be a female cat, he threw away any hope he may have had of resuming a political career.

But bear-baiting and gladiatorial combats went on for far longer that the 20 odd years that have made reality tv successful. That something is entertaining, compelling viewing and popular does not make it right. That some fool gets his come-uppance does not actually justify putting him in a position where he destroys his own career.

When it comes to Galloway, I dither. But there it is, lapping imaginary milk, the defining moment of his political careeer.george galloway

It seems that reality tv shows fall into a range of fairly easily-classified types.

1) The castaway survival, improvisation

2) re-enactment

3) docu-fiction – like the Victorian kitchen

4) game show

5) makeover- from theatre auditions to house-cleaning

6) detective- this could be in the form of identifying a mole or catfish

There may be other forms, but they seem to all share the feature of an edited portrayal of real-lived experience often focusing on non-professional or supposedly non-professional participants in managed or controlled situations that are filmed.

The mix of fact and fiction and the simple ruse of filming whatever happens is a formula that invites ethical problems. Throwing a known camera into a community automatically creates problems because the participants are dealing with an audience through the camera lens that goes well beyond the people they know, and those who are filming or producing them. the camera is there to catch the moral lapse as entertainment, and to promote the actions of participants as some sort of guideline by which the unseen audience watching their tvs can use to check their own moral compass. That wider TV audience can be deeply unkind, as was seen in their response to Jade Goody. The participants are largely unprepared for the impact they will have had on this wider audience. With modern social media, that can be conveyed to the participants very quickly. In my show, James who played Sammie, was sent death threats. This is astonishing and disturbing. It is detestable.

It is also misguided. What the public saw was the development of a thing called the “circle of Trust”, itself a by-product or what I thought of as a circle of reciprocity. It was designed to “take down” one of the three central characters, Ella, Woody and myself. I tried in vain to block myself but I was told this was against the rules and so I blocked Ella. I had no idea that this was all a result of some form of alliance or strategy and I was quite shocked when I learnt about it. However, the relationship I had with Sammie went far beyond that circle of trust. It was predicated on a number of very warm conversations we had about our early childhood and there was a bond between Sammie/James and myself which exists even today. This was not part of the producers’ narrative and perhaps got in the way of the story they were telling. sadly, some very nasty people took that two-dimensional narrative and sent these hateful emails and memes. As I say, misguided.

There is always editing, and arguably that means it is never truly “real life”.

The ethical consideration here is about what goes on beyond the screen, and after the performance. But it is tied, of course, to the organisation and selection of what is shown on the programme. As was demonstrated recently by Eamon Holmes, a mis-timed edit can have very serious consequences, but what seems right in the cutting room may actually have an impact well beyond what was intended. The programme makers cannot anticipate and arguably cannot be held responsible for the way the audience respond even when it comes to the specific way edits have been selected.

There are, moreover, commercial and theatrical as well as ethical considerations. The producers have a duty to tell a good story and to retain their viewers. They have a duty to share-holders and to advertising revenue.

Reality TV, however, needs to look at 4 ways in which participants are presented.

1) their privacy is invaded and intimacy compromised. This is already an area of debate and things that our parents would have considered particularly private are bandied about in public. Privacy is in flux.

2) their self esteem is manipulated. This is about mockery, humiliation and deception. Degrading treatment or the sense of being degraded by others and in the interests of popular entertainment. being devalued or demeaned. This could simply be a sense of disempowerment and it may go beyond the period of broadcast. This is an area that is of particular interest because this is what is often cited- how participants feel cheated, used or cast aside.

3) they are engaged in deceit. This is difficult because most reality tv shows involve deception. There is the basic deception that what is seen is real while it is viewed, sometimes filmed by camera crews and edited. This is digested reality. In the case of the first series of SURVIVAL, many scenes are not caught on cemera and are replaced with “confessional moments” or re-creations of conflict. Better to show, not tell. But we cannot un-say or un-do something that now determines a particular course of behaviour and so the confessional reports are necessary to explaining the unfolding drama. This is certainly not reality nor truth.

Other forms of deceit would be misinformation or even worse disinformation.

Better than thinking of deceit, maybe one should think more broadly of Reputation. This is about the managed presentation of performers both on the show and afterwards. It is a staged presentation and recognised as such.

4) they are the property of the show. The participants are the product and cannot be disentangled from that. It leads to some very odd clauses in contracts or some vague cover-alls that would probably not survive serious legal scrutiny. Memes, images, expressions and personalities somehow shift into the realm of production and because there is little distinction between the peformance and the real-life persona, there is room for ethical confusion. At what point, if ever, can they be disentangled from the show?

I worry that some of these shows are exploitative and that we have bought into what is, frankly, cheap and questionable entertainment. Contestants on Love Island have told me amusingly that there are whole swathes of the day’s activity that are never filmed- (the “off-time”) and interesting conversations about philosophy, books, even rugby are of no consequence at all. However, if but a single word is spoken about romance, the meal is interrupted and the conversation rehashed without food in front of the cameras. Love island is dull because its inhabitants appear to have only one thing on their minds (and never eat). That is nonsense. All the participants I have met are interesting, interested, well-informed and dynamic people. But I have told them quite honestly that this is why I switched off after episode 4 and will not watch the trash again. They all seem lovely and far superior to the way they are presented. I think the show cheapens them! There! I have said it. (I will get into such trouble… I must stop writing here)

 

 

Windrush

In 2018, there was a Labour motion about righting the wrongs of Windrush. Priti Patel, the present home secretary, was among 306 Conservative MPs voting against the bill and effectively silencing much of the information in the Windrush story.

Of course, it is true that the motion was linked to other issues that were party-sensitive and, therefore, unlikely to be endorsed by any Government ministers. However, an alternative bill was not put forward by the Government. One would have thought that Mrs May would have wanted to correct her own mistakes but I think that is not really a priority. It is fairly shameful.

So, alot of wriggling today, therefore, from Priti Patel who cannot really hide her own voting record, nor indeed hthe fact that she was once sacked for dishonesty: this is the lady who is running our police force and leading “by example”.

She has invited a good deal of criticism, not least from a swathe of Labour MPs who sent her a letter earlier this month in the wake of the george Floyd riots. To her credit, Ms Patel published the letter on twitter.

naz shah

The problem here is that this is not a party-political problem and no one in power today is quite blameless, so no one side can take a “holier-than-thou” position. The “Hostile environment” was actually set up, I think, in defiance of the Equal Opportunities act, by the Blair/Brown government but made all the more aggressive by Theresa May’s championing of the concept in 2012 and with two nasty immigration bills in 2014 and 2016. Her statment “The aim is to create, here in Britain, a really hostile environment for illegal immigrants” actually reinforced a series of policies put in place by Jack Straw. If you need to check the details, note the opening of Yarl’s Wood in 2001 and the belief in the “deterrance of detainment”, something that never worked here nor elsewhere in Europe. But also look for terms like “deterrent dogma” and “deportation targets”. This latter is a term that continues to be used and in 2000, under Blair, was set at the deportation of “30,000 people over the next year”.

Oddly, Amber Rudd, who was in charge when the Windrush scandal broke and who took the fall for what her predecessor and now her boss, PM May had set up, was one of the more reasonable Home Secretaries to have held the job in the last 20 years. It does not say alot of course. It fell to Sajid Javid, perhaps even better, to criticise the policy more directly, “I don’t like the phrase hostile. So the terminology I think is incorrect and I think it is a phrase that is unhelpful and it doesn’t represent our values as a country.” But he did not hold the job long enough to change the way things were done and the problem anyway was not about nomenclature.

I am aware of much of the horrible atmosphere in the Home office because I have found myself for nearly 20 years dealing with failed or botched student visas and I have been innumerable times to the detestable visa centres to try to sort out problems. In some cases, I saw promising students deported half-way through A levels and certainly more than one Oxbridge hopeful having their chances completely ripped away by these policies. This is a form of savagery, but it is also deeply scurrious. We have taken money from these students and then, at the crucial moment, deported them on a technicality. Even when it has worked effectively, we have often given students an education and thrown them out the moment they graduate.

It seemed to me that targetting students, which of course continues, is a cheap trick to suggest that the Home Office is keeping its eye on immigration. Students are very well documented so they are always going to be an easy target.

I went to see a number of ministers as well as my own MP at the time, Andrea Leadsom. ms Leadsom saw me at her constituency surgery, hectored me for about 10 minutes and then let me go, almost without giving me a chance to say anything to her myself. She was surrounded by advisors and gatekeepers. It was one of those rare occasions when I was frankly speechless. In response, I sent her a letter explaining that, had I been given the oppportunity to say something, these would have been the things I would have said. This led to further correspondence with the Home Office, then under Mrs May and to further meetings with other departmental ministers and MPs. I am afraid, though, that nothing much changed.

Part of the problem was a sense that this had public approval. Part of the problem is that Theresa May loves bureaucracy.

mrs May looking like a postage stamp

The Windrush scandal broke both the assumption about public approval and its trust in paperwork: the home office threw the paperwork away. We cannot ride roughshod over people who have worked so hard to integrate with and build up our society and then blame them for our own stupidity.

Our hospitality to countless waves of immigrants has benefitted us greatly.

 

Edward Colston

Last night a statue in Bristol was pulled down in protest, and today the Cenotaph has been defaced. There have been protests in the past about statues, most notably about the statue of Cecil Rhodes in Oxford, but I think this is the first time we have had a Stalinesque or Sadaam Hussein moment where we have toppled imagery.

edward

Like those dealing with 7th century Byzantine and Roundhead iconoclasm, the authorities of the day have not gone to the hub of the problem and it is essentially philosophical. Should we respect history- that is, record what is good and what is bad? Use the imagery as a source and draw a conclusion? The evidence is all around us and only by preserving it, can it ever make any sense. Pulling down statues, erasing pictures does not actually erase the history, though it might make it harder to access even if the statement itself may be of value. At its worst, therefore, we are in danger of obliterating, or hiding our past.

What is odd is that the iconic images of statues crashing down elsewhere is applauded while here Priti Patel wags her finger at the people who have defaced public property. Priti Patel has long been a figure of fun. This is not a cause that will win her much support or change her reputation particularly as she fails to identify the problem. As ever, with this makeshift secretary of state, she is out of touch and hides behind bluster and bullying. She actually expects to be taken seriously. She is the wrong person to deal with this problem.

The statue mess has not been a sudden decision. The BBC did a programme about Colston in February 2018

In Russia, the old communist statues have been gathered together and erected in parks. In ancient Rome, the heads of figures out of favour were generally lopped off and replaced, most famously with the colossal statue of nero. We instinctively know that public statues have a meaning. They are not simply decorations to our streets; they proclaim history in a three-dimensional way, both the good and the bad. In the case of Colston, his statue was put up to commemorate his huge effort to eradicate his 11-year association with slavery and the abominable trade of the RAC (its victims were branded with the acronym before they were transported and sold. This trading company had links up the highest chain of command in the country as its nominal boss eventually became king). He put money into charities, sat in parliament and endowed schools (particularly Colston’s girls’ school) in the area. And he was not the only one in 17th/18th century society who was clearly ashamed of his past and wanted to make good. Many people through these centuries had links with slavery- George Washington is a good example (cf Lucy Worsley’s “American History’s biggest fibs” – I will find a screen shot from one of the scenes I drew for that programme and post it here later! *TW).

WE have lots of questions to answer but pulling down a statue will not give us these answers. I think the biggest question must be about when the statue was erected. A man with a known history of association with slavery has a statue put up at the end of the 19th Century when only a few years’ earlier there had been a big effort to abolish slavery for good. What message were the businesspeople of Bristol sending? If there was an attempt to erase history, was it done then at the end of the 19th Century?

The problem is that nothing is ever quite so simple. Coulston was associated with the governing board of the RAC but there is no evidence that he was actually involved in slavery. Certainly, he might be said to have endorsed it. I think the arguments for pulling done the statue of Colston are less sound than the arguments about removing the statue of Cecil Rhodes from the facade of Oriel college in Oxford. Rhodes clearly had blood on his hands.

But images matter.

Otherwise, we would not be erecting statues in the first place.

This is what the museum in Bristol has to say about Coulston:

In March1680, he bought a share in the London-based Royal African Company. Only RAC members could trade with Africa, for gold, ivory and enslaved Africans. His father William also owned shares in the RAC, and supplied trade goods to its ships.

Edward Colston never, as far as we know, traded in enslaved Africans on his own account. We do not know how much profit he took from the RAC’s trade in enslaved Africans – he was paid dividends such as 50 guineas in July 1780, and 160 guineas in November 1685. He sold William, Prince of Orange, some of his RAC shares worth £1,000 in 1689, then bought more for himself. We do not know how much of his fortune was built up from his trade in wine and oil, or from investments or loans, or from money and property inherited from his father. What we do know is that he was an active member of the governing body of the RAC, which traded in enslaved Africans, for 11 years.

 

M4068, Braikenridge
Since writing this, I have had a very interesting exchange on line about the points I have raised here. I think I need to clarify a few things, therefore, and apologise if my writing might sometimes be a bit muddier than I intend.
My main gripe is with The Home Secretary whose response is quite out of step with the issue- this is not about defacing property or about meaningless actions. This is purposeful action.
I was making 3 points: 1) It was wrong to erect the state in the first place 2) Priti Patel’s finger wagging about damaging property gets it wrong and 3) such a literally iconoclastic approach cannot be a receipe for the future- there are many other statues and paintings that commemorate historical figures with detestable associations.
We cannot go round the country throwing all this vile statuary into the harbour. Some of it, indeed, forms part of great works of art. We need to fully contexturalise these pieces and the men and women (mostly men) depicted, so children and visitors know when they approach these monuments that this is not a celebration or a glorification of someone who was powerful at the expense of others. Or if these were, that we do not think that is right.
We need to change the balance of power and glorify the down-trodden.
Contexturalising something is not about adding a plaque or placing something in a museum. (A plaque is little more than a plaster on a serious wound). We need to have burst of cultural activity where many new pieces are commissioned to stand up to those monsters of history who litter our streets – statues that celebrate the human rights’ movements, and the people who have been overlooked in our history. We have to find a way to deal with this issue because it cuts across so many of our celebrated pieces of art history. In this case, the statue of Edward Colston is fairly awful as a piece of sculpture but the works of Eric Gill, on the other hand, are rightly celebrated as great art. Gill was a detestable man, yet we cannot destroy his art because of his personal life, however depraved and wrong.
Statues and paintings are not really about wording. They are a potent visual image and we must respond in kind. It is not about plaques that explain away the ghastliness in small-print. We need to do this more creatively and boldly. I would love to see, for example, a work commissioned now that celebrates in bronze the dumping of this statue in the harbour. That is iconic and should be commemorated.
But done once, we cannot do it again.
But we could certainly do it once, couldn’t we?
And make it count?

More on Gogglebox

I only watched Gogglebox to support Woody and his mother.

woody and zoe first pic gogglebox

I drew furiously while watching it. It was very interesting. This, incidentally, was a picture of Woody and his mother watching “the Favourite”, certainly not a film I would have liked to have watched with my mother. But Woody was there with a quick “Oy oy!” He knows how to place these one liners.

Today, the media has been whipped up about what happened to Eamonn Holmes and rightly so.

I feel deeply for Eamonn Holmes partly because I was also the victim of some nasty editing on TV. In my case, this took place in Russia and what I had said was dubbed over with words that I never used at any point in my interview. The solution when I complained was to remove the entire episode from the live feed. Of course, I expected a better response from Gogglebox and I am pleased it has now been sorted out.

The Daily Mirror adds a very interesting line:

When one fan begged him not to take any notice of the trolls, Eamonn hit back: “Thank you SL …. but a lie unchallenged becomes the truth.”

Believe me, I can understand how wounded and upset Mr Holmes must have been. At the bottom of this page is a link to my story as reported by the BBC.

This is what the Mail on line have written this evening:

Celebrity Gogglebox have issued an apology to Eamonn Holmes after he slammed them for their editing of him during Friday’s show.

Eamonn took to Twitter calling out the show’s ‘idiotic and cruel choice’ to air a clip of him joking after a harrowing moment from the BBC series Ambulance, instead of a filmed clip of him discussing his father’s death.

Producers issued a grovelling apology on Saturday to the This Morning host, 60, in which they promised to edit future repeats of the episode.

In a statement shared on Gogglebox’s Twitter, they wrote: ‘We have apologised to Eamonn over what happened in this week’s episode. We understand and respect Eamonn’s feelings on such a deeply personal story

‘We have taken the decision to edit the episode for future repeats and All4. We look forward to working with Eamonn and Ruth for the rest of the series.’

Eamonn took to his own Twitter to re-share the statement and added his own comment.

Reply: Eamonn took to his own Twitter to re-share the statement and added his own comment

He wrote: ‘For those who judged me wrongly. I think it’s important you read this. It was a bad edit and we move on with what should be a fun experience on what is almost always a very entertaining programme. Thank you @C4Gogglebox.’

He then shared the statement to his Instagram, but this time wrote: ‘After last night’s clumsy edit which led to a huge amount of distress and outrage to viewers ,myself and my family…. Thank you, We move on and look forward to making fun TV.’

Viewers were quick to react to the show’s apology and editing plan, with some praising the plan, while some still felt disappointed by their actions.

‘This is my favourite show and I feel let down by this! I’m pleased you have corrected your mistake’ tweeted one follower.

While another remarked: ‘Hope the damage & hurt you caused to @EamonnHolmes can be undone with this. I fear not. I’m so disappointed in my favourite show.’

'Clumsy edit': He then shared the statement to his Instagram, but this time wrote: 'After last night's clumsy edit which led to a huge amount of distress and outrage to viewers ,myself and my family.... Thank you, We move on and look forward to making fun TV'

A third Twitter user simply put: ‘Very very decent of you.’

‘I’m sure Eamonn and Ruth are big enough people to accept your apology and move forward, though I, for one, would understand if they chose to take no further part in the series. Your actions to edit future transmissions of this episode are correct. Just my opinion’ wrote a fourth.

‘Thank you. I messaged you earlier to do this. It was totally unacceptable to show what you did but I hope Mr Holmes can accept your apology’ commented a fifth person.

With another agreeing: ‘This is good see! I thought is was appalling the way they edited the episode! Hopefully they are more careful in the future!!!’

It comes after Celebrity Gogglebox was removed from the catch up service All4 in light of Eamonn’s outburst.

In the scene that Eamonn criticised, the celebrities were moved by a touching story where a child phoned 999 to report that her father was having a heart attack

Bizarrely, Eamonn was shown telling a story about how he drove his wife to the hospital when his son Jack was born. It was a good story and he explained that even while his wife was having contractions, she had to give him directions. The problem was that it appeared insensitive to be telling such a story in response to the very touching scene where a child gave his father life-saving first aid.

The stream of twitter criticism was intense:

One wrote: ‘@EamonnHolmes comparing taking Ruth to hospital to have a baby – with a 10 year old lad doing chest compressions on his dad that’s just had a heart attack – is beyond belief!’

Another shared: ‘Did Eamonn Holmes just compare driving his wife to hospital to a 10 year old child giving chest compressions to his dying dad on #CelebrityGogglebox? Unreal…’

I am reminded of the story told about the Cure D’ars and the girl who spread gossip. It is impossible to fully repair the damage done. It does not even have to have been done deliberately. The fact that it was done is enough. In the story of the Cure d’Ars, the girl is asked to pluck a chicken as she walks along the road and when she gets to the church, the cure tells her to go back and pick up all the lost feathers. “That would be impossible”, she replies and he agrees. That is the problem with gossip. that is why it is so important to get things right. The Mail finishes its story by printing these two telling tweets from Eamonn Holmes.

However, the presenter did not ignore the trolls and instead hit back with: ‘Please read my posts. I’m then expecting an apology or an understanding from you ….. or are you not man enough ?’

In another tweet he penned: ‘I’m devastated that the Boy, the Ambulance Service and my whole family have been hurt by this …. sometimes I despair at decision making in TV.’

My story can be found here:

https://monitoring.bbc.co.uk/product/c200wjny

Screen Shot 2020-06-06 at 22.48.25

Screen Shot 2020-06-06 at 22.48.35

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censorship and dubbing comic strip

masha and the bear

tim interviewed about MASHA and the BEAR

tim on dubbing in HTV Irada Zeynalova

 

I can think of only one successful example where dubbing completely different text over a tv dialogue was both efficacious and right.

magic roundabout facts by tim

 

Gogglebox

I had never watched this show before and it was an interesting experience. It was certainly lovely to see Woody and Zoe, and also Nigel Havers, Maureen Lipman, Gyles Brandeth and Millie Fox – I remember her from way-back in Oxford when she performed in a series of shows that I designed and I have vivid memoried of Maureen Lipman singing and dancing in “Wonderful Town” at what was then called the “Queens theatre”., and has now been renamed and houses the new version of Les Miserables.

I did some drawings which I am adding here.

The show has sparked some controversy. Some of it is silly, about the perception of “social distancing” but there is a more worrying story. Hence, I suppose, it is currently off-line and evidently being re-edited. Certainly, it would explain a jarring/ uncomfortable moment in the episode.

eamonn holmes and ruthnigel havers gogglebox

Zoe and Woody goggleboxMillie Fox Gogglebox

For the record, this is how some of the press have reported the story:

This is from a site called “DIGITAL SPY”

The assortment of celebrities – which also included the likes of Joe Swash and Stacey Solomon, I’m a Celebrity winner Harry Redknapp and his wife Sandra, and Martin and Roman Kemp – were shown a devastating clip from the accident and emergency show, in which a 10-year-old boy had to resuscitate his dad after he suffered a heart attack.

Thankfully (and amazingly), the boy was able to bring his father back to life by performing CPR.

The moment had a huge impact on Eamonn, whose father died of a heart attack.

However, the This Morning presenter was furious to discover his emotional comments about his dad’s death had been edited out of the episode, replaced instead with a joke he made about driving wife Ruth Langsford to hospital when she went into labour.

“In reply to a number of complaints, I am hurt beyond belief that @C4Gogglebox chose not to use me talking about my father dying from a Heart Attack at the side of a road and replace it with a funny story following a young lad giving his father CPR. Idiotic and cruel edit,” Eamonn tweeted after the episode.

Eamonn Holmes

@EamonnHolmes

In reply to a number of complaints ….
I am hurt beyond belief that @C4Gogglebox chose not to use me talking about my Father dying from a Heart Attack at the side of a road and replace it with a funny story following a young lad giving his Father CPR . Idiotic and cruel edit.

Black Lives Matter

This evening, I put up a poster on instagram that I had made around the image of George Floyd. I copied some graffiti from a photo I found on the internet and thought that would be ok. Lots of valuable hashtags there and I have recently mastered the hashtag.

What I did not know was that one of these slogans (“All lives matter”) had been hijacked and perverted some years ago. On the one hand, this is the sort of thing that Humpty Dumpty addresses in Alice- words can mean what you want them to mean but that effectively renders the whole process of language incomprehensible. On the other hand, it is Canute-like to pretend that words do not change their meaning.

There is always more to learn- if words need to be adjusted and if slogans are being used in a specific way, then we need to learn about this and make sure we are not making a bad situation worse. This is a problem that has targeted one community, but it is now everyone’s fight. Blackouttuesday showed us this spectacularly. And we have to get it right.

I have therefore re-edited the poster. I do not want to cause offence to anyone and racism is such a serious issue. It may be an issue of greater prominence today in the USA but it is an issue that wriggled underneath the British referendum debate and it is one, I think, that is worthy enough to see a few words adjusted.

banner story blackouttuesday

“Black lives matter” was a campaign begun in 2013, by Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi. It began in response to the shooting of African American teenager Trayvon Martin and the acquittal of the man who had shot him. In 2014, two other African American men were shot by the police and protests particularly in Missouri led to the slogan and the campaign. It is about exposing and condemning structural racism.

“All lives matter” was proposed by Republicans, most particularly Tim Scott. It was then picked up by Hillary. The backlash was fairly aggressive. My gut feeling is that both Scott and Clinton were using the phrase fairly naively, as was I, but others were not. This was not a philosophical debate. It was about cheapening or belittling an important campaign. However, Trump has since gone on record saying that the slogan “Black lives matter” is itself racist and that seems to change the picture entirely. Trump is absurd and needs to be challenged. Even if that means accepting that fairly innocent words have been weaponised.

What is important here is that the police and the legal system have acted appallingly, and that needs to be called out. We also need to make sure that change is in place and that people remember.

By the way, I genuinely think the ideal must be that “all lives matter”, that we must be vigorously colour-blind and defiant of all prejudice in whatever form it takes. And I think, moreover, it goes beyond the human. Again, I am aware that language has changed and that the term “colour-blind”, something that I am mostly aware of in my experience of casting and being cast for parts in British theatre, was challenged in the late 1990s. Again, there is a way in which majorities who do not face prejudice have taken over these terms and effectively used them to sabotage the huge efforts being made by the BME community to achieve credible, full and workable equality. However, this was good terminology advanced during the civil rights’ movements of the 1950s and 60s, I cannot think of a better expression and I hope it is understood in those terms. We have an overwhelming duty of care to whoever or whatever is part of our life. That is mutual. It is neither patronizing nor subservient. We share our life with others, globally, nationally and domestically. We must respect and be responsible for others, as they for us.

The Little Prince

Martin Luther King talks about being judged not on colour, creed or gender but on “the content of their character”. He is quite right, but I think he does not go far enough. We should simply care and be kind to all because we all have a shared life together. As I said, I think this goes beyond the human- We can think of the story of the fox in The Little prince (I love the song in the slightly obscure lerner/lowe film, incidentally) or even of the last sentence in the book of Jonah where God defiantly says he cares for the cattle too:

“..and should not I have pity on Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than sixscore thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand, and also much cattle?” (this was the first text I ever translated and learnt in Hebrew so I have great fondness for it. It sounds lovely and is quite funny.)

Here’s a link to the Little prince- Gene Wilder is charming here as is the little boy. We have responsibility for those we get closer to. It does not stop the little prince going away. That is something I do not quite understand. I hope I would have stayed with the fox.

We need to take responsibility for one another. We need to care more.

 

 

 

Samuel Pepys

pepysThis man is clearly on people’s minds- and why not? This morning, I posted a picture (@professor_tim_wilson) that I drew in a noisy garden, reflecting on the fact that there has been some fake news arising mostly from someone who has been posting modern plague diaries. The most sensational quotation is here:

“On hearing ill rumour that Londoners may soon be urged into their lodgings by Her Majesty’s men, I looked upon the street to see a gaggle of striplings making fair merry, and no doubt spreading the plague well about. Not a care had these rogues for the health of their elders!”

It is not genuine at all and belongs to someone going under the name @PepysDiaries. Would that it were real because it would suggest the great Pepys was prescient indeed. But he was not. He was not even very nice.

I cannot see why anyone would want to pretend to be Samuel Pepys! (unless they had plans for their own personal Mrs Bagwell, I suppose… she must have liked him, or maybe she was just grateful.) the whole diary is a bit distasteful, what about poor Mr Bagwell, who worked so hard to keep Samuel happy. and Samuel’s wife away in Woolwich.

What struck me most in rereading the original plague diaries is simply how patronising they are and what a distance they show between “them and us”. The plague, for all its nastiness, hit the poor far more than the rich, and Pepys wrings his hands about the people in the kent road and the unemployed seamen but I am afraid he does not do much. He is more distracted by Mrs Cooke. And so, Pepys observes at the end that “I have never lived so merrily . . . as I have done this plague-time.” Maybe, he was trying to put a Christmas gloss on a bad situation but it comes across as a bit heartless when so many died around him in London.

This, incidentally, is what the present day Pepys adds to clarify things,

“I hath been told by several fellows that my musings upon the pox in the year of our Lord 2020 are being mistook by some for my diaries of yore. I mean not to make a fool of any man, but hasten to mind my good friends that my quill here doth write of modern-day matters.”

I have found that a good friend, George (from Ireland) has identified the house of Pepys and he gives a very good account himself of the Pepys of plague-time London. It is well-worth a watch. Here is a link:

(You can also check up George’s account of the Edward Lear house.)