Friday, 21 August 2015

jeremy corbyn

I don't think for one moment that Jeremy Corbyn is perfect. I do, however, strongly believe that what he brings to politics is not only different and refreshing, but also really necessary: an unspun, humble, earnest but humane approach and a conviction – lived and evidenced through thirty years of parliamentary commitment – that a fairer society lies at the heart of Labour's reason to exist as a political movement.

I also don't buy the 'unelectable', 'disaster' and other doom-laden tags heaped upon him by his opponents. If you are going to be a political leader, you have to set out a vision and lead your members, and the electorate as a whole, towards understanding and embracing that vision. If the vision were already common currency or in place, your role would be obsolete. Some of Jeremy Corbyn's policies, views and opinions may turn out to jar with mine, and may not stand up to scrutiny forever, but he would be hard pushed to be a more bitter and devastating disappointment and disaster for Labour than Blair.

Being a progressive movement is not about making yourself 'electable' at any price and tailoring your values and politics to what the majority of a media-saturated and generally fatigued electorate already think they know. It is about setting out a direction you want your country and your society to go in and then doing all the hard and frustrating and also sometimes inspiring and rewarding work to take people with you.

They said women can't have the vote. They said there will never be an African American President. They said we'll never get equal marriage. If your starting point is "we can't" then failure is inescapable. If your starting point is "we can" then you don't have a foregone conclusion, but you do have a chance of change and success.

Which is why today I have voted for Jeremy Corbyn.#JezWeCan

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Thursday, 13 August 2015

spot the critic: the 7 'types' of reviewer (plus 1, and another)

Lajos Tihanyi – The Critic

With the Edinburgh Fringe in full swing, you may be seeing a lot of shows this month, and finding your way around them may entail ploughing through reams of reviews written by innumerable Critics and furnished, in most cases, with star ratings.

To help you with this and make your experience that bit more enjoyable, here's a little game you can play as you try to absorb other people's opinions and make them somehow relevant to you. Plus one bit of really useful advice:

Ignore the star ratings. There will come a time, in the I-hope-not-so-distant future, when the mere notion that you could possibly express the 'quality', let alone significance of a work, be it theatre, film, dance, music, literature, or even comedy, with a rating of one out of five (or out of ten or, in some confusing cases, out of four) will appear as exactly what it is: crass and preposterous. It's lazy, patronising and meaningless. Believe me, I know: I have received five star reviews and I have received one star reviews, and for the same piece. Star ratings are not a shorthand, they're an insult to your intelligence (I suppose one of the most catastrophic unintended consequences of living in a complex world is that – unready to engage with it at a complex level – we resort to infantilised simplicity). So what you do with them is up to you, just as long as you don't pay heed to them...

I have no show up in Edinburgh this year, so nobody should be able to accuse me of venting a spleen or massaging a chip on my shoulder or attempting to curry favour or invoking such other idiom as may appear to come in handy under the circumstances. Let me share with you, then, my little game of Spot the Critic. 

Critics are only human too and with the era of the 'expert' long gone, together, largely, with the space and time in print or online for in-depth analysis, discussion and substantive criticism, the only thing that makes them different from you is that they believe their opinion matters enough for them to want to share it with you. And there's nothing wrong with that. You know as well as I that it's impossible really, and also plain wrong, to categorise people into 'types', but critics are people who put forward their opinion on other people's work and so to put these opinions in some kind of context, here are the, as far as I can tell, seven (plus one, and one more) 'types' of Critic you're most likely to come across. (If you know of any more or think I've got this totally wrong, don't hesitate to comment. You may even leave a 'starred' review, if you like, it will amuse...)

1 The One Who Misses the Main Point

No matter what kind of show (or, for that matter, film) it is, there will invariably be somebody reviewing it who is not a bad person but simply doesn't quite get what this is about. If we were to take Hamlet as an example, they might have several interesting things to say about the set, the costumes, the lighting, the acting, the direction and the poetry, and then undermine it all with some observation such as: "The main problem with this piece is that it drags. Hamlet's interminable soliloquies do nothing but slow down the plot, and where you could have some emotionally charged conflict, some drama, some action, Shakespeare expects us to listen to endless musings over whether it is better 'to be or not to be'. An experienced Literary Manager could have solved this in one afternoon."

2 The One Who Wants to See Another Play Altogether

Similarly, somebody will show up at a performance and almost immediately decide that the play they're watching could be brilliant, if only it were about something else. They will rummage in the two or three star compartment of their well-intentioned but not overly expansive mind and say something like: "I would have preferred to see the relationship with Ophelia explored in much greater depth: it clearly sits at the heart of the play and by doing away with her so casually, and cruelly, the author misses a great opportunity for giving his play heart and soul as well as overbearing intellect."

3 The One Who Gets it But Wants it Done Differently

So near, and yet so far, from actually being able to accept the work for what it is, is the Critic who just has that one problem. The one problem that renders everything else more or less obsolete: "This is a cracking plot with a magnificent central character who really manages to explore the deepest layers of a traumatised princely psyche. If only the writer had stuck to what he knows best – dialogue and good story telling – instead of lumbering his world with incomprehensible verbosity dressed up in supposedly 'blank' verse. There is nothing 'blank' about this language, or sparse, or even just economical, and by the end you just wish an editor had put a stop to it."

4 The One Who Is so Jaded, They Just Can't

There are so many shows to see, so many reviews to write, so many times an opinion to form, first of all, and then to write down, for which then to incur the wrath of so many people you've been mean about, no wonder some Critics just exhaust themselves, physically, mentally, emotionally, psychologically, philosophically, intellectually, any way you care to imagine. They just can't even. No they can't: "This piece is four hours of torture," they will write, in sheer, heartfelt, exasperation: "somebody should kill it off, because I just can't even think about it. I can't."

5 The One Who is Normally Up for it, But Happens to Be in a Foul Mood Tonight

Everybody has an off day now and then, let's face it. And having seen three Hamlets in a row, somebody might just feel like a break. With something completely different. Who can blame them. So they will get back to their laptop at the end of another gruelling day and write: "Another Hamlet. I've seen four now. Why can't people think of another play to do? What is it with Hamlet? Why not Guys and Dolls, for example, or No Sex, Please, We're British..., that hasn't had an airing in a while. Anything funny, really: what's wrong with farce? We have some excellent farce in our theatre tradition..."

6 The One Who Was Expecting Something Else from The Writer or The Director or The Company Now

Some Critics take their job very seriously and are genuinely so interested that they start following your work, and since it is their job to form an opinion on everything, they will inescapably form an opinion also on what you should be doing now, now that they've seen one or two or even three or more other things that you've done. Having seen – and written about – one or two or even three or more other things that you've done naturally entitles (more like: obliges) them to be quite clear about where you should be focusing your attentions next: "It is a shame to see so much talent wasted on yet another tragedy. Not that there is anything wrong with Hamlet, it's a fine play, but surely The Lord Chamberlain's Men have now drained this well to its depth. I would have liked to have seen them come up with something light and charming for a change, especially for this time of year, when nobody likes sitting in a theatre being badgered with cod-philosophy and fake skulls."

7 The One Who Loves it All, But Is Just a Bit Dim

Very occasionally, somebody pitches up at a show full of beans and excitement about the very fact that they're here, and their warm golden heart embraces it all with generous enthusiasm. What could possibly go wrong. "Hamlet is a great play with music by Wilfred Shakespeare: After he kills his uncle with poison, the Prince of Darkness has to sleep with his mother to make the ghost of his father go away. His father is angry with Hamlet, for probably being gay. (His girlfriend drowns herself and he hangs out with guys all the time. The guys have cool names, though.) The production really goes to town over the verse thing which is awesome though like hiphop it's more the beat that counts. I'd give this seven stars just for the old guy Polius who like totally cracks everyone up with his jokes about student loans; which also means the play is still literally totes relevant."

Plus The One Who Really Wants to Be a Writer Too

This is of course an old stereotype, and the fact that it's an old stereotype does not make it universally true, nor does it render it false absolutely: clearly, clearly, there are Critics who really just want to be writers (or filmmakers, or composers, or artists, or chefs) too. And who can blame them: spending your days and nights watching other people do badly what you think you could do well is frustrating. "Aside from the clichés (how often have we heard these rhetorical questions before?), the excessive length (this show's plot could easily, elegantly, condense into eighty minutes without interval), the implausible plot (ghosts? Seriously?) and ridiculous body count (spoiler alert: hardly anyone survives...) there are some nice touches to this piece which, with a bit more development and some proper guidance from a Dramaturg could make for quite an interesting play."

And The One Who Unreservedly Appreciates What's Been Done and Isn't Afraid to Say So

It happens. They want the T-Shirt. And they say so: "This blew my mind, I want the T-Shirt," they say. We, that is people who create these things that Critics review, love this person. With all our hearts. Everything we've ever said about them as a 'species' goes out of the window. All is forgiven. Five stars? We'll have them, and put them right on our poster, thanks. They actually get us. They really get us. They are magnificent. We want to have dinner with them and spend the night with them. Maybe marry them, that wouldn't be hasty, no. They may come again. And chances are they will. And we'll start all over again... 

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Friday, 7 August 2015

how to embrace, nay celebrate, the tube strike

And so, perhaps it is time to take a dispassionate, more ‘philosophical’ perspective on the London ‪#‎TubeStrike‬ today.
I am in a position to take a dispassionate, more ‘philosophical’ perspective on the London #TubeStrike today, because thanks to the combined – so as not to say concerted – efforts, and unwavering commitment to their jobs, by a London Overground driver, a Southwest Trains driver and a bus driver on the No 490 bus, plus all the staff and colleagues and infrastructure that support them in their sterling service to us, the public, I am now (at the time of writing) ‘airside’ at Terminal 5; and having emotionally and psychologically prepared myself for the extravagant expense of a taxi cab, but, thanks to the unsung heroes who have created and given us CityMapper, not incurred that expense, on the one hand, as well as having built in a sizeable margin of error into the additional estimated travel time and – again all credit to aforementioned innumerable transport workers – not really used it, on the other, I have since rewarded my fully acquired British stoicism with a glass of Sancerre and the most delicate sea bass ceviche, devised and provided by our friends from Fortnum & Mason for our delectation here at the airport; and so my level of gruntledness is now ‘pleasing’.
Maybe we are altogether wrong, admonishing London Underground staff for their ‘industrial action’. I feel tempted to say we should embrace, nay, celebrate these occasions. For do they not serve us as timely, and – even at their near-regular frequency – welcome, reminders of how trivial our woes are by comparison.
When trade unions were first thought of as a good idea, their purpose was to secure a tolerable existence for their members, which largely meant high enough wages to put food on the table for their families and to maintain a roof over their heads. How glorious an achievement, then, is it not, that some of our best paid public sector workers today are able to assert their right not to baseline survival, but to a finely tuned ‘work-life balance’: surely this is progress, and enlightenment put into practice, of sorts.
Also, the worst thing that has befallen me, for example, today, is that I left my flat two hours earlier than ordinarily I would have done, and instead of taking the well-trodden, over-familiar route involving the Piccadilly Line and nothing else, I was given the opportunity to take a handsome detour via Clapham Junction where I was able to take some pictures that I might use to illustrate the first instalment of my new concept narrative online, which happens to set off from that precise station, then watch a man sleep on the train, wondering what he might be dreaming of, and make a fleeting acquaintance with Feltham, which I am convinced has its own charms, although my time spent there was sadly too short to discern any of them. Thence, it was an unguided but nevertheless fascinating tour of the Heathrow perimeter, which showed Heathrow up to be quite as large and expansive as it looks from the sky, with stops at (and in) places you would ordinarily only ever see in a less-than-convincing English ‘action’ film by an earnest young director attempting to emulate American television drama. And who would have thought that Terminal 5 has an approach road called ‘Walrus’? That alone warms the cockles of my heart, as I can never hear or see the word ‘walrus’ without imagining John Lennon, perched on a rock in the water, with his glasses on.
And, because I had time to spare, and was frugal in my choice of transportation, I now know what a ‘ceviche’ is. Most worthy of rejoicing in though, surely, and of bearing in my all too often still, I warrant, all too self-obsessed mind, is the fact that nobody dropped a nuclear bomb on my head, burning the skin off my flesh today and incinerating every thing around me.
Perspective can be a soothing balm, indeed.
(Do I now support the London Underground workers in their strike? Of course not, I think they’re being completely unreasonable, but who’s to say that unreasonableness is, in itself, not something we should simply elect to celebrate now and then…)

If you want to read from somebody who doesn't think the tube strike is unreasonable: this is interesting, (though I'm not sure I quite buy it).

Friday, 17 July 2015

stand up now for the BBC

It's time to be on high alert.

Over the next few months, people with vested interests and fierce ideology will argue that the BBC has 'become too big' or 'distorts the market'. What they mean is that their friends – such as Rupert Murdoch – want a greater slice of that 'market' to extract higher profits from it and exert more power over the media landscape.

Don't be fooled: if we allow this government to diminish the BBC, they will chip away at it until it is nothing more than another 'service provider' run along commercial principles, forced to 'compete in the market' for advertising revenue and thus finding itself at the whim and mercy, and playing by the rules, of Big Business: exactly where they want it to be.

The BBC is without parallel anywhere in the world. It took some 90 years to get to where it is today – without a doubt the most respected independent public sector broadcaster there is – and it will take the Tories less than a decade to tear it apart, if we let them.

This is, very sadly, a time of high stakes and so, yes, another signature, another tweet, another email is required, urgently.

And if you balk at the licence fee: please be serious. Even if you never watch TV, the BBC is still the best 50p you're likely to have spent today. Or yesterday. Or will spend tomorrow. Even if you never listen to any BBC radio station and don't ever use the iPlayer. As a cultural asset, as a rich layer in the fabric of social coherence in this country and as signal emitter of benign, broadly enlightened 'soft power' globally, a publicly funded, independent BBC is still worth a lot more than your fifty pence a day. The world really, genuinely, is a better place for the BBC. Those that tell you it is not so do not have your, or the country's or anybody else's other than their own, interests at heart. They simply want something they cannot have, and rather than not have it, they would destroy it. Don't let them: the BBC is a global beacon and a national treasure. Stand up and fight for it!

There's a petition that you can sign to start with right here.

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Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Notes from #Cannes2015 - No 1: In Praise of the Artist as a More Mature Man

When I got my invitation to the Cannes Premiere of Gus van Sant’s Sea of Trees, I announced this news to my Facebook friends with the words: ‘The only way I could be more excited about this is if I had made the film myself.’ As it turns out, I quite possibly could have made the film myself.
Before you jump to to any conclusions: this is neither me saying I’m as good or as experienced a filmmaker as Gus van Sant (that would be manifestly preposterous), nor am I insinuating that the film is so bad that even a comparatively inexperienced filmmaker as I could have made it. What I am suggesting is that Gus van Sant makes his films in exactly the way he chooses and he so often makes choices that I can so much relate to that the film that I saw on Saturday was one about which I felt: I could imagine myself making a film just like that.
Of course, I didn’t know this as I was getting ready for the Red Carpet Gala at the Grand Théâtre du Lumière. So imagine my surprise when on my Facebook thread posts started appearing which claimed that Sea of Trees had been ‘booed at its premiere’. The premiere hadn’t even happened yet. As it transpires – and as has been widely, by and large gleefully and very often inaccurately reported – the film was apparently booed at a press screening, which wasn’t in the programme, the day before the premiere. (Quite often a film gets shown officially at Cannes once before the premiere, on the same morning. That was also the case for Sea of Trees, and I don’t know what kind of reception it got on that occasion.) 
What I do know, because I was there, is that at the actual premiere itself, by now of course already overshadowed by the response of some of those people who had attended the press screening, it received a standing ovation. One of moderate length, by Cannes standards, it is true, but still, a standing ovation. This alone does not prove or disprove anything other than that facts are easily held to ransom for the sake of a ‘good’ story. (It was fascinating to see that the story in question mostly ran along the lines of: “McConaughey’s Movie Booed at Cannes Premiere”, attributing the work to its leading actor, rather than its director, which was strange and a little ironic, considering that most of the opprobrium was aimed at the work of the director, and to quite some extent also the in this instance admittedly a bit hapless writer, Chris Sparling.)
Now I don't know who gets invited to press screenings, but their title fairly suggests it is mainly the ‘critics’. I am not a great fan of the ‘critics’. Not when they’re being ‘critics’, at any rate. When they’re just being normal humans, they can be as delightful and charming as any other human being I’ve ever met (though it is also true to say that some of the most miserable and dispirited human beings I have ever encountered happened to have been ‘critics’, but I’m not sure you can entirely blame them for that: they are ‘critics’, after all...)
No matter how lovely and adorable the ‘critics’ can be when they’re just being human, give them a laptop and a show or a play or a book or a symphony or any piece of art at all they don’t like and they can turn into the most viciously vitriolic creatures known to man, woman or transgender person. (I’m hoping for their own sake that children don’t know any ‘critics’, at least not in their chosen capacity.) And they then start saying things and behaving in ways that no sane person would ever say or do to another. I have witnessed this, so I know from experience. And while I can’t know, obviously, who booed Gus van Sant’s film at its press screening, I shouldn’t be surprised to learn that it was in fact some of the ‘critics’ there, or those who consider themselves such.
Who would do that? Who would possess the arrogance and self-satisfied delusion and rudeness to sit there, at the invitation of a director or writer or producer, experience their work and then boo? Apparently this is not entirely unheard of in Cannes. But seriously? Who are these people. And more to the point: who do they think they are?
Leaving aside for the moment the inconsequential question whether or not the film is any ‘good’ (who’s to say what is ‘bad’ and what ‘good’ in the first place?), it completely confounds me that there are people out there who will arrive at a screening room with a set of expectations as to what they’re about to see, and when those expectations aren’t met, feel at liberty to abuse the creators of the work. Matthew McConaughey has since expressed himself unfazed by this type of behaviour and gone on record as saying that people have the right to boo as much as to ovate. I disagree. I’m pretty much with Lars von Trier here, who I’m fairly certain once told reporters, when they were being rude to him at a press conference, that they were his guests, and if they didn’t like his work they could simply leave. As far as I’m concerned, going to a film screening and then booing the film because you don’t like it is like going round someone’s house, tasting the food that’s been cooked for you, deciding it wasn’t what you wanted and then sticking your finger down your throat and vomiting on the carpet. It takes a particularly deranged kind of mind to think of this as acceptable conduct.
Irrespective though of who booed and who didn’t, and when they did so or did not, what is clear is that some ‘critics’ – and yes, the adverted commas continue to be deliberate, and, I fear, necessary if you hold that the word derives from and ought to refer to a detailed, in-depth analysis, a critique – hated the film and poured out their bile over it. I don’t ordinarily read film reviews, because they are essentially one person’s opinion, and I do have a mind of my own which I am capable of making up by myself, or leave open, just as I please, but in this case, out of curiosity, I made an exception and the cliché that springs to mind is ‘field day’. One that the ‘critics’ were having. And why? As far as I can tell, in the majority because Gus van Sant hasn’t given them what they are used to from him, on the one hand, and to quite some extent because they simply didn’t understand what he was giving them, on the other.
So what did Gus van Sant give us, with Sea of Trees. Well, I’m clearly not about to give you a ‘critique’, because that would turn me into the thing I would least wish to be when it comes to creative work of any kind, but I am happy to tell you that Gus van Sant is growing into a different phase of his life. And, possibly to do with his age, possibly to do with what interests him as a filmmaker, possibly to do with reasons that neither he is nor we can be aware of, he has chosen to give us a slow, meditative, quiet exploration of loss, of connection, and of the meaning of life. In doing so, he has gone allegorical and, dare I say it, philosophical; spiritual even. This seems to irk some people in magnitude of reverse order, with the spiritual element inviting particularly harsh invective: one of the more self-righteous reviewers in all seriousness accusing him of being "anti-science" and "anti-rational", as if it were a film’s duty to be either scientific or rational, just because you are.
I haven’t administered the damage to my soul that reading more than a few of these rants by necessity would inflict, but none of the ones I have read seem to latch on to the most basic premise. One that is not explicit, but that is surely clear. You can’t take what happens in this film literally. Spoiler alert here in case this is meant to come as a surprise, but: the man whom Conaughey’s character, Arthur Brennan, meets in the forest, Takumi Nakamura (played by Ken Watanabe) is not real. He’s a metaphor. He’s in his mind. Put there by his wife before she died. If you watch this film to the end and never grasp the idea that you’re not in a realistic drama, but in a cinematic play on themes of the subconscious, then of course you’ll be left scratching your head. None of it compels and little makes sense if you treat this as a piece of naturalism. All of it does if you look at it as essentially symbolic.
But of course, you have to allow a man to do this: you have to say to yourself, Gus van Sant is not ticking any of the boxes I’m holding up for him. He’s not funny, quirky, charming with this. Not even all that inventive, perhaps. The script feels heavier-handed than I would hope to write it myself. But he’s growing up. He’s trying something else. He’s engaging with big, lonely questions, such as: how well can I know someone really, even if I’m married to them? Do things run deeper than we can see or tell? Is there a way to communicate beneath and beyond the measurable, the code. 
Does he do it the way I would like him to do it? Well, who am I to say? He’s an artist. He’s maturing. Is the work flawless in my eye? Of course not. Neither is Hamlet. Nor the Mona Lisa. Are there beautiful, worthwhile things about it? Absolutely. Has somebody made a genuine attempt at creating something of value. Indeed.
So, for someone to sit there and boo at this, or for someone to tear into it with, not glee in fact, but hateful spite, that to me takes an unimaginably impoverished mind. Peter Bradshaw (whom I have quoted, above, very briefly) in the Guardian gives Sea of Trees ‘one out of five stars.’ Setting aside the crassness that is inherent in the notion that you could sum up or express the value of a literary or theatrical or cinematic work with a ‘star rating’, and therefore the complete depletion of any credibility as a differentiated expert anyone who deploys such ratings could possibly claim, the sole purpose surely of doing so in such a mean-spirited manner could be to inflict injury. The ‘critic’ making himself feel better at the expense of the artist. Getting off on it. That is not ‘criticism’, let alone insightful ‘critique’, it’s a wholly self-gratifying way of making yourself feel important. So the person who does that, in doing so, by definition reduces themselves to being nothing much more than a great masturbator.
I recommend you watch Sea of Trees. Don’t expect anything. Let it do its work on you. Maybe you’ll like it, maybe you won’t. I really rather loved it. I make films, and I want to make more films, just like that: films that maybe you won’t immediately get. That perhaps take a second or third viewing to appreciate the point of. That really annoy the ‘critics’. I think if you consider yourself an artist, at any point in your life, then that is exactly what you are there for. To do the things they say you cannot do. Hail Gus van Sant. Don’t worry about the ‘critics’. They’re already doing to themselves what you want to say to them go do…
Sea of Trees on IMDb:

Saturday, 21 June 2014

a response to tamar iveri

A Twitter/Facebook storm has erupted over Georgian opera singer Tamar Iveri, currently rehearsing for her season with Opera Australia at the Sydney Opera House.

A lengthy Facebook post dated 18th May 2013, by either Tamar Iveri herself or - as she claims - her husband on her behalf and addressed to "Mr. President" [of Georgia] had referred to LGBT people as "fecal masses" and given voice to the opinion that "often, in certain cases, it is necessary to break the jaws in order to be appreciated as a nation," commenting on violent attacks that had been perpetrated against the participants of a small gay pride parade. 

As this came to light over the last 48 hours or so, calls for Opera Australia to terminate the singer's engagement grew louder. Today, 21st June 2014, Opera Australia issued a brief statement on its own Facebook page (, referring to an 'apology' by Tamar Iveri which was in turn posted to her Facebook page, also today (

This is my response to that 'apology':

Tamar Iveri

This is not going to go away as easy as all that. If you are telling the truth - and who am I to say whether you are or not - then you still have a mountain of explaining to do:

1) You blame the hateful, vicious words that appeared on your Facebook page on your husband. Do you not talk to each other? If you are surrounded by gay friends whom you respect and care about, does he not know this? Has he not met them? Does he not realise you’re a public figure? What sane man would post on his famous spouse’s public platform something that was absolutely designed and worded to deeply hurt and insult not only her friends but also many of her colleagues and a significant segment of her audience? Your husband is either extremely stupid, incomprehensibly bigoted or both. This can’t have been news to you: why would you give such a man access to your Facebook page, no matter how much - for whatever reasons - you love him?

2) You say you apologised at the time to the Georgian LGBT community and they accepted your apology. As this post - whoever composed or sanctioned it in your name - is spreading contempt and incitement to violence around the world, that local apology is no longer enough. Your statement above contains no apology to your Australian employers, your international audience, your colleagues or anybody else in the world who either is or is not part of the LGBT community, but who cares for the dignity and rights of all human beings, regardless of gender, religion, race, creed, or sexuality.

3) I am not going to be anywhere near the Sydney Opera House over the coming few months, but I should not be surprised if even a full apology and plausible explanation may not, by this stage, be quite enough for those whom you expect to pay the tickets and the taxes that finance your career: I imagine that to rehabilitate your shattered reputation you will need to make a bold, grand gesture of the kind that leaves no doubt in anybody’s mind - not your husband’s, not your compatriots in Georgia, and certainly not your worldwide audience - that you are sincere and value the support that people from all backgrounds and denominations have been giving you to get where you are (and where, presumably, you’d like to stay) today.

It’s friendly advice, this: I would give you - as I would anyone - the benefit of the doubt. But the doubt, at this stage, is still abysmally deep.

(Incidentally: as far as I can tell, your Facebook post makes no mention at all of any commemoration event for Georgian soldiers that the parade in question may have clashed with. Your post is available in full here: )


Thursday, 30 January 2014

give putin what he really wants:
the gayest games in history

You have to hand it to Pute: an act of courage and insight, delivered in a manoeuvre of such Machiavellian cunning that everybody was bound to view it as the reverse.

He could have had it so easy, by comparison. Granted, there are the allegations of corruption that just won't go away, and persistent warnings about security threats, but what self-respecting national leader with a degree of personal authority and a large state apparatus of highly disciplined personnel couldn't handle that and put a lid on it, if he wanted to.

He could have had it so easy, by comparison.

Sochi 2014 would have been un-noteworthy, other than for its state-of-the-art facilities, a road into the mountains that might as well, for its cost, be paved with caviar, and of course the sporting achievements of its glorious, beautiful athletes.

A shirtless Putin impresses the girls as well as the boys.

But Vlad had other ideas. Being a bit of a Gay Icon himself, he is of course steeped in a deeply conservative culture where large portions of the population hold views on sexuality that in many western democracies would have been considered reactionary sixty years ago, and in which the Orthodox Church wields a considerable amount of power.

The bloodied face of a young man who was beaten up during a Gay Pride parade in St Petersburg in June 2013 has become one of the emblems of Russians' struggle for equality.

What was he to do? It's hard to come out - under such circumstances - in support of minorities and their human rights, without riling the strong men around you, incurring their disapproval and wrath.

So he took a leaf out of another great leader's book: when Margaret Thatcher needed to draw attention to her party's rampant homophobia in the 1980s, she brought in Section 28. It worked a treat: within days the gays of the UK were out on the streets, with lesbians abseiling into the House of Lords and invading TV studios, and people properly appropriating every platform available until the damn thing was effectively buried and the Tories were left to spend a decade or so ridding themselves of the 'Nasty Party' tag so readily acquired.

When Margaret Thatcher needed to draw attention
to her party's rampant homophobia in the 1980s,
she brought in Section 28.

Putin knew what he had to do: so back in June 2013, while everything was going swimmingly, he signed into law a similarly daft piece of legislation that prohibits the promotion of 'non-traditional' relationships to minors. Boom. Everybody talking about it.

Now the world had something to focus on. Imagine what a wasted opportunity these Games would have been, had he not done so? In one fell swoop, people who never took the slightest interest in winter sports, who couldn't tell the difference between a sledge and a skeleton if one or the other hit them at 80 miles an hour, had reason to be genuinely agitated.

Sponsors like Coca-Cola, McDonald's, Visa and Proctor & Gamble, who blithely spend billions of consumers' money on associating themselves with an Olympics, suddenly faced valid questions about their ethics, their stance on equality and their support or otherwise of draconian regimes.

"Oops, let's pretend you didn't just type that." A Coca-Cola interactive was configured to accept words like 'straight' and 'homophobic', but not 'gay'. Coke has apologised and set about to fix the "mistake."

And Putin didn't leave it at that. Knowing how critical this time is for him, his country, and his games, his next move was to say: 'gay people are welcome, as long as they leave the kids alone.' Genius. He could have just said: 'gay people are welcome.' Saying 'as long as they leave the kids alone' is completely unnecessary. It's stating the obvious. No sane person would think or do otherwise.

You would never say to your straight friends: 'you may come and visit, but please leave the kids alone.' But in the oppressive world he lives in, he can't just say: 'gay people are welcome,' that might upset some of his pals. Saying, 'you're welcome and (obviously) leave the kids alone' is like saying: 'you're really welcome, we need you here: you can tell how badly we need you, I have to speak in code.'

If there was any doubt about the sincerity and grave urgency of this invitation, his party mate and Mayor of Sochi, Anatoly Pakhomov, went one step further, exclaiming: 'There are no gay people in Sochi! And if there are, I don't bloody know them.'

The world jumped on this as a statement of pitiful ignorance and bigotry, when clearly it was a cry for help: 'There are no gays in Sochi: we need you! This town is drab and empty without you, and the few of you there are are so invisible, I can't bloody well find you to join and hang out with you. So please, come over here, and be as gay as you possibly can!" Is surely what he was trying to say.

In need of gay friends: Anatoly Pakhomov, Mayor of Sochi

Fabulous. The two of them played a blinder: it's a master stroke and I think for the whole world to oblige will only amount to good manners.

'Please come over here and be as gay as you possibly can.'

There are a million ways you can be gay, whether you're gay, straight, bi or anywhere in-between or nowhere at all on that 'scale', and having been so clearly and unequivocally called upon by the Russian and Sochi leadership to be gay, I do hope that athletes, journalists, fans, visitors, commentators, anyone at all really who finds themselves in Sochi for these games, will make the absolutely most of it.

Wear symbols, hold hands, kiss, hug, dance, and celebrate humanity and make this Olympiad a Fest of Love with warmth and gayness in whatever way you can.

It would be so rude not to.

Sochi student Vladislav Slavsky and his boyfriend (who wants to remain anonymous)
overlooking the seaside promenade of their home town.

Getting right in the spirit of things was Channel 4 in the UK with this delightful 'Special Winter Anthem', wishing 'good luck to everyone out in Sochi': Gay Mountain

There are several organisations campaigning for human rights in Russia and for awareness of these issues during the Winter Olympics 2014. Among them:

The Principle 6 Campaign bases itself on the Olympic Charter itself and uses a new, purpose designed logo that quotes the Charter's own statement about discrimination: 

Allout is working globally for equality and the rights of people to live without fear, irrespective of their sexuality or gender identity.  

Athlete Ally works to end homophobia in sport generally.

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