Embracing Reality

(first published May 15th, 2019 on Vocal.Media)

Everyone is wise after the event. Of course, there will always be the few who claim to have known that something was wrong or would end badly if the circumstances did not change. An observer can always feign wisdom, whilst remaining unaffected.

Reality television is the modern equivalent of a gladiatorial arena. It has an audience baying for entertainment, the more outlandish, the better. Those who participate, the successful ones, understand that their life will end, in some form, within that arena. The lucky ones, mostly those who were early to the reality party, just get forgotten, a name for a pub quiz, ever to suffer the question; “didn’t you used to….?”

Though they might be long forgotten, both the gladiators and the fleeting television stars, reality entertainment remains. It is a guilty pleasure, even an actual pleasure, to watch people make fools of themselves, over-emotes and, if truth be told, destroy themselves, for our entertainment.

There are many who view reality television with disdain, seeing it as an inferior product, adding nothing to society or art. Whilst this might be true, what makes reality television so compelling and addictive is the thought of watching others make decisions that you feel you yourself would never make. It makes one feel a little smug, superior of intelligence. There is also the voyeur in all of us that wants to know about the minute of lives different from our own.

A better class of people you’ll not find..!

 

The Jeremy Kyle Show was cancelled this week after fourteen years on television. It was dropped due to a former guest, Steve Dymond, committing suicide a week after being subjected to a lie detector test on the show. The episode, which never aired, was about infidelity. On the show, Dymond was given a lie detector test, a common occurrence on the show when tackling this sort of subject matter, and the results were not favourable. A week after the taping of the show, Dymond committed suicide.

For those who do not know the show, it was one of the many shows influenced by the original show to expose the lower working classes and their ilk to the masses, The Jerry Springer Show. Springer’s show, aired from 1991 to 2018, was akin to a staged wrestling match, with guests regularly coming to blows during the tapings. Springer always seemed mildly amused by the proceedings unfolding in front of him, generally watching on in bemusement as the guests’ tempers flared and situations escalated.

Kyle, by contrast, seemed to view his guest with barely concealed disgust. Snarling and goading them, he would regularly shout guests down. The show aims for the lowest common denominator and unfortunately hits it. When, as is always the risk with anything that pushes the boundaries, something goes wrong, as it did as a result of the Kyle show, people want an explanation and they want someone to blame.

The tabloid press, swiftly followed by the main press, jumped all over the Dymond tragedy. The connection to The Jeremy Kyle Show was just too juicy a story, too emotive a headline, to ignore. A man killed himself because of a reality show and everybody was suddenly up in arms. The show goes too far, they said, the guest needs to be better supported after the shows, the guest needs to be better screened, to be more prepared for television and/or fame.

Ministers make pronouncements denouncing the sensationalism of certain reality shows, the “exploitation” of those who cannot perhaps deal with the negative impact and scrutiny that can come from being suddenly well known. The column inches created from such a tragedy, bemoaning the acceptance of such shows and regurgitating the same faux sadness at the tragic loss of life when with, perhaps, a little forethought, it could be avoided.

Um, do I have to?

 

The truth is, especially these days, television simply exists to attract potential customers for the companies that advertise around the programmes. The Jeremy Kyle Show did not run on television for fourteen consecutive years because it was a high brow, fine quality product. It ran for so long because it attracted viewers, a lot of them.

As distasteful as the show was, people enjoyed it. They enjoyed watching people, many of whom were from the lower social classes, make buffoons of themselves and prove themselves to be no better than their standing in society suggested. Shows such as The Jerry Springer Show and The Jeremy Kyle Show exist only because the masses allow them to.

Television companies show what people want to see—that is a fact. There are a plethora of reality shows on television, not all as extreme as the likes of the aforementioned, but The Real Housewives series and the likes of Jersey Shore, and TOWIE and Made in Chelsea in the UK, the appetite for this type of television shows no sign of abating.

Just like a prisoner getting thrown into the gladiatorial arena all those centuries back for the entertainment of an audience divested of personal involvement, reality television allows us to watch, judge, and comment without compassion or consequence. Because of this, the tragedy of someone like Dymond is unlikely to be the last of its kind.

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The Reality Is.

I must admit, right out of the gate, that I am not a fan of reality television. That is not to say it has no merit, or even that all reality television is terrible—though a lot of it is—it is just that, as an aspiring writer, looking at it from a purely selfish point of view, it is lazy television. When I say ‘reality television’, I am not referring to talent shows.

The likes of X-Factor, Britain’s Got Talent, The Voice, and other similar talent spotting, reality shows, though manipulated for emotive pull and viewers, they ask that the participants do something other than being pretty. It is still lazy television, but not in the same way, and talent shows are as old as television.

Not that laziness, in itself, is a reason not to make a show. If that were the case, here in the United Kingdom, we would not be subjected to ‘Indian/The Empire’ dramas every year on the BBC and Channel Four.

No, the issue with reality television is not originality or laziness, it is popularity. With the ever-increasing influence of social media, with popularity almost being more valuable to a business or client than quality or talent, being an ‘influencer’ is, unfortunately, an aspiration.

The likes of Love Island, with young, lithe-bodied, attractive individuals, engaging in soap opera-esque japes, proving wildly popular, and making celebrities out of those who would appear in it or similar programmes, such entities are an advertiser’s dream. With its youthful cast, Love Island attracts a similarly youthful, and, more pertinently, impressionable demographic.

For the more worldly-wise among us, the likes of Love Island and its ilk, are just harmless, frivolous, amusing time-wasters, after a day of dealing with real-life and relationships. We can watch smugly as those blessed with better looks than ourselves, a commodity coveted in western culture, struggle with the complexities of basic communication.

But in a society that is increasingly trying to embrace media would have you believe, a more equal, tolerant and balanced existence, where the conventional rom-com is frowned upon as selling and promoting a vision of life that is not only untrue but difficult or impossible to find, such notions are almost considered a type of propaganda, pushing a heteronormative ideal that many feel does not reflect the world that they know.

Astronaut, scientist, physicist, brain surgeon, professor….

 

The Bechdel test—a scene in a film or television show where two women communicate about something other than men—is routinely touted as a standard to aim for, not only as an expression of women not needing a man for significance, but also to indicate that there is more to life than pining for love. If it is to be believed that media saturation is impactful, a notion bared out by advertisers, how can Love island, or its ilk be considered harmless?

If supposedly sensible, mature adults can be offended and influenced by advertising, buying the latest phones or gadgets, or irked by a lack of representation and stereotypical depictions, how are the younger, more malleable of society expected to remain unaffected by the shenanigans of such programmes?

The whole premise of Love Island, the selling point and attraction of such programmes, are the interactions between the contestants. Though many of us may know, even the younger viewers, that some sections are scripted and edited to heighten the emotional impact and shock factor, it is still ’reality’, so one tends to, intrinsically, believe it.

Like, the now easily accessible, pornographic sexual images and films that are said to be warping the way some men view carnal encounters, such reality shows inform those who know no better, contorting how to communicate when courting.

The tantrums and rhetoric might make for compelling television, but as unwitting role models, regardless of whether they realise it or not, their antics and actions are absorbed and copied by those who see people whom they identify with on some level.

It might not necessarily be through their utterances on television, it could be via social media, and the commentary they put out in their feeds, it could be a shared experience that makes them connect.

Whatever it might be, these young people who populate these reality shows, displaying no other talent beyond being attractive and perhaps personable, give license to others to display the same improbable and extreme behaviours.

Unfortunately, with the seeming rewards on offer; fame, popularity, and riches, all things that with the modern world’s obsession with social media and rapid popularity are coveted, reality television has become an acceptable ogre.

As the world increasingly becomes digital and media consumed, the ability to interact with your fellow man may become one of the most sought after skills. If the youth of today, the Fortnite loving, social media perfect, conversation avoiding youth that are the future, are learning and taking their interpersonal cues from reality television, are we not, in the wake of ‘#me too’ and the ever-widening embrace of LBGTQ, taking one step forward and two steps back?

Reality television is obviously not going to disappear, as entertainment is something that the majority of society seek, and reality shows are proven entertainment. As long as advertisers feel that they will benefit and the programme-makers are attracting the advertisers, we will keep seeing vacuous, easy entertainment such as Love Island.

Oh Danny Boy, the racism is calling.

     Full disclosure. I am an Arsenal fan. For those who are not into football – soccer to our American cousins, even though the game here is played predominantly with the feet! – Arsenal football club and team, like any team in sport worldwide, has a nemesis. That nemesis is their near neighbours, Tottenham Hotspurs.

    The animosity between the clubs goes back to 1913 when then Woolwich Arsenal crossed London to become neighbours and frenemies of Tottenham. The fact that Arsenal has also been far more successful has been a sore subject for more than a century. 

    As much as I am a fan and, as is the way with any sort of tribalism, only wishing the worst for Tottenham Hotspurs as a team, as a devout Arsenal fan, I am a black man before a football fan. Race trumps tribalism. 

    One of their rank, Danny Rose, an accomplished left back, has been in the news recently. Never afraid to be outspoken, Rose spoke of his desire to end his playing days, as he is sick of the football authorities lack of action when it comes to racist abuse from fans. 

    Rose was, only a few years back, one of Europe’s, if not the world’s, best left backs. Both in terms of attacking and defending. Playing for Tottenham, a team considered to be just below the big boys of the two Manchester teams, City and United, Liverpool, Arsenal and in the past decade or so, Chelsea, Rose’s wage reflects that of a player playing at a club that is not quite top tier. 

    Turning twenty-nine in July, Rose is in the midst of his peak years. After a mentally challenging, injury-hit 2016-17 season, Rose found himself playing catch up, his career stalling as the team flourished.

    The recent spate of racial abuse toward black players in football, rearing its ugly head once more, against the backdrop of a pre-Brexit Britain and with far-right sentiment on the rise across Europe, Rose’s latest comments are those of a man tired of dealing with the politics of the game and disillusioned with it all.   

     Though reaction to Roses comments has been mostly positive, there has, predictably, been some backlash. The argument, misguided and foolish as it is, is that as Rose is handsomely paid for his work, he should be able to – no –  put up with, the abuse of fans. 

    What I would say is, would the same people who believe such be prepared to put up with personal abuse, in their daily work life? Do they really believe that, even with a vast wage hike, that they would be happy to suffer abuse and insult over a period of years? I don’t believe so.

    Rose is not alone in suffering racial abuse. Raheem Sterling has highlighted the issue and in the same week as Rose’s comments, Italian footballer Leonardo Bonucci, the defender a long time stalwart at Juventus, suggested his own teammate, Moise Kean, an Italian born to Ivorian parents, was complicit in fuelling racial abuse from fans because of his celebration. The fact that Moise had been getting racial abuse before his goal, seemed to have bypassed Bonucci. 

   In all the rhetoric and column inches covering racial abuse and the various football authorities inertia with regard to it, no one seems to remember that these are young men, boys really, who, for the most part, come from working-class backgrounds to become a commodity in a multi-billion pound industry. 

   That is not to say one should feel pity for them. For many a young boy and old man, these youngsters are living the dream. They, for the most part, get to do what they love doing and get paid for it. They hang out with a group of people in the same predicament as themselves, who intrinsically understand what they are going through. 

   Abuse from the terraces, whether it is from opposition fans or, if your team is going through a bad run, your fans, is par for the course. Professional sportsmen and women, especially in a team sport, expect it. It can be humourous, spiteful, inventive and even, on occasion, entertaining. 

   Of course, abuse and vitriol will never be eradicated completely from any sport. Where ever there is a crowd, especially a paying crowd, they will always make their feelings known, positive or negative, vocally. 

   The issue comes when that venting becomes racist, anti-Semitic, sexist or viciously personal. If someone was to enter your workplace and start screaming personal abuse at you, you would, if you did not attack them, have them arrested. In normal society, there are entire departments dedicated to ensuring that people can carry out their work in relative comfort. 

   Football, a generator of vast finance, is showing a distinct lack of care or foresight that an issue that affects their most precious commodity, the players, is not being properly dealt with.   

The Tiger in the Woods

Tiger never cheated. Possibly the greatest golfer the sport has ever seen, he did not fall from grace due to, like so many sportsmen before him, a desire to win by any means, regardless of the possible consequences. No, Tiger Woods was taken down because his life did not match his public image.
At the turn of the century, as the world accelerated into a new dawn and the future of sixties television was now the present, Tiger Woods was almost superhuman. A person of colour, playing and dominating a game that had formerly been the preserve of the male, white, elite, Woods made golf an everyman sport.
An erudite, engaging presence in front of the camera, with his acceptable complexion – he is of mixed heritage, his father Earl, was African-Americans and his mother, Kultida, is Thai – Woods was the perfect symbol for the American dream, showing that regardless of background, of colour, you can make it, in any field, in America.
His talent and image made him, in the early noughties, the highest-paid sportsperson on the planet. Though Woods dominated on the circuit, prize money only made up a small percentage of his earnings. It was his clean-cut image that has earned him a fortune since turning professional in 1996.
With multiple sponsors, lesser-known ones such as Upper Deck and TaylorMade and well-known brands like Nike and Rolex, Woods has made the vast majority of his fortune through endorsements.
A serial winner, he has won every major honour in the sport, most of them multiple times. It cannot be overstated how much of an impact on the sport of golf Woods had.
It was not a coincidence that Nike chose to use the tagline, ‘I am Tiger’, in one of their ad campaigns, showing children from every ethnic background and of both sexes, holding golf clubs or looking confidently into the camera as they said – I am Tiger.
The problem with having or seeming to have everything is people want to see you fail. Not only did Tiger have the looks, talent, respect and money. He also appeared to have the dream spouse. Elin Nordegren was a Swedish former model and had been an au pair to Swedish golfer, Jesper Parnevik, who would introduce the two to one another in 2001.
They married in 2004 and by 2009 were a picture-perfect family, having had two children, a girl and then a boy. By the end of 2009 cracks began to appear. Woods crashed his Cadillac SUV just outside of his home.
Varying reports came out after the crash. Some said he and Elin had been arguing, others speculated as to why she had been carrying a golf club when she went out to the car, her explanation of needing to smash the rear window to free him from the SUV not quite ringing true.
Rumours and reports of Woods’ infidelity began to surface. That a famous person should be indiscreet, sexually, is hardly a story. After all, history is littered with highly regarded, famous men whose heads were turned by the promise of sexual gratification. What made Tiger’s indiscretions newsworthy was the scale.
It was alleged that he had extramarital affairs with one-hundred-and-twenty women. This affairs, the entire number, happened in the five years he had been married. These revelations destroyed Woods’ image of a clean-living, family man. It affected not only his marital life but also his professional.
Sponsors end their association with him and, golf being a game of mental focus, his game suffered. Tiger, who had battled through knee pain to win tournaments and seemed from another planet when it came to the game of golf, was human.
Along with his marital issues, his body began to fail as well. Having already had several operations on his left knee in 2008, over the decade following his fall from grace, his back would prove to be a problem.
From being the dominant force in the sport and having the record for having held the number one ranking for the longest time, Tiger, at one point found himself ranked outside the top one thousand at 1,005th place in the world rankings in 2017.
With an estimated fortune of over $750 million, Woods did or does not need to play golf ever again. Seemingly a shadow of the player who swept all before him, no one would begrudge him if he had decided to retire and open a harem.
He did not want to be remembered like that. Not for the scandal and an ignominious fall from grace. Tiger kept on playing. Even as his body, his back, seemed to be telling him it was time to take up residence on the nineteenth hole, requiring four operations so as he could keep playing. Displaying a bloody-mindedness that borders on the psychotic, he kept on playing.
Sunday, April 14th, 2019 and the Tiger roared again. Eleven years after his last Masters’ triumph, Woods was winning again, he was relevant in his sport once more. Though his renaissance may not last long, in terms of a legacy, this win was his most important.
People will always remember the bad stuff. That is just the nature of media and western society, people feel better knowing even the best, the greatest, can fail. The bigger the fail, the greater the smugness of those who live in safe, mediocrity. You cannot fail if you do not try.
Everyone thinks that they try, but that is not true. Very few do things to an extremely high standard. Adequate is generally considered good enough in most minds, even if they believe they are going above and beyond. That is why greatness stands out. Those that do great go above and beyond the normal standards. They push to be better, even when they are already considered the best.
Tiger Woods was already a legend in his own lifetime. He had broken most of golf’s long-standing records, changed the way the game was viewed, introduced the game to a whole section of people who had always thought it was not for them.

When his fall happened, publicly and humiliatingly, he got back up and started swinging. He refuses to be defined by his failures, that is why Tiger’s Masters’ triumph, in Augusta in April 2019, was his greatest.

Even The Joneses Can’t Keep Up

     Listening to the latest ads from Apple is very different from watching them. The eyes lie. In this day and age, over the last thirty years, as media has grown and become omnipresent, we have become consumers with our eyes. 

    It is not as though consumerism did not exist before twenty-four-hour television and social media. Magazines, a dying media, always had advertisements. Advertising has always been part of the print media’s revenue. Bright, stylish or eye-catching photos or words, burrowing into our subconscious, making you think you want a digital radio, floral dress or a cruise. 

    The phrase ’keeping up with the Joneses’, as in to aspire to a higher standard of living, one that you feel you should have, originated in a 1913 comic strip. Created by Arthur R Momand, it depicted a family’s effort – the McGinis’ – to keep up with the high flying Joneses. The comic ran for twenty-seven years in several newspapers, the title becoming part of the common lexicon. 

   These days, the phrase is more apt than ever. With the saturation of social media and visual presentation being so important across much of it, the fictional Joneses of life, those who make you feel like you might be missing out or need to keep up, are everywhere.  

    People used to want to aspire to a job for life. Perhaps, if they were diligent and worked hard, there would be some upward progression. A management role perhaps. The thought was to provide for your family or yourself, have fun with friends at the weekend. Any other life was the dreams of the beautiful people you saw in Bacardi ads and in fashion magazines. 

    If you were going to do something different, perhaps out of the ordinary, like travel regularly or become an artist, it was a gradual thing. There was no expectation that it would happen overnight. Patience, an almost obsolete concept nowadays, was a virtue. 

   These days, everything is about speed. We live in a generation that has no real concept of waiting. They expect, demand, everything immediately. The fact that somebody has to provide the thing or service to them does not enter their minds. It is all about getting their want now, in that moment. Technology influencers talk about every iteration of a smartphone being a nanosecond faster, running a mite smoother, having more processing power.

   People are sold on the nanosecond they saved by being able to operate an app fractionally faster than the year before. They had never noticed they were losing a fraction of a millisecond before, but now, with a new faster, more efficient chip, they are able to do things faster. Yippee. 

   Obviously, since the advent of the internet and dial up connections, the technology has improved. Waiting minutes for a page to load, for pictures to appear, is a long forgotten memory. These days, if a page takes longer than ten seconds to load, you move on. Webpages are expected to be quick and seamless.

   These things you can see, or at least you think you can. Can you really appreciate the difference between 4K and 8K? Or even 4K and 1080p? The eyes and brain adjust to whatever you show it, so a 1080 screen compared to a 4K display is only noticeable when viewed side by side. In isolation the image is no better. You don’t feel as though you’re missing out until you compare it to another screen. 

   The gallop, pursuit, for better, faster, more efficient, always begs the question, for who? The ads would have you believe that it’s for you, for the people. You’ll be able to work faster, work better. Still, in the western world, work, for the most part, is fashioned around a seven or eight-hour working day. 

   The future, which is now, was supposed to be easier. Getting more done, in a shorter timeframe, should mean less of a work/life burden. Work days should be shorter, right? Not at all. Working faster means that more can be done in a shorter period. Same seven or eight hours, but twice the workload is expected. Welcome to the future.

   Everyone embraces technological advances. It’s better, more efficient, faster. Back to speed. It has bled into our everyday lives. Everything needs to be quick, to save time. Which, of course, is what we all think we want. It is definitely true as you get older that time becomes more precious. Age gives you an acute awareness of time’s finiteness. The desire to save time, to make or utilise time better becomes more important as you get older.

   The relentless avalanche of media, normalising items that used to be considered luxuries, that Joneses life made real. The improvements are incremental. Most products have very little room for improvement, especially in the technology sphere. That is why they try to sell speed, brightness, more clarity.

    When you listen to the words though, it is different. It’s the snake oil salesman, repeating things you’ve heard before, mesmeric words, spoken in dulcet tones. When combined with the images of the new, shiny product, a thousand, two thousand or three thousand pounds seems a  reasonable price to pay to keep up with the Joneses.

    

    

Imitation Of Strife

     There is a well known film from 1959 called Imitation Of Life, starring Lana Turner as Lora Meredith, an aspiring actress with a young daughter, Susie, played as a teenager by Sandra Dee, who takes in a black housekeeper, Annie Johnson (Juanita Moore) and her mixed race daughter, Sarah-Jane, portrayed as a teenager by Susan Kohner.  

     The film is a colour remake of the 1934, Claudette Colbert starrer of the same name. In both films the story is of the housekeeper’s daughter choosing to pass herself off as a white person, because she realises it affords her certain advantages in life. 

     With the film world’s present obsession for authenticity, it is interesting that of the two film versions it is the 1934 version that used an African-American in the housekeeper’s daughter role. Susan Kohner, from the 1959, better-known version, is Mexican-Jewish. 

     This article is not about authenticity. It is about identity. More specifically, how one identifies. How one identifies oneself is entirely up to the individual. How the outside world identifies somebody however, may not necessarily match up. 

     In this world of media saturation and with everyone able to venture an opinion – I see the irony of my statement – into the ether that is social media, and have it gain traction, not to mention the modern embrace of being offended by the smallest slight, even if it is on another’s behalf, common sense and critical thinking seems to have gone out of fashion. 

    There are certain subjects that I feel one should never argue over. Religion is one. Another is politics, though it is much more difficult to avoid political discourse. In essence, both subjects come down to intrinsic beliefs and arguing against a belief is always a losing proposition. 

    The subject of rights however, is something entirely different. I am lucky, this I know. I live in a part of the world, in a generation and time that has never known war or true hardship. As a black man, person, even a lot of the ills that befall black people – racism, disproportionate incarceration, familial discord – is not something I have suffered overtly.

     Living in the UK, though there are racial problems, the thought of getting shot is not really one of them. So, when I say ‘rights’, I know that I speaking from a position of privilege. There are many who are far better off than I am and, like so many of us who have access to the ‘look-what-I-got-and-do’ sites of social media, I can be affected, believing that I am failing or not making enough of an effort to be a certain way.

I sometimes see certain headlines and, as is the way, feel offended on someone/things behalf, because it has, in modern times been deemed as wrong. It is an empathic response as well as a group one.

    One of the most divisive things, still, is sexuality. As a man in his fifties, I am old enough to remember the sensational headlines surrounding the late Rock Hudson, leading man of the 50’s and 60’s, as a closeted gay. He died at the height of the AIDS, what can only be referred to in retrospect as, panic. 

     Thirty-four years on from his death the world is, supposedly, a different place. Though a revelation of homosexuality is not, as thought back then, likely to end a career, it does, regardless of what one wants to believe, still impact how an actor might be perceived. 

     Film, and television even more so, have reflected societies acceptance of humanities sexual mores. Though, truthfully, even though it seems in reality there are far more homosexuals than lesbians, television would have you believing otherwise, with gay men tending to find more of a home in reality shows, whilst lesbianism is embraced frequently in story led television and film. 

    Lately, there has been a push for transgender acceptance and whilst this is not an issue in itself, after all, a person sexuality is entirely of their own choosing, it has thrown up an interesting and slightly ludicrous conundrum. 

    Underpinning the various pushes for being recognised and accepted, is humanities oldest war; equality. Whether it is racial, sexual or gender, what all of the above have in common, is a desire to be accepted as equal to the considered norm. 

    The thought of a level playing field, of equality, is a utopia. It is a dream for those who are either downtrodden or feel discontent, whether that is fair or not. To those in power, in contentment, there is no issue. Of course there isn’t. Life is not fair. 

    Women have always had to fight, regardless of race or looks or social status, for that which we men take for granted. For generations, certain jobs have always been viewed as a male preserve and, though it is changing, it will never be fully realised. 

   It is a fact – a fact – of biology, that men and women are not the same. When it comes to physiology they are different, both in terms of physicality and hormonally. That is just a fact. The issue of sexuality and desire – want – is one that resides in the mind. No one can dictate how a person feels, that is something only the individual can decide. 

    When a person who is or identifies as transgender decides to embrace their female side, surgically speaking, does that mean they are a woman? They can, as their right, identify as a woman, live as a woman and even be embraced a woman.

Unfortunately, that which ultimately separates men and women – the ability to give birth – will always be beyond them. I say this not to denigrate them, but simply to point out that some changes will only ever be on the outside. 

    This disparity is especially pronounced when it comes to sport. Recent cases – here in the UK at least – of previously male athletes competing in female events, after having the op, are a slap in the face to female athletes who have dedicated their lives to competing on a relatively level playing field. 

    Transgenders who go from female to male have not tried to enter male dominated sports. Do you know why? Because they would have no chance of winning. It is all very well to say that they are allowed to compete if they wanted, but what would be the point?

    What is even more disappointing, is that no transgender spokesperson has come forward to say how ridiculous the whole debacle is. I, for one, cannot believe that every transgender person thinks that a former man transitioning to a woman, even with hormone treatment and the obvious personal reduction in strength, does not benefit from having spent the majority of their life as a man.

     Remember, this is the same society that came out in uproar when one of the contestants on Dancing On Ice, Ashley Roberts, was deemed to have an unfair advantage, because of her dance and performance background. How is formally being a man not seen as an advantage?

    The fear of being seen as prejudice, small-minded or intolerant, seems to override logic. This is not an issue of prejudice or oppression. It is not even an argument of beliefs, if one cannot see the inherent benefit a formally male athlete would have in a female sporting arena, that is just willful ignorance. Plain and simple. 

     

     

You Define You

    Back in the early nineties, I worked in a world-famous department store in Knightsbridge, in London. Around the holiday periods, in the run-up to busy sales times, they would take on more staff on a temporary basis, employing college and university students or people just looking for part-time work to earn a little bit more for the holidays. 

    I worked in the bed linens department, which was, due to the reputation of the store, especially busy in the run-up to Christmas. Like every other department, we brought in more staff. One young lady who was brought in on a short-term contract was particularly good. 

   She had the perfect temperament and approach for retail, always pleasant and attentive, helpful without grovelling subservience and independent enough to do her job without endless direction from management. In all, a model employee.

   At the end of any busy period, as the contracts came to an end, the store would,  usually, keep on some of the better staff finds. As this young lady had been noticeably outstanding, the department management wanted to keep her on. The store decided not to renew her contract.

   Why? This store, at that time, had an unwritten law that was enforced by the human resources department. It was called Store Approval and could be withdrawn at any time. If the ladies – the human resources department was all female – liked the look of you, you would be granted Store Approval. 

    The brilliant young lady who had worked tirelessly in linens over the Christmas and sales period following was not the most attractive. She was by no means a female John Merrick, but in terms of promoting a certain image – the store image – she was not what they wanted. 

   What made me think of this, and had me thinking about appearance in general, was watching an engaging short documentary on YouTube by Em Ford called Redefine Pretty. In the film, she interviews several women. They all look to be in their twenties, various races, none so remarkable in terms of looks that one would recoil in horror or do a double take.

   What all these women have in common is an intrinsic belief that they are, by societal standards, unattractive. Whether it is because of something hormonal like acne, a skin condition like vitiligo or fate’s fickle finger doling out seventy-five percent burns to the body, these young women all believe that they are below acceptable standards of attractiveness. 

    The old staple of beauty being more than skin deep is more relevant than ever in our society of ever-present media. How things appear, how people look, is probably scrutinised more now than at any other time in history. 

    Of all the popular social media platforms available, the fastest growing is Instagram, a media platform that, by its very nature, is all about aesthetics. Though there are a lot of positive message quotes accounts and the most popular accounts are those of well-known celebrity figures, there is an ‘internet famous’ strata of individuals, the majority of whom are considered above average attractive, who populate Instagram.

    A peruse of Instagram, if one checks out the trending feed, is a litany of lithe bodies, smiling, pretty or handsome faces, wonderfully lit and filmed or photographed. Even among the seemingly confident and attractive crowd that populate the most popular feeds, there is conforming aesthetic, an unspoken complicity, that has everyone chasing a similar look. 

    There are, of course, millions of images on Instagram and across all social media. They do not all depict beautiful people. Every subject and body type and hobby is covered in some corner of the internet. But the images of attractive, fit, young and happy people are the dominant images.

    The sheer volume of these images and the acceptance with ‘likes’ or hearts and thumbs up emojis subconsciously tell anyone, who looks at them, that these are the ideals, the ones to ‘follow’ or aspire to. 

     As much as it would be admirable if people did not take appearance, how someone looks, as a critical component of whether or not they decide to engage with someone, humans have always evaluated by sight first. It is an evolutionary trait.

    Though we no longer have to, to the same degree, worry about mortal danger from a person from another tribe, people still follow the evolutionary directive of looking for the best possible mate.

    In a society where one no longer needs to worry about death from the many myriad options that were possible or probable in times past, what constitutes a ‘good’ mate has come down to, for many, how they look. 

    Em Ford’s film wants to challenge this notion to a degree. The film does, through those who are interviewed own words, acknowledged that they have allowed the images to influence how they viewed themselves, believing that others also viewed them as less than ideal. 

    Social media is the proverbial horse that has bolted and it is entirely too late to shut the gate. Though most would agree that judging a person by their outward appearance is shallow, it is still what most do. 

    Confidence and belief in oneself seems the only reasonable defence when it comes to trying to foster a positive mindset. There will always be the few who seemed to be enviably blessed. That is just the luck of life.

    In an era when internet dating is on the increase and image is seen as ever more critical, having the mental fortitude to survive and thrive in a ‘looks first’ culture could become the most important skill to acquire.