Are you comfortably numb?

Tuesday, February 27, 2007


Okay so here is a list of things I have thought of, all of which I find interesting. Any ideas are welcome. And hints and tips on how to choose.

Post-modernism (too broad)
Post-modernism in 21st century art
Post-modernism and Christianity: a comparison of some sort (???)
Islamophobia: to what extent does it actually exist in the media? Does the media exaggerate it? (discourse in the media)
Comparison of discussion of Islam and discussion of other religions in the media (discourse)
Camp David 2000 - impact on Middle Eastern affairs - whose fault was it? Making sense of 2 very different accounts
And my original idea: visit the BNP party in Birmingham over the course of a few months, and compare interviews with them/conversations to their written manifesto/literature


Monday, February 26, 2007


I was driving back from the South to Birmingham last night, and on the way I listened to a CD with the John Humphries-Rowan Williams debate on, followed by Radio 4. I won't say much about Williams/Humphries right now, but I did want to highlight the Radio 4 programme 'Feedback'. It's on at 8pm on Sunday nights (as far as I know).

The point of it is to allow listeners to question Radio 4 on why they have presented the news and other shows the way they have, praise what they see as the good aspects and critique the bad. Radio 4 then questions the editorial staff about why they made the decisions the way they did.

The most fascinating part of this, for me, was the section on the news bulletin. Listeners demanded to know why they had led on Sunday morning with the story about the expansion of the congestion charge zone, since, being a diary item, it wasn't technically news. They suggested that the Indian train crash would have been a far better lead story. The editor of the news programme then had to defend this decision.

I found it not only fascinating and stimulating, but immensely reassuring that in an age where society holds a deep mistrust for the media, our publicly owned media corporation is allowing and facilitating this dialogue to occur. Cynicism aside, they were self-scrutinising in a way that encouraged listeners to question their decisions for themselves. I recommend listening to this programme. My auntie told me there is another one on on Sunday mornings, which sounds similar. It certainly guards you against accepting everything the media says unquestioningly, aside from which any discussion on media agenda-setting is always interesting.

Friday, February 23, 2007

I love books

Thanks to a gift for £15 Waterstone vouchers for Christmas, I recently purchased 3 new books. I don't normally like getting vouchers, but this was a really cool legitimate excuse to buy books, so yay! I felt like a kid in a sweet shop.

I bought:

Saturday by Ian McEwan
We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver
Human Traces by Sebastian Faulks

The first was the fruit of my immense enjoyment of 'Atonement' - I can't remember if I blogged about that read, but it was one of the best literary experiences of my life, if one of the most harrowing also. Aidan has got hooked on this one though, so for the moment it remains a closed book (ha ha, sorry, couldn't resist) to me.

Human Traces was recommended to me by Paul, and whilst my parents now own a copy thanks to him, they live in a different country from me, and I really want to read it. Unlike most of the book-loving British population, I haven't read 'Birdsong', so that will be my first venture into a Faulksian world.

I have started reading 'We Need to Talk about Kevin', though. I have picked up this book many times and wistfully put it back. Shriver, who is a woman for those who don't know, has written a book in the form of letters from a woman to her estranged husband regarding their son Kevin, who is in prison for massacring 7 of his fellow students at the age of 15. So far, it's brilliant.

In other news, I'm considering screeing comments before they're posted because Anonymous people keep posting. Whilst I welcome constructive criticism (although I'm not sure how constructive some of it is), it's very hard to know how to take it and use it if I don't know where it's coming from. So please put your names when you post. Thanks...

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Editorial Issue 1306 - No offence, but...

First, thanks to Ruth for a fantastic editorial last week. I was away in Israel for 5 days on a press trip (all expenses paid thank you very much). An article will follow; for now, suffice it to say it was an unforgettable experience that opened my mind to what is an infinitely complicated and tragic situation.

It’s struck me recently just how easily people get offended these days, especially our generation. We’ve come a long way from a time when people could call a TV dog ‘Nigger’ and get away with it because back then “racism wasn’t offensive” (according to David Brent). Nowadays, unless our dialogue is confined to a small selection of inoffensive, and thus dull, topics, we run the risk of putting a conversational foot decidedly awry and plunging it squarely into a sticky pot of conversational taboos.

I’m not saying that we should hark back to a time when most of the population was oblivious to anyone whose name wasn’t George or Bartholomew, but do we really need to get so uptight? People over here huffily pronounced Borat “anti-Semitic”, whereas it was a huge success in Israel. One asks: do people actually find this stuff upsetting, or do they convince themselves it is by climbing determinedly up to the moral high ground? Do people just think they’re supposed to get offended and quickly oblige in order to feed a moral superiority complex?

It’s got so extreme now that people pretend we are all the same in order not to get anyone’s back up. My mum, who is visibly not English, was barely asked about her ethnicity during 11 years spent in our charming white middle England commuter town. Contrast this to Brazil, a country relatively comfortable with its diverse ethnicity, where people will frankly say: “Your skin’s darker. Where are you from?” If you said that here, you’d probably get nail-bombed by the Racial Equality Commission for being discriminatory. Meanwhile, my 6th form History teacher referred fondly to my brother and I as ‘half-breeds’ because of our ethnicity. Offensive? No, just funny. He was joking, not waving a copy of the BNP manifesto. Remember joking? Didn’t think so. Do you really want to live in a society where Rory Bremner’s impression of David Blunkett is a criminal offence?

I understand that the issues of racism and multi-culturalism are far broader than any one article could cover. And there are deeply offensive attitudes out there that come from dangerously prejudiced mindsets - I am not trivialising these. But how are we ever going to be truly multi-cultural if we don’t accept that yes, we’re all different, yes, we should talk about it, and yes, we should celebrate it. Pretending that we are all the same will not work. And actually, refusing to be interested in someone’s roots can be offensively isolating. 


Friday, February 09, 2007


Yes! Birmingham got loads :)

Editorial Issue 1302

Big Brother: racist but reality

Racism is not the only word beginning with R that has stirred up controversy during the recent train-wreck of a Big Brother. The question of reality has also been uncomfortably highlighted. Although the idea of Big Brother actually fulfilling its self-description as 'reality television' is more of a farce than the Daily Express, the fact is that it still sells itself as such. In fact, BB was the pioneer of the whole genre of reality television which now saturates our screens.

Yet during the debacle of last week, over 40,000 complaints to Ofcom showed that Britons are not fans of reality by any means. Big Brother was fine entertainment if it focused on bitchy arguments over banalities and drunken sexual liaisons, but the second a sliver of real human nature reared its ugly head, it suddenly became unacceptable. Now I do not know the motivation behind most of those complaints, but I'm guessing that most of them were appealing for such behaviour to be taken off the air as it was considered offensive.

Offensive it was, plus a selection of other choice words. But however offensive and however wrong, it was also real. A real reflection of the racism that still pervades our oh so Great British communities. Does removing it from our screens mean that it doesn't exist? No. But it helps people to pretend.

I'm not going to get caught up in the Great Race Debate on this page; the issues are too deep and demand lengthy, sensitive analysis, not to mention my own views are driven by too much emotion to do them objective justice. But I think the issue of reality in our society is one worth dwelling on. This national, and now international, argument is symptomatic of a more general and fundamental tendency to bury our collective head in the sand.

This sand can be anything from alcohol to gossip magazines to shopping to cars. The whole manufactured "celebrity" culture is a way for people to kid themselves about who human beings really are. Why else do magazines like Heat feature row upon row of "shock" pictures showing celebrities caught in mundane acts such as taking their dog for a walk? Because they are exposed as real people for once. On the catwalk or the silver screen, the rest of the population can look to them and get lost in an unrealistic fantasy they aspire to; then when chinks in this illusion are exposed, they are ridiculed.

An editorial in The Sun described Jade Goody's life and success up until last week as a "meticulously manufactured lie". What rubbish. How could her life be a lie simply because we didn't know the full extent of her ignorance? This just shows that when someone is shown to have distasteful characteristics, they are presented as a fraud. Jade is not a fraud because she is racist. She just has the same innate potential to do wrong as the rest of us, and we squirm to see it.

Look at the rest of our culture. Aside from our obsession with the non-reality of celebville, we drown out the unwelcome noise of realness with louder sounds. Most people get drunk to forget things. This could be washing down the boringness of your 9-5 job with vodka at the weekend or trying to ignore the fact you've just been dumped. We go shopping and max out our credit cards in a futile attempt to ignore the fact that we have no real money to spend in order to find true fulfilment in Karen Millen. We distract ourselves from real life with something that we call "living life to the full". It's more like avoiding life to the full.

In the midst of all these frenetically desperate attempts to forget the fact that life can actually be pretty mundane at times, we refuse to answer the questions that occasionally make an awkward appearance in our minds. They are a jarring note in the cacophony of entertainment, but they are evidence of what makes us human beings: our ability to think. What is this all for? Why are we here? And the reason we ignore it is because the answers can be too scary. But they need finding. Otherwise we're retreating into the sand, determined to bury our heads in an orgy of drinking and eating and playing and working that can never distract us enough from the knowledge that we don't quite know what we're doing here.