Monthly Archives: September 2017

Take a Knee

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A flag is just a piece of cloth. What it’s supposed to represent – an equal playing field for all, justice for all – is not being adhered to and has not been, ever, in the history of the US.

Remember these protests started under Obama’s administration, as a protest against police brutality. Only Trump could make it all about himself and some perverse idea of patriotism, where one doesn’t question how loyalty to this ‘flag’ trumps (pun intended) keeping racist law enforcement officers in check.

But since The Donald has decided to put his rather profane tuppence ha’porth in, let’s use it to question what is really important here. In truth, no flag matters. What is done supposedly in the name of the flag does. The flag is no more than a human extension of the Pavlov’s dog experiment. I support those taking a knee because what they are protesting for (actual civil rights, the right to not be killed by endemic racism) is more important. If you are proud of your country (and by this I mean any country, not just the U.S.), know exactly what it is you’re proud of. When it comes down to it, and if one’s grasp on history is solid, and if one is scrupulously honest, it’ll end up that you’ll be proud of some things, of other things not so much. Let the country that is without sin cast the first stone.

The danger is, during this political paradigm shift (and we are still in the midst of this shift) that revisionism of history is rife. We have the situation in Germany where partly (to the best of my understanding) what the AfD set their stall out on is whitewashing German history, especially that of the Third Reich, as something to be proud of, that ‘others’ had wilfully misinterpreted. How can one be proud of that part of one’s history which included mass genocide? And this point could be said of many countries, including the US. Including the UK. Trump and Brexit happened, to a large extent, due to people’s ignorance of their own imperialist, genocidal, racist histories.

Pride in a flag, for pride’s sake, if the foundation of what that flag represents, is ridiculous. Pride in an anthem, a song, is indefensible if the human rights that have been nominally enshrined in law are not being accorded to all citizens, irrespective of colour, creed, sex, gender, sexual preference, power and wealth status. There is ample evidence to show us that the US has little respect for the rights of its African-American citizens. The very presence of a man like Trump in the White House and his penchant for the company of white supremacists and self-described Nazis is a very testimony to this. The symbols that we once held dear unquestioningly are being called into question. It’s long overdue. Men like Kaepernick remind us that rather than slavishly adhering to the status quo, our citizenship calls upon us to question whether it is fit for purpose, or indeed, if it ever was. And the evidence and history taken objectively, would strongly indicate that it never has been.

The late great Stéphane Hessel wrote about a ‘Time for Outrage’. Outrage is only the beginning point. It’s the precursor of change, and holds the potential of change for the better, for everyone. Some people will not want change, simply because change, even when it is for the better, is not easy. Some people will not want change, because they see change as an attack on their status and supremacy in the world order. Those latter are probably not wrong, but they must not stand as an impediment to change for the better for the majority. We are on a knife’s edge balance in the West when Germany, for 28 years a beacon of hope to the power of people and progressive thinking, to the art of the possible rather than the cynical deal, can have 1.3 citizens who ignored their own history and voted in the far-right to the Bundestag again. The damage has been done, and nationalism has made its inroads. The road that this ultimately leads to can be changed, however. It’s not too late for that yet, if we remain conscious of the difference between superficial nationalism and deeper citizenship.

Nationalism only appeals to those who are childish and sheep-like in their thinking. Those who deal in the vicious pettiness of playground politics. Those who like their inane saluting, doublespeak, symbolism and who find comfort in the denigration of others. This is not ‘love of country’. Love of country, and deeper citizenship is when you care that everyone is afforded the same rights, the same opportunities, that everyone prospers. That’s what those who are taking a knee are highlighting. May they overcome.

#Takeaknee #sportisnotjustsport

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Self-pity – the nuclear option

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“We may have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea”.

The Donald’s ‘choice’ of language is revealing. Part of the #Trump schtick is to paint himself as a victim. This is also a trait I’ve noticed in the average #Trump supporter, when conversing with them, the average white male who feels victimised and put-upon for having to acknowledge the inequities of the past and present, and of narcissistic sociopaths of both sexes. It’s the trait of the adult that doesn’t want to grow up and acknowledge uncomfortable truths about themselves and the world they’ve created for themselves. It’s the trait of inmates and children of nursery and reception-going ages, both of whom I’ve worked with.

This sort of trait is not confined to a type, as such: One can be supremely talented, be an intellectual high flyer, be an average Jo(e), be a rare beauty, be plain. Ironically the place where I’ve seen this sort of self-pitying characteristic least is in special needs children. I know about this intently, because I was prone to this trait, and really had to come to a place in myself to re-frame my thinking on it – and it is still a work in progress. It’s an easy place to slip to, where everyone else and the world is at fault, without taking the time to do the adult, accountable thing and take stock of one’s own perspective. What are my patterns, and how do I overcome them?

Although this is still a theory in formation, there are two reasons that I can see that Trump is prevailing: 1. He is tapping into this infantile sense of injustice without challenging the recipients of his message to challenge themselves to rise above their own inner toddler and 2. He has authenticity. Now, I know there is a lot of evidence that could be thrown against that last statement, but hear me out, because this is key: He is authentically an asshole and he is living his truth in that. There’s a lack of pretence there that is clearly speaking to his supporters. And until people in opposition realise this, and start to think about how to combat it, we will always lose the argument, no matter how much evidence we have to the contrary.

Because the reality is: He is not put upon, and he has choice. He is choosing to rattle the sabre and poke the bear. There seems to be a lack of education and understanding about the effects of nuclear war, which back in the 80s was just par for the course. Every school child had seen ‘The Day After’, we all knew about Hiroshima, and we all understood the lyrics of Sting’s ‘Russians’ (time for a re-release called ‘Americans’). Mr. Sumner was accurate about the Russians loving their children – I’m not convinced pro-Trump Americans do, or that, due to a lack of education and understanding, they understand the Pandora’s Box that Trump is promising to unleash. Judging by the plethora of bombastic tweets in support of him, they don’t. Who would, having seen even the pictures of Hiroshima, would wish that for the world?

Mr. Trump has a choice; and he is choosing to take the lowest road possible. Perhaps in a bid to boost his flagging ratings and his dwindling crowds. His pronouncements are normalised and a logical outcome of the normalisation of white male privilege and a failure in our systems of teaching and enforcing personal accountability in our society. If we all survive the Trump presidency (my T-shirt is already on order), we have to focus on what is important: our interdependency, an insistence on equality and equal representation, respect for our differences and for our planet. The only point of being lead down a dark path is to embrace the light when we see it.

I’m going to leave you with a quote from Frankl, who was, the more I discover about him, an amazing character. One thing I did not know until recently was that he chose to go to Auschwitz. He had a safe passage to the US, but his parents were being deported to Auschwitz and he chose to go with them. So not only did he make a choice – he chose love. It’s always there, folks. In our words. In our deeds. In our reactions. You are not helpless. You have power, if you choose to use it. If you choose to live mindfully. If you do not, no matter your circumstances, you are a hamster on a wheel, an eternal victim of your own whining 3-year old. Ask yourself – isn’t it time to embrace being an adult, with all the wonderful joys and challenges that entails? There’s little point in being king for a day (or in Trump’s case, 7.25 more years and counting) if one’s head does not have the strength to bear the crown. There’s little point in being Emperor if the rest of the world can see, plain as day, that you have no clothes. That you’re just a big whining man-baby in a suit who, through circumstance, has access to the biggest and most dangerous toy in the world. Even standing on the precipice of obliteration, let’s see this for what it is. A choice.

“The one thing you can’t take away from me is the way I choose to respond to what you do to me. The last of one’s freedoms is to choose one’s attitude in any given circumstance.”
― Viktor E. Frankl

In the shadow of a giant

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In the shadow of a giant
I was thinking about Sir Peter Hall the other day and did a Google of him – I was sorry to learn he had dementia. I’ve sung a great deal for dementia sufferers over the last few years, and the thought of that brilliant mind adrift caused me some sadness. I worked on the second tour of ‘As You Like It’ in the States, and was fortunate enough to experience playing at BAM in front of the Clintons, Lou Reed, Martin Scorsese and a whole host of other people whose names escapes me. Lucky enough to bask in the reflected glory of others.
 
About 9 months before meeting him, on a horrendously hilarious tour of ‘Death of a Salesman’ I read his autobiography, ‘Making an exhibition of myself’, so I knew all about his deep love of music and how that influenced his life. When I got the opportunity to audition for him, we spent a half hour just talking music. He then said ‘Well, I suppose we better hear you read’, which I did. Then he asked me to sing, so I sang the Habanera. I finished and he looked at me intently, and said: ‘Take care of that voice’. The next day I had the job.
 
I remember on the first day of rehearsal, some time in November, how delighted he was when he received his fish and chips and champagne from Judi Dench (apparently it was their ‘thing’). I remember his script on a music stand in the rehearsal room. I remember how he very firmly told me I could not use an Ulster accent for my one line, and how that amused me. Just the absoluteness of his tone that didn’t brook any argument – and why would one argue with Sir Peter? He’d earned his opinions on Shakespeare many times over.
 
I maybe didn’t get to see the brilliance of the director at that stage of his life, but he was definitely a great impresario. I remember when we got to LA and he stood on the stage and looked around, saying something along the lines of ‘My kinda town!’ Yes, it was cheesy and corny as hell. But it spoke of the irrepressible, daring, Barnumesque-impresario spirit of the man, and one could see the man who was a railway worker’s son who had made it to Cambridge, set up the RSC, taking a chance on bringing Samuel Beckett to London and putting on ‘Waiting for Godot’, and running the National Theatre.
 
A few years later, the director Michael Blakemore invited me for afternoon tea. It was a wonderful afternoon, and we talked about many things, including how my hero Laurence Olivier had backed Blakemore for the job of running the National, but that Peter had scuppered him for it at seemingly the 11th hour. Though it had clearly stung at the time, he expressed his admiration for Peter’s daring-do, political astuteness and gung-ho attitude.
 
I remember leaving Blakemore’s flat and wondering at the strangeness of life. These giants of theatre, whom I had read about in books, rendered human. And yet – they were giants. I know. There was an energy, a spirit there that was very special. And, having been lucky enough to encounter this spirit, I wonder will we ever see its like again.
 
We rarely appreciate events in our life as they happen. It’s one of the great tragedies of life, really. At the time, I totally didn’t appreciate how lucky I was to walk in the shadow of greatness. More often than I’d like to admit, all I saw was the shadow. But, similar to another Peter – Pan – the shadow is as necessary as the light-giver. And now, with the benefit of over a decade and retrospective wisdom, I can see the inspiration of those who have that extra brightness. To quote his beloved Bard:
 
“Be not afraid of greatness. Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and others have greatness thrust upon them.”