Less about the world, more about me.

Month: April 2012

Gender Quotas in Kerry

As appeared in Letters – Kerryman – 25 April, 2012 edition

Henry Gaynor (April 18) disputes the necessity and justification for Gender Quotas in our Elections. He does this by asking some very intelligent and searching questions; are women interested, if they are what’s keeping them back, where will they find the time, will they not lose some credibility if part of a quota and what happens to the men affected by quotas? Fortunately there is research on this topic so we know why since 1801, Kerry has only ever sent four women to represent our interests in London and more recently Dublin.

Simply put, women are prevented from enjoying the same level of success as men in the political world, because the system as it is now, was designed by men, for men and continues to be dominated by men. This may be the 21st Century, but when family commitments involve caring for children, elderly parents or sick relations, the responsibility still falls mostly on women. A fact made worse by the ridiculous hours politicians have allowed become the norm for their profession. Knocking on doors on a Monday, sitting in Dublin on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, followed by Clinics on a Friday means a woman (and in a civilised country, a man) with a young family, cannot hope to have her talents as a public representative, used at a national level.

This anti-family system has led to many women, not only shying away from participating in Party politics, it has became the norm to think women are uninterested and/or incapable of competing in the Political Arena. This notion has been around for so long now, that even many women have begun to think it is true. This despite the fact that almost every organisation; voluntary, religious, charitable, political, sporting etc, relies almost entirely for their continued existence on the energy, wit and enthusiasm of women.

How do we change this culture? How do we instill confidence, make up for the lack of cash, address the inequality of caring responsibilities? We’ve two choices. We can continue as we are, which is a valid option but it has been estimated that it will take at least three centuries, at the present rate of progress, for us to have a Dáil that truly represents the men and woman of this nation.

Or the second option, which is Politicians so reforming their profession, that a woman from Kerry, with the talent to best promote the interests of Kerry people, is not prevented from doing so, just because as she is putting her children to bed at 8pm, her less talented Party colleague is happily pandering to any and all enquiries at any time of the day or night. This reform can only be undertaken by politicians. Only politicians can change their operating procedures. And a first step in this transformation is to give the politicians a bit of a shove. Encourage them to find enough women to add to the ballot papers, so that the choice of the voter is enhanced. This is not so we can have token women in the Dáil. No, it is so that there are enough women in the Dáil that they will finish the job of transforming Irish politics to the extent that quotas are never again needed.

We all pay for the politicians and we all pay for the Political Parties so I don’t think it is expecting too much of them, to at least try to give everyone a fair go at trying for the responsibility of governing.

Good Abortions?

Who could not be moved by the plight of the three brave women who related their story on The Late Late Show (20 April 2012)? To be told that their unborn babies were incapable of living outside the womb. That they were incompatible with life. I can’t empathise with something so fundamentally horrific. It is tragedy on so many levels that my imagination fails me.

There is however an aspect of their story that I can grapple with. Due to the morality of others, they were forced to leave the country to seek terminations. You see Ireland is very strict about some things. What individuals may or may not do with and/or to their own bodies, is right up there at the top of things the State feels obliged to legislate for.

This arrogance did not form in a vacuum. As a former outpost of orthodox Roman Catholicism, the hierarchy of freedom in Ireland, was clear to all. At the top were good middle-class Catholic men, who were free-ish, then there were all other men, after them were foetuses and at the bottom were women and children. Don’t forget that until 1990, a husband had unrestricted access to his wife’s body and children of single-mothers were treated as State/Church property.

Thus the State has a long history of thinking itself enjoined to tell people what they could do with their own bodies. That habit of power is as difficult for citizens to break as it is for politicians to give-up. So we remain a nation which exports women who wish to have terminations. An anachronistic position protected fiercely by a loud and powerful minority.

Now I’ve explored my thoughts on abortion in an earlier post, so I am not going to dwell too much on the rights and wrongs here. Suffice to say, I am pro-freedom of choice. In saying that however, this particular case, is not a clear cut argument for abortion on demand. It is not even a cause célèbre for abortions that protect the lives of women. This is specifically about women who are carrying foetuses which will not survive.

We are in good abortions versus bad abortion territory. Abortions to end ‘real‘ suffering versus ‘social‘ abortions. It is a distinction I find nauseating, but for some it is a real moral line in the sand. I had assumed three sides to the freedom of choice debate, those for freedom, those against freedom and those who had yet to decide. Apparently there is a fourth side; those who want freedom for some, in particular situations, sometimes, here’s a list of hoops the women must jump through, etc.

One would have to be a cold cold bastard to have the capacity to feel any kind of moral superiority over those women, but those bastards exist. People who would call these women murderers. Others that speak of ‘perinatal hospices’ and think this sufficent. These are scary people and worse, they have a crawling body politic on their side.

There can be no compromise in this. It is freedom or nothing. Women are given full autonomy, or their bodies remain subject to the morals of others. But there is nothing to stop those who support freedom, to be a bit cold in their efforts. Just because I am a liberal does not mean I have to be nicey nicey all the time. Incremental steps are the key to freedom more than a revolution will ever be.

So I will wholeheartedly support the efforts of those who are campaigning for ‘good’ abortions. Let’s get that door unlocked. Let’s help the politicians eventually do the right thing, by helping them first do the easy thing, legislate for women who are forced to travel to the UK as their unborn babies are incompatible with life. It’s not heroic, but freedom is more important than heroism.

Two and a Half Men

Deep down, I am an incredibly shallow person. I really am. I enjoy Two and a Half Men. It may not be my favourite sit-com, but I never miss an episode. To be honest, I rarely miss any episodes of any sit-coms, once it’s piqued my interest. But it isn’t liking Two and a Half Men alone that makes me shallow, it’s that I love sit-coms above all other art-forms. Worse than that, I think the Americans make the best ones.

The earliest sit-com that I can remember following (though how one followed anything before the the advent of those little magic boxes that ‘series link’ I just do not know) was Family Ties. It was a programme that annoyed me greatly, but I was almost immediately addicted to the format. The combination of the episodic, the story arc and laughter. A 20 to 25 minute peek into the lives of people, that if well written become part of one’s own life, combined with humour, is to my mind, an unbeatable experience.

The first sit-com I really loved was Roseanne. It was loud, brash, working class and remained very funny up to its jumping the shark moment i.e. the lottery win. I was able to watch people’s lives, married couples bickering, children growing, money problems, romantic problems and incisive humour. I also followed The Cosby Show at the same time and while enjoyable, it was a tad dull and middle class. The format however, did keep bringing me back to it.

Then I saw Fawlty Towers and I realised I had been setting my standards too low. Well, that’s what I thought for a while. No 12 episodes of any sit-com ever made, could stack up against Fawlty Towers. It is peerless. Yet there are 236 episodes of Friends. How does one compare 12 episodes of genius with 236 episodes of good to excellent? I’m sure there are some people reading this who are now experiencing rage that I have put Fawlty Towers and Friends in the same paragraph and not used the opportunity to pour scorn on Friends.

I understand that emotion. Fawlty Towers is a precious thing and the ubiquity of Friends has all but poisoned our memories to its better moments. But I cannot dismiss the disparity in the number of episodes produced/created; 236 versus 12? They are both sit-coms, it is not like differentiating between Fantasy and Science Fiction. It is not even comparing Star Wars with Star Trek. It’s Star Trek Voyager versus Battle Star Galactica (the newer series obviously)(though to be fair, in this scenario Voyager would have to be imagined as being much much better than it was and Galactica as only 12 episodes long). I think you get the picture. Apples and oranges, but apples being a citrus fruit.

It is through watching the career of John Cleese that I came to fully understand the difference between British and American sit-coms. As part of a relatively large team of writers, Monty Python, Cleese helped create the genius that is Monty Python’s Flying Circus and the equally genius films that followed. He was part of a team that produced 45 episodes, 5 films, numerous albums and books and that toured NorthAmerica like rock stars. He then wrote Fawlty Towers in partnership with Connie Booth. There was no one else. They filmed the series on a shoe string and that was it. I often ponder what would have happened if Cleese and Booth had been given American levels of support and resources. Cleese famously disliked working in teams and Friends had more writers than Monty Python, so I can’t help thinking he would have been fired by the end of Season2. He would have retained the credit ‘Created by’ but the series would have continued without him.

The disparity in resources available is not just a quirk of personality. The money generated by American sit-coms is phenomenal. Seinfeld has made billions of dollars. A successful sit-com is a cash cow, a money spinner par excellence and a goose that lays golden eggs. British sit-coms continue to be short run little gems. The pay-offs are simply not there to risk investing a great deal of money in a British sit-com. Instead there are occasional world beaters like The Office (UK Office = 2 writers. US Office = 17 writers) and the cheaper to produce, sketch show.

Back in the day when I presumed Americans did not get irony or self-deprecation, this would be a thing to be regretted. In this time of 30 RockModern Family and The Big Bang Bang Theory however (and there are others I have yet to see but have heard good things about) I know that I am living through a Golden Age of sit-coms. Just one of those mentioned, would fill me with glee, but there are three of them on together. It’s stunning.

So why Two and a Half Men? I’m currently watching Season9. I was curious to see if they could fit Ashton Kutcher into Charlie Sheen’s boots and they’ve done so quite successfully. I’ve watched every episode of every season and it took me two seasons (yep, my addiction is matched only by my slowness) to work out why this nasty piece of work, works? Season1 just screamed misogyny. Every female character is shrill, conniving, slutty, grasping and vile. I was continually stunned by just how unpleasant ‘all’ the female characters were. Even Berta, the outsider, the one I’d assumed would act as the show’s conscience, turned out to be repellant.

In Season2 however, it clicked. Two and a Half Men is not misogynist, it is misanthropic, it is downright un-American, it is subversive and it is dystopian. There is not a single attractive character in the entire show. Not one, male or female, child or adult. All are equally the villain of the piece. I am unaware of any sit-com which is so resolutely unheroic, unsympathetic and causes one to feel grubby if one identifies with any of the characters.

 In contrast, Modern Family is a conservative paean to the importance of the family in American society. It is in every way a positive and joyous celebration of family values. The addition of two Hispanic, two gay and an Asian character merely makes it appear more modern. It is so obvious yet its quality saves it from being hokey and cheesy. It is possibly the best written sit-com I’ver ever had the pleasure of laughing at. I look forward to Fridays, just because Modern Family will be on.

I do not have that same affection for Two and a Half Men (I’d worry about anyone who would) but I still won’t miss it. It’s subversiveness can be seen in the contrasting economic fortunes of Charlie and Alan. Charlie does little and is richly rewarded for that minimal effort. Alan works himself to distraction and is rewarded with poverty and scorn. But is there a moral to this? No! Charlie engages in consequence free hedonism and Alan disgusts one and all with his cheapness.

Even at the end of Season8, when life imitated art with Charlie Sheen being fired for his behaviour, he received a $25million pay-off and is expected to earn another $100million in syndication fees. Unless they start making coke out of gold, Sheen’s money will outlive his liver, heart and lungs.

That is what is so un-American, so subversive about Two and a Half Men and ultimately why I watch it, it shows only what is small in people. There is no idealism, no hope, no aspiration beyond the next act of self-indulgence. It is squalid and yet so few people realise that the bile on the surface merely disguises the true cesspool at its heart.

They are a dysfunctional family without any redeeming features (other than a beautiful house in a beautiful location), it is the anti-Simpsons. It is purist anarchy. It consistently avoids lecturing, avoids hectoring, avoids any teaching, any moralising, any hope and any attempt to inspire. It is in fact unique and it will prove impossible to emulate. It is so wrong, but I will continue to watch it, because if you’ve nothing to mix the vodka with, you’ll still just hold your nose and horse that harsh swill back.

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