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What is Christmas? A date in the calendar in winter towards the end of the year to celebrate one of the main religious festivals of the Christian calendar. The Romans replaced a pagan festival with the birth of the head of the, then new, religion. Since then as time progresses, more customs and traditions are added, to make this festival more packed with meaning and importance. The gift of the 20th century’s big corporations was the addition to the date, the red Santa Claus who travels the planet on his sledge from the North Pole in a single day, offering gifts to all the well-behaved kids. The birth of Christ is miles away from the Poles but somehow the story’s embellishment continues.
In schools, kids across the world will re-enact the nativity scene, a romantic version of the birth of Jesus, minus their flight to Egypt and the slaughter of the infants. The nativity, is for many, their first attempt at theatre and most educators’ worst nightmare, as they will have to include all children regardless of talent or interest to this production. The play consists mostly of male characters (usually baby Jesus is someone’s doll) except for one. That of the mother of Jesus. The virgin Mary is located centre stage, sitting quietly, the envy of all other parent’s that their kid was not cast in such a reverent role. In recent years, charlatans tried to add more female roles by feminising the Angels and even giving the Inn keeper a daughter or even a wife. In most cases it was the need of introducing more characters in the play. Most productions now include barn animals (cats and dogs included), reindeers, trees, villagers, stars and even a moon. All castable parts not necessarily with a talking part.
The show usually feels that it lasts longer than it does. The actors become nervous, some forget their lines, others remember different lines, the music is off key and the parents jostle to get to prime position in order to record this show, that very few will ever watch. The costumes will be coming apart almost right after the show and the props are just about holding on with a lot of tape and superglue. The play will signal the end of the school season carrying the joyful message from the carpark to the people’s homes. This tradition carries on regardless of religious sentiments and affiliations. People to commemorate the birth of a man that billions of people consider the head of their faith.
Nativity is symbolic but its meaning changes with the times, leaving me wondering what our nativity will be in the 21st century. Imagine a baby Jesus floating face down on torrential Aegean waters, a virgin Mary hoping that this will be the last client for the day on the makeshift brothel maybe today is the day she gets her passport back; Joseph a broken man, laying by the side of the street on a cardboard; the angel a wingless woman living alone in emergency accommodation, living in fear, the villagers stunned in fear and everyone carrying on . Not as festive as the school production but after all, people living for year in austerity, and a lockdown and post-referendum decisions make it difficult to be festive. Regardless of the darkness that we live in, the nativity has a more fundamental message: life happens irrespective of circumstances and nothing can stop the birth of a new-born.
Merry Christmas to all from the Criminology Team
There is expectation in hope that things will change. Every personal and social issue that is not going according to plan, all the adversities and the misfortunes, are placed on the anticipation that eventually, things will change. The conviction for the change is hope. Hope is a feeling based on emotions, irrational and inexplicable.
Hope is a refuge for those whose lives are wronged and feel unable to do anything but to hope. Millions of people hope for better days, better health, better relationships, better lives. This hope keeps expectations high even when you are told of the opposite.
Consider the following dialogues:
“The environment is changing, global warming, the pandemic and the economic recession. It looks like we’ve had it! We are one meteor away from a catastrophic event”. “I agree with what you say, but I hope that despite all these we will find a way out of all these.”
“Your crime is too serious; looks like you are going to jail”. “I hope the judge is lenient and maybe I will not go to prison”
“The tests indicate that your health has deteriorated, it is unlikely to change; I am afraid you have only a few months to live”. “I hope that God will listen to my prayer and cure me”.
“I do not love you anymore, I want to leave you! “Don’t break my heart; I hope you change your mind.”
All these have one thing in common. The respondent’s hope for something, despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary. This unwavering conviction comes at a price! The entire world is built on an industry of hope. Institutions, systems, “experts” and many more who profit from the misfortune of others. One of the main benefactors in this industry is undoubtedly religious institutions and belief experts.
Some years ago, in one of my trips, in found myself in a monastery that has a tradition of snakes appearing on the day of the ascension of the Virgin Mary. The revellers regard it as a sign of good fortune and favour from her grace. I was in the monastery on a different day, when a group of boisterous Russian tourists were trying to buy some grace. The lady in the church was clear; a small bottle of holy water 3 euros, a small bottle of oil 5 euros. There were bigger sizes and of course for more certainty of hope, a purchase of both is indicated. Since then, it got me thinking; what is the price of hope?
Faced with a terminal disease, how much would any of us will pay to live a little bit longer? The question is merely rhetorical, because each of us is likely to pay according to what they can afford. There are those who may care less for themselves, but are willing to sacrifice anything for someone special; or a great idea.
Since the discovery of electricity, Victorian scientists dispelled the expertise of those charlatans that spoke with the dead and commuted with the spirits. Even though there have been mounting evidence against them, their industry of hope is still booming. People like to hope. They embrace its positive message. After all Dum Spiro Spero.*
There is of course the other side; Nikos Kazantzakis famously said; “I hope for nothing. I fear nothing. I am free.” It is liberating not to hope, but it is very difficult to achieve. Personally, despite experiencing negative situations, and even after meeting some naysayers armed with a sour face in life, I will never stop hoping that people are better inside and they can change and embrace their better selves. My hope, I fear, is incurable.
*While I breathe, I hope
My love of poetry came in my sleep like a dream, a fever I could not escape and in little hours of the day I would read some poetry from different people who voice the volume of their emotions with words. In one of those poems by Elleni Vakalo How he became a bad man, she introduced me to a new understanding of criminological thinking. The idea of consequences, that lead a seemingly good person to become bad, without the usual motivational factors, other than fear. This was the main catalyst that became the source of this man’s turn to the bad.
This almost surrealistic description of criminal motivation has since fascinated me. It is incredibly focused, devoid of social motivations and personal blame. In fact, it demonstrates a social cognition that once activated is powerful enough to lead a seemingly decent person to behave in uncharacteristic moves of violence. This interesting perspective was forged during the war and the post war turmoil experienced. Like Camus, the act of evil is presented as a matter of fact and the product of thoughts that are originally innocent and even non-threatening.
The realisation in this way of thinking, is not the normalisation of violence, but the simplicity that violence in innate to everyone. The person who commits it, is not born for it, does not carry an elaborate personal story or trauma and has no personal compulsion to do it. In some ways, this violence is more terrifying, as criminality can be the product of any person without any significant predispositions, an everyday occurrence that can happen any time.
The couple that will meet, fall in love, cohabit, and get married, starting a family, follow all the normal everyday stages that millions of people follow or feel socially obliged to follow. In no part of this process do they discuss how he will control her, demean her, call her names, slap her, hit her or kick her. There is no plan or discussion of how terrified she will become, socially isolated and humiliated. At no point in the planning, will she be thinking of ways to exit their home, access helplines or spend a day in court. It happens, as a product of small thoughts and expressed emotions, that convert into micro aggressions, that become overt hostility, that leads to violence. No significant changes, just a series of events that lead to a prolonged suffering.
In some way, this matter of fact violence explains the confusion the victims feel, trapped in a relationship that they cannot recognise as abusive, because all other parts fall under the normality of everyday life. Of course, in these situations, emotion plays a key role and in a way that rearranges logic and reason. We are driven by emotion and if we are to leave criminological theory for a minute a series of decisions, we will make daily take a journey from logic to emotions and back.
This emotional change, the manifestation of thoughts is not always criminal nor destructive. The parents who are willing to fight an entire medical profession so that their newborn has a fighting chance are armed with emotion. Many stories come to mind of those who owe their lives to their determination of their parents who fought logic and against the odds, fought to keep them alive. Friends and partners of people who have been written off by the criminal justice system that assessed them as high risk for society and stuck with them, holding on to emotion as logic departs.
In Criminology, we talk about facts and figures, we consider theories and situations, but above all as a social science we recognise that we deal with people; people without emotions do not exist. So how do you/how do I become a bad man? Simple…the same way you are/I am a good man.
This is the poem by Eleni Vakalo, with my painful translation:
How He Became A Bad Man
I will tell you how it happened
In that order
A good little man met on his way
a battered man
the man was so close from him laying
he felt sad for him
He was so sad
That he became frightened
Before approaching him to bend down to
help him, he thought better
“What do you want, what are you looking for”
Someone else will be found by so many around here,
to assist this poor soul
I have never seen him
And because he was scared
So he thought
Would he not be guilty, after all no one is hit without being guilty?
And they did him good since he wanted to play with the nobles
So he started as well
To hit him
Beginning of the fairy tale
In post-war cinema, movies became part of political propaganda, especially when the creators did not want to tackle directly on a particular issue.* The use of metaphors and euphemisms became part of the story telling especially when the creators tried to avoid strong opposition from censors and political groups. This allowed social commentary to be made under the nose of “puritan” critics! Visual semiotics in modern cinema revealed a new reality in social symbolism.
One of those symbolisms was the living dead, later known as zombies! Zombies appear on the screens in the late 40s and 50s but predominately appear with the name in the 70s. The critics show in their representation of apathetic citizens who are not alert to the dangers of communism. Originally the zombie and the alien body-snatcher became metaphors of the red danger in the US at the time of McCarthyism. The fear of communist expansion was fertile ground to play with public fears. It became evident that a good citizen in order to avoid zombification has to take up arms and resist the menace. Inaction is accessory to the crime of overthrowing the social order.
As the paranoia leading to the red danger subsided, the zombie metaphor began to lose it potency and it become a cult population for those who love watching “B-movies.” In the 80s and 90s, zombie movies became aligned with the impeding doom of the millennium and technological bug that allegedly was coming to wipe out civilisation as we know it.
In the new century, zombie became a representation of those who succumb to technology and become its blind users. Generations Y and Z were accused of spending more time than before on game consoles, surfing the web and becoming “couch potatoes.” The gamers who binge on games for days, losing all other engagements with life until the game is completed. The motionless body of the gamer sitting in the same spot, non-engaging in conversation, was likened to the brainless zombie who slowly moves in space with no volition and conscience.
More recently, the zombie movie genre promoted the idea of a global medical pandemic, mostly caused by a virus that mutates people and turn them into flesh eating abominations! The virus breakout of the zombie disease became so convincing that a concerned member of the public back in 2011 asked Leicester City Council about their preparation in case of an invasion. Of course, at the time, cultural sociologists argued how zombies are a representation of “the other” in terms of race, nationality, and of course gender. Whilst others saw them as a representation of end of days, an eschatological message that bring an end to life as we know it.
Therefore, in the situation of Covid-19 the contagion of the potent virus that can kill some whilst others carry it without even realising it, brings to the surface the zombie fears Hollywood warn us about. In a recent survey a third of US believe that the virus was created in a lab, and whilst most people according to WHO acknowledge the seriousness of the pandemic there are those who question its existence. With opinions divided about the causes of covid19, life in 2020 appears to be a prequel to a post-apocalyptic reality.
Back in zombie movies and we are coming out of a lockdown when cities and towns feel deserted like 28 Days Later, people came out with protective masks like in Resident Evil and became frightened of the invisible threat like in every movie in the genre. Back in 2011, we laughed at the question “how ready are we for a zombie apocalypse?” Maybe if we asked is there a likelihood for a pandemic we could have planned and prepared for now, slightly better. There are great lessons to be learned here and possibly we can establish that when we are looking at healthcare and services, we cannot do more with less! Just whatever what you do, do not take lessons from Hollywood!
Until the next time!
*At this stage, I would like to apologise to my younger colleague and blog comrade @treventoursu who is far more knowledgeable than myself on movies!
My favourite TV show - Let’s start this off by going full nerd and saying that my all time fave tv show has to be Star Trek. Something that resonates with me is that this TV show paints the possibility of exploration of the unknown and as a global society we’ve constructed that reality. Perhaps not to the extent of beaming onto another space ship but certainly sending our own technology out to Mars…. it just fascinates me. fact check: the show started production in 67’ and we went to the moon in 69’ My favourite place to go - Easy… into nature! I’ve most definitely spent the majority of my life at Sywell Reservoir, Northamptonshire has a beautiful countryside to offer, in the spring/summer I tend to drive out into the small country villages and find a nice spot (usually a farmer's field with a public walking path) and just go for a stroll My favourite city - Not a city person! I’ve travelled to many great cities but naturally I drift to the outskirts, the small towns, the countrysides. My favourite town would have to be Alice Springs, Australia. That dirt red town is full of so much life, vibrancy, culture, yes there is an evil side to it but there is so much beauty too My favourite thing to do in my free time - Oh, easy one…. I love visiting second hand, vintage and charity shops. Honestly you find so many great wonders. Usually on the hunt for 60’s/70’s retro vintage furniture. Northampton has a great deal of vintage shops to offer, I would personally recommend the Vintage Retreat, lovely spot for lunch too My favourite athlete/sports personality - certainly an oddball answer, but it would have to be Rey Mysterio. His identity eluded me when I was younger and he’s been in the business a long old time! (wrestling business that is) My favourite actor - Jeff Bridges… what a man My favourite author - H.P Lovecraft, an outsider in every sense of the word. He dove deep into his own mind and questioned the importance of the human race by stripping back the ego that surrounds us, and enforced the notion that actually human beings are not the most important thing in this universe. Also, he brought Cthulu to life My favourite drink - Johnny Walker Red Label and Irn Bru (Scottish Heritage) My favourite food - A sloppy Joe burger with extra rib sauce from Buddies. I'm bit rubbish at this because I can’t just pick one thing, so my other fave food would be my Granny’s home-made stovies My favourite place to eat - Smoke Pit, in Northampton town centre, bit pricey but the food is so worth it I like people who - are honest with themselves I don’t like it when people - act out of fear My favourite book - Collection of books, would have to be the graphic novel series Berserk which follows the lone mercenary Guts, for any comic book/manga fans out there, this one is a must My favourite book character - Sorry but I have spent a few hours trying to figure my fave book character out and its just not happening. In replacement I will offer my fave TV show character and it would have to be Ragnar Lothbrok (from Vikings). Although I'm sure he exists in a historical book somewhere My favourite film - No Country for Old Men. Need I say more My favourite poem - I have never been one to frequent in poems, so I will insert my favourite quote here instead and you may seem to notice a reoccurring theme here (my love for H.P Lovecraft). “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” It is certainly poetic My favourite artist/band - Metallica!!! My favourite song - Sam Cooke, A Change is Gonna Come and The Eagles, Hotel California My favourite art - ANYTHING Raoul Dufy. Light hearted bursts of colour that paint the most luxurious and relaxing scenes. Artwork to get lost in My favourite person from history - Marcus Aurelius. If you don’t know who it is get your google on, you won’t regret it. Fun fact: Aurelius’ personal ethics are informed by the philosophical concept of stoicism, a fascinating philosophical concept and one I deeply resonate with
I have blogged before on the way in which society seems to choose what to remember and what to forget. Similarly, I have mused on remembrance, the poppy and the increasing militarisation inherent in paying homage to Britain’s war generation. In the current crisis, despite the despair, I sense a change in our understanding of the term heroism, which I will explore further below.
In the 20th century there was concerted focus on idolising the military man and his function within British society. This is unsurprising, it is not for nothing that Camus describes this period as ‘the century of fear’ (1946/2007: 27). This period was, and remains remarkable, for the two world wars, as well as a variety of other conflicts, within which Britain was involved (along with many other nations). The two world wars provide foundations for the way in which the twentieth-century is discussed and understood, with substantial periods of time often delineated into the short-hand of pre-war, inter-war and post-war.
Although only twenty years in, it is clear that the twenty-first century, cannot be described as peaceful. Rather it has continued with the same approach to international relations, often argued to be immoral, if not illegal, of using military violence to obtain, what Britain views as, reasonable and tangible gains. Whether we focus on Afghanistan, Iran, Iran, Libya, Sierra Leone or Syria, British military might is deemed appropriate, proportionate and necessary (as least in Britain). Certainly, a number of authors have already dubbed our current century, as being in a perpetual, ‘war without end’ (cf. McAlister, 2002, Tertrais, 2004, Schwartz, 2008).
However, in 2020 the world is facing a far more challenging enemy, one which threatens us all, Coronovirus, or as it is more scientifically known, Covid-19. More importantly this is an enemy that cannot be shot, exploded, tortured or conquered in the traditional, well-worn ways of warfare. Instead, this crisis calls for a different kind of hero, one who does not have recourse to an arsenal of increasingly, terrifying weapons.
As with the war, there are two distinctly different experiences, those on the front line and those who are not. Each group has a role to play, for some they will take their lives in their hands, on a daily basis, to tend to the sick, to deliver supplies to organisations, communities and individuals, to maintain vital services. This group will see things, again and again, that are upsetting, that will test their resolve, their empathy, their patience, good-humour and their confidence. For others, their role is to stay out of the way, to stay indoors, to ensure that the disease does not spread further. Each group will have their own tales to tell to each other, as well as to the generations which will follow.
Once this is all over, once we emerge from our enforced isolation, we will have a return to some kind of “normality”, yet this experience is unlikely to disappear from our individual and collective memories. As our forebears, had the war experience to shape their lives, and that of those who followed them (in many unexpected ways), so shall we have a similar defining moment. Whilst the hero of the twentieth century was indisputably a white, straight, able bodied, (nominally) Christian man dressed in khaki, the hero of the twenty-first century will appear in a variety of diverse guises. From the supermarket worker to the school teacher to the carer to the paramedic to the police officer to the undertakers to the cleaners to the small business owners to the scientists, to the nurses, paramedics, doctors, surgeons and all the others, each are serving on the front line of the fight against coronavirus. They are women, men, Black, Asian, white, Muslim, Buddhist, Sikh, Christian and atheist, they are young and old, they are experienced professionals and those just starting out on their working lives, they are well-renumerated, they are poorly paid, they have fears and anxieties, families, friends, and those that love and fear for their safety.
These people have little in common but their humanity and they are redefining heroism second by second, minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day.
Calhoun, Laurie, (2002), ‘The Phenomenology of Paid Killing,’ The International Journal of Human Rights, 6, 1: 1-18
Camus, Albert, (1946/2007), Neither Victims Nor Executioners: An Ethic Superior to Murder, tr. from the French by Dwight Macdonald, (Eugene: Wipf and Stock Publishers)
McAlister, Melani, (2002), ‘A Cultural History of the War without End,’ The Journal of American History, 89, 2: 439-455
Tertrais, Bruno, (2004), War Without End, (New York: The New Press)
Schwartz, Michael, (2008), War Without End: The Iraq Debacle in Context, (Chicago: Haymarket Books)
Odd thing superstition, it makes reasonable and seemingly rational people think and behave in the most irrational and inexplicable manner. Always we notice these behaviours and thoughts in other people, but so many of us carry in the back of our minds equally irrational ideas and beliefs. We hear of football club managers who always wear the same clothes at a game, athletes that engage in the same pre-game routine and of course, politicians who act in certain ways during their election campaign. For the rest of us there are ladders in the street, black cats, that we may avoid or there are dates in the calendar that we take notice. Friday the 13th is one of those Anglo-Saxon dates that people take notice of.
I am sure that some of my historian friends will be able to give a good account of the origin of the unfortunate date, but I can only go with the “official tradition” of Jesus, the 13th student, (Judas) and his subsequent arrest on the Friday before the Crucifixion. The day, somehow, became one of those that we notice, even when we are not superstitious. There is even a psychologically recognised fear of the date Triskaidekaphobia; which in Greek means the fear of 13! Of course social fears are blended with wider social anxieties, whether that is the fear of the unknown or the realisation that in life, there are things that we have little control of.
In the days leading up to this Friday the 13th we engaged with political discussions about what direction the country shall take. The health service, the justice system, the state’s responsibility, all the way to welfare and the state of the union, were all eclipsed by one topic that has dominated discourses, that of the execution of leave from the European Union commonly known as Brexit. Ironically the “exit” preface was used before for Greece (Grexit), and Italy (Italexit) but seems that Brexit has won the battle of the modern lexicon. The previous “exits” where used as a cautionary tale for the countries being forced out of the union, whilst Brexit is about leaving the Union.
Having considered all the issues, this one issue became the impetus for people to give politicians a mandate. Complete this issue before and above all the rest. It is an issue likened to a divorce, given a texture, (soft/hard) and has even been seen as the reason for generational conflicts. Therefore the expectation is clear now . Leave the European Union, and then let’s see what we can do next. The message is fairly clear and the expectation is palpable. Beliefs and hopes of the people narrowed down to one political move that shall terminate membership to the European Union. Of course there are subsequent questions and issues that this act of national defiance may come with. As for the state of the Union, that may have to be the next thing we discuss. This follow up conversation may not be as welcome, but it is definitely interesting. If joining the EU back in 1975, warranted a discussion, then the 1536 Act of Union may become the next topic for conversation. As for healthcare, justice, education and welfare, we may have to wait a little bit more longer. Whether this will mark Friday 13th December 2019 as a date of fortune or misfortune, that is yet to be decided, but that is the same for every day of the week.
Just for your records and for the Triskaidekaphobians out there, the next Friday the 13 is in March 2020 followed by the one in November 2020. Just saying…