Cou nter poi nts
March 2019 8
I once appeared on a daytime television debate show to discuss sado-masochism with a group of its more extreme practitioners. A man told me he loved having his scrotum nailed to a coffee table—and what was wrong with that, he asked? When I suggested that maybe, wanting your scrotum nailed to a coffee table wasn’t, umm . . . normal, he and the entire audience went ballistic.
It’s easy to understand why “normal” has become a taboo word quarantined with quotation marks. The message of just about every Hollywood film is be gay, a misfit, an addict, a mutant, be different. Meanwhile, social media encourages look-at-me exhibitionism. The message is clear: the grey get left behind.
In the past, you could wind up in prison or a psychiatric ward because you weren’t considered normal. But I worry we have swung too far the other way. The normal are pressurised into not being normal. They are the new misfits, seen as boring or socially inadequate.
There’s a pervasive belief that if you stop trying to be normal, you’ll discover, in the words of Maya Angelou, “how amazing you are!” Sorry Maya, but difference doesn’t make you amazing. This is a modern myth rooted in Rousseau and Romanticism. Those who were once marginalised can be just as mediocre and, dare I say it, as normal as the rest of us. And that’s no bad thing.
Recently, an old friend from my debauched and druggy youth asked me with some sadness: when did we become so normal? I said I wasn’t sure, but thanked him for the compliment.
Closed minds BY Ashley Frawley
No issue in decades has come close to Brexit in terms of its ability to inflame political passions. Comments from on high about a “special place in hell” for Brexiteers hint at what many feel is at stake.
Britain’s universities are different. Here, in the supposed intellectual heart of the nation, there is no incendiary debate, merely a stunned lack of comprehension and the blithe assumption that all we “nice” people voted to remain. Everyone speaks accordingly, in a way that reminds me of growing up looking white and being privy to conversations about “those people”, where “they” were my family.
I am a relatively young, female, leftist academic, an immigrant to the UK and married to a Greek. We have two young children, both with European passports. But while many, including some of my colleagues think “Brexiteer” is synonymous with “thick”, “xenophobic” and “gammon”, had I been able to vote, I would have voted Leave.
“How could you say that?” said one of my stunned colleagues. “You’re a turkey voting for Christmas!” Even my husband was shocked: “This was a vote against people like us!” But it wasn’t. For me it would have been, among other things, a vote against the institutions that made our life in Greece unliveable and Europe’s treatment of non-EU migrants. I managed to bring my husband around. Academia, I fear, may prove a lost cause.
When news of the referendum result broke, I was shocked to find the atmosphere was not one of rational discussion, but solemn mourning. Talking about Brexit was like trying to discuss the mechanics of a deadly cancer at a funeral. Thereafter, defending Brexit became a liability. Everyday discussions became heated arguments. As time wore on, it became clear that the moment for reasoned debate would never come. I began simply to smile and nod and bite my tongue.
It’s not just me. Speaking on the phone to a pro-Brexit colleague recently, we both instinctively lowered our voices and got up to shut our office doors. He described how he had begun to fear for his colleagues’ mental health. A conversation over a drink had almost ended in blows. He doesn’t mention it any more.
For all the muttered apologies to European staff and all the talk of “celebrating diversity”, there is a startling intolerance in the air. Many will defend the “diversity” over which we have little control—the accident of birth that gives us our nationality—but all that goes out of the window when it comes to differences of opinion. Then I become the wrong kind of immigrant: the type who should have no say in UK politics.
Surely universities should be all about diversity of opinion? Instead, my colleagues have closed their minds, abandoned democracy, ignored the reasons for Brexit and thrown away the opportunity to debate the future shape of a post-EU Britain. That is what’s worth mourning.
Mañana, mañana BY Frankie McCoy
Millennials are awful, obviously: shiftless smartphone addicts and solipsistic self-carers forever blaming baby boomers for ruining their lives. Now there’s a new thing to add to the list of our defects: errand paralysis. The term was coined on millennial website BuzzFeed earlier this year, referring to our inability to perform mundane chores such as returning parcels or answering emails due to the burnout associated with simply being alive.
I read about errand paralysis one afternoon when I was meant to be replacing a defunct light bulb. Later, I had a blazing row with my fiancé which culminated in him flinging across the room the binbag of dresses I meant to donate to Oxfam last autumn. The sack disintegrated with age.
It’s not just minor tasks: millennial proclivity for procrastination means crucial errands are cut and pasted into tomorrow’s to-do list ad infinitum. “Register to vote”, for example. While the 65 per cent of 18-35-yearolds who voted in the Brexit referendum was better than expected, it was nowhere near the 90 per cent turnout of the over-65s. In the US midterms last November, Beyoncé got involved in youth voter registration—you could sign up at her concerts—because apparently, without the world’s most famous pop star yelling at us, millennials cannot fill out a life-defining form.
It’s not our fault we can’t deal with life’s flotsam. Thanks to the appification of life, we don’t need to wash clothes (use Laundrapp) or buy groceries (use Ocado). We're too technologically advanced for the boring stuff our parents wasted their lives with. So when it comes to tasks that actually need completing manually, we procrastinate.
But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Actually, procrastination is crucial to the creative process, as an American study—Soon by Andrew Santella—suggested last year. Mozart finished writing Don Giovanni only moments before its inaugural performance (the ink was said to be still wet on the music sheets) while I would rather write a 3,000-word feature than fill in my tax return or apply for a new job than visit my GP. True geniuses don’t have time to buy binliners. And when you do finally post that letter, the high of completing a task now mentally inflated to Everest-size is incomparable: a euphoria no diligent errand-completer can know.
Best of all? Put a task off long enough and often it just . . . goes away. A dripping tap disappears when you move house; the cyclical nature of fashion means tat destined for the charity shop becomes chic again. Spouses buy the bloody lightbulb themselves. Procrastination wins.