Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Troubled with Witches

Dear B__

Last year, it was reported on Radio 2 that police and parents in a certain English county - for such a thing could only ever occur in Britain - had been granted permission by the local government to approach and question the motives of adult males using the community park at the same time as children. Whilst I cannot quote any specific statements, it was clear that many - men and women alike - saw this episode as a bizarre epitome of the hysteria and infringement of personal freedom that has exploded admist British culture as a result of increased awareness of child abuse and the safety measures that are now in place to neutralise it. Many stated that they felt embarrassed and insulted that others had immediately branded them as a suspected child molester on the basis of their gender, age and circumstances – we can assume without a moments thought that a woman wouldn’t be treated in the same way if she were seen alone in a park where children happened to be playing.

I endured a similar experience today. I had just finished helping at a function hosted at a local church hall, and was venturing across the lobby to use the lavatories, located along a short corridor. But my journey was terminated when the old witch guarding the entrance hall like a hunched,
voluminous old griffin - always placed in me in the mind of Alyona Ivanovna from Crime and Punishment - leaped forth and barred my way, declaring that I could not go any further because there were children in the room at the end of the corridor. And even when I informed her that I had no intention of going anywhere near that particular room, she triumphed with rebuttal that would have silenced Cicero - "It’s the law” . That, of course, justifies everything. There's no point in questioning it, because that's how it is - even though, of the two of us, Alyona was likely to cause greater psychological damage to those chilren than I ever could in a lifetime. The narrators of fairytales have been warning us for centuaries of the dangers mysterious old women present to the innocence and purity of young children. And I needn't remind you of the countless number of such tales in which children are antagonised by vengeful, carnal, sadistic step-mothers.

Had I been able to subdue my embarressment and confusion,
I would like to have asked her to produce written evidence of this ‘law’ and to explain what gave her the right to enforce it - but I appreciate the fact not everyone will refuse to accept an apparent ‘truth’ without supporting evidence. I also couldn’t help wondering that, if it is now against 'the law' for an adult male to merely approach a room in which there are a children - or to enter a room near to where children are present - will there come a time when every adult male must immediately evacuate an entire property the moment a child steps across the threshold?

I am in no position to transform this tale into a lengthily meditation on the politics and morality of child protection laws. That is a task best left to a future historian, or someone with better knowledge and understanding of their context. Neither do I wish to question the need or purpose of these laws; I believe in the power of childhood idealism and innocence just as strongly as any parent or politician, especially in the face of a cynical, captalist world in which children are forced to grow up sooner than Nature intended.
My grievence is with the way in which these laws make us feel about ourselves and others. I accept that Alyona had a duty to prevent me from entering the presence of the children under her guard - what I do not accept is the assumption that, because I am above the age of eighteen and belong to the male gender, it was automatically assumed that I would present a threat to their innocence. Just as an adult has no right to penetrate and destroy the purity of a child, neither does another adult - regardless of rank or standing among the local women's guild - have the right to assume every beneath their scrutinous gaze adult male is a sexual predator on the basis of his gender and circumstances, until a lengthily, embarressing interrigation process is undergone to prove otherwise.

I hasten to add that those who do point and shout like marytrs - such as Alyona - are those naturally garenteed to avoid being negatively labelled a paedophile themselves. Since the hysteria surrounding child protection is unlikely to lapse - if it has reached this stage, where an adult cannot even approach a room in which there a children without having been 'cleared' by the 'authorities' - such people should consider themselves extremely fortunate. For where will this fear and discrimination eventually lead? To a society ruled by fear and hysteria, in which every man will be a suspected paedophile - and the only way to deflect that accusation will be to accuse others, for none will suspect you of the crime if you are united with them in incriminating another.

The Cruible by Arthur Miller has a special place in my heart; it was the first text that I tackled for an assignment during the early phase of my university existence. It holds nostalgic value, but I will never forget the way in which it demonstrated so vividly how social
hysteria tore apart a seemingly uniform community, through a whirlwind of fear and accusation. The only way to avoid being branded a witch was to accuse someone else of the crime, deemed so despicable by those in charge. I can easily see British society undergoing a similar transformation. Just like witchcraft, to be suspected of paedophilia is a disgrace that words cannot alone cannot convey the weight of. To have ‘laws’ in place which allow 'people' – the Alyonas of this world who needn't worry about being branded by such shame themselves because they are old women in charge of designating rooms for the local 'Quit Smoking' and Yoga class - to justly accuse others of it until proven innocent can only lead to a social catastrophe far more damaging than any recession. Just as The Crucible provided a historical allegory, highlighting the corruption that was erroding American society at the time it was written, so can it provide a contemporary allegory for the impending destruction of a society torn to shreds with the Alyonas of the world leading the charge - safely protected behind a sheild of protocal.

Paedophilia is contemporary Britiain's counterpart of Salem's witchcraft. While we know within our hearts that it is amoral,
we cannot deny that contemporary beliefs towards it have been generated by external forces; government and media. Since the extreme notions of the evil surrounding paedophilia have been created by two governing forces from within society - out of its very own crucible - we thus find that society itself is to blame for the shreds of hypocracy and fear in which it now resides on the matter of child protection. And to cover up the damage that it has inflicted upon its own children, society dresses up its intentions to counter-act that hysteria with 'the law' in order to make you feel even worse - and to create even further distance between you and the Alyonas who are exempt from accussation, and live to accuse because they know it only too well. Thus, society tightens his grip around your throat and keeps you firmly attached to the seat of your office chair.

I don’t think the people who create these ‘laws’ understand the damage they are weaving. While the children remain protected, the adults who they supposedly protected from are faced with shame and embarrassment. And just as hysteria and mistrust tore Salem to pieces, so will our world become one ruled by fear of what little trust we have left in one another. The 'law' that prevented me from using the downstairs lavatory at the church hall today is the same law that encourages the Alyonas of this world - and all of us besides - to see evil within each other, evil that only a CRB check - a piece of paper and a computer system - can clear, because a piece of paper and a computer could never lie to you.
How can those who write these laws then say that they are trying to wrap the world in cotton, when beneath the happiness of the children lies the fear, resentment and bitterness of the adults who can never look one another in the eye – or even glance at a child - without wondering what lurks behind those eyes? Child protection laws may well prevent those with genuine intent harm children from accomplishing their plans - but why must every man who can be clasffied an 'adult' have to suffer the humiliation of being pushed under that category until written evidence shows otherwise? If 'the law' is put in place to prevent crime, why must it then reinforce those invisible but continually felt barriers that create the crime in the first place?

An acquaintance I once knew lived on a street frequented regularly by groups of school children journeying to school. So intense was his fear of being branded a paedophile that whenever a certain time window came about - in which he knew there was a likely chance of children passing his window - he moved to the opposite side of the house, away from any window facing the street, should a neighbour or passer-by catch him looking at the children in a way that might suggest he intended to drag them into his house and devour their innocence. Another related how, when walking to work one day, he found himself mustering every concious effort within his grasp to look away as a nursery group walked by on the opposite side of the road - even though he knew he had no natural urge - moral or immoral - to want to look at them in the first place - should those stern-faced Alyonas escorting the children catch his glance and scream for the police.

I draw your attention to the fact these two cases have concerned men. There has been a great deal of controversy lately in the UK over an incident of child abuse conducted by a woman. From the way in which the matter has been addressed, I am certain that the reason for this controvery is because the public have been presented with the realisation that women are just as capable of paedophilia as men. Are the vile crones and wicked step-mothers of the fairytale realm beginning to rise from the crucible and find a form in the modern world? Is it time we took notice of such stories as Hansel and Gretel and understood the reality of their raw meaning? And for how much longer will the Aylonas of this world remain immune to accusation?

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Auctore Deo - A Fragment... (IV)

January 2000
L___ Senior was unabashed enough to make it obvious that he hated me, since my cross-country running abilities did not meet his standards. Therefore, it was hard not to wonder if he invited the slippery product of his ejaculation to continue his work beyond the framework of Games hour.
My companions found it comical that Andrew L___ didn’t remotely resemble his father in hue or form. Whilst L___ Senior radiated with male egotism from every sharply chiselled corner, L___ Junior had the exterior of a starved beaver and the giggle of a five year old girl. With his yellowish hide, some were convinced that Andrew was his father’s love-child.
The only two qualities they seemed to share were an intense fetish for cross-country running, and the same brutal pleasure in using their eminence to crush others beneath the studs of their finely polished rugby boots.
In a lamentably weak parody of teen movie archetypes, Andrew had an extensive entourage in the year below who were sheltered by the guarantee of immediate protection from prosecution due to his father’s place among the staff - and the amount of sport-related awards carrying his name that adorned the trophy case strategically placed outside the lunch hall where every governer and potential parent could not avoid having it thrust under their noses.
The members of his circle were just as bland and soulless as he himself, though he had two in particular who could have been considered his lieutenants. Alex S_____, a rake-like object with pasty skin, ginger hair and a snub-nose that seemed to tilt even further skyward with every sneer of satisfaction that flashed across his face. The second was a rat-faced individual whose name I never learnt, but who merited a second glance only because it appeared as if an internal disease were slowly eroding his features from within.
History has exemplified that those with power - the loudest voices and most venomous tongues – use this privilege to mask their shame. Andrew appeared to have no cause for shame. He did it because he could, and nothing more. I have no doubt he exercised this privilege over countless students throughout the school. I was merely one statistic. I was going to say that he made use of his father's power in such a way that he could escape blame every time - but he wasn't clever enough for that. It was simply in place from the beginning; he didn't have to work for it at all. His father did it all for him. It is one of those things about the world I will never be able to understand - why vile bullies end up in positions of power, and maintain it even the majority can see them for who they really are.

My tormentors each selected a fragment of my appearance and character which they perceived worthy of ridicule, and took it upon themselves to remind me of it each day, perhaps under the impression that enough prompting would uproot that weed and in turn make me eligible for adequate society. For L___ and company, it was my skin.
I knew of Ch_____, and I also knew that certain others believed we were related. This assumption was based on nothing more than the fact we shared a similar skin tone. Being assumed to hail from Pakistain and to carry the name Mohammed was not an alien concept to me, but I saw no point in correcting those who crafted my identity as 'Indian Stan'. To such people, any person a single shade darker than white was a paki - and every single person under that category came of the same stock. And even if I had told them that I was in fact a quarter Burmese - and three quarters British - they would have only assumed that Burma were a mythic extension of India that they hadn't heard of, just as heavily scented with curry powder as every other Asian country.

At first, being told that I resembled Ch_____ did not concern me. But Andrew deemed it necessary to tell me so every time I had the misfortune of him invading my presence (I went to extreme lengths to avoid his). It didn’t matter when or where. He told me in the corridor. He told me in the lunch hall. He told me before concerts. He told me at prize giving ceremonies. He told me in the presence of teachers. He must have alloted a five minute appointment in his crowded schedule each day - when not away winning sports trophies or reporting to his father -
to seek me out and impart his casual observation to me. And from the womanly squeal of delight he ejaculated as he swaggered back to the safety of his lackeys, I knew this wasn’t simply a casual observation.
I’d be told before that I resembled other people. It hadn’t merited any more than a single mention. But something about this particular case was giving Andrew L___ orgasmic pleasure. It was as if he did it to satisfy an urge within him that he couldn’t contain. Or he was determined to stamp it permanently into my brain as something to be ashamed of.
I frequently saw them gathered in a group, the rat-faced one stabbing a carrot-like finger in my direction and clearly mouthing the words “Don’t that kid look like Dave?” as the others nodded and gurgled in agreement.
Then they took to calling me 'David's brother'. Again, it didn't matter where I was - Andrew took every opporunity within his grasp to remind me of my supposed heritage, even though he knew my 'brother' and I carried different surnames.

Then my physics teacher began calling me ‘David’, and my patience expired.
Being labelled with someone else’s identity made me feel as if my own had been torn away. My individuality had been snatched while I wasn’t looking, stamped to dust beneath Andrew L___’s perfectly polished rugby boots. I began to resent Ch_____. He had stolen my identity, leaving me nothing but a severed shadow.
The truth of the matter was far simpler.
One morning as I stood in the playground talking to A______ and C_____ before registration, L___ and his cronies sidled up and began their usual song about how much I resembled their classmate.
A______ asked them – “Who’s David Ch_____?”
L___ slithered away, tingling with anticipation at the thought of his approaching stunt, and returned moments later dragging behind him a small, thin Indian boy.
“This is Ch_____”, he declared, no longer able to contain his delight.
It wasn’t Ch_____. His skin was several shades darker than either of ours put together. But the suggestion was clear as day, and Andrew and his friends sailed away rooting with heartless laughter.
It didn’t help that, at the time, I was experiencing insecurities about the colour of my skin, believing that being just a shade darker than white made me subhuman, placed on the earth only for my peers to make the subject of jokes about terrorism and curry.
A______ thought it ironic that L___ was making fun of my skin colour.
Perhaps he was insecure – about his own.
The thought of sharing the Sixth Form block with Andrew L___ was one of many that made my blood run cold, and shattered any whimsical optimism over the benefits of remaining at the school to undertake A-Level studies. I was certain that his poisonous spite and organism gurgling would become intolerable if I had to share the same quarters with him for a whole year. There had been, at least, some separation from him while in the lower school.
My expectation was not met, for he never spoke a word to me once he - flanked by his cheerleaders - sailed into the Lower Sixth without a hitch in my final year. But it came as a surprise to no one when he and his sister were bestowed with prefect privileges for reasons that do not require elaboration.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

'Sensible' literature

I am unlikely to forget that 'episode' in one of my earliest English classes with Mr. G______, when he set us the task of naming pre-20th centuary 'books of fiction', in an attempt to get us appreciating 'the classics'

"Pinocchio" I suggested, those four syllables prompting an erruption of hysterical laughter.

"Sensible books of fiction, Stanley" remarked Mr. G_____ once the tide had subsided, and he'd wiped away a tear.

This being the world that we populate, it is likely that those I entertaining that day were under the impression that Walt Disney created Pinocchio. I cannot describe the pleasure I would take nowadays in shoving a Penguin edition of the latter - with an introduction by Jack Zipes - under their noses.
I am happy to say that that episode has in no way deformed my appreciation for Pinocchio in his many forms. The is one of my golden books. I could outline countless ways in which it can be called 'sensible', despite it's Voltarian randomness (I like to keep Pinocchio and Candide alongside each other). But I might argue that the sheer fact it is far from 'sensible' is the reason why it is still regarded as a 'classic' today, loved, appreciated and capturing the soul of the world like many other 'classics'.

We have thus come full circle - and what can I now ask myself? Does this shed greater light on the extent of Mr. G_____'s knowledge of literature, or did he know I was right all along? I'd also like to add that the boy sitting next to me that day - who laughed as heartily as everyone else - the following week was pouring over a pictoral edition of Alices' Adventures in Wonderland, another 'sensible' 'classic' that is under continual threat of being mistaken for a Disney original. I needn't say anything more.