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Stabbin’ in the UK

Britain is experiencing a rash of teenage knife crimes, nay, murders in the 2008: 27 to date. While I hope that I am well out of the stabbin’ demographic, I’ve been continually disturbed by the U.K. media’s malignant neglect of the race and gender issues implicit in teen violence. Specifically, the utter failure to grapple with the problems of black masculinity that are inherent in male violence. What are young black men angry about? That they, much like their fathers, are denied the fruits of patriarchy. Orchards of nice cars, big houses, fine women, and real diamonds to replace the glass studs they wear in one drooping earlobe.

This race/gender blindspot in both media, non-profit, and governmental practice was laid bare on a recent BBC Radio 4 program discussing the media’s coverage of knife crime. Truth be told, I’m getting a bit fed up with the media’s navel-gazing, but in this instance it was one of the few time race was even acknowledged as a factor the deaths of, predominately, young black men stabbed over what was, undoubtedly, some bullshit. When you add the ways in which young white men have been disenfranchised since Thatcher got done privatizing Britain’s undoing and so-called New Labour furthered the project, one can only guess at the anger that sharpens the knives of young white men, descendants of colonialists and inheritors of a declined empire.

Anne McElvoy reporter from conservo-rage The Evening Standard, in her assessment, hypothesized that knife crime was “finally” entering the press’ consciousness because of the “random” nature of the stabbing of [age] in a South London bakery. The Guardian’s Joseph Harker quote rightly and quickly calls her on the blatant racism in labeling the stabbing of a white boy random, while implying that the young black men somehow courted this violence (sort of like “ ‘innocent’ AIDS victims”). Her snippish reply was along the lines of “Well, you choose your words and I’ll choose mine.”

No shit, Sherlocka, one would assume that you, as a journalist, would pick yours more carefully and not be a defensive cow when called on your shit. In this instance, ascribing randomness to white crime and “the natural state of things” applied to black crime is indicative of how the media covers knife crime and how law enforcement responds.

Additionally, gender analysis gets shortshrift with the “my daddy wasn’t in the house, so I get to be an asshole” routine. Yes, true, there is an economic and even a social impact to fatherlessness, as well as motherlessness. Nonetheless, since gender continues to be a relational category, when will U.K. social services begin to discuss how to teach these young black boys how to be men? Not patriarchal, sexist men, but self-respecting, women-respecting, life-respecting men.

This is a failure of black men, black women, and black culture to raise our expectations of how we want black masculinity to look if we are to ever emerge from the morass of fucked up gender relations in which we find ourselves. Demands to “man up” aren’t gonna cut it. Once again, it’s Nation Time and interrogating masculinity and its patriarchal assumptions should be on the agenda. Black boys are stabbing one another because they’ve been pissed off that they’re being denied everything they’ve been taught to believe is their rightful inheritance.

Perhaps it’s time to change what’s on offer. This is not to the exclusion of work training initiatives (Olympics 2012 labor force training, Mr Prime Minister?), the end to the racist revival of stop-and-search laws, and investing real time and attention to education reform. Community action (and I don’t mean impotent marches) is but one solution that needs to be implemented if we’re ever to stop the roll call of violence.


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Filed under race, Social Justice

Vampire Babes Against Choice

What is it with right-wing Christians and vampires, anyway? No, I’m not talking about the whole ban-Harry-Potter crowd; it’s the ones that like the occult that are worrying me. Everywhere you look these days there seems to be a new and unholy alliance between sexy gothic vampires and those god-fearing Main Street folks we keeping hearing so much about. Laurel K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter, goes to church to protect her soul in evil times, the vampires of the HBO’s True Blood series operate in some mirror world Maybury, and, last but most certainly not least, we have the phenomenally successful Twilight saga, penned by Brigham Young University grad Stephanie Meyer.

For those of you who have somehow missed the Potter-esque towers of Twilight books in every bookstore in America and the UK, the Twlight saga has now run to four books (Breaking Dawn, released last summer, was supposed to be the last) and features a love story between a high school girl named Bella and her gorgeous vampire beau Edward. The synopsis may say ‘Buffy’ but the actually recipe is more Harelquin Romance: a heroine who doesn’t know how beautiful she really is, an inscrutable male who finds her unawareness of her beauty irresistible, an equally hunky rival who smoulders with jealousy–all mixed together in a steamy soup of overwrought teen angst.

Meyer uses the romance vehicle to take her heroine into some very un-Buffy territory. Edward insists that he and the virginal Bella only kiss until they get married, which they do immediately after she graduates from high school. It’s disturbing enough that Bella’s entire life’s ambition is to be with Edward (she disdains college, has no career ambitions and can barely be bothered to finish high school), but the real horror comes when she realises she is pregnant. Bella’s half-vampire baby is so strong that it is destroying her insides, and it will physically claw its way out of her when it reaches full term. Edward begs her to abort, but Bella is literally dying to sacrifice herself for her little hellion, and she puts measures in place to ensure that none of her loved ones can end the pregnancy and save her life.

Of course, self-sacrifice is a fixture in the sort of romance novels that Meyer draws on: the only time it is OK for romance heroines to display strength is when it helps others and hurts themselves. But Meyer goes one further by locating this maidenly masochism in precisely the place that anti-abortionists would most like to see it: the body of a pregnant teenage girl. Not only do readers get to witness Bella protect her demon seed even as it breaks her ribs and damages her organs, but they get to hear its thoughts as well. Yes, that’s right: the thing is sentient and already talking (through vampire telepathy) even though it’s still in Mommy’s womb.

It’s the anti-abortionist’s wet-dream, wrapped up in pseudo-gothic trappings: a young woman who is basically a walking womb, devoid of all desire except for the determination to protect her foetus, and a foetus that is already a fully formed person, with wills and wishes of its own. The foetus is turned into a person, while the woman is turned into a collection of baby-sustaining cells.

Just to round out the anti-choice fantasy, the baby’s birth brings all good things to Bella. In order to save her life, Edmund finally makes Bella a vampire, thus fulfilling her greatest wish. She and Edmund and the little monster retire to a perfect wee cottage owned by his hugely rich vampire family. They will never have to work, and they don’t really have to take care of the baby since it emerges half grown and ready to take care of itself. Oh, and just in case that wasn’t enough, becoming a vampire makes Bella freakishly beautiful as well. The message, hammered home with the force of a pneumatic drill, is that as long as young women never put themselves first, they’ll eventually have everything they want.

From her soulful picture on her books’ dust jackets to the indie playlists that she posts on her website, Meyer seems determined to make sure that everyone knows that BYU grads can be just as hip as the next person. Her anti-choice vampire saga is hardly the first attempt to make the religious Right seem cool, but, judging by the series’ mammoth sales figures and the upcoming movie, her attempt is going over a lot better than Christian rock ever did. I can’t help but think that a cultural mythology that brought us Buffy in the 1990s and onscreen sex between Susan Sarandon and Catherine Deneuve in the 1980s deserves better than to be turned into the latest window-dressing for right-wing propaganda. But I guess, given the fate the religious Right would choose for young pregnant women, vampire lovers who turn teenage girls undead is probably the right metaphor after all.



Filed under fiction, reproductive rights, sexuality, women