Teeth – The aftermath of a random unprovoked attack

I’m a triplet. It’s an unusual fact about me that comes up once I’ve known someone a little while, be it a colleague, friend, or repeated acquaintance.

It’s the sort of fact you end up telling people a few times. They’ll swear blind you’ve never told them and be genuinely surprised. That’s okay. I can barely remember someone’s name on the first dozen meetings.

Read the full article at The Overtake

Hold Up – Rampant sexual harassment and institutional sexism are still stopping wrestling from appealing to women

Wrestling is having something of a cultural moment. Not the sweaty freestyle you saw in Foxcatcher, but the OTT world of professional wrestling, that exhilarating mix of sport, soap and showmanship.

With GLOW prepping a second season on Netflix and WWE exec Stephanie McMahon popping up on Lorraine to talk up the size of her company’s female audience, it’s clear that women are a key part of wrestling’s new leap at the mainstream.

Read the full article on The Overtake

School

My school building was demolished just a few years after I left. The school moved ten miles out into the suburbs, and I pompously tell people that I pity the kids who are missing out on the life lessons you learn from the crush for the 29 bus and by dodging drug dealers and their hashskunkweed mantra.

I say that I pity them missing out on all those record shops, but they’ve nearly all closed down anyway. Tower, Virgin, Slow Motion, Shakedown, Rhythm, Hammerhead and, of course, Music & Video Exchange.

Being more honest, I don’t really care too much about the next generation of kids at what I refuse to think of as “my” school since it was transplanted across London. I just feel strangely sad knowing that I can never go back.

It’s not that I want to go back in time. Few things fill me with a fraction of the horror of the prospect of reliving my school days. We may complain that youth is wasted on the young, but a even a moment’s thought will recall the regular misery and constant swirling confusion of those years.

JFS School in Camden
The part-demolished school building (CC Property)

No, we don’t want to be young again. What we want is to live our lives over with enough knowledge of the future to avoid all those pratfalls and pitfalls we stumbled into first time around. Even if we could manage that, we’d surely make plenty of brand new mistakes and even more horrifying slips into social awkwardness.

With the demolition of that stale old building, what I really regret is the lost opportunity to experience that dizzying lurch in the pit of your stomach that a visit would bring. It’s more than nostalgia. Nostalgia is defined as “a sentimental longing or wistful affection for a period in the past”. I know from similar steps back in time that walking those halls would elicit something much more powerful, slightly sickening, violent even.

That can never happen now. Instead, there are the fevered, anxious dreams of being back there, which bubble up with surprising frequency.

Usually in those dreams I’m a student again, with exams coming up frighteningly soon. I’m looking for my classroom, having somehow neglected to go to any previous lessons for this subject for the last two years. If I can only make it to this lesson, everything will be okay, but I can never find the class. I look through my disintegrating schoolbag over and over but my tattered yellow homework diary, with its vital timetable at the back, is nowhere to be seen.

Lana Del Rey – ‘Love’, Lust for Life and Guilty Pleasures

There are few more disingenuous or faintly pathetic pop concepts than the Guilty Pleasure.  Pop is all about pleasure, no guilt necessary. Love what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law of pop. Love is the law of pop, love under will.

A Guilty Pleasure used to mean “something I’m embarrassed about liking because people I disrespect – like teenagers or women – also like it”. Then it evolved to mean “something I pretend to be embarrassed about liking so you think I’m even cooler than the people who dislike this stuff because they think it’s uncool”. There is no place for the guilty pleasure in pop.

And yet.

It doesn’t matter if I’m not enough
For the future or the things to come

Lana Del Rey – ‘Love’

Sometimes you can’t help but like something that runs straight against what you believe to be your better pop senses.

When Lana Del Rey slunk sultrily onto the scene back in 2011 with ‘Video Games’ it was oh so easy to fall in love. Washed out ’50s/’60s romanticism  with an oh-so modern twist. Yes, there was an element of pastiche and almost (self-)parody to the whole thing, but hey, it just worked.

Then came album Born To Die, and it was half mesmerising, half utterly laughable.

There were a batch of just brilliant songs sprinkled across the record, like  ‘National Anthem’,  ‘Off to the Races’ and title track ‘Born to Die’ . But all rubbed up against each other, track-after-track-after-track of that ’50s/’00s ingenue pining for “daddy” over and over and over again was exhausting. It went from a touch of pastiche to the full French and Saunders.

I mean, you can’t really argue with that, can you? Summertime. Sadness. Summertime Sadness.

The deluxe cash-in “Paradise Edition” of the album just underlined the whole problem.  Some good new songs like ‘Ride’, a great one in ‘Cola’, but all that over-the-top sultriness just suffocated. The cover of ‘Blue Velvet’, did more than make the Lynchian vibe explicit, it made it laughable. Recorded for an H&M ad, listening to it made you feel like a schnook for ever enjoying a single note of what LDR has ever put on plastic.

So Lana Del Rey became a guilty pleasure (if not a Guilty Pleasure). I still get a kick from her songs – though follow-up albums Ultraviolence (2014) and Honeymoon (2015) came and went without too much of them even faintly sticking in the brain.

So to ‘Love’, the teaser from LDR’s fourth album (that “debut” recorded back in 2008 when she was Lizzy Grant doesn’t count). And… just when I thought I was out… she pulls me back in.

It’s far from her most catchy song. Nowhere near her best actually. But for perhaps the first time ever her music doesn’t seem so painfully, artlessly, affected.

I’m feelin’ electric tonight
Cruising down the coast goin’ ’bout 99

Lana Del Rey – Summertime Sadness

I’d always hesitate to use the word “real”, because there’s no more vacuous, contradictory concept in pop. Hell, it’s even worse than “Guilty Pleasure”. It’s more that despite all the welcome fluff and dazzle, ‘Love’ actually manages to connect on an emotional level.

The only song of hers that previously managed that was maybe her very best – ‘Young and Beautiful’ – her bit for the 2013 soundtrack of The Great Gatsby.

Since I started writing this, Lana announced the name of her next record, the second-hand Lust For Life, with a typically over-the-top black-and-white and-splashes-of-colour video about being “an artist” trying to “create something”. Eurgh.

The awful spectre of Lady Gaga’s self-conscious “I am an artiste” shtick looms awfully large. It’s absurd, ridiculous, clichéd and downright embarrassing. She lives in the H of the Hollywood sign for god’s sake.

And yet.

The thing is, LDR wears this mashup of The Twilight Zone and Bewitched a hell of a lot better than the crumpled Blue Velvet, which has long since faded to tedious, dull grey.

In actually embracing and outing the full-on artifice and fiction of the whole Lana Del Rey character, maybe she’s finally found a way to make it fun once again. Here’s hoping.

Pride, Intersectionality and Unity

Previously an academic term, intersectionality has become almost a buzzword in the last decade. Rather than a sole or overriding social identity (gay, black, cis, trans, Jewish, working class, etc. etc. ), our identities intersect and interact – and so do systems of societal discrimination and oppression.

That our identities are intersectional is not a prescriptive idea, but a descriptive one. Necessarily and rightly, much of the focus on intersectionality is on systems of oppression and their effects, and the insufficiency of campaigning, protests and rights movements that wilfully sacrifice any focus on discrimination as to not harm a supposedly overriding cause.

“What’s the point of supporting gay rights but nobody else’s rights. You know? Or – workers’ rights but not women’s rights – it’s – I don’t know – illogical.”

Often when the fact of intersectionality is raised, it is as a description of division or even a cause of it. And it’s not an argument limited to intra-left squabbles. A willingness to sideline others and fling them under the bus is dressed up by liberal columnists as an attack on so-called “identity politics”. Brexit? Trump? Time and again it’s argued that any focus on discrimination has pushed working class people into the arms of an increasingly-far right.

Screenwriter Stephen Beresford’s modern British classic Pride highlights the flipside – intersectionality as unity, and that unity as strength. It tells the (mainly) true story of a group London-based activists led by Mark Ashton and Mike Jackson who formed the Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM) group to raise money to help striking miners in the Dulais Valley in Wales.

“Listen, we raised this money because we want to help you. That’s it. And we’ll keep on trying to help you for as long as you want us to. Because we’ve been through some of the same things you’ve been through, and – Listen – if one in five people is gay, then one in five miners must be too, right? So that’s at least a fifth of you who’s pleased to see us?”

At a panel discussion following a screening of Pride at the Royal Albert Hall’s Elgar Room this week, LGSM’s Mike Jackson dismissed the suggestion that “identity politics” undermines solidarity in the pursuit of justice.

“I look back to what we did and that cancels that argument – it blows it out the water,” he said. “35 years ago homosexuals were seen as bourgeois deviants and gay men were seen as the products of a middle class environment. People said it was ‘a white man’s disease’. Every aspect of homophobia, blind ignorance and hatred that people have thrown at us, they were all built on sand.”

In Pride, gay activists took it upon themselves to support another oppressed community, out of solidarity. And so many historical successes in overcoming oppression and hate are founded on that type of unity.

“There is power in a factory, power in the land
Power in the hands of a worker
But it all amounts to nothing if together we don’t stand
There is power in a union”

“As a young gay man, I’d only just come out in 1973 and the very first demo I ever went on was a pro-abortion demo,” Mike said. “I was encouraged by two feminist friends of mind and it was a really fast learning curve.

“The genesis of my politics around my sexuality was borne from the women’s movement and the women that we knew and in practice, in reality, that was always the case. Wherever there were gay men striking out for equality in the ’70s and ’80s, generally they were supported by women – either overtly politically or just in self-awareness.

“In terms of unity and solidarity, that’s what we should be looking at. Saying this isn’t just about gay politics, this is about women’s equality and everyone’s equality.”

He added: “Your generation has taught me so much. The group is called Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners. We had a nod towards bisexuality, but trans people just weren’t on the horizon. What’s happened in the last 30 odd years has  just been amazing – the progress that we’ve made.

“I get a young, gay man coming up to me and saying, ‘Mike, just to keep you safe, you don’t say ‘tranny’ any more, you say trans’. And I genuinely appreciated that. This stuff has been going and I’ve been getting older and older, and the world’s changing. I am absolutely loving the younger generation’s dialogue and how they’re teaching me in so many different ways.”

But with our complex identities and intersecting causes, it’s impossible to ignore the risk of separatism, discord and divisiveness. In Pride, that’s addressed in part by the splintering off of women’s-only protest group Lesbians Against Pit Closures. Again though, both Pride and the real-life events the film depicts show that this inevitable fracturing need not come at the expense of an overall unity.

“I’m sorry, but when are you going to address my question about a Women’s group?”

“What do you need a Women’s group for anyway?”

“To address the women’s issues. Singly. And in a safe environment.”

“A group of women who would regularly come to LGSM meetings wanted to separate off and have women’s only meetings,” Mike said.

“There was discussion about that. There were a small number of people who dissented – both male and female – but off they went and they formed that group. They then wrote LGSM a formal letter offering their solidarity and support to us and vice-versa. LGSM helped organise at least one of the Lesbians Against Pit Closures events.

“I didn’t have a problem with women wanting to go off and autonomously do their own thing. On one level LGSM was us autonomously going off and doing our own thing to support the miners. There were other people who saw it as being a form of separatism and therefore not about solidarity and shared support. I understood that but people have got different views on it.”

Stephen added: “I deal with Lesbians Against Pit Closures quite harshly in the film, certainly on reflection when I look back on it. Though something about the politics of the 1980s troubled me – the slightly-humourless separatism.

“The question about whether identity politics can become self-indulgent and whether it can be dangerous is a very popular trope for columnists. In the end I don’t really think that, and I agree with Mike.

“Though if the central question is, ‘How can we stand together?’, then perhaps I don’t feel that answered the question adequately. It was a very complex relationship, but in the end, with a couple of years’ distance from the film, the way that I give them a bashing is perhaps a little unsophisticated.”

“There’s a lodge banner down in the welfare. We bring it out for special occasions. It’s a hundred years old. I’ll show it to you one day. It’s a symbol like this – Two hands. That’s what the labour movement means. Should mean. You support me and I support you. Whoever you are. Wherever you come from. Shoulder to shoulder. Hand to hand.”

The miners’ strike ended on March 3, 1985. Three months later, miners led the Pride march in London. In October 1985, the Composite 26 resolution committing the Labour Party to LGBT rights finally passed, in part due to a block vote in support from the NUM. Miners also played a key part in the battle against the horrific Section 28 – the 1998 Local Government Act that ruled local councils should not “intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality” in schools.

Against the might of the government and establishment, the unlikely alliance of gay rights activists and miners was unable to stave off the pit closures and ultimately the death of Britain’s mining industry and communities. But through unity across intersections, over division, LGSM helped give those communities hope. It helped give them pride.

Pride screened at the Elgar Room at the Royal Albert Hall’s Elgar Room on Monday, February 6, followed by a panel discussion with scriptwriter Stephen Beresford and LGSM founding members Reggie Blennerhassett and Mike Jackson as a celebration of LGBT History Month 2017

Todd Haynes’ Carol will be screened at the same venue on February 28 followed by a panel discussion led by producer Mia Bays.

Quotes from the Pride shooting script and Billy Bragg’s ‘There Is Power In A Union’, taken from the film’s soundtrack.

8 reasons even non-Beatles fans should watch their new feature-length doc

A Beatles film? In 2016? Why should anyone bother? Because, incredibly, there’s still plenty to say half a century on.

“But I don’t like The Beatles!” Even so. Here are eight reasons why – Fabs fan or not – you have to watch Ron Howard’s The Beatles: Eight Days A Week – The Touring Years.

Read the full article at Digital Spy

Manic Street Preachers’ James Dean Bradfield: “I have no f**king Britpop regrets”

Manic Street Preachers are on a roll. They soundtracked Wales’s dream run to the semi-finals of the European Championships and capped off their Everything Must Go tour with a MASSIVE homecoming gig at Swansea’s Liberty Stadium.

The band are already writing their 13th studio album, their first since 2014’s Futurology, but that hasn’t stopped frontman and self-confessed “work addict” James Dean Bradfield recording his first film score.

Read the full article at Digital Spy

What Christopher Biggins’s “Nazi joke” to Katie Waissel really means and why it matters

Christopher Biggins was thrown out of the Celebrity Big Brother house on Friday. Channel 5 explained that the actor “had made a number of comments capable of causing great offence to housemates and the viewing public”.

Having previously made the same wrongheaded argument back in The Big Issue in 2014, Biggins repeated his erasure of bisexuality, and expanded on it with his nonsense claim that HIV/AIDS is “a bisexual disease”.

And after being told that fellow housemate and former X Factor character Katie Waissel is Jewish, Biggins said: “You better be careful or they’ll be putting you in a shower and taking you to a room.”

The decision to remove Biggins from the house has inevitably led to a chorus of the usual suspects arguing that he had been punished for exercising his freedom of speech. The repeated mantra of Ricky Gervais disciples that “offence is taken, not given”.

Even Channel 5’s statement made reference to the “great offence” potentially caused by Biggins’s comments. The suggestion is that bisexuals, Jews and everyone else is being protected from “offensive” comments by Biggins’s eviction.

That’s not really the issue.

Are Jews “offended” by Holocaust jokes? Maybe. But by the time you reach your 30s you’ve heard so many that it’s pretty unlikely. Can Holocaust jokes be funny? Appropriate even? Of course. Forget timing – context is actually the key to comedy.

Biggins’s gag wasn’t about comedy. It wasn’t even really a joke. It was a casual reference thrown at a Jewish person that was loaded with threat. Was Biggins personally threatening Waissel? Of course not. But the meaning behind the one-liner is everything.

You are different. You are Jewish. You are a only a couple of generations away from being gassed to death and burned to ashes just because you are Jewish. You are alive in Europe by dumb luck and historical accident. You are alive in Europe because we have chosen not to kill you. We will never let you forget that.

Katie Waissel was born 41 years to the day of the liberation of Auschwitz. You can see that as ancient history. You can see that as a blink of an eye.

“You better be careful or they’ll be putting you in a shower and taking you to a room.”

Like every Jew living in Europe, Katie Waissel will never escape the shadow of the Holocaust. She will never be allowed to.

One of the most pervasive modern antisemitic themes is to define Jewishness by persecution in general and the Holocaust in particular.

Biggins’s comment is part of that everyday drip-drip-drip reminder that Jews must regard themselves as victims.

All peoples have their rebels and warrior heroes and Jews are no different. From the Israelite conquest of Canaan to the Haganah. The Maccabees to the Żydowska Organizacja Bojowa and Żydowski Związek Wojskowy who fought in the Warsaw Ghetto.

Jews have frequently defined themselves by their strength, not their weakness and victimhood.

Europe will not allow it.

“I think that tree roots cannot grow in ash,” Robert Fisk slyly quotes Auschwitz concentration camp guide Stetkiewicz Wojciech as saying in his 1990 book Pity the Nation: Lebanon at War.

The dotted line between the Holocaust and the establishment of the State of Israel is filled in. It is made bold. The scores of other dotted lines into May 14, 1948 are erased to fit this narrative.

There is a hunger on this continent to define Israel – and Jews – as trees in ash. Borne of dust that was recently blood. Fragile. Weak. Precarious. Sure to fail. Sure to fall.

All nations have their founding heroic myths and, lurking in the shadows, their founding horrors. Force and its immediate cousin violence are inseparable from the very notion of the State.

In Politics as a Vocation, Max Weber defined the State as “a human community that (successfully) claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory”.

Historically, the establishment of that community has been inescapably bound up in theft, murder and tragedy – for both those included and excluded from the State.

The equation of Israel and Jews as trees rooted in ash is not about these horrors. It is about defining Jews as victims. Victims in a past that is still recent.

It is a reminder that Jews are outnumbered in Europe and as such are reliant on the grace of their hosts for their very existence.

In 2010, there were an estimated 1.4 million Jews in a Europe with a population of around 735 million people.

0.19%.

Almost certainly without that intent, Christopher Biggins’s comment is part of a continuing European discourse that seeks to instruct every Jew that they must think of themselves as victims past and – should Europe decide – victims-to-be.

We reject this.

We are not victims.

We refuse to be identified as victims.