What goes around comes around

David Cameron has already voiced his embarrassment over that Bullingdon club photo. Well, some more photos emerged on Sunday, as well as a story about a thing one person claims photographic evidence also exists for, though if it does it remains mercifully shielded from the public eye. Nevertheless, one imagines there has been more embarrassment in the Cameron household these last couple of days, something the nation has delighted in exploiting with a relentless stream of predictable and mostly not very good pig-based jokes on twitter.

As some have pointed out, we all did stupid things when we were younger (though, I would protest, not that stupid), but the real hypocrisy here is that the story comes from a single uncorroborated and uncertain source in a book written by a disgruntled Tory peer and revealed to the world in the pages of a notoriously capricious ‘news’paper. Essentially, it is revenge porn, albeit in prosaic and most likely fictional form. It’s ironic that Lord Ashcroft’s work is being championed by people who would normally contemplate demeaning pig sex themselves before getting behind the words of either a Tory peer or the Daily Mail.

One person who definitely won’t be talking about ‘hashtag piggate’ is the new leader of the Labour party. Tim Farron couldn’t resist a little dig on twitter (‘I’ve never been more pleased to be a vegetarian’) but Corbyn is still tweeting about railways, and is all set to disappoint those hoping he will ask a crowd sourced pig-based question at PMQs. Because whatever you think of Corbyn, he is making his leadership about real people and real issues, not dubious stories and character attacks. He probably doesn’t give a crap about whether Cameron stuck his thing in a dead pig or not because he’s much more concerned about £4.4bn of tax credit cuts, as heartless an attack on the poor as burning a £50 note in front of a homeless person (something else Cameron did not do at university). Cameron’s alleged porcine student dalliances have no bearing on his ability to do his job, at least compared to How He Is Doing His Job (and since his leadership puts the NHS in jeopardy, threatens to close down the BBC, demonizes the disabled, endangers the environment and continues to pour money into an obsolete defense system before the issue has even been voted on in Parliament, that is very relevant indeed).

This is worth noting because last week we were bombarded with stories about Jeremy Corbyn which, if less visceral than the pig thing, were just as fatuous. Stories about him snubbing England’s Rugby World Cup, or riding a communist bicycle, or having an evil great great grandfather. Only slightly less inane and equally unsubstantiated were stories about his disrespect for servicemen, his sexist shadow cabinet and his love of terrorists, splashed across newspapers as fact and gleefully retweeted by Conservative MPs and supporters ad nauseum. And lest we forget (as if we’re going to be allowed to), the Prime Minister’s first response to the announcement of Labour’s new leader was to brand him a threat to National security, a less specific accusation than the pig thing but as incendiary a claim (Cameron usually reserves such language for talking about ISIS). Is it any wonder that Cameron’s detractors have seized this opportunity to turn the tables? And when such hyperbole are being used by the Tories, who could truly blame Corbyn if started referring to them as a secret pig fucking cabal?

But he won’t. There will be no grainy monochrome scaremongering video from Labour about Cameron and pigs. Corbyn’s questions to the Prime Minister will continue to focus single-mindedly on Conservative policies. It may not be the first time Cameron has been embarrassed about his student days, but it is perhaps not the last time he will have reason to be grateful that Corbyn is a better man than him.

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Conservative with the truth

The movie released yesterday by the Tories about Jeremy Corbyn (coming soon to a social networking site near you) has revealed a truth that not even the most fervent left-winger can wriggle away from: Labour’s new leader, however human and principled he managed to appear during the leadership campaign, has pulled the wool over everyone’s eyes. He is a frightening figure. He does evil things, thinks evil thoughts, has evil friends and is putting our very lives in jeopardy with every passing second.

That, surely, is the only conclusion any reasonable person can draw from the video. And video is simply not capable of lying, any more than Conservative PR people are. These are FACTS. We see and hear Corbyn incriminated with his own disgusting words – what more proof do we need?

Labour apologists can whinge about ‘context’ all they like, but it’s not as if you could make David Cameron look like this with an hour to spare on Premiere Pro.

Is it?

Something to be proud of

In case it looks like I’m always down on Russell T. Davies (which I’m not), I would draw your attention to a little short film that is one of the many internetty added extras for the Cucumber/Banana/Tofu range and thus in danger of going unnoticed, even though I’d swap this fifteen minutes for the whole of Cucumber in a flash.

It may seem odd that such an uncompromising castigation of the porn industry should come from a source so obsessed with Freddie Fox’s teeny tiny pants, but whatever else Cucumber is I don’t think you could describe it as pornographic. In any case, that’s not the point – Cucumber is a post-watershed adult programme with an age-appropriate warning slapped all over it.

This is the point:

Nothing to be proud of

cucumber

I never liked Queer As Folk. Sharp dialogue, stylish direction, zeitgeisty atmosphere, all present and undeniably entertaining – but I found it troubling that a programme that was meant to be a watershed in the portrayal of gay characters on television dived headlong into a world of underage sex, drug taking and promiscuity, a world of people entirely defined by where they drink, where they dance, who they ‘cop off’ with. I’m not in a position to judge its accuracy as a portrayal of Canal Street, but through its glamorous, fantasy-like sheen it presented an intimidating impression of gay subculture, one that was discouraging for this teenager who thought that, you know, maybe being gay didn’t mean you had to behave completely differently to everyone else?

But Russell T. Davies has a very particular worldview. Having subsequently sexualised a family TV show and invented his own about time travelling bisexuals, horny aliens and sex offenders, this year he returned to (by now very) familiar themes. I’m talking about Cucumber, which gives fuller access to Mr T. Davies’ psyche then anything he has done previously. Ambitious, occasionally brilliant (because occasionally he is), well acted (though directed with all the subtlety of David Tennant’s regeneration), above all immensely frustrating.

This was a middle-aged fantasy masquerading as a drama about middle-aged fantasies, a world in which attractive young men walk around in their pants and straight teenagers suck each other off because teenagers are okay with all of that stuff in the liberated 21st century, where young gay men casually invite their housemates to join them for sex, where every attractive man turns out to be gay in the end anyway. Every trip to the supermarket is an erotic journey of adult stars in tight jeans pounding vegetables in their hands in exactly the way that NOBODY HAS EVER DONE IN REAL LIFE. Seriously, have you ever seen anybody in a supermarket testing a cucumber for firmness?

Beneath this fantasy is a nightmare, and of course that’s what it was really about: the (frequent) sex scenes were awkward and messy, the characters all utterly defined by their sexuality and filled with self-loathing, whether expressed in callousness, bitchy cynicism, angry ranting or the destruction of lives (their own and other people’s). At the heart of the narrative sat a forty-something called Henry, whose key problem, which the series and many of its characters obsessed over at length, is his reluctance to engage in anal sex (as if that’s the primary defining factor of a homosexual man). A solution, it is suggested in the final episode, is to imagine that you’re doing it with somebody else. That’s right: even in stable relationships, gay men have to at least pretend they’re shagging around.

That wisdom comes from a character called Freddie, played by an actor called Freddie (all part of the fantasy?1) who sits at the heart of the drama as the pinnacle of youth, desired by all, loved by all, discussed by all – talked of in such a way as to suggest he is the very definition of perfection, in spite of – no, because of his inability to settle. He is symbolic of complete sexual liberation (he even – wait for it – sleeps with girls!), though it turns out that he was abused by a teacher at school but we don’t dwell on that for very long and certainly not for long enough to consider that it goes some way to explaining why he is such a promiscuous, selfish, vain and ultimately lonely young man.

Because that’s not the point: his freedom, his isolation, is almost fetishized in itself. At the heart of this series is a misty eyed nostalgia for the gay counterculture that has somehow been lost by 21st century ‘normalisation’ of homosexuality. Henry refuses an offer of marriage from his partner of nine years in episode one because he never grew up with it as an option and can’t adjust to the possibility, whilst every other gay character shies away from any form of normality. They refuse to settle, refuse to fit in, all the time proclaiming in their actions the words spoken out loud in one episode, a line written by an actual real life gay man:

‘Gay men can never be happy.’

There you have it. Queer As Folk, with its anarchic, youthful arrogance, showed us that gay men could be happy, if they lived fast and loose lives without too much thought for anyone else. Fifteen years on, Cucumber admits that they were only ever living that way because – I’ll repeat it – gay men can never be happy.

Net result is the same, of course: said gay men are all shallow, self-centred and obsessed with sex – they just look a little more haggard and have iPhones now.

I don’t believe gay writers are obliged to portray gay people in a positive light. Russell T. Davies can (and does) write whatever he likes, and let’s be fair, he’s never anything but entertaining. It’s just rather an odd message to be putting out a year after homosexuals were given the right to marry in this country. You get the idea that he desperately misses the glamour and danger of being gay when it had to be hidden away, as if those were the Good Old Days and weren’t defined by violent homophobia, an AIDS epidemic and a government who openly talked about homosexuals as perverts.

Homosexuals had every reason to be screwed up back then (and even so, plenty of them weren’t), but seeing such a dysfunctional group of gay characters on television now is baffling. In a typical scene we saw a father feeding his baby at the same time as talking dirty to a former pupil he has had an illicit gay relationship with – in this drama, virtually a standard encounter, not shocking, just sad, representative of the grim view of humanity living in every frame of this depressing series. Perhaps the saddest thing of all is that Russell T. Davies’ imagination still doesn’t run to portraying a single gay character as happy, stable, and defined by who they are rather than who they shag.

But even as I wrote that I started to wonder how many gay characters on TV have fit that description full stop, and I find myself wondering whether Queer As Folk really was any kind of watershed at all.

1 We are talking about a writer who cast Russell Tovey in the role of a fictional character he had already developed a crush on – a fictional character he had taken to drawing in his underpants – because he also had a crush on Russell Tovey, and presumably liked the idea of seeing him in his underpants as well. Not that Russell Tovey was required to act in his underpants. Freddie Fox, on the other hand, was very much in his underpants a great deal of the time. Or, once or twice, out of them. It’s all a bit Dennis Potter, and I don’t mean in a writerly sense.