Monday, 28 February 2011

The curious case of Santana and Brittany

So here’s the thing. I love Glee. I love Glee almost as love as I love Girlie (that’s quite a lot). I even love the auto-tuned voice of Gwyneth Paltrow covering Forget You.

There is only one thing (other than the appalling cover of Poker Face) that I find really hard about Glee at the moment, and that’s the relationship between Brittany and Santana.

Kurt’s sexuality was brilliantly and sensitively handled. From the moment he told Mercedes to this brilliant moment between his dad and Finn, there has been no question that this is a serious issue in his life that defines his adolescent experience. Particularly, in the recently broadcast episodes at the beginning of series two, his shocking experience with Karofsky’s internalised homophobia was bravely handled and the impact on his schooling was made explicit in a way that I don’t think I’ve seen on television before, on either side of the pond. Bravo!

But, on the other hand, Brittany and Santana are shown frequently making out (which is apparently "a nice break from all that scissoring") but in a way that I can't help but feel is designed to attract male viewers and their relationship is never explored in any detail. Even now Brittany is dating Artie, it seems that we’re supposed to believe that this could pass without comment. Brittany and Santana are both very sexualised characters – Brittany claims to have had every guy in school, and Santana almost talks of nothing else – but it still strikes me that Glee is buying into the idea that guys who like guys are definitely gay and do lots of soul-searching whereas girls who like girls are just sexy. 

It seems a little misogynistic, from a show that's explored some really serious issues in an awesome way; I really hope it resolves. 

Friday, 18 February 2011

The immorality of a culture of cuts

I have never voted Conservative. Not even when I lived in London and Boris Johnson stood for mayor. Yes, he's quite funny on Have I Got News for You, but I seriously doubted he'd be much good for London.

My voting history is entirely confined to Lib Dems (most frequently), Greens (particularly in European elections when Caroline Lucas was my MEP) and Labour (Ken Livingstone, see above).

So that's where I was at before the last election. I voted Liberal Democrat in Islington, not seeing much of a viable alternative. Labour did some good things (Civil Partnership, for example) and some that I could never agree with (detention without charge, the war in Iraq, etc.). On balance, I didn't want to take the risk.

I will be the first to admit that voting Liberal Democrat was riskier still, but my expectations were naive. I believed it would be impossible for a Liberal-Conservative coalition to form (I know an oxymoron when I see one) and expected to see a Lib-Lab coalition with a strong Conservative opposition. I've always been a proponent of Proportional Representation as creating accountable coalition governments representing the true range of political opinions across the country. I do wonder if that's idealistic and naive, but one can't legislate for idiots and for all their faults I think the Lib Dems are chipping some small chunks off the traditional Conservative position (here and here, for example).

These concessions, however, almost pale into insignificance compared to the way in which the Conservatives are ploughing ahead with a destructive economic policy that not only appears to be bad for the economy but also potentially devastating to the poorest and most isolated members of British society.

Back in June 2010, 1 month after the election and immediately after the first budge, Joseph Stiglitz (Nobel economist) was predicting a chaotic economic fallout (The Independent). Stiglitz predicted the crash pretty accurately - the world ignored him at their peril - and it seems bizarre to me that 8 months later, his warnings are still going unheeded. Not only that, but the scale of the cuts appears to get steeper almost every day.

George Monbiot is best-known for his provocative work on climate change. Recently, he's been writing for the Guardian almost daily on government policy from the environment to the 'Big Society' and I was particularly intrigued by two articles in the past fortnight on tax reductions in business and 'naked short-selling' (not as exciting as it sounds). As I have said before, I am not an expert on economics, but the idea of naked short-selling sounds preposterous. It is widely-held to be true that speculation on false promises in the banking industry was a major factor in the 2007 crash (just look at the sub-headings in the Wikipedia article) and commentators from Andrew Ross Sorkin to Nouriel Roubini, 'Dr. Doom' blame speculative selling, and "irrational exuberance" in the time of plenty. With that in mind, what on earth is the treasury doing defending a dangerous practice in a time when it claims we can't afford to lose any more money?

There is no doubting that the Conservative party have always courted the wealthy, the financial elite and this is the logical explanation for continuing to support a practice that is illegal in the US, Japan, Hong Kong, Australia and Brazil.

All of which brings me to the savage cuts to the welfare state. I should say, these are not especially new in theory but the aggressive nature of them is. We are sold a story that the national debt is so dreadful we must accept that there will be sacrifices - like a family whose income is below their expenditure (hint, hint). I recall an article, but now can't locate it, in which suggesting that the way the Tories are handling the economy is akin to a household cutting down its expenses only works if the household is 3/4 occupied by a family with two cars sending their children to private school and the remaining quarter by a large family who have a lower-than-average income and send their children to state school. The way the cuts would work, in this household, would be to take the poorer family's one car away and leave the rich family with no impact at all. I believe this may have been on Johann Hari's blog, but I can't remember. If anyone can find me the link I will update this and everyone will benefit from a much neater analysis than my half-remembered abstract!

The point is this, if there are no tax cuts to individuals but apparently enormous tax breaks to business, and if the government goes on slashing the NHS and destroying Disability Living Allowance, or goes through with the Chancellor's ominous threat on Newsnight (10th Feb 2011) to cut benefits to anyone out of work, families and individuals across the UK will be devastated. There is a useful summary of the potential cuts here, from yesterday's Guardian.

As a Christian, I find all this to be profoundly immoral. The emphasis in the gospels - indeed, throughout the New Testament - seems to me to be on the message of inclusivity and equality. I'm not going to deny that there are individual verses that may dispute this but far and away the overriding message is summarised by
In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets. - Matthew 7:12
Jesus protected the innocent. He valued children, cured lepers and disabled people (which gave them access to society again), saved a woman from stoning. He raged against extortion, threw out money-lenders from the temple, and challenged authority. He also encouraged people to pay their dues in taxes alongside giving offerings to God.

As Christians, I believe we are called to pay our dues to society. We are called to feed the hungry, clothe the cold, heal the sick, visit the prisoners. We are called to do it in the name of Christ the Son and for the sake of human dignity and love. It does not preserve those on the fringes of society to cast them further out, nor to take away what little they depend on to live. It does not benefit society to allow free reign to the richest to acquire more wealth and then claim there is none left for the people with nothing. It makes me so angry that I want to cry. I feel helpless and devastated.

All we can do is keep calling for justice. I support the Robin Hood Tax campaign, and the excellent work of the Broken of Britain in their One Month Before Heartbreak blogswarm. We must stand up for ourselves. Attend organised protests, sign petitions, get involved. This government is not invincible, the work of 38 Degrees in cancelling the sale of our national forests shows that much. Nothing is inevitable.