WARNING: Terrifying ANTIFA Assault Planned On European Soil

It has recently emerged, thanks to tireless counter-intelligence operations, that a large, militarised ANTIFA group is planning a brutal attack on Western Europe.

Reports indicate that a large contingent of ANTIFA warriors are gathering, in significant numbers, at secret locations across England, and are preparing to assail Northern France across the English Channel as part of the secretive “Operation Overlod”, before taking their violence further into the rest of France, as well as the Netherlands, Belgium and eventually Germany.

A blurry photo uploaded to social media of a violent ANTIFA infiltration group, one seen brandishing what appears to be a knife. If you recognise any of these individuals, please inform your local police force.

The exact day and hour of the attack is unknown, but military leaders from Europe’s governments, both the German Großdeutsches Reich and the French l’État Français, have stated that every measure is being taken to repulse this unwarranted and senseless assault by ANTIFA terrorists.

“We are more than prepared to repulse these liberal snowflakes,” said the German Chancellor in a public statement. “Our top military leaders have already begun work on what we are calling the ‘Atlantic Wall’, an impregnable defense network built by thousands, millions even, of the best, the very, the very best, French labourers. We will be ready for these ‘anti-fascist’ degenerates.”

A photograph of ANTIFA equipment observed being used in previous anti-fascist violence, which as you can see includes rifles, long-range radios, handguns, spoons, explosive grenades, and bladed weapons.

The ANTIFA forces in question are believed to originate from all over the world, and how they have arrived in Britain is unknown. It has been reported that they are using a large amount of American-made equipment and weapons, from firearms to vehicles, including the LCVP, or “Higgins Boat”, an armoured transport designed to carry hordes of ANTIFA agitators across the English Channel in defiance of Germany’s warnings against such an action.

The German Chancellor continued his speech, saying “One thing is certain: there can be only one victor in this fight… A victory by Germany means the preservation of Europe. That is so very clear that every not completely crazy Englishman should know this quite well.”

Another group of ANTIFA terrorists. This photo is believed to have been taken in Croatia. The identities of the individuals seen here are unknown.

Further information is yet to be revealed. The leaders of the Worldwide Anti-Fascist Alliance, designated by authorities as “Dwight E.”, “Joe S.” and “W. L. S. C.”, are mysterious figures shrouded in secrecy, and it is unknown what they hope to achieve with this planned attack. However, it seems certain that they are intent on the downfall of ruling Western powers in Europe, particularly after previous successes of ANTIFA violence in Italy and North Africa two years ago.

Improvised ANTIFA assault ships, uncovered at a hidden ANTIFA stronghold in Southern England.

9 Ways That Modern Star Trek Is Revitalising A Tired Franchise

With the release of new Star Trek properties, such as ‘Discovery’, ‘Picard’ and ‘Short Treks’, fans of the franchise have had mixed reactions. Some see the new products as a refreshing injection of modern media into an aging brand, whilst others do not believe that these new offerings measure up to older installments.

Arguments on social media repeatedly occur, often with the same points being made: either that these new shows are glitzy and glossy but ultimately shallow compared to old stories; or that Star Trek has always been awful trash, so modern iterations are simply staying on-brand by continuing that trend.

The truth is, Star Trek has been terrible since the beginning. It’s self-evident, and it’s actually a good thing that people like Alex Kurtzman and Michael Chabon and their new creative teams are refreshing the franchise to appeal to a broader audience in a more accessible way.

Here’s a list of all the ways that new Trek has been vastly improved over the last eleven years:


1 – The Special Effects

Cheesey, cheap special effects are a hallmark of classic Star Trek.

For example, do you remember how we would always see the same classes of ship over and over, because the studios were too hurried and poor to make more ship models?

For instance, in the top two images above, you can see all of the boring copy-paste fleets from Deep Space Nine’s ‘Call To Arms’, whilst the bottom two images show the benefit of a much more generous budget and the visual diversity to match it in Picard’s ‘Et In Arcadia Ego Pt. 2’.

(Which reminds me, have you noticed how much cooler the episode titles are in these new shows?)

The special effects in general are hugely improved. Take these two shots, from the 1996 movie ‘Star Trek: First Contact’ and the 2013 ‘Star Trek: Into Darkness’ nearly twenty years later. It’s clear just how far Star Trek has come visually in all of that time:

It’s pretty clear what kind of difference there is between a shitty cheap film with a budget of $75 million (adjusted) and a snazzy, glossy, expensive film with a budget of $190 million.


2 – The Cinematography

It’s not just the special effects that have benefitted from a modern, new, visionary creative team. Genius cinematographers, directors, grips and lighting designers have seen the show visually evolve beyond the drab, evenly-lit, flat-angled visual snooze fest in exciting and dynamic ways.

Just take a look at these shots from the older series:

I mean, just look at these dull, static shots, with the camera completely level. No tilting, no lens flair, no sweeping overhead shots. Just boring, careful positioning of the actors to show power dynamics and moral standings, so that the camera becomes part of the storytelling process.

Now look at what these newer shows have to offer, such as this shot from Discovery’s ‘Point Of Light’, which is UPSIDE DOWN as the cadets jog towards the camera, before it is followed with completely flat shots when Tilly starts having disturbing hallucinations:

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Or later in the same episode, when Burnham and Amanda walk down a corridor at a normal pace exchanging small talk, but the camera begins pointing at the ceiling and then revolves and twists around as though it were following an aerobatics display:

DISCO TILTED SIDEWAYS
This image isn’t cropped, by the way. Jump to time code 9:59 to see it for yourself. Or check out this scene from the first pilot episode, in which the camera sits at an angle for Every. Single. Shot.

‘Picard’ took things to a whole other level, by having this iconic scene from Picard’s ‘The Impossible Box’ in which a screenshot of Picard as Locutus is super-imposed over the face of an older Picard:

Picard Locutus Face

This kind of beautiful cinematography doesn’t come easily. In one beautiful image, we are shown that Picard was once Locutus, to remind people who watched ‘The Next Generation’ of what happened in that show. Without this incredible, visionary shot, you might easily forget that Picard was once Locutus, and that would require an entire extra line of dialogue later on to explain that fact.

Compare that to this terrible shot from ‘The Best Of Both Worlds’:

Picard BOBW 1

I mean, sure, the negative space around Picard might indicate his loneliness and isolation as a leader heading into a hopeless battle, and the fact that he has his back to the camera might be a subtle means of conveying a sense of departure, of stepping into the unknown, and the lighting might be set up to create deep shadows, adding to the sombre, foreboding tone of the scene. But you can’t even see Picard’s face! And there are no holographic computer terminals in sight. This is just cheap and boring.

Or how about this shot, from later in the same episode, where we first see the transformed Locutus up close:

Locutus BOBW

And I know you might be thinking, “Wow, the low angle implies dominance and power, whilst the identical drones close in beside him emphasise the collective consciousness of the Borg, and the sickly yellow lighting highlights their truly unnatural and disturbing nature.”

But the camera is completely level! The shot is just one static angle, no dollying or panning or zooming or spinning. Just one boring shot with cheap lighting that focuses more on visual storytelling than it does on showing off a big budget.

The only things that this kind of dull, old cinematography required was time and physical effort by dozens of people to carefully set up a scene and deliver a visual message. Such an amateur approach simply can’t compete with the glamour of countless hours of labour by underpaid CGI artists that show us one face superimposed over another face.


3 – Shorter Seasons

The fact is, the first season of every Star Trek series is always the worst, with the exception of the Original Series (because ‘Spock’s Brain’ exists).

But with the two new shows, ‘Discovery’ and ‘Picard’, the creators were able to condense the seasons down to more manageable levels, drastically increasing the quality of the series as a whole.

Take, for example, ‘The Next Generation’, which had a fairly terrible opening season all things considered. Of its 26 episodes, at least 18 of them were completely terrible, from the racially uncomfortable ‘Code Of Honour’ to the abominable ‘Encounter At Farpoint’.

TNG Season 1

That’s 18 terrible episodes out of 26. ‘Discovery’, on the other hand, had just 15 episodes in its first season, and only 12 of those were nauseatingly bad. This means that, sure, you’re getting fewer episodes overall, but you’re also getting fewer bad episodes, and that’s a marked improvement.

‘Picard’ doubles down on this tactic, with just 10 episodes in its first season, and only 9 of those were embarrassing to watch. That’s fully half the number of terrible first-season TNG episodes, which is an incredible achievement.

PIC Season 1


4 – Serialisation

The new shows have done away with that old-fashioned episodic storytelling in favour of serialised narratives, as pioneered in ‘Deep Space Nine’.

Whilst it’s still possible to dip in and out of older shows at random, not worrying too much about chronology, such casual enjoyment is no longer on the table for the new era of Star Trek.

Now, season-long arcs involving time travel, prophecies and deadly conspiracies mandate that audiences watch the full season in detail from start to finish.

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‘Deep Space Nine’ failed to commit to serialised storytelling, instead including one-off self-contained episodes scattered throughout its run. You might think that this was a sensible approach, granting the audience a change of pace and allowing lighthearted episodes to coexist alongside heavier, more serious storytelling without either one undermining the tone of the other.

But, as we can see in Picard’s ‘Stardust City Rag’, it’s far more efficient and jarring to simply lump everything together, forcing audiences to watch gruesome body horror before flipping over to comedic French accents and silly disguises within a matter of scenes.

This style of gripping, fearless storytelling is truly bringing Star Trek into the modern era.


5 – Better Stories

Throughout its run, Star Trek has mostly been concerned with the human condition. The most iconic Trek stories focusing on some aspect of our frail human lives, and rarely feature much of a “plot” at all. ‘Darmok’ is a spotlight on how easily we take communication for granted. ‘In The Pale Moonlight’ is an examination of how evil deeds can be done merely by a series of tiny, incremental ethical compromises. ‘The City On The Edge Of Forever’ is a tale of fate and causality, of how our lives are unpredictable but never insignificant.

In the Pale Moonlight

But all of this “thematic” storytelling is really rather juvenile. To quote the two greatest television storytellers of our time:

themes

Ultimately, the kind of slow, plodding storytelling that used to work for old series of Star Trek just doesn’t cut it anymore. Take something like ‘It’s Only A Paper Moon’ from the last season of Deep Space Nine. Nothing happens! There is no mystery to be uncovered, no conspiracy, there aren’t even any fight scenes or spaceship battles. It’s just this stupid, boring character study of a young man dealing with the pain and trauma of a brutal war, which has left him grievously injured both physically and psychologically.

The writers of Discovery were smart enough to know that a story like that is wasted airtime, and so they take the same scenario, only it turns out that the traumatised soldier, Lorca, isn’t actually traumatised at all, but is actually a sociopathic racist from another dimension who is secretly trying to return to his home universe so that he can stage a coup and become a racist emperor. The physical wound that we believe he has is actually just a feature of his alternate-universe physiology.

swordlorca
Swords are more interesting than trauma.

This saves the audience from having to think about the story afterwards, or from empathising with any of the characters, or from changing how they think about an issue. Instead, we can just enjoy all of the awesome cliffhanger-reveals at the end of each episode, and then forget about all of it for the rest of our lives as soon as it’s over.


6 – Modern And Relatable Dialogue

With better stories comes a higher quality of writing overall. The writing teams behind the latest Star Trek stories have really brought Trek into a modern era, and the dialogue between characters is no exception.

Gone is the musty, stale superiority of old Old Trek Self-Righteousness full of pointless technobabble. Now we have relatable, believable dialogue between relatable, believable characters. Here are just a few examples:

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In the real world, most people do actually talk like idiotic teenagers, so I think it’s about time that the language of Star Trek was updated to be more relatable and in tune with audiences.

It’s easy to think that just because characters are aspirational, they’re somehow entertaining or fun, but really none of us characters we can look up to. We want gritty, emotional characters, who talk and act exactly as we do, worse even, because we want to relate to them.

We can see this direct improvement in the character of Seven Of Nine, who appears in both ‘Voyager’ and in ‘Picard’. In ‘Voyager’, she is recently rehabilitated from a collective consciousness, and has to learn what it means to be an independent human. She frequently brushes up against the seemingly arbitrary rules set by the other humans around her, and she struggles to cope with living in an environment of chaos and social nuance whilst at the same time trying to figure out who she is as a person.

Seven Dialogue 1
You might not be able to tell, because of the text, but this is yet another terrible bit of cinematography.

And there’s just nothing there to relate to, y’know? Like, how are we, as the audience, supposed to engage with a character like that?

What’s far more engaging is her revised and updated character in ‘Picard’, in which she has become a vigilante justice-seeker in the criminal underworld outside of civilisation who brutally murders multiple other women out of vengeance. And there is just so much more there for the audience, especially young members of the audience, to relate to.

Seven Dialoge 2
By copying and pasting a line that occurred earlier in the episode, dialogue automatically becomes thematic, even if the line wasn’t actually a point of conflict for the character and they were just saying it sarcastically.

Y’know, Seven was this eloquent, intelligent woman who chose her words carefully and deliberately when she expressed her frustrations at coping in a world in which she never grew up, and her continuing struggle to discover herself in the face of adversity was truly aspriational and touching. So it’s really refreshing for the writers of ‘Picard’ to dump that musty old nonsense and instead make her this badass gunslinging thug who expresses herself with violence and shouting instead. It’s way more relatable.

Really Rather Pretty


7 – Progressive Representation

Star Trek has always had a terrible track record with progressive representation. Women have always made up a minority of casts, and when present have often been sexualised and objectified far more than the men.

And that’s to say nothing for LGBTQ+ representation, which has largely been absent altogether.

Fortunately, the latest Star Trek media products have brought the franchise forwards by leaps and bounds. ‘Discovery’ was a show full of women, even if they hardly ever spoke to one another, and it even had two openly gay characters, Stamets and Culber. After just five episodes, it is revealed that these two are a couple, and we get to see them as a couple a good five or six times before Culber is killed off a few episodes later.

Culber Death
The second ever openly gay character in Star Trek – introduced in Episode 4, dead by Episode 10.

Fortunately, Culber is brought back part-way through Season Two of ‘Discovery’, and at the very end he decides that he wants to stick around with Stamets, so we’re absolutely probably going to see a gay relationship return to ‘Discovery’ in some form or another most likely at some point eventually.

‘Picard’ goes even further, with a full-on lesbian relationship between Seven and Raffi Musiker. You can see the relationship in full below:

Seven And Raffi
Really this should be tagged ‘NSFW’.

This is a resounding triumph for representation. To have two grown women clasp hands like this during a montage at the very end of the show demonstrates just how far Star Trek has come after so many decades. What’s even more incredible is that these two characters hardly interacted at any point before this, leaving their entire relationship a mystery to the audience, that we can gleefully imagine for ourselves just how beautifully this relationship would have been handled if it were actually in the show.

And it’s nearly as intimate a moment as the one between the same-sex couple two seconds earlier:

Hetero Kiss

Y’know, ‘Picard’ is a product that was released in 2020, and I think that really shows in the way that it nearly featured an on-screen same-sex relationship.

It also shows in the way that characters in ‘Picard’ repeatedly assume that powerful and competent individuals must be men so that the audience can be shocked when powerful and competent individuals turn out to be women.

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8 – A New Vision

One of the greatest strengths of Star Trek, and a key ingredient in the franchise becoming as iconic and meaningful to so many people as it has been, is the vision of the future that Star Trek presents.

Lets See

And that vision sucked. It was really weird and strange, and full of things like the eradication of poverty, egalitarianism, a human society dedicated to exploration and diplomacy. All the criminals we saw were somehow righteous and fighting for a moral cause, or WERE victims of some illness or trauma which caused them to behave violently. Money was a thing of the past, and the human condition had improved to the point that drink and drugs were social pastimes rather than damaging addictions.

And there would be problems in this vision. Senior officers would consistently be making uncomfortable, even unethical decisions, as part of the bigger picture of maintaining the Federation. Captains might go rogue when they weighed up a situation and reached the wrong conclusion. ‘Deep Space Nine’ spent entire seasons examining the costs associated with maintaining Utopia – of how, even in an enlightened future, difficult decisions still had to be made to preserve humanity’s achievements.

But there was always this curiosity to the franchise. A constant “What if…?” approach to the characters we saw. What if society really was better than it is in the modern day? What if human civilisation really had developed to the point that people pursued ambitious careers for ambitions’ sake? What if poverty and ignorance and prejudice no longer held humanity back, and instead allowed a multicultural community to flourish, full of artists and scientists and historians and explorers?

Science Fiction

Take Jean-Luc Picard. Probably his second-greatest pursuit, after his Starfleet career, was archaeology. He was passionate about the history of ancient cultures, and took every opportunity he could to learn more about the past. He collected relics and he treasured the artefacts he found. Out of the uniform, Picard was a curious, inquisitive scholar who was fascinated by the world around him.

Kurlan Naiskos

But, y’know, that’s just so boring. And so difficult for audiences to engage with. But thankfully, modern Star Trek is revitalising this vision and making it more modern and futuristic, by bringing it much closer to the vision of our current society.

Now, we have a vision of the future that’s full of drug addiction and alcoholism. People drink Budweiser and use Nokia phones, riding around in taxis (admittedly, space taxis) and talking about how much money they owe one another. Picard has given up on his pursuit of archaeology to instead lounge around on his massive estate like the rich person he is, whilst underpaid dock workers of the future behave exactly like underpaid dock workers of the present.

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Starfleet ships don’t explore anymore, they now do cool stuff like fight in wars and solve big mystery plots. Crews don’t spend their time playing instruments or cooking or composing poetry or any of that boring stuff, because now they go to bars and have bangin’ dance parties just like we all did in high school.

Wyclef Jean
That is genuinely the Netflix subtitle, I didn’t add that.

Essentially, people in the future aren’t different anymore. They’re just like us, and that’s so much better in so many ways. Nobody wants to watch a show about humanity’s potential to grow and develop – we just want to see mirrors of ourselves firing rayguns and flying spaceships. Society is essentially the same as it has always been, only with more teleporters and laser beams. And that’s so much more fun and interesting and… relatable.


9 – A Touch Of Class

Star Trek has always been a cheap, tacky entertainment franchise, so the last and most significant improvement that’s been brought about over the last decade has been a little je ne sais quoi, a little X-Factor, which has really elevated the franchise into a classy, refined artform.

twoholes2

There are so many subtle little ways that the new group of creators and producers have turned Star Trek into a respectable, classy affair.

Such as this adorable marketing campaign! Look at that little tyke, painting with Isa Briones, one of the actors from ‘Picard’! I’ll bet that little kid just loves Star Trek.

I wonder which was his favourite scene from the new show? Maybe it was this one, where a character played by Isa gets burned by acid?

Acid Burns

Or maybe this bit, where Icheb’s eye gets ripped out?

Eye Scream

Or maybe these scenes of suicide and self-multilation?

One the wall behind Isa and the kid is a picture of Captain Georgiou. I wonder if the kid also watched ‘Discovery’? I wonder if he enjoyed the bit where Mirror Georgiou describes her sexual experiences?

DEFCON

Or maybe this Klingon sex scene?

Klingon Sex Scene

Or maybe this bit, where that same Klingon gets her face half-burnt off whilst she screams in agony:

Feel The Burn

Or this bit, because there ain’t no cream like eye scream, kids!

Eye Scream 3

I’m so glad that they’re using children to promote these shows. I heard that the kid’s next gig is a live stream of him going fishing with Hafþór Björnsson to promote a new Gregor Clegane spin-off from ‘Game Of Thrones’.

And who could forget the amazing way that ‘Star Trek (2009)’ and ‘Into Darkness’ really made female roles more prominent and relevant to the story, so that they could include these two shots in the respective trailers?

I think the increased interaction between the fans and the cast and crew of the new shows is also to be lauded. Never before have the creative minds behind Star Trek been so accessible to the audience, and that’s brilliant. It’s actually better if major points of the story are answered in an FAQ like a fucking Warhammer 40,000 Codex update, really. Stories are better told in the form of patch notes, and I look forward to this new style of storytelling becoming the norm.

FAQ

The show itself is no place for actual storytelling.

HEADCANON
The show’s own creator has a “headcanon”. Jeez Mikey, it’s a shame you didn’t put it in the show itself, because then it might have been actual canon. Oh well.


Conclusion

Overall, I think we can all agree that Star Trek is finally headed in the right direction, and there’s never been a better time to be excited about the future of the franchise. It’s so thrilling to try and guess at what violent, gritty, teenager-levels-of-edgy mystery plots we’ll get to enjoy in the future!

Poverty, Pronouns And The Pathetic Nihilism Of Picard: Whose Starfleet? – Part Two

Part One of this analysis piece can be found here.


In the opening episode of ‘Star Trek: Picard’, or PIC, Jean Luc Picard angrily declares that he left Starfleet “because it was no longer Starfleet!”

He makes clear that, after suffering a calamitous tragedy on Mars, Starfleet’s decision to turn inwards, to turn its back on the rest of the galaxy, was unacceptable to him. That it had drifted so far from his values, from Starfleet values, as to be unrecognisable.

You can probably already tell where I’m going with this.

So, what is Starfleet to Jean Luc Picard? Which values does he hold dear, based on his behaviour in the series so far?

Let’s take a look at Picard himself, and the two former Starfleet officers that he still respects:


Upon suffering a calamitous tragedy after Mars, Picard chooses to turn inwards, to turn his back on the rest of the galaxy, to live peacefully and quietly on his enormous estate, in the luxury of his huge mansion in the French countryside, with all the modern conveniences and a full-time staff to care for him.

Fourteen years later, he is still angry at Starfleet’s decision to do the same.

He doesn’t speak to Raffi Musiker, apparently his closest confidante at the time of the incident, at any point during those fourteen years, despite her descent into poverty and drug abuse. He never returns to the Romulan refugees he abandoned on Vashti, despite their descent into poverty and violence at the hands of pirates. He claims he is “passionate” about work to “raise awareness” of the effects of the supernova, and yet he doesn’t make any public appearances (according to the FNN interviewer) to sway the minds of the people of the Federation, despite their descent into xenophobia and bigotry.

neveragreedtoaninterview

Following his failure with the Romulan rescue effort, by all counts Picard decides to do nothing more with his time despite all of his connections and his reputation and his experience.

This is understandable. Personal failure can be wounding, and when a consequence of that failure is the death of others, maybe hundreds or thousands or, in Picard’s case, millions of others, the weight of failure can be crushing.


Upon suffering a calamitous tragedy when she is discharged from Starfleet, Raffi Musiker chooses to turn inwards, to turn her back on the galaxy, to live a humiliating life of poverty and drug abuse in a trailer in the desert.

Fourteen years later, she is still angry at Picard for doing the same.

She doesn’t speak to Picard, apparently a mentor figure to whom she was devoted, at any point during those fourteen years, despite his apparent availability. She never makes any further attempt to help rescue Romulans, despite their continued peril. Neither does she engage in any other pursuit besides rage and snakeleaf, despite having fourteen years to seek help or counselling.

Following her discharge from Starfleet, by all counts Raffi decideds to do nothing more with her time, despite having “concrete evidence” of a Romulan plot to cause the Mars attack and apparently the connections to gain transport via independent ship operators such as Rios.

This is understandable. Personal failure can be wounding, and when a consequence of that failure is the end of a promising career, particularly in Raffi’s case where she has done nothing to warrant that end, the weight of failure can be crushing.


Upon suffering a calamitous tragedy when his captain is brutally killed, Cristóbal Rios chooses to turn inwards, to turn his back upon the galaxy to live a dangerous life as an independent ship captain, all by himself with only holograms modeled after his own image for company.

Ten years later, he still struggles to sleep at night without being haunted by images of his captain’s remains.

He doesn’t keep any other crew on board, despite the apparent comfort in which he lives and which would be beneficial to the poverty-stricken lower class of the Federation. He operates soley for money, despite having all his needs catered for by his ship’s technology. And he has no ideological imperative, despite possessing a powerful ship and the ability to warp around the galaxy freely.

longtimesinceyouhelped

Following his departure from Starfleet, by all counts Rios has done nothing of ideological note with his time, merely chasing jobs and the money they bring, despite being an introspective and erudite individual with experience and Starfleet training.

This is understandable. Personal loss can be wounding, and when that loss is witnessed directly, particularly in Rios’s case where he has watched someone die in gruesome detail, the weight of grief can be crushing.


The concept of the defeated, depressed, self-isolating former hero isn’t new, and it can be interesting to explore. We’ve never seen Jean Luc Picard so dejected and nihilistic, and it’s an interesting direction to take the character.

It becomes less interesting when every character we meet has followed the same path.

Picard, Raffi and Rios all followed the same path after personal defeats. They all withdrew, gave up on their morals and lived in isolation for more than a decade.

Of the three, it seems Rios at least remained active, running his own ship, but doing so on his own with only his self-modeled emercency holoprograms for company. And, as his Emergency Navigational Holoprogram points out, it has been a long, long time since Rios has helped anyone like Picard, who is “on the side of the angels.”

Picard expresses his respect and admiration for Rios when they first meet, noticing Rios’ impeccably-maintained starship, kept in “regulation Starfleet order.” Rios is “Starfleet to the core.” Picard can even “smell it on him.”

(Presumably, Starfleet smells like root beer.)

So, despite the fact that Rios has turned his back on Starfleet values, and now apparently works exclusively for money, even doubling his fee on entering Romulan space, Picard still seems to view him as some kind of true expression of Starfleet, because he keeps his ship tidy.

starfleettothecore

Likewise for Raffi. Picard turns to her when he needs help finding a ship and a pilot. Apparently somebody with Picard’s historic career is now so disconnected from the outside world that he has no remaining contacts of his own. So presumably, Raffi is someone he still trusts and holds in high regard, particularly given their closeness at the time of the Romulan rescue effort.

But Raffi, too, has turned her back on any kind of proactive engagement with life beyond her trailer. She hasn’t, by any counts, made any attempts to help the Romulans she cared so passionately about prior to her discharge, nor was she able to keep her family together as we learn in Episode 5.

Three characters, all former Starfleet officers, all faced personal failures and tragedies, and all responded to those failures with passivity and nihilism.


We all face difficulties in life, and we all feel a defeated at times. And often, our responses to such defeats are to shut down for a while, to retreat into ourselves, hoping to find safety in distance from others.

I have struggled with depression my whole life. Even when things are going well, I can’t escape depression’s grip on my mind. And that depression makes certain parts of life difficult. It can especially make it difficult to recover from failure, or embarrassment, or humiliation. I will probably never be free of it.

But people change, and adapt, and heal. I have changed, and adapted to cope with my emotional difficulties, and I have healed from past wounds, because I’m a human being and that’s what humans do.

Some of us don’t. Some of us fall into bad habits, self-destructive patterns, and end up worse off. Usually this happens because we lack support structures – absent friends, neglectful families, uncaring societies. And even then, even with all the love and support in the world, a person can still end up defeated by life.

But plenty of other people do not end up defeated. There are countless examples of people who have suffered grievous wounds in life, but have gone on to spread kindness and compassion to others. Many people are motivated by their own pain, allowing their empathy to compel them to offer the same kind of help that they needed at their lowest moment.

The point is that there is a spectrum of responses to trauma. Sometimes it’s sheer wilful survival, sometimes it’s a fall from grace, and other times it’s a renewed dedication to activism and compassion.


The issue I take with the characters of ‘Star Trek: Picard’, particularly the main three of Picard, Raffi and Rios, is that all three had a near-identical response to their personal traumas, and I just don’t buy that.

I see no good reason why, as Picard retreated to his mansion, Raffi could not instead have dedicated herself to aid efforts for the Romulans who escaped the supernova. I see no reason why Rios could not have used his ship for humanitarian efforts, to use the Starfleet values that Picard smells so strongly on him to attempt to do good in the galaxy.

Indeed, for all his talk of not wishing to be a “spectator” to Starfleet’s descent into isolationism, that’s exactly what Picard became, living his luxurious life in the French countryside. The FNN reporter states that Picard has never agreed to an interview before, suggesting that he has kept himself out of public life altogether.

spectator

But would it be such a stretch for us to be introduced to Picard not as an old man on a country estate, but as an active, vocal participant in Federation politics? Maybe an activist, or a conference speaker, fighting the rise of xenophobia with inspiring speeches and compelling rhetoric?

And if this story is going to be about Picard Defeated, about a man broken by his own failures, can we at least give him some more altruistic companions to serve as foils?

Because otherwise our protagonist, who is a defeated, isolated, nihilistic, former Starfleet officer is joined on his journey by:

  • An isolated, nihilistic, defeated former Starfleet officer.
  • A nihilistic, defeated, isolated former Starfleet officer.
  • The world’s most fucking annoying cybernetics scientist.

(As an aside, I was ready to like Agnes, right up until she deliberately interrupted Rios as he was reading, and then rolled her eyes and got passive aggressive with him when he wasn’t interesting enough for her. Which, just, fuck you Agnes. He didn’t ask you to interrupt his reading session you rude arsehole.)

bother
Yeah, no shit, you contemptuous gobshite. Oh, and our galaxy has A LOT MORE than 3 billion stars, you ignorant, arrogant, treacherous human-shaped turd.

The fact that the writers of this show had three characters who all chose to give up as their response to tragedy is sad, but what makes it pathetic is that all of these characters apparently stayed that way for MORE THAN A DECADE.

Picard and Raffi have been wallowing in self-pity for FOURTEEN YEARS since the attack on Mars, and Rios has been doing the same for a decade since his captain died. And yes, a period of dejection might be expected, but for all three of these characters, three Starfleet officers with values and drive and ambition (all of them at least Commander-rank when they left Starfleet) to give up for so, so long is pathetically lazy on the part of the writers.

And again, to be clear, I don’t object to this characterisation for one of these characters. Maybe even two – to see both Raffi and Picard fallen might, might, have been thematically interesting, had it been handled a lot better. But with Rios as well, it just suggests that to the writers, the only natural response to trauma is surrender and materialism.

hireme

In fact, “materialism” is pretty much the operative word. All three of these people replaced their former Starfleet principles with things. Picard lived like a king in a castle. Raffi seemingly deliberately chose poverty and drugs. Rios works for money.

And these are, apparently, the people that Picard belives are too good for what Starfleet has become. Xenophobia and nationalism? That’s bad. According to Picard, the correct response is apathy and a pursuit of (or self-pitying rejection of) wealth.

I’d like to point out here, if I may, that if you go back through the last two thousand words, I haven’t referenced any previous part of the Star Trek franchise once. Everything I’ve discussed is from the PIC series itself. I’m not here to lambast how Star Trek as a franchise has changed. This is all just from this series.

The naked, shameful hypocrisy of Picard as a character is the same brutally apathetic hypocrisy of ‘Picard’ as a series.

The message of this series seems to be “Choosing not to help people is bad, unless you shout about how enlightened you are, in which case choosing not to help people is acceptable.”

Picard calls Rios “true Starfleet” because he keeps his ship tidy. But wouldn’t “true Starfleet” have been to remain within the organisation, and change it from within?

And, to tie this into the stated themes of the show itself, isn’t that weirdly similar to one of the main arguments against Brexit? That we can exert more influence within a flawed institution like the EU and change it from the inside, rather than removing ourselves from it completely?

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In that regard, although Picard is posed as an anti-Brexit figure, he himself has chosen the Brexit path, recognising the flaws in an otherwise progressive organisation and cutting all ties rather than trying to improve the situation. And the same goes for the two Starfleet officers for whom he holds so much respect.

And he still has the gall to call out poverty-stricken refugees on their low-level xenophobia.

‘Star Trek: Picard’ is not a story about fighting the regressiveness of Trump and Brexit. It is a story about how the only human response to failure is absolute defeat, and that wealth is always an acceptable substitue for activism.


And now for something a little different.

At the end of Episode 4, ‘Absolute Candor’, Picard and company are saved from an attacking Romulan bird of prey by an unseen pilot in a strange vessel.

This unseen pilot is, according to Rios, remarkably talented, and is evidently skilled in combat flying.

Naturally, all of our “heroes” assume by default that, because this pilot is good at combat, they must be male, and pointedly use masculine pronouns to refer to somebody about whom they know nothing else.

hehimhe

This, of course, is so that we, the audience, can all be surprised when the pilot isn’t a MAN but is in fact a GIRL! Can you imagine? A top combat pilot, being a FEMALE? It certainly shocked me.

To quote Jenny Nicholson:

“The fighter being a girl was the twist when ‘Metroid’ did it in 1986 – is that really a thing we can play straight anymore?”

Well, according to the writers of ‘Star Trek: Picard’, yes it is, because that’s exactly what we get.

Apparently the fact that Seven Of Nine is a Woman Who Fights is a significant surprise.

I know this feels like a minor point, but it actually highlights a bit of an issue with PIC, which is mirroring ‘Discovery’ in its handling of women.

Episode One sees the fridging of Dahj.

Under attack by Romulan assassins (on their second attempt), Dahj is brutally burned by acid before a gun she is holding slowly builds up to detonation, presumably obliterating her.

This serves as the impetus of Picard’s journey away from Earth. She is identified as Data’s daughter, which has special significance for Picard, and her tragic, violent death is his motivation.

A classic fridging. Violently kill off the young woman so that your (white) male protagonist has a reason to do things with some urgency.

oweittoher
“I’ve known her for ten minutes but she’s related to Data so she must be important to the audience.”

Then the showrunners introduce the weird concept of Dahj having a twin sister, which I think is best presented by the Memory Alpha plot summary:

“… He asks her if it is possible to make a sentient android out of flesh and blood, and she laughs. She realizes he is serious and says it is impossible, a thousand years away…

“… Nobody had since been able to redevelop the science to create a Soong-type android…

“… Jurati says it would be possible to create a female android from Data’s positronic neuron, using the plural “they.” Picard asks, “twins?” Jurati concurs: they were created in pairs.”

That’s right, something that is impossible apparently always happens in pairs. The dialogue itself is gloriously absurd:

PICARD: “Data’s daughter. He always wanted a daughter. I believe that Maddox modeled her after an old painting of Data’s.”

AGNES: “Female. Yes. I suppose you can make them that way.”
(What the fuck does this mean? They’re androids, couldn’t you make them any way?)

PICARD: “I’m sorry, ‘them’?”

AGNES: “They’re created in pairs.”

PICARD: “Twins?”

AGNES: “Twins.”

Sadly, the use of women as plot devices rather than characters in their own right is nothing new to science fiction. But in 2020, with a story allegedly pertaining to the rise of regressive politics, you might expect a more modern approach to characterisation.

Dahj has a twin sister, then, named Soji. Soji lives and works on a relic Borg Cube, an “ancient” starship capable of “mass destruction”. Soji is being seduced by a Romulan agent, because she is his target. He is part of the same organisation as the assassins who killed Dahj in Episode 1.

This entire plotline delivers roughly one piece of story-relevant information per hour of screentime, and is mostly inane. We watch them gliding on their socks over a slippy floor in Episode 4, after having already seen them in bed together multiple times since Episode 2, making it a strange kind of “romance in reverse”. Soji immediately trusts Narek, and then begins to not trust him, and then they fall out when he begins to interrogate her immediately after the floor-gliding scene.

Most of this exists to remind us that another android daughter exists for Picard to save.

There are multiple scenes in which Narek’s incestuous sister repeatedly grants him additional time to compromise Soji, simultaneously reminding him of the apparent urgency. This allows Picard the time he needs to faff around the galaxy, picking up Romulan sword elves and delivering appalling French caricatures whilst wearing an eyepatch.

This leaves us in an awkward situation where both Picard and the Romulan spies are racing against each other to take custody of Soji, but neither party seems to be in any particular rush to do so. It’s apparently a meandering race of apathy.

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“Who knows how much time is left? But I’d better stop by Vashti first to pick up an elf with a sword for all of these gunfights we’ll surely end up in.”

This also further objectifies the character of Soji. We are given glimpses of a personality – she seems to be empathetic, based on the few occasions we’ve seen her independently of Narek. But she is nontheless the object of other characters’ motivations – a princess to be saved by Picard, a target to be seduced and captured by Narek and his sister.

As of Episode 5, she is not even aware that she is at the heart of a great cosmic adventure. She is merely continuing her life as she normally would, albeit with a sinister new boyfriend and a brief encounter with a traumatised Romulan mythologist.

This means she is an entity with no agency, as she has no ability to interact meaningfully with a narrative she doesn’t realise she is part of.

(And yes, she can still make decisions about her relationship with Narek, but that’s the narrative equivalent of a metronome so let’s not get carried away.)


Another aspect of Soji (and Dahj) brings us all the way back around to our nihilist-in-chief, Jean Luc Picard.

Soji and Dahj are twin “daughters” of Data, in as much as they are neural clones of one of his neurones, or something.

This has worrying echoes of Michael Burnham, the protagonist of ‘Star Trek: Discovery’. As I’ve covered before, Michael Burnham suffered from being written as the daughter of Sarek (what is it with “-areks” in this new era of Trek?) and the sister of Spock. She suffered because it meant she was never allowed to find herself as a character in her own right, but was instead always in the shadow those characters that had come before her.

This isn’t just from a meta, franchise perspective either. Season 2 of Discovery saw Michael Burnham’s character growth grind to a halt as the narrative instead devoted itself to Spock. The most interesting episode of Season 1 was all about Sarek’s relationship with his daughter, rather than Burnham’s relationship with her foster father, a subtle but important distinction.

 

So when we come to Soji and Dahj, it’s disappointing to see the same error being made. They are the daughters of Data. In one conversation with Dahj, we learn more about Data than we do about Dahj.

Picard even has this strange and possessive exchange with Dahj in the first episode:

DAHJ – “I was born in Seattle. My dad was a xenobotanist, and our house was full of orchids. He spliced two genuses and he named the offspring after me: Orchidaceae Dahj oncidium. Yellow and pink.”

PICARD – “That’s a beautiful memory, and it’s yours. No one can touch it or take it away. But you must look inside deeply and honestly. Have you ever considered the possibility-”

DAHJ – “That I’m a soulless murder machine?”

PICARD – “That you are something lovingly and deliberately created, like Dahj oncidium.”

DAHJ – “You’re telling me that I’m not real.”

PICARD – “No, I’m not. If you are who I think you are… You are dear to me in ways that you can’t understand.”

On the surface, that looks like a charming attempt by Picard to reassure this young woman. But the language itself is troubling, to say the least:

  • “You are something lovingly and deliberately created…”
  • If you are who I think you are… You are dear to me…”

Picard is speaking about her as an object. He isn’t acknowledging her as a vital and sapient being, but recognising her value only as a creation. And then he states the conditionality of her worth to him – if, IF, she is Data’s daughter, then she is very dear to him. And if she isn’t?

something
Subtitles by Amazon. Don’t blame me.

It may seem flippant to suggest that Picard would care less about Dahj if she were not related to Data, but that brings into question – what is, then, the narrative value of making her Data’s daughter? Could she not have been an android in her own right? A special and unique creation separate from the legacy of Data? If Picard is the noble, enlightened being we know him to be, what purpose is served by Dahj’s relationship to Data?

We find ourselves retreading ground already worn bare by ‘Discovery’. Dahj, or rather Soji, is Data’s daughter, is Picard’s motivation, and is Narek’s target. She is defined more by what she is to three men than by what she is in her own right.

This is also a good opportunity to question the intention behind there being twins. It’s possible that this is somehow necessary to a greater theme of the story, but it seems more likely, to me at least, that the writers wanted to have their cake and eat it – to brutally fridge a young female character in Episode 1 to give Picard emotional stakes, and then keep her identical counterpart alive to give him motivation to go on a journey to save her. But this is all just cynical supposition on my part.


Language matters, and the way we use it, the specificity of the words we choose, has great effect on the way others see us, and the way we make others feel.

This is even picked up in Episde 1, ‘Remembrance’. The Fox News interviewer refers to “Romulan lives,” and Picard corrects her – “No, lives.”

romulanlives

The meaning is clear – specifying the Romulan element of a life implies something about that life’s value, and given the tone and the context of the discussion, we know that the implication is that Romulan lives are worth less than Federation lives.

But this follows through. When Picard calls Dahj “something lovingly and deliberately created,” the words he is not using are “someone lovingly and deliberately brought to life.” And given that Dahj is a young adult who is currently terrified that she might have been living a false existence, the cold objectification of her can hardly be comforting.

This is why there is so much emphasis placed on pronouns in many parts of life. As gender divsersity becomes more commonly understood, the language we use to refer to one another becomes more important. Regressive internet trolls will often mock the growing trend of pronoun clarity, despite the fact that misgendering, referring to a boy as a girl or to a girl as a boy, has been a classic element of schoolyard bullying for centuries, used by children to hurt other children, often leaving lasting psychological wounds.

We have seen the same demands for linguistic clarity in other areas of life. The ability for women to use a title that is agnostic of their marital status, for instance, resulting in “Ms.” becoming more common. And this isn’t a shallow consideration – your career can be affected by your marital status, which makes choosing whether you present yourself as single, married or “prefer not to say” a very meaningful tool.

This also adds extra significance to every character’s decision to refer to an unseen, talented combat pilot as “him”. If that is the default assumption, it tells us that this is a universe where men are still assumed to be the default warriors, soldiers, pilots, jocks and heroes, and the writer’s decision to play the “female fighter” as a twist reveal only confirms that.

Much of the rest of the story reinforces this notion. The most privileged of our characters is Jean Luc Picard, a man. The next most privileged is Captain Rios, also a man. The most under-privileged is Raffi, a woman. The best fighter is Elnor, a man. The worst fighter is Agnes Jurati, a woman. The two objects of the plot are a pair of women who are twin sisters. One of them is being seduced by a more powerful man for his own ends, whilst another man “races” to rescue her.

The same “female fighter” twist is even pulled AGAIN in Episode 5, when Raffi assumes by default that a crime boss must be a man, and this once again is “revealed” to be incorrect, as though this is just as surprising a revelation as it was barely ten minutes of screentime earlier.

 

The language and the coding all seems to point towards a universe where women are about as independent and proactive as they were in the Original Series, which is now more than fifty years old. Watching old episodes of Kirk and the gang making snide remarks about a woman’s role on a starship is a little painful, but watching a current series pull the same shit is just embarrassing.

There are exceptions, and we do get to see a couple of female authority figures, which is good. But the actual main characters all seem to be falling into gender roles that feel more at home in the 1960s than in 2020.

And, to harken back to another old article, this is yet another show where we do not see women talking to each other very often, and certainly not main characters. Admittedly, with Picard as the main character, the bulk of dialogue is going to feature at least one man, so it’s is a little more understandable in PIC, but this is one to keep an eye on going forwards. I do not believe the show passed the Bechdel Test in the first four episodes.


Female representation aside, this is yet another example of the intrinsic nihilism of both Jean Luc Picard and of ‘Star Trek: Picard’. Picard himself seems more spurred by Dahj’s and Soji’s relationship to Data than he does to the fact that these are two young people in danger.

It seems inherently selfish of Picard to leave the comfort of his mansion only once he has a personal, familial stake in an issue. People across the galaxy are suffering already. People Picard knows personally, like the Romulan refugees on Vashti, and yet Picard does nothing to help any of these people, presumably because they are not related to any of his dear friends.

As I have already covered, Picard has done nothing to help the larger Federation, or its citizens who are being driven to xenophobia, or any of the thousands of Romulans left homeless after the supernova. He has not even spoken to Raffi, his former aide and confidante, who waited for fourteen years to hear from him, and who chastises him for not making contact until he needs help.

nicetohearfromyou

(Sorry, not done with female representation yet, because on the subject of Raffi I wanted to ask – did we really need the only black female main character on the show to be a drug-addicted trailer-dwelling washout who has lost touch with her family? After ‘Discovery’ gave us Star Trek’s first black female protagonist who was also a colossal screw-up and convict? Can black women please just be as competent and successful as anyone else in the Federation without angsty backstories? Please?)

So we’re left in a situation where it seems that Jean Luc Picard’s only motivation for venturing out on one last adventure is the fact that he feels a familial bond to someone he’s yet to actually meet. It may also be because he has been told that he does not have long left to live, but that’s not exactly a more noble motivation.

Joining Picard on this quest is Raffi, who states a lack of interest in the cause and only decides to go when she realises that Picard will be going to Freecloud, where her own estranged family live. Also on the quest is Rios; who is being paid to do so; Elnor, who has effectively been “hired” through cultural obligation; and Jurati, who we later learn is an undercover assassin participating in a coverup and who was also in a relationship with one of the people Picard is trying to find.

None of these people is taking any action out of compassion or altruism. Not one.

You could perhaps argue that Elnor is at least motivated by a higher purpose, but it’s indirect at best, and it feels more like Picard guilted him into it.

And my issue is not that one of our characters is being selfish – it’s that ALL of our characters are being selfish. When we do meet Seven Of Nine, and learn that she is a “Fenris Ranger”, apparently one of the few people actually committed to doing good in the galaxy, she is completely bound up in a quest for vengeance, to the point that she gets a moralistic lecture from Picard. Hell, he even has the gall to call her out on acting outside of the law:

takingthelawintoyourownhands
Oh, sorry Jean Luc, would you respect her more if she was sitting around doing nothing, like you and the rest of your buddies?

But even if we can at least admire Seven for being a little more proactive, she also turns to the empty pursuit of vengeance.

Apparently, this is a future in which nobody acts out of the goodness of compassion, even the heroes.

Now, not all protagonists need to be moralising martyrs. The crew of the Rocinante, for example, from ‘The Expanse’, begin their journey together just trying to survive. Eventually they end up at the centre of some pivotal events, and end up making moral choices, but they started out as space truckers trying to make their way in an unforgiving solar system, caught up in a deadly conspiracy – they never needed a moralistic reason to be involved.

But a little altruism helps us, the audience, root for our protagonists. Frodo Baggins makes two selfless decisions in ‘The Fellowship Of The Ring’: first, to get the Ring out of the Shire, to save his homeland; and second, to take the Ring to Mordor, knowing full well that it might be a one-way trip, in order to rid Middle Earth of evil. Having your protagonist understand the danger, but commit to doing good anyway, and not for personal gain but for the good of all, that’s a fantastic way to make your audience get on board with their quest.

The same is true of Luke Skywalker, or Rey (Skywalker), or even John McClane. Sure, McClane is trying to survive and save his wife, but he also puts himself at risk to save others, to stop Gruber and his villains from murdering dozens of strangers.

But the only thing capable of shifting Picard from his heirloom armchair is a connection to somebody that he already cares about.

In Episode 5, he claims that he’s “rushing” to save Soji because nobody else will help her. And yet, as established, nobody else was helping Raffi, but he didn’t seem to give a shit about her. Nobody else was helping the Romulans on Vashti, and yet he was happy to leave them to their poverty.

nooneelsetohelpher
At least he’s started referring to her as “someone” rather than “something.”

This may seem like I’m setting unfair standards for PIC, but honestly, these are just the standards it sets for itself. Picard has his lovely little rant in the first episode about the xenophobia of Starfleet, he chastises Elnor for unnecessary killing, Seven Of Nine for her vigilantism and her vengeful nature. And yet he fails to live up to his own standards, and seems only to admire those who are as apathetic as he is.

John McClane doesn’t give a speech about the need for gun control before he smokes up Nakatomi Plaza. Luke Skywalker doesn’t preach about pacifism before takes his lightsaber to a bunch of Storm Troopers, and Samwise Gamgee doesn’t condemn animal cruelty before he stabs Shelob in the thorax.

And yet Jean Luc Picard, and by extension ‘Star Trek: Picard’, seems perfectly happy to give moralistic speeches whilst accomplishing nothing, either through direct action, or simply by spreading an understanding of the issues he claims to care about. And the same goes for every other character we meet.


The greatest sin of all is that this just doesn’t make for a very good story. We have three main characters (plus Elnor, who gets to stand near them, and Jurati, who should stand in an airlock) who ALL have an identical perspective on life, and that’s just… boring.

In the 21-minute episode ‘Reynolds vs. Reynolds: The Cereal Defense’, the last episode of Season 8 of ‘It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia’, five characters approach a “trial” over the matter of property damage. We have:

  • Dennis, who believes that Frank is to blame for driving despite his physical impairments
  • Frank, who belives that Dennis is to blame for eating cereal whilst driving
  • Charlie, who is personally loyal to Frank and wants to test his mettle as a lawyer (specialising in Bird Law)
  • Mac, who has no stake in the matter but who is eager to prove his intellectual superiority
  • Sweet Dee, who believes that people must be held accountable for damaging the property of others after all of her previous cars have been demolished by the rest of the gang

sweetdee

In 21 minutes, a single episode of a sitcom based almost entirely in a dive bar in Philadelphia manages to establish a greater diversity of opinion and perspective than in over four hours and five epiosdes of ‘Star Trek: Picard’.

A short episode of a sitcom should never be a better example of dramatic storytelling than a high-budget full-length narrative series. And yet somehow, ‘Reynolds vs. Reynolds: The Cereal Defense’ has more compelling character interactions and a greater exploration of the topic it sets out to discuss.

(The solution, by the way, is for Sweet Dee to be blamed by the other four. Apologies for the spoiler.)


‘Star Trek: Picard’ is simply disappointing. For all of the excitement of seeing Patrick Stewart back, for all of the budget (or lack thereof, given the reliance on location shoots and the limited number of sets, most of which are fairly claustrophobic) its handling of theme and narrative feels so anaemic.

Worse still, its fumbling of issues around responsibility, and inclusivity, and poverty, and the rise of right wing politics, and its inability to perceive a world where women are fighters too and where there is a trauma response that goes beyond “absolute defeatism” is simply depressing.

And don’t get me started on the dumbing-down of the language in this series.

Believe it or not, I’m actually rooting for PIC. I would like it to be a good show, a strong narrative with memorable characters. I would like to see it further the Trek legacy.

One of the wonders of a truly great story is that it will give its audience cause to consider an idea they’ve never had to think about before. The best stories breed discussion, not just of the stories themselves but of the ideas within them, and I just don’t think PIC has enough ideas to do that.

There is nothing in PIC but empty bluster and vacuous paddling towards some kind of mediocre twist ending. I genuinely believe that, where previous editions of Star Trek have given us more to think about, ‘Picard’ might actually give us less. And that just makes me sad.

Poverty, Pronouns And The Pathetic Nihilism Of Picard: A Star Trek Story – Part One

Part Two of this analysis piece can be found here.


‘Star Trek: Picard’ is a story about how a modern, technologically advanced civilisation can succumb to hatred and bigotry.

Well, that’s not entirely true, as we never see the descent of that civilisation. ‘Star Trek: Picard’ is actually a story about a modern, technologically advanced civilisation that has succumbed to hatred and bigotry.

Well, okay, that’s not precisely accurate either, as we don’t actually explore that civilisation or its various societies. So, really, ‘Star Trek: Picard’ is a story about…

… An arrogant, straight, cisgendered old white man who berates others for their intolerance as he lives in an opulent mansion surrounded by huge swathes of land, cared for by unpaid full-time servants.

There’s also some stuff to do with conspiracies and robots and the Borg.

This is a bit of a deep-dive, so please settle in.


chateaupicard

‘Star Trek: Picard’, or “PIC” from now on, opens with Jean Luc Picard dreaming about Data as he sleeps in a gorgeously furnished bedroom in his French mansion. Outside, automated hover-fertilisers glide over his family vines, whilst people in workclothes carrying farm tools wander around doing their duties.

A little later, Picard sits in a luxurious study in front of TV cameras as he answers questions in an interview for ‘FNN’ (presumably ‘Federation News Network’). The interviewer chooses her words carefully to imply that Romulan lives are not equivalent to Federation lives, and states that, as historical enemies, Picard’s decision to try to save the Romulans from their exploding star was controversial. She further explains that, as the rescue armada was assembled, rogue “synthetics” attacked and destroyed the fleet. This led to Picard leaving Starfleet, outraged that it was “no longer Starfleet”, after giving up on the Romulan rescue effort.

Later, Picard has more dreams of Data, wanders around his expansive estate with his pet dog as his two Romulan house servants cook and clean for him and more vinyard works go about their work. Picard orders his decaffeinated Earl Grey tea from replicators in the kitchen and falls asleep on his enormous antique wooden bureau. By all indications, he has spent the last fourteen years since the synthetic attack and the supernova in quiet rest.

In Episode 2, ‘Maps And Legends’, Picard again resting in his mansion and drinking tea when he is informed that he has a brain disease by his long time friend and doctor, Bever- sorry, Moritz Benayoun, who was apparently on the Stargazer with Picard many years ago. Whilst the disease is not yet identified, there is nontheless no apparent doubt as to what will happen to Picard.

Throughout all of this, Picard has also met a young woman who is also an android, has been attacked twice by highly skilled assassins, been caught in a devastating explosion, found out that Data had a daughter (aforementioned young woman), been insulted by the commander of Starfleet, and learned about a super-super-duper-super-secret Romulan cabal which has existed for “thousands upon thousands of years” and which has the sole purpose of hating artificial lifeforms.


hovel

Picard then gets a taxi to the Arizona desert (which is apparently more efficient than simply beaming there with the prolific transporter technology) to see his old friend and colleague Raffi. Raffi was a Lieutenant-Commander working under Picard prior to the Romulan supernova. After the synthetic attack, Picard resigned in protest at Starfleet’s apathy, and Raffi was discharged along with him, presumably out of spite.

Raffi lives in a trailer in the desert and hefts a pump-action phaser rifle at any visitors to her run-down “hovel”, as she describes it. She explains how humiliating her life is, especially compared to Picard’s château, and bemoans the unfairness of how differently their lives have turned out.

Just to tie this bit off, I would like to point out that Earth is a technological utopia, with limitless power generation, advanced education which teaches children warp theory in high school, and the ability to convert energy into any form of matter in an instant. Transporter technology permits transit across enormous distances in an instant, and holoprograms exist which possess their own intelligence and ability to solve complex problems, even serving as doctors.


Through Raffi, Picard acquires the services of Rios, an independent captain of his own vessel. He lives on his ship alone, with advanced “Emergency Holoprograms” (all modeled after himself) who act as his crew. He can replicate whisky seemingly anywhere within the ship, and gets free medical attention from his Emergency Medical Holoprogram. Rios insists that he is expensive to hire, he makes clear that he is finished with Starfleet, the same as Picard and Raffi.

A short while later, Raffi appears on Rios’ ship, and states that she is tagging along to reach somewhere called “Freecloud”. This means she is now able to enjoy the luxuries of Rios’ ship whilst she is aboard, such as replicated foodstuffs, elaborate holodecks, and skilled, free labour from the Emergency Holoprograms.


We also spend some time away from Picard aboard a ruined Borg cube, in what I can only describe as the most vapid television I have witnessed in some time, as a Romulan spy and another of Data’s android daughters flirt and sleep with each other, and also some other stuff related to a “prophecy” gets talked about. It’s exceptionally slow and dull.


brownstickyshit

In the opening teaser of Episode 2, ‘Maps And Legends’, we get to see a brief segment of the lives of Starfleet workers on Mars, as they make snide remarks about their robot colleagues and complain about the food they have just replicated, which they call “brown, sticky shit.” They do a lot of complaining about their food, in fact, referring to “space pineapples again” and bemoaning the downgrading of their replicators.

Just to tie this bit off, I would like to point out that Mars is an historic part of the Federation, in the same system as Earth, and has functioned as Starfleet’s main shipyards for at least several decades. Starfleet’s finest engineers and designers spend their time at the shipyards, advancing starship technology further with every new draft. And that replicators capable of recreating any foodstuff from pure energy have been standard equipment on every Starfleet ship for decades. Riker was even able to replicate (dead) Gagh, and other Klingon delicacies, waaaay back in Season 2 of TNG, exactly twenty years before the synths on Mars went rogue.


In Episode 4, ‘Absolute Candour’, Picard travels to a Romulan refugee village, one which he had previously visited before the Mars attack. Whilst there, he witnesses the poverty in which the refugees live, such as a former senator reduced to a brawling drunk in a run-down bar. Picard disdainfully casts aside a xenophobic “Romulans Only” sign hanging outside the bar, before making a point of sitting down and demanding service from the impoverished Romulans around him.

Just to tie this bit off, I would like to point out that the planet the Romulans are barely surviving on, Vashti, is entirely surrounded by a powerful defence network capable of destroying any unauthorised ship which approaches the settlement.


A lot of criticism has already been leveled at PIC, such as the use of swearing (about which I don’t personally give a shit) or the generally poor quality of dialogue:

  • Pro tip for future reference…”
  • “What do you mean, ‘Synths have attacked Mars’?”

PROTIP

I could be nitpicky about a scientist on the show stating that there are “more than 3 billion stars in our Galaxy” when there are in fact over a 100 billion, but that is not what I want to write about.

What I actually want to write about is the themes of the show, and how poorly understood those themes seem to be by the show’s own writers.

The problem is that the writers do not demonstrate an understanding what poverty is, or why it exists, or the connection between inequality and bigotry.

Patrick Stewart, a life-long left-winger and supporter of the British Labour Party, is on record as stating that PIC is a response to both Trump and Brexit, and that this is some sort of attempt to address two separate issues that seem inextricably linked by their specific populism: the rise and seeming political invulnerability of Trump, who has created concentration camps on U.S. soil, and the Brexit movement, which is seeing Britain sabotage its own economic future for the sake of limiting immigration.

Both issues are anti-immigration. Whilst Brexit lacked an iconic catchphrase, were Britain not an island it might certainly have been “Build that wall!” And this ties into the issue at the centre of PIC’s narrative – the rehoming of refugee Romulans. Just as Britons and Americans voted in line with their apprehensions about immigration, so too the Federation seems to have ruled in line with accepting Romulans across its own border.

romulanlives

The parallels run deeper. ‘FNN’, the news agency interviewing Picard in the first episode whilst making implications about the value of Romulan lives, is a clear equivalent of Fox News, the private news agency in America which has presented so many right-wing, nationalistic and xenophobic talking points. Picard’s reference in that same interview to the Dunkirk rescue effort alludes to Britain’s former role in supporting its European neighbours, and the stark contrast with Britain’s now-prevailing anti-European national sentiment.

But there’s a few fairly significant pieces of the puzzle still missing.


Fox News was founded by Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes in October 1996 – almost exactly five years before the World Trader Center attack on September 11, 2001. And whilst Fox News was well-funded by billionaire investors from the get-go, it is doubtless that the first major attack on the American mainland by a foreign power would have heavily increased interest in the kind of nationalistic, isolationist opinions that were being pushed by Fox News’ array of presenters and guests at the time.

Fox News was owned by News Corporation, also a Murdoch company, which owned UK-based newspapers The Times, The Sun and now-extinct The News Of The World. Murdoch himself has exercised editorial control over The Sun and The News Of The World since he took ownership of them in 1969 (yes, more than fifty years ago), and whilst he did not have similar editorial freedom with The Times, he nontheless had a lot of influence over the publication. Murdoch also founded Sky News in 1989, a British news channel which is nowhere near as outwardly biased as Fox News, but which certainly leans right on the political spectrum.

Most people reading this will already understand the role that Fox News has played in modern US politics. Fox News supported President Bush during his two terms from 2001 to 2009, was incredibly critical of President Obama during his two terms from 2009 to 2017, and has been a staunch defender of President Trump so far through his first term. Most political historians recognise the key significance of Fox News on the American public psyche – not merely because of the commentary it provides, but because of its massive reach, being voted the “most trusted” news network in America on multiple occasions, reaching 90 million households and being the top-rated cable network as late as 2019.

To understand the significance of The Sun in the UK is perhaps a little harder, but here’s some anecdotal evidence: following the Sun’s abhorrent coverage of the Hillsborough tragedy in 1989, a popular movement grew in my home city of Liverpool to boycott the Sun newspaper, a boycott which has persisted ever since. A possible consequence? In the 2016 referendum, Liverpool was one of the more staunchly pro-European regions, and in 2019, Liverpool constituencies were some of the best-performing for the left-wing Labour Party, which faced disaster across the rest of the UK.

The point being, our consumption of media plays a huge role in how our societies progress.

Another point being, these are operations that have been ongoing for decades – since before I was born, in some cases. And the consequences of these media operations are proportional to their duration. Fox News did not immediately change the landscape of politics in 1996. But 24 years later, it has certainly had its part to play in one of the most dramatic and controversial periods of U.S. political history.

Nothing happens in isolation. The World Trade Center attacks certainly did a lot to shift American foreign policy, but even events as evil as that can have different effects on public opinion based on the media response. Had Fox News and other outlets focused less on the role of Islamicism in those attacks, and more on the role of prior White House administrations in arming and empowering the very same militant groups that committed those atrocities, the political landscape over the following years might have been quite different.


There’s another element to all of this.

eatthiscrap

It’s very easy for someone like me – an employed, middle class, educated white dude – to view the recent shift towards bigotry as the fault of a biased media and the people stupid enough to believe in it.

I’m lucky enough that most of my friends are not poor. Not many are wealthy by British standards, but most are not struggling to put food on the table. Most of my friends are white and middle class, just like me, and benefitted from a university education, just as I did. Most of these friends do not read the Sun or watch Sky News. Most of these friends are anti-Brexit, anti-Tory, diehard Leftists, which makes me proud.

A lot of people in the UK, and in the US, are not so fortunate. Many have been made redundant within the last five years, or struggled to find an adequate job to begin with. Many have come from much poorer backgrounds, without middle class families to support them through rough times. Many are living in poverty as a result of these factors.

By poverty, I mean simply “a lack of access to the services, products and amenities that are considered necessary for a healthy, happy life.” I mean the ability to travel around the country, to buy food, afford shelter, and power, and healthcare and, in recent times, an internet connection – which is now absolutely a necessary part of our social infrastrucutre.

In our world, poverty is caused by a lack of wealth, which itself is caused by a lack of income. A lack of income means a lack of a job for most people. This is why governments will often use welfare programs, or social security, to provide a supplementary or replacement income to those who cannot work or who have lost their jobs, to try and prevent them from becoming impoverished.

You need income in our modern world because we have what is called “scarcity“. Food has to be grown, building materials have to be manufactured, clothes have to be sewn by exploited sweatshop workers and movies have to be made by overworked CGI artists who will be laid off after production is finished. Because all of these things are “scarce”, i.e. finite, and require effort to create, they have a value. That value is paid for with money, which you earn by having an income, which you get by having a job.

earlgreyreplicator

Even if goods and materials and food are all plentiful and therefore cheap, land is not. We have finite usable land, and by “usable” I mean land that is solid enough to build on, close to existing infrastructure, accessible, temperate enough to live in, and not already in use for some other purpose. This means that even if you have everything you need to build a house and live in it sustainably forever, you need somewhere to build it to begin with. Sadly, our society is not yet technologically advanced enough to create “land” elsewhere, such as in the ocean, or in space.

And if you think I’m overexplaining all of this, there’s a reason for that.

Right-wing media organisations such as those owned by Rupert Murdoch do not automatically convince people of their messages. They will exploit inherent human weaknesses, such as fear following a terrorist attack, or that inherent crumb of intolerance that we all possess, and which some of us do a better job of keeping under control.

A big weakness is financial anxiety. The closer you are to being in poverty, the easier it is to feel like a victim. And the more you feel like a victim, the more you need something or someone to blame.

The reality is that a lot of jobs are lost as a result of decisions that were made years before. The wrong CEO was chosen, or new and more efficient technologies were introduced, or the market began to shift and the company never adjusted to meet new demands. Sometimes a company decides to relocate to a more cost-efficient location, and those employees who can’t move with it are left behind.

But losing your job is often a very sudden and immediate thing. One month, you’re working and earning a comfortable wage, and the next, you’re being shown your limited options and a redundancy package if you’re lucky. Even though the causes of you losing your job are gradual and long-term, the act itself is rapid and surprising.

trailer

And this is just the binary of having or not having a job. I’ve not even touched upon the concept of situations where employment is high, and everyone has a job, but salaries have risen more slowly than inflation. It’s incredibly difficult to explain to someone who is working forty hours a week that the reason they still feel poor is because of nebulous macroeconomic issues that they have no ability to affect.

Which is all a roundabout way of saying that, when you’re talking to someone who is trying to understand why they’ve worked hard all their life but still can’t afford basic necessities, simple answers will be more readily accepted. Something like, “Well, it never used to be this bad, before they let all those immigrants in…” is just an easier concept to grapple with than “Well, you see, in the lead-up to the 1929 Wall Street Crash, speculative markets overvalued stock prices, which led to…”

Indeed, it is especially hard to convince someone of the real, highly complex and long-term causes of their poverty when they see so many people around them protected from that same poverty. If the system in which we live is malfunctioning, then surely it must be malfunctioning for everybody? And if so, how can there still be people going on expensive holidays, buying sports cars, living in fancy homes?

mansion

When faced with that contradiction, you’re more vulnerable to a simple answer that is quickly delivered, and that simple answer will often conveniently shift the blame from the people who are actually responsible.

Jacob Rees-Mogg is an aristocratic millionaire who makes money from investments in companies that lay people off and underpay their workers to drive profits. He is benefitting from your redundancy, but he is telling you that your poverty is the fault of EU immigration laws.

Donald Trump has spent his entire life breaking agreements with contractors and refusing to pay them agreed sums, and he deliberately emlpoys the cheapest staff he can find in his various enterprises. But he is telling you that the reason your boss had to fire you is because of Mexicans.

Fox News was founded by a literal billionaire who also owned The News Of The World, until that British paper was forced to close down after it was found to be illegally hacking into childrens’ mobile phones. And yet these media outlets will claim to care deeply about your rights and your security as they share opinion pieces on the threats posed by immigration.


Pulling these issues together, what we’re left with is that the kind of societies that will elect Trump, the kind of societies that will vote for Brexit, are socieities that are suffering from inequality, from a visible gap between the rich and the poor, and often with no good or comprehensible reason being presented.

In fact, every major shift on a national political compass, typically from progressive to conservative, in modern history has followed increases in wealth inequality.

As a really good example, consider the 1979 Iranian Revolution, which saw the rise of Ayatollah Khomeini. You may be familiar with the contrast of pre-revolution Iran and its more progressive attitudes towards women, as highlighted in this BBC article displaying images of the state as it once was.

What you may not realise is that (and I am condensing A LOT of Iranian political history here) the precursor to the Iranian Revolution and the rise of conservative Islamism in Iran was not some hatred-driven religious movement that sprang from nowhere, but was in fact massively increased wealth inequality under an unelected monarch:

“The White Revolution’s economic “trickle-down” strategy also did not work as intended. In theory, oil money funneled to the elite was supposed to be used to create jobs and factories, eventually distributing the money, but instead the wealth tended to get stuck at the top and concentrated in the hands of the very few.”

That monach was Shah Mohammad Pahlavi, an unlected aristocrat who was restored to power by a combined UK- and US-backed coup d’état which arose from the loss of British control over Iranian oil.

(By the way, Shah Pahlavi had already been installed as a replacement for his father by a joint UK-Soviet invasion during the Second World War in order to secure oil supplies for the Soviet Army. Thanks to the scarcity of oil, Iran has essentially never been allowed to choose its own destiny, and it’s little wonder they’re pursuing the most extreme means to secure their own autonomy.)

Iran did not suddenly swing to hardline conservative Islamism for no reason. The people of Iran were the victims of wealth inequality, and just as has happened in Russia, France, China, Germany, Korea, the United Kingdom AND the United States, they chose revolution. And as a result, their political compasses shifted, either Left or Right, Democratic or Authoritarian.

The Nazis didn’t rise to power because everybody in Germany was a white supremacist. They rose to power because they offered a simple, wrong answer to Germany’s wealth inequality. Trump wasn’t elected because half of America idolises him, he was elected because he offered a simple, wrong answer to America’s wealth inequality. And Brexit did not happen because the UK hates the EU, it happened because rich white men offered a simple, wrong answer to Britain’s wealth inequality.


So, how does this tie in to ‘Star Trek: Picard’?

Well, let’s start off by repeating that Brexit didn’t happen because “everybody is a little bit racist.” Trump was not elected because “we naturally evolved to be untrusting of foreigners.”

Both Trump and the architects of Brexit preyed upon a poor working class that was getting poorer. Trump wasn’t wrong to target his rhetoric at coal mining communities where the mines have shut down – but he was wrong to pretend that those lost mining jobs would ever come back. Boris Johnson was not wrong to use possible economic prosperity as a carrot to dangle in front of impoverished towns in Northern England, but he was wrong to suggest that Brexit would ever result in a greater income for the people in those towns.

MAGA-hat-wearers and Brexiters alike were predominantly people who have been on the harder end of increasing wealth disparity in the US and the UK. The great irony is that they allowed themselves to believe in millionaires living lives of privilege – millionaires who were smart enough to provide a simple answer to the economic issues of the day. “There are too many immigrants,” has a brutal simplicity to it that does not require an understanding of inflation, or industrialisation, or marginal tax rates. And it’s an answer that fits neatly on the front page of The Sun, or in a rolling text box on Fox News.

Which is what brings us back to PIC, and a couple of big questions:

  1. In a world where any kind of material or food can be spontaneously created out of freely-available energy, and there is a well-established ability to construct habitats in space, how can there be any scarcity, and hence poverty and economic inequality?
  2. If there is no poverty, and hence no financial anxiety, how is a Trumpian, Brexity anti-immigration platform able to gain traction?

We see Jean Luc Picard ordering a decaffeinated Earl Grey tea from a replicator in the well-equipped kitchen in his French mansion whilst his live-in, full-time servants prepare food. Outside, in fields that stretch out to the horizon, automated farm equipment floats by farm workers who tend vines used to make wine. To the best of our knowledge based on events portrayed in the series so far, this has been the status quo for Jean Luc Picard for the last fourteen years, since he resigned from Starfleet.

vines


We see Rios aboard his ship, a roomy vessel with its own holodeck, bedrooms, presumably other living amenities. His every need is tended to by an apparent army of Emergency Holoprograms. Whisky is replicated out of thin air directly in front of him. He smokes cigars.


We see Raffi, sitting on the porch of her trailer in the Arizona desert, a small wind turbine on the roof. She grows her own “snakeleaf” which she inhales from a vaporiser. She keeps a pump-action rifle on hand; presumably the area in which she lives is dangerous enough to warrant it. She chastises Picard for his privileged lifestyle in his château, and calls her own home a “hovel”, which would be too “humiliating” to show to him.


We see a group of Starfleet workers on Mars, on the day of the synthetic attack. They swear and joke and complain about their jobs, their robotic colleagues, their awful food the selection of which they apparently have no say in.


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We see a township of Romulan refugees, angry at the Federation and at Picard for abandoning them, for leaving them on a dusty planet for fourteen years. We watch Picard angrily tear down their “Romulans Only”, pointedly step on it, only to smirk at the onlooking Romulans, enter their bar and demand service.


How can all of these things be simultaneously be true?

How can the same society provide one old man with tracts of land and a mansion to live in with freely-replicating tea, whilst depriving a younger woman of any amenities and condemn her to live in a hovel in the desert with a drug addiction?

How can the same society force a woman to live in a hovel in the desert, while a man of the same age lives on an advanced spaceship with freely-replicating whisky and holograms to provide for his every need?

How can the same society provide unlimited replication of foodstuffs for two men who once worked for Starfleet, but deny those same freedoms to people currently working for Starfleet?

replicateflies

The writers of PIC have clearly demonstrated that wealth inequality exists, so they at least have gotten that part right. But they have failed to explain how that wealth inequality could ever arise when people like Raffi could seemingly just move out of their hovels and live on a spaceship, as she chooses to do at the end of Episode 3.

The Mars workers complain about the food they are provided in their office, but if it’s so bad, could they not replicate their own food at home and bring it with them? Or are we to believe that these workers are denied access to the same food recipes as Picard and Rios? If so, why? The food is replicated according to a computer program, it does not exist in any form before it is made by the replicator.

Where today’s wealth inequality is caused by a scarcity of materials, a limited supply of the goods we need to survive, in ‘Star Trek: Picard’, they have demonstrated a complete lack of scarcity. What social mechanism is it that allows Picard himself to run automated fertiliser machines over his acres upon acres of luxury crop fields, whilst simultaneously denying the Mars workers any variety in their lunch? I can get more variety in my lunch routines from a cafe that runs off of three ovens and two cooks, and yet an advanced replicator, a device which turns stored energy into any kind of matter, somehow has limits imposed upon it for some members of society, but not all.

In such a scenario, where wealth inequality exists despite the prevalence of technology capable of solving it, I think even I would start feeling a little Trumpian. If I’m watching Picard being interviewed on FNN from his own personal vinyard whilst I put up with yet another portion of brown, sticky protein for lunch in my trailer in the desert, when I know that the means to solve my problems exist but are being denied to me, then I would absolutely be feeling like a victim and be looking for someone, or some group of people, to blame.

machines

But PIC is not addressing these systemic issues. In fact the lead character, Jean Luc Picard himself, seems oblivious to the economic problems facing the Federation, and only addresses the moral concerns of bigotry and hatred.

If Picard were truly bothered by the rise of isolationism in Starfleet and the wider Federation, you might think that someone as demonstrably intelligent as him would seek to understand the root cause of the issue. And to do so, all he really needs to do is walk through his own vinyard.


Jean Luc Picard lives his life wanting for nothing. We do not even see him working on his own vines, because he has enormous robots and a staff of workers to do that for him. He’s elderly, but he has two full-time live-in Romulan carers who take care of him. And yet he considers himself better than the rest of Starfleet because He Is Not A Racist.

Which raises a question: does it actually matter if Picard is a racist? Would it make any difference if he was? He castigates the Federation for turning its back on the Romulans, and yet Picard himself has turned his back on billions of Federation citizens by enjoying the enormous privilege in which he lives.

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I think this was crytallised for me by his interactions on Vashti with the Romulan refugees who live there. Fourteen years ago, he was visiting them and making promises to bring Starfleet to the aid of the Romulans, whose sun was about to explode. He then learns that the Synths have attacked Mars, at which point he rushes back to Earth to lobby for a renewed rescue effort.

After Picard resigned from Starfleet, he never returned to Vashti, nor did he make any other attempts to rescue more Romulans. The refugees there, apparently with no means of leaving for a better home, fell into poverty, living in a dusty town made up of worn-down huts and drinking their woes away.

This is addressed in the episode. Picard says of himself “I made the perfect the enemy of the good.” He acknowledges that his inability to save every Romulan led to him abandoning all Romulans, and sees his flaws in doing so.

Except that a couple of scenes later, we see him walking back through the Romulan town. He sees the “Romulans Only” sign, angrily tears it down, triumphantly steps on it, and enters the bar. He demands service from the waiter. Clearly, he disapproves of the Romulans’ xenophobia, and he is here to show them the error of their ways. A Romulan senator chastises Picard, and then attempts to fight him. Picard refuses, the Senator is beheaded as he attempts to kill Picard by a dark-haired Legolas, and Picard escapes with this katana-wielding elf-Romulan to safety aboard Rios’ advanced starship.

Here’s an interesting point: the first time we see Picard this episode, he is being shown around a perfect holographic recreation of his study in Château Picard by Rios’ Emergency Hospitality Holoprogram. Even when travelling, Picard still gets to enjoy the luxury of his beautiful French mansion in exacting detail. Picard even comments on how realistic it all is.

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And this is where we get to that description of Picard as a “an arrogant, straight, cisgendered old white man who berates others for their intolerance.”

Yes, xenophobia is wrong. Any kind of intolerance is wrong. Absolutely.

But what did Picard expect, exactly? What did he think the result would be when a group of people were taken from their home by aliens in a bid to “save them”, only for those same aliens to then abandon the rest of the Romulan civilisation and leave these refugees here to starve, separated from their culture, their families and from the basic amenities that they had previously enjoyed?

Moreover, how fucking arrogant and distasteful is it for Picard to leave these people for fourteen years, FOURTEEN YEARS, never to return, never to bring help, never to do anything but watch the vines grow on his enormous estate, drink tea and be grumpy about the rise of isolationism? And for him to still be framed as the “enlightened hero” of the story by the writers?

Admiral Clancy calls Picard out for his arrogance in thinking he can return to Starfleet and request a ship out of the blue to go and save a random woman who may, or may not, be the daughter of Data. But what about the coldhearted misanthropy of Picard spending fourteen years doing nothing about the apparent inequality within the Federation? Why is it that Jean Luc Picard, enlightened humanitarian, allows himself to live like a king whilst people like Raffi live in poverty just a transporter beam away?

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Maybe the story is meant to be about how Picard has succumbed to nihilism and apathy. But if so, why does he care about the Romulans being xenophobic at all? Why does he chastise Legulus The Sword Elf for unnecessarily taking a life, even when that person was about to kill Picard? Why does he shout at the Fox News interviewer about Starfleet having lost its way, when he himself has done nothing, nothing, to address the issues that may have actually led to Starfleet losing its way?

If we accept that a post-scarcity society such as the Federation is still somehow beset with wealth inequality, if we accept that there is somehow enough room for Picard’s vinyards but not enough room for Romulan refugees, if we accept that there is somehow no restriction on how much decaffeinated Earl Grey Picard can replicate but workers on Mars have to make do with flavourless protein, then we MUST accept that Picard himself is a heartless, hypocritical capitalist who refuses to help those in need.

If there is wealth inequality in the Federation, then Picard must be activiely complicit with it. If there is no wealth inequality in the Federation, then how on Earth did billions of people become nationalistic and isolationist?

If PIC is truly about the shift of the US and the UK towards right-wing political beliefs, then why is it not exploring the causes of such changes? Why is is oblivious to the actual root cause of these issues? If PIC is simply about pointing out that anti-immigration platforms and nationalism are bad, then it’s not actually doing anything to help its audience understand those issues, and neither is it shining a light on the causes to allow us to take action against them.

In fact, PIC seems to revel in the artificial inequality of its universe. It uses that inequality to create “edgy” and “dramatic” characters, but so far has failed to address the inequality itself.

And if the show is not going to critically assess the causes of rising right-wing ideology, or the societal, systemic failures at the very heart of it, then the show and its creators are guilty of the same hypocrisy as the protagonist. Clouding the narrative about why people turn to xenophobia and nationalism is harmful, even if the text of the story is critical of those ideologies in their own right.

fields

Wine does not feed the masses. And the hero of your anti-Brexit story cannot be a Jacob Rees-Mogg-like millionaire, living the life of a wealthy aristocrat and looking down on “backwards foreigners” who have the audacity to feel resentment towards a nation that abandoned them.

Because the fact is, Trump rose to power because of the backing of other wealthy white men, who used instruments like Fox News to drive a wedge into America’s wealth divide, whilst other wealthy white Americans wrung their hands about how awful Trump was, and yet did nothing to solve the inequality that led to his election.

And Brexit came to be because of the backing of those same wealthy white men, who used instruments like The Sun to drive a wedge into Britain’s wealth divide, whilst other wealthy white Britons wrung their hands about how awful Brexit was, and yet did nothing to solve the inequality that led to it.

And so now, the hero of ‘Star Trek: Picard’ is a wealthy white man, who wrings his hands and gives speeches about how awful isolationism is, how awful it is to turn our backs upon another community, and all the while he has done nothing but benefit from the inequality that has led to it.

Which puts the writers in a tricky spot. Because now, PIC will have to end with Picard acknowledging his privilege, abandoning his vinyard and chastising the Federation for allowing its people to needlessly live in poverty. Otherwise, life-long Labour member Patrick Stewart will be playing the role of one of those anti-Brexit Tory MPs, or anti-Trump Republicans, who decry the fall of decency within modern politics, but continue to vote for policies that ultimately lead to it.


This is already a long article, and I have a lot more to write, so this is Part One. There is a Part Two, where I address some of the other issues with the show, specifically social issues, as well as problems with the characterisation and overall narrative laziness on display so far.

Improv(e) Your Mental Health

The last few weeks have been rough at a personal level. I was already sliding into another depressive episode over the monumental detachment of various global crises as the Amazon burned, Alaska ran out of ice, another kind of ICE was running concentration camps and diseases we had once conquered were returning due to our own ignorance.

As the UK government shut down its own Parliament, I realised “At last! This is an issue in which I can actually be involved, and lend some effort to solving!” And so I took up that cause with a vain zealotry, thinking I might make an impact.

That cause was not without emotional cost for me and a few friends. You can read about why here! But the short version is that it turns out that being surrounded by people who are deliberately hostile and threatening can have a powerful effect on your state of mind.

Fortunately, it turns out that being surrounded by people who are deliberately supportive and encouraging can also have a powerful effect on the way you feel.

Please note that in this article I’ll be talking about a lot of emotional “stuff”. And also please note that I am in no way advocating going on an Improv retreat as a substitute for actual clinical therapy or counselling. It just so happened that an Improv retreat really helped me right when I needed it to.


On a Saturday, five days before heading off to the Mayday’s Annual September Improv Retreat, I was hungover and failing to deal with my own state of mind following a horrible incident with a group of racists in London a week earlier. So I spent all day on the sofa watching first ‘The Dark Crystal’, and then the newly-released ‘The Dark Crystal: Age Of Resistance’ on Netflix.

Both are excellent, the new series especially, and highly recommended. I connected strongly with the themes of the show and ended up crying so much that the next day, the muscles in my face literally hurt with DOMS.

Over the next few days I just sank further into a depressive state, not really wanting to leave the flat and quietly debating if I even wanted to go to a five-day Improv retreat in an isolated rural location with dozens of strangers, or whether I’d rather just stay at home and vaguely dissolve into the sofa.

I ended up choosing to go to the retreat, and that ended up being a smart choice.


The Maydays are a company of professional improvisers (and actors, musicians and singers) in the UK who run classes, workshops and courses teaching people how to improvise. They also run their own shows (one of which I reviewed here) and are involved in a variety of other projects at an individual level.

Their September retreat is a five-day event based in a large country house in Dorset. Each day (except the first) features a programme of classes that you can choose from, each led by a Mayday and each covering different topics. Some cover basic techniques, others cover longform, or narrative techniques, and there’s a strong selection of musical improv classes, where you can learn to improvise songs. (A review of Baron Sternlook, a musical group in Birmingham, can be found here.)

Whilst you may have many opportunities to join Improv workshops depending on where you live, it’s rare to be able to devote days at a time to learning Improv without travelling to the Uunited States. As such, the Maydays’ Retreat is an incredible opportunity for new and experienced improvisers alike to simply immerse themselves in the art, uninterrupted.


The first evening after I arrived was mixed. Everyone was friendly, and I managed to enjoy a few social interactions, particularly a round of frisbee in the evening sun. However, I felt awkward through every conversation, and felt a little more tired and foolish and uncertain after every interaction. After the evening show I retreated to bed early.

The first full day, Thursday, was worse. A headache set in, social anxiety ramped up, and I was incapable of getting through a single scene in workshops without feeling horrendously clumsy and by turns domineering and completely passive. Scenes and exercises I would normally breeze through felt stilted and jarring. I tried to spend every moment out of class away from people, as far away as possible. I ended up skipping the final class of the day to hide in the fields around the house and lie quietly on the grass pretending that the Sun might somehow, in a Superman-ish fashion, restore some of my strength. It sadly didn’t, and I went to bed as soon as I could.

Everyone was still lovely and friendly, and I really wanted to be in the thick of things, chatting with people and getting to know them. But the periods of self-inflicted isolation left me feeling like I was missing out, and that frustration then made me feel more anxious, making me retreat into deeper isolation.

The Maydays freely offer to speak to anyone feeling overwhelmed during the retreat, and encourage participants to do so. But the feedback loop is real, and every little cycle of anxiety and depression makes reaching out even harder. Which is stupid and self-destructive.


Friday was a strange day.

I woke up feeling a little more intact, and in a moment of Lovecraftian delirium I put my name forwards for all three musical classes being run that day, one after the other. I expected that the Algorithm which assigned classes based on listed preferences might allocate me to one of those sessions. Instead, it allocated me to all three.

I started Improv classes almost exactly two years ago, in September 2017, and since then have sworn blind that I would never even attempt musical improvisation. Improvised has been my nightmare, mostly because I’ve spent most of my life aware of the particular quality of my voice that manages to somehow be simultaneously nasal and shrill with a mucky Scouse accent to boot. Indeed, I can’t think of a fear greather than having to sing in public. Except maybe for spiders.

Why I chose to do even one musical class, never mind three, is beyond reason, but it’s probably rooted somewhere between being repeatedly told that I should “face my fears,” and my refusal to lose an argument to anybody. I think the internal logic was that if I tried it once, I could confidently tell people that it was not for me and they wouldn’t be able to respond with “but you need to try the things you’re afraid of.”

The first session, group singing, was painful. I couldn’t keep a note (as expected) and my nerves kept my knees shaking and the rest of me sweating like a Tory in a state school. It was about as rough as I thought it would be.

However our teacher, Heather, maintained such a warm and supportive atmosphere that the impulse to stay seated and refuse to participate, or even to leave the class, never got the better of me. No matter how uncertain the performer, every performance was met with encouragement and praise from the whole class, and regardless of how terrified I felt every time I stood up to take my turn, I sat back down feeling like I had just succeeded alongside all my scene partners, regardless of how out of tune I was or how much I stumbled through improvised lyrics.

The most surprising thing is that by the end of the session, I was actually looking forward to the next musical class rather than dreading it.

By the start of the next session, focusing on lyrics, anxiety had taken hold again and I didn’t feel much more confident than at the beginning of the first class. This was a pattern that seemed persistent for me with musical classes: start out extremely nervous, build confidence over the lesson, and lose most of that confidence before the next lesson. All the same, Heather kept supporting and encouraging, and by the end of the second class I was feeling triumphant – having managed to sing on my own (although still as tunelessly).

My mood had improved enough that I even spent a good portion of the lunch break with other people, just relaxing and chatting in the sunshine, without feeling the desperate, clawing need to escape to solitary self-confinement.

The third class of the day was folk singing, led by Rhiannon. Despite my enjoyment of the earlier classes, the nerves once again hit hard as the reality of more public singing set in. But Rhiannon was just as supportive as Heather, and by the time the folk singing was done I was again feeling heroic.

All three lessons were supported – if not carried – by Joe, the Mayday’s incredibly talented pianist. Joe’s fantastic ability to not just play beautifully but also to adjust his playing to the tone and tempo of whoever was singing made every exercise and performance feel like a tightly-rehearsed Broadway musical.

Most of all, every group of students in each class was as encouraging as the teachers, and being in such a positive environment had a powerful effect. Feeling as though no matter what you do you won’t be judged or criticised leaves you feeling dangerously empowered and emboldened to take risks and to reach outside of your comfort zone, and I’m grateful to everyone with whom I shared those classes for being so completely supportive.

When I first saw that I was booked in for three musical sessions in a row, I genuinely believed I might end the day completely miserable. But the combined efforts and good natures of three Maydays and a whole host of enthusiastic improvisers saw me finishing the day feeling absolutely unafraid of anything. Except maybe for spiders.

After one more none-singing lesson, Friday was rounded off with an incredible long-form show put on by the Maydays – the best example of an Armando I’ve ever seen, in fact, and if you don’t know what that means… well, it’s an Improv thing. Finally, there was an insanely fun space-themed Jam hosted by Katy and Chris wearing wonderful spacepunk outfits.

Later, a handful of us wandered out in the dark to do a little stargazing. After that, a friend and I headed back out into the fields to sit under stars and discuss all manner of in-depth topics. We went back inside well past midnight to find a few indefatigable and impressively flexible stragglers picking strips of cardboard off the flaw using only their teeth (we were assurred that this was some kind of party game). I went to bed very late, and peacefully happy.


On Saturday I was booked into two more musical sessions, and I didn’t feel quite as worried as I had been the day before.

The first was “Musical Living Room” with Lloydie.. The Living Room is a casual long-form format, and Lloydie took us through its structure with as much love and support and Heather and Rhiannon. My nerves had returned, but I found it easier to push them aside this time, particularly as there was more group singing – and group singing offers many more opportunities to hide.

The second musical class was all about “truth in song”, led by Katy. Right from the start we were singing lines on our own, and my nerves suddenly blossomed once more. But as before they subsided more quickly, and once again this was helped by the universally supportive environment.

I think it was this point that I realised that I pretty much had the musical improv “bug”. The thought of singing solo was still scary, but one thing nobody had really told me before was that singing in a group, or even just as part of a group song, makes you feel connected to that group more than anything else I’ve ever experienced. Joining your voice with others. supporting them as they support you, is a unique and lovely experience that was completely new to me, and it occurred to me that I would like to keep doing it.

This notion of mutual support was crystalised in the third Saturday class, “Narrative Ensemble”, with Heather. Here, she said something that was probably more profound than it seemed in the moment. As a group of us stood up in front of the rest of the class to attempt a specific exercise, she said:

“Just go through the exercise, and whatever you do, we’ll all clap like idiots.”

This is a concept that I adore. The simple notion of “whatever you do, we’ll treat it like it’s the best fucking thing we’ve ever seen.” It’s not even a new concept particularly – Jon Trevor has always maintained that the mantra of every improviser should be “I am average, my partner is a genius and a poet.” But the “we’ll clap like idiots” version applies off the stage, too.

I’ve been conscious for a while that you can practice your improv skills even as an audience member – that just by attending shows you’re showing support, but by paying attention, laughing along and making your enjoyment as clear as possible, you’re supporting those people who are brave enough to get on stage and perform in public in a very vulnerable, very exposed manner.

There’s an in-joke of saying “Improv Is Not A Cult,” implying that it actually can be a fairly cult-like environment. I don’t necessarily think that’s true, but if it is, I’d like to think it’s a cult of ethos, and that the ethos is “We Support Each Other Mutually And Unconditionally.” I’d like to think that, unless you’re a proper arsehole, the Improv community will always have your back.

I also know I don’t live up to this ethos myself. I’ll have a moan about other groups and performers if I don’t think they measure up, likely a residual trait from years spent whinging about TV and movies on this very blog. But it’s something I’m going to work on going forwards – I want to be a better improviser, and part of that is being a better part of the community.

I spent the fourth session of Saturday skipping class and sitting in what will likely by the last bit of warm, sunny weather I’ll experience in 2019. But I did this not because I was scared or craving isolation, but rather simply because I knew I would enjoy it, and felt confident going back to the social hubbub later on. Two amazing days in a possitive, loving environment had left me feeling confident enough to make that choice freely.


Saturday night was one of the greatest nights of my life.

The day before, the Maydays had requested suggestions for a show they would perform completely off the cuff – something they had never tried before and that would allow them to take the same kind of risks that they asked of their students.

I wrote “Rock Opera Journey Through Hell” on a slip of paper and put it in the hat. I wrote that it could be a lost soul’s journey through the afterlife, and that it could be a rock opera because “fuck yeah.”

Well, that’s the one that the Maydays picked.

Once I realised what they were doing, I sat in the audience grinning from ear to ear for the entire performance.

The show started off with modestly dressed accountants sharing a bottle of prosecco on a work night out. One of them said she had actually stolen the bottle from the restaurant, and then she unfortunately died from a heart attack.

The lights dropped.

When the lights came back on, everyone was in rock band attire, including Joe in a huge wig and aviators.

FUCKYEAH2
Fuck yeah.

What followed was genuinely one of the most incredible live performances I’ve ever seen in my life. That’s… I mean, I may be biased, but it was absiolutely fucking flawless. It’s actually difficult to describe because I’d basically just end up writing “It was amazing” 1,500 times in a row. When it finished, there was a standing ovation.

I need to take a moment to explain that none of it was prepared – to the best of my knowledge, “rock opera” wasn’t even a style of music the Maydays had ever tried before. The preparation they got was being told by Liz and Katy an hour before the show what the theme of the show would be, being told “It will start with a normal scene, one character will die, then it will be set in Hell.” They spent five minutes rumaging through a costume box to pull together some suitable outfits that they then hid under baggy jumpers and hoodies.

There were so many amazing choices throughout the whole show. Wonderful little touches and details. And so much energy! The only scene that didn’t draw unstoppable laughter from the audience was a touching encounter between the main character and the ghost of her mother.

The whole thing was a testament to what can be achieved from an improvised performance with enough style, gusto and courage. From start to finish the performers had the momentum of a tidal wave, and the audience got pulled right along with them.

Even now, I think back to various moments from the show and get a little rush of happiness in the back of my head. Indeed, I’m almost sad that I may never get to see anything like it ever again. But I’m thrilled I got to see it at all.

It was amazing. It was amazing. It was amazing. (x 500).

fuckyeah
FUCK YEAH

The Rock Opera Journey Through Hell was followed by a great little disco where those of us so inclined danced ourselves silly through a selection of “celebrity guest” DJs who took turns to play us their favourite songs. In another room there were board games, whilst outside there was a bonfire, and it was essentially a perfect evening to spend with new friends.


Sunday was exactly as sedate as it needed to be.

I had one more musical class, with Rhiannon, where we practiced “scenes into song.” By now, my nerves were more under control, and I felt better able to just enjoy this class for what it was, rather than having to wrestle with my own insecurities. An hour and a half singing and harmonising with friends is a beautiful way to spend a rainy Sunday morning.

I also took part in ‘Cuckoo’s Nest’ with John Cremer.

If you’re an experiened improviser and you ever have chance to take part in ‘Cuckoo’s Nest’ with John Cremer, you should do so. And that’s all I can say about that.

Following a lovely little afternoon showcase and many heartfelt goodbyes, we all headed home. In the sky overhead was an enormous rainbow, and I don’t know if there’s a better visual to represent such an incredble event than that.

rainbow


Improv will always be a very personal experience, hence the very personal nature of this article. Attempting to sum up events objectively will always be a misrepresentation, because subjectivity kind of the essence of the art of improvisation.

Throughout the entire five days away, I got a better understanding of the term “impostor syndrome.” Every time I felt a little more confident or bold or sociable, I’d mentally slap myself down, thinking “No, you’re not meant to be confident, you’re feeling anxious and scared and isolated.” If I did something I was proud of in a scene, or managed to sing an improvised line without scrunching up my face in embarrassment, I’d feel dishonest and manipulative, like some kind of weird reverse-fraudster.

But facing a room full of people who were just happy and smiling and clapping and laughing helped fight that self-loathing. Spending time outside of classes with buoyant, joyful people who were simply happy to be spending time with one another helped to build a foundation of confidence and self-assurredness.

I met many amazing people at the Maydays’ September Retreat 2019. I hope I will see them again. Even if I do, I may not have chance to explain to them how much they helped me out at a time when I really needed a little help. The fact that I started crying again as I wrote this paragraph is probably testament to that.

I didn’t have to ask for any help. Most people there probably didn’t realise that I was struggling, but they didn’t have to. They simply demonstrated that by being universally supportive and encouraging, as all improvisers should be, you can make it easier for people to find a little happiness.

My experience a couple of weeks earlier with a bunch of racist thugs in London taught me that I was far more susceptible to threatening, aggressive behaviour than I had previously thought. But my experience at the Maydays’ retreat taught me that I’m also more susceptible to friendliness and compassion thanI had previously thought.

I’m still not okay. I still struggle with controlling the depression and anxiety that follows a distressing experience, as well as anger and even resentment. I probably still need to get some actual clinical treatment at some point.

But I know that I can overcome it, and that I can be helped. I better understand the power of mutual support both on and off the stage, and it’s something I want to work on and become better at. It’s given me a new life goal, which is to bring that Improviser’s ethos to my wider life, and try and be that supportive person who helps other people feel happier and more confident. To find ways to “clap like an idiot” whenever a person has the courage to express themselves. And it probably won’t be easy, because we all have a bit of a tendency to be cynical and negative when we’re confronted with the kind of problems we’re all facing these days.

That’s the intention, in any case. I’ve already been angry once today over the latest political bullshit-nightmare, and that anger was almost immediately followed by depression and hopelessness. I’m feeling more and more like I’m not equipped to fight in this great messy ideological war, so I’m instead going to try and equip myself to just make people around me a little happier, if possible.

Because I know that it worked for me. I know that it helped me out right when I needed help. I know that I went into that five-day retreat feeling hurt, and alone, and frightened. And I left it feeling loved, supported, and not afraid of anything.

Except maybe for spiders.

A Review Of The Maydays’ Improvised Rock Opera Journey Through Hell

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A Very British Dictatorship

On Saturday 7th September, thousands of people gathered in London, the capital city of Great Britain.

Most were tourists and sightseers, or shop workers and customers. A few were drivers, or security guards, or servers and diners, or police and hospital workers.

A tiny percentage were protestors.

There may have been as many as two thousand protestors in total. Maybe more, maybe less.

Of these protestors, a good 90% were protesting against the current government.


Prime Minister Johnson’s decision to prorogue, i.e. suspend, the British Parliament for over a month during a critical phase in Britain’s history was unprecedented. It was widely condemned as anti-democratic, particularly by members of Johnson’s own cabinet barely three months earlier, when Johnson’s now-Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab suggested prorogue as a means to force through a No-Deal Brexit.

What followed the prorogue announcement was a lot of behind-closed-doors maneouvring and scheming by politicians on both sides of the debate, as well as mass protests across the country. Pretty much every major city in the United Kingdom (and some outside of it) played host to anti-Prorogue, pro-democracy, #StopTheCoup demonstrations.

The protestors who attended were not universally anti-Brexit. Many were in favour of Britain leaving the EU, but they, as did so many of Johnson’s own party, found this manner of politics, of shutting down a representative democracy, completely unacceptable. And so they took to the streets.

Many protests were immediate, taking place on the evening of the announcement on the 28th of August. They continued over the following days, culminating in the largest protest on Saturday 31st August, in London, outside Downing Street, the home of the Prime Minister.

The protest on the 31st August saw thousands and thousands of pro-democracy protestors fill the roadway of Whitehall outside of Downing Street, carrying placards and chanting and singing and declaring, in one voice, their opposition to Prime Minister Johnson’s plans. A stage and sound system was erected at short notice, and speakers took turns to tell their stories and make themselves heard.

signs
Pro-Democracy protests on Saturday 31st August. Photo taken from https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/06/world/europe/brexit-politicians-voters-johnson.html.

The heart of London, one of the world’s major financial hubs, birthplace of Parliamentary democracy, common law and Kiefer Sutherland, echoed with the unified chants of “Stop the coup!” and “You shut down our Parliament, we shut down your streets!” and “Boris! You liar! Get back on your zipwire!”

The atmosphere was simultaneously electric, joyous, familial, and fierce.

It was also safe.

Police presence was minimal. Police arrived in numbers from around 4pm onwards, as protestors peacefully yet defiantly occupied Trafalgar Square roundabout and shut down traffic. However, interactions with officers remained cordial. Three arrests were made, to chants of “Boo!” from the crowd.

I spoke to the first person to be arrested, a woman I’ll call Rebecca for the sake of her privacy. She was an education professional. She had joined the protest despite her moderate views on Brexit – having been willing to accept leaving the EU with a deal. What brought her onto the streets that day was her outrage and disgust at the use of a lengthy suspension of Parliament to shut down the democratic process.

On the Trafalgar Square roundabout, Rebecca stood in the roadway, blocking the passage of traffic along with hundreds of other protestors.

“If you shut down our Parliament, we shut down your streets.”

The police moved in and asked the protestors to clear the roadway. Rebecca refused, but instead sat down.

A female police officer approached Rebecca and told her that if she did not move, she would be arrested. Rebecca informed the police officer that she understood, but that her place was on that roundabout, in an act of civil disobedience, fighting for her democracy.

The police officer told Rebecca that Prime Minister Johnson was not going to change his mind if Rebecca was arrested. That an arrest record would have lasting repercussions on Rebecca’s life and on her career. The police officer told Rebecca that she could either choose to remain and be arrested, or to leave freely without consequence.

Rebecca asked if she could think about it.

The police officer gave Rebecca a few minutes to consider her situation. When the police officer returned, Rebecca informed her “I’m sorry, but I need to stay here.”

She was then arrested, and released a few hours later without charge.

There was no violence. No threats. No blood fell on the pavements of Whitehall.


On Saturday 7th September, thousands of people gathered in in London, the capital city of Great Britain.

A tiny percentage were protestors.

There may have been as many as two thousand protestors in total. Maybe more, maybe less.

Of these protestors, a good 90% were protesting against the current government.

A bad 10% were protesting against the other 90%.

The pro-democracy, anti-prorogue protests were scheduled for 2.30pm on Saturday. By 11.30am, Whitehall was dominated by a heavy police presence. Over a dozen police vans and probably more than 200 police officers were present well before noon. This was in stark contrast to the previous week, where police presence was barely visible except around the gate to Downing Street, and eventually towards the end of the day.

police1
Police vans on Whitehall at 11.30am, three hours before the pro-Democracy protests.

In the run-up to the anti-prorogue demonstration, at around 2pm, opposing pro-Brexit, anti-EU protestors were gathered at the exits to tube stations, shouting and screaming at those they identified as being on their way to the anti-prorogue rally. The targets of their aggression included individuals, groups, and families with children. They typically had half-empty glasses of beer in their hands, though according to one police officer, the beer was mostly for show. These were not drunk hooligans.

Turnout for the anti-prorogue demonstration outside Downing Street was low. As the clock neared 2.30pm, pro-Brexit agitators had already infiltrated the pro-democracy crowd. Some had attempted to disrupt proceedings already, others lingered until later.

At 2.35pm, it was announced that the start of the protest was being pushed back to 3.00pm, due to blockages at both end of the road preventing protestors from reaching the gathering point. These blockages were caused by pro-Brexit agitators disturbing the peace, continuing their harassment of pro-democracy protestors and causing the police to intervene, slowing down entry onto Whitehall. Many pro-democracy protestors were turned away and went home in the face of pro-Brexit aggression and intimidation.

At around 2.45pm, pro-Brexit antagonists began hurrying down Whitehall from Trafalgar Square. They chanted “Tommy Robinson” as they went – referencing the far-right founder of the racist organisation the English Defence League. Robinson is also a former member of the fascist British National Party.

These antagonists headed straight down Whitehall towards the pro-Democracy protest, but were intercepted and blocked by a line of police, as can be seen in the video above. They clashed with police for a few moments as, outside Downing Street, pro-Democracy protestors relaxed to the sound of ‘Don’t Go Breaking My Heart’.

After a short span of time, the Tommy Robinson supporters Brexited from their clash with the Metropolitan Police as more officers reinforced the police line. Not long after, speakers at the pro-Democracy rally began their speeches. As can be seen in the video above, pro-Brexit antagonists already in place near the rally began their attempts to agitate the crowd. Police intervened, but not before one Tommy Robinson fan got a literal bloody nose.

Police set up a loose line around the pro-Democracy rally as they opened up Whitehall to traffic, to serve as a barrier between pro-Brexit agitators on the sidelines and the rally in the middle of the road. One antagonist was already inside the crowd and attempted to disrupt proceedings, and was pulled out by police before matters escalated (and before anyone else was hurt).

Speeches continued. Pro-Brexit thugs lingered around the rally talking on their phones, presumably relaying information to other thugs at either end of Whitehall.

The pro-Democracy rally continued undisrupted. Speakers including Diane Abbott, Owen Jones and other prominent pro-Remain voices addressed the crowd passionately. And yes, my language is biased, because I believed in what they were saying. Topics ranged from immigrant rights, anti-racism and anti-hatred, to condemnation of the Tory party and mockery of Boris Johnson, whose short term as Prime Minister had just been marked by successive failures in the Parliament he was about to suspend.

One of the speakers was to be Anna Soubry MP, a Tory rebel who had left her party earlier in 2019 in protest at the Tories’ dedication to Brexit. She did not speak, in the end, or appear at all, and it later emerged that she had cancelled her appearance at the last minute due to threats and intimidation from the same pro-Brexit aggressors who were attempting to shut down the pro-Democracy rally.

It was also made clear that these aggressors were part of the “Democratic Football Lads Alliance” or DFLA – a hard-right, Islamophobic, racist, intolerant splinter gang from the equally appalling Football Lads Alliance (FLA), themselves an offshoot of Tommy Robinson’s English Defence League (EDL), with connections to the militant fascist group Combat 18 and the British National Party.

It’s worth taking that in for a moment. A Member of Parliament and critic of the government was silenced, intentionally, by far-right supporters of that same government.

The same supporters who harassed families on their way to a peaceful rally and who hurled railings at police and who made death threats at pro-Democracy protestors. The same supporters who surrounded and outnumbered small groups of peaceful demonstrators and screamed in the faces of men and women alike.

Even if there is no provable connection between the Tory Party, Boris Johnson, or Dominic Cummings to the DFLA, these thugs were clearly acting to suppress criticism of Johnson and his cabal. And if there is one characteristic of a dictatorship, it is of far-right street gangs intimidating, harassing and silencing opposing political movements.


A few speeches later, further down Whitehall, police officers were hurriedly armouring up. They were pulling on full body armour, legs, arms and torso, and doing so as quickly as they could manage. They then began running down towards Parliament Square, where another group of pro-Brexit, Tommy Robinson-supporting DFLA gang members had broken through the police cordon around their own protest and were now trying to reach the pro-Democracy rally.

They ran as fast as their pasty white legs would carry them, but were again blocked by police a few yards past the Cenotaph – a poignant monument to the cost of hatred and antagonism between European states.

The police formed two lines, one facing down towards Parliament Square, and the other facing the opposite direction, and between these lines the racist assailants were trapped. A handful of DFLA racists attempted to sideline the police and darted down the pavement behind the stone barriers that line the footpath, but were foiled by the heavily-barriered and policed entrance to Downing Street which stood in their way. They sheepishly returned to between the police lines.

Police allowed passage back towards Parliament Square – many tourists and bystanders were also caught between the two lines – but refused access towards Downing Street and the pro-Democracy rally, which, to the best of my knowledge, continued. The pro-Brexit aggressors quickly lost interest as the police further reinforced their lines with more heavily-armoured officers, and they realised that voicing their intolerance mattered less to them than did a few baton-shaped dents in their skulls.

This is where I met Rebecca – sandwiched between the police and surrounded by confused tourists and impotent racists. After her experience last Saturday, Rebecca’s husband had made her promise not to get arrested today, and in a bid to avoid both another another arrest and harassment by bigots, we exited together through the police line towards Parliament Square.

We turned off towards St. James’ Park and then looped back around to Trafalgar Square and the top of Whitehall. Here, the police had formed another line blocking access back down towards Downing Street, and were holding at bay more DFLA gang members.

As Rebecca and I looked on, and debated parting ways and heading home, Max and Nicola, two friends I had met at the previous Saturday’s protest, emerged from the police line, with their friend James in tow. We embraced and reminisced for a moment. I admired Max’s red London Bus body placard and Nicola’s “Dicktator” sign, both decrying Johnson’s anti democratic actions.

The five of us talked quietly with one another, with the police line 40 or 50 yards away, and no other unoccupied police in sight.

With hindsight, this turned out to be an act of negligence on our part.

As we chatted, we suddenly found ourselves surrounded and outnumbered by 8 or 9 DFLA bullies. The circled us and began chanting “Nazi Scum”, along with homophobic and sexist slurs. They screamed in Nicola’s face, berated James continuously and drew attention from other gang members as they did so.

We remained calm. James and Nicola particularly bore the brunt of the harassment, and remained composed despite it all.

One thug came up close behind me and muttered in my ear “I’d move along if I were you, or you’ll end up cut with a stanley knife.”

Another nodded towards my phone as I recorded the incident and said “You know, that won’t protect you.”

Eventually, two police officers intervened and broke the group up. The DFLA attempted to paint us as the instigators, but were broadly ignored.

Nicola and Max headed back towards the police line, followed and harassed and threatened further by the DFLA, and were permitted down Whitehall back towards the pro-Democracy rally. James remained where he was as he spoke with the police. Rebecca made her way back to the tube station as quickly as she could.

Before I left, one DFLA gang member took a photo of me, and said “I’ll bet my network is faster than your network at finding out who you are.”

I left a few moments later.

What struck me later was that at no point did I feel scared during the incident. Uncertain, absolutely, but fear and anxiety didn’t set in until a few minutes later. Immediately, I was more concerned that my phone would run out of battery. As I sat in a Pret to get a drink and recharge my phone, adrenaline faded and fear took a stronger hold.

Max told me that he and Nicola remained with the pro-Democracy rally as they marched up towards Leicester Square. The march was harassed by pro-Brexiters along the way, attempting to circumvent the police escort and start more fights, and spread more terror. The march eventually disbanded, and police advised the protestors to return home in groups to stay safe.

whitehall1


I was shaken after the incident. I was hit with anxiety and depression. It wasn’t even the threats that were made which upset me. I broke into tears a few times on Sunday as I processed what had happened, and what affected me most was the sheer unfiltered aggression that the DFLA had displayed towards us.

These were not drunkards trying to compensate for their insecurities, and neither were they cornered victims lashing out. They saw that we were vulnerable, saw an opportunity to hurt us, and they took it, for no reason other than the fact that they know nothing but violence. And in the naivety of an extremely sheltered life, I had never really come face-to-face with that kind of bankruptcy of compassion. TV and movies had taught me that villains had complexity and depth – Saturday taught me that there are people, many, many people, who are terrifyingly incapable of anything but hatred, and that disturbed me more than any of the violence I saw that day.

And our experience was not even the most extreme encounter of that day. Many people were hurt, others were terrified into retreat and hiding.

At the end of it all, the headlines all seemed to paint it as though there was violence from both sides. There seemed almost deliberate vagueness on behalf of the media over who was the source of the violence.

But we knew. We were there. We watched as the pro-Brexit cowards inflicted their hatred and their intolerance wherever they could. At parents and children, at police and civilians, at politicians and protestors.


What really hit home was the fact that this collection of white, middle-aged men – and they were all white, middle-aged men – were acting in the interests of other, much wealthier white middle-aged men in government.

The disruption caused by the racists in London that day served only the interests of the Prime Minister, who was in the middle of his attempts to shut down Parliament and circumvent Democracy.

In so many ways, this mirrored aspects of the rise of fascism in Western history, with Brownshirts silencing critics of Hitler’s Nazis, the Squadristi suppressing Mussolini’s socialist opponents, and Moseley’s Blackshirts violently turning on anti-Fascists at the 1934 Olympia rally.

But that is not the picture the media paints.

Neither Prime Minister Johnson nor any of his cabinet have, to the best of my knowledge, condemned the far-right fearmongers on Saturday. If they do, it seems likely it will be a Trumpian “very fine people on both sides.” Although that may just be my cynicism creeping in.


It’s difficult to be sure exactly why Saturday 7th September was so much more violent and disruptive than Saturday 31st August, there are some events which are linked:

  • Prime Minister Johnson’s government refused to rule out breaking the law themselves to force a no-deal Brexit.
  • Prime Minister Johnson defied police impartiality conventions and gave a widely-broadcast political speech in front of a wall of police officers. (The speech was supposed to be about police recruitment.)

borispolice1
Johnson giving a political speech in front of police recruits, taken from https://www.politicshome.com/news/uk/political-parties/conservative-party/news/106331/boris-johnson-under-fire-using-police

Symbolism is everything. Johnson, in effect, made two dramatic statements:

  • “I am willing to break the law, and the police are on my side.”
  • “The police are on my side, and by extension, on the side of everyone who is politically aligned with me.”

It is unquestionable that these implied statements serve to embolden violent, far-right antagonists who are aligned with Johnson’s public record of racism, misogyny and his determination to force through a no-deal Brexit.

And even if there is no tenable connection between the far-right DFLA and the Conservative Party, they were nonetheless acting in Johnson’s interests by silencing his opposition, deterring opposing protestors and even opposition Members of Parliament.

As I write, the government is broadly announcing its increased funding to the police.

As I write, the Conservative Party twitter feed is full of posts characterising all opposition parties and MPs as “enemies of the people”.

As I write, footage is being shared of Dominic Raab declaring the government’s intent to “test the limits”, i.e. ignore, a law enacted by this Parliament to prevent a No-Deal Brexit.

When Ministers and Prime Ministers proudly announce their intent to break the law, use the police as a political tool, paint their opposition as traitors and allow fascists to bully their opponents into silence…

Well, there’s a word for that.

The word is “Authoritarianism.”

And Authorianism means dictatorship. A system of governance where a posh blonde toff speaks, and the rest of us must obey out of fear.

This may all sound dramatic after just one bad Saturday afternoon in London. But we have an election looming, an election in which turnout will be pivotal, and where the winners will be decided likely by just a handful of contested Parliamentary seats.

And those contested seats could be swung by the kind of localised intimidation and harassment around polling stations that we saw outside Downing Street.

If the DFLA and other far-right groups are willing to suppress critics of the government on behalf of the government, would they not also be willing to suppress the vote in favour of the same government?

I am genuinely concerned that, no matter how many defeats Johnson suffers on the green benches of the Commons, no matter how many legal battles his government loses in the British courts, he will nonetheless do as well as he needs to and retain power past the next election.

And if he does, then he suddenly has a mandate for all of the proroguing, the manipulation of the democratic process, and the silencing of his opposition.

Worse would be a Tory coalition with the Brexit party, and the barefaced racism of Nigel Farage and his benighted followers.

Sadly, I can think of nothing more cynically British than an Etonian dictator, propped up by a lager-swilling Eurosceptic, their will enforced by violent football hooligans.

Suspending Parliament Takes Away Your Right To Vote – What Prorogue Means

What even is a prorogue? What happens when Parliament is suspended? How does any of this affect me?

It’s simpler than you might think.

When you vote during a General Election, you’re not really voting for a party, you’re voting for a Member of Parliament (MP) to represent you.

Your MP may belong to a party, and that might be why you voted for them. But the reality is that your MP has their own mind and will to vote on issues as they see fit.

Your MP joins hundreds of other MPs in casting votes on which laws are made. Every law we live by today, from environmental protections to dealing with organised crime, has been decided by MPs in Parliament.

Theoretically, the party currently in government will have the most MPs. However, if that party is not behaving itself, its MPs may “rebel”, and vote against the Government on key matters.

In this way, Parliament is what limits the Government, and what prevents it from doing things that are clearly immoral and damaging to the country.

Or at least it should be.

On September 9th, Prime Minister Johnson will be “proroguing” Parliament. This is another word for “suspending”, or “shutting down”. What it means is that, from September 9th through to October 15th, Parliament will be unable to create any new laws, debate any topics, or act in any way.

This is not normal.

Parliament is occasionally prorogued, or suspended, in this manner, but usually only for a few days. Johnson’s current plan is to shut Parliament down for 37 days – more than a month.

What’s more, is that even after October 15th, there will still be a few days where Parliament is unable to vote on new laws, as they will be debating the Queen’s Speech – the agenda which lays out Government priorities. This means, in reality, Parliament will not be back to its normal functionality until the 21st or 22nd of October, so the shutdown will really last for closer to 43 or 44 days.

This is not normal.

Another term you will hear is “precedent.” This simply means that, in British law, and in Parliament, things that have happened before are more likely to happen again.

When Prime Minister Johnson shuts down Parliament for this long, he will be setting the precedent for it to happen again. He will be making it easier for himself, and future Prime Ministers, to shut down Parliament when it is politically convenient for him to do so.

Prime Minister Johnson wants to prevent Parliament from creating laws which block his political agenda. Because he knows enough of his own party’s MPs will rebel and vote against him, he is therefore shutting down Parliament before they have the chance to challenge him.

If he is allowed to do it this time, he will do it again.


In the big picture, what this does is take away Parliament’s power. By proroguing, or suspending, Parliament, Johnson is removing any power MPs have to challenge the Government in any way. And he is making it easier to repeat this trick in the future.

If your MP cannot vote on laws, and cannot challenge the government, then your vote in a General Election is effectively meaningless. You may draw a cross in a box on a sheet of paper, but it will carry no more meaning or power than an online petition, or even a Twitter poll.

You have a right to vote. Your grandparents fought for this right during the Second World War. Great Britain fought a war to preserve your right to a vote. Your right to a democracy.

Now, Prime Minister Johnson is trying to take that vote away, and break down the democratic process.

But you can help to stop this from happening!

Talk to your friends and your colleagues. Bring up the fact that your right to vote is being taken from you, in a very sneaky way. You might still vote, but the power and meaning of that vote will be completely gone.

You can also write to your MP and urge them to take immediate action via the website below – but you need to be quick about it, because very soon they might not be able to take action for you.

https://www.writetothem.com/

Finally, you can join protests and demonstrations. There will be protests all across the country over the next few weeks.

Protesting doesn’t mean getting arrested or causing a riot. It just means being present in a place with a lot of other people who feel the same way as you, and making your presence known. You can protest completely peacefully. You can join in chants, even lead chants, and you can make new friends. Most of all, you can feel powerful, because you really are making a difference.

You can find protest events near you on social media.


Britain is a great country, but only because of the people in it. And our rights will be taken away if we don’t have the courage to stand up for ourselves.

Britain’s Parliament has served as a model for other countries all around the world. Our legal system has inspired other nations’ legal systems. We are a powerful, influential country, but Britain is only as powerful as its people, and there are some very clever, very selfish people in Government right now who want to take away your power.

Don’t let them. Defend your democracy. Save your right to vote.

YOUR RIGHT TO VOTE

I Am A Hypocrite And My Cowardice Is Killing My Country

It’s 9:25 in the evening I have just walked back into my flat in Birmingham. At 8:15 this morning I left my flat to get the 8:30 train to London.

I took three placards, and a rucksack full of bottled water, painkillers and a change of clothes.

I took all of that stuff because I had no idea what was going to happen, or what I might get involved in.

And I still managed to disappoint myself.

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I met a friend at London Euston, and we walked together to Green Park, where we met another three friends. We then all walked to Whiteall to join a crowd of thousands of others at the entrance to Downing Street, on which sits No. 10 Downing Street, the home and office of the Prime Minister, Alexander ‘Boris’ de Pfeffel Johnson.

Together, we chanted and sand our protests against Prime Minister Johnson’s decision to suspend Parliament for more than a month in the lead-up to the Brexit departure date of 31st October.

Our chants weren’t always in sync, nor were they always very loud or very polite, but we chanted and sang our anger through the air, above the barrier railings and through the metal gate which kept us out of sight of the door to No. 10.

A few of my friends left a little after 1pm. Others joined later and stayed for an hour or two. Soon, they had all left, and I remained in the crowd, with a placard in each hand. I led a few chants, joined in many more, sang along to songs like “No one voted for Boris” to the tune of ‘Seven Nation Army’.

Pretty heroic, eh?

I followed the crowd as we started marching down Whitehall, to outside Westminster Palace, Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament. We out-chanted an embarrassingly small (less than twenty?) pro-Brexit counter-protest. We danced and swayed and chanted some more to the improvised drumming of a musical protest group.

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Tourists, mostly unconcerned with the dwindling numbers of protestors.

We felt powerful.

I felt powerful.

I felt like I was part of something, something huge and vital and full of furious passion. I felt like we might make a difference, My knees shook with nerves as I led a hundred people in a chant of “When I say ‘Boris’, you say ‘Liar'” but it was exhilirating and intoxicating, especially because everybody had a go at chant leading, at hitting the rhythm of call-and-response. My voice was already hoarse, but I did what I could to keep up, still holding those placards high.

So heroic, right?

By 4pm, that gathering petered out and dispersed. I sat down for the first time in six hours to eat a Boots Meal-Deal wrap, the first food I’d had all day. I took a couple of touristy photos, then got back on my feet and wandered down to the other end of Whitehall.

So goddamn heroic. It’s okay to feel attracted to me right now because of my heroism. You’re only human.

Whitehall was mostly empty by this point. There were a few protestors still standing, but most were wandering home.

At Trafalgar Square, something else was happening. Maybe a couple of hundred protestors were in the roadway of the roundabout, defying the orders of surrounding police to move. I watched for a moment. I was shattered, so I just watched.

Then, as the police started closing in, so did I.

So, so fucking heroic.

 

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Helicopters over Nelson’s Column, as police vans gradually close in from the side, putting the squeeze quite literally on the illegal protest.

I stood with the protestors, held my placards high, and joined in the chant. Stood in the roadway, high-visibility police on all sides, telling us to move or else be arrested. I watched as a middle-aged woman was pulled out of the crowd by eight arresting police officers. I was jostled as the police closed in futher, putting pressure on the protestors to clear the road.

Uuunnng, so, just, so, huh, so heroic.

So anyway, I made a decision that I didn’t want to be arrested and quietly moved back when I was able, to watch from a less criminal distance. I handed my placards over to people who were planning to capitulate a little less than I was, and then I stood and chatted with some other protestors, and chanted a little from the sidelines, as maybe thirty or forty more committed invididuals sat down in the entrance to Whitechapel as the police lined up and looked on.

After around an hour, I handed my remaining drinking water and wandered down Northumberland Avenue looking for a tube station, couldn’t find one, chilled on one of the Golden Jubilee Bridges for a few minutes and gave my parents a ring.

I’m not trying to be macho when I say this, but I genuinely wasn’t worried about violence. I didn’t fear being arrested in the physical capacity. I wasn’t looking forwards to handcuffs, but the police were calm and polite, the protestors were loud but peaceful, and I never felt any kind of fear response.

It’s simply that I calmly, rationally decided that getting arrested would pose too much of a threat to my job, since a criminal record would likely see me fired from the financial institution that currently employs me.

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Taken from Sky News. This was a small police presence compared to later on.

So I left. I left the actual protesting, the civil disobedience, to people who either had less to lose than I had, or who cared enough to lose more than I was willing to sacrifice.

Because I’m not a hero. I’m an arsehole, and a hypocrite, and my cowardice is destroying my own country.

On the way to Downing Street and outside of it, my friends and I chatted about how the really wasn’t going to change things, most likely. We discussed that, by turning up, staying for a bit, then going home and leaving the place exactly as we found it, we were essentially giving permission to the Government to ignore us.

And they will ignore us.

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This is Sam. Sam is a writer. He led a lot of chants whilst dressed as a London bus. He and his friends stayed behind after I left. He and his friends are better than I am.

I knew, and have said before, that peaceful, obedient protest in the legally-prescribed protesting areas is not going to force any kind of change. It will not end Parliament’s suspension, it will not force a General Election, and it won’t even force Prime Minister to pass comment on the protest itself.

“Mr Johnson, what are your thoughts on the protest outside today?”

“Well, it’s a shame they’re upset.”

“Thank you, Prime Minister.”

I knew this. I knew this, and I knew that I had been saying for years that nobody in this country will fight for change whilst their wi-fi still works and they can still eat crisps and whilst they can still watch the football.

I knew this, and yet at crunch time, I still decided to rationalise and excuse and justify my political cowardice. “Well, I’ve got a job I need to keep. And I’m tired, and self-care is important. And I need to get back to post on social media and write a blog post talking about how important protesting is.”

And I wasn’t even that scared. I just didn’t want the hassle, or the inconvenience of having to notify my workplace about an arrest record.

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One of the last things I saw before I left. Here, you can see that the police vans have completely closed in, and officers are lining the border between the “legal” protest area on Whitechapel and the Trafalgar Square roundabout.

I walked back from the bridge to Trafalgar Square again. Took some photos of the police presence. Explained to two Australian tourists why the protest was occurring. Explained that it had been bigger a few hours ago, even if it was less than a hundred people now. Took some video as the police moved in, the 6pm cutoff for protesting in Whitechapel having come and gone. Then I entered the Charing Cross tube station with my tail between my legs and my dick receeding back inside my body and I headed back to Euston.

Parliament will still be suspended in a week.

Democracy is still going to fail.

But hey, at least my job is safe.

I’m such a hero.


This is what the arseholes want. They want us angry and frustrated, but distracted, and cautious.

Did you go out today? Did you protest? Did you get some neat selfies of yourself and your friends? Did you get a few “likes” and “loves” when you posted them online?

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This post of mine got so many reacts. Like, at least 30. I’m such a hero. Hey guys, I totally took part in an illegal protest for exactly as long as it was convenient, shower me with praise, please!

Did you have a nice day out, being all political and whatnot?

Great. Good. Glad you had a nice time. I did too. I got to see Big Ben covered in scaffolding.

Did you get back in time for Derek’s birthday meal at Nando’s? Weren’t too late, I hope, to join him and his twenty mates who spent the afternoon watching the Villa game?

Hey, the new ‘Dark Crystal’ show is out, you should probably watch that. And you still have the last season of ‘Orange Is The New Black’ to finish off. Shall we get a pizza in? I’m soooo tired after spending an hour outside the council building today, I don’t feel like cooking.

Hey, and I guess one of you had to stay in, to look after the kids or whatever.

Seriously, it’s fine, you need to look after yourself, I get it. Radical self-care and all that. Super important. Me too, that’s why I left the protest. Got to look after yourself.

Here’s the twist, though. Radical self-care is great because day-to-day concerns should never be more important than your health.

And I hate to be the angry voice in the room, but Johnson shutting down Parliament is not a fucking day-to-day concern.

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The last few protestors, sitting down and refusing to move along.

You think your health is important? Correct, it is, and your health will get an awful lot fucking worse when we run out of medicine post-No-Deal Brexit. And it will get worse again when the bastards sell off the NHS to American healthcare companies and you can’t afford medical insurance that you’ve never had to pay before.

Yeah, your job is important, your salary is vital to you getting the next consumer product you really like. You can think back fondly to the days of having a salary after the economy nose-dives and we become a tax haven for the ultra wealthy.

Fighting for democracy is not a nice day out with a few friends. And it’s not a damn selfie. It’s whole-hearted and determined and it requires more from us than a stroll into the city centre and an “angry” react.

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A bronze lion at the base of Nelson’s Column, devouring a devious, lying Prime Minister. Maybe this will be enough to save Parliament.


What We Need To Do

There were fewer protestors in London today than there were at the Aston Villa / Crystal Palace game. On the train home, I heard multiple conversations about a bad referee decision, and none about the fucking shutting down of our Parliament.

Johnson and his cabal of disaster-capitalists can ignore a few thousand people calling him names in the legal protest areas.

They cannot ignore hundreds of thousands clogging up the entire road network.

We don’t need to kick in windows and tear down bus stops and tip over parked cars to make our voices heard, we just need to get enough of us together often enough to have a material impact.

And right now, there aren’t enough of us.

Here’s how we get more.

Tell people in person, people that you work with or socialise with, how important the suspension of Parliament is to you. Don’t play into Johnson’s hands by “not discussing politics” out of politeness.

Tell them how important the suspension of Parliament is, and explain why. Explain in simple terms. Don’t talk about Brexit, don’t talk about the Tories, don’t talk about anything except this:

Shutting down Parliament takes away our right to vote.

Why? Because when we vote in elections, we vote for MPs to represent us. If Johnson can make our MPs completely powerless, then we’re not voting, we’re just drawing a cross on a meaningless piece of paper.

If the 2016 Brexit Referendum comes up, don’t talk about “non-binding results” or “Cambridge Analytica”. Talk about the fact that a single referendum can’t be used to shut down other forms of democracy, no matter the result.

Talk about the fact that even if we voted to leave the EU, we never voted to shut down Parliament. We never voted to lose our representation.

Ask your friends and colleagues if they think voting is important. If they do, find a way to convince them that shutting down Parliament is the same as taking away their vote. If the referendum is important to them, make them understand that they may never get another referendum on any subject because, with the ability to suspend Parliament, governments no longer need to worry about being held accountable for anything.

If they say that Johnson’s following through on his promises, point them to his Wikipedia page, point out all the times he’s been sacked for lying, been caught out on his lies. Ask them if they really think he’s suddenly started telling the truth.

And don’t play into his hand by portraying him as a clown. Don’t call him “Bojo”, don’t call him an idiot, or a fool. These things make him harmless, and approachable, and he knows this. Johnson is a smart, calculating and manipulative operator. We all ought to be a lot more scared of him than we are.

The same goes with Rees-Mogg, and the rest of them. Destroy their image. Break the glass. Scrape away the veneer. The current cabinet is a scary bunch of liars motivated solely by self-interest. Rees-Mogg is not a dorky public schoolboy in a top hat – he is a shrewd investor who has made millions off of Brexit already.

Don’t allow the current government to seem harmless, or bumbling, or stupid. They are determined, and intelligent, and motivated.

And whilst you’re doing all this, do it with kindess. Don’t put your colleagues and friends on the defensive. Don’t make this about political issues beyond the matter of our democratic rights. Don’t force them to account for their action, or lack of action – just give them reasons to care, as though you’re doing them a favour. Give them reasons to doubt their own apathy, to talk to their partners about it, spread the doubt a little further.

And don’t engage with detractors. If a rowdy white male football fan tries to stick is oafish oar in, ignore it. Just move on. Don’t argue, because you won’t win, because he’s not trying to win an argument – he’s trying to derail it. Brexiteers want us to get bogged down in statistics, voter turnouts, vote shares. They want technical terms like “prorogue” and “non-binding” and fucking “backstop” to be sticking points. They want us continually explaining these things over, and over, and over.

Don’t.

Stick to the message.

Suspending Parliament takes away our right to vote.

Be friendly. Be nice. Be helpful.

Stick to the message.

Be passionate, but not outraged.

Stick to the message.

The next step is to talk about the positive experiences you’ve had protesting. Talk about the festival-like atmosphere, the feeling of power, of conviction. Be honest. Relate how you really felt, and the reasons you would want to go back again.

Talk about feeling part of something. Of making a difference. And talk about how easy you found it, if you found it easy. If your experience at a protest was in any way rewarding, relay how rewarding it was.

Because we may not win people over solely with our cause. We may need to appeal to their ego, too.


The Next Steps

I thought I had done enough when I walked away today. But I will never have done enough until the suspension of Parliament is cancelled. Because if it goes ahead, and if it lasts, then I clearly could not have done “enough”. By, like, definition.

So there will be more protests, and marches. I will need to make more placards. I will need to keep working on my message, refining it. I’ll need to keep writing, and I’ll need to keep making sacrifices. For now, just sacrifices of my free time, my energy, and my money.

Will I have the courage to risk arrest? To fully engage in civil disobedience? Even revolt?

I hope so. But right now, I’m a coward and a hypocrite, trying to convince you to be better than me. To realise that every day we decide to rationalise away our uncertainty and our dislike of inconvenience, we hand over a little more power to Johnson and his cabal.

They don’t fear a militant oppostion. They fear a militarised one. Not militarised with weapons, but with unity, determination and coordination. They’ve never had to face anything like that before, so let’s make it an appealling prospect to as many people as possible.

If you end up being “that person in the office who’s always talking about politics,” well, a few social connections is honestly a fairly small price to pay for liberty. Hell, my career is a small price to pay for liberty. The protestors in Hong Kong are showing us exactly what they’re willing to pay for liberty, and honestly, they’re putting us to shame.

Make it normal to be political. Make it normal to be proactive. Make people feel like they can make a difference.

And if someone says they feel ashamed for not doing more, don’t rush to correct them. Just tell them “Yeah, it would have been good if you had been there.”

Because we are genuinely running out of time.

Proroguing Parliament

https://www.facebook.com/events/2403783296367975/

The suspension of Parliament in September 2019 is not a matter of party politics.

Many of Boris Johnson’s current Tory cabinet were vocally opposed to the suspension of Parliament when it was proposed by Dominic Raab in June 2019 as a means to force a No-Deal Brexit.

https://www.lbc.co.uk/radio/presenters/eddie-mair/eddie-mair-cabinet-silence-suspend-parliament/

This is not a matter of Labour vs. Conservative or of Left Wing vs. Right Wing.

This is a matter of democracy (rule of the many) vs. oligarchy (rule of the few).

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This tweet has since been deleted.

As citizens of a democratic state, the people of the United Kingdom have a fundamental right to a functioning Parliament of representative MPs.

Boris Johnson’s government is attempting to take that fundamental right away.

If Johnson succeeds, then Britain will be forced through a No-Deal Brexit without any Parliamentary oversight.

If Johnson succeeds, then he will have established a precedent by which a Prime Minister can suspend Parliament at will to shut down the democratic process of the United Kingdom during times of national crisis, when Parliament oversight is at its most vital.

Boris Johnson claims that the parliamentary suspension is because the current session has gone on for too long, and that he wants to “bring forward a new bold and ambitious domestic legislative agenda for the renewal of our country after Brexit.”

This is a lie. We know it is a lie because Dominic Raab suggested suspending Parliament specifically to exclude MPs from legislating against Brexit.

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/jun/08/suspending-parliament-should-not-be-ruled-out-says-dominic-raab

Boris Johnson has been sacked by newspapers for lying in his articles.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boris_Johnson#Early_career

Boris Johnson used the “Brexit Bus” to lie to the public, and later lied to the public again about his involvement in the original lie, as well as manipulating search engine algorithms to cover his tracks.

https://www.gizmodo.co.uk/2019/06/did-boris-johnson-ramble-about-model-buses-to-manipulate-googles-search-results/

Boris Johnson has not suddenly started telling the truth. He has not suddenly ended his career-long trend of lying to suit his own agenda just in time to suspend Parliament for legitimate reasons.

Boris Johnson is using Parliament’s own rules to do all of this. These rules have been used in the past. These rules must be changed. The fact that Boris Johnson can do this does not excuse him from blame for actually doing it.

Arguments that “this is how British government works” are made in bad faith. This should not be how any democracy works. Our system of government must be changed

The suspension of Parliament is being done for dishonest reasons, to deliver a disastrous outcome based on a dishonest referendum campaign.

The suspension of Parliament costs the British People their democratic rights and serves only the agenda of a few wealthy British oligarchs.

Anyone who claims that the suspension of Parliament is anything other than an attempt to shut down democracy is promoting a false narrative.

Any member of the media who does not immediately call out such claims as the lies they are is effectively collaborating with an anti-democratic regime.


The Good News

You can fight the anti-democratic agenda by getting out and joining some protests and marches.

https://www.facebook.com/events/2403783296367975/

If you can’t physically join a protest, share the details of the protests on social media. If you hear people complaining about the suspension of Parliament, encourage them to go to protests themselves. Share articles which call out Johnson and his government on their lies. Write your own posts explaining how you feel, and why.

If you’re going to a protest, be sensible:

  • Take plenty of drinking water.
  • Take suntan lotion.
  • Take a snack.
  • Wear shoes you can comfortably stand around in all day.
  • Bring chalk, so you can make non-permanent graffiti.
  • Make sure you know your message. Practice explaining what you believe in, whilst you’re on the way to the protest.
  • Take photos showing how many people are attending the protest with you. Share those photos on social media. Make everyone see how much opposition there is to the plans of Johnson’s government.

We need to make our presence known, and we need to make our convictions irrefutable. We need to drown out the government’s lies with our combined voices.

We need to force them to abandon their selfish agenda and, for once, put the people first.