What’s Been On My Mind This Week

Question Mark

1. Last week a grand jury declined to indict the police officer who shot the teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, in August. The decision reignited protests in which thousands of the city’s inhabitants took to the streets, protesting against what they see as police hatred of African American citizens. the protests spread across America, and across the world, with solidarity rallies even being held here in London. The decision hinged on whether or not the officer in question, Darren Wilson, acted in ‘reasonable fear for his life’, but opponents argue that racial fear and racial profiling are often used to justify unlawful killings (young black males are around 20 times more likely to be fatally shot by police than their white contemporaries). Ferguson is a city on the outskirts of St. Louis. It has an overwhelmingly black population (67%), and these inhabitants do not see themselves as represented or protected by the police force (almost all of whom are white). Instead, they feel constantly mistreated and threatened by an increasingly militarised force, and opposed by political and law-making bodies who are almost all white. Events in Ferguson are now being talked of as indicative of the deeper problems of class, race and law enforcement in America. But, in a culture that embraces guns, it can be difficult to restrain or punish those working in law enforcement when they take recourse to firearms. Furthermore, while police officers in America are often badly trained and poorly paid, police unions are incredibly powerful and investigations have revealed how rarely officers are held accountable for their actions, with many regaining their jobs after being fired. A conversation about what is going on in Ferguson and across America is one thing, but police violence is only one aspect of a deep history of segregation and oppression. Even if the issues in Ferguson could be ‘fixed’, there is clearly a bigger national problem to address, and criminal justice reform needs to be near the top of both parties’ political agenda.

2. I was struck this week (and not in a good way) by the advertising campaign for Coca-Cola’s new ‘premium milk brand’, Fairlife. The creative features women in 1950s bombshell mode (à la Marilyn Monroe): think lots of leg, mouths slightly open and eyes twinkling in a supposedly seductive mixture of surprise and ‘come hither’. The women’s ‘dresses’ are made out of the milk in question, yet another example of how women’s bodies are all-too-frequently used to advertise completely unrelated products. Why do women need to be sexualised and objectified in a milk advert? Can only women drink this premium milk, which is apparently double the price of normal milk and contains extra goodness (according to Coca-Cola’s description and promotional material)? You would think that a company like Coca-Cola, with what is presumably a huge annual marketing budget, would be able to come up with something much more interesting and innovative than this. Sadly the combination of vintage styling, plentiful display of bare skin and the obvious use of women as sexual objects demonstrates how little progress we’ve made in the past fifty years, and how much further there is to go.

3. I’ve written before in this series of posts about how the Liberal Democrat party appears to be heading for a whitewashing in next year’s general election. What struck me in particular this week, when thinking about why this might be the case and what they ought to be doing in order to turn their fortunes around, was that the Lib Dems have the lowest number of female MPs of any major political party in this country, and no women cabinet members. They also have no MPs from minority backgrounds. The Lib Dems desperately need to overhaul their parliamentary image, not only in the hope of retaining the 56 seats they do have, but also because they risk not even being the deciding player in what looks to be another hung parliament next year. Yet both the Conservatives and the Labour Party are far from keen on the idea of another coalition government, instead it is thought that both would prefer a minority administration in which they would try to seek bipartisan support for certain measures and reforms. Of course, the Lib Dems would not be happy about either the Conservatives or the Labour Party ruling without a majority, but various polls conducted in November show that the Lib Dems are due to lose around half their seats, so would be unlikely to be in a position to dictate. With polls showing them having only around 8% of the vote, and the biggest voter swing being from the Lib Dems to the Labour Party, it’s looking more and more likely that Ed Miliband will be the next prime minister. Moreover, some polls claim that Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg’s Sheffield Hallam seat is potentially under threat, with Clegg polling only three points ahead of Labour. Only 30% of those who voted Liberal Democrat in 2010 said last month that they would do so again, while the same percentage said they would be voting Labour.

4. Today (1st December) is World Aids Day. Over 100,000 people in the UK are currently living with HIV (and 35 million worldwide), and a recent UN report states that the world has only five years to end the Aids epidemic or risk it ‘rebounding’. Scientists are convinced that developments have put us in a position to halt the epidemic by 2030, but only if the global response to the disease is rapid and immediate, and drastically improved by 2020. Early treatment is believed to be the key to combating the spread of infection. It is estimated that as many as 65 million lives could be saved by 2050 if more people are given access to screenings, treatment and education surrounding the spread of the disease over the next few years.

5. We announced the winner of The Green Carnation Prize on Friday, and now the judging period has come to an end I am able to tackle the huge number of books I haven’t been able to get to over the past six months. But this week I did manage to race through Jojo Moyes‘ latest novel, The One Plus One, in which the author tackles the problems faced by a single mother living on the breadline in a small coastal town. It’s very much a classic Moyes story: a quick, easy read, but one that is page-turning and with just the right amount of laughter and tears. I’ve also managed to start London Triptych by Jonathan Kemp, who was one of my fellow judges on The Green Carnation Prize. The novel is composed of three interlinking stories, set in London in 1890s, 1950s and 1990s. On the surface it’s about rent boys and the gay underworld, but it’s also about art and artists, the representation of the self and of others. I raced through the first third in one morning; the writing is beautiful and each of the three voices distinct and assured. I’m looking forward to seeing how the three individual narratives come together in the end.

6. This week I’ve been listening to the young singer-songwriter James Bay. Bay has released three EPs, most recently last week. He’s only 22, yet his music is an interesting mix of old soul with a modern twist. Bay has supported some huge artists already (from The Rolling Stones and Kodaline to Tom Odell and Hozier) and has recently seen his own gigs sell out. Hopefully his debut album will deliver on the promise shown thus far.

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Categories: On My Mind . . .

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