You’re Squawking Like A Pink Monkey Bird

What rock stars, pop stars, artists, comedians, actors, sports stars, etc say doesn’t matter. What their opinions are doesn’t matter. What their politics are doesn’t matter. At least they shouldn’t matter. Certainly their point of view is no more valid than anyone else’s. The only difference is, of course, that they have a platform & a captive audience.

In a short statement last night, read by Kate Moss at the Brit Awards, David Bowie ended with just four words, “Scotland, stay with us”. If you listened carefully you could just about make out the rumble of the more reactionary supporters of Scottish independence (a fairly large percentage) stampeding to their keyboards alongside the cracking sound of a thousand angry fingers being put through smartphone & tablet screens in the rush to proclaim just how little Bowie’s words meant & how rubbish he’d always been anyway. Anyone who has paid even the slightest attention to the debate over the independence referendum, particularly online, knew in the very instant the words left Kate Moss’ mouth what was to come – just have a look at the comments on Bowie’s Facebook page for many, many, many hilarious examples.

I stand by what I say at the top, rock stars opinions are no more valid than anyone else’s. If you feel your argument is strong enough then you should certainly be able to allow even one of the world’s greatest ever musical icons express their view via a supermodel in just four words without losing too much sleep. However what I read was tweet after tweet after tweet, comment after comment after comment from supporters of Scottish independence on how Bowie’s opinion didn’t matter, on how he was irrelevant, on how he had no right to have an opinion because a) he isn’t Scottish, b) because his permanent residence isn’t in Britain, c) because he dabbled with drum n bass for a bit (Ironically the first few tweets I read were from a few Scottish musicians & comedians that support independence). One might think they protest too much.

It highlights though something that has bothered me for a few months. Bowie is pretty untouchable, his livelihood & wealth is not dependent on Scottish independence supporters & he has not been personally active online for a number of years (at least visibly to the wider world). Bowie can say what he likes about his views on the independence referendum without any fear of reprisals. It is pretty safe to assume that, if he wishes, Bowie will be completely oblivious to the thousands of tweets & Facebook comments attacking him personally, attacking his work, attacking his nationality & attacking his right to an opinion. The same cannot be said for those with a lesser public profile than Bowie who dare to express an opinion about the referendum (Scottish or otherwise). The avalanche of abuse, from what has become widely known as cybernats, that anyone with any kind of public profile (in some cases it could be argued a public profile isn’t even required) if they express support for a ‘No’ vote in the referendum has, in my view, led to a depressing climate where many of these people deem it wise to say nothing at all. Who could blame them? In this age where so many of us engage with social media every day who wants to log in to reams of personal abuse? I’d ask what kind of politics is this? What kind of democratic debate?

Social media has not yet decided any election anywhere in the world but it’s influence grows every year. There is undoubtedly a huge potential for social media to positively benefit political campaigning, sadly that potential appears to be being squandered in the worst possible way where negativity & personal abuse far outweigh attempts to express reasoned political points of view.

I have a fairly active interest in politics, to varying degrees I have followed most of the major political election campaigns in the last few years where social media has played a part, to my mind this Scottish Independence campaign has been the most depressing in how it has seen social media used in the very worst way. The ‘Yes’ supporters have created such a poisonous atmosphere of ‘with us or against us’ that I worry what that would lead to in Scotland in the event of a ‘No’ vote. I worry that there is not enough consideration that, no matter the result, Scotland will still go on the day after the referendum and everyone, no matter what side they were on, will still have to live & work together. This vote, more than most, requires a calm & considered campaign & debate. Thankfully, I think offline there is widely a realisation of this & it is happening. Online should take heed & follow suit.

I’ll probably write a couple of more blogs on my own view of the referendum before September but I’ll finish this blog by declaring my position. Nationalism & Separatism just isn’t my thing – I can’t buy into it. Fundamentally, my view is that we are all one species that all live on a big rock & that rock would be a better place to live if more people shared that view. As those of you who know me are aware I am a supporter & member of the Labour Party, one of the core reasons I am a member of the Labour Party is this phrase, “By the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone”. The fight for fairness in society is bigger than an invisible border. The voting patterns of the last 30 years in Scotland are more or less matched by those of the North East, North West & Yorkshire, not to mention large swathes of Greater London. Of course Scotland could be an independent country, personally I just believe more people could benefit in the future across the UK if it isn’t.

In the meantime, go & listen to Bowie – he’s amazing.

Nowt As Queer As Folk

Yesterday was a different kind of day at work.
You Me At Six, the band who will have the No.1 in the albums chart on Sunday with their 4th album, came to the store to do an album signing.
This is not a regular event. As far as band itineraries are concerned Hull is pretty much off the map once they are regularly playing to over a couple of hundred fans. There have been no PAs in our store since I became manager. I have heard talk of appearances in the distant past by Biffy Clyro, The Beautiful South (naturally) & The Paddingtons.
So, with much panic & hyperventilating beforehand, 300 of the band’s fans from Hull turned up yesterday around noon. They queued outside down the centre of Whitefriargate for a little over an hour on a pretty chilly day before the band arrived. They were lovely. Unfailingly polite and not a single complaint from any of the queuers as far as I’m aware – apart from a few gripes about the cold. They followed instructions without complaint (apart from a few well-meaning chancers who tried to re-join the back of the queue – bless them), they waited patiently, they got excited, there was some squealing (overwhelming majority of fans were female) and there were some tears. Ultimately though, there was a real sense of happiness & gratitude that the band had made the effort to come to Hull and they had gotten to meet them. It was a really satisfying & enjoyable day. I hope it won’t be too long until we can do it again with other bands & other fans.

There was a phenomena though from yesterday that I noticed and has stuck in my head this morning. I was reminded of it when I had a look at the online Hull Daily Mail article to have a look at the comments. There was only 1 comment (as opposed to the 320 notifications I got on the shop twitter account – I’m guessing the female teenager demographic is not a big one for the Hull Daily Mail) and it was a comment that echoed with what I heard yesterday outside the shop on Whitefriargate, it was “I’ve never heard of them & I properly (sic) never will again”.
It was bizarre. Over & over again yesterday folk were making a point of coming into the store or grabbing me when I was outside keeping an eye on the queue “Who are they? I’VE never heard of them”. There was a definite air of ‘I hope you don’t think this is good. This is not good. I’VE never heard of them’. Dozens of them. Never heard of them. Never heard of them. Never heard of them. People who obviously were not regular customers in our shop, if they had ever been in before ‘Hi, who are they? Just wanted to say – never heard of them!” Thanks I’ll take that on board although I’m not sure what use that information is to me. I said to one woman “Were you expecting The Beatles?” Fact is 300 delighted fans turned up, the band will have a No.1 album this week, they are just back from touring Australia, about to tour Europe, Uk & then on to America. They’re doing alright. So whether the passers-by of Whitefriargate have heard of them or not is neither here nor there. I’m not sure what conclusions to draw to their motivations but I certainly believe it’s best not to rain on others parade. I’ve been those fans when I was younger, I collected my fair share of autographs. I had that same feeling of elation when I met Paul McStay, Henrik Larsson & Eric Cantona (as the imbecilic look on my face will attest in the excruciatingly embarrassing picture I had taken with Cantona). I’m delighted I played a small part in letting those You Me At Six fans get a bit of that elation yesterday – I’ve never forgotten meeting my heroes, I’m sure they won’t either.

A final niggling thought persists, when 2017 comes around and Hull has it’s year as UK City of Culture these naysayers will be in their element ‘Why are you doing this? What is this for? Is this what you call culture? What’s the point? I don’t like it. This is not good because I don’t like it. You’re all wasting your time because I don’t like it’.

I know this. I’d rather be on the inside enjoying myself than on the outside in the cold sneering at the happy people.