“A compromise too far” – Iain Duncan Smith and the realities of being poor in the UK

In the same week as Chancellor George Osborne released his budget that saw further cuts to disability benefits while the most wealthy get tax cuts, the (now former) Secretary for Work and Pensions Iain Duncan Smith resigned from his post, citing concerns about the juxtaposition of these unfair cuts to welfare for the most vulnerable alongside tax cuts for the most wealthy.Regardless of whether or not IDS’s resignation was out of genuine concern for the people he once tried to fool with propaganda leaflets with fake testimonials, or less savoury ulterior motives as Europe becomes a bigger issue within the Tory party and the country as a whole, it once again reminds us quite how much this Tory government, which was elected as a majority government last year after five years of a Lib Dem coalition, has waged war on the working classes and the most vulnerable in society.

The Tory myth that those on welfare for long periods of time are doing it to avoid working are generally untrue. Of course, there are people who do that and to deny the existence of such people would be a lie, but this is a tiny minority that appears larger than it actually is thanks to shows like Benefits Street and other media focus. It seems that Mr Cameron and Mr Osborne fail to realise quite how competitive job markets are, even for minimum wage positions that don’t require experience – this is something that is exacerbated by some parts of the country just not having jobs available. I was once told that I was “smart” for moving to London for university (and hopefully, after I graduate in the summer, work) because people who “can’t find jobs should move to find them” as if it’s just that easy. FYI: it’s not that easy.

Much of the reality of being poor in 2016 is not what the Conservatives or right-wing rags such as The S*n and Daily Mail want you to think. Being poor is four people living off incapacity benefit plus whatever can be brought home from a small start-up business. It’s not being able to put the central heating on when it’s below freezing because it costs far too much and we need to eat. It’s feeling awful for asking for money for basic things, and it’s having to make deals with local councils and bailiffs so they don’t take everything we own. It’s having to save for a long time to afford an electric wheelchair for my disabled mother, and even then not being able to make the necessary adjustments for her to be able to go out in it without prior help. It’s watching your parents constantly worry about how they’re going to pay the next bill. It’s the internet cutting out for days at a time, it’s the electricity going out randomly and having to rush out at 10pm because we needed the money for something else earlier in the week. And my experience is considered good compared to people who have it so much worse – nobody goes hungry, we’ve never had to rely on food banks, and we still have a roof over our head, and cuts haven’t killed anyone close to us. In recent years, my family and I have struggled a lot, but there are so many who have it worse, all of which is a result of the Conservatives putting ideology and austerity before human lives.

In his resignation letter, IDS says he is “proud” of what his government have achieved in terms of welfare. While I appreciate the opportunity to discuss the damage these cuts have done as a result of his resignation, he is no better than Mr. Cameron or Mr. Osborne. Why has it taken so long for you to find a conscience, Mr Duncan Smith? How can you in good conscience claim these new cuts are “too far” all the while still being “proud” of the cuts you and your department made that faced a UN inquiry, that have literally killed people? How can you be proud of policies and decisions so God-awful you had to lie in your literature, as if we were mindless followers who wouldn’t think twice? Where was your conscience when you cheered for policies that unfairly affected young people? Credit where credit is due: you are right – it is a compromise too far. It’s been this way for a long time. And the possibility you may be using such injustice for political gain about Europe is deeply sickening and symptomatic of Tory “who cares about poor people?” dogma. If you truly believe the cuts your government is making are unjust and cruel, its up to you to prove it. Be the change you’re telling us you want to see. Don’t let your words be in vain.

It’s time to stop burying our gays

Recently, an episode of The 100 aired where (spoilers), high-profile lesbian character, Commander Lexa, was killed off. Like any popular television show, fans of Lexa, and the Clexa ship, kicked off. While I’ve never actually seen an episode of The 100, it is clear that the death of Lexa, a lesbian character who holds a lot of power in the eyes of her people, holds a lot more weight than the average fictional death. And it’s obvious why.

TV Tropes describes the Bury Your Gays trope as (emphasis mine):

Often, especially in older works (to the extent that they are found in older works, of course), gay characters just aren’t allowed happy endings. Even if they do end up having some kind of relationship, at least one half of the couple, often the one who was more aggressive in pursuing a relationship, thus “perverting” the other one, has to die at the end. Of course, it can also happen to gay characters who aren’t in relationships, particularly if they’re psycho lesbians or depraved homosexuals.

[…] Also known as Dead Lesbian Syndrome. This trope can also be seen as a head-on collision between Sex Is Evil andAll Gays Are Promiscuous.

So here’s the thing – characters die all the time. That’s normal. However, even in 2016 an overwhelming majority of characters within film and television are straight, while much of the LGBTQ representation that is available is mostly white gay men. While as a society we have (for the most part) moved on from explicitly killing a queer character for being queer, the few queer characters that do appear are killed off at a much more alarming rate than their straight counterparts, suggesting that Western society isn’t as on board with homosexuality – or anything that isn’t heterosexuality – as it likes to think.

“But SO MANY MORE straight characters die so it doesn’t matter!!” Okay, I see your point, and raise you this – there are many straight characters that die – but there are so many more that live, because straight characters are so much more common. However LGBT characters, particularly lesbians, are fewer and farther between. So when of them dies, especially in very dubious circumstances (I’m looking at you, Orphan Black), especially as part of a society that reinforces the idea that straight is the default, the ideal (nothing is made in a vacuum), it reinforces the very much alive and kicking notion that LGBTQ+ people are not worthy of happiness, or are destined to die. Which can have some pretty severe knock-on effects.

It is pretty much common knowledge by now that members of the LGBTQ+ community already face higher rates of mental health issues, including anxiety, depression and suicide, than our straight counterparts.So much so that Stonewall, one of the leading LGBTQ+ charities in the UK, have a huge portion of their website dedicated to LGBT mental health and wellbeing. Media that markets itself on positive LGBT representation that then allows its queer characters to be the main subject of 80%+ of its angst, maybe even killing them, reinforces the idea that queer people are not meant to live happy lives; that they will die young and that all their efforts are for nothing. It is very easy for straight people who have never experienced such things to say “it’s just a TV show/film/webseries/book/etc., its not real life and it means nothing” but for so many people within the LGBT community, it is our lives. And when there’s so little representation of yourself on screen, its so hard to not put every part of your heart and soul into it. Shows that pride themselves on such positive representation of queer communities, such as The 100 and Orphan Black should know this, and should already be aware of such tropes that surround queer characters that, if shown on screen after talking about how “gay friendly” they are, will have a colossal impact on their audiences.

It is not enough for queer people, especially queer women, to just be seen on screen anymore. Any representation in 2016 that is worth having should be good, positive representation that shows queer characters being happy and not being killed by stray bullets. We need to be shown and portrayed and written with the same respect that straight men and women are, otherwise we will be stuck eternally disappointed, treated badly and adding our favourite queer ladies to an already-long, ever growing list of buried gay women. And that is unacceptable.

The End of Longing @ Playhouse Theatre, 29/2/16

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via LoveTheatre.com

A few months back, my flatmate told me about how Chandler from Friends had written a play that was coming to the West End. And that he was also going to be in it. She was very excited about it. We booked our tickets at the end of January, and last week we actually saw Matthew Perry’s debut as a playwright at the Playhouse in London with our very own eyes.

According to its website, The End of Longing‘s plot is described as:

Meet Jack, Stephanie, Joseph and Stevie: four lost souls, entering their forties and searching for meaning. After sharing one raucous night together in a downtown Los Angeles bar, their lives become irreversibly entwined in a rollercoaster journey that forces them to confront the darker sides of their relationships.

A fast paced and bittersweet comic play, The End of Longing, will make you realise that broken people don’t need to stay broken.

From the moment each character opened their mouths and introduced themselves, they never failed to entertain. Although much of the first half of the play (especially in the beginning) was a little slow, it was definitely funny. It made the audience roar with laughter, and as the second half went on, it made them (well, me at least) cry. Across the two and a quarter hours, The End of Longing was able to invest the audience in these wildly different characters, and their relationships, old and new, and create an emotional connection to them throughout the good and bad.

My only criticism was there were times that the acting felt a bit stiff and wooden, especially on Perry’s part. This definitely disappeared as the play went on, with solid writing and characters to help overcome this issue.

Overall, The End of Longing delivered on its promise of being sharp and entertaining. It wasn’t perfect, sure, but it was entertaining and hilarious – and that’s all that mattered.

Halsey @ O2 Academy Brixton, 23/2/16

 

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Halsey at the O2 Academy Brixton.

On Tuesday, after months of waiting and planning, I finally saw Halsey. I discovered Halsey via the internet last summer, and despite her only having a five track EP out at the time, I instantly fell in love. Every song on the Room 93 EP resonated with me in various
us ways, and even outside of her music, her personal views and brand of feminism lined up with mine. In a world where bisexuals are cast aside and are rarely explicitly acknowledged and allowed to take up space, much less bisexual people of colour (Halsey is biracial also) and those who are mentally ill, it meant a lot that there was someone who was doing exactly that, and unapologetically so.

Her first full-length release, Badlands, came out just as I moved into my new flat in London, not far off starting my final year of university. I could fill this with clichés about new beginnings, but I won’t. Badlands was everything I hoped it would be and more, and although I wasn’t able to get tickets to her first two shows in London in September, I did manage to get tickets to the London show during the European leg of the Badlands tour.

Much like the album that this tour was promoting, the show at O2 Academy Brixton on Tuesday was everything I hoped it would be and more. My friend and I didn’t arrive until just before the end of the first support’s set, and although we didn’t know anything of BORNS before he came on stage, he was awesome as well. But it didn’t compare to the moment the first few notes of Gasoline played.

It’s worth noting at this point that Halsey actually fell and hurt her ankle during the very first song, but I had no idea until I saw about it on Instagram once I got home. Aimee noticed though, and when we talked about it said she just carried on. What a trooper.

Every song she played (which was every song off Badlands minus one, plus a song off that very first EP) was electric, and Halsey’s stage presence and vocal ability are both truly astounding, in the very best way. The visuals throughout the show really added to the feel of each song and the atmosphere of the show as a whole, rather than detracting from the vocals and artist’s performance, as can be the case sometimes.

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Halsey on stage at O2 Academy Brixton

My personal highlights of the show were, and I’m trying really hard not to say ‘the whole damn thing,’ were Ghost, which is arguably my favourite Halsey track, Is There Somewhere (which I totally misnamed as Let This Go the day of because I suck), and Young God, a triumphant, smoke-cannon and confetti-blasting end to what essentially felt like a spiritual experience throughout.

Right from the get-go, Halsey’s performance was exciting and memorable, and her appreciation for the people that got her to where she is was evident throughout. I’m already excited for what she does next and when she comes back this way.

Shadowhunters so far

NOT SPOILER FREE

Shadowhunters is a relatively new TV show based on Cassandra Clare’s The Mortal Instruments book series and wider Shadowhunters book universe. As someone who read and loved the first few books of the series when I was younger (City of Glass was supposed to be the final book, and by the time City of Fallen Angels came out, I had moved on), and was bitterly disappointed by that God-awful movie a few years back, I was very interested in watching it and hoping it would be miles better than the film. Twelve year old Mia didn’t care for how good quality the writing was, so I couldn’t tell you now as a 21 year old adult how great Cassandra Clare is as a writer, but I do remember how much I loved the characters, the story and the universe they were in. It was exciting and new and I really, really wanted to be Clary. Or Isabelle. So to see a poorly-executed film version of a series I loved so much as a child was heartbreaking. Hearing about the TV show being in production reignited the small flame of hope that it would be done properly, and seeing it come to Netflix in January was super exciting.

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Shadowhunters promotional image. Via fashionstyle.

For those unfamiliar with the series, 18-year-old Clary Fray discovers she is a Shadowhunter (a half human, half angel hybrid whom are usually tasked with killing demons) after witnessing what she believes to be a regular (i.e., non-paranormal) murder, and then her mother’s disappearance. The first book, City of Bones, and the TV show so far depict her coming into this new world and the hunt for both her mother and the much-coveted Mortal Cup.

Six episodes of Shadowhunters have aired so far, and although at the beginning the show came off as very cheesy and shallow (but still enjoyable: just because something is either or both of these things doesn’t make it bad by default), with some special effects that didn’t quite fit, it’s really come into it’s own in the last couple of weeks. While Luke’s alliances at the beginning of the show are ambiguous, we discover he’s actually been on Clary’s side all along, and despite not finding the Jace-Clary-Simon love triangle plot not being as cute or even interesting as I did when I was twelve, I love that it is often shown in parallel to Magnus and Alec. And that Magnus’ bisexuality is explicitly addressed! And he isn’t shown as a promiscuous immortal being with no feelings! That is worth something. One thing that these later episodes have been lacking is the friendship between Clary and Isabelle that began to develop at the beginning, but I have faith we will see more of them as the show goes on.

Overall, if you like cheesy fantasy shows that allow for real feeling and emotion as it gets deeper into the story and the character’s histories, Shadowhunters is great for that. Even if it’s not your thing, it’s still better than the film. And that is worth something, at least.