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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Sunday, 1 December 2013

don't 'make it better', jude: let it be!

Open letter to Jude Kelly, Artistic Director of the Southbank Centre.

Dear Jude

I'm writing to you as a friend. True, I don't know you personally, but I've been aware of you and your work for as long as I can remember and from what I do know about you, I have no reason to doubt that your intentions are good. 

Sadly, as everyone knows, good intentions still pave ill roads and I fear you're about to make the biggest mistake of your life. So you could say I'm writing to protect you from yourself. That may be presumptuous of me, and irk you greatly, but it's nevertheless true. Here's why:

In your video interview you say it is "important to explain what the dilemma is for the skateboarders," in relation to your planned development of the Southbank Centre with the Festival Wing.

But it is not the skateboarders who have a dilemma, it is you. The skateboarders and street artists made the undercroft at the South Bank their home forty years ago; it has grown, over four decades, to be the beating heart of urban culture in London. 

The skateboarders know what they want, they want to stay, because the space is perfect for them, it has become 'theirs'. 'Theirs' not in a property ownership sense, the way an estate agent or investor might understand it, 'theirs' in a cultural sense, that a lot of us, people of London, can understand, and relate to: after all, they, the skateboarders and graffiti artists, share it with us, every day, every night, by letting us be part of the joy, the spirit and the art they create, for free, right there, as it happens. 

(And as somebody who has never skated further than five yards, nor even really tried, I can honestly say: I am not a skater. Not even a wannabe skater. I am most definitely and defiantly a non-skater. Yet not once have I passed the undercroft without my heart skipping a little beat of happiness for the simple fact that it's there: the last free, uncommercial, unsponsored, unsullied spot in London.)

Now, you argue that the South Bank is for everyone. And that's precisely why this matters so much. You even go as far as saying: "we like the skateboarders being here, they're part of our family." And yet you want to shift them. You want to shoo them along, only a hundred yards, you say, into an 'even bigger, better' space, underneath the Hungerford Bridge. 

This sounds so reasonable, almost kind, it feels petulant to argue with it. But 'reasonable' and 'kind' is not necessarily 'right'. Because here comes the crucial point: the undercroft as it is today is exactly what makes it so special. It's the truly unique feature of the South Bank. Let me explain why, starting with your argument:

You say you want to turn the Southbank Centre into "the next thing, to allow even more people to use it." And you cite particular uses you have in mind: you say the site "needs education centres for young people," a "children's centre" and "rehearsal rooms for musicians." And nobody would argue that these are not worthy projects. But they don't have to be in the undercroft, they can be anywhere, they're just spaces that can be defined in any other part of your 28 acre site, by any architect worth their fee.

You then go on to say that there are many things like this "that would make the site somewhere extraordinary for many more people," but in actual fact what you're proposing is to take away the most extraordinary thing that the South Bank has and use it to finance very ordinary - albeit worthy - projects that any arts centre in the world could, would and should have. You want to move the single one thing that has evolved over nearly two generations into a genuinely iconic space - not a marketing-speak, advertising copy 'iconic' thing that is really manufactured and sponsored and that yields a return on investment, but a real urban cultural phenomenon that has sprung up on its own terms in its own way in a place that is just right for it - and turn it into your cash cow for something else.

And there is no doubt that that is what you're proposing. You spell it out yourself: "we have to use that riverside front and turn it into a space where people can eat and drink, and that will generate the income to pay for all these other activities for everybody else." 

And here lies the deep flaw in your thinking. You have bought into the thinking of the corporation, the thinking that seeks to expand at all cost, to maximise 'benefit', to control everything and make it 'better'.

But you don't have to do any of these things. These are all choices you make, because to you they seem so sensible, so reasonable. They will seem sensible, reasonable to anyone with a corporate mindset, because that's what power bases do: they expand and solidify, they control and absorb. They shore themselves up. Always 'for the benefit of the consumer', of course. You want to do with the Southbank Centre what any brand manager wants to do with their washing-up liquid or shampoo. Make it 'even better', with a 'new formula', that 'lasts even longer.' 

So you're asking for what you're calling a compromise. And to illustrate how sensible and reasonable you're being, you compare the case of the undercroft to the case of the Festival Hall cloakroom. And this, I fear, is where you betray the fact that you don't understand at all what you're dealing with. The cloakroom of the Festival Hall is a utility. Like the rehearsal rooms you wish for, and the children's centre, the cloakroom is a bit of space that can be put anywhere that 'makes sense'. There is no intrinsic heart or value - dare I say soul - to it. 

You think the undercroft is like that. You overlook the most important part of the story: the invaluable component. The thing that money just can't buy. Let me give you a better example than your cloakroom:

Think of the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square. Anyone with a good business mind like yours could come and say: "This thing is quirky, fun, we love it, it's part of our square, but it also sits in a prime spot which we could utilise much better. So why don't we tear it down, build another empty plinth a few yards to the left, say behind Admiralty Arch, and there the artists with their creativity, which we love, can go and invent things in a facility that is much better for them. And instead of the empty plinth, we'll use that prime spot in Trafalgar Square to build a permanent bright LED screen where we can have film screenings for kids in the afternoon and for grown ups in the evenings, and we can have a shop to sell merchandise and a coffee stall to generate income to finance these fabulous activities that will benefit everyone. Isn't that reasonable? Doesn't everybody win?"

Well, think it through: there are big squares in every city in the world. So what makes Trafalgar Square what it really is? Yes, its location, its size; the lions, the fountains, Nelson's Column. But they could all be configured otherwise, and elsewhere. What makes it really what it is is the way every component plays together to form a whole, and how that whole is being used. By tourists, by protesters, by the people of London when they come together to celebrate or mourn: this is one sum that is infinitely greater than its parts. And one of the singularly most extraordinary elements in the mix is the Fourth Plinth. Its history, its shape, its location, they all make it genuinely, properly unique. Not concept-speak unique, the way that your PR advisor uses the term, but really, profoundly singular.

So of course, a bright mind with a great sense for business can come along and maximise the use of Trafalgar Square, 'make it better' for everyone. And countless must have been the temptations to do precisely that, to put the empty plinth to 'proper' use; a guided, a directed, a controlled use. And the moment you do that, you ruin the whole. The moment you do that you take away the thing that gives it the magic, the indescribableness, the actual good.

I've invoked The Beatles, to dubious effect, and now it's time for Oscar Wilde. You're an arts practitioner; you have a past in creating things that have a value beyond cash. I hardly need to hold up to you the truism about knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing?

If you appropriate the undercroft and turn it into a commercial space to finance your projects at the Southbank Centre, you'll probably succeed. Once the dust has settled, it will all be pleasant. People like you and I will be able to sit there and enjoy the view. Have a cappuccino or, if it's a lovely evening, a glass of prosecco. And our conscience can be clean because with our good taste and benign pursuit of simple pleasures we'll even be helping finance some workshops for the poor disadvantaged children of the area. How comfortable that is: the pleasing integration of the creative industries with consumerism, of commerce and art. How reasonable.

But can you see it by now: that's not the point. It's not your job to do this. You are not the owner of the South Bank and your Trust is not the owner either. You are the custodians of a place of unquantifiable value. Innumerable also must have been the temptations for someone like you to come along and straighten the Tower of Pisa. Maybe strengthen it a bit; build a turntable restaurant at the top; increase revenue and finance important projects. The urge for people in power to 'do something purposeful' with their power is built into the very nature of power. Of course you want to. And you probably can. But don't.

This is your opportunity to shine with true insight and power, by not using your position to 'make things better' but to leave things alone as they are, because they are perfect just the way they are. In their imperfection lies their value. In their cracks is the freedom that lets the light shine through (sorry, Bob). In their idiosyncrasy rests their power.

This is the moment you can show the world that you are someone who can distinguish between price and value, that you understand and connect with value. Real value. Where it can't be bought, designed, packaged and created on purpose by architects and planners and artistic directors. Where the art directs itself. Where the energy that people put into a place takes on a power of itself. Where your duty is one thing and one thing only: to recognise it, respect it and, yes, let it be.

Your Wikipedia entry describes you as one of the 100 most powerful women in the United Kingdom. Make this the monument to yourself, Jude Kelly: become forever known as the woman who knew when to desist, be the person in power who used her power to protect the heart at the heart of the matter from herself. 

Be the woman whom generations will remember as the one who, when she was in charge of the South Bank, did not put a price on it, but cherished its value. 

Here is a really excellent short film by Henry Edwards-Wood:

Long Live South Bank: The Bigger Picture

There are several groups trying to save the undercroft; here links that I'm aware of:

Save Our Southbank Blog
Save Our Southbank Facebook Page
Save Our Southbank Resistance Twitter Feed

Long Live South Bank Website
Long Live South Bank Facebook Page
Long Live South Bank Twitter Feed

Save the Southbank Website
Save the Southbank Facebook Page

There is also a petition you can sign:

Save the Southbank Online Petition

And until 18th December 2013 you can also comment on the new Planning Application which has just been filed for the proposed new Skatepark underneath Hungerford Bridge. If you want to help save the existing site, please take a few moments to register your objection to the new one:

Lambeth Council Planning Consultation  

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Tuesday, 20 August 2013

open letter to the rt hon sir malcolm rifkind, MP, chairman of the intelligence and security committee

Sir Malcolm

As my representative in Parliament and as Chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee, you are, I believe, ideally placed to receive this letter and usher in the action that is required.

I request an urgent enquiry into the events that took place at London Heathrow airport on Sunday 18th August 2013, when David Miranda, the partner of Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald was detained and questioned for nine hours under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000. 

Mr Miranda's case is almost unique in that among the tens of thousands of people detained under the provisions of the act, signally less than one percent are held for more than six hours and hardly anyone has ever been held for the maximum permissible nine hours; it is also most particularly disturbing, because on all the accounts and evidence we have so far, neither did his questioning pertain to any terrorism-related activities or associations, nor was he, even after nine hours of questioning, charged with any type of offence. 

While the fact that he wasn’t charged is not in itself unusual, the circumstances of his detention and the apparent line of questioning give rise to the very real and serious possibility that his detention may in fact have been unlawful, since Schedule 7 very specifically provides for someone to be questioned “for the purpose of determining whether he appears to be a person falling within section 40(1)(b)” of the act, such a person then, under said section 40(1)(b), being defined as one “who ... is or has been concerned in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism.” But no suggestion, during or since the interrogation, appears to have been made, that the officers had reason to believe that Mr Miranda was or might have been such a person.

Significantly, a spokesman for the US government told a media conference yesterday, Monday 19th August, that the American government had received a ‘heads up’, about the detention, which gives further credence to the supposition that the British security forces knew full well who David Miranda was and singled him out to - under a complete misappropriation of anti-terrorism legislation - subject him to targeted intimidation either in order to get at his partner, Glenn Greenwald, who is well known for his work on the Edward Snowden revelations and therefore a 'thorn in the side' of the secret services both here and in the United States, or to gain access to information and data he was carrying in connection with Mr Greenwald’s work.

Mr Miranda was, on his own account, threatened with imprisonment if he didn’t cooperate, and he had personal electronic devices, namely a laptop, a mobile phone, two memory sticks and a computer game console confiscated. The fact that both - the threat of imprisonment for non-compliance with officers’ demands and the confiscation and accessing of personal equipment, data and files - happened within the remit of the act does not make the act or its application any less disquieting.

In fact, nothing has done more to undermine any faith I may have had in the British security forces and anti-terror legislation than this particular incident, because no matter how irksome an individual (in this case, from the British and American governments' perspective, this would seem to be Glenn Greenwald), no civilised country can have its security forces be able to use and, it now strongly appears, abuse such sweeping powers without being accountable to not just the government but to us, the people, in whose name these actions are supposedly taken. 

Although the incident is exceptionally crass and has a particularly high profile, it does not, of course, stand in isolation. Rather, it appears to be part of a pattern and carry the symptoms of a culture, that has been allowed to grow and spread through our country’s government and its agencies, of surveillance, snooping and an obsession with ‘security’ that serves itself, more than any interests of the people.

So I want to hear from the Home Secretary, Theresa May, and ideally also from the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, where in the list of priorities of this Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government such once-upon-a-time fairly ‘conservative’ and ‘liberal’ values as freedom of the press and basic civil rights now feature, because it looks to me from where I'm standing as if they had been pretty much eroded and that your government, continuing the path taken by previous governments, has allowed us to slide further and further towards a quasi-police state that purports to uphold our security but is in fact infringing daily, wantonly, on our rights, that does its American masters' bidding, and that has squandered any trust that we as citizens may once have invested in the state's apparatus.

By now, I find it impossible to believe this government when it claims that it is 'terrorism' that is the greatest threat to our society; instead, I am coming to the stark realisation that it is in fact the state itself that takes away our freedoms, violates our values and casually impinges on our rights.

I realise that the Terrorism Acts are constantly under review, but I will need to hear some very reassuring answers and see serious, far-reaching measures to rein in the powers of the police, the security forces and the intelligence agencies, before I can begin to feel free and safe as a citizen in this country again.


Sebastian Michael

Rt Hon Mrs Theresa May, MP
Rt Hon Mr Nick Clegg, MP

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

what a difference a reign makes

The Rainbow Queen - courtesy of George Takei

6th February 1952 - Princess Elizabeth accedes to the throne and becomes Queen Elizabeth II.

That same year, Alan Turing - widely credited with cracking the Enigma code and hastening the end of World War II is prosecuted for homosexuality, which (between men) is still a criminal offence in the United Kingdom. To avoid being sent to Her Majesty's prison, he accepts an 'alternative' of female hormone treatment, otherwise referred to as 'chemical castration'. A broken man, he dies two years later of cyanide poisoning in what may or may not have been suicide.

On 2nd June 1953, the Queen's coronation takes place, and on 24th August 1954 (two and a half months after Turing's death) the Wolfenden Committee is set up, which publishes its report three years later on 3rd September 1957 and recommends that "homosexual behaviour between consenting adults in private should no longer be a criminal offence".

It takes ten years for Wolfenden's recommendations to become law, but in 1967 homosexuality is partly decriminalised in England and Wales, albeit with the age of consent for men at 21, compared to sixteen between boys and girls. (There is no age of consent that applies to sexual acts between women.)

In 1984, The Age of Consent, by one of the first all-and-openly-gay bands, Bronski Beat, reaches position number 4 in the UK Albums Chart.

Soon after, in 1988, the Thatcher government introduces Section 28 to the Local Government Act, which makes "the intentional promotion of homosexuality" by local authorities, and "the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship" illegal. The new Scottish Parliament is first to repeal this law in 2000; whereas in England and Wales it remains in force until 2003.

Meanwhile, on 8th January 2001, the age of consent anywhere in the UK, irrespective of gender or sexuality, is set at 16, and in 2002 it becomes possible for unmarried couples or single persons to apply for adoption, which means that lesbian and gay people can now, for the first time, legally adopt.

On 5th December 2005, Matthew Roche and Christopher Cramp become the first couple to enter a Civil Partnership, the 'marriage light' version of legally recognised relationships that is available to same-sex couples only.

Throughout 2012 and 2013, the nation celebrates the Queen's 60th ascension and coronation jubilees.

And today, 17th July 2013, while awaiting the birth of her great grandchild (who will be third in line to the throne, irrespective of whether it's a boy or a girl), Queen Elizabeth II has given Royal Assent to the bill that allows lesbian and gay people to marry and thus creates, in effect, equality before the law. (And paves the way, one imagines, for a future gay prince or a lesbian princess to marry their loved one, and make them King or Queen Consort...)

We've come a long, long way together, and let no-one ever say 'things never change'. This is cause for jubilation indeed.

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