Sunday, 25 October 2009

Bish, Bash, Tosh! (Folk Myths of a PC Christmas)

My interest was peeked this weekend by a shouty article in Birmingham's leading tabloid rag.

"Midlands Church Leaders in Battle to Save Christmas" screamed the headline. The article itself is no less polemic, announcing it as a gauntlet thrown down to "The Politically Correct Brigade" (whoever they are).

The Mercury quotes the bishop at length...

"We’re just getting to the season when the papers like to report on local councils who, out of concern for ethnic minorities, have banned Christmas in favour of Winterval or another silly name.

This year that kind of story is likely to be more than matched by stories of big firms sacking those people who want to wear a cross, a fish lapel badge or some other sign of the Christian faith.

Ethnic minorities are far more anxious about the rampant secularism and commercialism that erodes all Christian standards than they are about their host country properly celebrating its Christian foundations."

(Read the rest of it here http://www.lichfield.anglican.org/news&newsID=655)

Now I'm not arguing against the good bishop's right to express his fears but there are two phrases which need highlighting in the above paragraph.

"the papers like to report..." and "that kind of story is likely to be more than matched by...". It hasn't actually happened you see?

Trying to find an actual example of a local authority or a company banning Christmas is as difficult as trying to find a Muslim who's offended by cheap plastic baubles and borrowed pagan symbols. It's like trying to nail jelly to a wall, but the idea persists that they're all at it.

The Chronicle warns "it comes as a report reveals three out of four employers will not be putting up decorations this year for fear of offending staff."

I wanted to read that report, so I went looking for it. It was conducted by an employment law firm which deals with compensation claims against employers. Oh and it was done in 2006.

Despite the decrepit and potentially biased nature of the stats and the paucity of other proof, the Chronicle (and the Bishop) have responded as though the sky is falling, while Muslims and other minority faiths respond with utter bewilderment.

The "Winterval" scare is also an urban myth. Back in 1997 and 1998 Birmingham City Council came up with an idea to promote the redevelopment of it's city centre to everyone. What it wanted to do was include a whole grab-bag of celebrations without making anyone think it was just about Christmas. Among the events between October 20th and mid-January it wanted to celebrate were such foreign muck as; The Christmas lights switch on, BBC Children in Need, Aston Hall by Candlelight, New Years eve, various theatre shows, an open air ice rink, Frankfurt open air Christmas market and "the Christmas seasonal retail offer".

Fortunately for the headline writers, the Hindu Diwali festival, Chinese New Year and the Muslim festival of Eid ul-Fitr were also included. Right-wing knee-jerkers will often call Eid "Muslim Christmas" but it moves forward 11 days each year so most of the time it's nowhere near the Christian festival. Not in 1997 and 1998 though. Then it was slap bang in the middle. A perfect chance to make money off Muslims and Christians alike, not to mention BBC viewers and Torville and Dean fans. But the authority made the mistake of using one of those public service words which has the effect of turning tabloid hacks and god-fearing WI members into rabid attack dogs. That word is "Inclusive".

What started off as a marketing ploy to get more punters in to the town centre on dark winter nights swiftly spiralled into a national tabloid sensation, as editors scrambled to gain the high ground of moral indignation on what was always a hill of sand.

Commentators raged at "Political correctness gone mad" but consider this; If I go and ask a bishop the two following questions (as a qualified journalist) which do you think is going to get a more explosive response?

Q1) Birmingham City council wants to rename Christmas "Winterval" to avoid offending Muslims. What do you think?

Q2) Birmingham city council wants to get as much money as possible off everyone this Christmas so it's calling its major marketing event Winterval so it can include adverts for Diwali, Eid, Dancing on Ice and Children In Need. What do you think?

Guess which angle the papers went for? Here's a clue; The Sunday Mercury, bastion of fine editorial content that it is, has such gems as "Stourbridge widow was £1,000 per night hooker" and "Britain's Got Talent star offers sex for money" on it's front page this week. Incisive stuff.

Like a carpenter and his knocked-up-bride-to-be being refused a place at a Travel Lodge on the 24th of December, the Winterval story was just too good for them to miss. 12 years on it's still running. "A lie", they say, "will be halfway round the world before the truth has got its boots on".

So I'm sorry to be a wet blanket on everyone's righteous anger but this is a tabloid inspired circulation booster.

A combination of lazy journalism and partisan paranoia have conspired to bring another non-story back from the dead. It is truly a ghost of Christmas past.

You've been had. Again.

Thought for the day: How many people who use the Coca-Cola company's image of Santa, hang pagan mistletoe in the hall and fight for a Christian Christmas have been to church in the last 12 months?

Monday, 12 October 2009

Dying to be green

I'll not bore you with the thought process which lead me to my current conundrum but it occurred to me that my death, when it comes, will have an impact on the planet's atmosphere if I'm not very careful. We're all destined for landfill of sorts after all. Before your eyebrows migrate to the nape of your neck, this began more as a thought experiment than an eco-crusade.

Put simply, we're 18% carbon as we stand, but when we lie down to sleep for the last time it'll all be released as we rot. I'm only 11 stone so that's one run to the shops in a Fiat Panda in Co2 terms but there are an awful lot of us around. 7 Billion trips to ASDA worth of rotting corpses is a bit more of a problem.

It's not an easy one to solve either. My first thought was encapsulation. Bury me in Tupperware! But then there's all that oil and water to make the plastic and the inevitable junk male which would come from the production of a click-lock casket (I can see the JML ad now). Ditto glass. All that heat required to make me into a giant paperweight. Concrete, another candidate chucks out huge amounts of carbon dioxide as it sets so that';s an eco-no-no too. Nelson was pickled in brandy to preserve his body for the return trip from Trafalgar (Third class really meant something back then) but again, vineyards, wooden casks, transit costs and the fermentation process are hardly carbon neutral. Cremation's the worst of all. Most of the ovens are natural gas fired and would release my carbon faster than mouldering in the grave.

When you start analysing what makes carbon dioxide it really does get tricky. How do you dispose of a human without the funeral service being drowned out by the tutting of environmentalists.

I have however hit upon a plan which I think you'll agree ticks most of the boxes. I shall plant a rubber tree and harvest the sap until It's time to clock out. It'll bind up C02 itself and the resulting gluey mess can be used to encase my remains upon exit. Thus shrink-wrapped I shall ask to be transported north, by sailing boat of course, to the frozen wastes of the polar ice-cap where bacteria fear to tread. On arrival, dig me a hole. Deep frozen, my carbon should be safe and my neutrality in the cycle quite literally preserved.

Simple as that.

Thought for the day: The amount of Co2 generated by the computers used to compile this blog and for you to read it have made the plan utterly pointless.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Dancing in to danger.

The BNP's recruiters must be doing their own little cha-cha-cha over the Anton du Beke race row. Can you think of anything more likely to stir the righteous indignation of the Mail-reading classes than another "Political Correctness Gone Mad" story? I can see them now, spitting marmalade all over their union jack tablecloths. "I'll call a paki a paki if I want to" they'll shriek, without a golden shred of irony or self-examination.

Never mind the row itself, the red-tops and the narrow-sheets know how to whip up a storm. We get the media we pay for. They'll continue to pander to the knee-jerkers with this story until the next one comes along, because instead of demanding a real debate about race in Britain, it’s much simpler to browse the Mail’s editorial and suck your teeth.

The really sad thing is, each time the papers print this drivel, the sort of people who would shout the word ‘Paki’ at a random person in the street will feel better for doing so. They'll think they're striking a blow for freedom of speech, when all they're really after is freedom of abuse. In the meantime Mr du Beke (A man who I can't really see hurling insults at anyone in the street) will find himself the unwitting poster-boy for a right wing campaign to liberate great British racial jibes.

While the tabloids pander to the knee-jerkers and simplify the arguments to the monosyllabic, what chance do we have of ever having a mature debate about the future of a multi-cultural Britain?

A Disclaimer:

The fact that I don’t want to see Anton Du Beke hung, drawn and quartered does not mean I approve of what he said. It was clearly tasteless and improper. I won't stand by and accept people using racist and/or homophobic remarks around me. I have got into trouble on more occasions than I care to mention by challenging racist language/behaviour in public. I despise racism regardless of who it is directed at or who it's coming from. Racism and xenophobia are the foundation stones of an ugly lurch to the right in British politics which I detest.

Thought for the day: Nick Griffin thinks he should be able to call a spade a spade.