Tuesday, 19 January 2016

A dehumanising carciature

The piece below was first published in The Press on  Nov 25th 2013.

This morning one of those irritating exhortations to support something popped up on my Facebook page. It asked people to 'share or like this if you want to bring back Golliwogs'.  The sheer stupidity of it as well as its nasty underlying racist agenda offended me - hence publishing this piece again here. 

I keep seeing Golliwogs - on prominent display in a department store toy section, in my local chemist shop and most recently, in a newspaper article about a country fete.
Golliwogs are seen by some people as offensive, a crude caricature of a black man that emerged in an era when such images served a very real political purpose. Others see them as symbolic of the struggle against a "political correctness" that they think curbs their freedom of speech and choice.
The original Golliwogg was a character in an 1895 British children's book and was based on a blackface minstrel doll that the author, Florence Upton, had played with as a child when her family lived in the United States.
The doll and Upton's drawing are a crude caricature of a black man and, although the original character had a good heart, Upton considered him to be extremely ugly.
The name of her character was taken up by other authors in an era in which most white people were either unaware of racial stereotypes and their ill-effects, or were happy to use them for political and commercial gain. It became a generic term and a racial epithet (like "Sambo"), and is very likely the origin of the racial insult "wog".
The toy and books containing the image became very popular throughout Britain, the US and parts of Britain's empire, but fell out of favour with the rise of civil rights and anti-racist movements.
Racist iconography was extremely useful in the processes of imperialist expansion.
Negative images of people of colour flowed through literature, art, commerce and even science - helping form and maintain the ideology of race which underpinned the political and moral "correctness" of slavery, and which also served to justify the historical fact that a global minority of white people appropriated the lands and labour of a global majority of people of colour.
Britain formed a vast empire on the back of the slave trade but also led in its abolition - in part because so many Britons were revolted by it, but mostly because slavery had become a form of property relations that had largely outlived its usefulness.
After the American Civil War, the abolition of slavery in the Confederate states led to the creation of what became known as the "Jim Crow" laws - the US equivalent of apartheid. (The name came from the song Jump Jim Crow by a white comic actor, Thomas Rice, who had popularised blackface in the 1830s.)
Concomitant with the segregationist laws was the rise of white supremacist groups, like the Ku Klux Klan, and the use of terrorist tactics to intimidate black people, force them out of communities, prevent them from voting and from owning land and businesses. No one knows for certain how many African-Americans were lynched in this era but official figures record the lynching of 4743 people (including 150 or women) between 1888 and 1968.
Seventy-three per cent of the victims were black and 73 per cent of lynchings occurred in the South. Men were often tortured and the women were usually raped before being murdered.
The Jim Crow era also saw mass production of caricatured images of African-Americans. Some of these were seemingly benign, like the dandified "coon", the happy- go-lucky, stupid field hand, the semi-feral "piccaninny" and the fat "black Mammy"; and some were cruel and grotesque.
A comic stereotype of "mulatto" women as sexually hyperactive had helped legitimise the rape of black women by white men throughout the 1800s. It became more prevalent and extreme during Jim Crow and reduced the likelihood of a black girl or woman accusing a white man of rape, or being believed.
A new stereotype emerged with Jim Crow, that of the black man as an aggressive sexual predator of white women and was used as a spur for, and legitimation of the shootings, burnings and hangings of black men.
Negative stereotypes and cruel caricatures can dehumanise their subjects and help make it possible for the unspeakably horrible to occur because they desensitise those who create and consume them.
To understand the awful, dehumanising power of negative racial stereotypes, you've only to look at the propaganda caricatures of Jews in Nazi Germany.Those of the Japanese in the United States during World War II were as bad and served a similar purpose.
Google the lynching of Jesse Washington but be warned that, if you are a person of conscience, you will find it disturbing.
The postcards that were made from the photographs of the torture and murder of a 17-year-old, along with other lynchings, are sold on e-Bay, part of a thriving trade in racist memorabilia.
When I've asked people about the sale of golliwogs, the response has been either disbelief that they're on sale or incredulity that anyone would question it.
To some people the golliwog is just a toy and, if they accept that it's a caricature of a black person, they argue it's a harmless one.
But, the "blackface minstrel" doll on which the golliwog is based is part of the same racist iconography as "humorous" postcards like the photograph of four naked black toddlers with the caption "alligator bait".
No-one these days would think it's acceptable to make, sell or buy a toy that caricatured a person with a disability, so how is it acceptable again to make, sell and buy toys that caricature black people?

Bullshit, Inaccuracy, Adulteration and Spin

 When I was still a Twitter neophyte I received a retweet from Tweeter A via Tweeter B:
        "As Patrick Gower insists on commenting on the stories he is 'reporting' on, he cannot be classed as a journalist, is about facts, not opinion"

I assumed that a person in possession of an opinion about a current issue was in need of a response, so I tweeted back : 
        "Don't agree actually. Impossible to separate facts from opinion- why a diversity of opinion in MSM is needed"

Tweeter A responded:  
         "of course it is! if they want to spread their opinions they should start fucking blogs" 

This is the point at which alarm bells should have rung but I'm well known for a dogged pursuit of my point so I replied:
          "What's defined as fact, how presented & ordered, which included/excluded etc - all guided by opinion." 

By this, I meant that someone's world view - including their politics - must, to some extent, influence how they report a given issue.  Of course a good journalist strives for accuracy, impartiality and balance - that's the essence and life blood of quality journalism - but, if all they do is repeat 'facts', they become nothing more than stenographers, 'repeaters', 'churnalists'. In light of who provides most of the FACTS these days (a very small number of corporately owned news agencies and a host of PR companies) that can only serve the interests of the powerful. 

Tweeter A did not agree:
         "I do not agree with your definition of journalism, I am looking at you very judgmentally #tsk #checkyourself"

Now I didn't know much about Twitter lore at the time so the hashtag thing was uncharted territory for me, and I thought Tweeter B was being ironic. 

Tweeter B fluttered in with :
         "Strip back The Spin ; Expose the facts."

My determined pursuit of logic and rational argument led me further into deep waters:
         "Have a problem with notion of journos as mere 'repeaters' of facts. Has come to fore with neolib economics."

I followed that with the rhetorical question :
        "Who stocks this storehouse of value-free, politically neutral facts for journos to repeat?"

Tweeter B replied:
         "Ummm I dunno, things happening?"

I should have pulled the plug at this point but it was one of those "I can't stop, someone on the internet is wrong" moments, so I wrote:
         "News agencies were primary source for journos - most closed since 1980s. More info now but also more disinfo"

Tweeter B came back:
         "And their job to distinguish between the two?"

Great, I thought, we've completed the circle :
        "Yes & that requires them to use judgement, to interpret what are presented as facts."

Tweeter C entered the thread and queried my assertion that it's impossible to separate facts from opinion, and cited science as an example. I asked Tweeter C if s/he was kidding, planning to then elaborate on my belief that science is by no means politically neutral or value free.

Tweeter A chipped in: 
        "are you kidding?

I responded in the negative and wrote:
         "Debate was about journalism; science is not inherently value free/politically neutral."

Tweeter A was not amused:
         "wasn't a debate, you came into my feed giving your view of journalism, you're now done here"

Tweeter C replied to Tweeter A with a well aimed comment: 
        "If you don't want comment on your feed, talk to yourself in an empty room, don't tweet" 

Tweeter A then spat the dummy :
        "don't want incessant comment from fuck stains about bollocky bollocks on my feed capeche?" (sic)

Tweeter C replied :
        "you need to calm down."

I tried to reply to Tweeter A but couldn't as I’d been blocked, so tweeted to the others: 
        "Someone tell Tweeter A there was a wider debate about journalism I was referring to."

Tweeter A flew back with:
          "is that a subtweet? can you like just fuck off now? ffs cheers"

I didn't have a clue what a subtweet was or why it was such a bad thing and only realised later that Tweeter A had in fact started the whole thing off with a sub tweet about Patrick Gower. 

Tweeter B then blocked me, presumably in solidarity with Tweeter A. 

Still furious, Tweeter A posted another tweet, seemingly without a hint of irony, sent to me by Tweeter D who was following the exchange: 
        "subtweeters give me thrush,and make me wish somebody would skull fuck some fucking class and smarts into their rampant stupidity"

Tweeter D continued the debate :
        "LynnW's point valid - if u don't agree counter it. That's Twitter - capiche."

To which Tweeter A, still under the control of his adrenal glands, replied :
         "we were not actually talking about that, and lynn makes me vomit blood"

Tweeter B pitched in again, seemingly drawing some sort of parallel between sexual assault and breaches of Twitterquette:
        "Stop means stop No means no Y do persons consider its OK 2 force themselves on U on Twitter"

Tweeter A then tweeted back to Tweeters B, C and D:
        "at least preface it with 'sorry to interrupt,but am going to talk about something else'" 

...which made absolutely no sense because I had been talking about what he'd originally tweeted.

Tweeter B ended the exchange with the somewhat surreal comment :
         "If it continues I will require lubrication & some kind of Pornography…"

All very daft but also illustrative of some far from silly issues – as well as providing proof that having an overactive amygdala is not the exclusive province of the political Right.  

If I write something and someone disagrees with me in a polite and reasoned manner, far from being offended, I'm delighted.  I don’t like it if they abuse me or deliberately derail a discussion but I welcome an intelligent exchange of views.  Only a determined ideologue who brooks no disagreement with their views, or a narcissist who so highly values their own opinion and/or sees 'favourites, followers and retweets' as evidence of their personal worth and a flattering mirror they can preen in front of, would be offended by someone politely disagreeing with them. 

I've written about this, not to embarrass the people involved (hence no names) or to purge myself of it (although I found it extremely disturbing to be referred as a 'fuck stain' and a thrush-inducing emetic) but because it illustrates the way in which 'social' media can be viciously anti-social.  

The back story to that particular exchange was blogger Giovanni Tiso's call for readers to cancel subscriptions to the Sunday Star Times as a protest against that newspaper giving a column to MP Judith Collins. The placement of Collins' debut column made its status as an opinion piece a bit ambiguous and the paper also ran a profile piece alongside it, thus giving Collins the opportunity to start the revision of her old public image as a car crushing, gun toting hard-arse. Her much publicised friendship with a far-Right wanna-be hard-arse, plus several other examples of what was widely seen as politically and ethically dubious conduct, had made it expedient to ditch the Crusher persona and create a new one - a softer, more thoughtful, socially sensitive Judith Collins.

Not surprisingly, a lot of people did not buy into the transmogrification of Ms Collins and questioned the motives and ethics of the SST in giving her a high profile platform from which to relaunch her political career. Tiso wasn't alone in feeling outrage at what was a smack in the mouth for anyone who had any grasp of the anti-democratic nature of the two track dirty politics in which John Key and his government had been immersed. 

Matthew Hooton sparked it off from what I could see, by tweeting that Tiso was acting as a censor, trying to suppress views he didn't like. Several journos flapped in to defend their profession, one even suggested that Tiso's call for people to cancel subscriptions might cost jobs. Others pitched in with references to Labour MPs who had columns in the past. Hooton, very likely emboldened by the growing number of dogs attached to Tiso's ankles, called him 'a fascist' - the ultimate insult for a principled left winger - and the whole sorry mess was topped off with an illiberal coating of a certain rightwing blogger's malodorous hate mongering.  

It all got very silly and, as so often happens with this sort of stoush on Twitter, the principle got well and truly buried under a load of nonsense and emotion. It also had the highly desirable effect of making John Key's inability to tell the truth disappear off the radar as a host of news and views dispensers went fluttering off in hot pursuit of the issue of the hour.

Social media are obviously very important; they link people, break down barriers, promote causes. They can also induce and force-feed moral panics, deepen divisions and hostilities - and they can reinforce social isolation and add to people's sense of alienation.  
We humans are a profoundly, inescapably social species. Our drive to connect to others is so strong we try to form meaningful social connections in an increasingly alienated and socially fragmented world via a keyboard and screen. These virtual relationships are not, nor can they ever be, a substitute for interactions between real human beings.  We

devote a lot of our big brains to analysing facial expression and body language and we have developed extraordinarily subtle spoken and written language to convey and develop complex ideas. It's very easy for what one writes on social media to be misinterpreted. Emoticons are a very poor substitute for face to face or carefully written communication - and even that can be misinterpreted.

The pared down sound bite has become the modern norm - both pandering to and reinforcing a reduced span of attention to both the spoken and the written word. The potential for misunderstanding on Twitter is compounded by the restriction on the number of characters plus a host of conventions well known to the Twitterscenti but perhaps not as well understood by others. 

On Facebook, a mob mentality can and frequently does result in an outpouring of emotion - sometimes cloying sentimentality and sometimes vicious bigotry, and it is scary how easily some people slip from the one to the other without missing a beat. 

Given the potential for misinformation, misunderstanding and the absence of normative controls on what is said and written, it's hardly surprising that white-hot emotion on social media is simmering away just below the surface ready to burst out and incinerate anyone in its path.

Social media like Twitter and Facebook seem to give power to the little people but the stream of information is often so polluted by masses of garbage it can be very difficult to see what is true and pure. On Twitter this is made more difficult because the speed with which 'items of news slip by' is no longer the slow pace of Ewan MacColl's 'flakes of food in a fish tank', it's a fast flowing, ever changing torrent complicated by the appearance of multiple tributaries which makes in-depth analysis and discussion harder and, for a lot of people, nigh on impossible.

In this respect, mainstream media are a vital counterbalance - or should be.  I've read at least one newspaper a day - and mostly 2 or 3 - almost since I learned to read. It's distressing to me that most newspapers these days are more white space than print, more colour photos than commentary and more advertising than editorial. TV is mostly a thin, unsatisfying crust of highly paid talking heads mouthing sound bites and platitudes, over an unpalatable filling of freak shows posing as reality TV. Commercial radio heaves with unpleasant schlock jocks whose commentary is so low effort and insulting it's a relief when it's interrupted by the screeching adverts.

We are seeing a merging of paid content and editorial in all the mainstream media. As we move further into the realms of commercial advertising and political spin pretending to be reportage, journalists - as members of a profession whose raison d’ĂȘtre was the pursuit and presentation of the truth through accurate, impartial and balanced reportage – are members of a threatened species.  

Unless the decline is stopped and reversed, what we will be left with are purveyors of BIAS – Bullshit, Inaccuracy, Adulteration and Spin. The relatively few thoughtful and principled authors, journalists and bloggers are all that stands between us and a vast cyberspace littered with toxic trash.

 Not to want to over state it of course. :)

Sunday, 17 January 2016

From Kim Thuc to Aylan Kurdi

The latest Charlie Hebdo controversy got me to thinking about Aylan Kurdi again and why it was that a photo of a drowned 3 year-old Syrian boy on a tourist beach in Turkey touched people all over the world in a way that equally heart-breaking images of dead and dying children had failed to do - and no doubt will fail to do in the future.  

It was an especially heart-wrenching image and anyone who was not touched by it at some level must surely lack some essential piece of their humanity.  But we know that around 8 million kids under the age of 5 die every year - that's 15 every minute of every day  - mostly of preventable causes.  We know that 4 million of these children die in their first month of life; that there are 2 million kids under 15 who have HIV, and that hundreds of thousands of kids are trafficked every year as sex slaves and sweated labour. 

We know this. Images of and information about the the world's sad little victims flow through our lives like a polluted river.

Given how many victims there are, and how few are ever known or have any real impact on others, what was it about this particular image that touched people in the developed world so widely and so deeply?

Was it because Aylan was dressed just like kids we see in our local shopping centre? Because the sea had not undressed him or abused his body?  Because he was lying as if asleep, his chubby cheek resting lightly on the sand, his little hands palm upwards, his little shoes still on his feet?  Was it because he looked just like what he was - a cute, innocent little kid - and in this shallow, fluffily abstracted world of ours, people have become conditioned to respond to cute? 

This anonymous starving African child was no less singular or important and very probably he was no less loved.  He felt no less pain and fear and misery -  he may have experienced more - but masses of people were not touched by this image in the same way as they were by the image of Aylan. This image never became iconic. 

In this iconic photo, a  9 year-old Vietnamese girl was fleeing from the napalm that was dropped on her village. She was terrified but looked unharmed. The terrible burns on her back were not visible to the camera.  The other children were no less terrified but no-one bothered to find out who they  were. The photo was cropped to highlight Kim Thuc who was later identified and became an anti-war symbol and eventually, an anti-war activist. 

Of all the photos taken of the horrors of that dreadful war, why was that one so powerful and influential? Of all the photos of dead refugee children, why did the one of Aylan Kurdi touch such a chord?

Perhaps it is because a particular image captures a moment whose time has come, because the influential people in the developed world are at that moment, able - maybe permitted - to relate to the human beings in the image, and importantly, because the conflict that harmed or killed those human beings, has directly touched their lives.  

In 1972 when the photo of Kim Thuc was taken, public opinion in the USA had turned against the Vietnam war and a year later the USA had withdrawn its troops, leaving not just Vietnam but an entire region, socially, economically and environmentally devastated.  It is interesting that the wave of public sentiment and outrage that was unleashed by this photo did not propel the anti-war movement into becoming a Reparations for Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia movement.

In 2015 many Syrian refugees - unlike the millions of Palestinian, Iraqi and Libyan refugees before them -  have flowed towards Europe.  Their choice means Europe's roads are once again thronged with people fleeing war and that image of the three year-old dead on a beach turned a mass of anonymous humanity into real, suffering people. 

We all knew, before we saw that photo, that kids were suffering and dying as they and their parents fled from conflicts in the Middle East, just as we all know that the millions of victims of this badly managed world of ours are all around us.  We all know that, even in the wasteful, overfed, over-housed, over-dressed, self-absorbed developed world, there are people who are malnourished, homeless and destitute. 

For the most part, people who have an unprecedented ability to see the world they live in and to act on what they see, choose to close their eyes, their minds and their hearts to the horrors around them. 

Occasionally something provokes a response that crosses generations, races, religions and class and results in a mass response that seems to defy logic -  as if all the heart ache, the frustration, the outrage, the sense of the unfairness of it all - are encapsulated in, and summed up by that one moment. Normally feeling powerless in the face of the vast and brutal forces that control the world, people feel connected by a shared, emotional response to one particular victim and, by that connection, they may be motivated to try to do something to help at least some others. And that can only be to the good. 

But it is a strange and unpredictable thing - this outpouring of emotion and sentiment in response to a snapshot of a particular historical moment.

Sentiment alone can take us only so far. It's an unreliable fuel that runs out very quickly and leaves people feeling emotionally stranded somewhere between pity and guilt.  Ask those who are fuelled by sentiment alone to address the causes of the world's horrors and they will have no answers and sometimes not even the will to frame the questions. Ask them to step up and challenge the power structures and ideologies that create and perpetuate the horrors, and few will be motivated enough to take that leap.

Pity is a weak thing if not welded to the desire to make things better.

Guilt is a negative emotion that can be turned back on what causes it.

We only do justice to the victims if, after we have got over our shock and our sadness, we are left even more determined to do whatever it takes to change things for the better. 

Thursday, 14 January 2016

On satire and political cartooning

So, is Charlie Hebdo lampooning the sort of rightwing, low effort mindset that would see a drowned toddler as a potential sex attacker?  Did their Boko Haram kidnap victims cartoon satirise the sort of mindset that could only see the young women as potential 'benefit bludgers'?

The trouble with these sort of cartoons is they are open to misinterpretation - and some people will not understand the satire and will see them as racist and /or grossly insensitive.  I suspect the CH cartoonists think that is also part of the joke. They intend their cartoons to be lampoons of the sort of right wing, low effort mindset that turns even helpless victims into a threat - but the joke is also on the humourless and the literalists who fail to understand the satire.

This Nisbett cartoon, printed in the Christchurch Press, sparked off a row in New Zealand, with a lot of people seeing it as reflecting and reinforcing negative ethnic stereotypes. 

Race Relations Commissioner, Susan Devoy, declared it to be 'tasteless but not racist.' It is not the only one on this theme.

Following the Charlie Hebdo logic - Nisbett could have defended himself by claiming to be lampooning the sort of racist, right wing, low effort thinkers who believe all poor brown people are feckless boozers, smokers and gamblers.  

He was of course doing no such thing. Far too often he turns his cartooning skills on the powerless and in so doing reinforces harmful, negative stereotypes.  

This is not speaking truth to power. It is shielding the powerful by turning attention on the powerless and exposing them to ridicule and hostility.

What makes me believe the Charlie Hebdo cartoons are not meant to be interpreted as attacks on kidnap victims or drowned toddlers is that the magazine's raison d'ĂȘtre is to speak truth to power.  Unfortunately the way it chooses to speak may be misinterpreted as attacking and stereotyping power's victims.

I'm a simple soul. I like my political cartoons to be unambiguous. They may be subtle and multi-layered, they may be stick figures or superbly executed drawings but the best of them are without guile. 

I don't like the use of ugly caricatures - unless they are of bigots, rich bastards or white hunters - in which case, there's no such thing as 'too ugly'. 

Bottom line for me is - I get what CH is trying to do but I really don't much like their way of doing it. 

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Duking it out : the Bowie phenomenon

A couple of days ago I did something a bit uncharacteristic - I fired off a post on my TWW Facebook page about David Bowie.  Usually I think so long and carefully about things before I post, I either never get round to posting at all, or by the time I'm ready, everyone has moved on.

Perhaps it was a tad insensitive of me to post critical comments about Bowie while people who admired or adored him were still reeling from the news of his death - however unsurprising that death might have been in light of his age and having been a 50+ a day smoker for most of his life, an enthusiastic ingester of cocaine and alcohol for a good few years, and having had several heart attacks. 

The emotional reverberations from the death of some people is an interesting phenomenon. People who did not know the dead person except as a media construct, experience an very real and at times overpowering sense of loss. Anyone who was in the UK when Princess Diana died will tell you that you could almost feel the emotion - it was spooky. And there wasn't social media to blame that on. 

With someone like David Bowie, the intensity of emotion and deep sense of loss is all the more odd because the way all those mourners knew or could ever hope to know him - i.e. via photos, films, videos, recordings - remains with them. The means of 'knowing' him and feeling connected to him is as real as it was when he was alive with the one exception of live concerts.   Bowie was even so obliging as to spend his last few months making an album to mark his passing. In so doing he played the part to the end - as some have breathlessly claimed, he 'made a performance of his own death'. What a man, what an artist. 

We're left pondering the extent to which Bowie was acting a part or really believed in the pop star myth he'd created. Well, a few of us are pondering  - it seems the majority of people of a certain age in the over-developed world are being carried along by an irresistible current of emotion and are for the moment at least, incapable of serious reflection.

I've had to take a break from Twitter because the spectacle of usually acerbic and irreverent people (men mainly) being maudlin and reverential was putting me at risk of saying something I might later regret.

Philip Matthews is a journalist and avid tweeter who has been very open about his adulation of Bowie.  Matthews is capable of being a very outspoken and sometimes quite harsh critic of certain people - the so-called Twitterati - and has been known to take up cudgels in defence of the right to be politically incorrect. He retweeted a link to a piece  which revisits some under-age sex issues reported about Bowie's early years that Bowie's fans and PR people would rather see consigned to the dustbin of history. 

James Robins5h
 I thought we were flagging  these days

The tweet and the reply are a bit coded but the way I read that exchange is that the abuse of girls barely out of puberty by rich and powerful men is excusable if those rich and powerful men are your cultural heroes - like film director Roman Polanski who still faces historic child sexual abuse charges in the USA.  I never asked for clarification, for fear of sparking off the sort of Twitter firefight that no-one ever wins but which always results in a lot of collateral damage - but I think I read it right.

I doubt that either of these two intelligent and well informed men would excuse the conduct of the likes of Garry Glitter or Jimmy Saville, but the fact is that rich and famous men having sex with girls barely out of puberty, even if the girls 'consented', is at the same end of the consensual sex continuum - the wrong end. 

We might of course consider the unhinging effects, on young men, of drugs and fame and  being involved in an exploitative industry which, with the aid of the parasitic enterprises that feed off it,  encouraged and condoned hedonistic, self-indulgent and abusive behaviour - and still does. 

That may help explain but it doesn't excuse and anyone who wants to forgive their heroes for fucking impressionable young girls, needs to ask themselves whether they are prepared to extend that forgiveness to all powerful, rich men who choose to have sex with girls or boys barely out of puberty. There's no standing on the high moral ground over the likes of the Roast Busters if you're prepared to exempt your personal heroes from worse conduct.

I worked in inner city London in the mid 1970s. I was young and a feminist and angry about a lot of things - none more so than the sexualisation and sexual exploitation of girls and very young women. I'm old now, still a feminist and still angry.

I don't know if the reports of 26 year-old Bowie having sex with under-age girls as young as 13 are true. To my knowledge he never denied it, and he was immersed in a milieu that was pushing the boundaries of what was permissible. 

The notion of 'free love', the existence of female contraception and penicillin, the coming out into the open of gay sex, the blurring and blending of gender and a fascination with androgyny within a milieu and a wider culture that was still profoundly phallocratic - all meant it was a small step for rich and powerful men to see skinny little star-struck girls barely out of puberty as sex objects. 

It's obvious that the imposition of an arbitrary age at which a person can consent to have sex is problematic. It's at its most absurd in the USA where the legal age of consent varies between states and the charge of statutory rape can be used unfairly and oppressively. Chronologically based age limits cannot take account of differential development or of personal choice but problematic though they are, we have to impose some limits.

I had a colleague in the 1970s who ran a community arts centre- a flow on from the Arts Labs movement - who advocated the legalisation of sex with minors and supported his views with theories about the innate sexuality of children and the advantages to kids of learning about sex from a caring adult -like him. It would be unthinkable for a person with those attitudes to work with young children in our current climate of fear and loathing of the actual and imagined activities of criminal paedophiles but, at that time he - and he was not alone - felt free to expound and probably to act on his belief that, as children are sexual beings, it was ok for adults like him to have consensual sex with them.  

On the question of power differentials of age, gender and class and on the issue of exploitation, he was strangely silent. But therein lies another discussion.

I was also anti-racist and I saw, up close and personally, the rise of the extreme Right and the effects of anti-immigrant rhetoric and action on the community I worked in. So, when massively influential 'working class heroes' like Bowie and Eric Clapton publicly flirted with fascism, I didn't see it as just some youthful, drug-fuelled high-jinks. 

I liked Clapton as a musician but I damned him for his public statements in support of Enoch Powell at a time when the extreme Right was working hard to recruit kids who admired and were influenced by musicians such as him. I felt the same about Bowie's flirtation with fascism because he was hugely influential among a very wide range of young people. His fling with fascism is downplayed by his supporters and he attributed it to the effects of drugs and becoming immersed in the Thin White Duke persona.  I think that may well be a post-hoc rationalisation, and in vino veritas might equally be cited.

If I'd really liked Bowie's music I might have forgiven him his early transgressions as it was clear that he did move on and he did express regret about at least some of them. I just never saw him as a part of my life - for all his theatricality and flair and gender bending - he was too mainstream, and his music was too white and too poppy for my taste.

I accept that he was a hugely successful and prolific writer and singer of pop songs - i.e. songs created for a popular audience and within the formats imposed by the corporations which produce and market them as hugely profitable commodities. But he didn't have a great voice and only people who have never listened to really great voices could think that he did. 

What he did have and had in spades was the ability to catch a musical and style wave as it was forming and ride it so well and so confidently that he was widely credited with being the originator of it. And he knew when to get off a spent wave and catch another that was forming.

From a young age he'd been determined to be a pop star, not to be just a musician but to have the fame and money that only pop stardom brings, and he pursued that aim by voraciously gobbling up influences and ideas from others. From Gary Kemp's European theatre and mime to Kabuki; from bits of African-American rock and soul to so-called Krautrock; from the Velvet Underground and Iggy Pop to Marc Bolan and Glam Rock….he borrowed and synthesised, and presented it as his own with characteristic flair and aplomb. And ruthlessness. He could be quite ruthless in pursuit of his ambition and he is being hailed as an astute and calculating businessman who foresaw and benefited from the changes that the internet forced on the music industry.  The truth is he listened to someone who foresaw those changes and who knew how to benefit from them. 

I tweeted that, if David Bowie's final album was indeed a 'final gift to his fans' then he should have arranged to give it away -  his estate could well afford it. Typically that tweet sank without anyone registering its existence but the fact is that, as with any celebrity, Bowie's death is a very rich harvest - from sales of the newly released album and the back catalogue, the making of TV specials, the writing of books and the staging of memorial concerts.  

Surely even the most blinkered and addle-pated of Bowie fans realises that, behind all the glitz, the glamour, the hype and the crocodile tears, are cold and often pretty ugly commercial realities. The popular music business is, in the final analysis, all and only about money, and the edifice rests on the shaky foundation of novelty. Bowie's greatest gift was his ability to keep being novel. 

Occasionally novelty and true genius combine but, very often in the music business the truly gifted go largely unremarked, uncelebrated and unrewarded while the mediocre are elevated to the level of greatness and rewarded beyond any sensible measure. This is not to say Bowie was mediocre but to ask, was he truly that great? 

I was reminded of the fact that fame, fortune and talent are not always congruent and the fact that fame is a precarious and often ephemeral thing when I was talking to young person about Bowie's death. I was musing that, given Bowie's love of word play, his Thin White Duke persona was a nod to both the dapper, white, fascist Duke -of Windsor, and the dapper, black Duke - Ellington. She looked bemused and said she'd never heard of the Duke of Wellington.