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.


sebastian's website   sebastian on twitter   sebastian on facebook  

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  





sebastian's website   sebastian on facebook  sebastian on twitter  

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.

Sincerely


Sebastian Michael

cc
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.



sebastian's website   sebastian on facebook  sebastian on twitter  





Saturday, 25 May 2013

marriage

The question of whether or not gay couples should be allowed to marry understandably agitates people and on the outset it seems like a complex, intricate, sensitive issue.

I used to think so too, though having never intended to marry in the first place, I never really quite saw what the fuss was about. But as this has made its way to the fore of political debate, I've come to realise that while sensitive - religion, tradition and values being so deeply involved - it is anything but complex or even intricate. It is, in fact, super simple.

Gay marriage is purely a legal issue, and one of how you define 'marriage'. Religion, no matter how important it is to you, doesn't come into it: there are thousands of different religions and one person's faith is another person's superstition. So no matter how dear you hold your beliefs, they are, when it comes to law making, irrelevant.

That then leaves the traditional definition of marriage. Well, the traditional definition of marriage used to have wives down as the property of their husbands, at some points in history several at a time. We've evolved from that. So tradition, too, when it comes to it, is irrelevant.

What matters then is simply the principle of equality before the law. And that means: question answered. The idea that gay marriage could in some way 'diminish' or 'cheapen' or 'weaken' the institution of marriage is absurd and insulting. Gay people are people. If you say that their getting married has an adverse effect on you or your marriage, you are simply saying that they are not as human as you. Think that through and you come to the conclusion: gay marriage is a no brainer.

If anyone's still unsure, I've drawn up a helpful flow chart:

the gay marriage question



















sebastian's website   sebastian on facebook  sebastian on twitter  




Monday, 8 April 2013

#thatcher




I always thought that come today, two words would do: "ding" and "dong".

Like everything else, though, it isn't that simple, crude or crass. So here, Baroness Margaret Thatcher, is what I have to say to you:

1 As a Human Being: may you rest in peace; may those whom you wronged forgive you and those whom you delighted thrive and be gracious in their fortune.

2 As a Matriarch: my condolences to your family; may those who loved you cherish your memory.

3 As a Woman: respect. You made your way in a deeply chauvinist world and prevailed.

4 As a Politician: I shared almost none of your views but I knew where I stood with you. You had a mind and spoke it, you had convictions and acted by them. You had a spine. For that alone I salute you. It is more than can be said of a Blair, with his illegal war, or a Clegg with his betrayals.

5 As a Prime Minister: I never experienced a Britain-Before-You first hand. I only arrived here in 1985, when you were well into your second term. I’m happy to accept that something needed to be done and that you believed that what you did was for the good of the country. Was it for the good of the country? Was the method by which you went about it the right one, the best? Was a brutalist breaking up of communities and the wholesale dismantling of entire social structures and the almost wanton destruction of national institutions that were a source of cohesion and pride really the only way forward? Was it right to prop up a Pinochet while branding a Mandela “terrorist”? Was it right to force through a Poll Tax, under which millionaires paid the same as their cleaners? And what about legislating against me and my whole part of the population with Section 28, calling gay relationships and families “pretend” and making their “promotion” illegal? 

6 As a Free Marketeer: we still have one of the worst railway services in the world, even though the infrastructure has since been renationalised (privately owned it failed completely), the bankers practically drove the economy to the ground and had to be rescued by the state; the rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer; the disenfranchised are as far from reaping the benefits of capitalism as they have ever been: unchecked, untempered and unregulated, your ideology is ruinous.

7 As a Corpse: obviously, the most fitting tribute to your legacy would be for your funeral to be tendered to the private sector. Let sponsors’ logos adorn your hearse and advertising line the route. Let corporate guests take the front pews at St Paul’s and pay steep sums for the privilege. Let there be commercial breaks. “There is,” you professed “no such thing as society”. So let not “society” pick up the tab, it wouldn't be your way. And take with you, please, as you go, that spectre that has haunted us so long: take Thatcherism with you to your grave, and let us breathe again...

Friday, 14 September 2012

a private joy




The BBC World Service has asked me to comment on the publication today of pictures of the Duchess of Cambridge by the French edition of Closer Magazine:



Thank you for inviting me to comment on the 'Kate Pics Story'. I am no subject expert, nor am I related to the couple, so I don't speak with any specific authority, but from a personal, and keenly felt, perspective what saddens me is this:

William's mother, Princess Diana, died in a Paris road tunnel fifteen years ago, pursued by paparazzi. We know their behaviour had over the years become a source of pain and anguish to her, and we can assume that their unrelenting, aggressive conduct contributed to, if not indeed caused, the accident that killed her. It was clear then that these photographers and those parts of the press that publish their pictures, had lost any sense of respect for, or empathy with, other human beings, whom they had started to treat as mere fodder to feed a self-generated, voracious appetite. There is such a thing as public interest, there is such a thing as freedom of speech, and what they were doing had nothing to do with either of these. It was pure exploitation for the sake of profit. It was the embodiment of a mentality that, as Oscar Wilde put it so many years ago, 'knows the price of everything and the value of nothing'.

What advances us as a species is our ability to learn, and many of us had hoped that it would not just be legislation but also the experience of their culpability and some sense of personal responsibility that would entice editors and photographers to exercise restraint when dealing with Diana's offspring, and with people who are in the public eye generally, and allow them their privacy where it is clearly sought. Which is why these pictures are appalling. What the Duchess is or isn't wearing is, quite literally, immaterial. She was on a private estate, in her own time, with her husband. Like any of us, she has every right to have that sphere preserved. Whether a great effort was required to take these pictures or not is also irrelevant. They are a deliberate intrusion and, therefore, an act of violation.

Laurence Pieau, the Editor of Closer Magazine France, claims that these pictures “are full of joy" and that they are "not degrading". And this may well be so. But it isn't for her, or for any 'Celebrity Magazine' to publish them, it wasn't for the photographer who took them to take them and it isn't for us to see them. This is a joy that belongs to the newlyweds, whoever they happen to be, unless and until they themselves decide to share it. And it is this arrogance and sense of entitlement that Ms Pieau expresses and that still pervades her sector of the media that I abhor. Which is why to my mind, if she possesses any shred of dignity at all, she will apologise to the couple and authorise a substantial donation to charity on their behalf.





sebastian's website   sebastian on facebook