Charlie says

After the attacks in France last week, I couldn’t help thinking of Voltaire’s statement that ‘I disagree with what you say, but will defend to the death your right to say it’ – and my conflicting feelings about how people were reacting to it. This is why I’m not Charlie – or not exactly.

I AM CHARLIE said the world
As we read about the white cartoonists murdered in their offices
For drawing something that poked fun at something else –
Not for shooting, bombs or missiles; this was not an eye for an eye.
We were shocked, we mourned,
And I AM CHARLIE was beamed across public buildings, Facebook profiles, newspapers and the chests and the faces of the liberals who mourned the loss of people like them,
The people who went to work one day and never came back.

And I AM CHARLIE with its hashtag appeared in the Twitter feeds of the celebrities.
This was an attack on freedom, they said.
We must stand and fight, they said, and publish the pictures that the killers hated wherever we can.
The pen is our weapon, they said.
And anyone who refuses to publish the pictures that the killers hated is a coward, they said, and no better than a killer themselves.
And the world with I AM CHARLIE beamed across its faces and public buildings gave the celebrities a million likes, cause we were down with that. We don’t like bombs, we use cartoons instead. We loved that shit.

And I AM CHARLIE appeared in the newspapers and the journals where the intellectuals talked about why religion should be satirised, why culture should be ridiculed, why the pictures that upset the terrorists and extremists – for only extremists can be upset by pictures, after all – should be shown proudly, everywhere.
And the world with I AM CHARLIE emblazoned on its T-shirts and its hashtags and its million likes for the celebrities skim-read the articles and gave them a like as well, because we were Charlie and we were liberal and we mourned, so we were down with that.

I AM CHARLIE brought the politicians to the streets. We stand in solidarity with those who fought for freedom of speech, they said.
And the newspapers with I AM CHARLIE emblazoned on its taglines and its Twitter feeds and its hashtags took their pictures and talked about the solidarity and the Europeans who cherish freedom of speech, and how wonderful it was.
And nobody really talked about who marched, and why they were doing it, because they were Charlie.
And I was Charlie too, and so were you.

And then I saw the pictures, and I wondered why.

Why nobody was putting up I AM SYRIA on their profile page when the chemical weapons gassed whole towns;
The same weapons that had been supplied by the same nations that had I AM CHARLIE emblazoned on their newspapers and their public buildings and whose politicians marched to say I AM CHARLIE
When protests against repression turned into a war that seemed to have no end
And the whole reason for fighting seemed to have been lost in bloodshed.
No I AM SYRIA here.

Why nobody was Baga in Nigeria
When the terrorists attacked the town, just because it was there
The world was too busy saying I AM CHARLIE to say that I AM BAGA too,
Except for a few.

And why, behind the I AM CHARLIE signs
Nobody was saying it was OK to mind a bit
That it was OK to hate terrorism and hate the killing and still dislike things that offend –
Because not liking something is not the same as killing –
And to worry about the people who felt threatened
Because they shared a religion and culture with the killers
And feared someone might make them take the blame
If they weren’t screaming I AM CHARLIE loud enough
And to worry about the racists who might now attack,
So long as they had I AM CHARLIE on their Facebook profile and their Twitter feeds, because the celebrities said so and the intellectuals said so and the politicians said so and they could say they were part of a glorious fight for freedom of speech because only extremists can be offended by racism.

Perhaps it was easiest to ignore all that
And say I AM CHARLIE with the rest of them


Christmas Jumper Day (and other made-up festivals)

Yeah, yeah, so it’s January and we’re well past the Christmas period. However, I’ve still seen some of these things around the place, and I’m still baffled...

The email pinged into my inbox, a missive from someone I knew vaguely from around the office. It looked eerily similar to the fourteen emails I had received from other people I knew vaguely from around the office, and had appeared on Facebook umpteen times – again, usually from people I was acquainted with (Facebook-friends of Facebook-friends, if you will) rather than anyone I would consider privy to my innermost thoughts. Thus, the accusatory nature of the email’s opening gambit came as something of a surprise.
“I know you think I’m a SCROOGE!” it shouted – or at least said in very large letters, carefully adjusted to 12 point in a 10-point Arial message to make its point all the clearer. “because I’m not sending Christmas cards this year!!” it continued, with an enthusiasm for exclamation marks that seemed to surpass the sender’s regard for grammar. “Well I’ll tell you why I AM NOT sending Christmas cards this year because I’m donating to CHARITY!! Instead of WASTING paper, money and time on writing CHRISTMAS CARDS I’m doing something GOOD with my time and donating to CHARITY!! I know YOU won’t do this and YOU will keep on KILLING THE PLANET from your NEEDLESS WASTE of paper on Christmas Cards but just REMEMBER the SPIRIT OF CHRISTMAS and give to CHARITY instead just like ME!! Cos there are people DYING from horrid things like EBOLA and GLOBAL WARMING when we are sending each other CHRISTMAS CARDS – REMEMBER THIS!!!!! Luv u all!!!! Kisses, Mel! Xxxx”

I have no idea who Mel is, or who Chris or Stu or Claire or Tina or all the assorted senders of the all-staffers are. I have no recollection of having in-depth conversations with Mel (or Chris, Stu or Tina) about the ethics of sending a folding bit of card to one’s friends and colleagues at this time of year. However, I’m fairly willing to bet that they will have bought whole-heartedly into what has become one of the weirdest – and apparently most recent – of the ‘Christmas traditions’ – the Christmas jumper.

Christmas Jumper Day. WTF??

Christmas Jumper Day. WTF??

Although aficionados will probably argue that the Christmas jumper is an ancient and revered tradition, endorsed by the likes of Bing Crosby and Wham! across generations of Christmas cheer, the Christmas jumper has morphed into a huge emblem of the consumerist society over the last few years (and not just because they don’t usually do well in the washing machine).Until quite recently, the novelty Christmas jumper was something your embarrassing auntie or small child gave you for Christmas and which you were obliged to wear for a seemingly endless 24-hours to show both your gratitude and your festive jollity. A prime example of this attitude features in the film of Bridget Jones’ Diary, where the otherwise eligible Mark Darcy appears in a jumper emblazoned with a large reindeer – and is scorned by the heroine as a particularly tragic dresser. Quel horreur! Celebrities hoping for a Christmas number one (such as Wham!) might well wear one on the Top Of The Pops Christmas special, but they knew they looked ridiculous – they might well be wearing novelty Christmas jumpers, but they were also wearing tinsel around their heads and had decorations hanging off their guitars, and that wasn’t a fashion statement either. One might wear a Christmas jumper in extremely limited circumstances, if you were unfortunate enough to receive it as a present, but it certainly wasn’t the sort of thing you went out and spent money on.

And then something weird happened. Suddenly Christmas jumpers were everywhere. It was easier to get a jumper with a reindeer’s head on it than it was to get a plain one. Even the reluctant or the shy could opt for the vaguely-Nordic-looking ones with rows of knitted reindeer outlines (the ‘Bing Crosby’), though these were still outweighed by the unapologetically jolly sort (the ‘Mark Darcy’). Christmas jumpers were no longer the hand-knitted things your granny made or the kerazzzy souvenir from a trip to a Christmas-World-style shop – they were in every single shop on the High Street. With a greater availability came a greater expectation – a trip to the shops, the opticians or even the bank would reveal a sea of employees wearing jolly Christmas jumpers. Offices mandated employees to wear Christmas jumpers. A major charity joined the mufti concept of Jeans for Genes and Wear It Pink, exhorting people everywhere to wear their Christmas jumpers for a good cause because – well, it’s festive and it’s jolly and everyone has a Christmas jumper, don’t they?

Coming soon to a boardroom near you.

Coming soon to a boardroom near you.

Hold on. Let’s rewind for a second. We now appear to be at the stage where Christmas jumpers are now assumed to be as much a part of everyone’s wardrobe as a pair of jeans. Where on earth did that come from? The shop-bought Christmas jumper is worn once, or maybe twice, before being discarded or, at the very least, shoved to the back of the drawer until next year: it isn’t the sort of thing that can be worn every day. It isn’t made to be hard-wearing or practical. It isn’t made to be flattering, either – even the vaguely-Nordic ones can make the short among us look like one of Santa’s elves, which, while it might be many things, certainly isn’t flattering. So why would everyone need to have one?

Ah, but it isn’t about need, is it? Christmas is hardly a time for Utilitarianism after all – we don’t need Stollen, mulled wine, Christmas pudding, Christmas trees or enough mince pies to turn us all into inebriated raisins, but we still buy them each year. A Christmas jumper is a festive treat – we can send the family out into the wilds with a jolly reindeer on their jumper and know we’ve put a smile on their face, a bit like a Werther’s Original advert but without the sepia tone. Except that buying a Christmas jumper costs at least £20 and buying a bag of chocolate coins costs £1 (or £1.25 if you buy the posh ones). This seems like an expensive throwaway treat. And of course, if you do buy the cheap ones – or even the luxe version – there is the knowledge that this knitted festive bauble was probably made in a sweatshop halfway across the world, by someone who isn’t entirely sure that the building isn’t going to collapse on them at any moment, and who certainly won’t see very much of the £15 or £25 or even £50 you paid for it. Not a very jolly thought.

Oh Brioche, you’re overthinking this! Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas without everyone wearing a Christmas jumper to work! Well, perhaps it could be said that Christmas jumpers might act as a sort of herald to the start of the festive season, but the same could also be said about a bagpipe orchestra playing All I Want for Christmas Is You – which I think most people would agree that they could live without. A December office bereft of Christmas jumpers needn’t be bereft of cheer – people might start by simple festive gestures, like saying hello, not yelling at each other, not sending emails in capital letters to everyone in the office – and so on. Being sworn at by someone in a festive jumper is just as depressing as being sworn at by someone in a shirt and tie, believe me.

So if you feel like doing something GOOD for CHARITY, (sorry, I’ll stop) I might make a humble suggestion. Send Christmas cards – or not – as you see fit, and if you do feel like doing it, choose those that give a donation to your favourite charity in the process. Wear Christmas jumpers if you really feel like it – and if you do see fit to buy one, buy one that you like and that will last you through many Christmases. Or better still, pin a bit of tinsel to a plain sweater you wear all the time. And above all, don’t make it obligatory for those of us who choose to eschew the Christmas sweater for something else, and just possibly, spend the £25 on a charity donation. But you probably think I’m a SCROOGE for saying so, don’t you?