Platinum Jubilee Plans

Not that I’m particularly a monarchist or anything, but the plans for the Queen’s platinum jubilee in two years were announced today. I must say I find that quite incredible: arguments about democracy and monarchy etc aside, the fact that the queen has been on the throne so long, reigning throughout not just my lifetime but my parents’ is surely pretty extraordinary. I like the fact that they’re already planning the celebration. Of course, I’m hoping that James Bond makes another appearance, like he did in 2012 (I know that was for the London Olympics rather than the Golden Jubilee, but even so). The only question is, who would be playing him?

Should some mysteries remain unsolved?

Watching the news coverage of armistice day earlier, quite an interesting thought occurred to me: would it now be possible to find out who the unknown warrior buried in Westminster Cathedral was? These days we have pretty accurate DNA testing, so presumably it would be possible to open the tomb, take a sample probably of bone and find a bit of DNA. The identity of this anonymous soldier could then be found, and in theory his family could even be traced. A century-old mystery would then be solved. I’m sure I’m not the first person this has occurred to, and I suppose the question is, would we want to? The point of the Unknown Warrior is that he stands for all the soldiers killed in action, and finally establishing his identity would destroy that metonymic power. Solving historic mysteries is one thing, but maybe it would be better to let this one remain unsolved.

Corrections

All right, I admit I can be a bit of a numpty on here sometimes. Before writing yesterday’s entry, I should have checked what I was talking about. When I got to my computer earlier, there were a couple of emails (I won’t say from whom) reminding me that James Doohan was Canadian not Scottish; that Dominik Keating, who played Lieutenant Malcolm Reed in Enterprise, is from Leicester; and that Jason Isaacs is also British. I genuinely didn’t know about Scotty and Keating slipped my mind, but I must admit I ought to have remembered about Isaacs, having been watching Discovery so recently.

Oh well, in the grand scheme of things I don’t think such small mistakes matter, and are easily corrected. What concerns me more though is the way in which, these days, people seem less and less willing to correct their selves. Online especially, people are growing more and more belligerent. Even when faced with clear evidence, they refuse to admit they were wrong. This applies especially to politics, and the prime example is what is happening in America right now. I may have made a few silly mistakes in my blog entry yesterday, but at least I’m not refusing to concede an election I obviously did not win.

Two geeky, Trek-Related Thoughts

I have recently been binge watching Star Trek Discovery, rewatching it from the beginning in case I missed anything before going on to season three. Compared to other Trek incarnations, I still think it’s pretty awful: a lot of bunkum about spore drives, parallel universes, and chasing Spock around the galaxy without ever actually seeing him. If this wasn’t Star Trek I would have given up on it ages ago (in fact I did, and recently decided to give it another chance.

Now, indulge a trekkie if you will, but two thoughts occurred to me while watching an episode this afternoon which I think I need to note: firstly, have you ever noticed that all the best Star Trek series have British characters and/or actors in lead roles? The Original Series had Scottie, played by James Doohan; The Next Generation had Jean-Luc Picard, who, despite being a supposedly French Character, was played by a great english actor, sir Patrick Stewart; and Deep Space Nine had Dr. Julian Bashir, played by Alexander Siddig. Surely it can’t be a coincidence that these were by far the best, richest incarnations of star Trek, and they were the only three with British Actors? Of course you could add Colm Meaney to that list, who played miles O’Brian in DS9, although he’s Irish. Voyager, Enterprise and Discovery were flops in comparison, and none had any Brits.

However, that takes me on to my second geeky thought, also cast related: in Discovery, Section 31 looks like it will take a major role in future seasons. Starfleet’s secret service has been mentioned once or twice in past incarnations of Trek, but not really fleshed out. That got me thinking, how awesome would it be if the head of Section 31 was played by Dame Judi Dench? If that somehow became reality, and she was revealed sitting behind a desk on earth wearing a grey suit, I think it would make my year.

25 years of the DDA

I wouldn’t be much of a disability rights campaigner or commentator if I didn’t direct everyone here. Yesterday was a very auspicious day: Twenty-five years since the signing of the Disability Discrimination act. A quarter of a century since a group of Disabled people took to the streets of London, handcuffed theirselves to busses, and began the fight for the same basic rights everyone else naturally enjoys. Thanks to that Act, I, as a disabled man and powerchair user, can now live independently in London. I doubt many outside the disabled community would realise the profundity of the difference that act made to lives like mine. Every time I get on a bus or tube train, I think about the activists shown in this BBC news clip made twenty-five years ago. Yet, as noted in the video, there is still quite a way to go until equality is achieved: nowhere near all the tube stations are accessible for one, and that is just the tip of a very large iceberg, so it’s now up to guys like me to continue the pioneering activism began by these disability heroes.

America is Likeable Again

A couple of hours ago after posting my previous entry, I popped to the shop for some bits. When I got back to my computer, my heart filled with joy. I saw the best bit of news in months. Joe Biden is now president of America. In what has been a truly awful year so far, we at last have something to celebrate. Hopefully he can start to repair the damage done to his moronic predecessor. More to the point, what will the consequences be for us in the UK? We know that Biden is no fan of Brexit, so might the tories soon be forced to rethink? Now America has undone it’s stupid mistake of 2016, can we?

The Real Deal

This morning when I got to my computer, one of the first things I read was this Disability News Service article. There has been a considerable backlash in the Crip Community against Liz Carr’s CripTales monologue, The Real Deal: many ‘activists’ are apparently appalled by it, saying it feeds directly into the right-wing tory narrative that benefit applicants cannot be trusted and are somehow faking their disability. Having just rewatched the short, I would certainly agree that it is very problematic. After all, it depicts a disabled person spying on her neighbour: he teaches her how to cheat in her PIP assessment, and she then reports him to the DWP. At best it is thus very morally ambiguous.

Of course, the whole point of art is to challenge perceptions and assumptions, and I think that is exactly what this monologue does. It isn’t at all clear whether Carr’s character is in the right or not, given that she judges another person for cheating the benefit system, yet is seemingly willing to get his help to do it herself. The way she describes both are quite horrific, for example going into explicit detail about the way she was told to present herself at her assessment. The viewer is thus deliberately challenged; this is clearly not the stereotype of the sweet, innocent disabled person.

I have had a few such assessments over the years. In each, I have found it best to be as honest as possible, telling the assessor what I can and cannot do. Can I cook for myself? Nope. Wash myself? Nope. Dress myself? Sort of. And so on. I have found it has given me broadly the amount of support I need to live independently. The thing is, I think the reason why others have reacted so strongly against this monologue is because there is a grain off truth to it. The assessment system sometimes forces people to exaggerate their impairment in order to get the level of support they think they need. The Disability News Service article cites people with hidden disabilities who say this film made them feel angry and distressed, as if it was accusing them of benefit fraud personally. I suspect those whose impairments aren’t as obvious and physical as mine might see it as a personal attack by illustrating strategies they might use, perhaps unconsciously. They argue that the assessment system is fundamentally geared towards those of us with physical disabilities by asking what people are and are not physically capable of, and so disenfranchises people with hidden or mental impairments. You can still be disabled even if you can do everything on the assessor’s checklist.

I can certainly see why beginning to articulate such moral ambiguities might cause certain people to feel challenged. Whereas people like me tend to want to minimise our disabilities and get on with life as independently as possible, albeit with the right support and equipment, others seem to feel forced to highlight the degree to which they are impaired. The way in which Carr describes her neighbour asking if he could borrow her powerchair for his assessment because ”You never know what will happen in a year or so” might well strike an uncomfortable chord in some. I have written on here before about how increasing numbers of people now seem desperate to have their (usually hidden) disabilities recognised; I think it’s pretty obvious why they would find a film like this, which addresses the subjects of benefit fraud and whether someone really qualifies as disabled head on, so challenging. However, it is only when we begin to address subjects like benefit fraud to a wider audience, articulating it’s problems and ambiguities, that we can start to dispel some of the dangerous stereotypes associated with it. Thus while I found this film problematic, it was also quite brave.

The Cult of Trump

It doesn’t look like we’re going to get a result from the states any time soon. I have been pondering what is happening there culturally: By claiming to speak for and represent an apparent ‘silent majority’, is trump doing something both sophisticated and insidious? He is a self-proclaimed millionaire who says he sides with the poor working class; a man who has been on television throughout his life yet who opposes the media and dismisses news as ‘fake’. Trump thus occupies a set of contradictory positions, perhaps most of all by claiming not to be a politician yet occupying the worlds most powerful political office. Does doing so let him appeal to the type of uneducated working class person, who may feel excluded from a Symbolic / Media sphere controlled by educated liberal ‘elites’? Newspapers and TV channels are usually controlled by people educated enough to reject the views of people like Trump and his supporters, which is why such views do not get much representation in the media. But by telling his supporters that they are an underrepresented majority whom he alone stands for, Trump lets his supporters believe that their reactionary, xenophobic views are as intellectually valid as any other, and that the only reason why they are not represented in the Symbolic is that the ‘elites’ are biassed. Trump thus legitimises the simplistic, reactionary thinking of the right by establishing himself as a figurehead for it. Due to him, people think it’s okay to be an uneducated xenophobe, and such thinking is rejected by the media not because it’s flawed, but because the media is controlled by despotic elites.

He thus effectively empowers right-wing reactionism by framing those who reject it as an oppressive, elite minority. Ignorance and the rejection of education, especially higher education, is framed as advantageous; this also allows Trump to establish himself as his supporters sole source of information. Trump therefore has a hoard of ignorant, reactionary zealots following him with cult-like fervour. I find that very concerning indeed: whatever the outcome of the election, such a state of affairs, with so many people following one despotic, egotistical man so blindly, is surely very worrying. Whether he did so intentionally or not (and I rather doubt he is intelligent enough to make such a plan) trump has set himself up as a messianic figure to his supporters, both of the people and superior to them. This means that if he looses the election, his followers are so brainwashed that they would simply see it as another form of oppression by evil liberal elites, refuse to accept the result and probably become violent.