Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Independent: Get out of my bed

13.6.10 by Charles Flores

There has been a general feeling of unease across these otherwise tranquil islands after government MP Edwin Vassallo's mind-boggling declaration that what goes on in bedrooms is the government's business. Had a left-leaning power broker said it, people would be digging out Russians from under the bed and not pissed-off civil servants.

Almost feeling guilty without knowing really why, many of us took a quick look round our bedrooms to see how they are being surveyed by this Gonzi government as it looks to find straight-laced ways and means of safeguarding the nation's social fabric. Electronic peep holes in ceilings and crevices? Tall men in black with their big, service-supplied binoculars zooming into bedrooms from buildings across the street?

The Nationalists, after all, have been masters of the art since way back in the early eighties when every household in every street in Malta and Gozo was marked either red or blue for sheer electoral purposes. They had introduced street leaders who reported back on people's every movement, people's ideological traits and people's other businesses, such as frequent travel and study overseas, family members with special needs and deceased people still on the electoral register and seemingly willing to vote from the grave.

A lawyers' party always, they invented the eve-of-election legal objections in their hundreds, which, when later copied and possibly refined by the Labour Party, they seemed to have become instantly weary of.

We also find, to our consternation, that they have since enjoyed an incumbent's perspective of bedroom situations. Now that we have it officially – that we have a government, which under some absurd pretext or other, insists to know what goes on in your bedroom, there is hardly anything left to brood over. We have become a nation of peeping Toms, though it will certainly not help with minimising our time-honoured political polarisation.

For example, there should, no doubt, be public encouragement for the government's non-stop effort to suspend or even withhold benefits to people who do not qualify for them, from "unemployed" people milking the system as they exploit the black economy, to "separated" couples who conveniently, albeit inexplicably, continue living together. The problem is that there are many other such cases occurring under the authorities' very noses but nothing seems to be done about them. The peeping Toms who told them about the former somehow ignored the latter. Guess why? You can always refer to your ever-resilient street leader.

Now with the Hon. Vassallo's missive claiming it is the government's business to scrutinise your bedroom because it has to deal with problems caused by gays, single parents and other particular people, we have been pushed further into a society that spies on itself at family abode level, at street level, at village or town level and at national level. People have to watch every step they take because the neighbours could be watching too! It is an East Berlin situation before the crumbling of the Wall. It is also similar to the Nazi Germany tactics that got thousands of young men and women enrolled as members of Hitler Youth without them really knowing anything about it. You can ask Pope Benedict for details.

Edwin Vassallo did try to explain his "bedroom" declaration, but he only got us more perplexed. To try and justify his amusing howler he insisted that one should look at all the time taken up and expense incurred on a daily basis in the family court. The intimation, of course, is that gays, teenage mums and single parents are threatening the nation's already emptying coffers. What's funny, though, is there always seems to be an acute prevalence of married couples during the goings-on inside the family court.

The more the Hon. Vassallo tried to make a trapeze show of his bedroom outburst, the more confounded we all felt. It is like a

dog-eared episode from the classic sitcom series Yes, Minister where the civil servant and the minister end up going around in circles as each insists on having made clear-headed decisions as to the direction in which they should be going.

This magnificent piece from the book version of the popular TV series, a gift I once received from a good friend and mentor, reflects this same scenario:

"Civil servant: What I mean is that I'm fully seized of your aims and, of course, I will do my utmost to see that they're put into practice. To that end, I recommend that we set up an interdepartmental committee with fairly broad terms of reference so that at the end of the day we'll be in a position to think through the various implications and arrive at a decision based on long-term considerations rather than rush prematurely into precipitate and possibly ill-conceived action which might well have unforeseen repercussions."

"Minister: You mean, no?"

Running perfectly on the same spot, that's where it all leaves us – with an interdepartmental committee to make sure that what goes on in our bedrooms is recorded and reported back to the arch-defenders of our national and family values. Fairly broad terms of reference? They have to be, since bedroom antics tend to be many, colourful and certainly varied.

As for implications and long-term considerations, well, it cannot be easy for Vassallo and his bedroom hatchet men. They first have to separate the red bedrooms from the blue ones. Then they have to establish categories and sections, including of course a numerus clauses, i.e. How many to a given bed? Orgies not condoned.

The next step is to distinguish the hetero from the homo. That may sound easy, but it can be a hell of a job if the process is diluted to taste. With the government in your bedroom such things become fundamental and of paramount importance.

Perhaps the most embarrassing piece of intelligence gathering is when the secret cameras actual focus on a single parent. Of course she is entitled to her benefits, but not to having a lover or, possibly, a string of lovers. She either has to declare a state of absolute sexual purity and get herself a GM-stamped chastity belt or face the consequences following a thorough interrogation, backed by actual footage, from members of the interdepartmental committee, possibly presided over by a government MP with a baby-butt-clean conscience.

Rushing prematurely into precipitate and possibly ill-conceived action may get us nowhere, though. The bewildered citizen can fight back. His bedroom is his castle. His vote, not his bedroom prowess, is his weapon. He can use it effectively by way of saying to the government, this strange bedfellow that we're burdened with: get out of my bed.

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