Jul 082019
 

Write a thousands words every day I read this morning. Write a thousand words and then you’re free to do anything else today. A mantra, a way of working given to me by a Pulitzer prize winning journalist, he can’t be wrong can he? So here we go… A thousand words!

Do you need to have suffered from depression to help cure depression?

Do you need to have suffered from depression to help cure depression? Can we openly talk about depression when Royals, football greats and film stars are telling us to? Two very different questions but closely tied, at least in my head.

Whenever I start with a new counsellor or therapist I like to ask them the question, “have you yourself ever suffered from depression?” Invariably the answer is no. The one ‘therapist’ that answered yes took it as a invite to spend the next five sessions unloading her life on me rather than the other way round, She disappeared on the sixth session having left Cornwall to move back to London to seek help and respite from her own black dog. I genuinely hope she got the help she needed. Without doubt she certainly needed as much help as I did.

But why would I even question my therapists? Surely they are trained, qualified and experienced in the alleviating of depression and it’s related conditions? You don’t have to have had cancer to cure cancer. You don’t have to have had Ebola to help cure Ebola. Why should depression be any different? It is though, massively. One word differentiates cancer and depression. Empathy.

Empathy isn’t the same as a good bedside manner and doesn’t translate well. An oncologist works primarily with proven statistics, science and an almost mathematical formula. Cancer requires an objective diagnosis. Where it is, what cells are being attacked, in what way. Once diagnosed maybe a second diagnosis is sought and by this time the cells and bloods have passed through many different departments all specialised in their one field, be it cells, blood, colons, brains, lungs. Eventually the oncologist adds up all the diagnosis’s from each specialist department and comes up with an answer. A brain tumour, lung cancer, pancreatic cancer, colonic cancer, you get the gist no?

Proven tests, on scientifically known parts of the anatomy that have been dissected and put back together millions of times and tested upon with various operations, drugs, chemicals, poisons and dangerous radioactive substances in a 98% (Testicular Cancer) to 1% (Pancreatic Cancer) chance of surviving a particular cancer for ten years1. It’s science. Like an apple falling from a tree proving that gravity works, science often works with proven facts to come up with proven statistical likelihoods that a given disease is actually that disease and that that disease can be cured or possibly cured by this set or other of cures. Of course, not all cancers or diseases are curable and some such as AIDS, the common Cold and Ebola only have certain success rates or means to lessen the effects and prolong a useful longevity until the inevitable happens, the disease weakens the body too much and death occurs.

It’s all objective: If A + B are present with the exception of C then the result is D. Much the same, as far as we understand it gravity is ‘proven’ thus:

So if cancer is objective in that you don’t need to have experienced it to cure or diagnose it and there is a formula to diagnosing it and curing it. What really matters relative to the question of experiencing it to work with it is that as humans we are ‘normally’ empathetic and good doctors generally have a good bedside manner when dealing with what could become a fatal illness. As long as you have empathy you don’t need to have experienced it to help cure it.

But depression and mental health are almost subjective. There are many formulas of diagnosis, often at odds with one another depending on what branch of diagnosis you favour. Be it Freudian, Jung, Rorschach, Klein, Adler, Chodorow, Reich and on and on. There is no formula, there is no definitive diagnosis or method of diagnosis there is only the American DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition) or it’s UK counterpart ICD-10 (International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems, Tenth Edition) and then the particular field of psychoanalysis a particular doctor studied. The result (in my opinion) is an unholy fucked up mess. With this many fields of psychoanalysis and boxes to be checked be it in either the DSM-5 or the IDC-10 how can anything be considered objective especially when many of the great psychoanalysts that are studied contradict one another?

To diagnose a mental health problem one first sees ones Doctor who then refers you to a ‘specialist’ mental health team who generally give you an hour of diagnosis with a Doctor who may have studied any number of psychoanalytical techniques who is trying to tick particular boxes in the DSM-5 or ICD-10. (Both of which are basically a list of check boxes where a certain score of a certain number of mental health disorders equal a particular diagnosis).

In the many one hour sessions I’ve had I’ve been diagnosed as a psychopath (most recently), narcissistic (within the past three years), suffering from PTSD, clinically (or chronically) depressed, suffering from Asperger, existing somewhere else on the Autistic scale (but high functioning), suffering trauma from past abuses, suicidal ideation, self harming, anxiety, Tramadol dependancy, antisocial personality disorder, difficulty relating to others feelings or needs… It goes on. When so many ‘professionals’ give so many different diagnosis’s is the term subjective not more accurate than objective?

With physical illnesses like cancer empathy or good bedside manner come almost automatically whether from the attending Doctor or visiting friend or relative. With mental health illnesses the opposite is nearly always true with people comparing themselves to you, feeling uncomfortable talking about or to you, or by comparing a bout of sadness they once had with your depression and thereby belittling it. Unless you’ve ‘had’ a depressive illness or are on the Autistic spectrum you don’t have a yardstick by which to measure the severity of impact on the sufferer and most people resort to platitudes to ‘help’ you cope.

“Just choose to be happy” is one of the most common I hear and see around me. A particular shoe brand has just run an advertising campaign using it “Just choose?” If any of you reading this have been or are sufferers of mental health problems would you say ‘choice’ is an issue? Would we ‘choose’ to want to die? Would we ‘choose’ to avoid doing the things we love and seeing the people that might make us feel slightly more positive? Would we ‘choose’ to avoid all forms of positive thought and would we ’choose’ to have a complete lack of hope and motivation? What we have is an invisible illness that people don’t understand and don’t want to talk about. A platitude suffices as a cure-all and be done with comment.

Would you say to a lower limb amputee ‘just walk it off’? Would you say to someone (as I once did) to a sufferer of Anorexia “Just get up tomorrow and have a bacon sandwich”? Of course not. Why then is it okay to tell a sufferer of chronic depression to “choose to be happy tomorrow”? “Go for a walk and Enjoy the beauty of nature”, “take the dog out more”, “man-up” (as one Doctor said to me. I was subsequently banned from his surgery for dragging him across hiss desk and threatening to staple his head to it). “Man-up”! I’ve heard some seriously awful platitudes during my bouts of depression but that honestly rates as the worst.

The people that understand mental health issues best are the people that have suffered from them. The people that understand physical illnesses (not the mental state they might cause) are scientists. Scientists are people with proven cures for physical illnesses. Psychologists are people trained in a very open playing field in a branch of many twigs dealing with the emotional and physical impact that an impaired mind for whatever reason isn’t working properly. I defy any of you reading this that haven’t suffered from some kind of mental illness to describe depression accurately.

Us sufferers of mental health problems might be just as disabled as a man with only one leg or lung. But. Are we included in the disabled Olympics? Is there an Olympics for mental health sufferers? For fucks sake, with our lack of motivation would we even turn up anyway? Can you imagine how long a mental health marathon might take? What, with a lack of motivation, breaks for crying our eyes out, a lack of training through lack of motivation, it’d be a marathon where every finisher should be considered a gold medal winner. Swimming races where competitors didn’t try and drown themselves would be amazing. All survivors to be gold medal winners. Discus. shot-putt and javelin where non competitors weren’t standing within reach of flying projectiles would be considered successful. Just imagine… White water kayaking where the competitors didn’t deliberately capsize and drown. I could go on as I’m amusing myself but you get the idea. WHY aren’t mental health sufferers included in the disabled Olympics?

Why is it that only amputees get to climb Everest for charity? Can you imagine the effect that completing a task like that might have on someone with mental health problems? The challenge and motivation needed would almost prove that anything is possible. Even to see the Earth from it’s highest point would have a life changing impact on most people. Like all astronauts say that seeing the earth from space changed them forever. All of them positively. Why do only the physically disabled get these chances and are reported on by the media? What is it about mental health disabilities that make people SO uncomfortable that we’re not even considered disabled enough to run in the disabled Olympics or climb to the highest point on the Earth for charity?

I know of a current cancer sufferer with pneumonia and septicemia who will probably lose at least two toes. That’s if the pneumonia doesn’t kill him first. I don’t need either cancer, pneumonia, septicemia or the amputation of two toes to empathise with his situation. I’ve known him for most of my life, he’s a close friend of my dad’s, I’ve worked with him. I feel genuine sorrow for his situation and for seeing a man with such a joy for life to be cut down so cruelly. I feel genuine compassion for his family. If he dies I want to be at his funeral to pay my respects. When he dies, people will celebrate his life. People go and sit by his bedside and hold his hand.

No-one, NO-ONE, tells him whilst he’s lying in his hospital bed to man-up! If by a miracle he survives the cancer, goes into remission and walks normally with the loss of two toes he could be one of the poster-boys for one of the cancer charities who might get him running marathons and climbing mountains. Everyone will applaud his efforts.

A whole team of specialists and millions of pounds of NHS funds are being given over to saving this one mans life. And rightly so. He’s got a family that love him, daughters that will miss the fuck out of him if he dies, friends like my Dad who will have lost both a good friend and bird-watching partner, people that like just chatting to him down the pub. People that have worked for him that respect and like him. He’s paid his taxes, why doesn’t he deserve the chance to be saved and to live? Of course he does.

And people look at me strangely when I say that I’d rather lose a leg than suffer from mental health issues?

Apart from my Dad who has gone way over and above his parental responsibility and I doubt I’d even be here writing this without him. You know who supports me at the moment? My support worker from the housing association that comes around to make sure I’m still alive and that I pay my fines and bills once every three weeks or so. My lack of responsibility and motivation make bills and licenses obsolete obligations to me. I desperately HATE obligation! The TV license can go fuck itself. Hard!

The Waterview Centre won’t have me as part of their group therapy sessions due to my psychopathy not being compatible with group therapy. Interesting to note that in their last review (of three) they picked up on one aspect, one part of my coping mechanism that only lasted a year and had nothing to do with people disagreeing with me or arguing with me in a group related environment. The one aspect that could even remotely be called psychopathic.

Subjectivity at it’s best.

Oddly for a psychopath I have a massive amount of empathy. (So I’m often told.) And I’m very spiritually aware. (So I’m often told.) Perhaps I’m a unique psychopath that actually suffers from PTSD from some of the suffering I’ve caused over the years and the people I’ve failed to stop from dying. While part of me might be sociopathically active (my own diagnosis) as a coping method much the same as self-harm or shoplifting, I’m pretty sure I feel too much guilt about too many certain things to be a psychopath.

The local mental health team diagnose me with something new every time I’m re-referred to them and so I never get to jump through the same hoops more than once.

Why is mental health not funded like cancer research is? Why am I not in a bed to stop me from killing myself, safe, being looked after by a team of mental health specialists trying to make me a useful part of society again instead of someone waiting for a particular incident to make me decide whether I live or die by my own hand? Where are my friends willing me on, wanting me to survive? Sitting by my bed each day… I’m not even comparing myself to my Dad’s friend. His worth is far more than mine but both his cancer and my depression could prove fatal. Where’s the empathy from my own Doctors? In fact, where even are my Doctors? I don’t even know if my Doctor knows what empathy is or perhaps she just doesn’t like me. I get that a lot.

Why does my housing association care more about me than the medical profession and why has my support worker got more warmth than any Doctor I’ve seen since my return from Cornwall?

Do you need to have suffered from mental health issues to help people recover from mental health illnesses? The profession of psychology and psychiatry would obviously prove against it but what do you think now having read this?

And. I still haven’t answered whether we can openly talk about depression have I? Or have I?

Do you fancy commenting below? Do you fancy actually calling up a friend that you know suffers from mental health problems and talking shit over? Don’t just text them. Call them and chat for an hour or so. Turn up at their door as a surprise.

I bet you don’t!

1. https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/health-professional/cancer-statistics/survival/common-cancers-compared


Mar 232013
 

So many things are going on in my head right now. I’ve been reading teh interwebs for two days straight and I’m feeling like my dislike for people in general is justified. Of course, ‘teh interwebs’ (sic) is where the trolls live so I’m probably being unjust if I base the whole of humanity on a few, but still.

What made me write this post is a thread I read on an IMDb forum regarding the film ‘Monsters’ [2010] written and directed by Gareth Edwards and shot for around $15,000. It’s an awesome movie considering the low budget.

Filmed on a Sony EX3 with a Nikon 50 MM Lens the director used natural light almost exclusively except for a couple of tiny LED lights for when it was pitch black. The effects were done in Adobe CS4 and the editing in Premiere. The majority of filming was shot with just a sound guy, the director and the 2 main leads. Most of the extras were locals and a lot of the scenes and locations were shot opportunistically.

Awesome! But by fuck were the trolls out to get this one on the forums.

I replied recently to another thread on another site I use to people who were criticising a short animation. Most of them were not criticising the story or the characters, they were criticising the actual cinematography and the techniques used. This was on a gaming site.

My comment was simply; “if you can do better go out and do it. If not, have respect for the man that did. If you actually have the skill to do a better job and think that the film maker could have done things better or improve on his technique, send the director an email and offer to help him.”

Constructive criticism is welcomed by all. I know I welcomed it as a photographer. If someone obviously had more talent than me I learnt from them if I could and listened to what they had to say. I ignored the ‘I could do that’ trolls. If they could, they would’ve and I would be copying them

The two things that got to me on the ‘Monsters’ forum were 1) the thread criticising the lead male for portraying a professional photographer badly and 2) criticising him (the photojournalist) for going with the girl (that he didn’t know) in the first place (into territory infected by the ‘Monsters’ of the title).

Amongst the many reasons Scoot McNairy was criticised for playing a photojournalist badly was that in one of the last scenes he just stands and watches the monsters rather than shooting them (with his camera). That led me to thinking about the incident I was involved with only two days past. And. Bear in mind I ‘am’ (or was) a professional photographer.

20 March 2013. I was on the King Harry Ferry (a chain ferry) crossing the river Fal when I watched a car roll off of the concrete slipway, onto the riverbank and stop with it’s front wheels in the water. I was on the opposite side of the Fal. The driver, an elderly male had apparently (I was later to learn) stepped out of his car to take a photo and either didn’t apply the handbrake properly or the handbrake failed. As of writing there hasn’t been any more information.

The driver and one other male seemed to dither about by the car, one of them wandered back across the slipway to a moored and beached dinghy with an outboard before sauntering back. Neither male looked overtly worried in so much as they weren’t about to get their feet wet. As we (the people on the ferry) watched, the car began to slide into the water. The driver looked panicked and the skipper of the ferry was already on the radio and the phone to the emergency services. A manager from the ferry company had got into a small boat and was making his way across the river towards the scene of the accident.

A disabled woman was trapped in the car! With two dogs. As it slipped under the water.

When the ferry was about thirty feet from where the car had probably settled underwater I was begging the guy in the boat above the car to throw me a rope so that I could dive down and see what I could do for the woman in the car. He refused and refused. I begged. His reasoning was that the water was too deep, 25/30 feet at that point, and that the visibility was nil and that the river was tidal. I knew it would be too dangerous without some kind of safety line myself and was feeling awful and frantic that I wanted to help but wasn’t being allowed to.

When it was obvious that the ferry could dock and cause no more difficulties to the car it pulled onto the slipway and having the only four wheel drive with a tow bar (I drive a Land Rover) I figured that if a rope could be hooked onto the car I might be able to tow it out of the river. The guy on the small boat was desperately trying to hook the car, which he couldn’t see, and was only approximately sure of it’s location, with his anchor. If he could manage it, I could try to tow it.

Two inshore lifeboats arrived. Neither having a diver they agreed that trying to hook the car with an anchor and me towing it was probably the best idea available at that time.

Two offshore lifeboats and a helicopter arrived but still no diver. The best shot was a local mussel ‘free’ diver named Matt Vernon, (a fucking hero!) he spent ages in just a wetsuit, mask, snorkel and fins diving down in the nil visibility, and near freezing water trying his best to get some kind of line on the car. At one point he did and the line was tied to my car by the coastguard on the shore and I was instructed where to drive and how slow. I moved perhaps 15/20 feet before the car got stuck (I was later told) on the ferry chain and my clutch began to burn out.

The rope was then tied to the winch of a fire engine and at that point it couldn’t tow the car out of the water either.

This was perhaps three quarters of an hour after the car had gone into the water with the woman.

This is a précis of the whole story. There had also been an off duty policeman directing traffic, a community police officer trying to co-ordinate things on shore. The ferry standing offshore with two ambulances and a fire engine. A fire engine on the submerged cars side of the water with two coastguard trucks, four police cars and an ambulance.

Including the emergency services on the opposite side of the river, on the river and in the air there were eighteen vehicles. Not one of them had a trained and equipped diver.

Cornwall has the most coastline of any UK county and this local region, Carrick, is one of it’s most coastal with tourism and fishing both playing a major role. The nearest major town; Falmouth (along with the Carrick Roads area where the river Fal and river Percuil meet) has the third deepest natural harbour in the world.

EIGHTEEN emergency vehicles, at a coastal emergency, and not one diver.

Again, this is a précis. I struggle to think about that afternoon and have prayed for the man that lost his wife and dogs. For the woman that died and for the dogs and for all that were involved and that might be feeling a little raw for their involvement.

As a man, I hope I did everything I could to help. I beat myself up for not getting into the water and forcing the issue of the ferry guy giving me a rope but I know he did the right thing by refusing; while I was giving a statement to the police the officer said that the only thing more galling than losing someone to an incident like this (and he’d never, in ten years been to an incident like this) was losing two people when the person that tried to help ended up dying too. It’s a sobering thought.

As a photographer. As the only photographer on the incident side of the river. I actually considered being able to get photos that no other journalist would be able to get and wondered the financial value of said photos…

Ultimately, I decided against it. As a photographer I decided against it. This wasn’t a tsunami or 9/11 where the disaster was worldwide news. This was a local, personal tragedy and as such my role was to help and not to document a media event that would not have world wide ramifications and photography would not be part of it’s history.

Thinking about the forum comment that sparked this blog post, unless you’re there, unless you’re a photographer you have no idea how you’re going to react to a situation or whether you feel the need to document it. By saying that ‘not taking photos’ is a bad representation of a photojournalist the troll has no idea. I was there and I didn’t take photos. To not take photos shows humanity in some situations and an actors job is to be as naturally human as possible.

Troll… You have been pwned!

As for item #2. Why did the photojournalist decide to go cross country (across a monster infected area) with a girl that he’d just met?

I’d like to think that all things being equal. In that situation, I might make that decision too. Like Luke Rhinehart. The ‘Diceman’, sometimes you have to throw the dice and take a risk. Even if the dice are metaphorical, sometimes you have to roll them and do something unexpected. As the events of the 20th have shown, life is too often, too short. We have no idea when ours will run out and one has to make the most of each moment. One minute you can be admiring the scenery and within ten minutes either yourself or your family and pets can be dead.

Dead is forever. This moment, this life is fleeting. Even your allotted eighty or so years, seen in perspective, in time, is but an eye-blink. What percentage is your allotted life, of time that has gone before, since the beginning of time until the end of time with the implosion of the universe? It is an infinitesimally small amount of time. That’s all you have, all you will ever have and you don’t even know how long that time is.

Live! Live in the moment. Live for today. Take risks, take calculated gambles and live. Experience life. Enjoy life and if you don’t, find a way to. Find someone to share it with. Take a risk and talk to the girl you feel you’ll have no chance with because the chances are she feels just as insecure as you do. Take that walk in the countryside. Stop and smell the flowers. Play with your kids and pets. Take a holiday. Spend some money recklessly, swim in the ocean, hike cross country. Talk to a stranger. Look out to sea and smell the salt. Tell your folks you love them, eat ice-cream in the winter, try sushi for the first time. Just fucking enjoy and experience life because it is too fucking short not to.

Why did the journalist go cross-country with a girl he’d just met (but probably fancied)? Because he could!


Jan 112013
 

The opening passage from what is currently chapter ten of my upcoming book. At the moment in ‘first draft’ stage and un-edited…

I read a passage in Jon Richardson’s book It’s Not Me, It’s You:

I could quite happily get through a 40-year marriage without ever suspecting that my partner went to the toilet at all…”

I totally know where Jon was coming from. Totally. I’m all for sick and inappropriate jokes. Niggers, Pakis, the Welsh. All are fair game. Necrophillia, Peadophillia and the Welsh shagging sheep can be pretty funny in the right circles at the right time, but toilet talk? I just don’t. I’m very British about going to the toilet. One pretends one doesn’t. Of course, everyone shits. I’d just rather they didn’t and if they have to I’d rather they didn’t tell or show me. A wee I can deal with just. As long as the girl (or boy) I’m with is having a delicate tinkle and not pissing like a horse. I can even pee in public. In a wood on a long walk with friends as long as I’m behind the statutory tree. Shit is another thing altogether. A steaming pile of smelly turd that scrapes down the toilet pan leaving greasy streaks that needs to be removed as soon as possible. A lingering stink, from some people so bad one can almost taste it. Shit is awful!

Imagine then my horror, when dog-sitting for Elizabeth, (that’s Ee-Liz-A-Beth not Elizab’th) to find that not one toilet in her house had a loo brush. Just a bottle of bleach.

“Loo brushes are disgusting” she replied when I plucked up (from somewhere very deep inside) the courage to enquire why not.

“What the fuck! Greasy shit streaks over white porcelain aren’t?” I thought.

“Just put bleach down the pan” she carried on.

Yeah right, ‘cos that will clean the bowl in about, what? A day? As well as the dogs I was ’sitting’ I was also looking after two teenaged girls. I was horrified to think either one of them might use the bathroom after me, an inevitability, and find my horrid brown stains and know it was me and not the others sister. Even the Queen shits. I know that. It’s just that I doubt she advertises it or wants a phone-camera pic of her last one showing up on Twitter. I bet the Queen has a loo brush in every and each of her two hundred or so toilets across all of her estates.

Like the Queen, in my house, I have a loo brush in every toilet. All one of them. I, like Ee-Liz-A-Beth find them pretty disgusting but (unlike Elizabeth) a necessary evil. To reduce the vileness I have bleach in the container you put the brush in. That way I figure the brush is permanently being cleaned. Sure, it’s going to get shitty but at least I’m attempting to lessen the germs and vileness.

I’d loved Elizabeth for years. I mean really loved. Really really loved. Could I live in a house where the loo brush was banned, even for a short two weeks? I was going to find out. I wondered to myself, if things had been different, would Elizabeth and I have argued about loo brushes had we ever lived together in our own house. We had certainly discussed living together once-upon-a-time, we even discussed marriage! Who would have won? Would I have capitulated and lived in a loo brush free house, buying gallons of bleach on a weekly basis? I have no idea.

I’d love to know what you guys think… (Names have been changed to protect the guilty).


Dec 152012
 

Colour me wrong but I’m a bit tired now of hearing about how Jacintha Saldanha committed suicide. Today it was second billing on the news after the Connecticut shooting tragedy.

Connecticut ‘IS’ a tragedy. It deserves to be news. My heart goes out to the parents that lost children; however old and also goes out to the survivors.

Jacintha Saldanha isn’t really news. Maybe it was, the first day, due to the connection with the Royal Family. But. Get over it already. Between 4000 and 6000 people commit suicide every year in the UK and the news doesn’t give a toss about them. Jacintha was obviously suffering some form of mental illness. Millions of people are.

The death of Jacintha is merely sad… For the news to be fair it should also list the names of the 11 to 17 other people that will also kill themselves today.


Jan 142011
 

To paraphrase The Fantastic Four’s The Thing: “It’s clobbering ranting time” again; This is a majorly lengthy but hopefully worthwhile read that conveys an important message; I’d love to hear your opinions at the end please.

Sunday morning I was up early so decided to watch BBC’s The Big Questions. I completely enjoy an early morning religion and ethics debate as much as anyone and like Nicky Campbell’s no nonsense presenting style. What I didn’t expect was that along with a BBC Three programme presented by Nelufar Hedayat; ‘Music, Money and Hip-Hop Honeys’ and a BBC Panorama exposé on the sexualisation of children I’d end up ranting on my blog because all three programmes shared a similar but different theme and all three contained people that pissed me off beyond all belief.

I’ll start with Music, Money and Hip-Hop Honeys if I may as I watched it first.

As already stated it was presented by Nel Hedayat, a 20 something Afghan Muslim female with dual British identity living in North London. Possibly a feminist Nel was looking into the world of Hip-Hop Honeys; those big boobed, booty shaking young women that virtually every music video staring or produced by someone of an ethnic minority has to feature. You know the ones; those girls wrapped around a toned and baby-oiled Drum ‘n’ Bass DJ, Hip-Hop rapper or R&B artist.

Thoughtful, entertaining and mildly vacuous as most ‘serious’ documentaries tend to be on BBC Three, it sought to lift the lid on the scams, possible dangers and mostly impossible dreams that Hip-Hop Honeys face to star in big name (American) music video productions: Not being paid to star in your first ‘x’ amount of videos (to get experience of the scene and build a reputation), the directors, producers (and stars) that use video production as a way to pick up and sexually abuse women, the too far lengths some girls will go to to make it in an industry filled with other want-to-be ‘Honeys’; the mountains of fashionable clothes and shoes to buy, expensive trips to the US hoping to make it big there and the breast (and bum) implants the girls feel they need to achieve the ‘right’ look.

The rewards for ‘making it big’ are worth it. American honey Amber-Rose makes £12000 for a two day video shoot and £5750 just for turning up to an event!

Does this sound too familiar to any photographic models out there?

I liked Nel Hedayat! I really did, I’d like to spend a couple of hours with her in Starbucks shooting the shit over a latte or three. Although she didn’t completely sensationalise she did present a show that showed more negatives in the industry than positives. I’d like to know what she’d make of the modelling industry.

Nel showed a sleazebag producer/director that looked like one of the cell shaded skaters from Jet Set Radio. A scumbag who regularly offered girls paid gigs only to not pay them on the day (or ever).

Had I been there, on the day, with Nel, I think I’d have likely smacked him in the face (twice); not for being one of those trendy (possibly Japanese but probably Chinese wanting to be Japanese because it’s cooler) Orientals that wear cyberpunk Oakley’s (I think they were the MP3 ones) day and night, have Dragonball Z hair, wear cool T-shirts with Kanji logos and look like they’ve stepped right out of the latest issue of one of those directory sized manga comics but for being a scamming douchebag that thought that cheating girls out of money was both hilarious and righteous.

Nel showed an artist (using the term lightly) from the UK group K.I.G who openly admitted to sleeping with the ‘ho’s’ (his term for Hip-Hop Honeys; Urban Dictionary definition of Ho: Prostitute, Whore, Hooker, Tramp, Slut).

Nel interviewed two feminists: One that thought the video girls degraded all women, thought that the music videos featuring Honeys were similar to pornography in so much as a nurses uniform became the same kind of nurses uniform you’d see in a porn movie and that ultimately these videos made the divide between boys and girls one of the dominant male that had a skewed image of a female that was only needed for sex.

Feminist number two ran out the old cliché that often, the female image in the media made all females feel inferior with their bodies as they tried to emulate what they see. These would be the same women that think because they see in the media it must prove it’s the perfect body image.

Feminist number two also commented on the double standards promoted by the Hip-Hop/R&B video industry that a man could be clothed, rich, butt-ugly and fat but sexy while a woman had to be toned, free of cellulite, tan skinned, mostly undressed and beautiful to be sexy.

Nel interviewed the girl that had gone to a shoot only to be oiled (baby-oiled) up pre-shoot by the cameraman and then sexually assaulted.

As tragic, (at least for me), Nel interviewed members of the public outside a London club on Leicester Square and found a young black guy that stated; “You see these girls on TV and think all girls are the same, mmm, y’know what, I think I’ll have a go at that one then. Ah, so when you go out you think every girl’s a slag innit, ESPECIALLY when girls do dress like slags.”

Remember the above paragraph, we’re coming back to it!

In true documentary style Nel made no comment and the programme moved onto the guys that make the videos. Ultimately, I think Nel saw the allure that fame and money can bring and though she might not have before the documentary was made ended up on a video shoot herself.

Sunday mornings The Big Questions started with the question ‘Has political correctness left girls at risk?’ What that actually meant was that a Times report claimed that some UK police forces were so scared of being accused of racism they weren’t arresting Asian (Indian-Asian) gang members suspected of grooming very young girls for sex.

This was after 28-year-old Mohammed Liaqat and Abid Saddique, 27, were jailed at Nottingham crown court for raping and sexually abusing several girls, often after giving them alcohol or drugs.

In response to the Times report, former home secretary Jack Straw said “We need to get the Pakistani community to think much more clearly about why this is going on and to be more open about the problems that are leading to a number of Pakistani heritage men thinking it is OK to target white girls in this way. The young men were “fizzing and popping with testosterone” but girls from the Pakistani community were “off limits”, leading them to seek other outlets for their desires. They see these young women, white girls who are vulnerable, some of them in care … who they think are easy meat.

As is usual for The Big Questions Nicky Campbell had a balanced panel comprising members of the Asian community, religious leaders and representatives of organisations set up to stop sexual abuse in all it’s flavours. Interestingly there was also, heavily disguised, a young woman that had previously fallen foul of one of these gangs.

Named as Emma, the disguised young woman said that she was twelve when she was first targeted. She said that she wasn’t targeted on a street corner, she wasn’t vulnerable. She said that the men responsible for grooming target girls at shopping centres, ice rinks, cinemas and arcades. Places where children go on Saturdays and why shouldn’t parents be allowed to let their children of twelve and thirteen go to the cinema with their friends?

She was first approached by boys that were aged about fourteen or fifteen, so not much older than her. They befriended her and she used to hang out with them in arcades at the shopping malls most Saturdays. They seemed okay, nice boys, nothing wrong with them. They then introduced her to older men, aged around eighteen or nineteen. Men who had cars. She didn’t see anything wrong with this as they were friends of friends. They didn’t just come up and approach her so they weren’t strangers.

They, the older boys seemed nice as well. As time went on and they started to groom her, the older ones, she started to see them in the town centre most days. She then got introduced to older men in their late twenties, “it’s a process” she said, “you just get passed up.”

She was further groomed for a while, it’s brainwashing, they basically controlled her through her mobile phone; “they threatened to firebomb my home with my parents inside if I told anyone what they’d done, shoot me with a pistol, rape my mother and kill my older brother if I told anyone.” They started to sexually assault her and sell her even though she didn’t know she was being sold, that’s what they were doing. “You can’t get away from these men” she said, “You can’t say I don’t think I want to come out to play today.” As time goes on the men responsible for the grooming pretend to form relationships with the girls to further entrap them. “They would give presents, vodka and cigarettes. But you soon end up paying them back by having to do what you have to do with man after man, in empty flats, in parks and down alleyways.”

“In my child’s mind I believed my abuser had feelings for me.” She said “It’s mental abuse, it’s physical abuse, it’s sexual abuse and it’s emotional abuse.”

When the police became involved it seemed that they saw Emma and other children involved as young promiscuous girls who had fallen out of relationships with these older men and then cried rape. “In this case there would be a lot of twelve and thirteen year old girls accusing thirty odd year old men of rape. That is not normal, thirteen year old girls don’t have relationships with men in their thirties and forties.”

It was stated that from thirteen towns and cities in the North and the Midlands, of fifty-six men jailed for this particular brand of sex offence in the past fourteen years, three were of Caucasian descent and the remaining fifty-three were Asian.

An argument was given for these sex crimes as a clash of cultures. Asian women in these mainly Muslim communities are seen as off limits and more modest. Mohammed Shafiq, chief executive of the Ramadhan Foundation, a Muslim youth organisation has gone on record and stated that; “There are some Muslims who think that as long as these sex gangs aren’t targeting their own sisters and daughters the issue doesn’t affect them… These people think that white girls have fewer morals, are seen as trash and are less valuable, than our girls.”

Lee Jasper from the National Assembly Against Racism accused Jack Straw of dog-whistle politics and this was only an issue at this moment in time due to an upcoming by-election in Blackburn where he (Jack Straw) was standing for election.

During the programme, Mehdi Hasan from the New Statesman said that “not only were white girls targeted but also young Bangladeshi girls.” Culturally Bangladeshi’s are seen as a lower class than the Pakistani’s involved. Hasan went on to state, “this whole debate is skewed towards race, the gangs, religion. Surely this should be about vulnerable children, why are there thirteen year old girls on street corners? Where are their parents? Where are social services? Where are the local authorities?”

Remember the above paragraph, we’re coming back to it!

Fighting for the final word at the end of the debate, Lee Jasper (he from the National Assembly Against Racism), urged the audience to remember back to the fifties when the West Indian community first came to Britain en masse, the black men were all labelled as pimps and sexual predators. “That was proved to be false” said Lee “and the issue is wrong on this occasion. The kind of racism we’ve seen stoked on the back of this is totally unacceptable.”

Way to go Lee, gloss over the real tragedy and make this about white man racism!

Finally, I’d like to quickly mull over Panorama’s programme on the sexualisation of children:

After watching a pop music DVD with her daughter and finding some of the content overtly sexual newsreader and journalist Sophie Raworth decided to look into the sexualisation of children and produced the ‘Too Much Too Young’ documentary for BBC One’s Panorama.

The BBC website said: Provocative clothing, raunchy dancing on prime-time TV, access to pornography – Panorama examines the growing concern about the sexualisation of children in the UK. Sophie Raworth, a mother of three, goes behind the headlines to discover what images young people are being exposed to, and asks what impact the sexualised world is having on our children. Is too much, too young, putting them at risk?

Already concerned, our coalition government has begun a review into the commercialisation and sexualisation of children which will explore, among other things, whether rules should prevent companies marketing the likes of ‘Porn Star’ T-shirts and padded bras for little girls.

The Prime Minister David Cameron has gone on record stating, “You can’t cut children off from the commercial world but we should be able to help parents more in terms of trying to make sure that our children get a childhood and that they are not subject to unnecessary and inappropriate commercialisation and sexualisation too young.

Some businesses are dumping a waste that is toxic on our children. Products and marketing that can warp their minds and their bodies and harm their future. That can take away their innocence, which I know most parents would agree is so precious and worth defending. Children are being pushed into grown-up territory well before their time.

Girls are encouraged to dress like women, wear lingerie and worry about what they look like.”

On Mumsnet, the online parenting forum that has become a political force in its own right in Britain, the sexualisation of children is a hot topic – especially when it comes to some of the clothing.

Justine Roberts, the website’s co-founder, said that “many mothers were worried because they felt their daughters were being encouraged to be sexual in a way they were not mentally able to understand.”

“When you present a child with a pair of high-heeled shoes, it immediately puts her into a posture which makes her look more sexy. I mean her bum will stick out, her non-existent chest will stick out and she will start to sort of teeter around.”

So looking deeper into the possible idea that the media is responsible for making our children grow up too soon what did Sophie find?

Sophie found the consumerist campaigner Ed Mayo, he that campaigned about the stationary in a leading High St retailer emblazoned with the Playboy logo and successfully got it removed from their shelves. Sophie sent him off shopping and he returned with a T-shirt for kids with the slogan ‘Future Footballers Wife’ printed on the front and a padded bra for girls aged around 9.

Ed’s argument for the T-shirt was that it gave the wrong message and that being a WAG was no great ambition. About the bra, Ed questioned do we need them? “Starting an arms race among young girls for how big your boobs are is no way to start off life.”

Sophie went shopping on her own and found it incredibly difficult to find anything that sexualised children that wasn’t ambiguously either ‘in fashion’ or a ‘matter of taste’; Hotpants for nine year olds? Strappy leopard print dresses? Leopard print leggings? Spangly tu-tu party skirts?

Sophie interviewed Rachel Russell from the Glasgow Caledonian University who was involved in producing a report for the Scottish Government last year on the sexualisation of children. Rachel was especially looking for garments that drew attention to specific parts of the body associated with adult sexuality; breasts and buttocks. Searching thirty high street retailers and online the producers of the report actually found only a ‘limited number’ of products that concerned them. Rachel stated that you “really had to have your detective hat on to find them.”

With regards to items like padded bras Rachel said that children don’t see them as sexualised they see them as an item of comfort and that the padding also added an extra layer of ‘covering up’ or ‘hiding’ as you can’t see what’s underneath. “It’s the adults that see the bra as sexualised with the intention of adding size to the breasts and accentuating them.”

Rachel concluded with “It’s a perfect example of a moral panic.”

Ultimately the Scottish report concluded that it found that it is predominantly parents, not children, who worry about sexualisation and it is the sexualisation not of their own, but other people’s children that concerns them.

As a measure of how the sexual imagery in pop videos and published media along with teens and tweens dressing in a more adult and sexual manner affected them, Sophie contacted the Brook Advisory Centre, the leading UK advice service for children. What she was told was that although Britain has one of the worst records for teenage pregnancy in Europe the actual figures are “now the lowest they have ever been for twenty years.”

The way children now interact with one another was also examined; the internet, social networking sites, social gaming and mobile phones. Finding friends through social networking was seen as competitive (isn’t that the same for some adults?) and examples were given of teen boys posing topless for their display pictures and of one thirteen year old girl posing in her bikini.

A point was made that although the joining age for Facebook was thirteen a lot of children aged nine and above (with a marked increase for eleven year olds at secondary school) were joining by entering the wrong birth date. This is probably due to peer pressure.

Obviously, the internet and social networking opens up the grim possibility of grooming with many children throwing out the normal rules of safety by swapping messages and photos with complete strangers. Quite rightly, a child wouldn’t do this in the street but what makes it different over the internet?

With over half of British teens having their own computer and broadband access, pornography was discussed. A statistic was given that over a quarter of nine to sixteen year olds had surfed porn sites over the past year. A concerned parent said that it wasn’t something he’d have expected his son to be doing aged fourteen and was surprised that younger children had done so. The son, to his credit, when asked what his peers got from visiting porn sites said “when people see porn on the internet they think “I want to do this with a girl” and they get the view that “that’s what I’m going to be like, that’s what the girl’s going to be like” and that’s what they’re going to be doing”

Remember that last paragraph…

Back at the Brook Advisory Centre, regarding pornography, the spokesman said that they’d received calls asking ‘should I be shaving all my body hair off?’ and ‘should I be making the other person scream with pleasure? How do I make the other person scream?’ Brook went onto say that you have to give young people credit though; ‘they do know that pornography isn’t real’ and that it is the responsibility of parents to be able to talk candidly about sex and pornography if they’re willing to give their children unmonitored web access.

Here, our government wants to step in and make ISP’s change their policies towards pornography and instead of offering uncensored access to the web, provide a censored but opt-in service if you do want to view porn.

Sophie looked into the growing trend of sexting; using text messages to send explicit messages and pictures to one another. In British law it is illegal for anyone to own, produce or distribute explicit images of anyone under the age of eighteen(1).

Sophie concluded that although she started off worried by the sexy images she saw on her daughters DVD she realised that although she could stop the DVD at home she couldn’t stop the outside world. She said that most children were more ‘adult’ about the choices they made when choosing clothing, friends online and what sites to visit than perhaps she’d give them credit for and left the final words to Chloe, a thirteen year old dancer. When asked should she (Sophie) be worried about the images her children were seeing and the clothing they wanted to wear? Should she be worried that her daughter was growing up too fast?

Chloe – “Well if she’s making the right choices, like y’know her skirt’s not see through, her top’s not see through, her skirt’s not about half way up her backside. You shouldn’t lock her up inside. If she makes the right choices in life, you shouldn’t be worried, because you teach them how to behave don’t you, yer mums and dads.”

Wise words indeed!

So what is the common denominator? What links these three programmes and why should you or I care?

Primarily, if you look back to the paragraphs I asked you to remember the common denominator is respect, or rather the lack of. I’ve spoken in a previous post on this blog about how a model provides a service and how one should separate the model in the media and the woman that the model is when not working. Just because her picture is public domain doesn’t mean the woman is any more than you’d expect a taxi driver to automatically offer you a lift in his private car.

Men should be able to separate the hip-hop honey on screen from the dancer in her private life. Just because she dresses and dances in a sexual manner doesn’t mean that she has loose morals and should be approached either on set or in real life with anything other than the same respect that you’d show your sister. You would show your sister respect right? No matter how your sister was dressed you want her shown respect by others right?

Whether a girl is a model, a hip-hop honey or a fashionable teen or pre-teen she has the right to dress how she chooses and has a right to respect. Whatever she wears to a club for example or to go out on the town with her mates, be it see through, be it revealing or be it totally minimalistic it is her choice and doesn’t automatically mean that she’s a slag or that she’s sexually promiscuous.

What it does mean, is that she’s chosen to dress in a way that she feels comfortable. Whether she’s driven by what she see’s in fashionable magazines or on the catwalk, whether she’s driven by popular media or peer pressure it is her right to dress in any way she chooses to.

Ask any woman and the majority would state that they feel at their best when dressed in a way they either feel sexy or beautiful. They might be at their most comfortable in sloppy tracksuits and slippers while bumming around the house, they might feel more competitive and professional at work wearing a suit or smartly dressed but to go out ALL women generally make an effort to look as good as possible within their social circle.

Whether a girl is nine, nineteen or ninety. To go out or to be seen one wants to dress like ones peers. Whether the girl goes clubbing to the trendiest dub-step clubs and dresses as she sees the dancers dress in various music videos or whether the woman dresses to go to the local lawn bowls club she will dress as comfortably and accordingly as she is able.

Men, for fucks sake, should respect that and respect that she’s probably dressing for herself and not for you. She’s not ‘asking for it’. She’s not automatically a ‘ho’ wanting you to grind your prick up her backside. She’s probably dressing like her friends do and fitting in.

Respect seems to be a thing of the past and perhaps, along with other social etiquette should be taught at school.

Sex education shouldn’t be only involved with the mechanics of reproduction and how to avoid STD’s it should deal with far wider issues like social interaction between boys and girls and how to show one another respect. It should teach boys that girls are people before they are objects of sexual desire and should teach girls to respect themselves and their bodies rather than giving in to peer pressure and throwing their virginity at the first decent six-pack that buys them a couple of bottles of alcopop. Books like (but not plugging) Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus should be part of the school curriculum just as much as Romeo and Juliet and To Kill a Mockingbird are.

Instead of being a small part of the biology or science curriculum, make sex education and social interaction a mandatory part of education itself. Don’t just tell children that teen pregnancy is wrong, provide social proof and statistics. Go out onto council estates and show children in a classroom the living proof of ruined lives. Show children the babies that are victims of neglect and show children the severely depressed mothers that have thrown away their lives for a shag in the toilets of a local club. Show girls the victims of physical abuse by men and show boys the abusers rotting in prison cells.

It’s a fact that children are growing up faster now than thirty years ago. If not physically then definitely mentally. With the internet and cable television children today have the opportunity to learn far more about the world and growing up than ever before.

When I was a child the only way I could learn was through school or through books I was given. Until I was old enough to buy my own books I could only tell you information from the books I owned and the subjects I was taught. Aged nine, aged eleven, I could tell you nothing about fashion in London or Japan. I couldn’t tell you about gender equality (but I had been taught respect and manners), I couldn’t tell you about the production of alcohol or the ingredients of Absinthe.

I could however tell you all about sharks, I could even tell you their Latin names. However dated it seems now I could tell you all about dinosaurs… At least I could tell you about what we knew about dinosaurs then. Who knew, (or even imagined), when I was a child, that we’d later discover that dinosaurs were actually brightly coloured, covered in feathers, lived in social groups and evolved into birds?

Now, with a click of a button a child can answer most any question posed to it through Google or Wikipedia. Fashion isn’t a trendy thing Londoners do on Carnaby Street it’s a thing that children can do in any village in any county in the country. Fashion is global. Fashion is on the internet. A teen isn’t limited to Mods and Rockers anymore, a teen isn’t limited to the fashion of it’s peers. If it chooses a teen can become a follower of the Gothic Lolita style in Japan because it’s all there on the web. The designers, the look and indeed the clothing through online retailing.

Of course children are going to grow up faster and appear more adult in many cases. We should be letting these children learn and grow up as they and their peers dictate. What we should be doing as parents and peers is respecting these choices but guiding and teaching along the way.

In areas where there are major cultural differences as discussed in the Asian grooming section of this essay respect should be taught there also. The right to respect another culture and to live within that culture with respect. What right does a Muslim man have to assume that just because a Western girl doesn’t read the Qur’an or wear the hijab she is any less chaste or moralistic than his sisters or cousins?

We are a Christian country and a Muslim living here should respect that in the way that we respect Muslims enough to let them worship in their own ways here. Chastity is not only a Muslim dictate it is a universal dictate for some, it transcends religion, it is part of most religions. A Muslim man living in a Christian country has to respect that.

Regardless of area/race or religion involved, a nine or thirteen year old girl should be able to walk the streets safely. In fact she has a right to be safe. Regardless of religion or race she deserves respect.

I would go as far to say that if cultural differences present too much of a problem then cultural differences shouldn’t exist. One strike and out… If your religion allows you to disrespect the morals and the law of your host country then you should lose your right to stay there. Regardless of status, regardless of family in the UK, regardless of the dangers in your country of origin. If you are found guilty of a major crime even though it might be because of your home countries moral, religious or cultural differences then you forfeit the right to live here.

Of course, the government will never implement so severe a punishment. As shown in this essay the government panders to moral outrage and political correctness. Heaven forbid that the government take a strong stance and address problems at their roots. The school curriculums will not change, the policies on political asylum, immigration and deportation will not change and the laws will not change to remove the ambiguity between consent, implied consent and the word no.

What the government will do is request report after report seemingly to do something to stem the moral outrage cried by people too weak to control and teach their own children what is right and wrong. The ‘nanny’ state will remove the stimulus because it is easier to outlaw sexuality than it is to change the way society is crumbling with respect to um, respect, education and social awareness.

It is easier to ban pornography than it is to realise that it has it’s place in society and to teach that society a way that it can use it responsibly and intelligently.

It is easier to ban sexuality in the media than it is to teach parents the responsibility of moderation and self censorship.

It is easier to police and govern retail and manufacturing than it is to teach the culture about respecting peoples right to wear what they choose without recrimination or judgement.

It is sadly easier for the government to stop the sexualisation of children than it is to remove the problem of cultural and religious difference that the government itself created.

It is a sad sad world we live in!

I’d like to address one final point. I for one admit to seeing beauty in children. I see beauty everywhere and refuse to blinker my views to only that which is socially acceptable. I find babies interesting. I find the gangly, long limbed pre-teens running in the park with innocence on their faces beautiful. I find adolescents on the verge of adulthood beautiful. I find teenagers beautiful. I am a photographer. I see with my eyes rather than with scared, politically correct, and often wrong judgements. I don’t see with my penis or with a sexual appetite. I don’t in any sense find children sexually attractive. I just see beauty. I see a photograph.

Researching and writing this essay has taken much time over three days. I have read many forums dealing with sexuality, religion, culture and parenting. I have read articles written in America and the UK. I have read countless threads by concerned parents and have not seen this mentioned anywhere which kind of confuses me immensely.

Teen and Pre-Teen Pageants/Dancing competitions?

This is just about the worst case scenario I can image for the argument to govern child sexuality and the case for worrying about children growing up too fast. On all the forums, in all the articles, in all the governmental and legal blathering I’ve read why has no-one mentioned this? Why?

Teens but more often pre-teens caked in make-up; foundation, blusher, lipstick, false eye-lashes, false nails and dyed hair? Pre-teens dressed in high heels, bikinis, little black dresses and ball gowns. Pre-teens paraded on a stage like real life dolls where anyone with the entrance fee, paedophiles and sexual predators alike, can sit and watch. Pre-teens often coerced by their parents into living a life their parents didn’t have or having parents living their lives through their children.

What the fuck? Ban these pageants… Or, if the world must have beauty competitions for children and I’ve already said that yes, children can be beautiful, legislate the competitions. Govern the audience, make the organisers accountable, ban the fakery and let these competitions be about the child’s natural beauty and skills.

You know what… I might just start looking into this legislation myself!

(1) The law is a little muddy here with the words ‘indecent’ and ‘explicit’ being open to interpretation by the judge and jury using a set of guidelines as defined by law. Therefore, nude photography of a minor (anyone aged under eighteen) can be legal as long as the image is not considered indecent or sexually explicit. To confuse matters further; be careful, sexually explicit images of a fully clothed model under the age of eighteen can also be considered indecent and/or sexually explicit and may therefore be illegal too.

In the case of ‘sexting’, it is perfectly legal between a married couple aged sixteen or seventeen as long as the pictures are for private use only. Images of anyone over the age of eighteen could fall foul of the obscene publications act depending on their explicitness and content.

For example; a consenting couple using their mobile phones to photograph a private session of BDSM involving actual damage to the buttocks and breasts could be prosecuted for possession of images deemed illegal under the current obscene publications act and both parties could be added to the sex offenders list.

To clarify; the law regarding photography of anyone under the age of eighteen in any way remotely considered glamorous is a minefield and best avoided completely.