Misunderstood oppression

Continuing the spirit of Christmas tales, I paid a visit to London just before Christmas to attend a wonderful concert of Tudor polyphony. In the afternoon I wandered through Camden and ended up following two people a man and a woman. At first I thought it was a couple. I noticed that the woman was ignoring the man, I imagined some sort of quarrel. The man then quite casually stopped and the woman continued on her way. This seemed odd, until it occurred to me that these two people may not have met before and the man was simply pestering her. If so, he did a very good job of appearing to the world as if he knew the woman as he walked beside her. I’ve only recently become aware of such things occurring in larger towns and cities. This particular phenomenon of sexist oppression. such oppression affects us all. This oppression affects white males too, like me.

I have formed numerous friendships with ladies over the years. I have discussed before how once the possibility of a sexual relationship has been negated, a friendship may continue. However there have been a couple of examples where the lady has stopped all contact with me. This hurt me greatly and not understanding what had happened, not knowing what I had done wrong  caused me great peturbation. I seemed to be misunderstood and randomly losing friends.

It is only know that I have learnt not to be afraid of being misunderstood that I perhaps have the answer. That my continued contact has been construed as continuing to pursue a relationship. So why, when it was clear that I wasn’t seeking a closer relationship was this not being believed.

The answer being that the harrassment  of women by men has led to women being oppressed. Women have to put up with the regularity and persistence of unwanted attention from men every time they walk down the street. Hence men are oppressed too as when men such as myself are simply being friendly, we are viewed with suspicion.

Having said that it isn’t entirely this, it is partly that I overcompensate for my lack of social skills and talk too much, to the extent that even men have felt the need to tell me that they are not interested in a relationship with me. I just like talking to people, I don’t seek relationships, I just think that relationships happen when people bond together, but there is no harm in talking with the people that I meet. Nonetheless, I think the point still stands that systemic oppression affects us all, which is rubbish as it is then society as a whole rather than individuals to blame for this.

So, grab your pitchfork, light your torches and lets all get out there and change society. This blog has a purpose! Except we are all different and no-one can expect the world to change to suit them. I am just so glad to have understood this. The biblical quote “Judge not, that ye be not judged” (Matthew C7v1), resonates so much with me. That the problem isn’t within me. I just needed to be more aware of sexist oppression in society, to not be afraid of being misunderstood and more accepting of it when it happens.

Fear

Fear is the worst thing in the world.

Christmas is often a time when families get together and share news about their lives and the people around us. It is interesting and often argumentative, because people who otherwise carve out quite different existences are forced through the bond of family into talking.

I learnt that someone mutually known had got married and they had adopted a child. I expressed my joy at the news, but was rebuffed. Rebuffed because this was a female same sex marriage. However what I found interesting was that it wasn’t the marriage in itself, that was the bad news, but the adoption. The reason given for the adoption being bad news was a fear for the child suffering abuse at school because of the nature of their parents.

Children can be astonishingly cruel and vindictive in the playground, I know this very well, having been an outsider child myself.  Children can be picked on for almost anything and more so if the abuse affects them. The point is that it is impossible to shield children entirely from abuse in the playground, no-one should not do something through fear of potential consequences.

This example may be one of misplaced fear. I visited members of my family before Christmas. I remember the subject of Elton John’s recent marriage came up and some of the younger children didn’t get why the adults were discussing it. It was quickly explained that all possible combinations of gender were possible in a marriage and the law had only recently been changed to allow this. The younger children appeared to quickly grasp the idea and didn’t find it odd at all. The world the adopted children of same sex marriages  will hopefully be one where people are not abused for their, or their parents sexuality.

Is fear of change, fear of the unknown? Society is changing, some people may not understand or wish to engage with change through fear. A fear that one old fashioned rule being changed may have consequences for the whole social moral structure. Again this is a misplaced fear, the social rules still exist, they are still discussed, but one less thing is now suppressed and hidden away behind the net curtains, which is a good thing, fewer oppressed people!. I would suggest that the fear of the change is the thing that causes problems.

I read that there was the usual Festive season train problems in Britain. This time Kings Cross station in London was closed and thousands descended upon Finsbury Park station, being the ‘planned’ alternative. Really bad planning (we expect this sort of thing in Britain!), as the much smaller station couldn’t cope with the numbers of people. You would think that in a country which suffered from the Hillsborough disaster of 1989, that people would think twice before shoving their way in to a crowded station, that there would be civility and a sense of public spirit and putting up with the expected chaos of the UK rail network. Judging by the pictures it would seem not, that there was a selfishness in the people wanting to get on the trains. It is possible to suggest that this lack of public spirit was due to the fear that social values are breaking down as a justification to act selfishly. It is fortunate that no-one died because of this mess.

This sense of fear is used by the media and politicians to scapegoat groups. For example there is the story that Ukip blamed the congestion on the M4 motorway on immigration. The reason for the congestion on the M4 is due to poor planning, a lack of investment in transport infrastructure that has occurred since the second world war and the idea that the ‘free market’ will produce solutions to these issues. So the immigrants end up suffering the abuse and the ruling classes who failed to deal with the problem get rich out of it.

Yet people still sometimes have a pop at ‘heavy metal’. A musical genre that openly deals with the dark and the grotesque. The reason for this is not that metal fans are sinister people, far from it. It is simply better to deal openly with fear, to confront it, to reflect upon it, to embrace it, for then it it can be realised that the fear is simply fear and reality is not as bad as can be imagined when fearful, oppressed or depressed.

Things are never as bad as the fearmongers of the world would have you believe.

The Pop Problem

Recently Iggy Azalia cropped up in a discussion I was involved with about sexism. I obviously follow the wrong things and completely missed hearing about this controversial artist. The charge against her was that she was racist because she ridicules rap culture. Having done a little research into this artist I disagree with this charge, I would argue that this is an example of the one of the major drawbacks of pop music. For it is pop music rather than rap music.

I am a strong supporter of freedom of speech and the freedom to pursue want you want to do (this is ‘self’evident’ according the the constitution of the USA). so Iggy Azalia can produce the music she wants to. It seems as though she loves rap culture and wanted to make a living from being a rap star. She has achieved this end, good for her. However, my and indeed popular opinion is that she isn’t very good.

Most artists in the world, I would say are not very good. whether that be they lack talent, haven’t worked hard enough at developing their art or simply only appeal to a narrow audience that doesn’t include me. This isn’t normally a problem as once you have been exposed to the artist, you can decide they are not for you and can ignore them. If an artist doesn’t appeal to enough people, they can either work on continuing to develop their talent, or give up on making a career as an artist. The pop problem is that often pop artists who are not very good, have successful careers and regularly appear in popular media. so even if you decide that they are not for you, you are continually exposed to them through the media, for example on radio plays. This is a shame as people are promoted as artists, when these artists achieve success without the opportunity to truly develop their craft.

Pop music is a special genre of music because many successful acts are not very good. By not very good, I mean that they are not good musically or interesting to the listener. I love pop music, there are many acts that I like, which I admit have very little musical worth. Rather pop appeals beyond music either through their social commentary or the interest created by the phenomenon of their existence. To those of us that like pop music, part of the fun is the fact that many pop acts are annoying. Pop aficionados, such as myself,love to discuss why rubbish acts are popular. Whilst rap music isn’t one of my favourite genres, I do like some of it. I have enjoyed hearing Azealia Bank’s work, I think it’s really good. So, here is an example of a good artist not being as successful as a poor artist. This irritation is, to me, a fundamental part of pops appeal. It is what the less music obsessed public contribute to artists success, that doesn’t occur to the same extent in other musical genres. An alternative title for this piece could have been ‘ Azalea & Azaelia’. Listen and compare yourself:

Iggy Azalea vs Azaelea Banks [Warning: Naughty language]

I would suggest that there are positives brought about by Iggy Azaelia’s success: An example of someone committing to pursuing there dream and achieving success. Exposing rap music and perhaps other musical genres with origins in black culture to a new audience. Providing a subject for the discussion of race in society as a means of combating racism or discussions of the rap genre in general..

Are there negatives? Is there a case that Iggy Azaelia’s career is promoting racism? It is perhaps an example of the tyranny and oppression of the predominant culture. Racism stems from oppression of black people by white people. while great strides have been made against racism, it continues to exist, so people should be careful not to act to fan the flames of racism. As such it is hard to imagine a black woman breaking into a musical genre of white origin unless they were exceptionally talented, whereas a pretty blonde Australian lady can be successful without being very good. It is this fact that is the most uncomfortable factor concerning this artist.

I have argued that the blame for the pop problem does not stem from the artist. The problem comes from the record industry and the popular media for promoting such artists, but they are commercial organisations and if they can see a profit in something they will of course exploit it. This is perhaps particularly pertinent in rap music, which has origins in a way for young musicians to escape from impoverished lives in the ghettos of Los Angeles and New York, indeed the nature of the genre is to lyrically explore ghetto culture, a large part of the music is the wittiness of the lyrics and everybody appreciates clever humour.

It is the success of rap music in becoming a global phenomenon. such that rap has entered popular culture. Often such artists can be viewed as presenting parodies of rap music. For example some examples of artists I like: Lady Sovereign and my personal favourites. the Welsh group Goldie Lookin’ Chain.

Such examples indicate that rap music has become popular with white audiences. why has the music of black cultures been so successful with white audiences? Personally, whilst not a huge rap fan, I do love other such genres as reggae, dub, gospel and soukous. To me it is the sense of bass driven rhythms which one can melt into, the music enters your body in a natural way, as well as your mind, in a way that music of white origin doesn’t. The music seems an inherent part of the culture, rather than as a counter culture. White Pop and Rock music is often a music discovered by white people in their teenage years, it is a music of discovery and angst, rather than pure music. Perhaps this is simply because black culture has been oppressed and that effects everyone, whereas white music is only for those who feel apart or rebellious about their own culture.

The case of Iggy Azalea is an interesting one. It is an example of the pop problem and sits more uncomfortably than a typical case of the pop problem because whilst her music in itself is anti-racist, it does exemplify the inherent racism in the popular media. This is galling because there is no individual to focus the blame for this on but rather the culture of the popular media.

i accept the criticism of Iggy Azalea, that she doesn’t write her own music, but rather seeks to be someone who grew up in the black ghettoes of the United States, which she isn’t, so isn’t writing about her real experience.

I believe that in the 21st century, society needs to move on from reporting and promoting things as ‘freak shows’ of people that don’t fit conventional rules, but rather more actively and intelligently comment on the art itself rather than the personalities.

Beyond Feminism

I’ve discussed Feminism briefly as a movement promoting equality and working towards the prevention of males dictating how women should behave, a movement against oppression. We live in a multi-cultural world where cultural traditions, historically patriarchal, continue to dictate and enforce conformity to convention. These pressures are beyond simply telling women how to behave, they dictate how men should behave as well and they dictate what our sexuality should be amongst other things. The further you are from the conforming archetype the tougher life can be. For example, pity the poor, mixed race, disabled, lesbian with a mental illness, however this person is so out there that perhaps they understand that trying to conform will get them nowhere and at least may find it easier to be themselves!

Often parents strive to help their children conform to society. The motivation for this is to educate children in how the world is and by implication conforming will yield social benefits. For example the message: Don’t be gay if you can help it, as your life will be harder. I discussed bullying earlier, or how conformity is enforced. However what these strategies often lack essentially is advice on how to deal with not conforming. As someone who isn’t quite the conventional male archetype, I know that it is important to acknowledge difference and being an outsider, to be comfortable and confident in who you are, as it is this confidence, this connection with oneself that provides the social benefits, rather than conformity itself. I don’t understand why my own parents, to some degree, made me feel that certain activities I liked were wrong, because it meant i spent my teenage years and much of my twenties dealing with unpicking these imposed restraint on finding out who i really was. I gather most of my contempories underwent similar processes.

If individuals really were free to choose there who they are, people would choose to be the dominant archetype, as life is easier. Being conventional relieves you from discrimination and the world its around you like a glove. for example you pick up a magazine and it is full of articles about things you are interested in, the people around you are sufficiently versed in these topics that social discourse is straightforward. However if that isn’t you and for the majority it isn’t it is better to accept the difference.

Why does society inflict this conformity? Economically, perhaps it is more efficient if everyone wants the same things, rather than a variety of options to cater for? I don’t think anyone really would want such an Orwellian dystopia. Historically, there was the landed gentry, and there still is,a ruling class, who obtain great wealth and wish to keep it that way as it affords them a life of luxury with built in maintenance of the system. This minority can then inflict the conformity they wish in the rest of the population, as those that conform receive preferential treatment. I am against such a system and in western society, generally there is an objection to such a system, but often we lack collective awareness of it and the ruling class control the media, a divide and rule system.

Culturally, diversity is now cherished. For example Christianity in Britain, once a bastion of dictating the rules of society, no longer does this. The church is now a minority group, instead the principles of the faith and spirituality are preached,  people are expected to form their own conclusions to moral questions with reference to interpretations of biblical teachings.

Music, as many art forms, has never been about conformity. Interest is maintained by constantly looking for new ideas and different ways of expressing ideas. With the rise of recorded media and the birth of pop music an even greater diversity of musical styles flourished, often despite the attempts of the record industry (the ruling class) to dictate popular tastes. But then music has always been about rebellion and exploration. and it still discouraged by the powers that be: Restricted performance licensing, poor sound insulation in new build housing etc. Nonetheless generally Britain is a society that actively promotes unconformity in comparison with other countries, yet there remain forces against this openness. Are these forces simply grumpy older people who wish they had the choice to be themselves instead of conforming?

Giant Leaps

Discovery of something wonderful gives one a sense of newness, feeling fresh and alive. The energy acquired makes one desire to share this discovery with the world. There is also a sadness, that you have changed as a person and will never quite be the same again. however you have grown and are a better person for it.

This desire to share does create problems. Problems because what you have discovered is something that only really has relevance or is new to yourself. It terms of society, it is not new, with very rare exceptions such as scientific discoveries. So it is problematic as it is unnecessary to force this discovery onto other people, particularly when these other people are not aware of what it is that you have discovered about yourself.

it is perhaps once again the outsider issue. I discovered a few years ago, what it is to be happy, to be able to relax and be myself, that feeling disconnected from the world wasn’t a part of me, but a symptom of not knowing exactly what happiness was. I did communicate this to people, who were disturbed by it. I think that the reason they were disturbed was that they had never made the transition of being sad to finding out what happy is, that these people had a sense of always knowing what happiness was, hence find the concept of it’s discovery somewhat baffling.

What I have found interesting is that there are people who have understood my discovery. These people have had similar barriers to being comfortable within themselves, people who have spent a lot of time thinking in deep dark places. Such people can relate to similar experiences more readily than those who haven’t dwelt in negativity.

This phenomena has many examples in a wider context:

Religion: There are the people who discover their faith, their spirituality later in life. Some of whom then wish to convince the rest of the world of this truth they have discovered in themselves. such street corner preachers make a lot of people uncomfortable, particularly those without a faith. Others, of faith, who have grown up in a particular tradition have never perhaps made a great leap, but whose understanding of their faith has unravelled incrementally, a sense of the faith  always having been there, a sense of never having denied it.

New music/art: Probably most people at some point have discovered a new artist, whom they make a connection with, which they find exciting and life affirming. Again there is the desire to tell the world and more particularly, their friends about. There are also people who may have grown up with the artist, or who have known about the artist  earlier in their career, to whom there is less a a great leap of connection.

Sport: A new convert to a particular sport, or a new fan of a particular team, tends to have a more intense fervour of commitment and interest than the long standing fan, at least for a period of time after the discovery. In this case, there is less alienation of the new convert. There is less alienation as here the new person is joining a community that is distinct from the wider world, there is knowing that never will everyone be a convert to this particular cause. The discovery is one that is not based on anything inherent in the self, so there is always a point for everyone at which they discovered this love.

It is sad, that most of the discoveries people make are only of relevance to themselves, so communication of it should be restricted to family and friends, even if others were influential in making the discovery. Though often people are appreciative of someone simply expressing joy, without needing the specific details. There is a disdain for the preacher who only discovered something recently, however a reflective preacher who has deepened their understanding of a discovery, who can express the discovery in a new way is always I believe important.

Broken Political Systems

All my life I’ve grown up with monetarist neo-liberal governments. Such governments have been marketed to the electorate as ‘the’ alternative to the failed ‘socialist’ system, meaning the Soviet system. The politicians have argued for privatisation of nationalised monopolies as private sector competition leads to greater efficiency and hence growth. such policies were implemented in teh 1980s, an era which saw mass advertising and increasingly  innovative marketing .

Of course the Soviet system didn’t work, but neither does monetarism.It has recently made the media that Tesco, a dominant UK supermarket chain, is experiencing lower profits and decreasing market share, this is a problem as the share price is falling, as investors will get less return on their investment. I would argue that this ‘failure’ is a failure of the monetarist system that demands successful companies to have continuous growth, which isn’t really possible.

Tesco was a successful company and because it provided a service which its customers wanted. The idea of having a large shop where you could buy almost all your weekly groceries, at low prices conveniently in one shop, was a fantastic enterprise. The company achieved this by being big and having an efficient supply chain.

Having achieved an efficient supply chain and market dominance, there wasn’t much it could do in real growth, but continue to be a profitable business. So what did it do to maintain growth? It diversified by expanding from a grocery business into other retail areas, such as clothing, hardware, electronics and CDs. This expansion allowed the business to grow, this was coupled with marketing strategies, designed to increase the amount of money customers spent in the stores. This continued to the point where prices became distorted and active manipulation of it’s customers shopping habits. For example by lowering the quality of it’s produce to increase profits. What happened was a business no longer making a profit by providing it’s customers with a service, but by exploiting it’s customers.

It now faces competition from the ‘budget’ supermarkets, which have a simple efficient model that undercuts the old dominant supermarkets on price . It’s market share is also decreased by customers seeking better service or higher quality items from alternative shops.

This is a failure of monetarism, as in the continued ‘demand’ for growth of the business has mostly come about through marketing strategies. Marketing has become so clever, that it can sell inferior products to the masses, marketing the lifestyle of consumption these inferior products. As a people we have become used to advertising everywhere, it’s almost seen as too burdensome to resist. A failure as once a business maximises the service it provides to it’s customers it can no longer grow, yet the monetarist system demands further growth, where no real growth on such a scale is possible.

This system has become so dominant in the British political system, that Labour, the formerly socialist party, had to adopt monetarist policy in order appeal to the sections of the electorate it needed to get elected (Blairism). What this left Britain with was a representative democracy that represented the marketing solutions to appeal to a minority of the electorate. The politics of the country is no longer about debate about the best policy, but power is granted to the best players of the PR game, as exemplified in TV shows like ‘In the Thick of it’

The traditional big three parties are no longer liked or respected by the majority of the population, but their public relations and marketing skills are such to maintain this power base. So, in thrall to this political system is the political class, that it has become corrupted by it. Political parties are lobbied by big businesses, who control policy to the extent that genuine market competition is suppressed. Paradoxically the very argument that brought about the system in the first place.

Outside creativity

It is a fair proposition to suggest that the majority of great artists throughout history have been outsiders. Second preposition: as there is such diversity in people, including outsiders, it is unlikely that such people inherently have a special gift. My hypothesis is that outsiders are more likely to be good artists because of their nature as outsiders.

As outsiders have had difficulties in accepting themselves and the world around them, then they have had cause to reflect on this and spend time viewing people and society from the outside. Such thinking allows the outsider to more readily identify specific emotional strands, which they can then express through their art.

This creative process is illustrated by a blog post I read recently. Here the idea is that as people we fill our minds with things, assimilating all this data is confusing and confusion can lead to depression and seeking more data to escape the depression/ find the answer. Expression of thoughts, especially artistically, allows the mind to be emptied or unburdened, to be more like itself and hence more at ease. This idea is counter-intuitive but works: instead of needing more, we need less. Through this emptying process, identification of specific things becomes clear. So, a an artist who is or has become technically competent as an artist is able to express these specific thoughts or emotions through their art.

However, this blog, suggests that through expression of such identifications, the person is released from such burdens, as a path to happiness. Which by the argument above, tends to remove the basis for artisitic endeavour, the outsider is no longer plagued by insecurities about themselves, such emotions are no longer felt, so there is less to express.

However, I would suggest that the artist can do something a realised outsider would perhaps not wish to do. Having discovered how to be happy, why would they wish to be sad again. They can be sad again, I believe it is possible to re-visit any emotional state. Mentally I think it is analogous to places on maps: once you have visited somewhere it is then somewhere known rather than a place on a map, there are memories of the place and how to get there. What is difficult is to revisit somewhere and to feel a similar emotional response on a return visit, i think great artists manage to do this.