Pieces of Eight
(Read while pretending it’s an experimental short-film collection)
Okay. I’m not attending any G8 events. Sue me. I gave out condoms at the onset of AIDS to New York City School kids when the church and state wouldn’t. I did my street bit. However, I am reflecting on what’s happening here in Edinburgh… and with it, a strange assortment of people-figures, places and things…
1. One Dead Pauper: I watched a dvd last week – Song for a Raggy Boy. True story of a young boy… family throws him into a reformatory… 1930s… Ireland… Cork. Wayward teacher… helps him… Liam Mercier, the boy. William Franklin, the teacher. And the reform school. And the priest who fucks Liam, and the other boys. And the priest who beats the boys. Liam, the boy, to death. It’s all there. Nothing hidden. Blood dripping from the backs of pre-pubescent children.
2. One Dead Poof: As I was watching Song for a Raggy Boy, an eerie sensation came over me. This sensation had a name: Matthew Shepherd. Here again, a boy who didn’t realize he was a citizen of second class. And because of this, he went and got himself killed for thinking otherwise. Tied to a fence. Beaten with a rifle. Very similar to the fate of his fellow second-class citizen Liam – albeit over 50 years later.
3. One Junk Boy: So who can have a pulse these days and not notice Pete Doherty? His puffy face is everywhere. There’s been documentaries, and now the Kate Moss hoopla. Has anyone noticed that this guy is cooked out of his mind? This interests me about as much as the Tom Cruise (*wink wink*) and Katie Holmes affair in the States. Has anyone noticed that she is a horrendous actress and he still fancies himself middle class?
On second thought, maybe Doherty is the anti-hero we need…
4 & 5. One Writer & Her Clown: I recently attended a book launch for Rebecca Solnit, an activist from San Francisco. She made what sounded like a good effort to put a positive spin on the last fifty years of progressive liberal politics. Fair enough.
Joining Solnit was her brother, an anti-G8 person, David. He made familiar references to the WTO protests in Seattle, and rattled on about various protests around the world. He also went on & on about how he and his group were going to dress up as clowns to surround the Gleneagles building. Hrmmm. Clowns.
I identified myself as a former AIDS and Anti-Iraq War activist in the states, and complimented Ms Solnit on her attempts to find positive ground in a very politically depressing era. I put forth a question:
‘A few weeks after the disaster in November (the US election) I received a tell-us-what-to-do-next email from the Democratic National Committee, which to me was a sure-sign that our leaders are lost. As an author and activist leader, in your efforts to emphasize the positive, what strategic development points or corrections would you examine or make to the strategies of the left from a proactive stance?’
Translation: ‘Ok to the Pollyanna perspective, how do you think we fucked up so we can stop fucking up?’ My question went unanswered. I left wondering where the clown would be if we actually fixed everything. If there were no more causes to dress up for…
At the onset, the host of the event introduced Ms Solnit as ‘the next Susan Sontag’. My left eyebrow has been raised ever since.
6. One Pathological Liar: Guess who? Almost too easy. Well, a toss up between Bush and Blair. Eh, this time I’ll pick Bush. Last week Mr Bushit goes on national television and makes the same argument for the Iraq occupation as he did for going to war. Then he makes out like victory is at hand (when just a week prior Rummie said 12 years to go). Then, he appeals to young Americans to join as soldiers for the Iraqi effort. He claims glory and honor would await them. Wait, isn’t that the same thing the Muslim extremists tell their suicide bombers and soldiers? Hrmm again. Maybe we should preserve future Liams and Matthews to throw at the problem.
7. One Starving Continent: So this is the Summer of Africa. Just cause for sure. Starvation and genocide and AIDS. My only comment would be historical: Is it me, or do I remember the US leading an international coalition to stop the genocide in the Baltic States? And, forgive me if I’m wrong, but isn’t mass murder also one of the main reasons we were given to justify the invasion and occupation of Iraq? (see Item 6, above)
Finally, in regards to the AIDS plague, has anyone noticed that the filthy-rich drug companies are now able to manufacture life-preserving drugs at a fraction of the cost they sell them back home for? But what about the exorbitant research overhead and production expenses? Excuse me for a moment while I wretch. You can live if you can afford it.
8. Live8 Moments: Pete Doherty. London. Singing Children of the Revolution with Sir Elton John. Who’s the Man and who’s the Woman?
Bill Gates. London. Part of the problem? Political clout? Maybe somebody’s starting to get it?… keep your friends close, enemies closer, billionaires on the mic…
Billie Joe Armstrong. Berlin. Germany. Deutschland. Singing American Idiot. Dressed in a black long sleeved shirt. White armbands on. Whips the crowd into a waving frenzy. Forward. Backward. Up. Down. Stops when he realises he’s lowered his left hand. (Back to his guitar). And the crowd follows, but continuing to pulse their right hands backward and forth. Talk about an unpredictably awkward moment.
Snoop Doggy Dog. Philadephia. Singing, or rather, rapping something unintelligible. ‘Say my name, what’s my name?’ He repeatedly asks the crowd to chant. Changing the words to every soul song imaginable to include his name. And I thought this concert was about Africa. How’s about if he ‘throws his hands in the motherfucking air’ after he reads the memo that the event was not about him. Get it CALVIN?
Beach Boys. Berlin. Singing California Girls…wait… Beach Boys? Berlin?
Geldof. London. Brings out Bihran, an African famine survivor. The handlers forget and leave her onstage as Madonna starts singing Like A Prayer. Bihran just stands content in front of 150,000 Londoners, smiling looking into Madge’s face. Perhaps there’s some things we could learn from those people?
For the nay sayers: Consciousness brought down the Berlin Wall (not Reagan). And Communism in most of the world (again, not Reagan). Maybe consciousness will, in fact, make poverty history. And maybe raising our consciousness about Africa will raise it in the rest of the world. Europe included. Maybe even in the right wing of the United States. Doesn’t real change start as a whisper? A wave in the ocean as a ripple on the other side of the world? Liam and Matthew died not all that long ago…
Make of these pieces what you like. If you have burning desire email me. I think I’ll save some money and go to Cork and lay a white flower on Liam’s grave.
‘You have developed the best system [capitalism] the world has ever known for making money. Now, you need an equally good system for distributing it fairly. Why shouldn’t all people live well?’
- Dalai Lama, New York Central Park
‘First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win.’
- Mahatma Ghandi
Burning desire? Email me. It’s on the home page.
Martin Luther Belk Jr.
Edinburgh, 2 July, 2005
PS. Update: Monday 6pm. Sainsbury’s, St Andrews Square, Edinburgh. On behalf of the literate, passport holding American population, I hereby apologize on behalf of the two smelly, obnoxious American girls menacing and screaming as people tried to do their shopping.
My take: Geldof, while not perfect, produced an event with a tangible result: a petition with millions of signatures and global exposure. Rich-kid hippie wannabees produce… erm, more rich-kid hippie wannabees?
© Martin Belk 4 July 2005
Martin Belk is a writer, performer and producer and co-editor of One magazine.