Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Game of Moans

Apparently many persons are not going to watch Game of Thrones any more because the rape of Sansa Stark was a "rape too far".  I'm intrigued by the idea of a "rape too far" - is that not a single rape?  Are we now hierarchizing sexual violence for entertainment purposes?  Is the rape of minor characters less important to our understanding of the crime or our support of the victim?

It seems that seeing a major character's violation is worse than the multiple gang rapes that took place earlier in the series.  I have to reference Tiger Beatdown here, because her objections to the ideology of the show are largely what I take issue with.  Her argument is that GRR Martin is "creepy".  And my argument is, so what?

The violation of a major character would clearly be more effective a representation of rape than that of a minor character - the audience is more shocked by it, particularly as this one is not technically a rape; Sansa is married to its perpetrator and - however manipulated - she has given her permission to that marriage; in an age or culture where marital rape does not exist, this is a done deal.  People don't want to see what women's lives were like - are still like, in much of the world - if it's too icky.  I wonder if they would feel comfortable suggesting that the representation of slavery or of violence towards Jewish people in the second world war should not be permitted on screen.

Ah, but only when the author's intentions are serious.  When did entertainment stop being serious?  Greek tragedy dealt with the noble and their tribulations not just so the commoners could point at them, but so they could purge their feelings in those of their Kings.  This was drama akin to religious experience;  Game of Thrones offers a similar - though admittedly more gory - dramatic trajectory, presumably so we can enjoy a similar dose of catharsis.

As for the art required to engage an audience - Brideshead Revisited is a biliously unctuous book, so thick with snobbery and sucking up that the religious themes are hard to pick out - but Waugh's deeper lore - the love of the rambling sentences that evoke loss - have remained with me all my life.  In Lolita, the deep horror that lies at the heart of the novel is underscored by the contrast of the singing beauty of the prose; just because art deals with vileness does not mean it should not exist. When you look away, don't you deny?  How will we deal with what we refuse to see?

It is a trope of much trash tv that Really Bad Things do not happen to major characters - they do not die, they are not mutilated or violated.  The skilful inversion of this trope is what first Joss Whedon and now GoT have made work for them, because it is daring and artistically difficult; you have to be able to get the audience to really really care before you injure a character, and if you wish to kill one, you have to have enough other relationships or stories of real emotional investment to keep the audience hooked.  This many dramas cannot do, because they are made by mountebanks who do not know their craft.  To condemn drama that succeeds is more reactionary than the questionable ideology of said drama.  It exposes only the negativity of the viewer, and to suggest a moral superiority by refusing to engage is childish at best.  

Is there a debate to be had about the ways art interacts with culture and whether it endorses and reinforces the ideology it reflects?  Indubitably.  But this doesn't seem to me to be it.

As fan fiction tags say - don't like, don't read.  But if you want to contribute to culture, stop whingeing about somebody else's contribution and make your own.

Monday, 25 May 2015


If I have to look at somebody explaining why the Finnish Education system works so much better than the UK's one more time, I may scream.

Here is the skinny; nobody wants the UK system to "work".

Because it is used to control wayward teens without having either the training or the support to do so.

That's all.

It's the cheapest way to control a problematic part of the population and keep them off the unemployment rolls.  The alternative is to allow permanent exclusion, or expulsion, as it used to be called; and then those kids will be causing nuisance to the police and the neighbours, who won't even have the convenience of being able to identify them by their uniform.  Unthinkable.

The political convenience is backed up by ideological foolishness of believing that a child who is excluded from school is excluded from society.  This may or may not be true - surely everybody of my generation has at least one mate who was repeatedly expelled and has made out just fine - but one case is not necessarily caused or affected by the other.

For example, a seven year old sexually harassing another seven year old of opposite sex and bullying/hitting/fighting many more of his own, who has been PExed twice and is currently permitted to carry on this behaviour because he is a POC and at danger of exclusion sends a clear message, which is that his right to hurt, frighten and bully others outweighs the rights of the other children not to be hurt, frightened or bullied.  This is very disruptive to teaching and learning, funnily enough; so his right to act out is also being protected above the right of the other children to learn.  The ideology here is acting as a sop to the powerlessness of the staff, however, as actually there is nowhere else for him to go, and if he does, the school has to meet the costs.

So the left and the right meet in perfect harmony, to destroy any working education.  Discuss.

Sunday, 10 May 2015

If We're Supposed To, Why The Hell Aren't You?

As a teacher, I know it is my duty - as well as my pleasure and my destiny -  to move EVERY CHILD who ever crosses my path, let alone sits in my classroom, up to a C grade at GCSE.   This holy grail  is a constantly moving target which (in the subject I teach, English) now has remarkably little similarity to what it was when I took the O level, what it was in the generation who first took the GCSE after that, or the one after that, or what it will be in five or ten years' time.  Whether a qualification so widely varied in its requirements is truly a gold standard, I leave it to my readers to decide for themselves.  The frequent changes certainly serve the purpose of keeping both teachers and students in a ferment of confusion and hopelessness, which may be its very aim, or just a lucky by-product; again, I leave it to my readers.

But what the exam is designed to do, clearly, is to create hierarchy.  If the standard is the same, and the teachers know it, they can teach to it.  This is highly likely to lead to "grade inflation" because if you can teach something and do so, outcomes improve.  If the standard is obscure and constantly changed, it cannot be taught for, and will thus by default favour those who are - well, socially advantaged by having native English speaking parents with big vocabularies.  Socially advantaged by being sent to schools who don't teach any children with learning difficulties or a disproportionate number of other special (social) needs.  The children of people like our governing elite.  Education must fail to close that gap, or how will the governing elite justify - or indeed maintain - its advantages, particularly while pretending we live in a meritocracy.

Meanwhile, teachers are supposed to "prove" they are worthwhile by ensuring every student exceeds the average result, because the performance of the mathematically impossible is the only proof anyone should ever accept that they are adequate.

Interestingly, teachers have accepted this narrative as a condition of their jobs (whether or not they believe it in private) and lo, they spend a huge amount of time and energy and resources on "coaching" (or cramming, or intervening, or whatever you wish it called) Year 11 in a headache inducing frenzy around this time of year.  This involves using and applying endless reams of data to calculate which students might conceivably gain a C grade and breaking down their individual strengths and weaknesses in each part of the exam and coaching them into it.  A treadmill of past papers, analysis of answers, modelling and re-doing and re-marking.  History, of course, does not provide negative proof, but I am personally a little wary of believing that kids who were never going to get a C grade increased at the last minute after eleven years of not having the potential.  Into such dark and hideous paths does the accepting of the narrative lead us, however.

Accepting the narrative was also a key part of the election.  Many and various have been the economists who have spoken out against the Austerity Will Solve Everything narrative; not the Labour party, however.  

They also rejected the horrible truth that to get an MP elected a decent candidate helps.  The harsh truth is that Jacob Rees Mogg writes long chatty letters to my Dad when he complains about every condition of the human lot, because he is his MP., and on one occasion caused the tax office to call my Dad after a particularly annoying refusal on their part to answer the telephone.  Dawn Primarolo never responded in a human way to any of my requests or lobbies over the many many years she held the position of my MP, because she was a shockingly lazy one.  

Also not present was the belief that they should, like the tragic teachers, Crunch The Data.  Labour lost marginal seats by mere hundreds of votes - seats it should have been making sure of by asking the local questions, when the last majority was equally small.  And failing that, it should look to what highly successful schools have been doing to alter their achievement profiles over the last decade - the sweep of kids who are removed from the roll over the year before the GCSEs, one way or another.  They are small numbers, but - as we are all supposed to know - every voter counts.