Problems with Pronouns

Never has the landscape, on which you and I inhabit, looked so rocky and unsettled in this beleaguering land. Never has it’s national identity been so  confused and split since the Thatcher era. As if rising over yonder on a sturdy steed finally come UKIP, the saviors for all Brits, promising to make Britain Great again.

Slightly unfair may be, because that is what all the parties ultimately aim to do. Offsetting and reflecting this though,  is a series of issues regarding the identity of Britain and the British, and consequently will boil down to your own subjectivity. Lets for a start, Scotland; this issue has all sides of the political strata pledging their allegiances to the stay or go camp. No wonder patriots are so worried to see Scotland go, with this once great empire, now nothing but an annoying younger brother to the big old neoliberal land of America. This is slightly ironic given the New York Times has published an article saying that the irony in Britain wanting to leave Europe is that it has become more European. What is Britain without Scotland? England and Wales which looks pathetically small compared to it’s all old Empire status. There is still the commonwealth though, which in all reality is just an excuse for the Queen to get out of the house.

On a larger scale, is Europe. In trying to persuade Scotland to stay, parties are considering whether they want to stay in Europe. There is a lovely irony to all this that no matter how much Britain stays or goes in whatever union or constitution, it will remain locked in it’s geographical location, with it’s bordered lands. Indeed  it is this sovereignty and dividing lines are where the problems manifest . This of course is where UKIP come in, who have seen their popularity rising, and for a party that is so vehemently opposed to Europe, it seems to enjoy spending it’s time in it’s parliament. I don’t understand Europe, and how it’s laws work, and what it’s effect on Britain is, so I struggle to understand how the majority of the nation think they know how Europe works and would be able to judge so at a referendum. UKIP and other Europe nay-sayers direct their rhetoric towards the fact that our laws are mostly constituted  in Europe or that the European Union is just a bunch of bureaucrats. Is that not what our Government is? Are we honestly going to try and depict and glorify our own politicians as a bunch of down-to-earth humanists who understand our concerns, or are at least trying to and that’s why they want to pull out of Europe?

The main thrust of their argument though is not issues of paperwork, it’s a historical one, centuries old. It’s a desperate clinging onto the fact that once Britain was a great imperialistic world power, and still could be one, albeit imperilisation s likely to work on a lot more implicit terms, but what is the point of the army? The British Empire might be dead but it’s values aren’t. Look over to  Putin and his invasion of Ukraine; he is only being condemned by leaders because he threatens to become what the rest of the leaders condemning him are – world figures who want to police the world and dominate it. The main thrust though of these issues comes down to what UKIP is so unafraid of exposing: that any other nationality apart from Britain that threatens to challenge  it’s archaic view of Britishness.

It’s exemplified on a much more domestic level with the furor over the emergence that several well known food chains either use Halal or are switching to Halal meat (Pizza Express the former, Subway the latter). Fostered by the right wing press like the Express and the Mail (who else), it has generated fevered nationalist rhetoric that this is an example of Islamist ideology creeping into the shores of Britain, surely playing into the widening arms of UKIP who are ready to embrace you in their cosy nationalism.

Is it really Islamist ideology, or is it more likely down to the fact that these food chains need to widen their market share to cater for all types, to  be able sell more to more people, as it now emerges that more companies are remaining subversive about using Halal meat. And no wonder. But whilst the debate is largely depressing because of it’s racial connotations, what is also, perhaps more depressing, is that how people feel so betrayed by these companies because of their use of halal meat. People write on social media sites how they are ‘boycotting’ Subway, not out of a rejection of their unethical capitalist ideology that obliterates local, green alternatives for the global demand and supply, but an ill-conceived conviction that Subway is succumbing to Islamist ideology. It is just, as usual,  what has been channelled into them via outlets like The Mail, that their/your cherished Britain  is undergoing an Islamist, foreign invasion..

When it comes down to it though, it’s not Subway succumbing to Islam: are we suggesting that a huge corporate, global giant like Subway could be seen giving into Islamic demands ? No, it’s the agenda to make more, and sell more to more people. Did rafts of Muslims take to social networking sites to protest they were not buying at Subway unless they sold halal meat? The depressing reality is that rather than see this as evidence that Subway wants to open up an outlet, two even, on every high street in Britain, diminishing and destroying the chance of any kind of local investment and competition that we apparently all so desperately want to see again, it’s rather seen as the fact that there is going to be, not a Subway on every high street, but a mosque. They’re not that different when you look at it; both have you believing in their holiness, and like a mosque, Subway would happily have you coming to their services five times a day, but at least the mosque is honest about this and does not reap you of every penny in a false, non-nutritional product.

Everybody wants homegrown. The mass companies where we buy our products distort and create the lie that we’re buying British, you’re buying more than a product; we can be safe in the knowledge that buying this beef, or this carrot with it’s small Union Jack on it’s packaging that it has come from some cherished field in Blighty. Do you feel better for that, buying this from your local supermarket, that relative monolith compared to the extortionate butcher’s or greengrocers? And why would you go to the local butchers or greengrocer, that is if you still have one on your high street, if you live in a comfortable middle class area, when they’re so expensive compared to the supermarket.

Another issue that bubbles away, that initially seems unrelated but can  exemplify a few absurdities, is be found from that other, crazy, ‘working-man’s’ game – football. With the World Cup impending, England’s chances of success look so remote that even the press, where they’re usually generating a frenzy of England’s chances (this year! this year!) are going a long with the common consensus that they are not even assured of exiting the group stage. And the reason for this? There are not enough – that word again – home-grown English players playing in it’s top league, the Premier League. It’s almost universally agreed that the Premier League is the most exciting league in the world, but this does not translate into success, and never has done. That is the truth; there are not enough high quality English players playing in the highest quality league in the world for England to win a World Cup; there are too many foreign players that impede the chances of English exposure. These clubs are of course mostly owned by rich, foreign owners who view football teams and players as commodities and assets. But the fans and the spectators in all this have no choice but  to desire and ultimately expect immediate success, like they want success for their national team, and are toys to their teams prevailing need for more capital to make this happen. Success at the domestic level usually translates into investing in the best players world wide, and it’s finally coming into realisation that the two cannot go hand in hand.

Thankfully this is not being blamed on Islamist ideology, although xenophobia  threatens to permeate the debate. The term home-grown, when applied to a human, is so inferring of the fact that they belong to a certain land and location, that their bones and blood came from the land they were born in. And there is the greatest lesson; it’s not the people at the bottom, like the fans who want their team to be the best in the land, like there are those who want their meat killed in a certain way, but it’s those at the top who generate the money and the services who need to keep generating the money and the services by whatever means, so they need as many people spending as much money as possible to keep generating their lies and pretensions, to stop the bubble from bursting. Something comes a long though,that threatens these poor consumers to stop them buying into the dream and the illusion, and this hurts the consumer, this piercing insight to what’s really happening and they can’t handle it, and as has been shown, it turns to hate to another unwitting toy of the market, whilst those at the top, have to go back to the drawing board and reconfigure their tactics.

So, if all this is  question of honesty, UKIP probably are the most ‘honest party’; for example when Nigel Farage says they do not oppose immigration, in the strict sense they don’t,  because they promote privatisation (of the NHS for example) , and capitalism is reliant on migration and a mobile labor pool. But they want what is best for British people whoever they are, which could mean you, yes you. We’re led to believe  dividing lines and borders are set in stone, but as is clear, they’re easily moved when they need to be.


Review: The Rooms Are Filled – Jessica Null Vealitzek

You have to be ready for Jessica Null Vealitzek’s debut. You have to be ready for the brutal humanity of it, because if the title of the takes lends itself from the biblical proverb, there is no relief from any kind of religious belief.

Starting off in rural Minnesota, Michael and his mother move to Chicago after the death of his father, and as much as young Michael may see his dead father, there is no miracle of him ever coming back. Whilst not filled with people, Minnesota is filled with symbolism, particularly wolves, which sustain with Michael throughout the novel. The ‘Grandmother wolf’ for instance which must be killed in ‘the white and red snow’, as Michael reminisces about a hunting trip he had with his father.

When they move to Ackerman, Chicago, now surrounded by people rather than animals, Michael and his mother Anne, must adapt to this. Anne takes a job at her brother’s diner, and Michael struggles to fit in at school (lone wolf), as he inadvertently challenges the playground hierachies that already exist there. He is then further admonished  when they learn he is adopted. All this happens early on, along with a miscarriage; a lot of the early pages you do find yourself just wishing these people could get a break. Regardless, the school does unite the two central story arcs, that of Julia Parnell’s and Michael’s. We’re first introduced to Julia in alternate chapters, which at first appear as a series of  letters to a woman called Rose.

Typically, these two outcasts begin to forge a relationship. The teacher – loner pupil relationship is not new, but the story that Vealitzek renders it as is something original, because Julia’s sexuality and begins to take precedent in the novel’s events. They’re not just outcasts in a new town; they are outcasts when the eighties AIDS paranoia in swirling around them. Although Michael is not gay, or  as far as we know is not, people see his adoption as a reason for him being homosexual.

Michael does make one acquaintance in Tina, a neighbour. She is worldly, and beyond her years, frustrated by Michael’s naivety and innocence, which irritated me as well at times.  Tina , the ‘whatever’ saying pre-teen girl with a greater understanding of sex (another example i reviewed in Andrew Lovett’s novel, last year) she is not entirely original. But she asks more questions about the conflicts of sexuality and introduces one of the most interesting characters in the book, her father, Jim. He is a self-congratulatory, violent mysoginist with authoritarian  power, or as Vealitzek wryly describes him, ‘a man’s man’, and his ego takes a beating when his advances on Julia are spurned.

On that note psychoanalysts might take some pleasure (ho-ho!) from their interpretation of Vealitzek’s work. A key moment, specifically related to Jim, but encapsulates the novel’s main themes, is when he is on his last job in Milwaukee, before he also moved to Ackerman. Jim is sent out to a neighborhood area because of a noise complaint. There he encounters,

“Masked faces appeared, whirling about him as he stepped inside…The masks laughed at him as they rushed by, Frankenstein, John Wayne, Ronald Regan. As his eyes adjusted, Jim noticed the people, male and female, were naked.

This idea of masks and, indeed being a character is something that troubles all of the characters  and challenges the modern notion of whether a mask really is hiding something, or rather if we’re always  masking ourselves, just changing and shifting person over times and instances, particularly here with the key debate of sexuality. Look at the characters of Julia and Rose, with Julia acting as the straight–laced teacher, but finds herself struggling to act as ‘what she really is’, that horrible phrase that to indicate there is some kind of essential truth about us. What she is, is a homosexual, but that is precisely what she also not is. She wants to be accepted as a homosexual but not defined by it. It is that essential truth that people see as justifications for vilification. To be what she really is would be to signify her exclusion as an outcast from society. Although set in the eighties, even now in our apparently free and modern times, there is still loathsome opposition to gay people, with the old orders reproducing archaic, old arguments.

The above episode is not over for Jim when his remembers,

he turned to step outside and call for backup, but a hand grabbed his shoulder and pulled him around. Marilyn Monroe pouted back at him inches from his face,and her painted fingers rubbed his chest. Another body closed the door behind him and pushed up against his backside, hands sliding down his waist. He felt a stirring as Marilyn’s fingers brushed down, down, down until they played on his lower adbomen…that’s when Jim saw that Marilyn was a man’

This seems to ignite and explain his projectile rage throughout the rest of novel and his masochistic quest. Vealitzek may be making a pertinent comment about the authorities and the reaffirmations of status quo, but it’s also about man, he is a man’s man.

Vealitzek is playing with the greater themes whilst remaining hands length away; feminist/criticism of the rigidity of authority and power/ sexuality, but producing a story to go with it, which i’m sure people will be happy to read without the subtexts.  Some of the character’s are slightly overused stocks, and some of the phrasing skirts cliché and the overly hyperbole; a plate for instance ‘smashes into a hundred pieces’. Does it really? And you can imagine the kind of typical rage and frustration that led to that. And as already mentioned, Michael, who witnesses several early trauma’s remains ridiculously composed throughout the novel, and it’s no wonder Tina get’s frustrated with him. There is also quite a bit of reminiscing that serves as exposition. But, there is still plenty to take away from The Rooms Are Filled.

The Rooms Are Filled by Jessica Null Vealitzek is out now published by She Writes Press. Thanks to them for providing a review copy.