Saturday, 12 June 2010

Independent: J’accuse: Friends
6.6.10 by Jacques René Zammit

I am happy to say that I have a lot of friends who vote Nationalist (or Labour). I am not, if I may add, particularly ashamed to be seen with them. There. I’ve said it. I’ve come out and said it. It was killing me really, having to keep this secret to myself all this time, but now that I’ve come out and relieved myself of this bit of info burdening my conscience I feel much better.

If my declaration does not sound ridiculous enough, then what would you think if I felt the need to specify that “Actually I have some friends who are black”? You’d think me to be some weirdo living in some pre-Rosa Parks world of racial segregation. Incidentally, this is the 50th anniversary of the publication of that magnificent book by Harper Lee To Kill a Mockingbird – published only five years after Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white man on a bus. I owe Harper Lee much of the inspiration for taking the legal career path, thanks to her unflinching Atticus Finch. Ironically, Harper Lee lives a very segregated life in Monroeville, Alabama (the real Maycomb from the story), conceding few interviews and having written pretty much nowt since the book that was voted into the top 10 must-reads of a lifetime (beating the Bible in the process).

It is very probable that the Mockingbird is a fictionalised autobiography of Harper Lee and that the character Scout in the book is actually Lee herself. Her best friend in the book, named Dill, is thought to be Harper Lee’s childhood friend Truman Capote. Though the friendship drifted apart in later years, neither of them was ever heard to say that they were ashamed of knowing one another.

Gays in the village

You know where I am coming from with all this “I have X friends” business – and no I do not mean Facebook. I am obviously referring to Prof. Anthony Zammit’s remark during the proceedings before the House Social Affairs Committee (HSAC) at the temple of conservatism and bigotry. The subject was “the situation of homosexuals and transgender individuals” in Malta, and the information that we have at hand comes with the courtesy of a very “xarabankified” Times as one of my readers described it. For it is important to bear in mind that, in fulfilling its reporting duty, the Strickland House product seems to have shifted towards a more “provocative” approach in the presentation of its material – in some cases denaturing the very subject being reported.

It was thusly that The Times’ David Schembri kicked off with a very titillating title What Happens in the Bedroom is the Government’s Business only to fall foul of the inquisition and retract to a more moderate Parliament discusses gay rights (technical geeks did notice that the permalink (article’s web address) remained the same though – baby steps for The Times tech). So yes, as in Malawi, gay rights are still an issue for Malta’s democratic institutions to discuss.

What makes an individual (you’ve got to love the stressed use of the term ‘individual’ in the title on the HSAC’s agenda) gay? What is a gay couple? And what roles do they perform in the household? These are some of the crucial questions that seem to be automatically raised in this committee that feels and acts very much like some Victorian committee questioning Darwin’s preposterous assertions on apes, men and the like.

Only that here, thanks to a mixture of confused (and I may add unfair) reporting and clueless honourable gentlemen, we were not discussing the evolutionary merits of the opposable thumb but rather issues of a more personal nature of thousands of ‘individuals’ who inhabit the islands of Malta in the 21st century. We needn’t go so far as examining the red-hot issue of “gay adoption” that inevitably sparks fires and heats debates even in the most liberal of nations. We are talking of basic rights and liberties – such as the right to marry (and I speak of the civil law right for people not giving two hoots about sacraments humanly concocted in some Diet or Council in Trent).

Queer folk

The news from the HSAC was not promising though. There seemed to be much banter about whether it was the government’s business to have an eye in every bedroom. Edwin Vassallo’s assertion that “Yes it was” because we bear the consequences of such things as “teenage pregnancies and single parenthoods” looked slightly out of place in a forum discussing couples whose ability to reproduce among themselves can best be described as impossible. So unless some new religion is in the making, complete with dogma of “impossible conception”, something was definitely wrong with the perspective of the lawmakers in the House. Sure The Times correspondent peppered his “report” with anecdotes about MGRM’s ideas on “creative ways to have children” but surely this was not the original point of the agenda?

It then moved to the slightly queer (sorry) when Honourable Conservative Member Beppe Fenech Adami resorted to ballistic logic (in the sense that he approached the subject with the same level of convincing logic as a suicide terrorist strapped with explosives): What roles for gay partners? Who’s the man and who’s the woman in a relationship? Given that it is already hard to determine such “roles” in the post-nuclear family – we’ve all heard the one about the one who wears the trousers – the questions were as anachronistic as they were offensive. As BFA proceeded to prove that, since switching roles is not done in his domus, it couldn’t work anywhere else, the gods of logic threw a tantrum and collectively resigned.

At which point you can picture Prof. Anthony Zammit making his dramatic entry armed with a Damocletian sword and delivering the coup de grace to a discussion that never really stood on tenable grounds. “I have gay friends and I am not ashamed to be seen with them in public”. Ta-da indeed. I must confess that I do not know much about Prof. Zammit beyond what I read in the papers, but even had the pinker corners of the web not led to my discovery that he had more than a passing interest in the discussion, the kind of statement he came up with is flabbergastingly ridiculous. The only conclusion we could draw from the “xarabankified” report was that our current crop of representatives is far from representing a large crop of the voting population.

Friends of friends

There’s that phrase again. Programmes on TV this week were rather amusing. Lou (of Bondiplus of Where’s Everybody?) got spanked on the backside by the BA for his Lowell programme, so Peppi (of Xarabank of Where’s Everybody?) set up a programme discussing freedom of expression and Lou’s spanking. Guests on the programme? Another ta-da moment. Lou Bondi and the ubiquitous media guru Joe Borg Father. I spotted WE’s Norman Vella on Facebook claiming that “In this programme Lou Bondi will not be the only guest. He will face people who publicly expressed themselves against his programme with Norman Lowell”. Incidentally, he was replying to a comment by Borg Cardona who had just implied that the Xarabank programme had an incestuous element in it.

The criteria used by the Xarabank crew reminds me of certain Times’ editorials (or of a conversation between Lou and Fr Joe) where they seem to assume that they are the only people to have a relevant opinion or to have actually expressed an opinion on any given subject. All three – Xarabank, Bondiplus and The Times – have become an institutionalised form of their relative medias and it is in that spirit that they are criticised. Frankly, all three could hold whatever opinion they like but their constant editorial position that obliterates any opinion they consider irrelevant (for irrelevant read uncomfortable to deal with) is worrying and stinks of a systematic effort to retain the stranglehold that they have built over a large chunk of the fourth estate.

I am not too sure that the credibility of all three is the same as they enjoyed a while back, even among the more conservative of elements. Having long abdicated one of the primary journalistic duties of proper investigation, they are now lost in a navel-gazing world of their own and they have constantly proved unable to deal with the wider democratisation of the media. While their voices might still be strong enough to be heard, and while they can still afford to ignore the disparate contradictory elements, they are noticing that their grasp is weakening and their efforts to remedy the situation is only leading them to descend into the comically absurd. So yes. We have Lou as a guest on Peppi’s show discussing how Lou and Peppi’s company should be allowed freedom of expression. Jolly good, I say.

Friendly fire

Finally, a few notes on friendly fire. Joseph Muscat was on Myriam Dalli’s TX this week. TX is a programme on Labour’s One TV (did I mention that we STILL have party-owned TVs in 21st century Malta?), so such notions as bias and doctored questions are only to be expected as annoying intervals in between shots of that Mediterranean beauty that is the programme presenter. The other person on the show glared at the camera and warned of the problems of corruption in the country while standing fast behind such weird notions as carte blanche for whistleblowers and promising the people €50 million (take from Peter give back to Peter) for the “unjust tax on vehicles”. Rather than traipsing uselessly with the kangaroos, Joe might want to polish up his knowledge of recent (very recent) ECJ jurisprudence before harping on about the latter subject. (I have friends who studied European Law and I am not ashamed to be seen with them).

Two notes on GonziPN and friends. Well done for the WiFi spots around the country. That is a bit more tangible than all the words about Vision 2015. Surely you should warn interested citizens that “free public WiFi” is not eternal. As in all similar European projects, expect a shift to paid services in the near future – whether big brother tells you or not. Also GonziPN’s little tryst with “non-politicians” at Vision2015+ felt like a very manufactured and simulated business among friends. Funny that name – Vision 2015+. A government plan gets a “+” tagged onto it and it becomes a party meet. A bit like programmes getting a “+” on their name on national TV. All they needed were Lou and Peppi at Vision 2015+ ... but wait... they were there. So it’s OK, innit? (j’accuse) has 301 friends on its Facebook page. Would you be ashamed to be seen as one of them?

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