Exaggeration, Disconnection and War

There is no longer any trustworthy American news source. By the end of 2016 the Trump/Clinton discussion no longer made any sense (did it ever?) and we are well overdue for a post-election reassessment. The Washington Post has gone nuts, Breitbart was always absolutely cuckoo and there is nothing between those two poles. To make sense of it all you have to read both and synthesise your own thoughts. Is that going to resolve this year? If it does it will be very painful for many senior politicians and journalists who have quite spectacularly gone for broke against Trump. On the other hand, although Trump is isolated within the White House and has unprecedentedly mediocre poll ratings, he does seem to be capable of making deals, and isolating opponents.

The Brexit result was a surprise. Before the vote the media was disconnected from what was clearly the mood of the country. Remain ‘nutters’ overreached somewhat (I’m thinking of Poly Toynbee and her releasing of ‘Furies’). After the vote the mood seems to have cooled, although there is a certain hard-core of Leave ‘nutters’ producing a lot of hot air (not only UKIP and the Daily Express but also Tories like Dominic Raab) who I think will just be ignored, as a consensus view of what Brexit should be forms within Parliament and the country at large. Hard Brexit has now been squashed as an idea in the UK, only ‘nutters’ back it as a preference.

Soft Brexit on the other hand may well be squashed by our friends in Europe. I think Brits are actually quite good at negotiating but I do worry that we have bitten off more that we can chew within the two year time frame of Article 50. Watching and reading German language news I see little evidence of any willingness within the German establishment to be compliant with British soft Brexit wishes. Actually some shows such as the satirical Heute Show on ZDF are rather cruel in their anti-Brit humour – not something that you would typically see on German telly. Strangely nobody in Britain seems to be following what’s going on. It could get ugly.

On the optimistic side I sense that a lot of Remainers have come to terms with their defeat and in 2017 will embrace a far more global outlook in the wake of Brexit – quite the opposite of what many of the more hard‑core Leavers were actually campaigning for. I think this would be welcomed within the country at large given that 77% of leave voters and 84% of voters overall actually want EU citizens in Britain to stay. More difficult for Remainers will be the need to compromise on a new immigration settlement somehow.

For so many reasons the Labour Party has died and seems that it will be decimated in the 2020 general election (RIP Labour Party). I can’t see UKIP being that victorious in England and Wales the way the SNP were in Scotland, but will rather let the Conservatives into some Labour strongholds.

In my relatively new home in Switzerland politics here is becoming more of an interest for me. I can only read about it in German, which I’m still learning, so I am still struggling to entirely contextualise what is happening. The defining theme this year was the implementation of a 2014 referendum result against EU freedom of movement within Switzerland. This has now been implemented in a really watered down way by the national parliament due to opposition from the EU, and there are campaigns to break the deadlock caused by potential legal difficulties that not properly implementing a referendum result can cause with a ‘second chance’ referendum. Second chance referendums, as in Britain, are seen as cheating the people – rather a taboo.

In German media this year was huge coverage of the continuing war in Syria and migrants in Germany from north Africa and the Middle East. There is still a strong commitment to providing safety to asylum seekers, although the consensus forming is that perhaps too many migrants came at once. We’ll have to wait to see whether the effect of the German general election will be as tumultuous for the German political class as recent votes in the US and Britain were, but from last years mixed regional elections I doubt the AfD (or Die Linke) will cause too much of the kind of trouble people fear. Rather Germany will continue playing it’s role as a regional stabiliser. France, well, that may be another matter entirely…

Terror attacks in 2016 were absolutely awful. They emanate from IS in Syria which has destabilised Iraq and still threatens to destabilise Turkey. Fortunately with Trump in power (not something that I thought I’d be glad of) it actually seems that the additional complication of a proxy war developing between the US and Russia might end soon. The time has come to ditch any dreams for a democratic Arab Spring and get behind Assad. I never thought I’d say it, but right now Trump’s ability to start afresh with Assad and Putin is an opportunity not to be missed.

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Make way for your Queen

I never really considered what drag was until I watched RuPaul’s Drag Race. It’s a fascinating world of image and performance obsessed individuals. Watching that first 5 minutes of my first Drag Race episode was, for a gay man of the moral, and Blairite, 90s generation, almost gut wrenching. So many colours – so many transgressions of taste. Soon though, I realised that the queens have no duty to appear normal. It was a personal revelation because if they didn’t have to fit in then none of us, ever, need to ‘fit-in’.

Drag subverts ideas of identity. It plays with our understanding and with our perceptions of what we can be. Making a man look like a woman, either to create a perfect womanly simulacrum – a gender illusion, or a clown playing C.U.N.T. for laughs, takes skill. Curating your own body – sewing costumes, creating hair, painting your face, even undergoing superficial surgical procedures requires a strong sense of taste and artistic drive. In the words of Ru it’s about pressing pause and looking at things from a different perspective.” Drag reconstructs gender in order to have fun, and it will fuck with you when it gets into your head. If you keep watching beware the Videodrome effect – this is television which, after watching you can never escape. Heed my warning, hunties: you bitches better beware.

As a teenager I can remember RuPaul on VH1, a polished drag act – so polished in fact that I’m not sure that I realised he was a she until a friend of mine gleefully informed me of the fact. And of course, as a teenager, I can remember the fascinating surreality of watching a drag queen live. At that time, in London, it was not something cool, but it was fascinating and hitherto unknown to me, and hilarious, to watch someone in an outrageous costume lipsync to a pre-recorded backing track. Apart, of course, from a very embarrassing (and surreal) encounter with a queen attacking me for cheap laughs in Madrid, it would be 19 years until I would see drag queen again – a radically different type of punk and indie inspired drag. No doubt that queen and her fans have been enormously influenced by RuPaul’s Drag Race.

The show involves putting about 10 men in a room with fabric, sewing machines, make-up, wigs, and costumes and giving them performance challenges involving acting, singing, lipsync, and comedy. The queens are very good at make-up, wigs and styling, they can be excellent with their sewing but many resort to glue guns. Counter-intuitively, acting, singing and comedy skills are often lacking amongst queens. Stand-up comedy talent is surprisingly rare. Their lipsync skills are extraordinary, and are a joy to watch. These queens are fascinating men and extraordinary women.

Of course, it’s a funny show about a trashy type of performer. We very often laugh with the queens, and at the queens but more often we find ourselves laughing at popular culture and at the bizarre norms and tropes of of reality television, film, and music. In fact RuPaul’s unique take on the philosphy and herstory of drag manages to ‘dumb-up’ the show. The input of her wider creative team – the key members being producers Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato as well as Ru’s personal make-up artist and stylist Mathu Andersen makes this show one of the most important visual comments on popular culture there is. Sisters, it is time to tuck your junk and tune-in.

In the UK season 4 of RuPaul’s Drag Race is at 10pm, Monday 1st June on TruTV.

Douglas Carswell, Nigel Farage: You’d better work!

Do you really think that I’m not 100% pro UKIP and 100% what’s best for Nigel?

Douglas Carswell, Sunday Politics 17 May 2015

Douglas Carswell thinks he has a problem – Nigel Farage. For him, the core purpose of UKIP is for the UK to leave the EU. Since David Cameron has committed to an in-out referendum during the current parliament it represents for Carswell a historic moment in which UKIP must shine. Not since 1975 has the Eurosceptic movement had such a glorious chance to finally take Britain out of Europe. However, in his mind Farage’s focus on immigration, as well as his use of “strong language”, puts this all in danger. Douglas Carswell’s problem is that Farage alienates a large proportion of the electorate. UKIP took just 12% of the votes in the 2015 general election, but a successful vote to leave the EU would require over 50%. Carswell believes the party must therefore appeal to a much broader base within the country. His message seems to be that to win over more than 50% of voters in the EU in-out vote, Farage may need to leave his post. But fear not – Mother Carswell has arrived!

Roger Helmer describes Farage as “the best communicator in UK politics today”. He takes issue with the idea that Farage would be a liability at a mid-term Europe related poll. After all, UKIP were the victor in the 2014 UK European Parliamentary Election. As Helmer very convincingly put it on the Sunday Politics, “in that election we got more votes than any other party”. On top of that UKIP has just won a historic proportion of the vote at a General Election; it has grown by positioning itself against the establishment. It polarised opinion successfully, with a barage of “strong language” on the subject of immigration. 12% of voters liked that message enough to vote for UKIP. Polarised opinion, strong language, and Farage are the life of the party and it’s key to growth. Kill that and UKIP is dead. Time to get real, okay?

Carswell is right in saying the anti-EU camp needs to reach out to a greater proportion of the electorate. Even at the 2014 European Election it only got 26% of the vote, taking turnout into account only 9% of registered voters were on their side. The trouble is that by swapping the angry anti-political message of the last two very successful campaigns, UKIP irrelevance may await. Even worse for them, the recent Carswell-stoked row may make them start to resemble the squabbling established parties that their core vote so hates. It’s either Brexit or the party. You bitches better be ready.

Shy Tories? Puhleese!

In the recent UK General Election many pundits were taken aback by how well the Conservatives did. It didn’t fit the published opinion poll data, and it didn’t fit their framework for understanding British politics. Reactions were varied and all sorts piled in with knee-jerk prejudice as to the reason for the surprise. While Tories became obsessed with reshuffles and the excercise of real power, more left leaning circles were getting ready for the Labour leadership contest. One important 1990s meme was resurected, that of the Shy Tory. Puhleese!

It’s important to point out that the pollsters have spoken of other factors and have not yet drawn any firm conclusions but at this point it would be appropriate to summarise some of the published thinking amongst pollsters about Shy Tories. Peter Kellner of YouGov emphatically blames Shy Tories for the inaccuracy of polls, ComRes points out that the “Keen Left” is as much a problem, something with which Anthony Wells of YouGov seems to tentatively agree. ICM suggests an issue with “Access to people over landline phones” as well as online. This brings up the question whether Shy Tories are somehow more inhibited than Labour voters or if Tories in general are just busier people than Labour voters. Oh yes, for the time poor Tories, the struggle is real.

Unfortunately the equivocation, disagreement and nuance coming from the pollsters is not widely understood amongst the wider commentariat. As ever, there was an attempt to shape the future by shoehorning the polling fiasco into a framework. Rather than being driven by an objective desire to analyse the world in order to arrive at truth, many columnists and bloggers tried to further their own politics by slanting the conversation in a direction that they find convenient. Fair enough – it’s a free world but it also exposes a disconnection from reality and a failure to understand the world as it truly is. It’s time to come back to planet Earth, sista!

So, if Shy Tories do exist, why is that, mama? One of the answers put forward is Political Correctness, specifically where it is said to silence debate. The problem is that people sometimes take this framework and apply it one sidedly to everything they see. Humans like to pattern match and we form relationships in our minds where none exists.

Applied to the polling fiasco the argument went something like this: people are frightened of speaking out because their views would bring shame from their peers and this was reflected in the underestimation of the Conservative Party vote. Being a Tory is so shameful that people cannot bring themselves to tell a confidential online poll or caller how they intend to vote. Or, as the tagline to piece by Frank Furedi went “In an era of ‘You can’t say that’, people aren’t always honest with pollsters.” Oh, and Brendan O’Neill was at it as well. Girls, please!

On the face of it this may make sense to someone who works and socialises in a limited circle. If you can’t see the environments and workplaces where a Tory or UKIP outlook is the the norm you may occasionally forget that such people and places exist. But when a writer exists in a circle that is outside of mainstream thought – i.e. not ordinary people but so-called metropolitan cultural elites, views can become distorted. In reality UKIP, the most un-PC and therefore the most likely section of the electorate to be shamed by a PC society, was correctly represented in the polls. The irreality in Furedi’s outlook is that it was the middle of the road, technocratic, and thouroughly sensible Conservative Party (who by the way just won an election) that have somehow been terrified and cowed into silence by the PC brigade. And I just can’t get my head around that.

The moral here is that ultimately by trying to fit everything into a convenient narrative commentators can lose their objectivity and perhaps they fail to realise that reality contradicts their world view. It is dangerous to understand the world as part of our internal framework without analysing the gap between that and reality. And, mama, FakePete ain’t happy.