Arts

Freedom of Expression and Edinburgh, 2015

THE BIGGEST threat to freedom of expression in Britain today is not the shadow of the law, but whispers behind the scenes. Not the courtroom so much as a slippery excuse from someone in authority that says, I’m so sorry but we can’t put this on, because of this or that or the other dog-ate-my-homework reason. The fear of protests; the wrong kind of attention, a storm on social media. Trouble with the venue, the risk assessor, the insurance adviser, the head of college. These nebulous fears are recast politely as “it doesn’t quite fit in with our programme this year,’ or ‘ we don’t think it will sell enough tickets”, or “I’m sorry, we are already full.”

This was what I argued when, at the Edinburgh Fringe this year, I took part in a panel discussion after a show about the tension between art and politics, inspired by a trio of called-off productions in 2014, called “Walking the Tightrope” staged by Underbelly Productions.

 

Read more: Freedom of Expression and Edinburgh, 2015

A Science Professor Pens a Patriotic Song

March, 2015
I first heard the song "Call it Alba" at an African evening at my children's primary school. The choir sang it to visitors from a school in Tanzania and I wasn't the only one blinking back the tears as they belted out the chorus: "I belong to the land I live in, and the land is in the deepest part of me."

The song allowed the children to express love for their country of Scotland but in a simple style, free from the hubris these things often contain. It seemed inclusive too, offering a sense of belonging to everyone who lives here. I couldn't think of another patriotic song that would have worked in that context and which would have made me feel so proud.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T0LIWz3AgMk

 "Flower of Scotland" is fine for a sporting arena but the lyrics are very focused on Scotland's sometimes conflicted relationship with England. I for one was glad when the Scottish Parliament recently rejected a petition to make it an official anthem.  (http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/home-news/wilting-blossom-flower-of-scotland-national-anthem-bid-rejected-by-msps.120916231)  

The others I could think of like Scots Wha Hae, Caledonia, or Highland Cathedral are too martial, too adult or too grandiose.

Read more: A Science Professor Pens a Patriotic Song

Is the Southbank Centre right to exclude Scotland from its flagship exhibition on British history?

The big new exhibition at the Southbank Centre in London “History is Now” is meant to address British postwar history. It does not do so. As a Scot who voted ‘No’ in the referendum I found the experience of visiting this show profoundly depressing. I left with an increased sense that a ‘British’ identity has become problematic, dislocated and fragile, and that the ties that bind the countries that make up the Union are fraying.

Read more: Is the Southbank Centre right to exclude Scotland from its flagship exhibition on British history?

Top Gear, RIP.

 

I enjoyed Top Gear. You would think from the reaction I get to this statement from some of my friends that I was voicing support for Islamic State or something. But when my kids were younger it was one of the best family viewing experiences that we had. I will remember it fondly for that reason.

 

Read more: Top Gear, RIP.

On #KingsmanTheSecretService and the Porno Society.

A friend of mine was kind enough to say recently that she had found the piece I wrote below about the movie Kingsman The Secret Service really helpful. Her 15-year-old daughter had been to the movie with friends and because my friend had read my blog, she was able to raise with her daughter the fact that there is a graphic image of  anal penetration in the closing minutes of the movie. Her daughter said “Oh Mum, it’s all right, the woman wanted that done to her.” My friend responded that this scene represented a male fantasy. My friend then went on to say that she felt sorry for all the young women who might be thinking: ‘What’s wrong with me, that I don’t enjoy this?”

The scene is a glimpse into the porno world which I generally manage to avoid. But taking place as it does in a mainstream movie now heavily advertised on TV as a DVD or download - it’s another example of how mainstream that current has become.

Read more: On #KingsmanTheSecretService and the Porno Society.