Monday, 23 February 2015

Responses to Responses to John Legend & Common's Oscar Speech

Last night's Oscars saw musicians John Legend and Common win the award for Best Original Song after they composed and performed on the soundtrack for Martin Luther King biopic 'Selma,' which documented the struggles of the civil rights movement.

But whilst the song is a powerful one, it was their acceptance speech that rattled cages around the world.

I learnt a lot from their acceptance (their real names are John Stephens and Lonnie Lynn?!) but the main brunt can be summarised in a quote from Mr. Legend's half:

"We wrote this song for a film based on events that happened 50 years ago, but we say that Selma is now, because the struggle for justice is right now. [...] We know that right now, the struggle for freedom and justice is real: we live in the most incarcerated country in the world. There are more black men under correctional control today than under slavery in 1850."
 First of all, this statistic is true, but as pundits have pointed out, slightly misleading - the use of the term 'correctional control' includes not just prisoners but people on parole (i.e. not in prison just right now.) But despite this adjustment, Legend's point stands: that there is a problem - and it's not that the prosecution system has improved over the past 165 years.

When faced with this fact, many people flocked to Twitter to espouse something along the lines of this little nugget of wisdom:

"If so many black men are going to prison, maybe they should stop committing crimes! Duh! Problem solved."
 Now the reason this is such a popular opinion is because of how easily digestible it is. It makes perfect sense, right? Don't want to go to prison? Don't be a criminal! But despite sounding entirely sane (and I've no doubt that people who hold this opinion are reasonble people) it's a dangerous response that negates the entire point of his speech: that there is a problem in America.

What Common & Legend cleverly did was indicate that there was a problem without saying expressly what is causing it; a difficult topic that they left everyone else to debate.

The most obvious is that the system is inherently racist, and there's good evidence to suggest this: if you are black you are likely to get a 20% longer sentence for the same crimes than a white man, and 25% less likely to be given sentence below guidelines. Before we sip our tea and shake our heads condemingly, this isn't just a problem in the U.S. either: black and Asian criminals in the UK are 20% more likely to receive jail time than white ones.

This doesn't begin to answer why so many black men are convicted criminals in the first place, but that topic isn't as hard to explore as it may sound.

Aristotle is quoted as saying that "poverty is the parent of crime," and throughout history we have more statistical correlations to prove this than... well... black prisoners. Simply put? It's tough being black in America.

 So my response to that response: should black people stop committing crimes? Yes. Should we appraise the system to check for systematic oppression before we condemn them? Yes.

Arguably, certainly, irrefutably, definitely: yes.

Monday, 2 June 2014

Chopper in Church Crookham

A helicopter lands in Fleet.

Rooftops are shaken, dogs bark. The conservative Tories in their conservatories emerge blinking into the evening air to find out what the bloody hell the racket is all about.

You can hear it land in the distance. Some come to the streets to go and find out where, and in the living rooms, you can imagine the people looking out and asking 'Don't they have anything better to do?' whilst Paddy or Ant or Dec or Jeremy shout on the television.

The locals are stirred. Drama seldom comes to visit Fleet, and when it does, it is treated as a carnival. Responding officers reassure the people: 'Nothing too dramatic.' Someone needs surgery. An ambulance wouldn't get him to Southampton Hospital fast enough.

Someone, somewhere, despite the official reassurances, finds this dramatic.

The generation of content-generators set to work. iPhones are held up in that familiar craning arm seen often at concerts and car crashes. They point out something of interest, something worth documenting.

'What's the ISO on that?' one camera man, holding up a lens longer than his forearm, snidely asks another. He doesn't respond. Cameras, much like other phallic objects, are cared about more by men who worry about whether or not they're using them enough.

Friday, 23 May 2014

I Learnt From The Best

Murakami taught me how to live alone: go food shopping and get a case of beer with your groceries. Don't eat things if you don't know where they came from or how they're made. Read a book once in a while.

Remember that sex isn't something you can use to judge yourself or judge other people. It rarely reflects on those involved, it just happens sometimes - like rain in Summer, or sunshine in Winter. Enjoy both. Never become too attached.

Cook nice things, even if you have to burn a thousand slices of toast and occasionally live off of instant noodles. Go outside once in a while.

Realise that exercise is necessary. This might mean jogging on the spot in your room because you can't breathe well enough to run, or doing sit-ups alone because gyms are expensive and frightening. Take care of your body. It's going to belong to an old person one day.

Never turn down friends to do something that can wait. You don't know how lucky you are until they stop calling.

If someone is sat on the side of the street in the cold, asking you for money, have the courtesy to apologise if you don't want to. Better yet, give them some change, without being condescending and worrying about how they're going to spend it. If you don't need something, find someone who does.

Realise that Store Cards are there to make money for that shop. Care about your appearance, but not so much that you find yourself in debt.

Meet new people, and be there for those you already know. Love one another.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014


You'll notice that the phrase 'unrequited love' has been around a lot longer than this concept of 'the friendzone.' There's a reason for this.

The concept of liking someone who doesn't like you back isn't exactly new - it's a stale form of heartbreak that has inspired countless works of art over the centuries. But the concept of the friendzone (and particularly the material used to interpret and explore it in popular culture) is a sour addition to this idea.

The friendzone, in its purest form, tells us exactly how obsessed with sex we are in Western civilization. The idea that you should only be friends with an attractive girl - because let's face it, nobody seems to complain about men putting people in the friendzone - is not only laughed at, but is seen as a form of torture put to us by those fiendish ovary-coveting creatures known as women.

If you're one of those people who regularly laments 'the friendzone,' you've probably heard of women before - those people that your Mum has over for tea and conversation sometimes, those members of the population that grew lumps on their chests when you started secondary school, the ones that you've heard rumours about not having the same bits as you.

That's the thing about the concept of 'friendzoning' - it's innately hostile to women. How dare she not want to be more than friends! It's not a choice, if we're to believe pictures on 9GAG and enraged forum posters. It's an insult.

The idea gets yet more absurd when you look at it from the perspective of any person who isn't heterosexual. I personally like men AND women - and boy would you believe the amount of friendzoning that gets me. If I were to take offence at every person that I find attractive not wanting to reciprocate that, I'd surely get arthritis from all of the spiteful tweets and vengeful 4chan posts I would be forced to make.

But you're reading this, and you're begrudgingly agreeing, because in the past you've liked someone who has admired you but not enough to have a romantic relationship with you. You got frustrated, you wanted more - hell, maybe you even tried to express your feelings, and if so, good on you.

But say she still wasn't interested, and you were left at a crossroads. At this point, you either get sour, or you get wise. Say you get sour - you blame it on her, you blame it on the friendzone, you go to support groups, you go on WikiHow and read their article on how to get out of the friendzone.

Or you get wise. You realise that this is part of growing up, and that if you lived your whole life like this, you'd have a tough time coexisting with attractive people. That maybe, just maybe, the friendzone doesn't exist.