War And Terror: Unhappy Families

There once was a street. On one side were lots of nice houses and in the biggest and best one lived the War family. On the other side were lots of not-so-nice houses and the Terror family lived in one of the worst. The Wars and the Terrors were both pretty odd families with strange ways of doing things but because the Wars had the best house everyone else wanted to be like them. People would do all sorts of things for the Wars like bake cakes, mow their lawn and write nice articles about them in the local press. Sometimes the Wars would say ‘thank you’ to these people or even give them some cash or, best of all, invite them to one of their cocktail parties. The Terrors never did anything for the Wars because they didn’t like them and, naturally, the Wars hated the Terrors in return.

Now, it just so happened that the Terrors lived near a petrol station at which the Wars liked to fill their big cars. To get to the petrol station the Wars would drive their cars over the Terror’s front yard, absolutely ruining the grass. Then, as they waited for an attendant to fill their tank,  they’d eat junk food and throw their rubbish into the Terror’s back yard. Sometimes the War children would use their catapults to shoot rocks at the Terror’s windows, just to teach ’em a lesson for not being friendly. One time Mr Terror got so angry he shouted at one of the War kids. The next day Mr War bashed the guy’s letterbox in with a baseball bat. He also did a deal with the manager at the petrol station, making sure all his friends could get served first whilst the Terrors would have to wait until the end. Sometimes the Terrors would sneak over to the petrol station to fill up but if they were caught Mr War would get very angry. He’d get his sons to patrol the petrol station and get his mate at the local press to write articles describing how awful the Terrors were – I mean, have you seen the state of their back yard!?

One night one of the Terror kids was so angry that he set fire to the War’s kennel, killing the dog. The Wars were outraged and decided to retaliate but catapults weren’t going to be enough this time so they made some Molotov cocktails with the bottles left over from their drinks parties. Then the War kids got in their cars and started driving up and down the street throwing their homemade bombs. They weren’t the best of aims and they often missed their target, hitting other houses instead. Sometimes the War’s neighbours would join in and throw their own bombs as well. The Terrors thought the Molotov cocktails were such good ideas that they started making their own, which they threw at the War’s cars. So the Wars bought bigger cars and bigger bottles. The Terrors knew that the odds were stacked against them but they took great pleasure in scaring the people across the street and forcing the Wars to spend loads of cash on new cars (in truth, the War family bank account wasn’t looking too good but Mr War never liked to mention that). Meanwhile, the neighbours on the nice side of the street got scared and built higher fences around their houses whilst the neighbours on the nasty side couldn’t afford fences so they just hoped the flaming cocktails wouldn’t hit their homes.

The fighting went on and on and it still goes on today. And if you ever happened to be walking down this street, which I wouldn’t recommend, you might overhear Mr Terror talking to his family over dinner and this is what you’d hear him saying:  “Those Wars are the worst, they are evil, vicious people and we must use all the resources we’ve got to fight them. Our ultimate goal should be one thing and one thing only – to terrify them.” If you were then to cross the road you would hear Mr War talking to his family as well. Save for one word you’d hear him saying exactly the same thing.

This post is inspired by Noam Chomsky’s book ‘Who Rules The World’. I never condone terrorism of any sought and with this post I simply want to make the point that violence breeds only suffering and more violence. Similar points are captured in Lily Allen’s song.

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What Is True Love?

It’s a question on many of our lips as we navigate the marketing campaigns, movies and relentless narratives of heteronormative patriarchy that tell us true love is something to be shared with one other person of the opposite gender for the rest of our lives. True love will involve a white wedding, 2.4 children and a mortgage. True love will look good in public and any problems will be hidden behind closed doors. True love will be shared on Facebook and Instagram whilst the passive aggression happens off camera. Fortunately, P!nk and Lily Allen aren’t buying into this bullsh*t.

Well, ok, I think both Lily Allen and P!nk are married with kids although they probably own their houses outright rather than have mortgages. However, there’s a lot of angst in this song as they complain about how irritating their partners are, how infuriating, how stupid and a whole load of other negative things (there are also quite a lot of domestic abuse references as well as some causal anal sexism, but that will be another post). And at least they’re honest. Love isn’t all roses, doves and honeymoons it can be annoying, smelly and sometimes quite disappointing. But I do like the idea of taking the rough with the smooth and committing to something bigger than  just two (or multiple) people, where 1 + 1 makes more than 2 (or 1 + 1 + 1 etc for those in polyamorous and/or open relationships). I think that’s something worth committing to and not that crass and crushing heteronormative, consumer capitalist version of “true love” created to make us buy more stuff and go to bed feeling guilty and alone. And I don’t think that better kind of true love (maybe just call it love to sound a little less presumptive) has to last forever either, what a sad benchmark for a relationship’s success if it only counts if it ended at death. It also doesn’t need to involve kids and a mortgage, dogs in a housing co-op are ace too. And it certainly isn’t just for straights. Queers welcome.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not against people marrying, having 2.4 children and getting mortgages. It’s often a brilliant and inspiring (and very, very difficult) thing to do, hats off to you. But I do mind if that’s all you do, if you’ve just glanced at the ‘true love’ manual (aka watched a few Julia Roberts films and dressed your son in blue and daughter in pink) and taken it at face value. Worse still, not just read the manual but started to recite it as well, as you take for granted that society (and this includes politics, economics and culture) is often weighted in your favour (but only if you’re wealthy enough). I reckon the best thing you can do is acknowledge that space has been made for your type of love, enjoy it, and then set about helping create space so others can enjoy their types of love too. In brief, as with most posts on this blog, check your privilege and don’t be prejudiced. Then we can all have a go at mucking up true love (p.s. and yes, this post was basically an excuse to post that song, it’s just so catchy).

Trolls Just Wanna Have Friends

In response to my previous post on angry men a friend had this question: “I wonder what the best ways are to redirect mass anger towards positive change rather than destruction?” I kind of feel it’s the million dollar question and in the context of angry men, who have a habit of trolling online, I think it is about trying to redirect that anger away from women and feminism towards actually oppressive and dangerous political elites and economic systems. But the political is personal too and on an emotional level anger is often the flip side of sadness, loneliness and insecurity. So, like the rest of us I think trolls just wanna have friends.

This clip contains explicit and offensive content as it uses the language of trolling in order to parody it.

Imagine I’m an angry man troll: I’m sat in my room at my computer watching one of Anita Sarkeesian’s vlogs calling out sexism in the gaming industry. I am not OK with this – I enjoy video games just as they are and don’t want some random feminist dissing my favourite games and dissing my gender. I sign into my anonymous Youtube account and issue Sarkeesian a death threat, I describe in graphic detail the way in which I’ll kill her and then I go off to make baked beans on toast. Why am I doing this? Perhaps it’s because in a world where people like me are relatively powerless (I’m struggling to find a job, the rent’s too high, no one ever spoke to me about feminism when I was younger, James Bond and Iron Man are my role models, I may be suffering from mental health issues and unsure how to seek support) this is finally a chance to exert some power. Quite a lot of power actually: from my computer I can threaten to kill people and I’ll be able to get away with it.

The above might be what goes through the head of an angry guy and it might not. But the point I want to make is that in the mind of the angry guy his response is perfectly normal – given the world he lives in his reaction makes sense (to him). To change this we’ve got to be able to show him why this response might not actually make sense. Firstly, his anonymous death threats have real world consequences – the psychological suffering caused is immense (Mary Beard, a professor at Cambridge University, befriended one of her trolls, told him about the effects of his trolling and even wrote him a job reference!). Secondly, living as we do in a consumer, capitalist society why does the troll waste so much energy attacking those calling for greater justice rather than those who cynically profit from consumerist capitalism – the loaded elites who are quite happy for the ‘masses’ to squabble amongst themselves as it lets them off the hook? Perhaps it’s easier to attack closer-at-hand feminists rather than distant, exceptionally powerful elites who have a knack for staying in power. But surely one things gamers know is that it’s way more fun to take on the big bad guy rather than the scapegoat – Luke Skywalker didn’t diss Princess Leia for having opinions, no, he teamed up with her and took on the entire Empire!

It’s also worth bearing in mind that the ‘angry man troll’ doesn’t actually exist because it’s a trope and a stereotype commonly used to essentialise people and explain them away. People are far more complex than any box we might wish to put them in. It’s important to remember this as we seek to get to know people beyond our usual social circles and before we go off on one complaining about angry men trolls…woops!

They say it takes a whole village to raise a child and I guess it takes a whole society to create an angry man troll. There’s no one person to blame, not the individual himself, because there are just so many factors that contribute to how someone grows up and lives – media, education, entertainment, economics, politics, etc. Our challenge is to make sure all these pillars of our society act in a way that promotes equality and well-being (not exactly a small challenge). And guys, even if they do get angry, are an exceptionally important part of this movement. Indeed, there’s a lot in it for them too – more friends, a greater diversity of video games to choose from, free lessons in emotional intelligence and how to relate to people, more confidence, self-esteem, job opportunities, and even more chances to have great, consenting sex with other adults (because they’ll have the guts to ask for it (in a mature, respectful way) and the decency to not ask again when someone says no). But this equal and just utopia, surely it’s just a pipe dream, a waste of time, why bother? Well, before I get onto that here’s Lily Allen poking a little fun at trolls aka URL Badmen. To be continued…

No More Mr Nice Guy

You probably know one of the really Nice Guys – he’ll be male (obviously), white, heterosexual and, y’know, he’ll be really nice. He’s probably passably attractive (by patriarchal standards) and knows how to compliment a woman in a way that doesn’t completely objectify her. He’ll know just enough about feminism to know that it’s about treating women well, to a point. He’s probably quite popular, with lots of straight, white, men friends, who like competitive sports and were most likely privately educated. He’ll be charming, polite and a gentlemen. In essence he’s a really Nice Guy. The trouble is…he’s not…and here’s why.

There are many Nice Guys out there who think they get feminism, they’ll say nice things to women that aren’t too objectionable, they’ll offer a helping hand (if appropriate) and they’ll listen to their female friends emote. But they have ulterior motives – they’re nice because they want to sleep with the women they think they are being nice to. They realise it’s not OK to be the Manly Man stereotype anymore (i.e. overlty sexist and aggressive, James Bond for example) so they resort to more underhand tactics instead. They get annoyed when women don’t choose them and pick someone else (who might be way less ‘nice’) as if women have some sort of obligation to sleep with them simply because they haven’t treated them badly. They use Tinder to get laid but won’t admit that’s what they’re using it for (“yeah, I, like, er, really want a relationship…(for 30 minutes)” – more like 30 seconds). Basically they don’t just don’t have the guts to ask women to engage in adult, consenting, responsible sex – precisely because they stereotype all women as needy, insecure and in need of being lied to about the possibility of a family, and because they themselves are incapable of having adult, consenting, responsible sex (for them it’s some sort of competition or game).

Nice Guys don’t like self-professed female feminists because they’re too shouty and angry, and they don’t shave their legs and aren’t ‘conventionally’ attractive. They’ll casually undermine and mock their girlfriend when she tries to make a feminist point, as if we’ve reached a post-feminist age where we’re all equal and women should stop whining. They might even go so far as to deny the existence of the patriarchy. They’ll also be somewhat homophobic, transphobic and racist. And why are they all these things? Because white, straight men are the most overly represented group in society. A Nice Guy will never have had to question their existence or worth because they are regularly made to feel entitled and worthy based on their arbitrary skin colour, possession of a penis and sexual inclination towards the opposite gender. Basically they’ve never had to learn how to empathise and think they’re the dogs bollocks (the sort of phrase a Nice Guy might use).

The litmus test for a Nice Guy is the fact they think they’re a Nice Guy – it’s like the Cool Kids, anyone who refers to themselves as one of the Cool Kids just isn’t (partly for using the phrase Cool Kids) – and any self-professed Nice Guy just isn’t one because they’re clearly insecure about all the nasty thoughts they have and things they do. They basically think they’re owed something because they’re not abusive, aggressive and overtly sexist. They’re deluded. The protagonist of that awful film 500 Days of Summer is the classic example of a Nice Guy or what should really be referred to as an ANNG – Actually-Nasty-Nice-Guy.

So, Nice Guys, what to do? Read up on feminism, start respecting people as people – not as things you could have sex with at some point soon – and practice the act of empathy (keep practising, you can get better in time). In the meantime know that you are not really a Nice Guy you are actually what Lily Allen calls a Wanker, you can listen to her song below (TW: homophobia – she equates Actually-Nasty-Nice-Guys with being closeted homosexuals. Sexism – towards Nice Guys, obviously). Oh, and here’s a great BuzzFeed article on Nice Guys.

It’s All A Load Of Kabul Sh*t

The lyrics of Lily Allen’s song Kabul Shit speak for themselves. Climate change, corrupt politics and warmongering foreign policy are all astutely analysed in rhyming verses. So before you cast your vote this Thursday think on the words of that famous mockney singer:
 

There’s a hole in our logic,
There’s a hole in the sky
And one day just like magic
We’re all going to die,
‘Cause we didn’t turn the lights off
And we didn’t take the bus,
Even though we know we should have
Oh, silly old us.

 

These lines refer to the hole in the ozone caused by a range of chemicals including CFCs. Interestingly, in 1987 the Montreal Protocol was signed: an international treaty that phased out the production of numerous substances that contributed to ozone depletion. Unfortunately, the Kyoto Protocol – designed to limit the amount of carbon emissions and hence curb global warming – has proven much less effective even though 97% of climate scientists agree that humans are causing global warming. As Allen points out we carry on ignoring the evidence and consuming resources at a planetary pace, “Oh, silly old us.”

 

Well we should have recycled
And saved our resources
While there’s still someone else’s
Someone call the armed forces,
And we’ll blame it on terror
Also known as religion
But we shouldn’t feel guilt
For protecting our children.

 

Here Allen references resource wars – wars fought to gain control of a specific resource, such as land or water. The song alludes to the Iraq War – waged by the US and UK to allegedly find weapons of mass destruction but subsequently revealed to have been about ensuring access to oil. The war has been deemed illegal and many want to see George Bush and Tony Blair put on trial as war criminals. The lyrics also refer to terrorism, often evoked by Western governments to further justify racist and belligerent policies. Of course, some terrorism does reside in extreme forms of religion and one could even argue that capitalism is its own extreme religion forcing us to kill others for continued growth and profit. “But we shouldn’t feel guilt for protecting our children” is a wonderful sign off as Allen notes people’s tendencies to justify all sorts of actions for the safety of their own family, even if other families are harmed in the process – many of us did support the Iraq War even though it proved devastating for Iraqi civilians.

 

I don’t have the answers
I don’t know where we start,
Start to pick up all the pieces
Of everything we’ve torn apart.
Now, you’d think that we’d be grateful
For the fact we’ve got a choice
Instead we throw it back at people
Who don’t even have a voice.

 

This verse refers to scapegoating – the act of blaming someone for another’s wrongdoing. Recently we have seen Ukip scapegoating immigrants for the UK’s economic woes. Yet inherent to capitalist economics are periods of boom and bust linked to speculation on commodities (e.g. the internet, housing, financial ‘innovations’). However, rather than try and understand the root causes of these problems racist right-wing groups like Ukip play on xenophobia to try to turn people against immigrants. In the early 1900s the Jews were scapegoats, in the 1960s Enoch Powell called for ‘rivers of blood’ and recently Nigel Farage has been blaming Romanians. This is an ignorant and pernicious trope that Allen rightly challenges.

 

And the teachers always told us
Told us we should love thy neighbour,
And my mother always told me
Told me I should vote new labour,
But I don’t know who to trust
And I just find it all confusing,
All as useless as each other
Past the point of being amusing.
 

Allen highlights the increasing adoption of neoliberal policies by the UK’s main political parties. A trend initiated by Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative party in the 1980s and adopted by Blair’s ‘New Labour’ party in the 90s and 00s. Now it seems that neoliberalism is a song all the parties sing too – one that promotes privatisation, austerity and deregulation. When all parties put profit over people it’s not surprising they all appear as “as useless as each other“.

Lily Allen’s is a political and pop tour de force. In a few verses she analyses the status quo with laser precision. So, before you put a cross in a box remember that this status quo does not have to go unchallenged – the power of elites and capital, the neoliberal consensus, the damage of climate change, the erosion of democracy and the waging of wars are all things that can change if we adopt policies that promote people and planet together. We do have agency and we can take action – it begins with a vote. The alternative is denial, the consequences of which are already proving dire:

 

Excuse me, sir,
But is this what they call denial,
Just to carry on regardless
We’ll only do it for a while.
We’ll carry on straight down the line,
Down the road to nowhere,
Do you know where it is leading us
And do we even wanna go there?