A skewed route from Clifton to Easton

The video, Clifton to Easton,a festival entry to the Zebra Film Festival featuring Bristol suburbs Clifton and Easton has been removed after being been called abhorrent, disgraceful and has received many comments in the Bristol Post and much criticism on Bristol Culture against its derogatory depictions of the relevant populations.

The contempt for residents of Clifton is most pronounced in the poem by David C. Johnson and whose description of schoolgirls’ chests is rather questionable:

Who will join me on the diesel to Easton?
It won’t be the schoolgirls in Clifton High’s tartan,
With their push-up bras that have little to push,
Whose piercing voices and Oh! my God screeches
Reveal a vacuum that nature’s abhorring.

I first thought that this was just an ethnographic piece. Observing and writing about other people is not a sinister practise on its own, I studied the subject myself at post-graduate level and found this method of “represent[ing] graphically and in writing, the nature of a people” fascinating.

David Simon did it for his book Homicide: A Year On The Killing Streets which was turned into the popular TV series The Wire; Ethnographers such as Peter Moskos do it professionally and he published his book Cop in the Hood: My Year Policing Baltimore’s Eastern District after becoming a police officer for a year; Body & Soul: Notebooks of an Apprentice Boxer, a world-renowned French sociologist signed up at a boxing gym in a black neighborhood of Chicago’s South Side .

But Johnson’s poem and, apparently, the documentary made by Diana Taylor are more akin to visiting a group of people and treating them as if you were going to a zoo to note habits and behaviours. Or just to gawp. The clip of the documentary festival-entry has been removed from YouTube and I wish I had seen the creation of these people who apparently give ethnographers a bad name. replaced with the following one: http://youtu.be/vs2aD_DuJi8.

The film was also shown at the Blue Screen film festival.

1. Where do you draw the line between nit-picking a creative / poetic representation and bringing in some facts to clear up stereotypical usage which becomes one more propagation of racism?

Easton is shown as Asian or Black with the men sitting in cafes as the narrator suggests “home is Bristol and miles away.” In fact Easton is predominantly white (75%) according to Bristol City Council statistics;

As @guriben said on Twitter: Easton is not just a melting pot. In fact nearly 70% are Christian or have no religion so how are shops selling prayer mats a representation of Easton?

2. One of the most unpleasant parts of the documentary was showing the most beautiful babies while the narrator read out the lines mocking the mothers’ choices about prams and paraphernalia. There is little that is not bitter about this poem.

Who rules Bristol?

10 million people paid to vote for the 2010 X Factor final, 14.5 million people watched Britain’s Got Talent final in 2012 and the 2010 elections drew only three times as many as the latter at 45.5 million people.

A lot of people enjoy interacting when it comes to entertainment and there’s nothing wrong with being entertained, amused, numbed, distracted, unoccupied with thinking about power relations and disadvantage in the world but there’s no part of me which believes that those people are promoting democracy by voting for Pudsey the dog.

To bring this a little closer to home, because that’s where I’m heading, the Bristol mayoral election had a voting turnout of 24% with 41,032 people voting in favour of a mayor, and 35,880 voting against.

All this flashed through my mind when I read on Bristol Democracy that “the Bristol Democracy Project as a whole isn’t going to be about discussion and debate, as it looks like every organisation and their dog wants to host a debate with the candidates for Mayor on their own area of interest. These debates only ever tend to attract people already interested in the subject, whilst this project is about connecting with the people who aren’t interested in decision making in Bristol at the moment.”

This is followed up on another blog post about blogs: “So, what does any of this mean for democracy and public involvement? Well, first of all, I think it’s important that as many people as want to be encouraged to blog about Bristol. The more we talk to each other about the things we see, the better informed we will all be.”


“A healthy local media is a sign of a healthy local democracy, and blogs are an important part of local media in any area.” Bristol Democracy Project


Blog 1: Lady in Bristol – latest post is on the Travis song Why Does It Always Rain On Me?
Blog 2: What to do if you post to the wrong account on Twitter.
Blog 3: blah blah
Blog 4: a politician’s blog

There are a few more social blogs, cultural, comedy, food, and one or two by politicians. Few question our political process. Few question what will we do about power relations. Many are the equivalent of voting for Pudsey, including a lot of posts on this here blog as well.

The media is an important part of a democracy, which is why it’s sometimes called the fourth estate (alongside the judiciary, executive and legislature) because questioning our rulers is a huge part of ruling our world.

Talking about who wore what, who ate where and who listened to something or other is not part of democracy. Even freedom of speech is not an inherent part of democracy.

Questioning people who are about to gain powers over a city about what they plan to do with them is part of a democracy. It is the very thing which defines the media. So while I laud the Bristol Democracy Project for its intentions, I can’t help but think that they are very wrong with criticising the first hustings which have been organised and promoting any and all types of blogs as a sign of democracy.

And if you ever wonder whether any type of talking and sharing is part of democracy just go search for Pudsey or wait for his memoir. You won’t have to wait long.

The Bristol Council House

Hard tweeting and tit for tat

A comment by Jake Johnson about hard tweeting got me thinking:


Not all followers are the same. @Bristol_Culture has nearly 7000 followers and has only tweeted around 4200 times in the last two and a bit years. He mainly tweets links to posts on his blog and each one has an increased value because it provides more than just a tweets.

Is it strange to think of tweets having some sort of intrinsic value? They are a means of communication but that’s not all. J.S. Coleman first wrote about the value we give to social interactions and obligations and called this social capital. You do something for me, I do something for you, tit for tat*, etc.

Not all interactions are the same though and Granovetter wrote about weak and strong ties. Weak ties are things like networking and casual connections. They are the friends of friends who you meet at parties and they are more likely than not to find you a job because someone knows someone.

Strong ties are close friends and family. They are few, they are strong obligations and they are mostly mutual. So does it follow that the more followers, the weaker the links between them and the Tweetie, and then vice versa? I’m not so sure.

There has to be a level of followers reached before the Tweetie starts feeling the benefits of Twitter. The Retweets and the random comments. The crowdsourcing capabilities which in their exponential power are sometimes astonishing.

If you have 10 or 20 followers then you probably don’t see all that. With 100,000 or more you probably struggle to have conversations with the thousands of voices that respond to every tweet. It is all very interesting. No? Update: Do note @jakepjohnson’s follow up tweet which demonstrates that he is not in it just for the followers:


And an excellent point by @BristolBites:


To be continued?

Mersina at the laptop

*A surprisingly popular phrase in much of rational choice literature.

A couple of reviews, Mr Stink & Treasure Island

Over the last week or so I reviewed two productions, Mr Stink at the Hippodrome and Treasure Island on King Street at the Old Vic.

Mr Stink

“Mr Stink stank. He also stunk. And if it was correct English to say he stinked, then he stinked as well…” starts the award-winning second novel by David Walliams, better known for his acting alongside Matt Lucas in Little Britain.

Read the rest on Bristol247.

Treasure Island

The first drops of rain fell just as the cast said their final farewells and once more, the gamble, of holding an open air production in the middle of an English summer, paid off.

Director Sally Cookson’s audacious idea to perform the most Bristolian of plays, Treasure Island, outside, and facing the Llandoger Trow, where Robert Louis Stevenson purportedly got the idea for the play, was inspired.

The rest can be found on Bristol Culture.

Caesar’s husband must also be above suspicion

When the world was reporting on Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s arrest in New York, Johann Hari was writing about the rape of developing countries by the IMF and the subsequent death and suffering of millions. When the newspapers put Will and Kate on their front pages he didn’t follow suit with applause. And before the New York legislation for gay marriage lost its popular position in trending topics on Twitter to #interviewsbyhari he could have been pleased that some of his writing could have helped to bring this important change in society to pass.

Hari has written some very important pieces which don’t sit comfortably with daily news and has equally made prominent mistakes such as supporting the war in Iraq, a subject for which he is still apologising.

He is branded as a leftie, gay, columnist who rose to fame too young and is now paying the price for some sloppy techniques, see Fleet Street Blues for an explanation of what has happened.

“I think it’s born of the arrogance that in this case goes with his relative inexperience,” said a national newspaper journalist who advised Hari as he was making his way at The Independent. “Johann was a national newspaper columnist at the age of 23. While he’s never done the daily grind (which would have beaten such an error out of him), he has done a lot of good work along the way.

“It pains me that the credibility of that work has now been called in to question. He should have known better. But there again, we’ve all fucked up. And we learn from those mistakes. Unfortunately, Johann is going to have to learn this particular lesson in the public eye”.

The particular lessons are about Hari’s interviewing and writing up techniques, about which Hari said:

“When I’ve interviewed a writer, it’s quite common that they will express an idea or sentiment to me that they have expressed before in their writing – and, almost always, they’ve said it more clearly in writing than in speech. So occasionally, at the point in the interview where the subject has expressed an idea, I’ve quoted the idea as they expressed it in writing, rather than how they expressed it in speech.”

The topic gained incredible interest on Twitter and #interviewsbyhari included some creative results which serve as an example of how his technique appears to function:

I asked Piaf if she had any regrets. She tilted her head towards me in defiance and said, “Non, je ne regrette rien”

“Quotes are some of the most vital weapons in a journalist’s armoury, but I think they are often overused. Bland quotes add nothing to a story. Conversely, great quotes used well can bring a story to life. And there lies the problem, that it can often be a difficult task getting those killer quotes,” says Martin Booth, editor of Bristol Culture.

Getting the good quotes is a measure of success and it’s easier to cheat or cut corners but when a lot of eyes are on you and waiting for you to screw up there isn’t much room for doing so.

There are still millions, if not billions, of people suffering and dying in the world because of corporate and state agendas. Being sloppy gives others ammunition to ignore dissident voices and there is just too much at stake at the moment.

For a live example of the effects of the IMF’s methods, about which Hari wrote, tune in to the news tonight to see how the Greeks are responding to the austerity measures the government is forced to impose in order to get financial help.

With Hari’s help, men are not now limited to marrying women or vice versa but there’s one thing about public life that hasn’t yet changed: Caesar’s wife must still not only be above suspicion but must also appear to be so, as the saying goes.

It won’t be of much comfort to know that in this case it could be Caesar’s husband, if his actions don’t let him stay in his privileged position of power.

West End, Bristol; All part of the planning

There is an intriguing post on Bristol Culture which questions the use of the terms West End and Harbourside for the city of Bristol. From where did these terms originate and why does no one seem to know to which areas they refer? It turns out I live one of the two but even I am not sure in which one.

The only signs I had seen that refer to the West End were on the car park at Jacob Well’s Road and on some signs in the city centre. The Harbourside, as editor Martin Booth points out, seemed more of a construct of Crest Nicholson, rather than a real area. However, I was wrong or more likely, just not very well informed which is half ironic and half apt as Bristol has been taking part in the Legible City Initiative in order to make such things clear.

The Legible City project began in 1996 and has so far seen the creation of over 40 projects including clear signs, maps of Bristol and i-plus talking points around the city. The aim was to connect Bristol in a way that made connections and sites of value abundantly clear to tourists and businesses.

Some success is evident as the existence of the Harbourside and the West End have started to filter through to people but the fact that they are two of the nine neighbourhoods created in 1992 has not been made as clear. They happen, however, to sit snuggly among Broadmead, the Old City, Old Market, Redcliffe, Stokes Croft, St Michael’s and Temple.

The neighbourhoods were defined in council planning policy from the 1998 publication of the City Centre Strategy. In November 2005, the Bristol City Centre Strategy and Area Action Plan 2005 – 2010 was published as part of the Local Development Framework due to requirements set out in the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004.

Apparently the West End [see map] and Harbourside [see map] are real neighbourhoods. The regeneration, of all these varied sections of the Bristol City Centre, has been part of a strategy since the Bristol Initiative in 1988 as a way of revitalising a downturn in investment.

The latest City Centre Strategy, which is now one year out of date, provides profiles of the neighbourhoods and some clarity as to their location and existence. It turns out that the promotion of these areas is a marketing scheme but it is one pursued by the Bristol City Council rather than sole private investors. It’s hard to tell the difference when it comes to the description of the West End:

The West End can be divided into four distinct sub-areas. The shops and restaurants fronting Park Street and Queens Road give life and vitality along the principal route between College Green and the Victoria Rooms. To the west, the neighbourhood contains the attractive mature parkland of Brandon Hill, crowned by the Cabot Tower and surrounded by an established residential community. To the east lie some of the city centre’s major evening leisure attractions, part of which is one focus for the lesbian and gay community. To the south, contrasting with these leisure attractions are important cultural, civic and education institutions. College Green provides a civic focus for the city and a fitting introduction to the West End.

Who would have thought.

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