Why Slytherin Deserves A Rebrand

When I was a teenagar I went to a boarding school in the south of England. Picture tall sandstone buildings and large quadrangles of well-cut grass. Picture hundreds of boys in grey uniforms singing the national anthem, tackling each other to the ground on rugby pitches and sharing a common disdain for the local ‘chavs’. Picture, also, rampant masculinity, repressed emotions and a punishment system that involved either an early morning run or copying an article from The Times by hand. Yes, at my boarding school I was taught all the qualities a true man should have: ambition, cunning, resourcefulness, pride (in the British class system) and an unceasing desire to win at all costs. Sound familiar? Yup, I basically went to Slytherin.

Slytherin gets all the bad rep because it’s the house that attracts most aspiring fascists. Its founder, Salazar Slytherin, was a famed racial purist who despied m*dbloods and desired only the breeding of pure-bloods. In other words, a eugenicist, Social Darwinist and sociopath. This is categorically the last person who should be put in charge of the education of minors but then maybe the same could be said for some of the teachers at my school. OK, they weren’t Neo-Nazis but sexism, racism and homophobia were often popular. Yet despite the fact that it appears Slytherin has no redeeming features whatsoever why do I think it deserves a rebrand?

Because on paper lots of the qualities a Slytherin possesses are great, it’s just the fascist bit that’s problematic. If we take ambition, resourcefulness and pride whilst maybe dropping the cunning (unless it’s the non-evil sort) and unceasing desire to win (replacing it with a healthy competitiveness), then I reckon that’s a pretty good combo. Add to them Dumbledore’s observation that Slytherins also possess “a certain disregard for the rules” then it’s clear that these snakey folk are more than capable of answering for themselves. Of course, the other key is to not put a fascist in charge. Maybe have some inspiring role models like Merlin (he went to Slytherin!), Ghandi and Brene Brown and these ambitious folks might not end up heading the Tory party, burning money in front of homeless people and/or burning money on trading floors but could form a vital part of the movement to build a just, sustainable and loving future. Don’t worry, I can hear you snorting, how could a bunch of Slytherins become nice people!? Well, I actually think this question is quite important because it’s clear we Slytherins cannot manage our own emotions and aren’t taught how, only to end up taking them out on the people around us. Furthermore, if we’re ignored or under the tutorship of fascists it’s highly likely we’ll grow up to become dysfunctional, angry people. Not only that but we’ll take over the banking system, the political system and any other hierarchical institution that promises wealth and status. And that’s not a threat, it’s just kinda true. So get us while we’re young and please, please don’t leave it to the likes of Salazar Psychopath.

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Fantastic Fascists And Where To Find Them

Yup, finally got round to watching the new Harry Potter film and, boy, does that franchise keep shamelessly chundering on. At least it was sufficiently entertaining and now for some spoilers. Ok, so the plot’s simple: Eddy Redmayne does his trademark stuttering and blinking thing whilst travelling to New York with a bunch of magic creatures in a suitcase. Turns out New Yorkers aren’t very keen on magicians so the magic crew all live in secret and there’s a bunch of outspoken religious loons who preach against witches. There’s also this weird black hurricane mist thing that’s going around terrorising US citizens and trashing buildings. Everyone thinks it’s one of Redmayne’s magic beasts because he spends most of the film letting them escape and having to find them (seriously, buy a new fucking suitcase with a padlock). However, it’s actually an Obscurus. A what? That’s right, it’s the new magic plot device and it turns out that if a kid is forced to suppress their magic, perhaps because their Mom is a quasi-Mormon, witch-hating loon, then all the pent-up magic becomes a ball of dark energy. Fyi, big spoiler ahead. Whilst we spend most of the film thinking the Obscurus is a little girl it actually turns out to be a teenage guy with a bowl haircut. Now for the analogy with fascism.

The young guy and his pent-up aggression are a metaphor for the rise of the alt right, aka fascists. It’s the slow build up of tension as those who’ve ridden off the back of a certain amount of privilege – namely being white and male – are made to feel increasingly angry for the things they don’t have – like lots of money and jobs – and are encouraged to direct that anger at convenient scapegoats – for example, women, people of colour, Muslims, LGBT folk or Muggles. And they are manipulated by those similar to them in appearance, namely white and male (in the case of the film it’s Colin Farrell), but who actually have far more power (Farrell turns out to be Grindelwald, an evil uber-wizard, not to mention the odd homosexual undertone between Grindelwald and the teenage guy because aren’t all older gay men just manipulative perverted villains, cheers JK). Then before you know it all that rage explodes and the young guy’s off on a killer rampage around NY blowing things up. None of this is new though, the fascists have been around for a long time, unleashing violence and hate at whim, and both Brexit and Trump have just emboldened them (curiously both Trump and Grindelwald have bottle dye blond hair).

Apparently Rowling has planned four more Fantastic Beasts films and I guess we’ll just have to watch as magical movies start to reflect real life a little too closely as the alt right fascists (seriously, “alternative” right, there’s nothing alternative about being an utter twat) continue their rise to power, playing on those age-old prejudices that just will not go away. Of course, we could learn our lessons and realise that capitalism is inherently exploitative and unsustainable and rigged in the favour of an elite few. Perhaps all that suppressed rage could be channelled into building a new system because when this one comes crumbling down, as it’s already doing, there won’t be wizards at the end to wave a magic wand and fix all the damage. No, many of us will be dead, beaten up or bereaved and another Fantastic Beasts movie won’t make any fucking difference. Also, it’s 2016 – why are we still watching four white, straight, cisgendered leads steal the show? Come on JK! Other than that I quite enjoyed it.

I Call Bullshit Again: Bored Of Being Polite To Bigots

A few posts ago I was encouraging people to take an empathetic stance towards Trump voters, trying to understand the lives they live, the difficulties they face and why they might vote for someone like Donald Trump. That was, however, before the election result and now that Trump is in the White House I think things have changed. Someone who promoted racism, sexism, disablism, Islamaphobia and a whole host of other prejudices is now not just the surprise candidate he is the surprise president (and don’t forget that he called for bombing civilians, waterboarding and stealing Iraq’s oil). He might be backtracking on his wall and offering a fence instead and he might be telling people to ‘stop, just stop’ committing violence towards minorities but it is precisely those things that helped get him into the White House. So, once again, I call bullshit to bigotry.

I’ve heard a few people, Barack Obama included, say we should accept the situation and just move on (y’know, that keep calm and carry on bullshit), accepting that Trump has been voted president and hoping he makes good of it. Well, as he welcomes people with even more extreme views into his team, denies climate change and courts demagogues I can’t see this ending well. This guy has profited from capitalism, flaunted the rules and grabbed pussy to boot. There is nothing progressive about this man and just because he called bullshit to the political status quo does not make him a trump card (yup, that word is marred forever). He’s a supercharged Nigel Farage who wants to use inequality, social dissatisfaction and age-old rivalries to promote his political success. He doesn’t care who gets hurt in the process so please, please can we carry on calling bullshit to Donald Trump.

And back to that post about empathy. I think it’s pretty easy for someone in my privileged position – white, male, financially secure, not in America, rarely on the receiving end of prejudice – to make simplistic statements about striving to understand people different to myself but if said people have just voted in someone who will make your life incredibly difficult and add fuel to the fires of hatred in your country then the last thing I imagine you want to do is get empathetic (getting a gun probably seems like a safer bet). Rebecca Solnit, Bernie Sanders, Owen Jones and Noam Chomsky are just some of the few calling bullshit and I reckon we should join them. And more than just calling bullshit we need to get organised. For those of us who can, we need to offer support to those facing prejudice because history has not been made by people turning their backs. We also need to ensure that Trump and his equivalents elsewhere do not have it easy – the Republicans made Obama’s presidency tough, so let’s make sure the Democrats do the same rather than just passively endorse the rise of hate. And, yes, empathy and compassion are important too and so is not stereotyping an entire group but Trump is in the White House and the many wars that the ‘West’ has always waged against itself (e.g. black people v. white people in the US, ‘nationals’ v. immigrants in most countries, rich v. poor, rural v. urban) are getting worse and worse. And sure, as the privileged person I am, I am yet to be at the receiving of said prejudices but I’m not going to wait until I get punched in the face before I do something about it. Trump is in the White Horse. This is not OK. And may I remind you that this has led to the return of Sarah Palin and we all know who she is. She says Trump’s presidency is “going to be so much fun” and that just sounds like a threat. So, game on folks, it’s time to wing a whole load of bullshit at those bigots (and here’s a link to the SNL parody of Palin’s speech but I couldn’t decide which was more funny/depressing/scary).

The Friday Night Kindness Kabaret

You know that gay stereotype, the ‘bitchy queen’ one, when the queer in question gives you a lot of sass and destroys your sense of fashion (or lack thereof) in two biting sentences. Then they down a double gin and tonic before offering a witty critique of each person in the room and why they’re all so damn ugly. In fact, I don’t just think you know this stereotype, I think you help promote it. Every time you laugh at those sorts of punch lines, every time you reduce your LGBT friend to a series of tropes and every time you call something ‘gay’, you are overtly/tacitly promoting the culture of queerphobia that still runs so strong in 21st century society. But wait a sec, aren’t I being a little too mean in a post about kindness?

Sure, I’ll be kind, but if you find yourself reading this post and you’re one of those friendly-but-kinda-ignorant straight people then you probably weren’t at the Kindness Kabaret last night in Soho. I was and it was fuming brilliant. There was burlesque from the epic Rubyyy Jones, some ace tunes from internationally ignored superstar Vanity Von Glow, jokes galore from Shon Faye, words of wisdom from writer Matthew Todd and witty banter from hosts Pat Cash and David Robson. But why was it called the Kindness Kabaret? Because Pat and David both feel that there isn’t enough kindness on the London gay scene. And from my own experience I know they’re right – there’s often aloofness, judgement, prejudice, cynicism and a whole host of other unkindnesses. And that’s not because queer folk are all relentlessly nasty but it’s because we have been relentlessly alienated, shamed and abused for being who we are and it’s no surprise that we internalise this Pandora’s box of prejudice and spit it back at one another. So, yeah, I will be kind but first it’s important that you realise the bittersweet fact of the Kindness Kabaret, i.e. that there needs to be one.

And what was even more fantastic about last night was that even though I went by myself I actually met some fantastic people. I got chatting with two friendly guys (and, no, before you jump to that conclusion I did not engage in a threesome and even if I had that does not make me fit your narrow, prejudiced stereotypes) and learnt lots about Sweden’s gay scene, the oldest coffee shop in Soho (I had my first cappuccino and unfortunately I liked it) and British colonialism’s abysmal homophobic legacy that is still present in far too many former colonies’ legal systems. So, in a scene that is often ravaged by unkindness, I thought it was pretty epic I found the opposite and had a bunch of tequila shots as well. As for you straight folks, I know you have your struggles too and one day I’ll post about them but in the mean time I’m asking you to listen to mine. And yes, I’m angry, of course I’m fucking angry, remember that LGBT sexual health and lifestyle education was banned from 1988 until the early noughties in the UK (aka, my entire childhood) and our education system still hasn’t caught up. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Remember this also, that under the frosty, hostile exteriors of those ‘bitchy queens’ there are vulnerable and fragile interiors scarred by a world so often full of hostility, indifference and prejudice. But you can be part of helping heal those wounds. So, yeah, I’ll be nice but you have to be too.

I Call Bullshit: Bored Of Being Polite To Bigots

“I call bullshit!” It’s my favourite post-referendum phrase at the moment and basically it’s a catch-all for whenever I hear someone chatting a whole load of bollocks. Whether it’s Theresa May promising greater equality in Britain, or Borish Johnson saying you can contextualise away his many racist and sexist slurs, or anyone saying Britain can be great again without even the semblance of a back-up plan. I call bullshit to all that. But there’s something I call even greater bullshit to and that’s intolerance.

I was brought up to be polite. Very polite. In many ways that’s a good thing, I always got on well with my friends’ parents and I tended not to go around brazenly offending people. On the other hand it did mean I avoided conflict and internalised the majority of slights I suffered only to let them fester and reappear as passive aggressive comments or sudden outbursts of anger, neither of which were particularly helpful. So, I think there’s a balance to be struck between being polite enough – i.e. not being a total wanker to people – and being blunt – i.e. being honest to call out bullshit when you see it. A bit of conflict is healthy after all.

So, this is one for all the casually bigoted people I know – the sort of people who profess to not being racist but crack the odd joke about people of colour; the sort of people who profess to being tolerant but don’t really like Muslims; the sort of people who profess to not being homophobic but call bad stuff ‘gay’; the sort of men who profess to not being sexist but tell women to get back in the kitchen; the sort of Tory voter who genuinely thinks a party wedded to the banks and neoliberal capitalism can get us out of this mess; the sort of Brexiteer who doesn’t like the democratic deficit in the EU but is blind to the democratic deficit in the UK and the sort of privileged cynic who criticises society and the people in it whilst selling out to be a banker. Basically, I call bullshit to any of the crap that undermines equality and diversity in this country.

I believe in a plurality of values: I am happy for people to practice different faiths, I am happy for people to vote for different parties (e.g. between Labour and Green), I am happy for people to have differences of opinion but I am not happy if any of this promotes hostility and hate. For the sake of Britain being great again we must be intolerant of intolerance. It is not true that anything goes and I will fight tooth and nail to combat prejudice. So, yes, I will throw off the shackles of over-politeness and call bullshit to bigotry. Bigots beware (and while you’re at it, just piss off and get a life)!

Keep Calm

Britain Has Feelings Too

We British are renowned for our politeness. We doff our caps to strangers, we wait for others to get on the tube before we get off and we drink endless cups of tea, sometimes with our little fingers raised. We may grumble through hard times but only very quietly. We complain but never loudly or crassly. We are a proud folk for in the face of a crisis we always keep calm and carry on. We have the stiffest of upper lips and save our tears for the Queen’s birthday. We don’t like public displays of emotion but we will smile at strangers, although we’ll never grin or laugh out loud in front of them. We are essentially a polite race. But something happened last Friday, Britain changed and that facade of politeness fell as our feelings were unleashed.

And it turns out that British people do have emotions after all. People have been in tears and in despair over the call for Brexit (still not a reality – it’s not legally binding and Parliament have made no decisions, time for Breentry): many are sad about the future they see being dismantled, many are sad about the past they see being ignored and many are sad about the volatile present that we’re living through. Others are in fear and pain as they experience the fists, insults and petrol bombs of racial abuse and violence. Many are angry for many different reasons: because they think the majority of people are idiots, because they think it’s time immigrants went home, because they think they’ve been lied to by the press and the establishment. Even the people of power are expressing emotions: David Cameron shed a tear which may even have been genuine (maybe he realised the enormity of the mistake he made) whilst Boris Johnson has gone quiet, which is most unlike him.

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So, yes, British people do have emotions after all – some inspiring and some scary – and over the past few days we’ve been expressing them over and over again. This has been a long time coming – keeping calm and carrying on, grumbling under our breath and being oh so polite are just ways of suppressing our feelings without ever having to address them. But you can’t hide emotions forever. Yet there are ways to vent anger and ways to direct frustration which don’t have to destroy and denigrate and there are ways to express sadness and grief that don’t have to lead to despair, yet we are a vastly emotionally unintelligent country because we’ve never been given the education for it. We have a lot to learn in a very short space of time but perhaps what is happening now is a sharp wake up call: our feelings are powerful, dangerous and transformative. We must acquaint ourselves with them and use them as a force for good.

Why Are The Nazis Still Here?

On 1st May in Borlänge, central Sweden, Tess Asplund walked out into the middle of the road with her fist raised. There were 300 men walking towards her. They were the Nordic Resistance Movement – a group of racist, anti-semitic neo-nazis. “It was an impulse,” Asplund said, “I was so angry, I just went out into the street. I was thinking: hell no, they can’t march here! I had this adrenaline. No Nazi is going to march here, it’s not okay.” The photograph of Asplund has gone viral and she has received a lot of praise for it as well as a lot of hate (full Guardian article here). I find what Asplund did hugely inspirational but it saddens me that she needed to. I just can’t understand why, in the year 2016, the Nazis still exist.

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The last time we saw the Nazis rise to power was in 1930s Germany. The Wall Street Crash happened in 1929 and the Great Depression ensued. The Weimar Republic (in Germany) slipped from prosperity into poverty as inflation rose drastically and living conditions plummeted. So fertile ground was created for hostility, anger and rage. Hitler and his party used the worsening economic climate to fuel hatred. They scapegoated Jews and other groups, and blamed them for Germany’s woes. We know the rest of the story. It is violent and tragic. And the legacy lives on. There are still far too many Nazis (and other far-right groups) who feel they can gain identity and meaning through hatred and violence. Following the financial crash of 2008, the ensuing recession, imposed austerity, we see living conditions worsen and the social fabric start to fray. Again, the Nazis are using this as an excuse to scapegoat others whilst purposefully ignoring the wider economic problem.

Capitalism is predicated on growth and speculation. As a market grows (say the housing market) so it gets speculated upon and a bubble grows. During this ‘boom’ time governments can spend more on public services and people have more cash in their pockets. However, markets can’t grow forever and eventually bubbles burst. During the ensuing ‘bust’ period cuts are made, austerity imposed and people’s ready cash starts to vanish. The system is unsustainable and no resilient society can be expected to thrive in the long-term on such shakey foundations. However, politicians and various political groups cynically use these worsening conditions not to critique the larger economic system but to garner more political power. They play on people’s prejudices and pretend that a certain group is the problem. This group, they argue, needs to face hostility and violence and then our problems will go away.

But it’s not true and we all know it, even the neo-nazis. We all crave meaning and purpose and it’s a very mad world in which people find that meaning and purpose in violence. Yet these narratives of hate can be challenged. Not only do these narratives lack economic and political validity they also, clearly, lack compassion. Yet the action of Tess Asplund, whilst full of anger as she says, was also full of compassion and hope – hope for a better world that does not tolerate violence. Hope for a world where democracy does not mean pandering to groups who wish for murder and genocide but empowering groups who call for justice and love. Asplund had no idea the video of her protest would go viral. She acted purely in the spur of the moment and has been hugely surprised at what has happened since. She doesn’t claim to be a hero and wasn’t trying to be, she was just standing up for what she thinks is right. We can all do this. However big or small our actions count. Resisting hate is totally worth it.

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“The lady with the bag” taken by the photographer Hans Runesson in Sweden in 1985. She’s hitting a member of the neo-nazi Nordic Reich party.

I will leave you with an extended quote from the German economist Silvio Gessell. He wrote the below in 1918 after WW1 yet its relevance still applies. “In spite of the holy promise of people to banish war once and for all, in spite of the cry of millions “never again war” in spite of all the hopes for a better future I have this to say: If the present monetary system based on interest and compound interest remains in operation, I dare to predict today that it will take less than twenty-five years until we have a new and even worse war. I can foresee the coming development clearly. The present degree of technological advancement will quickly result in a record performance of industry. The build up of capital will be fast in spite of the enormous losses during the war, and through the oversupply [of money] the interest rate will be lowered [until the money speculators refuse to lower their rates any further]. Money will then be hoarded [causing predictable deflation], economic activities will diminish, and increasing numbers of unemployed persons will roam the streets…within these discontented masses, wild, revolutionary ideas will arise and with it also the poisonous plant called “Super Nationalism” will proliferate. No country will understand the other, and the end can only be war again.”