Ched Evans rape case: so much wrong with petition against convicted footballer

Ched Evans playing for Sheffield United in 2010, before his conviction for rape

Convicted rapist Ched Evans may well appear in Sheffield United colours again soon

FOOTBALLER CHED EVANS currently stands convicted of rape.  He’s served two and a half years of his five-year prison sentence and he’s just been released. Although Evans has an upcoming case review and maintains his own innocence, he’s guilty until proven otherwise.

But really, Ched Evans’ guilt is immaterial to the discussions currently dominating the mainstream media. We’ve made this rape case all about us.

There are 150,000 people who have signed a well-publicised petition to ban him from ever playing football again; meanwhile the UK’s shadow sports minister, Clive Efford, has openly called for Evans not to be employed in the game again.

If your children are mindlessly imitating the actions of footballers without any intervention, you’re a bad parent

If those pressures don’t expedite the justice process, nothing ever will – yet people still feel that a fast-tracked case review somehow constitutes special treatment for the former Sheffield United frontman.

Were Evans’ conviction to be overturned, the damage might already be done by these campaigns against him (damage which, as it stands, he has done to himself). If his conviction is upheld, all the better for more prompt closure.

Fluid principles

The baleful reactions roused by Evans’ case have illuminated a more general problem, though, of people carelessly taking for granted some of the stoutest pillars of our society; principles and laws long fought for and hard-won.

Forget the case review, the law says that someone has served their time – and that’s that. Punishment served. Superficially at least we like to say that we aren’t run by mob-rule in this society. But if you’re going to pick and choose when to apply your principles, you’ll have hollowed them out by the time you really come to need them. We have to have some faith that, in the long-term, laws are better than us just making things up on the hoof.

And yes, it is very easy for me to sit here and say all this – but if it were me or one of my family or friends who was the victim here, I would still have to lump it. Because principles are not applied merely to the extent that my emotional capacity will allow. They’re tougher than that, and they’re supposed to be.  If we still have a problem, we need to take it up with our justice system – not Ched Evans.

Ban everyone. Everywhere.

You could be forgiven for thinking, after following this news story, that football was the only high-paying profession in the world. You’d think that they are the only people who are sculpted into false idols by a melodramatic media; the only ones beamed into our homes day and night; the only faces our children see and imitate; the only public figures who acquire demigod status through the incomprehensibly feverish loyalty of those who champion them.

Many think that it is perverse to allow a convicted rapist like Ched Evans to return to earning a relatively large wage. Yet people in countless professions beyond football earn unthinkably high sums of money; they can do equally terrible things. Even more so than footballers, we promote these people’s names and faces as role models.

So, I look forward to a similar petition the next time anyone finishes serving their time for a rape charge. He won’t be allowed back to work either, I can safely presume?  Because the punishment is never complete.

Ched Evas in his days at Manchester City, where he graduated through the youth academy

Ched Evans was an academy graduate at Man City

Nouveau-riche wankers

Depressingly, this episode has seen numerous people plunge enthusiastically into classism – classism that has been woven into the psyche of all of us. Footballers are, in the popular estimation, wankers.

They’re nouveau-riche wankers, too – and we’ve somehow, unquestioningly, adopted that disdain handed down to us from on high. We’re all ready to get the knives out in the same way as for the much-maligned and caricatured ‘chav’.

Why do we target the footballer for especially venomous denigration, who in most cases is neither qualified nor equipped to earn much more than buttons once he’s the wrong side of 35? All your other high-flyer professionals would have little trouble finding a new source of income even if a million of us picketed their preferred place of work.

Clive Efford says that a rape conviction would restrict the work of many other professionals, but not all.  And picking on footballers is easy, arbitrary witch-hunting.  Life is far from simple or rewarding for many footballers and the sport still takes barely rudimentary care of its players – a topic that could fill a whole tome in itself.

Parents: stop outsourcing

Ched Evans is hardly the first footballer who, having committed a serious offence, has been chided for being a poor role model to ‘the children’ – on top of everything else.

A sizeable minority of parents – the ones who are the scourge of junior football matches up and down the country – need to concentrate first on their own example to their children, rather than ranting, raving, behaving ridiculously and expecting footballers – strangers – to assume responsibility.

And we need to be crystal clear: if your children are mindlessly, slavishly following and imitating the actions of footballers – through several years of indoctrination, without any intervention – you’re a bad parent.

This piece isn’t intended to be contrarian for the sake of it, nor to dismiss or belittle the several-year ordeal of Evans’ victim, which will never truly be ‘over’ now.  But we set several damaging precedents for the process of justice in the UK if we overreach as far as we have with Ched Evans.

And if you really are feeling vindictive, surely you’ll want to throw Evans to the football fans on a weekly basis.  The reception he’ll get every time he steps on a football pitch from now until he retires will ensure he’s never allowed to move on, nor fade quietly into anonymity.

Words: Sean Gibson

Images: Lead (Jon Candy); inset (Mattythewhite)

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MCM London Comic Con — The view from the inside

This past weekend, I had a unique opportunity for my life and my career: to cover the MCM London Comic Con — the largest event in comics, games, and entertainment in the United Kingdom. What follows is a short account of my experience with this imposing event, so crowded with people, so full of life and so full of novelties.

Getting there
Let’s start with the basics: I had a long ride ahead to reach the ExCel Convention Center — as I live in Swansea, a five-hour bus ride away from London. However, arriving in London presents another challenge: the journey from Victoria Coach Station to the ExCeL Centre – one hour and three tube journeys in a city I know very little about. The trick? As any convention goer knows — follow the cosplayers.

Despite having read much about it, I was still unprepared: the MCM London Comic Con is simply immense. Occupying more than half of the giant ExCel Convention Centre near the Thames, about 120 000 people visited the convention during the three days of the event – I was around for the first two..

The event itself
In simple terms, the reactions on arrival on Friday – a day of less activity, partly due to working hours – was of jaws dropping. A diverse crowd that ranged from families with small children — some hoping to meet Daniel Radcliffe, there to promote his new movie, Horns — to bearded fellows wearing fantasy gaming T-shirts. Passing by amateur and “professional” cosplayers, nerds of all kinds and even some old ladies (one I saw again on Saturday with a bag overflowing with memorabilia from Marvel – whether for herself or as a gift, one can only wonder+.

Here I have to separate between two things: Comic Con as a convention and in terms of its feel. As a convention, it’s a dream: a cluster of nerds and fans of all kinds, celebrities from the A to the C lists (those actors and illustrators who are only known by fans of * insert thing here * – people like Robert Llewellyn and Hattie Hayridge, from the excellent Red Dwarf series, colorist John Paul Bove – Judge Dredd and Tranformers ReGeneration One, and the eternal Tara from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Amber Benson). An insane amount of sellers of all kinds of geeky junk, autograph sessions, panels with staff and crew from series and movies…it’s a dream, in a nutshell. Even despite all the practical problems.

This is even before you get to the chance to play games before they come out on the market and equally amazing, the chance to find products that have long been off the market, as in “too cheap to be on ebay”. Conventions, as we know, are the nerd paradise – and this is not any different.

However, the practical problems are many and at some points are really troublesome. As I said, there are about 120 000 people in just three days; overcrowding is a guarantee, either within the convention, or around it. Some of the booth shops were almost impossible to see, given the throng of people around you – and if you managed to stop  to take a look, you were guaranteed to be bumped into. At the end of the second day, all the ATMs inside the ExCel Convention Center and several around it were penniless. I only managed to follow one whole panel – that of Daniel Radcliffe – as all the others I tried to go to were either crowded or with huge queues.

Stranded in London
At the end of the first day, not to run the risk of missing my bus back to Swansea, I missed the panel of the original cast of Mighty Morphin ‘Power Rangers – despite having a guaranteed seat as part of the press. A big mistake it turns out – as despite leaving early, thanks to the delayed ExCeL DLR I arrived at Victoria Coach Station ten minutes after my bus – the last bus.

This then provoked another memorable experience: getting lost in London without having anywhere to go (until a colleague of mine offered me a place) – I found it an immense city, always busy. Crowded streets and tube stations, especially on a Friday night. I encountered the strangeness of a full bar on a Friday closing at 10pm but eagerly grabbed the chance to cover the second day.

Day 2

If the first day was an amazing experience, the second was twice as good. The popularity of the saturday – even in the early morning at 9am – made ​​Friday seem monotonous. Passing through four lines of public transportation to get there, the last two – two DLR lines – were fully packed with people going to the convention. Imagine sitting in a crowded train full of cosplayers – to the point of being difficult to move without bumping into someone – and this is a vague picture of the experience; however to know the feeling you needed to be there.

I had the chance to meet some actors and artists in person. The afore mentioned Robert Llewellyn and Hattie Hayridge (Holly and Kryten from Red Dwarf) were flattered with “the first Brazilian fan” they’ve met. Jack O’Halloran (Non from the Superman II) decided not to grant an interview. Ian McNiece (who played Winston Churchill in Doctor Who and the Baron Vladimir Harkonnen in Dune miniseries) gave me a brief interview about his many roles. I faced some huge queues to try to talk with some top celebrities (like Japanese director Shinichiro Watanabe, actress Amber Benson, the staff from the gaming site Rooster Teeth and the original cast of Mighty Morphin ‘Power Rangers) – without much success. Maybe I should have “pushed my luck” with the press pass.

I saw bits of panels, tested a few games before launch (three of which I will speak about in another article – one that I found great, one “average but fun”, and one that made me angry). I saw the beautiful Square Enix Play Arts Kai line stand with brand new figures (some exclusive to the Con). All the while Professional cosplayers from Star Wars (including one perfect Chewbacca, and a Tusken Raider who roamed the con halls “threatening people”) circulated throughout the convention centre.

Offers, statements and releases
However, the best of a con is never what is being offered by the event itself – but what businesses and shops have to offer. Gaming companies demonstrating new titles, raffling DLCs, games and even gaming consoles. Toy companies showing old and new products. Specialty shops selling from Star Trek Tribbles to giant Gundam model kits that led me to ask how they even got the boxes in. All types of comics. Shirts, caps, gloves and thematic hoodies. Oriental food (because it is inevitable that a nerd event be overtaken by otaku). Antiques and rarities of all kinds – and at extremely friendly prices. Among others, I saw two copies of the set of Trench Bluster & Mech Ideas – a set that only 500 copies were produced. Whatever it is you’re after, this kind of event is a great place to get it – especially if it is large.


Pedro will be bringing us more from the event throughout the week…

 

Words by Pedro Leal

Image Credit: The london vandal

Art, Alcohol and Depression


WE ALL KNOW about the somber, yet weirdly attractive, myth associated with art, and artists. The scene is all set. Behind a simple desk, deep into the night, is an open collared, boozy, melancholic painter or novelist, driven slightly out of his mind, in order to produce a luminous piece of art. It’s very tempting to be teleological about it. The idea is ancient. Early Greeks called it entheos when a slight insobriety was sought to provoke inspiration. Though there is some truth in the concept of entheos, the romanticization of the lifestyles of Hemingway or Van Gogh, seems to either avoid or answer cheaply, the question of depression.

Why are some surprised, and even disappointed, when told that Mozart’s mental condition was probably genetic and not induced by musical virtuoso? Well, when applied universally and not only to Mozart, the disappointment arises from two corollary realizations. First, that there is no maddening truth hidden in art. Secondly, it means the abolition of the pornographic wish that someone ought to find that trueness and, preferably, to be maddened by it. By the way, don’t be astonished to find out that this type of cynicism is present wherever there is a mystical or esoteric fantasy. Its not quite the human sacrifice of our ancestors, but the same old wish to see it happen is still there, especially if one could have a disclosure of the occult in return.

In the wake of Robin Williams’ suicide, a sense of confusion gripped those who knew the flamboyant, energetic, almost uncontrollable persona of the comedian. That he had such an appreciation of humour and playfulness, yet so tormented with bottomless depression. Sometimes, the hardest thing to spot is that which is staring you right in the face. I realized this half wondering about the contradiction myself and came to remember Richard Pryor and Chris Farley (who became so lonely in his last days that he paid a prostitute to hang out with him. When they began arguing about money, the lady left, with Farley right behind her, begging her to stay. That’s when he collapsed. His final words were “don’t leave me”) and many other troubled comedians. Jason Pargin wrote a brilliant article about the tragedy of humour. In a lethargic, almost aggressive manner, he reflected on how the comical often served as a masquerade for a much darker core: a ruined childhood, a mental disorder. Remember also how much of humour is self-irony. So the trauma starts living off you. Your skin colour if you’re black, your obesity if you’re fat, your foreignness, your mental instability. Pargin put it bluntly, even hauntingly, when he wrote that this was the clown feeding on the human being, and not only that, it was feeding on all the traumas and insecurities of that very being.

I saw the distinction here as well. Sylvia Plath and Mozart could all be very depressive. They articulated this in their craft. Of course, in comedy that would be a complete non-sequitur. When Mozart had an occasional go at humour in his signed letters, it was scatological. And even so, what about the lazy suggestion that humour keeps us sane? The suggestion is lazy, becomes it means nothing, though it sounds like something. Humour is the confirmation of our insanity. Try to picture the vastness of the universe, its chaos, its meaninglessness, its random disposition, its self destruction, and imagine somewhere in all this, certain ingredients of the universe has met to produce conscious mammals, who now sit round a bonfire on a hostile planet, all looking at each other bewildered, finding no other reaction to this absurdity than mere laughter. It seems disarming, though it’s perfectly insane.

The brilliant Ned Vizzini, who committed suicide, wrote about how life was being like a “reverse nightmare” and that it sometimes felt as if he was, not waking up from, but waking into a nightmare. This is painfully revealing. The utter graveness of those words hinted at a chronic twist to his suffering. Nothing is quite like the sight of an expressive mind also being incurably desolate. The most useful literature on depression or bipolar is not in psychiatry or psychology, but happens to be of Sylvia Plath, or Virginia Woolf, or Stephen Fry. Even then, such a compliment can only be pitiful at best. And so, when you need catharsis, art is apathetic. It doesn’t heal you, and even, throuh self-exploration, deepens your wounds. Its a mirror of the self. Perhaps only vaguely, or partly, but always there is a small hint of exposure. Being still magnetized to such fate might at first seem masochistic, but it is true that the manic sometimes can only think through colour, or movement, or note or prose. The true tragedy presents itself when this arousal turns into depression and one can no more see anything but through the lenses of self-pity.

And so people are right to point out that there is a triumvirate here between creativity, intoxication and mental illness, though the circle of cause and effect is much less romantic and more practical than imagined. Those who do have a mental disorder, or a proneness in that direction, are proportionally more allured by art. The implication here is of course more than disturbing. Just as much as the silly clown or the open-collared drunkard feeds of its victim, so does our culture, the viewers, the readers, the onlookers. You and me.

Written by Hanad Ali
Picture Credit: Symphony of Love

Just how seriously should we take #Gamergate?

 

 

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It started with a jilted lover and a vengeful post. It then spun off into what is arguably a rabid hate group against what they perceive as ideological corruption. Since its inception in August, #Gamergate has led to at least three women leaving their homes in face of death threats over Twitter, Intel pulling their ads from gaming website Gamasutra, and a shooting threat at Utah State University. Gamergaters claim to be ethical crusaders; their opponents say they are at best trolls, at worse digital terrorists.

I’ve stared into the abyss – the endless feed of #Gamergate and #StopGamerGate2014 tagged posts, online imageboard 8chan and gaming forums, in an attempt to find what is the common thread in this movement. And what, in fact, is #Gamergate.

A confused and angry bunch

If it can be said that #Gamergate has a “base”, it is internet message board 8chan (a.k.a. “hatechan,” as 8chan users themselves call it), which came to be after the far better known imageboard 4chan started curtailing doxxing (the public release of personal documents to facilitate harassment) attempts – mostly focused on female game producers, critics and journalists. In itself, 8chan is contradictory: they claim to be a free-speech site, yet use their speech in attempts to censor so-called “Social Justice Warriors” – feminists, LGBT activists, anti racism activists, etc; its users claim they are not misogynists, yet the site contain numerous boards dedicated to harassing women, and to “destroy feminism”.

8chan is central to much of the #Gamergate movement; users are referred to as “Leaders of gamergate”, its largest board is “/gg/” – dedicated solely to #Gamergate – and may users see it as their safe haven against “political correctness”. Their worst fear is the end of gaming as they know it due to pandering to “feminazis” and the creation of a Comics Code Authority-style censorship board. Some of them seem sincere enough in their claims against “corruption in gaming journalism” – the problem is what they perceive as corruption.

A recent example of thier incongruity came after the release of Bayonetta 2. In response to the website Polygon’s less-than-stellar review of the Wii U title, which noted issues regarding objectification and over sexualization of women as problematic, #Gamergate started a campaign to get the gaming website blacklisted by Nintendo. In a way, their notion of corruption is “discourse I don’t agree with” – while ethics mean cronyism, as Polygon ought to be punished for the “crime” of not giving a perfect score to an AAA game (a large budget, mainstream title). Meanwhile, older and well known cases of actual corruption in gaming media – such as the firing of Jeffrey Gertsmann over his negative review of “Kane&Lynch” in 2007, which suggested a cosy relationship between news outlets and gaming companies – are ignored in the name of those perceived cases of ideological corruption. In fact, one of their main gripes is with the criteria set for game reviews. In short terms, they want “objective, unopinionated and impartial reviews” – a complete oxymoron. Another point of major contention is the alleged collusion of journalists with feminists and minorities to “fix the system” and “force their political agenda” onto the game market. . 

“A hate group”

The targets of gamergaters harassment are well known by now: Game developer Zoe Quinn, feminist critic Anita Sarkeesian, who’s been on their radar for the past two years, and game developer Brianna Wu. The movement started with the harassment of Zoe Quinn over her alleged sexual misconduct.

Quinn had already faced harassment earlier this year, when her award-winning game Depression Quest became the target of a harassment campaign led by “wizardchan” – an online imageboard frequented by male virgins who blame “society” and “feminism” for their inability to have a relationships, who claimed Zoe was exploiting depression and mocking their pain. Then, in August, her ex-boyfriend Eron Gjoni came out with “thezoepost”. In this 9000 words blogpost, Gjoni claims Quinn cheated on him with five people connected to the gaming industry and the gaming press, to “ascend in her career”. One such partner supposedly was gaming journalist Nathan Grayson – whom according to Gjoni, she slept with to get favorable reviews of Depression Quest. The fact that Grayson never reviewed Depression Quest nor ever wrote about the game was seen by most gamergaters as irrelevant.

While maintaining their main concern was about ethics, gamergaters have discussed, judged, and condemned Quinn’s sex life, genitalia and behaviour. All three were forced to leave their homes over concerns for their own safety.

As a whole, the movement alternates between denying responsibility for the threats and harassment, denying the latters’ existence, or even claiming the victims themselves created the threats. While recently condeming doxxing on twitter, 8chan has at the same time being used to expose the id and home address of those women who #Gamergate perceive as enemies.

Other women have been caught in this debacle, too. Social researcher Jennifer Allaway was targeted by what she calls a “hate group” in late September. While conducting a study on the importance of diversity in game content, she was targeted by gamergaters with attacks and insults. “If members of gamergate took my study seriously, I would have welcomed them. The fact that they used my own study to mock the purpose of it and harass me shows that, to them, anything or anyone asking questions about diversity deserves mockery,” she said.

The whole environment has become “exhausting”, Allaway noted: “I have multiple friends in the game industry who have faced far worse harassment than I, and seeing what they go through makes me want to speak out more. The worst is seeing your friends leave. Women have worked so hard to make the industry a safe space for themselves, and now that feels threatened.” Among those who have quit due to the harassment, is award winning journalist Jenn Frank, who abandoned gaming journalism after being repeatedly threatened, insulted, and having her personal info posted online following an article she wrote for The Guardian regarding the harassment faced by Zoe Quinn and Anita Sarkeesian.

More than a vocal minority

The persistence of threats and harassment brings into question whether the angry and hateful side of the movement is simply a minority. Game developer Molly Carroll has doubts on how “minor” is the hatred in #Gamergate. While she notes that the official cause of #Gamergate is indeed worthy, as gaming journalism is in need of refinement, she is skeptical of whether people are truly in it for that cause. As she notes, the hatemongers have gained prevalence over whatever rational segment there ever was: “Sadly, one cannot deny that the actions of the anti-women portion of Gamergate have outnumbered and gained attention over that of any other,” she says.

Due to the way things progressed and escalated, as the focus increasingly shifted from claims about “ethics” to the position of women in gaming, #Gamergate was joined by women-haters and neo-nazis, who used it as an outlet for their hatred: “It isn’t even about games any more, its just an outlet for these kinds of people [to act] without consequence,” Carroll claimed.

#Gamergate in itself, in her perception, has accomplished nothing. At least, not anything the movement aimed for. “I suppose the situation has offered food for thought, but an actual tangible effect? No. At least not yet, and I highly doubt anything will come from it,” she said. If anything came out of this, is that the treatment of women is gaining more attention and sympathy than ever before. However, as Allaway noted, one must not keep silent over #Gamergate: “Silence is acceptance. If we are silent against the actions of #gamergate, then we are saying that we consent to the threats and harassment to our community. They have the ability to impact our culture if we do not put a stop to them.”

A “Culture War”

Some gamergaters themselves are no longer defining their “war” as one against corruption in gaming journalism, but as a “culture war” to keep gaming culture unaltered, to curtail any attempts at moving it towards a more inclusive environment, and to end critique of it – all the while maintaining they are the ones being oppressed. A recent post on 8chan read:

“Gamergate is about drawing a line in the sand and stating that ‘We will give up X freedoms to make you comfortable, but that is all we will ever give you.’ Freminists [sic] are demanding games be more inclusive for women. Black action groups are demanding games have more black protagonists. Gays are demanding more gay characters, and Trans are demanding trans characters.

The point of gamer gate is us stating that we have a culture independant [sic] of other cultures. That we will maintain our culture despite newcomers asking for more and more stipulations and changes to it. They have taken our right to speak freely in public. They have taken our right to debate freely in acadamia [sic]. They have taken our right to pubic [sic] expression and art. We are drawing the line at the edge of the internet and any one who tries to further force us to concede our freedom of expression will face us there.”

This kind of claim is nothing new: it harkens back to moral outrages over minority rights, and the reversal of blame so common in them. To Allaway, this indicated a “knee-jerk reaction” by people that until now were the only ones being catered to. “This is of course ridiculous, because there will always be games that cater to them more than women and other minorities” she addsed, “but they fear what this dialogue will do to games as a whole, and are willing to silence anyone who is a part of changing that.”

According to Carroll, another leading factor are misconceptions as to what is causing changes in gaming. “Currently some of the bigger figureheads spearheading these efforts and getting the most media attention are women. So naturally people assume that its women who are changing games in what they see as a bad way”, she noted, adding that those changes are still very slow. “For every step they [gaming companies] take forward, such as the removal of booth babes – skimpy clad women used to promote products in events and conventions –  from gaming events, there is a step back,” she said.

The “War” narrative has been used before, in an interview conceed by Zoe Quinn’s ex-boyfriend Eron Gjoni (the author of the “zoepost” and arguably, the catalyst to #Gamergate) to Buzzfeed, Gjoni claimed he “quit his dayjob” as waging “internet warfare” took too much of his dedication. Nowadays he focuses mainly on coordinating #Gamergate – and says he would do it again – although in the same interview he said he regrets the harassment. According to him, the threats against his ex girlfriend are not his faullt: she should’ve done more to prevent that. Sadly, is another feature of some gamergaters: shifting the blame unto the victim, while portraying themselves as the ones being persecuted.

An online “war” over games might seem like a silly thing – and in many ways, it is – yet since its inception #Gamergate, either intentionally or by irresponsibility, has led to fear, harassment and aggression online. Whatever they think their intentions might be in theory, in practice their behaviour is little more than that of an angry mob – and should be treated as such.

 

Written by Pedro Leal

Image credit: gamergate365

‘Smukfest’: Did the Danes find a way to have it all in one festival?

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Have the free-spirited Danes done it? To hold a festival where children run around collecting bottles with a smile during the daytime, and a Danish a rapper lights up a joint on stage without no one doing so much as raising an eyebrow – despite it being illegal in Denmark. And by night the festival is taken over by techno music, luring the crowd into mosh pit madness.

Pandeia presents to you Skanderborg Festival, or Smukefest, held in the middle of Skanderborg’s most beautiful woods; a festival where people can charge their phones, forget them overnight, and still find them laying there the morning after.

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Smukfest is Denmark’s next biggest festival, run completely non-profit by 12,633 volunteers who all work for “fighting against loneliness”, as they state on their website

55 % of the guests are locals from Jylland, but despite being mainly for Danes, Pandeia took a look at this unique event that is undoubtedly the most beautiful festival in Denmark – living up to its name.

Being very well-organized with limited ticket sale, the biggest perk of Smukfest is that you don’t end up spending all your time queuing.

The scenes are arranged in the midst of trees with lights hanging in between, creating a cozy and relaxed atmosphere. ‘Hygge’ is a Danish word that translates very badly to English – the best attempt is to translate it to ‘cozy’ and Skanderborg festival is the definition of cozy.

Despite all the coziness, there are plenty of attractive and exchiting concerts to attend. A vast number of musicians play every year well known names as 50 Cent, Bastille, Skrillex, and Go Go Berlin filled the scenes of Smukfest.

Some guests don’t book their tickets just for the music, but rather for the purpose of enjoying the atmosphere and having a great time with other guests. Plenty of guests come year after year, and even whole families attend together.

banner?Politeness and comfort dominated the ambiance; I was never pushed aside by the crowd, kid you not. Only that one time I thought it would be a good idea to stand upfront for Skrillex performance, an electronic dance DJ, in the middle of a mosh pit, that I was pushed back and forth. Needless to say it was a bad idea; I am not even 160 cm tall. The sweat and jumping didn’t seem to bother the teenagers who enjoyed it to the fullest, well along with my grown up friend who dived in too.

If the mosh pit wasn’t for you,during the daytime you could listen to more relaxed music from various Nordic countries, some of Denmark’s biggest rappers and pop bands, as well as some international ones too.

Nevertheless, Smukfest was not perfect. 50 cent, the biggest name performing at the festival, was a complete disappointment for many of the guests. “He just wasn’t good” was a common reply when asked about his concerts.

He entered the big stage with a golden chain and cab, looking ready to entertain, but ended up disappointing the crowd with a dull and powerless performance.

20140806_201647It seemed for a while like the concerts would turn out alright when he sang the lyrics “I am a V.I.P.,” sprayed water over the audience, and the performance slowly picked up the pace. When he finally sang “Candy Shop”, the crowd leaped in excitement.

It did the trick and worked up the crowd for a while.

The end was a mystery to all, as 50 Cent left the stage his band kept on playing well-known songs from different bands, like “We will rock you” with Queen, and as the crowd was left to party on its own (which was not a problem to it), it was left to wonder if 50 Cent had gone to bed.

Considering a bad choice of one artist, or perhaps just a bad night for 50 Cent, was the only downside of the festival that offered this variety of music, you should not miss out on this festival if you plan to visit Denmark in 2015.

Do we recommend this for non-Danes? Yes for sure, but be prepared to listen to a lot of Danish music – don’t worry you will be glanced away by the magic of the festival, kindness of people and well, let’s face it, the amount of consumed beer; the Danes know how to drink their beer – and become very friendly when with a drink in hand.

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If you have an unfulfilled craving to experience a Danish festival – that has it all – without exhausting yourself with queues or impoliteness, Smukfest is the one to go to. Families, young people, children, teenagers, too drunk and yet friendly people – it has it all. The Danes certainly managed to host a festival that has it all.

Take look here at the website for music for next year.

 

 

State of Queer: being gay in Latin America

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IGUALES: an organisation promoting a wider inclusion of minorities into the society

Many countries in Latin America have been quick to adopt legislation towards the greater inclusion of LGBT individuals in society, but the struggle is far from over. México, Chile and Guatemala illustrate some of the differences, and the challenges looking forward. For a bigger picture, have a look at this map.

Edgar Sosa Meyemberg was an openly gay man and an active member of Ave de México, an organization that promotes awareness of HIV – a problem that is even greater among the homosexual community in México. He was last seen 24 February 2014, only to be found dead a month later. Ave de México, where Sosa served as director of development, demanded a prompt investigation of the case, but it ran into institutional and societal indifference. Though the authorities are not exclusively negligent in cases that involve members of the LGBT community, impunity being the norm for most Latin American countries, but they are quick to dismiss crimes like these on the grounds that they are usually crimes of passion. Both the attorney of the Texcoco and Nezahualcoyotl municipalities declared the crime to be so, after a photograph of Edgar with a rainbow flag surfaced in the investigation.

This sort of stereotype, says Carlos García de León, a fellow activist and friend of Sosa, is not rare in Mexican society. “Cases like these bring to light the sheer ignorance of the reality and dynamics of homosexual individuals by the authorities, as it is guided by stereotypes and indifference”, he claims. He also cites the death of another Ave de Mexico team member that was never investigated, Francisco Estrada Valle, who died in 1992, and the more recent killing of a 24 year old gay activist, Christian Iván Sánchez, in July 2011. Sánchez was involved with the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), who is friendlier among Mexican political parties when it comes to LGBT issues. General violence and hate crimes, based on the victims’ sexual orientation, is a grave issue in Latin America. Between 1995 and 2005, around 400 victims lost their lives to violence due to their sexual orientation in México, whereas 312 were killed in Brazil during 2013. There is hope, however, as a wave of legislative changes have mobilised the region towards greater acceptance of LGBT individuals as part of society and will continue to do so in the following years.

A silver lining

A crime, in fact, can be a trigger for change, as the case of Daniel Zamudio in Chile illustrates. Zamudio was a 24 year old man who was attacked and tortured in 2012 when his attackers learned about his homosexuality. He was severely injured and died three weeks later, but the media attention and the prompt response by local activist organisations sped up public discussion and legislation against discrimination. Then President Sebastián Piñera urged the Chilean parliament to speed up the adoption of a law against discrimination, which banned discrimination based on race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender, appearance and disability. Also under Piñera, a project to regulate civil unions for non-married couples, heterosexual and same-sex alike, was introduced for discussion partly through the pressure of civil society and activist organizations. It is now known as the AVP, as the Spanish acronym for life partnership accord. Political momentum was not enough, as the discussion of the project has been delayed for about 4 years and is only now in the final stages of approval.

Luis Larraín, knows that the project is only a step in the direction of greater acceptance for the rights of LGBT individuals, which is the long-term goal of the organisation he presides over; Fundación Iguales. In fact, the AVP has been disputed both by hard-line activists, who don’t want civil unions to overcrowd the diversity agenda thereby pushing other topics off the table, as by conservatives, who perceive it as a threat to the institution of family. But Larraín and his co-founder, writer Pablo Simonetti, and the team at Iguales all agree on the necessity for gradual change. Civil unions are just one more milestone in a longer path: “Though the discussion has amplified from the AVP to equal marriage, the legal project has been pending approval for 4 years, and is coming close to finally being sanctioned. Introducing a new project right now would take at least a few months to get approval”, stated Larraín. “The time that passes translates into lives of people whose relationships and rights are not duly recognised”, he clarifies.

In fact, the delay has been put to good use, as public debates have engaged Chilean citizens in an honest discussion about the inclusion of all citizens to democratic processes – a wave that also encompasses changes in education and tax reform, as well as better treatment of women, migrants and indigenous peoples. “Next steps include the gender identity law, which would allow trans individuals to adjust their identity documents, which we hope will be approved next year. We’re also proposing adoption by same-sex couples, though not yet at the legislative level, and are socialising a proposal for equal marriage. Hopefully, it will be granted its proper importance and will be voted as part of [current President Michelle] Bachelet’s term”, Larraín explains.

The main success for the cause of LGBT peoples in Latin America, however, has come from sharing a message that appeals even to non-LGBT peoples. Andrés Zúñiga, programmes manager at Iguales, sums it up: “Besides being gay, you’re also a student, a brother, a son, a poor or rich, right-wing or left-wing person. People are recognising that increasingly”. Both also noticed that the issue is closely related to the prevalence of homosexuality having a more prominent spot on the public agenda, but other gender identities have started to gain track in recent years. “It’s more than just about homosexuality; it’s about diversity”, adds Zúñiga, who is also a psychology student.

 An Unequal Transition

Chile has had a steady, though slow, progress toward greater inclusion. So has Argentina, the first country in the region where gay marriage was legal since 2010, Uruguay, Brazil and Mexico. The middle to high-level income in those countries may be a one reason why social movements towards greater inclusion have been successful. In fact, inequality is a problem even domestically, as Zúñiga points out that “Lower-income constituencies are more at risk than their middle and high income counterparts. The underlying reason is their lack of access to education, and the corresponding influence conservative or religious leaders may have with them”.

But as Javier Corrales, a political science professor at Amherst University points out, social movements are also strong in Bolivia, Colombia, Costa Rica and Peru, and their struggle to institutionalise change cannot be explained with recourse to education and income alone. “What seems to make a difference is … whether they forge strong ties with national-level political parties”, he writes  in the New York Times.

Worryingly, there are a few countries where the voices for LGBT activism are not nearly as organised. Such is the case in Guatemala. As the host country for the 43rd General Assembly for the Association of American States (OAS), held in early June 2013, the president Otto Pérez Molina was forced to take a stance on abortion and gay marriage, topics that were intensely discussed as part of the summit’s agenda. He promptly and almost candidly affirmed that “Guatemala is a conservative country, and is therefore against abortion and marriage between homosexuals”. A few dozen people had been protesting outside the meeting, calling for the defense of “life, family and marriage”. They later sent him a letter thanking him for his “resistance to pressures”, signed by 150 people. Jorge Lopez Sologaistoa, president of OASIS Guatemala, presented a public denunciation against the President and other government officials at the Office of the Human Rights Procurator. “That type of comments incite discrimination, and violates the universal human rights. You cannot recognise them in one place and not in other”, López explained , but the demand went mostly under the radar.

Sadly, people in most countries of Latin America still face enormous social pressure to conform to expectations about masculinity and femininity that are based in culture or religion, some of them live in countries without the institutions that might help provide a better council, or support. Then, most gay, lesbian, transsexual, bisexual, queer and bisexual individuals are bound to negotiate their rights at a great disadvantage, even if it doesn’t translate into actual violence. Luckily, a high level of engagement and the work of courageous individuals point to higher grounds.

By Luis Eduardo Barrueto

Picture: Paola Ossandón

‘Against’ Homosexuality: The political battle across France


FRANCE HAS A long tradition of social movements. Strikes and demonstrations are such a common thing that French protesting generally does not bring surprise to the world. On October 7, 2014, huge demonstrations were held in Paris and Bordeaux with unconventional participants. Contra the typical ‘fight for your rights’ motivation of most protests, participants marched against guaranteed rights for homosexual couples, legislated in May 2013.

From Mariage pour tous to Manif’ pour tous

Small historical reminder: In May 2012 and in France, the socialist candidate Francois Hollande becomes the new President of the Republic. Among his promises, the legalisation of the wedding for homosexual people (it is the ‘mariage pour tous’ marriage for all) as well as the possibility for homosexual couples to adopt. One legal option was previously available for them: PACS (Civil Pact of Solidarity), a contract which creates mutual rights and obligations for couples but does not give a legal security as strong as the marriage, especially in areas concerning family and inheritance.

Christiane Taubira, Minister of Justice, is asked with preparing this bill to be discussed in The Parliament. Even if this promise was in the official program of the socialist candidate – that allowed him to be elected-, a certain part of the population does not agree with it and is getting ready to make some noise. A collective of 37 associations, mostly Christians but some also targeting the defence of child’s rights and families or political, called for massive demonstrations across France from November 2012. This movement, now named « Manif’ pour tous » (Demonstration for All) – to remind, if we need it, why they are fighting for- claims to had managed to gather around 500 000 to 1 million participants from the beginning of their actions according to the movement to shout that they do not want neither gay marriage couples neither its associated rights of adoption. Encouraging citizens to protest loudly and organizing journeys from all the French cities to join them in Paris by chartered buses or train deals.

Logo_La_Manif_pour_tous

Over the course of 2013, several large demonstrations succeeded in France, interrupted of scandals and criticism. In March 2013, Beatrice Bourges, one of the figures of the movement is excluded from Manif’ pour Tous when a part of demonstrators broke prefectural rules to protest onto Champs Elysées to face policemen. This mark the official separation of the Manif’ pour Tous with another movement called French Spring, with reference to the Arabic Spring.

It’s soon the turn of Frigide Barjot, a leading media spokeswoman for the Movement who is then pushed out following claims that she is not in line anymore with the movement’s positions- too lenient with the law that had just been promulgated. Plus, happened some homophobic skids that occurred during the demonstrations, without forgetting some violent talks of the catholic association CIVITAS – often considered as fundamentalist- which joined the demonstrations, but had finally been excluded by the collective.

Manif ‘pour Tous has also been criticized for the involment of children during the protests, not only bringing them to demonstrate but also placing them at the front of the group, looking similar as a shield against the police. Some mark the irony of an organization fighting to prevent the children’s rights by same-sex parents instrumentalizing their own in such a way.

Finally, some politics have accused the Manif’ pour Tous to legitimate homophobic speeches and acts.

And after the promulgation…

What does the law say?

The law allows same-sex couples to get married, and adopt. Marriage creates mutual obligations but also advantages and security for each married. It does not say a word about surrogacy, still forbidden in France for any couple. This law leads to equal rights for both homosexual and heterosexual couples. Since the law is passed in May 2013 and accepted by the Constitutional Council, the Manif’ pour Tous has not weakened as noticed with the recent demonstration in October 2014, with a number of participants estimated between 500 000 according to the movement and 70 000 for the Police. A victory for the participants who not only want to pressure François Hollande and his team, but also send a signal for the next political elections in France. They want to be heard. And still the same message: the French family is in danger.

On what do they based their claim? Sacrilege of the wedding, of “natural”conception and of children’s rights that would be in danger – in other words to preserve the ‘traditional family.’

They won’t give up, and they are encouraged by their successful demonstrations. This time, it’s for two things, according to the official website of the movement. First, the abrogation of the Taubira Law – which would create insecurity for the 7000 couples already married in 2013. Second, to manifest their aversion to the surrogacy of whom government has already said that the legalisation is not discussed in France, and the Assisted Reproductive Technology for homosexual couples- which is not allowed as well.

A few widespread factors explain Manif’ pour Tous’ success in France: a certain Christian heritage, conservative mind-set, a tradition of going down in the streets to protest, and a rejection of the socialist policy of Francois Hollande.If you make a detour by their website, you will notice that they do not only denounce Taubira’s law but interfere now with the politics in general- as you can see with their article against the end of the universal amount of family allowance (the government wants to reduce the amount for the richest families). Thus, It is becoming a real political movement with opinions on political French affairs and laws, trying to gain head on the moral issues of the time, based on the defence of traditional Family and conservative values.

These demonstrations have revealed a split between the French population, and a stron conservative mind still existing in the French society. This law may be a new start for future generations to not be questioned anymore about it. At the dawn of 2015, the battle for equal rights for homosexual couples in France is not over yet and Manif’ pour Tous leads as the symbol of a movement that does not accept a changing France.

Written by Pauline Sani
Image credits: wikipedia and huffington post (creative commons)