“We refuse to be tainted as activists”

Soledad O’Brien’s op-ed in the New York Times is an attempt to expose an uncomfortable truth: news media needs a #MeToo movement.

I left CNN more than seven years ago. But I watch its coverage, and that of other news networks — the panel-driven journalism that sometimes gives voice to liars and white supremacists; the excuse of “balance” to embolden and normalize bigots and bigotry by posing them as the “other side.” When I criticize CNN (as I do frequently on social media), the company attacks me as “more of a liberal activist than a journalist,” a common dig against journalists of color who criticize newsroom management.

…The thin ranks of people of color in American newsrooms have often meant us-and-them reporting, where everyone from architecture critics to real estate writers, from entertainment reporters to sports anchors, talk about the world as if the people listening or reading their work are exclusively white.

There are simply not enough of us in the newsroom to object effectively — not in TV, print or online, certainly not in management. So our only option is to mimic the protester’s strategy: Talk directly to the public and just talk loud.

…We refuse to be benched or tainted as activists or deemed incapable of objectivity, while white reporters are hailed for their “perspective” on stories.


Is the government going to break another promise?

I mentioned in a previous post that the UK government promised to ban dangerous “conversion therapy”, a form of psychological torture, two years ago.

Today, the UK House of Commons posted on Twitter:

How does #conversiontherapy affect the #LGBTQ community? Should it be made illegal? What would that mean to you? ‪@HoCpetitions‬ is investigating a petition calling for the practice to be made illegal. Click the image to share your insights

You’d think they’d be aware of the Memorandum of Understanding On Conversion Therapy In The UK, which was signed by NHS England, NHS Scotland, The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, The National Counselling Society, The Royal College of Psychiatrists, the UK Council For Psychotherapy and many others.

As it explained:

All the major psychological professional bodies in the UK have concluded that conversion therapy is unethical and potentially harmful.

Bullshit Hell in a handcart

“The culture war is an incredibly cheap way of getting votes”

This is a fascinating post on voters and “culture war” messaging.

Right-wing politicians love a good culture war. It’s no coincidence that the terms ‘political correctness’ and ‘woke’, both originating on the American left, have been eagerly seized by the right. They know it is an ideal way of stirring up indignation and deflecting attention from things they’d rather not discuss.

…A few left-wing activists can usually be relied upon to give the right-wing press the ammunition it needs by doing or saying something silly. Even a poorly considered comment or rebuttal can lead to stories that run for years, like Baa Baa Green Sheep and Winterval. On the basis of one person writing ‘racist’ on Winston Churchill’s statue, Boris Johnson has been able to cast himself as the defender of a monument that is not under any serious threat. He was at it again yesterday, attempting to spice up his lacklustre speech with a promises to defend the “statue of our greatest wartime leader” from, well, no-one really.

The problem for the left is that some of this stuff lands. It makes otherwise quite reasonable people cross. And it doesn’t need to make many of them cross… All it needs is enough people in the right places.


“LGBT lives are being lost”

Lockdown has acted as an amplifier for many social problems. One sign of that is the increase in LGBT+ people struggling with suicidal thoughts.

BBC News:

In total, eight charities told BBC News they had seen an increase in LGBT people accessing their support for suicide prevention.

The LGBT Foundation has received more calls about suicide “than ever before”.

Mermaids, which helps young trans people, has had to alert police following concerns about callers wanting to kill themselves

We know – and the government knows – that LGBT+ people suffer disproportionately from mental health issues due to multiple factors: discrimination, lack of family support, long waiting lists for essential treatment, social isolation and so on. Lockdown has stopped many essential support services, and it has of course also stopped the social contact and face-to-face support that some people find life-saving. Charities are trying to fill the gap, but many of them were desperately understaffed and underfunded long before lockdown.

Various branches of the UK government have spent the last month wrapping rainbows around their Twitter logos and proclaiming their support for the LGBT+ community. But it’s an empty gesture when again and again the government fails to keep its promises to LGBT+ people. It launched an LGBT Action Plan specifically to reduce suicides among LGBT people back in 2018 and has not implemented any of it. A year ago it announced a “rapid evidence review” of LGBT suicide. That hasn’t started. And two years ago this week it promised to ban conversion therapy, which has a horrific effect on LGBT+ people’s mental health. It hasn’t kept that promise either.

Health Hell in a handcart

“Only the wealthy get to survive the pandemic unscathed”

Deb Perelman has written an interesting piece in the New York Times about working parents in the time of COVID-19.

Why am I, a food blogger best known for such hits as the All-Butter Really Flaky Pie Dough and The ‘I Want Chocolate Cake’ Cake, sounding the alarm on this? I think it’s because when you’re home schooling all day, and not performing the work you were hired to do until the wee hours of the morning, and do it on repeat for 106 days (not that anyone is counting), you might be a bit too fried to funnel your rage effectively.

…The consensus is that everyone agrees this is a catastrophe, but we are too bone-tired to raise our voices above a groan, let alone scream through a megaphone. Every single person confesses burnout, despair, feeling like they are losing their minds, knowing in their guts that this is untenable.

Of course there is an element of privilege here: there are many people who, long before COVID, were forced to work very long hours and sometimes multiple jobs just to scratch a living (and in America, get healthcare). They didn’t get to write about it in the NYT.

But that doesn’t mean Perelman doesn’t have a point. The response to COVID-19 means that in many parts of the world, many workers are now expected to do their jobs in the same hours from home. In addition to their full-time job they’re also expected to look after and teach their children, which is also a full-time job. And when politicians talk about re-opening the economy, those parents clearly aren’t being taken into consideration.

I’ve heard from parents who have the luck of a grandparent who can swoop in, or the deep pockets for a full-time nanny or a private tutor for their child when schools are closed. That all sounds enviable, but it would be absurd to let policy be guided by people with cushioning. If you have the privilege to opt out of the work force and wish to, enjoy it. But don’t wield it as a stick to poke others with because far more people are being forced to “opt out” this year and will never professionally or financially recover.

I resent articles that view the struggle of working parents this year as an emotional concern. We are not burned out because life is hard this year. We are burned out because we are being rolled over by the wheels of an economy that has bafflingly declared working parents inessential.

I’m one of the privileged ones (although I’m ineligible for the financial support the government ensures furloughed workers and some self-employed people get to keep the wolf from the door, so I’m not that privileged). I was already a home worker, I don’t have to work specific hours and because I co-parent I still have a few days when I can work in silence without also having to amuse or educate my children. But the effect on my productivity and availability has still been catastrophic: while I cannot be available for half of the usual working week, the people who employ me expect me to be. Trust me, it’s hard to write an accurate piece about something complicated, let alone broadcast live to the nation, when your six-year-old is bored senseless and loudly demanding entertainment.

Muddling through is doable for a short time. I’ve done it for four months, albeit four months that have wiped out all my savings. But what if the new normal is nothing like the old normal? What happens if your employer expects you to be back full-time but your kids’ school is only taking them part time? Given the horrendous cost of commercial childcare, the only solution for some couples will be for one of them to go part-time, assuming the employer allows it, or to quit. Most of the people expected to go part-time or quit will be women.

And of course, things are even more difficult for single parents.

Even those who found a short-term solution because they had the luxury to hit the pause button on their projects and careers this spring to manage the effects of the pandemic — predicated on the assumption that the fall would bring a return to school and child care — may now have no choice but to leave the work force. A friend just applied for a job and tells me she cannot even imagine how she would be able to take it if her children aren’t truly back in school. There’s an idea that people can walk away from careers and just pick them up where they left off, even though we know that women who drop out of the work force to take care of children often have trouble getting back in.

This isn’t really about COVID. It’s about a sudden economic shock making existing fault lines deeper, amplifying the existing inequalities so that they affect a wider group of people. It’s about the hypocrisy of a largely male political class who have the resources to pay for high quality childcare, education and healthcare for their own families but deny it to everybody else. Childcare, education and health are not costs to be avoided; they’re investments in – and insurance for – the future.

LGBTQ+ Technology

It’s never “just a joke”

I wrote about The Last of Us Part 2 the other day, and one of the things I mentioned was its portrayal of LGBT+ characters. One thing I didn’t mention was that their very existence was enough to rouse an army of entitled man-babies to scream about political correctness destroying video games, as they have with many other video games that had the temerity to centre characters who weren’t straight white male “bros”.

I also didn’t mention the way LGBT+ characters are portrayed in other video games. This is from the marketing around GTA V, a very popular title that will be re-released for next-generation consoles next year. It’s considered one of the jewels in gaming’s crown.

It’s nighttime in the game and the streamer, playing as a middle-aged man, approaches a group of people standing outside of a club. They’re all broad-shouldered with cut biceps, and they’re wearing an assortment of wigs, crop tops, mini skirts, lace stockings and bikini bottoms. Chest hair pokes out from some of their shirts, and under layers of dramatic makeup, a few jawlines are dusted with stubble. The tight clothing highlights obvious crotch-level bulges.

The streamer’s character walks up to one of these NPCs and says, “Hello, sir. I mean, madam. I mean, whatever.” He turns to another and says, “Well, hello, mid-op.” And then a third: “Hey, you need to keep taking your hormones!” And then he pulls out a crowbar and beats one of them to death.

The defence? It’s satire. Just a joke. And anyway, the game doesn’t discriminate: you can beat cisgender sex workers to death too.

Let’s see how the audience responds to such clever satire.

…there are dozens of videos featuring GTA V players happily hunting down and killing trans characters, because they are trans.

What you see on screen is a reflection of the lack of diversity behind the scenes. The games industry is largely male (over 70% of employees are men), and the Scottish developer of GTA is no exception. Engadget reports that in 2019, women who worked for GTA V’s developer earned 29.3% less than their male colleagues for similar jobs and 91.2% of senior positions were held by men. Those figures were significant improvements over previous years.

When the only perspective you have belongs to straight white guys, the only perspective that matters to you is that of straight white guys. So your co-founder isn’t being ironic when he says GTA V tells “nuanced stories” and doesn’t trade in “archetypes”. There are nuanced stories, but only for the characters that are straight, white, cisgender and male.

The focus on such a narrow demographic doesn’t just affect what you see on screen. It affects who gets hired, who is valued, and who can get away with toxic behaviour.

Gaming has a problem with toxic men. Women have been trying to speak out about sexual harassment and abuse in and around the gaming industry for many years, and they were met with horrific online abuse as a result. Here’s Vox:

In the fall of 2014, under the premise that they were angry at “unethical” games journalists — a lie that persists today — thousands of people in the games community began to systematically harass, heckle, threaten, and dox several outspoken feminist women in their midst, few of whom were journalists. The harassment occurred under the social media hashtag “Gamergate,” which is still a hotbed of debate and anti-feminist resentment today.

…One of the most frustrating things about watching Gamergate unfold is that the seeds of it had been in place for years. Targeted online harassment against women had been occurring for years, across numerous communities, from men who spent years harassing one woman who complained of getting hit on at a professional conference to harassment of actors for playing unlikable women.

Here’s the New York Times on the latest attempts to detoxify the industry:

More than 70 people in the gaming industry, most of them women, have come forward with allegations of gender-based discrimination, harassment and sexual assault since Friday. They have shared their stories in statements posted to Twitter, YouTube, Twitch and the blogging platform TwitLonger.

…This isn’t the first time gaming has been said to be having its #MeToo moment. Last summer, several game developers went public with accusations of sexual assault, harassment and abuse, and were met with a swift backlash from the gaming community.

The article quotes researcher Kenzie Gordon:

The gaming industry is particularly conducive to a culture of misogyny and sexual harassment, Ms. Gordon said, because straight white men have “created the identity of the gamer as this exclusive property.” When women, people of color or L.G.B.T.Q. people try to break into the industry, she said, the “toxic geek masculinity” pushes back in ways that often lead to sexual abuse and bullying.

Gaming studios are often reluctant to defy those fans, Ms. Gordon said, but recently it has become clear that there is a demand for a variety of video games that appeal to all types of people, which requires more diversity among game designers and could necessitate changes in the industry.

LGBTQ+ Media

“Dear Baroness Nicholson”

This, by Munroe Bergdorf, is really something.

While this poisonous conversation may constitute an amusement to those who are in a position to pit their privilege against a minority, for people like me, it is an extremely painful onslaught on the very core of who we are.

It would be insulting your intelligence as well as my own and the intelligence of those who follow us both, to suggest that your tweets were posted in error. They were not out of character for a high profile politician who has a long and proven record tweeting what I consider to be cruel taunts and unfounded allegations against trans people, including a child, and trans organisations such as Mermaids, for whom I am a proud patron.

…I worry that your activity during the last few hours speaks to the truth behind your apology. That you are more concerned for your own reputation as complaints gather and grow by your name than you are for any need to reconcile our considerable differences.


Manufacturing dissent

The Telegraph:

York Minster, on Twitter:

We have not received any formal complaints and at present the statue is not under threat from removal.

When challenged on Twitter by the story’s author, Gabriella Swerling (“If you haven’t received any complaints about the statue, perhaps refrain from telling journalists that you have”), York Minster replied:

We clearly stated over the phone that we have received no complaints (directly via tags here, emails, letter or phone calls etc) and that [we] were not reviewing the statue’s status. This has been quoted correctly in other media outlets.


Toxic, yes. Debate, no

Jayne Ozanne and Rabbi Elli Tikvah Sarah talk about trans people’s fears about GRA reform in The Guardian. It’s a perspective that the UK edition of the paper rarely allows into its pages.

…people must have an equal opportunity to be heard, particularly by those in power. Few trans people have access to national news platforms to counter the views laid against them. If we listen only to the loudest voices, or worse, silence those we don’t wish to hear, things can quickly turn toxic.

A prime example of this toxic discourse is how the conversation about “single sex spaces” for women has evolved. Trans women have been safely accessing these spaces for years. We are deeply concerned that leaked proposals calling for trans women to be barred from these spaces will ultimately victimise all women, trans or otherwise.

…we too have received hateful rhetoric for being lesbians and feminists. But this vitriol pales in comparison to that experienced by our friends in the trans community, who suffer prejudice and discrimination on a daily basis.



“Q deserves to live”

Mic Wright has published a typically opinionated post on Q Magazine, which he used to write for and which may have published its final issue.

Q has been around since the mid-1980s, and that means it’s been a key part of my musical life since the time when music felt like it was the only thing that mattered. It was, and is, a wonderful magazine featuring some incredibly talented writers. But like many magazines, it suffered from a series of really terrible decisions that did permanent damage to the brand.


When the history comes to be written — if it is ever written — the villains of the story will be execs. Suited and booted bastards who have no real interest in music, no understanding of its effect beyond graphs and demographic data. They were the ones who killed the music magazines with a late-90s and early-00s obsession for creating scenes arbitrarily and pumping out list after list after list. They — and their supine editor-in-chief minions — were the ones who spent thousands upon thousands on cover shoots with ‘stars’ that everyone hated.

For me, Q became inessential in the early to mid 2000s when its reaction to the rise of online competition was to make the core product terrible. Instead of the great journalism I loved so much, journalism that made you excited about hearing new music or rediscovering music you thought you knew, the magazine became a collection of lists. It wasn’t quite “32 bands whose singers are quite tall”, but it wasn’t far off.

As I wrote back in 2004:

Q has fallen into the trap of thinking that the number of reviews (and lists, and songs) is all that matters, so an issue with 137 album reviews is much better than one with 122. It’s a trait shared by many other music mags too, many of which have reduced the per-review word count to enable them to squeeze more reviews into the same space and put the all-important “we review everything!” claim on the front cover.

[monthly music magazines] should do what online media can’t do: provide readers with access to big-name acts and tell interesting stories. It could also dump the dross, and instead draw people’s attention to the music that’s worth bothering with – the four- and five-star records, not the two- and three-star ones.

The shallow, list-based approach lasted for years and the magazine shed thousands of readers. Things started to get better in 2009 when Paul Rees became editor. Me again:

I’d hate to see the freelance bill, but Rees seems to have looked up the Big Book of Good Music Writers, hired them, and given them enough space to do something interesting. The result is a magazine that’s as good as, if not better than, it was in its heyday.

And it’s even better now.


Q over the last five years under the modish captaincy of Ted Kessler, ably assisted by a gang of old and young lags, and a freelance pool that has become more diverse with each passing month, has become genuinely brilliant. The final issue, if it is the final issue, is a masterclass in writing about right now alongside genuinely powerful reminiscences of scenes and people gone by. Q deserves to live. I hope it gets a rescue deal like MixMag and Kerrang! before it, because to go beneath the waves because of an unprecedented economic crisis would be a tragic end.

I’ve been Very Online since the 1990s, but I’m still a great believer in the power of magazines: I buy digitally rather than print these days, but whether it’s Cosmopolitan or Q, Total Film or Time, magazines deliver something valuable that even their online equivalents can’t. It’s not just the writing; it’s the curation, the presentation, the lack of distraction. Online reading is a speedy shower. Magazines are a luxurious bath.

I’ve quoted Q co-creator David Hepworth before: a new issue of a good magazine feels like getting a letter from a friend. Q has felt like a friend for almost all of my musical life, and I’ll be very sad if I have to say goodbye.