"What matters is that other countries have revolutions, we have satire. That's how we do politics."
- Kate Fox
Yesterday I attended my second anti-austerity march of the year, this time in Manchester. It was an inspiring event and one which stirred a whole range of emotions in me. I felt a righteous anger as the speakers preceding the march talked about issues I realised I hadn't really researched in enough depth (the specifics of the Trade Union bill and what it means); I felt a renewed sense of hope at remembering just how many people are upset with our current government and its policies; but mainly I felt a patriotic pride that the people in this country are witty, colourful and creative.
As I marched (calmly, slowly, most of the time with a smile on my face) I looked around at thousands of "normal" British people; most of them peaceful, imaginative and humorous. Despite the very serious nature of the march, the people around me dealt with it in the most British of ways; by taking the piss. The satire on show was fantastic, ranging from interactive (teachers handing out "free school meals" while they still could), bawdy (I lost count of the number of pig masks and balloons), historical (a giant inflatable Trojan Horse was flown above the crowd), and pantomimic (a Dickensian pauper with a sign strapped round his neck reading "Northern Poorhouse").
All of this was performed to the tune of various different bands and musicians along the march. This is the Britain I know and love. Emotions were strongly felt, but they were tempered and expressed in inventive ways. Every now and then you'd get a dreadlocked Bolshevik bound over to you in a paint-splattered military-jacket, thrusting a Marxist pamphlet into your hand, but these were in the minority and most people dealt with their suffocating zealousness in the same way; by smiling and nodding. In the brilliant Watching The English, the Social Anthropologist Kate Fox talks about "The Importance of Not Being Earnest" in English culture and I found this to be an amusing example of that. She also observes that;
"What matters is that other countries have revolutions, we have satire. That's how we do politics." - Kate Fox
...and while I'd like to see the two somehow combined, I am satisfied with the fact that we resort to witty jokes and name-calling instead of violence and rioting.
Although you could be forgiven for not realising how calm and fun the march was. It was depressingly inevitable but the BBC News segment I watched this morning (the 3 minute segment on the BBC News internet TV app) failed to remain independent as correspondent Laura Kuenssberg couldn't help but apply a sensationalist and over-dramatic veneer to the story.
"Outside 60,000 people gathered to object to, well many different things. It was billed as an anti-austerity rally, sometimes tense and ugly" - Laura Kuenssberg
While it is true that an event this size can become a hodgepodge of slogans and signposts, not all shared by all of the marchers, I think the language here is a little unfair and dismissive; issues such as Trident, Syria, immigration and climate change were all present on the various placards, but over all I felt like we presented a united front opposing further austerity measures (public sector cuts) and a scarily undemocratic Trade Union Bill.
It is also rather amusing that Kuenssberg's line "sometimes tense and ugly" is then followed immediately by two short interviews with two women on the march who are both calm and eloquent. It's almost as if the edit was lacking the "tense and ugly" footage needed to support her point.
"As the conference begins there is a real sense of Us and Them. Let's face it though, David Cameron is never going to win over these crowds" - Laura Kuenssberg
Here I would agree with her first line, I think there was a clear sense of separation between us and the politicians we were marching against. Partly this is a very real separation caused by out-of-touch government figures whose backgrounds are too narrow for their perspectives to accurately understand and reflect the feelings of the British public. However in marches like this it is very easy for separation to become simplified to the point of being unhelpful; the phrase "Tory scum" might make for a good chant but probably doesn't help either side in its effect.
I do take a very strong exception to her second line, in particular the emphasis she places on the word "these", as if the march was filled with inherently vociferous, angry lefties who will never be satisfied with anything. I know this is the opinion of some Conservative voters I have spoken to, and I find it to be misinformed and an over-simplification. While there were plenty of those people amongst us (giving out their pamphlets with indecipherably small text on), the vast vast VAST majority of the crowd were - that word again - normal people who just wanted to have a voice in a country dominated by an unhelpful and misleading right-wing press and media.
Of course since returning from the march I have seen a few news stories that indicate it wasn't all as peaceful as perhaps I saw it. One popular video being shared at the moment sees a young Tory conference attendee being pelted with an egg:
I found this video via The Independent's article which claimed that the victim had brandished a picture of Margaret Thatcher at the crowd. While that's reason alone to throw all manner of things at him, we have to acknowledge that - in all fairness - the video supplied doesn't actually show this. From the evidence of the video this does appear a little harsh...albeit more than a little funny. The gaggle of Tories targeted appear to be hilariously stereotypical caricatures, but after watching it a few times the video itself doesn't actually show them brandishing anything except their overinflated sense of self-worth. It's a little frustrating that the incident even happened. Without it the broadcasters might have had to admit that the march was peaceful, creative and fun, filled with witty people expressing their political opinions in entertaining and colourful ways. Instead as it is the BBC segment signs off;
"plenty to do - no doubt - but plenty to celebrate too" Laura Kuenssberg
The Conservatives might believe they have plenty to celebrate, but do the BBC really have to host the party?
(A brief roundup of the media I'm currently consuming).
My girlfriend and I have been slowly re-working our way through the brilliant Buffy archives. I was obsessed with this show as a 13 year old, and now we're just getting to the point where I stopped watching all those years ago (I think because it changed channels from BBC2 to Sky One) so everything is exciting and new.
...I’M LISTENING TO:
I love the movie Into the Wild and Jon Krakauer's fantastic book on which it is based. I love the haunting quality of Pearl Jam singer Eddie Vedder's voice and how it conjures images of open roads and American wilderness. I both love and hate Chris McCandless and this folk-rock soundtrack seems to perfectly suggest the righteous anger, dissatisfaction and yearning that he was experiencing.
While I'm still finishing off the autobiographies from the past fortnight I am spending some time dipping in and out of this screenwriting book, which I picked up after attending one of Linda Aronson's lectures at last year's London Screenwriter's Festival. Screenwriting books can be dangerously distracting things, tricking you into thinking you're writing when actually all you're doing is finding things to put off your writing. However this seems like a good one, containing some helpful development strategies and fantastically in-depth analysis of non-linear story shapes.