Norwich’s Hostry Festival 2018 play is Rebecca Chapman‘s “The Boy in the Lighthouse“, a Total Ensemble Theatre Company production that is inclusive in every sense of the word. From the actors it casts to all the various forms of visual and audio art forms it embraces, and to the warning to be careful that the cast don’t step on your toes if you’re in the front row!
“Our focus this year is on inclusion and diversity, and I’m more than proud to announce Total Ensemble Theatre Company’s World Premiere of Boy In The Lighthouse as our festival Central Production. With a cast of over 25 from all over Norfolk.” – Stash Kirkbride, Hostry Festival founder
Some might consider an inclusive production that is mainly movement and music from a cast of all abilities and levels of experience a strange or even risky choice after a history of pedigreed plays and poems at the 8-year-long Hostry Festival. These have included the likes of Jean Cocteau’s “The Eagle Has Two Heads“, Melvyn Bragg’s “King Lear in New York“, TS Eliot’s “Four Quartets“, and “The Night Of The Iguana” by Tennessee Williams.
If the Hostry Festival is willing to experiment and take risks, then Total Ensemble embodies that in extremis.
On opening night there was a packed audience, some even standing, as the play opened to the sound of gunfire or was it fireworks? There was intense movement and music, and several masked cast seemingly playing pass the parcel with a wrapped bundle. Already it’s a mystery wrapped in a bundle of layers just as the parcel is passed around and a layer removed becoming a garment put on by one of the actors.
If, in the opening scenes, cast and audience both seem lost, with the plot at times needing a light shone upon it, have patience, for that light is eventually shone and the parallel tales of the play knot together like twin searchlights eventually crossing over and finding their quest.
“Living in a remote lighthouse, isolated and forgotten, a young man creates a world for himself with the help of his imagination and the magic that resides in the beam of light that scans the ocean at night. There is a mystery… the solution to which lies within a secret buried deep in the past. Join him as he embarks upon an adventure into fantastic worlds, travelling to find peace in a place where he truly belongs.”
The play is mysterious, a journey, never on the rocks but sometimes in the dark. In fact, it is performed in the round so we all see it from different sides, as this round is a square!
If the performance is a little unclear in the early scenes, then so are the characters’ ideas of where they are heading. This may be in part down to the play’s piecemeal coming together over several years, multiple influences, and a creative democracy where workshops and improv have created aspects of the whole that have been weaved into its final form. Chapman, like a master carpet weaver, has, though, managed the feat of tying it all together and maintaining the story and pace in the packed 75-minute drama that effortlessly sails by.
The seriousness with which the piece is performed is portrayed on the faces of every actor, some smiling, some grimacing, everyone giving one-hundred-per-cent. As Hugh Darrah, who plays the Boy, says “we are super focused” and he was, holding a calm consistent centre to the play whilst all around him is sometimes blowing about like a storm.
The physical set pieces of bodies entwined, contorted, at rest yet like sharp rocks surrounding the base of a lighthouse, appear uncomfortable as a dry stone wall but seemingly at ease, much as their cast do.
Timing is everything and the choreographed coordination of movement with the music is transfixing, at times it is perfect with hands in the air moving synchronously with the sounds and narration.
The soundscape is dramatic and really conjures up the slightly creepy end-of-pier atmosphere as well as the lighthouse seascape. It’s even reminiscent of Twilight Zone or Twin Peaks – a favourite of creator and director, Rebecca Chapman. Somehow Chapman, who created the complex soundtrack and voice over, wrote the play, directed, also plays three roles and clearly takes great care of her cast.
Young actor Lexi Watson-Samuels carried off the role of a crow convincingly with a bird’s inquisitive and alert jerky head movements, akin to an indigenous shaman channelling a bird. She embodied the role very well and even when not the focus of a scene remained fully present and in role.
Real and surreal, magical and mechanical, collide in a tale that is both exterior and inner journey. The eponymous Boy ‘in the Lighthouse’ is lost and seeking something just like another character in the play, the end-of-pier broken fortune teller, who cannot remember the past or predict the future.
We are bombarded like waves upon a ship in a storm with messages of brokenness, loss, loneliness, abandonment, and a search for meaning and release. Looking for answers and needing the light.
As the play notes say, the Boy in the Lighthouse is a “dark story bathed with light” that leaves you asking questions and recognising human inconsistencies much as man-made light or magical fortune tellers.
Peter Barrow, acting for the first time with Total Ensemble, though he has been in many a Hostry festival play in past years, is transformed from curmudgeonly sea dog to sea God by costumery that reminds me of a Jon Pertwee Doctor Who and the Sea devils episode from 1972.
The commitment of the cast to telling this tale is evident in their energy, composure, connection and regard for each other’s space and place on stage. This may be about a boy, a man, a god, set in a lighthouse, or fortune teller box, but in the end, nobody steals the limelight they all share it. The cast is listed in alphabetical order not in order of importance and each get equal say and space on the programme to describe their experience of working with Total.
“The greatest shock joining Total this year was the complete lack of hierarchy to the point that I could not discern between alumni and newcomers. Unlike any other experience of group work the atmosphere of acceptance inspires people from all walks of life to come together in confidence.” – Luke Arnup, ‘Teenage Brother/Son of Sea God’
The finished play is an ensemble piece in every sense of the word, inclusive of all its cast, and its audience on four sides. Truly an expertly produced play that really works in the round. You should go see even if only just to read their 15-or-so words of fame that each has been allotted on the back of the programme, I defy you not to shed a tear at how Total Ensemble has made some of them feel included and more confident in themselves.
The Hostry Festival main play runs from the 22nd – 28th October – tickets here or via 01603 598676 (Theatre Royal box office). Wednesday and Saturday, like Monday, are sold out.
Peter Barrow (actor & backer) and Stash Kirkbride (artistic director) together make up the PBSK partnership that puts on the annual Hostry Festival in Norwich. This year their main play is the L’Aigle à deux têtes by Jean Cocteau, written in 1943 and first performed in Brussels, Lyon and Paris in 1946. The French play both became a film and was ‘adapted’ by Ronald Duncan for English productions as “The Eagle Has Two Heads”. Whilst Cocteau once unfairly derided his translation as “preposterous”, the performance, staging and script, on the opening night (continues till 29/10), were superb.
Melodrama Revival or Tragicomedy?
“It’s a revival of a long lost French melodrama, a romantic play not seen in Norfolk since 1947 when it was performed at the Maddermarket Theatre.” – Stash Kirkbride
Although, Cocteau himself, would rather see it as comic tragedy uniting a “human play” and “great rôles” in “intellectual theatre” with “violent action”. Take the sarcastic bite of these lines, for example:
The Queen: “I have not shown my face to a living soul, except to my reader, Edith. It is questionable whether she has a soul. It is still more questionable whether she is alive.”
Cocteau has sections of Hamlet read during the seemingly multiple plays within a play and references a resurgent theatre in suggesting that the King was killed for building theatres and the Queen criticised for her love of the arts and actors in the family.
The Queen: “…they all wanted to become actors. that was impossible, so what could they do but turn their lives into a play, each living his own comedy. But I dreamed of making mine into a tragedy.”
There were times when I wasn’t sure whether laughter was appropriate in this tragedy, for there were great comic moments and fantastic verbal put-downs by the two leading female roles, and to a lesser extent by the resurgent Stanislas when not in cowardly assassin or fawning lover mode, as for example when he calls the Queen on her conceited notion that suicide was insufficiently dramatic a death.
“All love is a little death, and great love is suicide.”
For those with a knowledge of French, back-translating the dialogue led to some great double entendres, including le petit mort above, perhaps unintentional, but it added to the depth of the typically French philosophical and somewhat sexy melodrama – or tragic farce, at times.
Historic Setting & Political Commentary
“On a wild Autumn night circa 1910, a reclusive Queen dines alone in one of her many castles mourning the loss of her late husband. An assassin appears – he has come to kill the Queen but instead he falls hopelessly in love with her. For a brief moment in time their love blossoms, but it is not long before the corridors of power begin to echo with disapproval. And so, it must all end even before it has begun… but how?…” – Synopsis, Hostry Festival
Indeed, the play has echoes of Romeo and Juliet‘s tragic romance. This 20th-century play, set in the late 19th – loosely based on the “strange death of Louis II of Bavaria” – is, in addition, interlaced with questions of anarchy, the poetic temperament, philosophy of ideas, court intrigues, and even class commentary.
The latter almost creates a play within a play as the supporting actors Lucy Monaghan (Edith de Berg) and Christopher Neal (Duke of Willenstein) carry on their own drama of love, jealousy, position and power among lower order nobility.
The Queen: “Those who are born slaves are free. Compared to us who are imprisoned in this tyranny [love, or indeed royalty].”
Meanwhile, enter the anarchic poet peasant with royalist leanings, with his uncanny resemblance to the dead king, on the anniversary of his death. The hermit Queen, not seen in public for years, has her own anarchic and heroic leanings, owning a copy of the poet’s seemingly anti-monarchy poem. She both dispenses with and asserts class and court etiquette in dialogue with Stanislas – a fact which he gains courage to take advantage of, to both the Queen’s dismay and pleasure for she hates cowardice. He, nonetheless, recognises that it is all within the Queen’s gift and that she is “the axis around which all men must move”.
“You are in the presence of your Queen. Don’t forget it.”
But then comes the distinction, is he, or indeed she, against the office of the Queen, rather than the person? For it is the crown that wields the power, not the wearer alone. Who is to be assassinated, the idea or the individual? Typically French revolutionary political ideas mixed with high philosophy.
Stanislas: “I am not hating my Queen. I fell in love with a cause and let a cold idea ravish me. So that when I broke into your room I was nothing but a mad idea.”
As with the incognito Empress Elisabeth of Austria’s assassination in 1898, the assassin was attacking the system:
“I am an anarchist by conviction…I came to Geneva to kill a sovereign, with object of giving an example to those who suffer and those who do nothing to improve their social position; it did not matter to me who the sovereign was whom I should kill…It was not a woman I struck, but an Empress; it was a crown that I had in view.” – De Burgh (1899). Elizabeth, empress of Austria: a memoir, pp326–327
Staging & Acting
The fast-paced three-act play opens with an opulent open stage, set in the round – well a square (squircle?), with raised seating on all four sides. The backdrop is a large piece of double-headed eagle art by local Russian artist Gennadiy Ivanov.
A live cellist, the excellent Ivan McCready, sits at one corner of the stage adding real musical backing overlays and that resonant wooden tone that only a cello provides.
I was sat on one of the four front rows, next to the cellist and to a card table that the Queen and leading actress sat at during the play, giving the audience a rare intimacy and experience of the action. And, action it was at times, with erotic embraces, intense thumping dialogue, and not a few near and acted deaths taking place at the audience’s feet.
The actors threw everything into their craft, faces were stretched, contorted, angry, impassioned, spitting, “acting without restraint” like a Jean Marais (Cocteau’s lover) in Les Parents Terribles. This was something Cocteau wanted to restore to modern theatre, including a reading of Hamlet within the play, “with as much violence as [Stanislas] put into [his] last insult.”
“The appearance of a comedian-tragedian is the great novelty of the theatre today. By exaggerating the comic lines he manages, without seeming ridiculous, to put on the sublime grimaces of which the screen deprives us.” – Jean Cocteau
Even the deaf and mute role of Queen’s servant was acted with strength, poise and dignity by Tawa Groombridge, despite the scripted abuse by another role.
The calmer role of courtly Baron, yet no less conniving, Chief of Police, was played by actor and executive producer, Peter Barrow, presenting a foil to the rollercoaster love and hate, life and death, of the other interplaying roles.
To be honest, the Queen (Tracey Catchpole) rightly steals the show as both actor and author of some of the best lines, including lengthy monologues, that are far from monotonous because of her range of presentation, and constant movement to ensure that all four sides of the audience can be played to. Tracey describes the role as a “gift of a part”.
In fact, the gifted part was meant to be that of Stanislas, since:
“The Eagle Has Two Heads was written…in part as a favor for Cocteau’s lover and favorite leading man, Jean Marais. Marais asked for a part in which he did not speak in Act One, shed tears of joy in Act Two and fell backwards down stairs in Act Three.” – The Harvard Crimson
The Harvard article goes on to compare Cocteau to David Lynch and The Eagle Has Two Heads, to Wild at Heart and Twin Peaks. Elsewhere, it has been compared to an inverted Beauty and the Beast!
Adam Edwards, does play Marais’ part well, but the stage presence and gravity of role mostly lie with the Queen’s lines. The to and fro of their interaction, the ebbing strength and weakness, love and morbidity, truly make the play stand up.
The Hostry play runs from the 23rd – 29th October – tickets here or via 01603 598676 (Theatre Royal box office).
Carrie Fisher will be mostly remembered for being Princess Leia in Star Wars as the Space Western princess with a gun and rapid riposte to Harrison Ford’s Han Solo when he needed a put-down. It didn’t stop them having a recently revealed off-screen romance. Also, off-screen was her battle with the darker forces of addiction and bipolar mental health. Her website records her in the way she’d prefer to be remembered as an “actor, author” and shamelessly, a “mental health advocate”, her site listed mental health resources, and she was active in promoting mental health awareness.
For the record, she starred in 44 films from Shampoo (1975) to Star Wars: Episode VIII (2017), wrote 7 books, and well over half-a-dozen plays, scripts and screenplays.More a signature action than her Leia buns and Avenger/Charlie’s Angels-style with
Even more a signature action than her Leia buns and Avengers/Charlie’s Angels-style gun-aloft pose, her middle finger was often shot up at the press. She was a hero for her honesty, humour and heart, the media needs to treat mental health better.
As someone who battles and “sur-thrives” with Bipolar Affective Disorder, aka manic depression, myself, I find so many echoes in her statements on mental health, and her activism in helping others through honesty and sheer guts – or clitzpah, female “courage bordering on arrogance”, as a friend puts it.
RIP Carrie Fisher 4 fighting the patriarchy, sexism, #bipolar#mentalhealth, addiction & Darth Vader, may the force be with her in death
A fitting tribute is, therefore, to remember her in her own words:
Carrie Fisher Quotes – In Her Own Words
“I really love the internet. They say chat-rooms are the trailer park of the internet but I find it amazing.”
On Writing as Therapy
“I have a mess in my head sometimes, and there’s something very satisfying about putting it into words. Certainly it’s not something that you’re in charge of, necessarily, but writing about it, putting it into your words, can be a very powerful experience.”
“I always kept a diary – not a diary like, ‘Dear Diary, we got up at 5 A.M., and I wore the weird hair again and that white dress! Hi-yeee!’ I’d just write.”
“Writing is a very calming thing for me.”
I can echo those thoughts, totally! Writing slows my racing pacing thoughts down, coming up with the language that accurately and emotional reflects my thoughts on myself, life, the universe and everything, is a process that is cathartic, creative, and better than CBT.
Whether scripted stand-up comedy or unscripted ad-lib, Carrie was quick witted, sharp, funny and could turn the tables on an interviewer. A vital skill in the harsh world of Hollywood and media criticism.
“I brought along Gary” (Carrie Fisher’s dog) “because his tongue matches my sweater” … “I think in my mouth so I don’t lie” … “what music makes [weight loss] worthwhile?” Not to mention some beautiful flirting with “DNA jackpot”GMA’s Amy Robach!
The humour, the jokey OCD matching, the flirting, she was my kind of inappropriate unboundaried, humourous getting-into-trouble, woman.
“There’s no room for demons when you’re self-possessed” via Twitter (2014)
“I googled myself without lubricant. I don’t I recommend it.” on David Letterman (2009)
“Sometimes I feel like I’ve got my nose pressed up against the window of a bakery, only I’m the bread” – Postcards from the Edge (1987)
“I am a spy in the house of me. I report back from the front lines of the battle that is me. I am somewhat nonplused by the event that is my life.”
“I don’t want my life to imitate art, I want my life to be art.”
Again, one feels like an actor in one’s own drama, there is sometimes a feeling of distance from the actions one takes, as if one were only playing a part, however grand a role.
On Body, Weight and Aging
“I don’t like looking at myself. I have such bad body dysmorphia.”
“I think of my body as a side effect of my mind.”
“I’m in a business where the only thing that matters is weight and appearance. That is so messed up. They might as well say ‘Get younger,’ because that’s how easy it is.”
“There were days I could barely struggle into a size 46 or 48, months of larges and XXLs, and endless rounds of leggings with the elastic at the waist stretched to its limit and beyond – topped with the fashion equivalent of a tea cozy. And always black, because I was in mourning for my slimmer self.”
“…when I do lose the weight, I don’t like that it makes me feel good about myself. It’s not who I am.”
“Along with aging comes life experience, so in every way that is consistent with even being human.”
On Mental Health & Bipolar Mood State
“I’m very sane about how crazy I am.” – Wishful Drinking, (2008)
“I now get awards all the time for being mentally ill. It’s better than being bad at being insane, right? How tragic would it be to be runner-up for Bipolar Woman of the Year?” – Wishful Drinking, (2008)
“Anything you can do in excess for the wrong reasons is exciting to me.”
“I have a chemical imbalance that, in its most extreme state, will lead me to a mental hospital.”
“Drugs made me feel more normal.”
“I went to a doctor and told him I felt normal on acid, that I was a light bulb in a world of moths. That is what the manic state is like.”
“I have two moods. One is Roy, rollicking Roy, the wild ride of a mood. And Pam, sediment Pam, who stands on the shore and sobs… Sometimes the tide is in, sometimes it’s out.”
The manic mood ride that is Roy and the pessimistic panic that is Pam, is very familiar. I’ve not heard anyone else echo my experience of drugs making one feel normal. I tried weed, ecstasy and minor drugs like that, even smoking and drinking, but they didn’t do anything for me, indeed ecstasy made me responsible, hyper-sensible!
On Surviving and Thriving
“Ive [sic] stopped trying to take things a day at a time. I now take 2 or 3 days at once—hoping it’ll cause a blur effect & I might look younger.” via Twitter (2015)
“I don’t want to be thought of as a survivor because you have to continue getting involved in difficult situations to show off that particular gift…”
“If anything, my mother taught me how to sur-thrive. That’s my word for it.”
“The world of manic depression is a world of bad judgment calls.”
“I’ll never be known for my work with boundaries.”
“Mistakes are a drag, because you get in the area of regret and self-pity.”
Fortunately, it’s not all bad boundaries and manic mistakes, and the following day come-down into reality and realisation that one has overstepped, overdrawn, overdone it, and occasionally overdosed. Manic can be fun, or at least hypomanic can, with just enough awareness to feel empowered, energied, extrovert and not yet into the territory of relationship, finance and employment self-destruction.
“The manic end of is a lot of fun.”
She was the brightest, funniest, bravest, kindest, cleverest and sweetest person I ever knew. A crushing blow to lose @carrieffisher
“One of the great things to pretend is that you’re not only alright, you’re in great shape. Now to have that come true – I’ve actually gone on stage depressed and that’s worked its magic on me, ’cause if I can convince you that I’m alright, then maybe I can convince me.”
“Stay afraid but do it anyway. What’s important is the action. You don’t have to wait to be confident. Just do it and eventually the confidence will follow.”
“I’m fine, but I’m bipolar. I’m on seven medications, and I take medication three times a day. This constantly puts me in touch with the illness I have. I’m never quite allowed to be free of that for a day.”
She is free now, “drowned in moonlight, strangled by my own bra“. Whilst she was “nonplused” about her life, we are far from nonplused at her death and feel the disruption in the force in 2016, which has been a traumatic year of loss. RIP Carrie, Princess, Queen, General and very human being, “May the Force be with you.”
Postscript: Carrie Fisher’s mother, Debbie Reynolds, star of Singin’ in the Rain, died aged 84 of a stroke within 24 hours of Carrie.
The 2016 Hostry Festival production of the 1994 original play by Melvyn Bragg has been revised by Melvyn with suggestions by Stash Kirkbride, who directed this version, and one of the principal actors, Peter Barrow. The result is a play that positively zips along, in just 90 minutes without a break, with two outstanding performances from Louis Hilyer playing Robert and Rebecca Chapman as Jackie, who set the depth and drama of Shakespeare against the gossip and glamour of Hollywood.
The other starring role in King Lear in New York goes to drink, for it is a dysfunctional family tragic-comedy with father, daughter, and brother, ex-wives and ex-lovers, and a prominent role for the not so on-off relationship with alcohol.
Modelled on Richard Burton’s own demons – drink and women, as Bragg admits, having also authored his biography, Richard Burton: A Life. Burton said, himself, that he turned to drink to “burn up the flatness, the stale, empty, dull deadness that one feels when one goes offstage.”
“I was fairly sloshed for five years. I was up there with John Barrymore and Robert Newton. The ghosts of them were looking over my shoulder.” – Hellraisers: The Life and Inebriated Times of Richard Burton, Richard Harris, Peter O’Toole, and Oliver Reed, by Robert Sellers, p145 (2009)
Burton of course, never played King Lear, only King John, and whilst wanting to play Macbeth to spite Laurence Olivier, in a film version, never achieved that either. This play imagines a type of Burton before opening King Lear, albeit in off-off-Broadway.
Melvyn was in town on Wednesday to see the new version and take a Q&A on it. He was asked about the cutting and editing process, that included the removal on one character in their entirety. Personally, I don’t feel the daughter’s addiction is fully sold to us, indeed there’s enough broken family angst between father and daughter, even without her addiction to drugs paralleling her father’s to drink. Melvyn was keen to present her fragility and yet, unlike Lear, portray redemption and rescue.
There is a cracking score of music and storm effects, projected New York backdrops, vintage ‘brick’ phones and, I think I spotted a Dalwhinnie whisky centre stage, alongside the Jack Daniels and plenty more drink besides, on the permanently-on-stage cocktail mini-bar. More likely to have been cold tea or coloured water than the marvellous amber single malt nectar. Peter Barrow holds the stage alone at first, almost making one wonder if we are watching a 1980-90s Wall Street drama.
Before any chance of settling in, there was an early dramatic entrance by Robert, amidst a cacophonic clatter and clink, rather alarming the back row, and one wondered whether this was going to be a cross between Withnail and I and Waiting for Godot, or perhaps even Whisky Galore! The entry brings wine and JD to join the already well-lubricated ‘actor-playing-an-actor’ on stage who is on the knife-edge of a return to fame or floundering as a washed-up thespian wannabe.
As if his drink and acting problems weren’t enough, he has broken relationships with his daughter Julie played with teen-twenty angst by Nina Taylor and ex-lovers to manage. Rebeccas Aldred and Chapman squared off with each other, arguing over Robert, his career, and his affections. Aldred was an excellent foil to Chapman, an in her role was equally torn between her allegiances and hopes for Robert.
All that, and King Lear too? A knowing audience would be left wondering how far the play within, or rather before, a play will ape Shakespeare’s own and be a full-on tragedy and no mere storm in a whisky glass.
King Lear faced the challenge of dividing his realm between his three daughters, with the lion’s share going to the one who loved him most. In this play, there are more than three rival and competing loves. Dialogue and drama swing between the paternal love of his daughter, fraternal to his brother, and erotic – and there are a few good speeches about that in the play with regard to ex-lovers. Excusing his past loves as natural processes, defending the self-acknowledged Lotharian love rat that he was/is, he expounds on ‘what is love?’ Or rather, on sex – “Sex is like emptying your bladder.” Though, the full “repertoire of love [is] grander than a cathedral organ.”
Then there’s the titanic struggle between the allure of Hollywood and the age-old stage actor’s dream of Shakespearian challenge. A challenge, that the role of Robert is simultaneously tempted and tortured by, not to mention taunting by his ex-lovers. Whether an actor will ‘die’ on stage is part of the attraction he says. But one day and one death on stage would also kill his Hollywood resurrection, the others counter with. In the play’s first outing in 1994, one reviewer described Kate O’Mara in Jackie’s role as “horny for disaster”, Chapman, instead, seems to desire either his success or failure, but nothing in-between.
Life is an act. “He is him when he is most someone else”, the actor’s brother says, even the agent has to ‘act’ on his behalf. We are all the great pretenders, performing our ‘lie-dentities’. Whether in life or on the stage, we are actors in our own dramas.
This drama is part sitcom, part tragedy, but fully engaging. Torn between multiple loves, do we love it? In the context of the play, it might be pushing it to say addictive, but the editors seem to have got the revision just about right. Quitting Shakespeare is as hard as quitting drink, it is as much a drug to its proponents as the skin-deep glamour and glitz of Hollywood celebrity. The play expertly channels King Lear through the funnel of boozy dysfunctionality of its players. Louis Hilyer is Shakespearean and Rebecca Chapman revels in exuding the worst of Hollywood and TV chat shows, even reeling in the excellent Rebecca Aldred as Bett. The play is certainly worth a second visit after 20 years and maybe even a second visit this week. Norwich’s Hostry Festival event is certainly off-off-off Broadway, and deserves greater visibility.
Can you believe it? Nigel Farage is back in charge of UKIP, again – for the fourth time. We also have Maggie ‘Theresa May‘ Thatcher redivivus in charge of the Conservative Party (MT/TM same initials!). Jeremy Corbyn is also the second leader Labour has had in a year. OK, so the previous one was also Jeremy Corbyn! I feel like I’m living in political Groundhog Day.
UKIP’s fourth-time-around leader
Admittedly, or allegedly, only a temporary reversion, but after Diane James’ 18-day stint as leader, Nigel Farage has returned to the helm of UKIP.
“UKIP without a leader is more electable than Labour with one” – Nigel Farage
Neil Hamilton as an alternative UKIP leader, currently leader in the Welsh Assembly, would be a “horror story” say Farage and Hamilton in a comical show of unplanned unity.
Financial Markets and Economic Prospects
And whilst the FTSE-100 reaches new heights for the multinational wealthy with shares and global reach, the Pound is crashing towards Sterling parity with the Dollar ($1.27) and ignominy with the Euro (€1.13).
Back to the Future over the EU
John Major launched his fatal Back to Basics political message and policies in 1993, but Theresa May’s message feels more like back to the 80s or even the 70s – before 1973 when we joined the EU. Now we are leaving it. When we joined, Britain was keen to avoid creating a rift between pro and anti-Europeans:
“Above all we should avoid creating a new, semi-permanent rift in British society, between pro and anti Europeans.” – The Guardian, 1 Jan 1973
Post-Referendum and with Brexit’s Article 50 due to initiate by March 2017, we have created exactly that with a very divided and divisive 48% Remainers and 52% Leavers society.
Currency falling backwards and downwards
The Pound has only been this low once before in 60 years, back in 1985, when Back to the Future was released and the already defunct DeLorean (1983) was ironically the posited future of flying cars and time machines. In fact, without any irony at all, DeLorean or rather the new DMC is making fresh models of the DMC-12 car this year!
Recreating the Past rather than a Future
We seem to be recreating the past, rather than an inclusive or “brighter future” for all of Theresa May’s talk about injustice and inequality – because it’s selective inequality she’ll help, and selective education she’ll promote. And if, we can’t trust Nigel Farage to actually resign, Boris Johnson to keep on message for longer than 4 days (Theresa May’s joke at the Tory Party Conference, 5 October 2016), how can we trust that “Brexit means Brexit” or hope that it doesn’t. We seem to be living in the past, having chosen to withdraw from European cooperation and community, back to tariffs and protectionism, back to a low Pound, xenophobic racism and divisions, and peddling failed political slogans that could have been ripped from 1970s/80s politics and posters – indeed during the Leave EU campaign some were. Theresa May, in her speech, ridiculed ‘citizens of the world’, as many Remainers describe themselves, as citizens of nowhere, even if it was in the context of criticising global corporations:
“If you believe you are a citizen of the world, you are a citizen of nowhere. You don’t understand what the very word ‘citizenship’ means.” – Theresa May, Conservative Party Conference 2016 (speech in full)
This reminds me of George Orwell’s dystopian idea of citizenship in 1984! As for me, I’m a #proudcitizenoftheworld:
As was discussed today on TalkRADIO, for which I was interviewed, we are in dangerous territory here, using jingoistic language to appease the right whilst seemingly stealing centreground policies, but only for the few who are hard-working British citizens, not the “low skilled immigrants”. Immigrant wealth-creators are welcome but not “wealth consumers“, said Liam Fox at a fringe event. So that’s no more asylum seekers or refugees then?
Theresa May also turned the tables, saying that now Labour is the “supporting voices of hate…the nasty party”. Yet her language is more reminiscent of UKIP’s xenophobia than any kind of utopian equality. Even The Times said of her speech that “The Tory conference was largely immigration policy by Ukip.” It’s a scary future not a bright future we are being presented with.
Today, Tuesday 23 August, is the last day to “nominate your stars of Norfolk‘s arts scene” for a special EDP People’s Choice Arts Award. The deadline for submission is midnight to put forward your favourite community or corporate arts organisation, artist, or event.
The Norfolk Arts Awards is the Hostry Festival‘s red carpet gala event celebrating the arts. It’s really an opportunity to celebrate people who make a difference. The EDP People’s Choice Awards is a chance for people to have their say and nominate their own stars for the award. The top 10 in each category will be revealed and then there will be an online vote to find three winners. Winners will be announced at the Norfolk Arts Awards ceremony at Norwich Cathedral’s Hostry on Friday 21st October.
Check out the interview with the event’s co-founder, Stash Kirkbride, on BBC Radio Norfolk (from 3h34m).
“Nominations have already been flooding in for this year’s awards, and people have until Tuesday, August 23 to send in their entries. Once again there are three EDP People’s Choice Awards categories – individual, small organisation and large organisation.” – Emma Knights, EDP
This year the awards are returning to the Hostry building at Norwich Cathedral, held on Friday October 21st 2016, 7-9.30pm with after show canapes and champagne reception.
Game of Thrones Season 6 – Women Rule, their Rise and a few Falls
Game of Thrones season 6 watched, check. Hardly respite from Brexit daggers-in-the-back fallout and the decimation of the leadership of the Labour Party and Conservatives. So, no spoilers…but you just know somebody(ies) GoTta die!
What I have loved about this series has been the full-on characters, and willingness to “take them out”, often en masse. The “Red Wedding” episode has gone down in TV history as a lesson in killing the lead characters. Viewers are now stuck in a Nordic noir drama, namely Stockholm Syndrome, addicted to our abuser awaiting George RR Martin’s next, very literal, character assassination.
What’s not to like? Women on Top
Whilst some women have fallen, season 6 saw the downfall of more men, often at the direct or indirect hands of women. It’s hardly a confessional secret, but I love strong women, I am a kind of one – despite protestations from Germaine Greer.
And if you think women can’t do objectification, think again. Spend enough time in the company of bisexual and lesbian women, and you will hear just as many “phwoars”, just with less of the “show us your tits”. I call it objective appreciation as opposed to rarely-appreciated sexual objectification. I’ve been in a room full of lesbian feminists, only to witness one-half of the room ogling a Beyoncé and Shakira video and the other half, shaking their heads in shock.
Women with swords, women with daggers, women with fire, women with dragons, women with … what’s left, oh yeah, brains, breasts and ‘balls’! More clitzpahthan chutzpah!
Medieval Reality or Fantasy Desire
George RR Martin paints a none-too-pleasant medieval reality for most women, except perhaps those on Dorne. Rape, violence, abuse, no inheritance, impractical dress sense etc. Whilst the books, and even more the HBO series, panders to male and some same-sex fantasies of women in tight leather bodices or much less, he also allows fantasy to break the lace and leather ceiling for some of his powerful women. They can rise to the top and take out the men, as well if not, better than the men fighting their way to the Iron Throne.
“It might appear, looking at Westeros and the medieval past from which so much of its inspiration is drawn, that the ladder is built for men. The wearing of skirts, not to mention the frequent necessity of taking them off, keeps women from competing in the climb…the women of Westeros with noble blood in their veins have choices that aren’t available to those at the bottom of the social pile. Sex sells, and what’s true for HBO’s ratings is true too for Westeros’s women who start with nothing…Unclothed female bodies offer a route up the ladder…History tends to record only the names of those who make it to the top – and what’s true for men is doubly so for women.” – The Guardian (2014, no current season spoilers)
The Art of War
It is the women in Game of Thrones who truly inject the ‘art’ into the art of war. Season 6 sees women have their military advice spurned and yet still save the men’s day. Their socio-political acumen is no more ably demonstrated than Daenerys, the socially reforming yet empire building Queen of Westeros, well just Essos, for now.
Speaking of art, here are some maps of Westeros and Essos, accurate, stylised, tube maps and suggestions that Westeros is a England and Wales, with an upside down Ireland beneath, and Scotland as north of the wall!
The Women of Westeros & Essos Awards
My top 5?
Yara Greyjoy for wearing the trousers in her family and having a girl in every port like a good sailor
Arya Stark for wanting to fight ‘like’ if not better than a boy and keeping Sean Bean’s memory alive, not to mention her cooking skills (spoiler)
Daenerys Targaryen for liberating slaves and dragons
Brienne of Tarth for loyalty and knight’s ethics
Ygritte the Wildling redhead who held her own in a brutal environment and for appreciating Jon Snow’s potential
Best rising stars
Sansa Stark for stopping being a precious princess and learning to get what she wants not what men want of her.
Lady Lyanna Mormont for being 10 years old and telling the men what to do, and what loyalty and balls mean.
Best falling star
Margaery Tyrell for playing the long game and … [spoiler] getting through a number of men:
“Margaery…used her femininity as a smokescreen to mask her ambition and learnt how to beat the boys at their own game, telling her menfolk exactly what they wanted to hear. She accepted first husband Renly’s homosexuality, massaged second husband Joffrey’s ego, and boosted latest husband Tommen’s shaky confidence.” – Daily Telegraph (2016, contains season 6 spoilers)
My top threesome – no, not that kind!
The feisty fighting ‘Sand Snake‘ sisters, although their best verbal put down was by Lady Tyrell at the end of season 6 (no spoilers in the clip below).
Diana Rigg, playing Olenna Tyrell, at age 77, puts the younger women in their place with ease and disdain!
Game of Thrones likes its bastards, even having a “Battle of the Bastards” episode this season. The Sand sisters are the eight bastard daughters of Prince Oberyn Martell, several of whom he trained in warrior arts. I’m guessing their mothers trained their trashy tongues! Ellaria Sand was mother to four of them.
Dishonourable matriarch honorable mentions
What they would do for family, and in Cersei’s case would even ‘do’ family!
Lady Olenna Tyrell – Avengers cool, calm, calculating
Cersei Lannister – Evil but good at it!
Very Dishonourable Mention
Melisandre, the Red Witch/Priestess of the doesn’t-live-up-to-his-name “god of light’, for sacrificing a child, not even redeemed by bringing back John Snow. Winter is coming for her! Season 7 of Game of Thrones will be just seven episodes, it will be both too short and long-awaited.
On International Women’s Day the other Wachowski sibling, Andy – until yesterday, has also, like Lana, come out as transgender under the name Lilly. She had prepared for this moment, but also seems to have been pushed by a Daily Mail journalist – now that bit isn’t news or surprising, although it is denied by the newspaper who claimed to be “courteous at all times” and “baffled” by the accusation. It is sad and intrusive. It is more invasive than investigative journalism. It’s also dangerous and unethical, like ‘outing’ someone in a witness protection program because of the high rates of trans suicide – almost 50%. The Mail has distanced itself and defended accusations that it ‘outed’ or hounded trans teacher Lucy Meadows, as quoted by Lilly in her statement below.
Lana had been transitioning during the 2000s but first went public in 2012 when she revealed that she too had considered suicide in her teens because of her gender identity.
Gender binary – Two little boxes
Lilly describes the enforced binariness of gender as oppressive and a false idol:
“Being transgender is not easy. We live in a majority-enforced gender binary world. This means when you’re transgender you have to face the hard reality of living the rest of your life in a world that is openly hostile to you.”
“But these words, “transgender” and “transitioned” are hard for me because they both have lost their complexity in their assimilation into the mainstream. There is a lack of nuance of time and space. To be transgender is something largely understood as existing within the dogmatic terminus of male or female. And to “transition” imparts a sense of immediacy, a before and after from one terminus to another. But the reality, my reality is that I’ve been transitioning and will continue to transition all of my life, through the infinite that exists between male and female as it does in the infinite between the binary of zero and one. We need to elevate the dialogue beyond the simplicity of binary. Binary is a false idol.”
Lana wanted to “transcend the limitations of two little boxes” and the flat-earth pseudo-simplicity of binary bathrooms and their policing:
“I see few things as beautiful as my community and all the miraculous ways we transcend the limitations of two little boxes, blurring and even erasing the distinctions that legitimize and support the belief in all equalities of gender… I understand. I really do. I know how important these rules and regulations, these binary bathrooms are to your understanding of the world…” – Lana Wachowski, at Equality Illinois 2014 Gala, accepting Freedom Award
Without putting words into their mouths, I think it is safe to say they are both ‘out’ as not only transgender but have left the binary gender matrix behind too.
Take the pill, leave the Matrix
The Wachowskis’ ground breaking films are both escapist and challenging. Lana says that what they were trying to achieve in the Matrix trilogy was:
“…a shift, the same kind of shift that happens for Neo, that Neo goes from being in this sort of cocooned and programmed world, to having to participate in the construction of meaning to his life. And we were like, ‘Well, can the audience go through the three movies and experience something similar to what the main character experiences?’ So the first movie is sort of typical in its approach. The second movie is deconstructionist, and it assaults all of the things that you thought to be true in the first movie, and so people get very upset, and they’re like ‘Stop attacking me!’ in the same way that people get upset with deconstructionist philosophy. I mean, Derrida and Foucault, these people upset us. And then the third movie is the most ambiguous, because it asks you to actually participate in the construction of meaning.” — Lana Wachowski,Movie City News, October 13, 2012
Red Pill, Blue Pill
The Red Pill represents reality, often raw and painful, whilst the Blue Pill is the illusion, the delusional space we inhabit to avoid confronting reality:
“After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill — the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill – you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.” – Morpheus, The Matrix (1999)
A decade ago, one of the first trans* (explicitly a male crossdresser) autobiographies I read was called Alice in Genderland by Richard Novic, MD – yes he is a Doctor, psychiatrist and psychotherapist. He describes his gender journey as like falling “headlong down a rabbit hole”, like Alice.
Other Worldly Queerness
Lilly also quotes from José Esteban Muñoz’s writings on queerness:
“Queerness is essentially about the rejection of a here and now and an insistence on potentiality for another world.” – José Esteban Muñoz, Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity (2009)
Several of the Wachowskis’ films including Jupiter Ascending have been about other worlds. Their private worlds have now been shattered and they are now both in the public domain, but I hope their ongoing transitioning(s) are respected and lauded, not hounded and sensationalised.
Lilly Wachowski’s full statement
Lilly Wachowski‘s statement in her own words to Chicago’s LGBT paper the Windy City Times:
“SEX CHANGE SHOCKER—WACHOWSKI BROTHERS NOW SISTERS!!!”
There’s the headline I’ve been waiting for this past year. Up until now with dread and/or eye rolling exasperation. The “news” has almost come out a couple of times. Each was preceded by an ominous email from my agent—reporters have been asking for statements regarding the “Andy Wachowski gender transition” story they were about to publish. In response to this threatened public outing against my will, I had a prepared a statement that was one part piss, one part vinegar and 12 parts gasoline.
It had a lot of politically relevant insights regarding the dangers of outing trans people, and the statistical horrors of transgender suicide and murder rates. Not to mention a slightly sarcastic wrap-up that “revealed” my father had injected praying mantis blood into his paternal ball-sac before conceiving each of his children to produce a brood of super women, hellbent on female domination. Okay, mega sarcastic.
But it didn’t happen. The editors of these publications didn’t print a story that was only salacious in substance and could possibly have a potentially fatal effect. And being the optimist that I am, I was happy to chalk it up to progress.
Then last night while getting ready to go out for dinner my doorbell rang. Standing on my front porch was a man I did not recognize.
“This might be a little awkward,” he said in an English accent.
I remember sighing.
Sometimes it’s really tough work to be an optimist.
He proceeded to explain he was a journalist from the Daily Mail, which was the largest news service in the UK and was most definitely not a tabloid. And that I really had to sit down with him tomorrow or the next day or next week so that I could have my picture taken and tell my story which was so inspirational! And that I really didn’t want to have someone from the National Enquirer following me around, did I? BTW—The Daily Mail is so definitely not a tabloid.
My sister Lana and I have largely avoided the press. I find talking about my art frustratingly tedious and talking about myself a wholly mortifying experience. I knew at some point I would have to come out publicly. You know, when you’re living as an out transgender person it’s … kind of difficult to hide. I just wanted—needed some time to get my head right, to feel comfortable.
But apparently I don’t get to decide this.
After he had given me his card, and I closed the door it began to dawn on me where I had heard of the Daily Mail. It was the “news” organization that had played a huge part in the national public outing of Lucy Meadows, an elementary school teacher and trans woman in the UK. An editorial in the “not-a-tabloid” demonized her as a damaging influence on the children’s delicate innocence and summarized “he’s not only trapped in the wrong body, he’s in the wrong job.” The reason I knew about her wasn’t because she was transgender it was because three months after the Daily Mail article came out, Lucy committed suicide.
And now here they were, at my front door, almost as if to say—
“There’s another one! Let’s drag ’em out in the open so we can all have a look!”
Being transgender is not easy. We live in a majority-enforced gender binary world. This means when you’re transgender you have to face the hard reality of living the rest of your life in a world that is openly hostile to you.
I am one of the lucky ones. Having the support of my family and the means to afford doctors and therapists has given me the chance to actually survive this process. Transgender people without support, means and privilege do not have this luxury. And many do not survive. In 2015, the transgender murder rate hit an all-time high in this country. A horrifying disproportionate number of the victims were trans women of color. These are only the recorded homicides so, since trans people do not all fit in the tidy gender binary statistics of murder rates, it means the actual numbers are higher.
And though we have come a long way since Silence of the Lambs, we continue to be demonized and vilified in the media where attack ads portray us as potential predators to keep us from even using the goddamn bathroom. The so-called bathroom bills that are popping up all over this country do not keep children safe, they force trans people into using bathrooms where they can be beaten and or murdered. We are not predators, we are prey.
So yeah, I’m transgender.
And yeah, I’ve transitioned.
I’m out to my friends and family. Most people at work know too. Everyone is cool with it. Yes, thanks to my fabulous sister they’ve done it before, but also because they’re fantastic people. Without the love and support of my wife and friends and family I would not be where I am today.
But these words, “transgender” and “transitioned” are hard for me because they both have lost their complexity in their assimilation into the mainstream. There is a lack of nuance of time and space. To be transgender is something largely understood as existing within the dogmatic terminus of male or female. And to “transition” imparts a sense of immediacy, a before and after from one terminus to another. But the reality, my reality is that I’ve been transitioning and will continue to transition all of my life, through the infinite that exists between male and female as it does in the infinite between the binary of zero and one. We need to elevate the dialogue beyond the simplicity of binary. Binary is a false idol.
Now, gender theory and queer theory hurt my tiny brain. The combinations of words, like freeform jazz, clang disjointed and discordant in my ears. I long for understanding of queer and gender theory but it’s a struggle as is the struggle for understanding of my own identity. I have a quote in my office though by José Muñoz given to me by a good friend. I stare at it in contemplation sometimes trying to decipher its meaning but the last sentence resonates:
“Queerness is essentially about the rejection of a here and now and an insistence on potentiality for another world.”
So I will continue to be an optimist adding my shoulder to the Sisyphean struggle of progress and in my very being, be an example of the potentiality of another world.
STOP PRESS: Jeremy Clarkson and Top Gear team to return
But on Amazon Prime online video streaming in 2016 not the BBC. Meanwhile Top Gear will return to the BBC but with a different team. The schadenfreude is palpable as the BBC reports on their own loss of a profitable though oft inappropriate franchise.
In an Amazon statement, Jeremy Clarkson said:
“I feel like I’ve climbed out of a biplane and into a spaceship.”
Richard Hammond quipped:
“Amazon? Oh yes. I have already been there. I got bitten by a bullet ant.”
James May saw the perhaps double irony:
“We have become part of the new age of smart TV. Ironic, isn’t it?”
BBC suspends Top Gear’s Jeremy Clarkson amid mass Change.org petition
Whatever the “fracas” and nature of petulant millionaire star twat Jeremy Clarkson‘s “interaction” with a BBC producer, there’s nothing like a Top Gear fiasco (one of many over the years) to get the nation raging along with over 1 million signatories on a Change.org petition delivered this week by self-propelled big gun, aka tank (probably the slowest vehicle to appear in relation to Top Gear), to BBC HQ. It is just such a shame that this is what energises us and not more significant world matters.
Clarkson hinted that he was on the way out and had no fear, now that the internal inquiry is over – though not published, in berating his BBC bosses with a f*** laden foul-mouthed tirade at their idiocy at potentially ruining the Top Gear formula.
Diverse Top Gear Replacements
Suggestions to replace him have included Sue Perkins, Julian Clary, and Alan Partridge. Whilst they are all comedians, at least Perkins would not be sexist (towards women at least), neither she nor Clary would be homophobic, and any of Partridge’s foreign jokes would be obvious parody and satire. Other comedians who’ve appeared in the Star in a Reasonably Priced Car race around the Top Gear test track have included Eddie Izzard, Omid Djalili, and Sanjeev Bhaskar – all of whom would counter the alleged racism of the show.
Having Ellen MacArthur, Jennifer Saunders, or Jodie Kidd, on as the fastest women on the track would prove it doesn’t need 3 blokey blokes to present it – although that is the formula to date, and a politically correct presenter team would be as bad as the minimum female comedienne to be included on all panel shows which smacks of tokenism and harms female comedians standing in their own right.
Top Gear Matters to the BBC
Forget the impending General Election, Islamic State, Boko Haram, austerity crisis, the real serious issues of the day are the state of England cricket team – actually, that is pretty bad – and Clarkson’s latest open mouth (insert foot, boot, and massive car) bad boy laddish humour, allegedly watched by an audience almost equally split between men and women (60:40).
Top Gear, Clarkson, and his 4.63m twitter followers, are the BBC’s greatest export (yes, bigger than Doctor Who), greatest that is in financial rather than cultural terms. Bedder 6, as the anonymous company is called, helps to draw in £150m a year for BBC Worldwide from Top Gear from 150-350m viewers across 170 countries and spin-offs.
Just this week it was announced that in December Top Gear had somehow been cleared by the BBC of using “pikey” in a derogatory manner, to the utter dismay of representatives of Traveller communities.
The show is often no-holds-barred macho-masculine pub banter comedy that has comprised insults around race, nationality, sex, and disability. Just read some of Clarkson’s own attempts to be positive about women and yet explain the lack of female representation on the show itself:
“if one presenter on a show is a blonde-haired, blue-eyed heterosexual boy, the other must be a black Muslim lesbian. Chalk and cheese, they reckon, works. But here we have Top Gear setting new records after six years using cheese and cheese. It confuses them… Unlike furious thin-lipped feminists, I tend not to draw distinctions between men and women, apart from in bed where you really do need to spot the differences. At work, girls are just people.”
Conservative MP Maria Miller, has offered support for Clarkson, despite her being a former Disability, Women and Equality Minister. Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s The World at One, she said:
“The BBC needs to be better at managing its talent … there are other organisations that have to deal with larger-than-life characters…[he] is…a legend, not just in this country, but around the world.”
Legends, however, are extinct people, like the dinosaurs, something that Clarkson himself, in his column in The Sun, admits to being.
“The fact is that you can sign as many petitions as you like and call on the support of politicians from all sides, but the day must come when you have to wave goodbye to the big monsters and move on… I think it’s fair to say that nature made a mistake when it invented the dinosaur. It was too big, too violent. So one day, all the dinosaurs died and now, many years later, no one mourns their passing. These big, imposing creatures have no place in a world which has moved on.”
Does this mean that Clarkson should go the way of the dinosaurs and gas-guzzling cars? That a petition to reinstate him is as pointless as one to bring back Terry Pratchett – however, wonderful a tribute to the latter author?
Change.org Petition to #BringBackClarkson
A record making petition on Change.org had accelerated to nearly 600,000 signatures in barely a day (now over 1,112,000), easily eclipsing more political or ethical campaigns such as the pardon for 49,000 gay men prosecuted in the UK for acts now considered legal. The site’s popularity is such that I could not even get on to it to check the count at 10pm Wednesday night, as it was down with an “Error 502 Bad Gateway” , unless that was some political ploy due to the embarrassment of its success. Well it’s back now, seemingly the site is crashing under Clarkson’s popularity, and advocating the “Freedom to fracas” and with comments including:
“I pay my TV license to ensure that irreverent people can express themselves. If you become boarding [sic] and politically correct, you may disappear BBC.” and “A minority of over sensitive people should not ruin one of Britons [sic] favourite shows.”
I wouldn’t call allegedly hitting a producer over a lack of hot food and xenophobically referencing his Irish nationality, an act of irreverence nor suspending someone for that act, “over sensitive”. That the two most popular comments both had spelling mistakes should not lead anyone to any stereotypical conclusion. They were probably texting whilst driving their fast cars!
BBC Public Service Priorities
As a public service broadcaster with essentially a tax or compulsory licence fee, the BBC’s priorities should not be mere entertainment or subsidised insults.
“Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” – Barack Obama
The limits of Satire, Comedy & Humour
In my past I’ve enjoyed Top Gear, some of the banter and car challenges, but I’ve squirmed at the sexist racist humour Humour is one thing, the question is whether it’s actually deeply held bigotry disguised as humour, or an ever-so clever parody of “UKIP white van man racism” – which will no doubt be seen as offensive to white van men. The thing about satire and parody is that they often fail, as with Comedy Central’s Colbert Report on race and trans issues, when delivered by people in the majority who’ve not experienced prejudice, whereas the Kumars making fun of being Indian is.
What makes the parody both unlikely and unbelievable is that either Clarkson is a bigot or he maintains the persona off-screen as well. To Clarkson, even his suspension is just another joke, despite knowing he was on his last warning.
I’ve done stand-up comedy myself, and made it a rule to only insult and offend myself, not others – although I can’t stop some still choosing to take offence.
Top Gear‘s humour is pub or front room banter, the kind you use when you think nobody is watching – but there are tens, if not hundreds, of millions that are.
And this is the “British values” we should be so proud of exporting? I’m all for freedom of speech, but allegedly hitting your employer’s staff, insulting other nations, and expecting to not only get away with it but get paid millions for it?
Whilst the infraction was off-air, it is no less abusive of workplace colleagues and bullying, despite it not being part of an aired programme. According to The Mirror, he called Oisin Tymon:
“a “lazy, Irish c***” before splitting his lip with a punch that left the 36-year-old with blood running down his face and needing treatment in A&E, the BBC investigation will be told.”
Hitting is not humour, and nor was it his first public punch up. If the rest of the show is very clever parody like Alan Partridge or Comedy Central, then it does not work. It is very hard to successfully satire racism, sexism, ableism and homophobia, all of which have appeared on Top Gear. All the more so when it fuels the white male entitlement patriarchy rather than challenges it.
“Top Gear is an escapist post modern light comedy entertainment show; the vital ingredients being Clarkson, May, Hammond and cars will keep it on the Beeb for a while to come.”
Apart from what may be a short-lived 2011 prediction of its long-term longevity, I beg to differ. Their lives on and off the screen are making stereotypical jokes, setting chauvinist poor role models, and should not be the BBC’s best export. The fact that it is popular in human rights violating China and Putin’s Russia should not be a cause for celebration if it encourages their sexism, xenophobia, and homophobia, rather than challenges it.
“If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.” – Maya Angelou
Jeremy Clarkson – change your attitude, everyone else sign some petitions and be the change! If we are evolved at all, it is time the politically incorrect (such a polite term for sexist racist ableist homophobes) dinosaurs died out.
Saddened, shocked, but not sure I was surprised. Such was the sudden news of Robin Williams‘ apparent suicide at 63 that the Internet was awash with rumours last night that it was a ruse, a fake story. Details emerged overnight (British time) that he had indeed been found dead at home in Marin County, California, apparently having taken his own life. The latest information is that “Marin county sheriff’s department lieutenant Keith Boyd confirmed that Williams was discovered hanged, and had apparently attempted to cut his wrists.”
Owing to considerable empathy with his bipolar depression, this is a tough article to write in memoriam to the wonderful Robin Williams, who I first watched aged 11 when he appeared as the alien Mork. Sadly he has returned to his home planet and left us the poorer, but we have over a 100 films and thousands of laughs to remember him by and the challenge to understand mental illness better over our lifetimes.
Update (11 August 2015): It is now a year to the day that Robin Williams passed on and he still makes me laugh and cry in equal measure and continues to inspire whether in life or role.
Films and Characters
Last night I was preparing to watch The Birdcage film with my partner and a friend. We never got round to it, though I’d loaded it into the DVD up to the opening scene. It’s now set for a memorial movie night with the memorable Armand. He was so versatile, able to play funny, straight, sad, young, old, real, fantasy, even a penguin or two in Happy Feet as the voices of Ramón and Lovelace.
Of his co-star in Happy Feet Two, ‘La Toti’ Sofía Vergara, Williams said“I’d walk 50 miles in the snow just to stand in her garbage … and I cleaned up that line!”
Williams appeared in over 100 films, as well as television and theatre, so versatile were the roles that he played. Whether as Mork or Peter Pan, he always looked like he would never grow up and would live forever – one reason we, as adoring fans, all feel the wrench of his going now.
Perhaps, most memorable for me, was Mrs Doubtfire, and the agony of a father doing anything to get close to his kids. Its long-posited sequel Mrs Doubtfire 2 will presumably now no longer be made.
He was scheduled to appear in several unfinished films, but one that just made it to completion and was screened this summer at the Los Angeles Outfest Film Festival is Boulevard (2014) in which he plays an older married man coming to terms with his secret homosexuality.
Another inspirational film for me was Dead Poets Society (1989), as I always wanted to be a maverick motivational teacher, much as my own inspired English teacher was when I was 13 – he’d sit on the desk and read to us Kafka, Tom Sharpe and Shakespeare rather than setting us essays. In the film Williams, plays Keating the English teacher, who challenges the pupils to see the world in different ways, standing on their desks, ripping pages from books that deadened poetry, encouraging them to carpe diem, “seize the day” and call him “O Captain! My Captain!” in reference to Walt Whitman’s 1865 poem about the death of Abraham Lincoln.
“It is some dream that on the deck,
You’ve fallen cold and dead.
My Captain does not answer,
his lips are pale and still;
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will;
The ship is anchor’d safe and sound, its voyage closed and done;
From fearful trip, the victor ship, comes in with object won;
Exult, O shores, and ring, O bells!
But I, with mournful tread,
Walk the deck my captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.”
Waiting for Godot
Williams appeared with his friend Steve Martin in a much acclaimed limited-run production in 1988 of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. A review said that “As the earthbound Estragon, Robin Williams is the same Robin Williams we have come to know and love for his manic intelligence, comic body language and perfect sense of timing. In this part, he is in bad need of a shave. Between convulsions, he gives unmistakable signs of a soul in puzzled torment.”
The play is about two down-in-the-dumps men waiting for someone, possibly God (though denied by Beckett), to show up. Being unable to think of a good reason to leave, it becomes an eternal and continually disappointed wait. Williams’ real life “puzzled torment” and wait is over and he has decided to leave us. A brave choice – a phrase that some people will not be comfortable with, but one that echoes my own experience, though I’m glad I survived now.
Williams began his stand-up comedy career in the mid to late 1970s, around the same time as his first film role in 1977 and appearance as Mork in Happy Days (1978) which led to the spin-off series, Mork and Mindy, which was hugely ad-libbed.
In the Happy Days Season 5 episode, “My Favorite Orkan”, Williams, as Mork, tries to kidnap Richie and take him back to his planet but is foiled by the Fonz. Originally a dream sequence, it was so popular that it was edited so as to be real and allow for the character of Mork to have wiped their memories and reappear in Mork and Mindy as an exiled alien from the planet Ork where humour is banned. Oh Shazbot! Mork showed up again in a retrospective episode of Happy Days, “Mork Returns”.
In 2004, he was voted 13th on Comedy Central‘s list of the “100 Greatest Stand-ups of All Time”. It was his improvisation that got him the role of Mork, standing on his head at the audition. Ad-libbing often led to film and television scripts adapting to him, rather than him sticking to the lines. Much of his role as the genie in the animated film Aladdin (1992) was improvised.
In 2009 Robin Williams conducted a delayed 26-city US comedy tour called “Weapons of Self-Destruction“, aimed at George Bush, rather than himself. He was hospitalised that year for heart surgery after announcing the tour in 2008. In 2010 he performed the show in Canterbury, New Zealand, and donated all the proceeds to the Red Cross and post-earthquake rebuilding projects.
I’ve often heard the phrase “the funny man of comedy” used of Williams, but aren’t all comedians meant to be funny? To me it means someone who can laugh at situations rather than make jokes by taking someone down. The irony is of course that the funny man who appeared in Happy Days was an unhappy man.
Just because someone can make us laugh, does not mean that they can make themselves happy. The daily battle with the black dog of depression and for Robin, at least, the associated ‘demons’ of drug and drink addiction, lifts momentarily in the manic moments of humour and comedy, but returns like a fog blanket blocking out the sun. Judgements of his addictions are insensitive, for those who’ve experienced depression, know full well that it can lead to other behaviours in order to survive or end the feelings of depression. Concert pianist James Rhodes called depression a “cloak of lead, a toxic second skin“:
“Depression is like being forced to wear a cloak made of lead. You don’t get to choose when to put it on and take it off. It is a second skin which gradually seeps into your own, real skin and poisons it until you are a walking, toxic, corrosive bundle of infectious awfulness. The thought of suicide is the only real respite and the only chink of light at the end of the tunnel.”
Robin Williams was funny, depression is not, though he laughed at his own “demons”, drink and drug addictions, which had returned to afflict him in the last few months. But that doesn’t give us the right to laugh at his life, troubles or choices.
I’ve done stand-up comedy and did a whole set on my own suicide attempt, it was dark and dead pan. Someone even thought I’d made it all up and commended my ‘acting’. In fact, it was the truth, often stranger than fiction, and my own surviving suicide and finally wanting to be alive again that enabled me to laugh at death and make fun of myself. That is not for others to do though. Doubly insensitive and offensive is the joke on Twitter I’ve seen about it now being an ideal time for Kellie Maloney (the transitioning Frank Maloney) to audition for Mrs Doubtfire 2, now that Robin is dead.
Others have taken to the web to say that they have no sympathy for those who take their own life, or suffer from alcohol and drugs addictions. The Guardian has had to moderate and delete about 10% of the comments on the report of his death. I’ve read of people on Facebook calling it “the pussy way out”. So wrong. Suicide is often a decision to end not only self-torment but to end being a burden to others. It can take courage and bravery to attempt it, it is not a coward’s way out as Fox News‘ breaking news editor and anchor Shepard Smith called it, it is the last straw for someone who is tired of fighting for survival every day. I’m not encouraging suicide, but I am saying stop judging it and view the person who has gone as now at peace.
“How can someone so well-off, well-known and successful have depression?”. This was said of Stephen Fry, but is doing the rounds about Robin too. Fry references an article by Alastair Campbell in which “he suggested changing the word ‘depression’ to ‘cancer’ or ‘diabetes’ in order to reveal how, in its own way, sick a question, it is. Ill-natured, ill-informed, ill-willed or just plain ill”. Fry writes about feeling sad, lonely, depressed, suicidal and the rights to seemingly illogically having those feelings.
“If you know someone who’s depressed, please resolve never to ask them why. Depression isn’t a straightforward response to a bad situation; depression just is, like the weather. Try to understand the blackness, lethargy, hopelessness, and loneliness they’re going through. Be there for them when they come through the other side. It’s hard to be a friend to someone who’s depressed, but it is one of the kindest, noblest, and best things you will ever do.” – Stephen Fry
Even when surrounded by loved ones, depression is a lonely disease, but having a partner or friend around has saved me from acting on suicidal feelings more than once in the past. It was when all alone, in the darkest hours of the night that I attempted it more seriously.
“I used to think the worst thing in life was to end up all alone. It’s not. The worst thing in life is to end up with people that make you feel all alone” – Robin Williams
Very often there are no answers or solutions, and there should certainly be no judgements for what is in cause or effect a chemical imbalance in the brain. I’ve suffered from depression for over a decade and for the last 2 years been under investigation for a variant of bipolar or cyclothymia, Mood Affective Disorder. Fry has cyclothymia and whilst Williams never regarded himself as fully diagnosed, many clinicians think he had depression and Bipolar Affective Disorder.
Whilst the label may help with gaining the right support and treatment, it is irrelevant to how we treat people with the symptoms of the varieties of depression and addiction. We have not lived their life, seen inside their mind, and therefore do not know the balance of accountability for their own actions and suffering under the weight of seemingly intransigent conditions that afflict people indiscriminately and unfairly.
Depression disables, debilitates, and is often met with misunderstanding that you can do something about it by pulling yourself together, getting out more, getting up or some such chivvying coaching. Similarly, with suicide, the offers to “talk to me” before you try it next time, or of it being a “selfish way out” that hurts others, are ignorant, even if often well meant, thoughts. Suicides can be planned or spontaneous, cries for help or calls for the help and feeling a burden on others to end, persistent or momentary feelings of the need for it all to stop, the feeling of powerlessness or the only way to take control.
Dean Burnett in the Guardian called it a “staggering ignorance of mental health problems” to refer to suicide as a selfish act. Suicide and depression are not selfish. Williams had access to the best help around, but he was the “clown that could not be fixed“, as Simon Jenkins writes:
“There was no help that Williams and others like him could not and did not receive. It failed. All illness is a great leveller, but none levels like mental illness. It remains the poor relation of medicine. Research is paltry. Therapies are halfhearted. Drugs are primitive.”
One-in-four of us will get a depression related illness. Yet it receives a small percentage of even 1/40th of the medical research and treatment budget.
Devastating news about @robinwilliams — knew him a little and liked him a whole lot more. A brain wired like no other and so so kind.
Robin Williams’ favourite children’s book was CS Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe which he would read out loud to his kids. Famous for his funny voices, when reading it to his daughter, named after Princess Zelda from The Legend of Zelda computer game series, she said “Don’t do any voices. Just read it as yourself.” One of the hardest things in life is to be yourself.
His third wife and now widow, Susan Schneider, said:
“I lost my husband and my best friend, while the world lost one of its most beloved artists and beautiful human beings. I am utterly heartbroken.”
Fellow actor and comedian Steve Martin, tweeted that he “could not be more stunned by the loss of Robin Williams, mensch, great talent, acting partner, genuine soul.” ‘Mensch’, whilst simply meaning “human being” is a Yiddish idiom for a genuinely good person, a real “stand-up guy”.
Barack Obama, in offering condolences, referred to Williams as “one of a kind”:
“Robin Williams was an airman, a doctor, a genie, a nanny, a president, a professor, a bangarang Peter Pan, and everything in between. But he was one of a kind. He arrived in our lives as an alien – but he ended up touching every element of the human spirit. He made us laugh. He made us cry. He gave his immeasurable talent freely and generously to those who needed it most – from our troops stationed abroad to the marginalized on our own streets. The Obama family offers our condolences to Robin’s family, his friends, and everyone who found their voice and their verse thanks to Robin Williams.”
Tributes will continue to flood in from fans, friends and fellow entertainers, Sarah Silverman described him as “pure love” and Stephen Fry sad he was “so so kind”.
At one point over half the trending tags on Twitter were Robin Williams related including #RobinWilliamsWillLiveOnForever.
George Takei said “May the heavens be brightened with your singular glow” and several have commented on Twitter saying that now he can make God laugh. Friends have expressed sadness, referenced mental illness and one wrote “I can’t believe Mindy is Morkless”, an apt end for how it all began back in 1978.
Gifted, manic, funny, sad, tormented, lost to us, but now at peace. RIP
[This article is an expansion of one first published here]