Theresa May, the dread of the mollusc

Theresa May, the dread of the mollusc

“The many … whom one chooses to call the people, are indeed a collection, but only as a multitude, a formless mass, whose movement and action would be elemental, irrational, savage, and terrible. […] Public opinion deserves to be esteemed as much as to be despised; to be despised for its concrete consciousness and expression, to be esteemed for its essential fundamental principle, which only shines, more or less dimly, through its concrete expression.”
― Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

What Theresa May represents is the final meaninglessness of parliamentary democracy. Destitution in the UK is prevalent with many relying on food banks to stay alive, services are being sold off to exploitative companies, housing is unaffordable and mental illness is rife. Change is sought by the people. Media institutions and politicians largely have no solutions – they’re disarticulate, phatic and reactionary. Stare too long into our Prime Minister’s ghoulish face and it’s hard to tell what the point of all of this is. It’s a constant reminder that this world is not a sane or a rational place.

~

None of this was supposed to happen. Corbyn’s poor polling was alleged to remain static throughout the campaign and the Tory’s were going to win a significant, consolidating majority. This general election had been called precisely because Theresa May thought that she would appeal to the British public as a symbolic eclecticism of imperialism. She’d sit in cabinet meetings and boast of how she would be a proud mummy to this great empire. The UK under her leadership would subduct large areas of Europe and she’d spank the botty of anybody who questioned her authority and ‘difficult woman’ reputation which she’d assimilated for herself among colleagues. This is still how May presents herself and she still believes it. Now that she has to campaign in public, the factor which has changed is that the electorate are beginning to see the horrifying grimace on her face as the bile glugs back down her throat when she stops talking for a moment. They’re seeing how much she despises them, how utterly discomposed she is to be in their presence. To combat the Labour surge in the opinion polls, the Tories are relaunching their campaign, they need to transform her.

The Conservative Party’s campaign manager, Lynton Crosby, steps into a chamber filled with senior Tory officials. After some dull greetings and discussion, a member of the group stands up and says “Mr Crosby, the IRA terrorist sympathiser smear against Corbyn has largely been ineffectual – we’re losing ground, the poll gap is nowhere near as sizeable as it was when we called the election”. Crosby’s lips curl and he turns a shade of pink but this swiftly transitions into a glazed smile. “You’re right, this is a disaster” he says, “It’s different to how I imagined. Her reputation has superseded her abilities. She looks distinctly uncomfortable around the general public and she’s turning this campaign into a vanity project”. He paces toward the other side of the room, “Gentlemen, I know that you are all thinking ‘how do we turn this around?’ Well…” Crosby turns from the group and violently kicks an odd looking instrument, a great humanoid hunk of steampunk machinery with children coiled and sprawled into the mechanisms to operate the gears. The machine speaks, it’s sentient and it has an answer for them. As its creator, Lynton Crosby is the only one who understands it, only he can translate the dialect. The other men in the room, looking nervous, patiently await a solution for their campaign woes. “We’ve got it!” Crosby suddenly exclaims. He begins to sermonise, mostly-incomprehensible babble spews from his now foaming mouth “[…] We’re going to be focussing on Brexit and we’re now going to adopt the Labour campaign strategy of convincing video messages outlining our position, posted online for the public’s viewing”, he excitedly announces. “That’s how we will gain the assurances of our voters once again and the Prime Minister avoids the agonising contact with them!” The men in the room nod in unison and one by one begin to stand and applaud. Crosby signals at the door to the chamber and gleefully beckons “Come on in, girls!”, swim suit models hurriedly enter with champagne bottles and glasses. He presses a button on an old stereo system, pop music plays and the room breaks out into awkward flailing and celebratory handshaking.

Theresa May was next to appear on the Sky News programme, The Battle for Number 10. Throughout the campaign, she’d rejected one-on-one debate proposals with Jeremy Corbyn because her record in government is emphatically indefensible. Service cuts, big business favoured policy and a poorly handled Brexit process so far would all be easy targets for Corbyn. However, this programme was the Tory voter’s consolation prize, this was an opportunity to see their herald shine while being questioned and interviewed – who would believe it – in the same building as the Labour leader.

She arrived in the studio and took to the stage, her voice tremulous as she exchanged greetings with the show’s presenter, Faisal Islam. As she looks out into the audience, her smile gradually fades and the mollusc-like similarity in her skin tone and eye colour is more pronounced. One after the other, she is asked questions by members and she responds to them in turn. “What Jeremy Corbyn is proposing is nationalisation and higher taxes for the wealthy. This is simply impractical!”. Her face shifts into showing a sort of crinkled exuberance. “Now this…” as she gestures toward a toothless child freezing to death “this is real politics”. Murmuring and heavy sighs can be heard from the viewers, they’ve known her to use this rhetoric before. Halfway through the questioning, she insists on going backstage briefly and is granted permission. After a momentary pause in the studio, she returns, hastily cramming tadpoles into her mouth and then indicates to Faisal that she’s ready for another question. After answering more, attempting to reassure the public with promises of strength and stability, Theresa May makes one final appeal to the audience: “Many of my colleagues have called me a ‘bloody difficult woman’, this is because when I have a principle, nobody will stop me in my determination to deliver what’s best for the people of Britain”. During her statement, she begins to twitch nervously and coughs from the spiders stuck in her throat, haplessly trying to recall what the next part to her culminating speech is. She creaks into a crotchety smile once again, “We make absolutely clear, no deal for Britain is better than a bad deal.”, the crowd erupts into frenzies of cheers, clapping and sobbing. The camera pans to them, they have arisen from their seats. Tiny bow ties are visible in the audience, along with dripping brows and a woman holding out her hands as though they are akimbo pistols and mouths “Boom!”. The camera operator reverts back to May’s face, “Subsume yourselves”, she utters under her breath, “You will all be eating dog food”. They have just applauded the abyss.

A manifesto for the end of the world

A manifesto for the end of the world

A foreword by a zealous ideologue for the doctrines of smallness, insipidness and absolute hatred 

We are a great country. With great people. In the last five years I have heard your stories, your hopes and your aspirations. And I have heard too your frustrations.

The countless people working as hard as they possibly can and still struggling to pay the bills. The young people with great ambitions but great anxieties about the future. The dedicated staff of our NHS, who are deeply concerned about its funding. And all those who have served our country, are now retired, and ask where our country is going.

This manifesto is inspired by you.

National renewal

A simple truth known by many Brits is that we’ve had our chance, the world is dying. Climate change will ensure a great death for us all but remaining ahead of the world’s evil is all we can do in the meantime. In order to become a nation subsumed by this reality, we as a party are renewing our traditions of striving for fundamental change for the good people. Our pledges to you are as follows:

–  As a party of eugenicists, of antinatalists and ungulate herbivores with an appetite for blood: the weak, the homeless and their dogs should be harvested for soup to help reduce the scale of the agricultural crisis.

– The economy may seem fine but it is simply not good enough. All currency should now serve as a symbol for an individual’s eternal damnation. Spending will increase and the rapid expansion of our economy means that Europe will be entirely subducted by the British Isles in just a few years time. In order for this model to be sustainable, all material would be built in obsolescence: housing, clothing, technology and so on. Upstanding citizens would be actively encouraged to commit horrendous atrocities to keep the pound strong.

– Out of boredom, we’ve built and conceived of the towers high enough to reach the heavens. Made of glass, wiring and steel, we will demolish each and every one and gather the materials to be broken and smelted down for the assembling of magnificent drones, to eradicate boredom forever.

– As Earth’s climate warms, once-dormant bacteria and viruses trapped in ice and permafrost are reviving. This process is too incremental and it should happen now whilst widely-available antibiotics are powerless. We will send orphans over to the tundras in Siberia where the released infectious anthrax will taint their tiny bodies, to then bring the illness back to our own shores.

– Due to failures in conservation efforts, there are not enough terrifying birds in Britain. We want to introduce the Shoebill into our swamps and grasslands, there to feed on dreams, fairies and foxes alike.

In this election the country has a choice

Either we can carry on as we are, with an economy that might actually work for too many disposable losers. A country in which snowflakes are being sucked into our airwaves and making us horny and caustic. Or we can change direction together.

That’s what this manifesto offers. It is the kind of country we know ourselves to be. Let’s truly build it together.

 

Material culture and empire

Material culture and empire

I recently had an interesting interview with an anthropologist about museums, decolonisation and materialism. It’s me asking the questions. For the purpose of anonymity and because I am transcribing this through notes and my own dubious memory, some parts may be edited. I’m presenting this without comment because it’s a period of looming deadlines for my course at university, I’m also an idiot and I’ve never read anything in my life.  

Can you tell me a bit about your background in the field?

My masters was the Anthropology of Art which had a component focussing on the study of museums, so I chose to do that. I then worked at [museum in London] in the late 90s during a trend, among exhibition spaces, of changing national museums to reflect a bicultural narrative. This was a curatorial process of talking to and bringing in consultants from various ethnic and indigenous groups to assist with presenting this narrative. Before this, museums were seldom self-reflective and would often display objects as a means to convey a kind of ‘evolutionary’ process from Primitive – Enlightenment and Science.

In the early 2000s, I began studying art, museum heritage, souvenirs and looked at the content of collections to analyse how these all related to the ‘Market of Empire’ for my PhD. This is where I encountered valid critiques and scepticism towards referring to objects as “stolen” as a catch-all, which is so often ascribed to items from colonised societies, or vaguely presenting them as the product of theft and disempowerment. The problem with this rhetoric is that firstly, the objects are not usually stolen. In my field research, I traced the markets of empire by interviewing curators and archivists at local levels, acquisition of the objects was largely by early industrialists and ‘tourists’. Through navigating oral history, visual material and social impacts, you learn that colonised people were involved in that process of acquisition often. When the tourists would come in search of art and such, the Chief (or whoever meets them) is actually quite powerful. If an object was to be stolen, the thief would likely have been caught and even killed. What would tend to happen would be that the item would be presented as a gift or exchanged for a small sum. By calling it “theft” (in many cases) you effectively disempower the indigenous group twice. These items of specific cultural significance were already acquired on unequal, oppressive grounds but to then often write the group’s agency and participation in the process out of history is to disempower them again.

As I mentioned, a big part of my fieldwork was to study the oral history and the discourse of science and ethnology when these objects were acquired. I wanted to tell the story of a (hypothetical) “woman’s grandmother who had given this cloak to a figure of empire, who could trace where the item had been sold and how it was made”. I then proceeded to frame the object within its cultural relativism, rather than presenting something which was perhaps used for ritual, religion or even eating as something which is purely aesthetic (as was often the case). I would identify this to curators of museums and a timeless representation would be put back into its imperialist and religious (etc.) historical context.

You mentioned the modernisation of museums to reflect a bicultural narrative, can you elaborate on the rationale behind this and talk about your experience with the process?

For example, the Horniman Museum used to look much like what the Pitt Rivers Museum still looks like now. Both were amassed collections by scientific industrialists who presented the objects using racist science (the aforementioned tendency in the C19th to fetishise the items and also present them as primitive). In the 90s, the Pitt Rivers Museum designated that the display shouldn’t change and I agree to an extent, it was naive of the Horniman Museum (and others) to think that the display could ever have its ‘impurity’ removed through decolonising in this way. There have been attempts to un-modernise and they are largely met with resistance. [Museum in Vancouver] want to put the context back into the cultural items rather than presented as an aesthetic. The indigenous people would be the curators of the spaces, it was an idea to break down hierarchies between the qualified and the public. So, they would have storerooms with glass doors so that the public could see the objects in them for example. This changes the role of the curator as well to an extent. Before, the public would only see what the curator had chosen to be on display. There’s a good book about this process called Museums and source communities by Laura Peers.

Following on from that point: In your experience, to what extent do you feel the perspectives of archivists, historians and curators influences the final exhibition of the objects? How significant would you say their impact is in general terms?

Historians define object selection and text while the conservation group can absolutely put a “no” on something. The role of the architects of the space is also understated because they have a stake in how the exhibition is built. However, the criticism of the museums tends to fall entirely on the curators.

The biggest change since the 90s has been the inclusion of source communities within the museums, which is basically naming people. It’s ‘rehumanising’ and ‘de-ethnologising’ from when indigenous and colonised groups would be classified as ‘types’. Artist interventions have also been great in this too, artists become a somewhat heroic voice in deconstructing ‘the racist voice’ and were seemingly beyond critique. They would start doing consultation with indigenous groups and once you start this, they will appropriate you for their own means, as a way of validating indigenous culture. Take textiles for example, take something that the West values and use that as a lever for something that has been devalued in your culture. Get white people to value your culture and that way, they might listen to your political demands because we always denigrate something, art was a way of reorienting a negative discourse to a more positive one. Although the spaces were never going to be as subversive as [the artists] wanted, museums are so entangled with commissioners and bureaucracy in a way that largely prohibits radical change.

What do you think the future looks like for curation? 

The funding is in crisis, particularly for university museums in the UK, they are losing their economic base and having to look to philanthropists and new funding models. An important role for museums in the future is to show the cultural exchanges that have taken place, through the movement of people and objects. You could have a much less hegemonic history. By eliminating these simple binaries and narratives about “stolen objects”, the divisiveness of the museum space is tackled effectively. Historically, the argument for decolonisation of exhibitions has been used by right-wing governments and authorities to shut museums down, they will say “you’re right, these objects are stolen and this is not true to history” but they aren’t thinking about repatriation, they don’t give a shit about returning the objects, they just want to whitewash history entirely. This is where it becomes dangerous, decolonisation is then used to defend a white purist narrative and the double disempowerment that I mentioned becomes more violent.

Moving back to your question about the future, they should also project collections outwardly into schools for example, using digital imagery as a vehicle for education and it’d be much more socially inclusive. For a more cohesive view on society, this would be a very useful way to disseminate. Similar projects could be deployed using the digital imagery from storerooms and exhibition spaces too. This doesn’t seem to be happening widely though and how do you engage with people that don’t want to know?