opinion

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Watching All Of Shakespeare: Ground Rules and Confessions

Confession first: I haven’t seen much Shakespeare.

Lots of people have probably seen less, but they’re probably not very bothered. I feel like I really should have.

I’ve studied English Literature at post-compulsory level off and on for over two decades (although admittedly without getting any meaningful qualification), got to the semi-finals of Mastermind twice, and been quite willing to argue with people about Shakespeare and quote him. I’ve got a sort of Roger Craig type knowledge – I can identify all the most famous quotations, probably even give you a precis of the plots of most of them, but as far as ACTUALLY HAVING SEEN them, on stage or screen, as far as I recall I’ve ticked off:

Hamlet
Macbeth
King Lear
Titus Andronicus
Twelfth Night
Midsummer Nights Dream
Much Ado About Nothing
Taming Of The Shrew
Richard III
Henry V
Julius Caesar

And that’s it. Maybe they were all bluffing it as well, but I’m sure most of the people I’ve done Eng Lit courses with had seen more than that. Christ, I’ve never even seen Othello, or Merchant Of Venice, or Romeo and Juliet (I got about half an hour into the Baz Luhrman thing before metaphorically putting my foot through the screen and sending him the bill). Romeo and Juliet! There’s undiscovered tribes in Papua New Guinea who’ve seen three versions of Romeo and Juliet, for Christ’s sake. I’m pretty sure I’ve written essays on others not on that list, and got fairly good grades, but I’ve not actually watched them. Maybe excerpts, but not all the way through.

This has to change.

So – and this is basically me muscling in on one of the entries on my wife’s “Things to do before turning 30” list, which gives us a deadline of 4th January 2015 – we’re going to watch it all.

A few ground rules:

1. Only original text versions. Obviously there’s much dispute about what the original text even is, I’m not going to get excessively anal and insist on unabridged first folio versions or something, but no modernised language versions, or “based on an idea by” stuff. There’s some excellent stuff of that nature – I saw a really good Othello update set in the Metropolitan Police with Christopher Ecclestone a few years back, and Neil Gaiman’s Midsummer Night’s Dream is pretty damned peerless, but you’ve got to have rules. Start letting Throne Of Blood in and next thing you’re counting Ten Things I Hate About You, and before you know it you’re ticking off Hamlet because the child watched The Fucking Lion King – AGAIN – while you were in the room.

2. The list I’m using is this:

All’s Well That Ends Well
As You Like It
Comedy of Errors
Love’s Labour’s Lost
Measure for Measure
Merchant of Venice
Merry Wives of Windsor
Midsummer Night’s DreamA picture of William Shakespeare, who is the focus of this challenge
Much Ado about Nothing
Taming of the Shrew
Tempest
Twelfth Night
Two Gentlemen of Verona
Winter’s Tale
Cymbeline
Henry IV, Part I
Henry IV, Part II
Henry V
Henry VI, Part I
Henry VI, Part II
Henry VI, Part III
Henry VIII
King John
Pericles
Richard II
Richard III
Antony and Cleopatra
Coriolanus
Hamlet
Julius Caesar
King Lear
Macbeth
Othello
Romeo and Juliet
Timon of Athens
Titus Andronicus
Troilus and Cressida

I know there’s others attributed, but that’s what I’m going with. It seems generally accepted and lets face it the world’s not going to end if I’ve missed one. 3. “Watched” means that. It can be stage or screen, amateur or professional, but it has to be watched, radio versions don’t count. Why this will be of interest to anyone is beyond me, but there it is. We currently have David Tennant’s Hamlet, Al Pacino’s Merchant Of Venice and a Globe version of Othello on the TiVo, any recommendations welcomed but not necessarily followed. BRING ON THE BARD.

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A Book or eBook?

E-reader and Paperback Book. Photo: IslesPunkFan

I used to believe in the humble book. There was a time I was certain that nothing could come between us and our fistfuls of musky scented yellow pages; that undeniable sense of character imparted by time and the tender hands of countless companions. Somehow I was sure that no matter how technologically advanced we became, nothing could possibly replace an authentic and unassuming hard cover.

There’s something deeply romantic about the book; a physical collection of words and sentiments, whose compilation is tangible evidence that as a people, we have existed. Through the book we happily accept the love and laughter, tears and tragedies of others; a testament to the human condition. Then when we’re done, we pass it on so that those words that shook us might wake the senses of a new reader. In that moment when we hand it over, we send our own story wordlessly with it; an unspoken yet undeniable shared history that can be sensed in the margins of every page. The happy knowledge that the leaves you now turn have been caressed by some number of others, binding you with your humanity, like the linking fingers of a best friend.

I was wrong, of course. I have always been, above all else, embarrassingly naive. How green to imagine that, while the rest of the world became increasingly clinical, uninterested in their brother and the intimacy of breathing someone else’s air, the defenceless book could survive. No one wants to own something that’s been handled by an unfamiliar other any more. We want to live apart. Possess our own things. Selfishly believe the world is ours; that we are the only one. Populations are booming, but even as we’re forced to dwell on top of one another, moving ever higher into an unconquered sky, we are slamming tight our shutters.

Needless to say, there will always be stories. We’re too governed by ego to let the story die; we see ourselves in every narrative and our sense of self importance is affirmed. But books and stories, those words that were once synonymous, are about to be broken apart. Driven by our need for efficiency, we can now download our own version of the texts we wish to read. These days we need not even leave the house. What a blow of cruel irony when the interwebs adopted the phrase connectivity.

Like so many things, it’s come to pass that every book you own can be uniquely yours; you read it once but do not pass it on. The pages are ever crisp and white; untarnished as a surgeon’s scalpel. But the romance is gone. In our hunger for perfection and instant gratification we have sliced off and slaughtered the glorious romance.

It’s been estimated that within this decade, electronic books will have completely replaced commercially available paper publications. There are of course, many advantages to the electronic book. Affordability is one; for the time being, they are certainly cheaper. Owning an electronic reader also means you can have countless titles at your finger tips. Many people are also citing the environmental card, claiming that the e book is better for the environment. I’m not sure I buy this one. While I’ve done exactly no research on the subject, I can’t believe the process involved with constructing these little gadgets is particularly sparing on the fossil fuels.

What do you think about our move toward electronic books?

Have you taken the leap to e-reader?

How do you feel about the humble hard cover being made redundant?

In Defence of Mumsnet

Mumsnet, one of the major British parenting network sites, has always come in for a lot of flak, most of which comes from two points of view:

  • Those who think it is the same as the other fluffy pink mummy sites, full of bad spelling and tickers
  • Those who think it is a sinister conspiracy against the country: a Boden and biscuits mafia

Now we have a new one – those who think it is a distributor of “man hate”.  Sigh. *

So, what is Mumsnet?  Why does it cause such a problem?

When people say “Mumsnet” what they usually mean is the Talk section of Mumsnet, which is a huge message board or forum, aimed at parents (although the majority of users are mothers, there are a sizable minority of fathers, grandparents, childcare workers and childless people who also use the site).  There are hundreds of sections, covering all aspects of life, not just parenting.  Each section tends to have its own “feel” – so Pregnancy tends to be fairly gentle, Am I Being Unreasonable? is a hotbed of disagreements and strong debate and Feminist Activism can be pretty militant.  There is a site wide policy of very light moderation, so swearing, heated disMumsnet logocussions and pretty obscene conversations do occur (never, ever google anything users of Mumsnet tell you to google…).  Members can name-change whenever they like, meaning that posters can reveal secret details on one thread then go back to joking with long term friends on another, under their usual nickname, which does not tend to be related to ‘real life’ identities.  There are also no avatars, twinkly tickers, signatures or pictures, and only a very small range of emoticons.

Herein lies one of our problems. Mumsnet is very different to the rest of the parenting forums, and I would say that the main difference is that Mumsnet treats posters as adults.  We aren’t mollycoddled, and the only things that get deleted (apart from spam) are personal attacks and hate speech.  Mumsnet as a body of posters tends to be self regulating – so a poster coming on who doesn’t follow the rules will get very short shrift.  This has given us a bit of a reputation for being bitchy, although, to me, it just means that we say how we feel, like grown ups.  Other sites will tend to ban you if you express any forthright opinions, and so there are a good few Mumsnetters who are banned from other sites.

Mumsnet also tends to be a bit more educated than other sites.  That’s not to say that Mumsnetters all have doctorates, or even GCSEs, but there is a higher expectation of basic education.  Text speak and bad grammar are frowned upon, and there are often jokes about things like classic literature and politics.  This is often given as evidence that Mumsnet is somehow elitist, and that “ordinary” people would be pushed out and ridiculed.

To me, there are endless websites where you can post cute little tickers, use vomit inducing euphemisms and tipe lyk u cant speel 🙂 ❤ ❤ 😮 and I think it is only fair to let one site have its own way of working.  Just because the users of the site are mostly women, and mostly mothers at that, doesn’t mean that we have to act like children ourselves.

justine off of mumsnet.  Because of the general culture of the site, there is a higher than usual concentration of professionals and, in particular, journalists.  Mumsnet is often used as a cheap research technique, with posts (usually without the knowledge and assent of responding posters) being used in news articles as the “opinion of parents” (I have had this happen to me, when I posted about an internet joke, and there was one reply – I was quoted twice, as different users, as proof that mothers in general found the joke hilarious).  Justine Roberts, one of the founders of the site, can often be found on talk shows giving her opinion – she can’t give the opinion of Mumsnet as a whole, because the 2 million users that use the site every month can’t possibly have one opinion.

However, that, and the fact that the site regularly hosts web-chats with politicians and other movers and shakers, gives Mumsnet a reputation as attention seekers who try to control the media.

Why is it that people hate the idea of a site where women can get together to chat about sex, politics, parenting and culture?  Men have most of the rest of the internet, and any woman daring to post anywhere else is often attacked if she dares mention anything feminine in any way.  Parents of young children are likely to become isolated, and there isn’t the support network that used to exist to support young mothers.

So, if my baby is acting weirdly, or the cuts are pissing me off, or I just thought up a really good joke about mooncups…I’ll see you on Mumsnet.

*I have deliberately ignored the ridiculous behaviour of a certain pressure group lately.  Don’t feed the troll and all that.

The ‘No Offence, But…’ Pandemic

‘No offence, but…’ is a phrase which is slowly but surely sweeping the globe. An increasingly common method of insult which allows an individual to guise deeply personal criticisms as casual observation, ‘no offence, but…’ is used to create humour at the expense of a typically unsuspecting and undeserving victim, for the benefit of a non committal audience.Annabella Weir, playing the "no offense" lady on The Fast Show

This expression is basically a self served license to insult someone by stating something typically personal and often irrelevant to the ebb and flow of the current conversation. The phrase is used as a flag, a method through which one captures an audience’s attention; say ‘no offence…’ in any social setting and everyone within earshot will pause to hear the outrageous and insulting quip you are about to discharge. The beauty of the term is that as well as removing any possible guilt or remorse from the mind of the insulter, the very wording of the phrase simultaneously forbids the subject from becoming openly offended. Since no offence was allegedly intended, the victim is expected to take it on the chin, to the point that any serious response or reaction on the subject’s behalf will immediately appear both unwarranted and uncool in the eyes of bystanders. After all, can’t you take a joke?

As a high school teacher, I have been gifted a rare insight into the dynamics of the adolescent social clique, and I am pained to witness on a daily basis the many cruel ways that children treat one another. Girls, I am ashamed to say, are the most vicious. I have seen boys literally knocking each other flat as a result of a ‘ya mum’ joke that went too far, but a hard and fast smack in the eardrum does a lot less damage to an individual when compared to the drip, drip, dripping of malicious insults, tapping slowly and tortuously onto the forehead of another. Of course, the issue on which I am basing this rant is by no means confined to young people; there are countless adults who can be as callous, if not more so, than the children for whom we are supposed to be setting an example.

So how should we respond when this septic term is uttered, whether as the victim or a member of the audience? At the outset, it needs to be noted that anyone who uses the phrase is a spineless tool, and for two good reasons. Firstly, if the person in question wants to say something insulting to someone, they should be brave enough to own their comment, rather than hiding behind a pathetic preamble. Secondly, if the individual feels the need to put someone else down in order to make themselves look good, they are probably neither nice or interesting.

Unfortunately, as a victim of the pandemic there isn’t a whole lot you can do. I would suggest falling back on your humility with the consolation that everyone present who possesses half a brain realises the speaker is a cretin making a cheap shot at your expense. As the audience however, you have a bit more power in this scenario (no one has instructed you not to take offence, after all). What I have found works particularly well is aiming a ‘no offence, but…’ back at the speaker. In doing this, you must be very careful to ensure that your retaliation has both more bite than the antagonists, and that it references their ridiculousness (so that those people within the circle of conversation who have a even a hint of intelligence can witness your outstanding wit and superior sarcasm).

So next time you hear a fool making a shallow and unreasonable statement in order to boost their own ego, close them down. Because if we can’t get rid of idiots, we can at least shut them up.

Footnote: ‘Nothing personal…’ is the evil twin of the above phrase. Ironically, this term is only uttered as a preface for something profoundly personal. Unfortunately, the irony is typically lost on the speaker, who isn’t trying to be clever, just mean.

Very Moving…

Buying a house is weird isn’t it? The whole system is unlike any other purchase you’ll make.

You get to see probably the biggest purchase of your life, aboSign  outside a house, reading "house for sale" in a shabby chic styleut twice, for about half an hour, before committing hundreds of thousands of pounds to it. Half an hour?  You spend a longer period of time deliberating over buying a puppy or trying on sunglasses (trying to hide that bloody tag behind one of the lenses so you don’t look mental). But 30 minutes for a house? Personally I’ve spent longer choosing pick’n’mix.

But if that’s weird then selling your house is a whole lot stranger. We really do just disengage our reason for that part of the process. Take, for example, the phenomenon of “dressing” your house for viewings. This normally involves two parts.

The first part is mainly just hiding all the shit. All the clutter of everyday life will be scooped up and concealed in cupboards or hidden guiltily in the car boot like a dead body. You’ll binbag the billions of shoes you’ve somehow accumulated in the porch. The post at the bottom of the stairs will be freed from the hump of coats that usually shroud it. The fridge will be stripped of magnets and kiddie art. Toys will be stacked into neat towers of plastic or dumped at your parent’s house. But you won’t bother trying to tidy the garage because let’s face it – life’s too short.

The second part is where you add things that aren’t normally there. You’ll set the dining table just in case potential buyers hadn’t figured out that this is where you eat food. Beds will overflow with carefully arranged scatter cushions. The coffee table will try it’s best to look natural with carefully fanned out magazines. You’ll buy flowers. Oh yes fresh cut flowers will spring up in your kitchen as if it’s perfectly normal. You might wait until the last moment before puncturing a few satsumas and let their aroma whisper “buy my zesty house you citrus-loving bastards!!”

But dressing is painfully transparent isn’t it? It’s a bit pointless unless you think that potential buyers have the following conversation after seeing your home.

“Darling, that house we viewed today was perfect wasn’t it”

“Yes, yes it was. A nice aspect in a beautiful area. I loved the kitchen/diner and those French windows onto the garden”

“And great schools nearby… ”

“and that third bedroom would make an adorable nursery”

“Oh yes such a lovely family home”

“…”

“What is it Darling?”

“It’s just a small thing really but …”Orange Gerbera on a green background

“Tell me Darling”

“Well it’s just the downstairs bathroom…”

“The downstairs bathroom?”

“Yes. It was fine and everything but it’s just that the vase on the window sill…”

“Go on”

“Well it didn’t have a single stem of Gerbera in it. I just don’t think I could bring myself to buy a house that didn’t have a single stem of Gerbera in the downstairs toilet”

“You’re right dear, now that I think about it. It just didn’t have a single stem of Gerbera in the downstairs toilet.”

“Oh well we have some more houses to view, we’ll just have to keep looking.”

“I quite agree. It’s better to be safe than sorry dear”

Clearly YOU don’t do that with houses you look at do you? YOU can see past the empty vases? Of course YOU can. And so can THEY. Because that’s not the house, that’s just the crap IN the house.

Then there are the awkward questions. The ones you happily lie about. Lets play multiple choice.

“Why are you moving?”

  1. “We want somewhere better than this shithole and we can afford it because we’re clearly richer than you”
  2. This place is haunted by the ghost of a dead peadophile and we hate the neighbours – their cats shit all over our garden.
  3. My husband’s work.

“Does the garden get the sun?”

  1. No it get’s the fucking Telegraph you bum diseased yokel.
  2. On midsummers day for about 10 minutes. Other than that it’s like an outside cave. Only darker.
  3. All the time. Oh yes we’re very lucky.

“Are the local schools good?”

  1. They’re good if you want to score drugs.
  2. Their metal detectors are good –  they have to be what with all the flick-knives…
  3. Very good. Certainly well up there in all the league tables.

If you answered mostly Cs you are a liar (and a perfectly normal person trying to sell their house).

Mums vs Business

I belong to an online group for photographers, and recently the conversation turned to starting to charge . The comments were supportive and fun until somebody decided to butt in and tell us what he really thinks of people who suddenly decide to become a photographer while on maternity leave. He claimed that stay-at-home mums steal the clients from him (and the other ‘professionals’).Child using a toy camera

So what is so annoying about a woman deciding to change her career path and give her talents a chance, to bring in some extra money and to spend some time in the world outside nappies and projectile vomiting?

One of the arguments is that it’s not really possible to change career and skills overnight. I changed from teaching to photography, and it took long evenings of reading tons of tutorials, lots of patience, even more practice, expensive gear, and even more expensive computer programmes.

I would never claim I’m a photographer without all the preparation and confidence that I can provide my clients with the quality photos that they paid for. And all my preparation, learning and shooting takes place next to cooking, cleaning, washing, ironing, shopping,  and taking care of my 3.5 yr old daughter.

I’m not complaining about life and my responsibilities, I’m just stating the fact that being a Mum doesn’t mean women can’t achieve success on a new career path. When a mum goes back to her previous work after having a baby and continues to gain experience and climbs up the business ladder not many people will claim she is rubbish, purely because she is now a mother.

But when a stay-at-home mum starts a new career, making the effort to learn a new skill from scratch, devoting all her free time (there’s not much of it, trust me) on practice and spends some savings to get needed equipment, then this mum is considered a time-waster and unqualified person.

I’ve seen thousands of photos, thousands of photography related websites and designs, and it just so happens that the ones I liked the most were those of women who became photographers/digital designers alongside their maternity status.

One of the things I love the most about their work is the difference between their first photo they took of their baby and the one they took just 5 months later on someone’s wedding as a booked photographer. The transition and development is so outstanding in many cases that I don’t understand why there is any doubt about their skills.

Does it really matter how many years that person was in the business or how many degrees that person can flash in front of our eyes? When we pay for a service isn’t it the end product that we want? And if it happens to satisfy a group of clients, stands out from the crowd and is done by a mum, is that a problem?

We have to give mums more credit for trying to go out there and make a difference in their life. Most of us find our true talents, hobbies and business ideas during those long sleepless nights nursing our babies. Mums starting something new are not trying to take shortcuts and pretend they know stuff. They will put double amount of energy into everything they do. Because that’s what mothers do in life, whatever they do.

You Are Not Alone

According to research published by the University of Maryland, students in over 10 countries had a problem.Facebook login screen shot

An addiction, in fact, with hardly any social stigma attached. Except if the number of friends you have is below say, 70 or the number of followers is less than 12. Then there must be an issue with the person, rather than the social networking site that is akin, apparently, to a crack cocaine habit – as one internet surfing teen put it.

Where does this need for constant interaction come from – and, more importantly, where does it stop? Flitting from tab to tab at the top of a computer in the hopes that the number of comments, likes, status updates or tags have a certain relevance to the Universe of Me is not only really easy to do, looks relatively innocuous but is reassuring too. Dietrich was wrong when she said ‘I vant to be alone’. No one really wants that, it’s solitary confinement of the intellectual kind. Why are dating websites, or personal ads so popular? They have that ability to express yourself without any actual physical involvement in the exchange.

Technology is changing the way we communicate. There used to be a television advertisement – rather clever stop motion – where a guy never left his flat but managed to live using his phone and internet. It was advertising the Yellow Pages. Yet this isn’t an impossible ‘dream’ (or nightmare). Tesco delivers. Argos delivers. Both are online. Facebook offers a rather voyeuristic way of keeping in touch with those that we like (and some that we’ve only really met once). Not only are there TV beds with wifi, if they had a built in catheter and elimination system we need never move again.

But imagination, that precious thing which allows us to have ambition and dreams, often fails us as soon as we log in. Our days are never as exciting as our best friends seem to be. Our comments never as witty. We lack the ability to entertain ourselves and suddenly, consumed by insecurity we open Google as another tab to hide the screen of Shame for at least ten minutes until we check again.

All forums have this. It’s like the first day of school but forever virtual. More people who we could have a connection with. More people to ego trip us out of the obscure. Is this really a good thing? Cravings, anxiety and depression…surely enough in the physical day to day existence for some, yet clearly not for others. I made the rather exciting discovery that I could live without a mobile phone. Liberating. Exhilarating. Yet at the same time it caused slight concern: what if the car broke down and I was attacked by Zombie penguins on the beach – how could I contact civilisation? What if I had a really important thought which meant cancer could be cured in half an hour – how could I write this down and send it to someone of note? Firstly, red telephone boxes still appear at the roadside, and secondly, Post Offices provide a means of sending communication via paper without the need to top up by £10 or sign an 18 month contract.

Seriously though, think about the amount of time we spend online. Everyday. For some, it is a whole way of life, it is how they pay the bills and live at night. Yet is it really what we need to do? Should the apocalypse occur this year – which is very doubtful, as personally I believe the Mayans probably just got fed up counting rather than had a secret hidden knowledge – then the world may very well lose the internet for more than a day. Should that happen, I would hope we wouldn’t be doomed to an Escape from LA situation. Life is so much more than programmed software and Times New Roman.

There is something to be said for self reliance. Diversion from reality, whatever we deem it to be, is awfully enjoyable. And necessary, but not the be all and end all of Humanity. Legacies are not left in words alone (Unless, of course that is your career) but in how we make others feel, not how others make Us feel. Preachy, maybe, but it would make a good Facebook soundbite all the same.

Pirates! In…An Adventure in Public Relations

Aardman animation version of Pirates!  Promotional imageHar! Har! Me hearties.

So, here we have the tale of a perfectly satisfactory humour novella turned into global Hollywood hype non-conformist style, thanks to the genius (or is that genii?) of Aardman Animation – the animated whizzkids behind the Mel Gibson vehicle ‘Chicken Run’ and the much admired Lancashire one man and his dog. (Which shall not be referred to again, as it is pretty much given that everyone understands it is ‘Wallace and Gromit’ not ‘Turner and Hooch’ – which is about the only other option available.)

How could this film, which is clearly not aimed at youngsters, have caused controversy prior to public release? Or, cynically, how could this clearly not aimed at youngsters film (but still an animation) have highlighted itself during the dour dull days of January? Let me explain the premise of the film in a nutshell. Partly by digressing and explaining the point of the book.

Gideon Defoe, talented scamp that he is, wrote The Pirates! in an adventure with Scientists to impress a girl. Simple.. If I was that girl, I would be impressed.  (Maybe I am easily impressed, but a book has to make a dedication, and the dedication in that book made me go ‘aww’).

The Pirate Captain, played in the film by the devilishly foppish quintessential Englishman Hugh Grant. (I saw him filming the fight scene with Colin Firth in Hyde Park. Which was nice.) needs adventure and recognition for his services to Maritime sailing. There’s the Elephant Man, Charles Darwin, an exciting duel or two, some religious Bishop-ry. It’s all in there. And all good. Even a very short meeting with lepers.

What?! Lepers! Are they, the Gods of film, mocking the afflicted for the sake of cheap entertaining thrills (although clearly not taking science, sailing and deformed dead people seriously, leaving aside the casual religious mockery that has been thrown in)? Lepra Health in Action suggest so.

The fuss lies in the connotation of leprosy as, well, all about arms and legs dropping off, and of being contagious. Shun worthy in fact. Let’s face it, leper boats existed. So in terms of historical accuracy, Defoe is dead on. In terms of contagion, it is. Though treatable, so don’t panic.

Surely Lepra Health in Action should welcome the fact that leprosy, long thought of as a disease of the past, has been brought to the forefront of our armchair viewing opinion?

Ultimately, though, it doesn’t really matter. The book is funny, the film should be funny. Leprosy, horrible disease that it is, has massive comic potential which has been exploited time and again, with only a modicum of complaint.

Not to sound like a Daily Mail reader (which I do read but only to cut my teeth on and sharpen my claws) it really does seem like political correctness gone mad. Arms do not just fall off. They are not made of plasticine and Hugh Grant does not look like a thin Brian Blessed, as portrayed in the film.

Use your common sense, if you have been affected by the issue of leprosy there is probably a helpline  to ring in confidence. And as the prevalence of leprosy has globally decreased, isolated to underdeveloped countries with poor standards of sanitation who will probably not be watching at the Imax in 3D a low budget brightly written and scripted comic caper, then I think cutting a whole chapter of the book was a little bit of overkill, but brilliantly stage managed to correspond with box office opening, especially as it’s a small cult classic.

Cynical, moi? Not really, just realistic, and looking forward to watching the film.

Stigma – the escape prevention plan

Ah, stigma.  Our old friend.A sillohette of a person trapped behind glass to symbolise stigma

This is a subject that those of us who take an interest in mental health politics are constantly banging on about, but the message still doesn’t seem to be getting through to others.  The problem is, I think, that all this banging on goes on in circles of people who already know it all already.  If you blog about mental health issues as a sufferer/survivor, it is almost certain you will have encountered stigma yourself.  You will have faced the dilemma of whether to reveal your illness to employers, you will have avoided the subject with relatives you know will just make stupid comments.  So reading the statistics just confirms what you already know.

A report, published last year by the NHS Information Commission, found that only 25% of people would trust most ex-patients of a mental hospital to babysit their child.  21% believed that anyone with a history of mental illness should be prevented from ever taking public office.  11% would not even want to live next door to somebody who has ever suffered from mental illness.  People with mental illness have the highest “want to return to work” rates of all disabilities, but face the biggest unemployment rates of any category of disability.  They also report difficulty in getting treatment, not only for their mental illness, but for any physical illness that may also affect them – people with severe mental illness have a life expectancy that is shortened by around 10 years.

The facts make depressing reading, and even more so when, as I once witnessed myself, they are displayed on a colourful information board in the corridor of a psychiatric ward.  Right next to the door. At one point I hatched a theory that it was put there to stop us wanting to escape to the stigma filled outside world.  Looking back, I was probably over thinking things a little…

This is the thing though.  When we are mental in the first place, we need a bit more understanding, because we are likely to be much more vulnerable.  There is no doubt that we face problems with which we are less able to cope.  I’m not sure that just telling ourselves that the problems exist is really going to help much.   It might make us more afraid to go out of our comfort zone, away from the people who know what it is like to be mentally ill.

Of course, there shouldn’t be stigma, but I think that we need to go beyond raising awareness that it exists and start trying to cope with it when we do see it.

I’m not saying that it shouldn’t be fought.  Of course it should, and I will happily join in the fight.  But, the fight will be ongoing for  while, and all that time we will still have to find jobs, talk to old friends and live our lives.  We can’t just write STIGMA on our front doors and not go out until it goes away.

The Music is Dead. Long Live the Music.

If we are to believe the popular press, Simon Cowell and Co. have killed music. It is stone dead and beyond resuscitation. Should we believe that this is the case?

Last week, Radio 1 ran their annual New Music Week. They hand over the airwaves to specialist DJs who bring non-chart music to the masses. There would seem to be no shortage of this new music, suggesting that music is not dead. The problem seems to be that the music industry cannot market what is available effectively.

The BBC used to run Top of The Pops, their flagship music programme aimed at teens. It was most kids’ exposure to pop music (apart from taping the top 40 on a Sunday). They were somewhat guided in their purchases. Now they have more music channels than they can watch, Internet radio and the ability to access almost any song instantaneously. Bands can engage with their fans in ways that they could not have imagined when I was a teenager. Artists can produce and distribute from their own bedrooms. There is no need for a record deal in the digital age.

And this is exactly why labels will say music is dying. Because of teenagers huddled over their MacBooks laying down their beats, sending it to their friends via Facebook who send it to their friends ad infinitum. If you are a singer/songwriter all you need is a webcam and a good broadband connection.

Photo by vige

Music is far from dead, it is where it belongs – with the masses. Get on YouTube, legally download some tunes (hey, musicians need to make a living too), and embrace the revolution.

Let the music live!

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