Imagination is defined as “the faculty or action of forming new ideas, or images or concepts of external objects not present to the senses”. Or, as Ursula Le Guin put, “imagination acknowledges reality, starts from it, and returns to it to enrich it” (Making Up Stories, 2013). An idea, a hypothesis, a lyric, a harmony, a story, a poem, a thesis, a recipe, it’s as if imagination is vital to almost everything we do. Which is why, as I mentioned earlier, the new Cats movie and the current state of politics are symptomatic of a dearth of imagination. Yet, the New Stories of our times, while brilliantly critical of business-as-usual, can still end up sounding a bit old-fashioned, a little unimaginative if you will. So, I think most of us could do with stretching our imaginations a little (or a lot) and we can start with reading a novel.
Because novels come in all shapes and sizes, and many, many genres, and all these genres have a thing or two to teach us. Say, you’re one of those Silicone Valley tech-guru types offering a vision of an all-singing, all-dancing, wizz-bang future, then you’re flying in the space of science-fiction, looking to an imagined future to help inform the present. Or maybe you like harking back to the glory days of yore when England was England or even further back to a time before the Romans invaded and wiped out our pagan heritage, then you’re riding through the realm of fantasy, looking back through history and giving it your own spin. Or maybe you don’t truck with fiction and prefer to focus on the “facts”. Then let me refer you to realism, as equally fictitious as the other genres, but working just as hard to engage the imagination of the reader with concepts a little more familiar than space ships and trolls. Other popular genres for modern storytellers include dystopia – the world’s going to sh*t; uptopia – the world will be great again if we do it this way; whodunnit – who’s to blame for all this; and romance – how to fall back in love with yourself in ten easy steps. I’d say a book like Homo Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari, shelved in non-fiction, manages to engage all these genres yet despite professing to have a written A Brief History of Humankind he barely mentions a single novel, no poetry either.
Ideas need the imagination because it’s the faculty that allows us to engage with them. As Ursula Le Guin put it, “Truth is a matter of the imagination. The soundest fact may fail or prevail in the style of its telling.” So if you want to get stylish in your telling you’re going to have to do better than a bullet point list and would do well by exercising that imagination of yours. And if you want an imaginative workout, you could start by reading a novel.
What’s that coming over the hill? Is it a monster? No, silly, it’s The New Story. From the mossy groves of land-based communities, the chthonic myths of oral storytellers, and the fiery determination of eco-activists, it is a story being pieced together sentence by sentence. Add to it the translated wisdom of many an indigenous community, throw in James Lovelock’s Gaia hypothesis, and thank God that Earth (with a capital ‘e’) is a woman, and the sentences become paragraphs. Take the darkness and light of our souls, some lentils and the pleas for a less-populated world (with multiple options on how we de-populate our world), and the chapters gather until The New Story is at our fingertips. A story in which humanity lives sustainably and peacefully on Planet Earth.
Wow, this sounds like a great story and it’s one I’ve been keen to be a part of. I’ve done personal development courses in sustainable(ish) communities, I’ve fasted in a Welsh valley, I’ve signed online petitions to save the planet, and I’ve written many a poem about our deep connection to nature. For a long time I believed in this story, I saw Ecotopia on the horizon and I ran towards it (barefoot, naturally). I wanted to be part of the story, admiring of its prophets, and desiring of a world of so much more than this. Until a young gay man I briefly knew who also loved these stories took his own life. Until I realised that within the discussions of the Divine Feminine and the Divine Masculine there was no space for other genders – transgender, non-binary, genderqueer, questioning and beyond. Until I found the relentless sexism despite these discussions of “divine” masculinity and femininity. Until it became achingly clear how white these spaces were. Until I realised that it’s one thing to talk about (and laud) diversity of animal and plant species and quite something else to talk about diversities of gender, race, ability, class and sexuality. Yes, I was naive but I did my best to question the systems I was part of (just as the purveyors of the New Story told me to question the systems of the Old Story). It started to seem that the so-called New Story actually contained a lot of the Old Story – y’know, that one of patriarchy, power, oppression and abuse.
So I’ve come to be sceptical of anyone peddling The New Story because just as monocultures deplete earth of nutrients so monostories deplete people of their diversities. I don’t think a single story can save us (and maybe I’m being unfair to suggest that anyone is actually suggesting this) but I do think the more we gather as people with our many, many stories to hand, the more likely we’ll be able to face the monsters that really are coming over the hill. Of course I want a more sustainable and loving world and, of course, stories will inspire this change but we also need more than narratives with convenient beginnings, middles and ends, because life is so much more than a story.
So, it’s the end of 2016, which at times seemed like a pretty apocalyptic year. Trump got in, Brexit got voted for, Syria still rages through war and not to mention the 6th mass extinction and resource depletion. It seems all those stories about humans conquering the world, about technology solving all our problems, about the forward trajectory of human civilisation, well, they turned out to be pretty shoddy stories with a shed load of plot flaws and inconsistencies. Fortunately, we’ve got Lorde, the singer songwriter, to offer us some guidance and it comes in her song Team.
The video and the lyrics go hand in hand as they paint a picture of faded grandeur. A city that’s slowly falling apart, the sort of place “you’ll never see on-screen, not very pretty,” – nothing like the Kardashians’ numerous houses. It’s a place where guys joust with baseball bats on motorbikes and grin chipped tooth smiles as the blood trickles down their noses. It’s an apocalyptic rite of passage as people get initiated into meaningless. “Living in ruins of a palace within my dreams” and that’s where we seem to be retreating these days, to inside our heads, far away from the dangers of the world, far away from the grim realities of climate change and refugee crises. Although even for Lorde that palace in her dreams is falling apart. It seems nowhere is safe anymore.
But maybe, in and amongst the debris, there’s hope. “I’m kind of over getting told to throw my hands up in the air, So there.” Maybe Lorde’s bored of being told to give up and surrender, maybe she does want meaning in a culture that’s regularly telling her nothing matters and we should all just give up. Sure, the old stories might not make sense – that everything would end happily ever after – but the people telling those stories were clearly quite deluded (and probably very privileged). What if it’s this naive belief in stories – that life has clear and well-structured beginnings, middles and ends, like fairy tales – that’s the problem. What if finding meaning in today’s world will take more than a simplistic story structure.
“And everyone’s competing for a love they won’t receive, ‘Cause what this palace wants is release.” Lorde’s right again, we are competing, constantly hoping this life of high consumerism, economic reductionism and endless comparison will give us meaning as we shove one another aside to get what we want and get happy trying. That seems so much to be the dominant story of now. But beyond the credit card transactions and the debt, like Lorde, we crave release – release from these highly conditioning bonds of consumer capitalism. Or maybe this is just an exceptionally self-indulgent blog written by a directionless yet privileged millenial – a bit like the sort of people Lorde sings about perhaps.
But, as self-indulgent as I can be, I do want to do something about the mess we’re in, even if the contribution is small and it still all ends in apocalypse (bearing in mind that countless people are already living and dying through various incarnations of hell on earth). And I think Lorde’s song holds the key. She offers us the answer for getting out of this debt-heavy, meaning-lite existence because “you know, we’re on each other’s team.” Somewhere beyond the narratives of endless competition there is a story of teamwork, a more meaningful story in which we join forces and learn to share. And it will be so much more than a story, it will be real human experiences of compassion and community. Better to rebuild ruins together than be forced to live in them alone.
And it all ends happily ever after – the dragon slain, the terrible King overthrown, the witch thwarted, the wolf outrun, the villagers saved, the damsel rescued and…wedding bells. In old folktales, in Disney cartoons, in far too many movies and, of course, all over real life. Many people spend a lot of time, pain and money trying to craft that perfect day – the white dress, the giant cake, the big guest list. Sometimes they’re lucky and the only problem is the slightly leery uncle and other times it’s a disaster of catering, drained alcohol supplies and family feuds. Either way it seems we’ve taken the concept of a fairy tale wedding very seriously and tried to recreate it in real life. But I think we’ve slightly missed the point.
I do love a good fairy tale but I get pretty bored when it’s all about cisgendered, white, straight guys rescuing helpless damsels and marrying them, yawn. But the tradition was somewhat reclaimed for me when someone explained why fairy tales have a habit of ending in weddings. It’s not because the tale is literally a how-to manual for planning the big day, no, it’s a little more subtle than that. One way to interpret a traditional fairy tale is to see the characters in the story as facets of our personality (or psyche). We all have a questing hero in us and sometimes we can be a bit of a tyrant as well. There’s a wild wolf in us too, a wise sage, a jokey trickster, a helpless victim, a cunning witch and even a terrifying dragon (metaphorically speaking). We’re not just supposed to identify with the hero (y’know, that dull straight, white guy), instead all the characters represent different aspects of who we are. Many of us might play the part of the fool more often than the wise one, or the tyrant than the victim, but the point is the potential is there and our psyche is multi-faceted (whatever those dull personality tests tell us, give me dragons and witches over ENTJ any time). Basically, folktales are a form of psychology and therapy developed hundreds of years ago, pretty cool huh.
So why the wedding? Well, it’s not just some random straight folks tying the knot, it’s the marriage of your psyche. Say what? It’s when all of you, all of you, is invited back home to one giant party – it’s when you finally come to terms with being you. In many traditional tales the wedding won’t just include the in-laws but the tyrant king will be there (and he may well ceremoniously die as metaphor for you conquering your inner b*stard), the annoying brother, the sage, the mentor, the dragon’s head maybe, the witch (providing she survived and promised to be a little less wicked) and even the wild wolf might be seen flitting around in the garden. The guest list is vast and the catering cost astronomical but the point is all of you has been welcomed back home. It’s not about white dresses and multi-tiered cakes, it’s about inner healing and empowerment. So, as symbolism for inner transformation goes I think fairy tales are pretty ace. However, if like me you’re not such a fan of heteronormative ceremonies traditionally based on the buying and selling of woman, you’ll agree that the tales need a bit of a 21st century makeover. No more weddings for me, just one giant queer house party. All welcome.
Chemsex kinda does what it says on the tin, mixes chemicals and sex. The drugs used can include mephedrone, crystal meth, cocaine and ketamine. Naturally, a whole load of stereotypes get flung at the people and groups who engage in these activities which is why The Chemsex Monologues are so important because they reveal the all too human side behind the prejudiced slurs and sensationalised stories. But before you read my review go book your tickets, it’s on tonight until Saturday at 9.45pm at the King’s Head Theatre in London.
Directed by Luke Davies, written by Patrick Cash and designed by Richard Desmond this was an intense hour-and-a-bit. Through a series of monologues we were introduced to various characters: the narrator, played by Richard Watkins, who falls for that hot boy on the scene with the great abs and the endless energy. Then Denholm Spurr brings that boy to life as Nameless, who gets to live his dream and meet a porn star. Meanwhile, Charly Flyte plays Cath, the ever faithful fag hag who’s getting a little fed up of her so-called fag. And Daniel, the wonderfully upbeat sexual health worker who loves handing out condoms and lube at saunas and brings red wine to a chemsex party rather than chems. All the cast were fantastic, they found the nuances of character and the expressive range to ensure each monologue was delivered as the multi-layered story it was written as. It wasn’t just someone stood up and talking for fifteen minutes instead we were drawn into worlds of sweaty bodies, M&S ready meals and chemically fuelled orgies. That all the monologues wove together to tell a larger, interlinked story and showed the same characters from different angles proved very satisfying but I shan’t spoil anything (but what I will say is that I’m very glad how things turned out with Swallows).
What also worked so well in this production as in Queers (also produced by Dragonflies Theatre), was that thread of emotion that meant the stories told were more than just anecdotes but had real heart. That Cath was so much more than a fag hag but also a loyal friend, a hardworking single mum and an amazing source of positivity. That Nameless was more than the boy in short shorts (and nothing else) but had so much love to give and poetry to share. That both the narrator and Daniel could see the cracks in the facade of this seemingly glamorous world and still be there to offer a hand. I’d also like to add that I sincerely hope Matthew Hodson is as nice in person as the characters he plays are – Daniel was a legend as was the character Hodson played in Queers (no pressure Matthew). However, the niceness of these characters just exacerbates the tragedy that runs throughout the play. There’s a moment when Daniel’s wondering to himself why so many people do mix chems and sex. He thinks back to a GCSE classics class and remembers that the word ecstasy comes from the Greek extasis: a displacement or removal from the proper place. “Why do so many gay men want to be outside themselves?” he wonders and I thought that was a very good question. Is it just for fun or is it that this so-called real world can be so endlessly hostile and unwelcoming, so shaming of minorities yet so quick to tokenise and ridicule them whilst remaining indifferent to their suffering. If this is one of the messages woven into The Chemsex Monologues then it’s a wake up call for so many of us to stop being so indifferent and unfriendly because people like Nameless, Daniel, Cath and whatever-the-narrator’s-actually-called are priceless and should be made to feel at home. Anyways, enough of that, go book your ticket.
“Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
The Red Queen, Alice In Wonderland
If we can put people on the moon, if we can build a world-wide web, if we can invent the Hoover, then we might as well try to keep Britain in the EU. We are caught in a unique period of time and history: the leading parties have no plan for the future and faith in our country and economy is wavering yet the catalyst at the heart of it – the Brexit vote – has not been rendered fact. It is still just a story. It’s a powerful one that many people have accepted and has already had adverse social, political and economic impact but it’s still a story that can be challenged. It’s time for Operation Breentry.
What’s Breentry? It is a movement to stop Britain leaving the EU. It involves emailing MPs asking them to reject the result of the referendum. There’s another initiative to call for a second Referendum and the Parliamentary Petition for that has over 4 million signatures. Meanwhile, people are demonstrating in the street to Remain in the EU and other European leaders like Angela Merkel are advising us to think twice. Unfortunately, many people are already resigned to letting Brexit happen and/or think Breentry could/should never happen. I want to challenge these beliefs.
It’s anti-democratic: To annul a referendum certainly appears anti-democratic but that surely requires living in a functioning democracy. But we don’t. The Leave campaign was anti-democratic – it lied with regards spending on the NHS, it lied with regards limiting immigration (the deals we might do with the EU would involve maintaining freedom of movement anyway) and it was only campaigning against something, it had no plans for after winning. However, even taking the Leave-Remain decision at face value is wrong because the calling for the Referendum itself was anti-democratic. David Cameron, who had entered into Parliament with a slim majority, called it to appease his right-wing back benchers so he could become PM. That is power politics at its worst especially when so many of the electorate did not even vote him in. Remember, our head of state isn’t elected, our House of Lords isn’t elected, our mainstream media is privatised and has a clear agenda and we only vote once very five years. So, yes, Britain is an aspiring democracy but it hasn’t got there yet. All is still to be striven for.
It’s too late: No it’s not. Article 50 has not been signed. We can still petition all MPs and leaders of all parties (the Tories included) to not make one of the worst decisions in recent British history. Furthermore, even if Article 50 were signed we could still challenge it. Or perhaps this isn’t about being late or early at all, if we were on time we would have trialled all war criminals, transcended growth-based consumer capitalism, ended all wars and avoided climate change. Let’s just be pragmatic and do what we can in the time we’ve got.
It would lead to violence and civil war: Breentry would certainly anger voters who wanted to Leave but their actual vote to Leave has acted as a rallying call to violent racists and xenophobes. Police have registered a fivefold increase in race-hate complaints since Brexit. Immigrants have been verbally abused, attacked and fire bombed in the past few days. This proves again how misled and misguided many Leave voters were, that they actually believed Britain might become some free-standing, all-white nation surrounded by high walls. That was never what the Leave vote was offering even if the likes of Nigel Farage might have encouraged it. If people do threaten violence in response to Breentry and we don’t act as a consequence then we are negotiating with terrorists, kowtowing to criminals and appeasing racists. We categorically cannot let the bullies win. As for civil war, well, currently the Tory and Labour parties seem to be hellbent on ripping themselves apart as the vote has unleashed a whole wave of vitriol and back stabbing from the parties. Meanwhile, the Referendum has split families and friends, as people fall out with each other in bitter arguments. And every economic forecast looks bleak. Perhaps we’ve always been at war in Britain, certainly a class war, and the Referendum just proves what has always been true. Hence why we must do all we can on all fronts to heal the many deep wounds in our country rather than stick the knives in further.
The Tories will negotiate a good deal outside the EU: No they won’t. The Tory party is swift revealing it’s inability to steer a post-Brexit course. Gove stabbed Johnson in the back and does not have a plan for a Brexit future despite co-leading the Leave campaign. Theresa May is notoriously anti-immigration and yet might have to be the one negotiating a deal with the EU that involves keeping freedom of movement – that’s like asking a racist to argue for multiculturalism. Meanwhile, Liam Fox is anti-EU (and anti-gay marriage, he said it’s ‘absurd’ and ‘social engineering’). Angela Leadsom loves Europe apparently but says, “What I hate is the EU and the way it is destroying such a fabulous continent” – good luck negotiating with the likes of Angela Merkel and Jean-Claude Juncker then (she also abstained from voting on gay marriage, she believed it didn’t have a mandate). The irony is that the one pro-Remain candidate, Stephen Crabb, will lose support because of that stance, although he only adopted it out of loyalty to David Cameron even though he’s largely anti-EU. He also opposed gay marriage but apparently is OK with it now, phew. None of these people have the country’s best interests at heart or the intelligence to guide this country into recovery. They’re also all pro-austerity, an economic decision that will grind this country down even further and exacerbate the unrest we’re witnessing. I thought the Tories were supposed to oppose Labour but turns out they oppose themselves as well.
Labour could negotiate a deal instead: No it couldn’t. There’s almost more infighting there than in the Tory party. Corbyn is being relentlessly stabbed in the back by Blairite MPs even though he has a huge amount of grassroots support. He was also anti-EU and decidedly quiet on calling for Remain. If he miraculously became PM (which would be no bad thing as he’d challenge austerity and enrich the welfare state) would he really have the best interests of the UK at heart when dealing with EU bureaucrats? Perhaps he’ll wake up to the Breentry call and take us back, although he’ll have a vicious, untrustworthy party behind him that is just waiting for his political demise. I thought Labour was supposed to oppose the Tories but turns out they oppose themselves as well.
The UK is strong, we’ll get what we want in the end, we’ll “take back control”: No we won’t. Nicola Sturgeon is calling for a second Scottish referendum. Leanne Woods, leader of Plaid Cymru, is calling for Welsh independence, “redesigning the current UK is the only option.” There are calls to unite Ireland and even for London to go independent. Turns out it’s not just political parties that don’t get on, countries don’t either. Add to this deepening austerity, companies threatening to leave/leaving the UK, the loss of our triple A credit rating, a rise in racist violence and I’m struggling to see how the UK stays united. That selfish little world of capitalist consumerism and middle-England-ism is imploding and is trying to take its neighbours down with it. This isn’t new – this has been an ongoing problem for decades, Brexit has just exposed it more starkly. Breentry would just be the first step in trying to patch back together the social fabric of the UK.
But migrants are a problem, we need less of them: No. That is taking Tory and Leave propaganda at face value, as well as various Labour views. Stirring up racial hatred and anti-immigration sentiments are a timeless tactic used to distract attention from underlying economic issues which include rising inequality (how come so many people can’t afford their rent whilst so many others have multiple houses around the world) and austerity (we keep forgetting that it was the 2008 financial crash that brought the global economy to its knees not a “bunch of migrants” nor over-generous Labour government spending on the economy, remember, Osborne’s deficit has been so much higher than that of Brown’s). If we scapegoat and abuse migrants and people whose skin isn’t white enough we will set this country back decades and fall into the same bigoted trap of history. We are better than this and we can learn our lesson.
What if we’d voted Remain and the Leave campaign wanted to challenge it: Then they’d have every right to and could use the same arguments that I have. Except many of the Leave camp voted out of protest on the proviso that Britain would take back sovereignty and control, but that was a lie. They voted to get more money spent on the NHS, that was a lie. They voted for less migrants, that was a lie (plus, I don’t negotiate with racists). But even if this scenario were true the state of our country would still be to play for. We’d still be realising, all too late, that whilst political statements seem like irrefutable truths they are in fact stories and agendas that can be challenged, whoever’s side your on. The game is afoot (and always has been but for too long we’ve let others, including elitist, old-Etonians, play it for us).
The EU won’t get any better: I agree that the EU is a problematic institution. The economic bullying of countries like Germany and France against Greece is outrageous. I know my grandparents didn’t risk their lives against the Nazis just so economic powerhouses could drive other countries into recession. However, I do know they risked their lives to stop war on the continent and that worked, for now. With the rise of the extreme right and this includes the neo-Nazis we risk undoing their good work and whilst we might not have a war with trenches and obvious beginning/end points we will witness the rise of extremist terrorism in Europe directed at groups including Muslims, Jews, the Romani, queers and any other convenient scapegoats. The EU, problematic as it is, is a supra-national organisation built to enhance unity and promote peace but this won’t happen by magic and we must challenge and change it from within to ensure peace reigns. My grandparents fought the Nazis, I think I can fight corrupt EU politics. And the latter is itself a victim of globalised, growth-obsessed, consumer capitalism (that’s the real fight, see rest of blog for thoughts on that).
There is another way and it’s called Breentry.Email your MP and ask them to vote out the Referendum, sign the petition to call for another one, wear a safety-pin to show support with the immigrant population, challenge hate crime, hug your friends, let yourself cry, howl in anger at the moon, smile at strangers and talk, talk, talk. We must dare to be political and we must dare to call for change. A positive post on Breenty and a possible future will come next but this one is getting far too long. Please do challenge me, this is just my opinion, but please let’s keep talking about this. May the force of Lady Gaga be with you – she’s right, we are on the edge but we don’t have to fall.
This is my 100th post and I’d planned the title to be “what’s the point of this blog?” and given the UK’s decision to leave the EU I think my comments on that might answer the question anyway. But, first things first, the Referendum wasn’t real, what’s that all about? OK. It was real, devastatingly so. It is already having vast emotional, social and economic ramifications. As Britain ‘goes it alone’ the pound has plummeted in value, the economy is wobbling and a shift to the right in mainstream politics is underway with the likes of Boris Johnson and Michael Gove vying for power. Extremist right-wing parties like Ukip and their European counterparts are claiming this as a victory for xenophobia and hate. We’ve even recently witnessed one act of right-wing terrorism claim a life, that of Jo Cox. Uncertainty is rising as hope takes a blow to the chest. Yet, for all this, how can I claim the Referendum wasn’t real?
Because from the outset it was a farce. Firstly, democracy was boiled down to a single multiple choice question with only two answers, In or Out, that few people had actually wanted to be put to the public. This doesn’t respect the multi-faceted and multi-partied nature of our democracy it just promotes further divide and hostility as friends and families suddenly found themselves forced to pick a side. And asides for a select few bureaucrats in Brussels and maybe one or two British politicians no one, absolutely no one (myself very much included) could vote with a sufficient degree of knowledge – there are documents of tens of thousands of pages outlying all the treaties and clauses amassed over the decades Britain has been part of the EU and I certainly haven’t read them all. It’s funny that people were suddenly and arbitrarily forced to get knowledgeable and passionate about something they had not seemed to care that much about before.
Meanwhile, people who’ve lived in this country and contributed to its economy for longer than I’ve been alive weren’t allowed to vote. Teenagers weren’t allowed to vote even though they have more future to lose than the rest of us voters. Both campaigns used tactics of fear, hate and misinformation (aka lies) to cajole and manipulate. We’ve already seen Nigel Farage swiftly distance himself from the Leave pledge of £350 million to the NHS (but did we really think neoliberal parties would do an about turn on their views of the welfare state?). There were campaign posters that bore too much resemblance to ones used by Nazis and the media played on xenophobia, fear and outdated nationalistic sentiments to make people think that voting in the referendum was the equivalent to taking some sort of significant stand (it wasn’t, it just makes it easier for the rich to get richer whilst deepening austerity and rolling back the welfare state). Somehow the woes of neoliberal, consumer capitalism (see the rest of this blog for criticisms on that) were landed on the heads of some of the most powerless, namely refugees and immigrants, and a bunch of pro-establishment, old-Eatonians managed to dupe large chunks of the country into thinking voting Leave would lead us into a wonderful British revolution rather than entrenching inequality and recession. That being said, lots of utopic left wingers were somehow led to believe Brexit would yield a land of milk, honey and socialism (my fingers are still crossed). And let’s not forget why this referendum even happened in the first place: because David Cameron wanted to be Prime Minister and he needed the support of his more right-wing back benchers to get it, so he promised them a referendum to appease them rather than having the courage to say ‘no’ (he put it on our heads instead). That’s not democracy, that’s cynical party politics at the public’s expense.
So, yes, the referendum is real and it has happened and this is a rallying call for anyone of whatever political persuasion and however they voted in the referendum to choose peace and oppose the rise of extremism and the violence that goes with it. But, no, the origins of this referendum were neither hopeful nor fair nor democratic. So whatever people say, this was not a victory for the British and the public have not spoken because there was only 1% in it. Like austerity, the referendum is a story wrapped around an agenda. Many desperately believe in it, many just cynically use it to get more power, many misguidedly want it to become true in ways it never will but it is not ‘the truth and nothing but the truth’ it is just one story among many. Unfortunately, it is a very powerful story and its repercussions will prove fatal for many. But Britain has survived two world wars and I think we can survive this too. Now here’s Lady Gaga because why not 😉
Stories are often constrained by the medium through which they are told. Shakespeare’s five act play structure lent itself well to the amount of time people could sit/stand through a play at the Globe. Dickens’ instalment-stories leant themselves well to regular publications in periodicals. And for the past few decades Blockbuster movies have slavishly followed the Hero’s Quest style narrative with great, multi-billion dollar success. And we have the original Star Wars trilogy to thank for this, or should that be blame? Effects-heavy, stereotype-rich and plot-lite is the typical approach for your average Blockbuster – there are basically only 90 minutes to tell the story of one main character (usually a man) doing a series of heroic (usually violent) things culminating in an explosive climax. Meanwhile, in-depth characterisation and moral ambiguities are ignored. Endless films keep using this formula backed up by a growing library of how-to books based on questionable psychology and claims that the Hero’s Quest is the best structure for a good story. Really!?
But that was then and this is now, and there’s a new hero in town, namely the television series. Attracting mammoth budgets, very special effects, stellar casts and nuanced plots – each 45 minute episode is now a bit like an instalment of a Dickens classic. These stories can involve multiple characters and multiple plot strands as well as having the time to explore bigger questions beyond the best way of blowing something up. We finally have an antidote to Hero Quest-itis, we’re no longer just watching the story of one man desperately trying to invest in staving off a midlife crisis. This is no longer the story of the lone hero getting by with a little, token help from his friends, it’s when the friends get to become actual characters with depth, backstory and plot. It’s not just Leia, R2D2, Chewie et al being plot devices in Luke’s success, it’s about opening up heroism (in all its forms) to the whole group. It’s basically the movie Pride.
Based on a true story this tells the tale of the group Lesbians & Gays Support the Miners who raised money for striking Welsh miners in the 1980s. One of the pioneers of the group was Mark Ashton, a young, London based activist, and Pride could have been The Story of Mark – how he went from living your average life in London to being a hero of the Civil Resistance to the 1970s/80s Conservative Government, how he had to face obstacles (discrimination, violence etc) but triumphed over them to glory. But no, this film wasn’t just about Mark, it was about tens of people – a mix of gays, lesbians, miners, protestors, parents, friends, families, women, men, homophobes, naysayers, and bigots. The film portrayed the lives of many people, not just one, and gave depth and personality to a range of characters – quite a feat given that they didn’t have at least 20 episodes to do it in. Multiple protagonist stories abound (Calendar Girls, August: Osage County, Shakespeare’s canon) and they are a good antidote to the idealised, hero story. Pride tells a very different story – that of the Heroic Community perhaps.
The simple point is that we don’t have to look far to see beyond the structural limitations of the Hero’s Quest – for too long this go-to plot has been gone to by movie makers because it lends itself brilliantly to 90-minute, Blockbuster, cash-making extravaganzas. But the bit that really bugs me is the huge amount of literature, science and philosophy that is used to justify the endless use of the Hero’s Quest (ahem, Joseph Campbell). Fortunatley, we can retaliate by populating our stories with diverse characters and not being afraid to diverge from the predictable path of the hero. TV, comics, books, plays and video games are already streaming ahead (and have been for a long time) and now mainstream cinema needs to catch up.