Posts tagged with: media

Why I Don’t Have a Proper Job

‘So what is it you do again?’ I think that’s the most frequently asked question presented to me. And it’s always tough to answer, but I generally cite I’m a social entrepreneur, since I’ve been involved in founding several non-profit companies over the decades, and a community coach, because I manage a socially progressive, independent women’s football club and facilitate media and technology workshops – which I approach with a passion for alternative ways of learning, outside of set course structures and outcomes, and a focus on the process of personal development, with empowerment being key.

That probably won’t come as a surprise to those who know I was pulled out of school at the age of 11 due to being a victim of bullying, and was taught at home by my mother. The upshot of that was that I subsequently struggled in structured learning or work environments where I couldn’t come up with my own system of operating – something my wife Jane Watkinson reminds me about regularly, and perhaps a reason why I dropped out of university and haven’t yet worked in a traditional 9-to-5 job.

Yes, my childhood was far from ordinary. I grew largely reading books because I didn’t have to, scribbling ideas for a fairer society, and drawing sketches of superheroes, professional wrestlers, female bodybuilders and football players. I got chance to stay up late watching old movies, from German Expressionism to classic 1940s films featuring Katherine Hepburn, who I loved, and James Stewart, but also the B-movie horror of Edward D. Wood, Jr, largely regarded as “the worst filmmaker of all time.” This clearly gave me no fear of making shitty movies myself, as I’ll come to in a bit.

My brother was nine years older than me, my sister twelve years older, and my mother and father, when they had me, were in their 30s and 40s, respectively. I didn’t have anyone my own age to spend time with, and the home education movement was still in its infancy (we had angry education officials visit us many times to complain about me not being in a school and threatened to have my mother put in prison; eventually she began hiding behind the sofa with me when we knew they were coming – yes, my parents were both quite anti-establishment, also telling me many stories of questioning authority).

So, instead of friends in the school playground, almost everyone around me was much older than me and that was my education in the subject of history in many ways. I found out about 1940s democratic socialist politician Nye Bevan, who I also got a kick out of because he shared my birthday of November 15th. He once said, ‘The purpose of getting power is to be able to give it away,’ and that statement struck a chord with me. What’s more, the Jimmy Stewart movie It’s a Wonderful Life stated, ‘All that you can take with you is that which you’ve given away’ and that galvanised my belief that we’re all here to play our part in positive social change.

I just wasn’t sure how.

For a time my teenage self planned on donning a cape and fighting injustice as a masked adventurer, until my mother found out and expressed disappointment in the plan, which promptly put me off. My mother was always very tolerant of many of my weird and wacky interests, but rightly drew the line at me swinging from rooftops looking out for the little guy. So instead, I tried to make my way in civilised society – with great difficulty.

Without school exams to sit, my mother got me going for my GCSEs at nightschool and college at the age of 14 (she put a false birthdate for me of July 15th, which is still found on my certificates and which would mean today is my birthday, yay!)

The college careers advisor suggested I take a job at McDonald’s, then when I explained my main reason for rejecting that prospect, mocked my vegetarianism and my hope to work in the media (I’d go on to become a vegan, and, yes, work in the media, so f*** him, and f*** anyone like that who tries to ridicule your dreams).

After dropping out of my media degree where I’d made some incredible, awe-inspiringly awful films, I was put on a welfare-to-work programme at an arts centre and got my first freelance work through that – in event organisation and videography, and I teamed up with another drop-out to create an independent community film company; we engaged over forty young people in creating their own feature film to reflect their lives in South Yorkshire. But after seeing Michael Moore’s documentaries I knew non-fiction was something I really wanted to do, and I did so, starting with Get Over It, about the post-industrial population of South Yorkshire being constantly told to “get over it” after their major unionised industries were shut down and replaced by retail.

Given my driving motivation was to do something positive in society, with this combined with my own idiosyncrasies I began to find it increasingly difficult to talk about myself over the years – often to my detriment as a I failed to defend or stand up for myself sometimes – and writing this blog post is part of my way of getting past that, especially in the hopes that doing so will provoke thought about our society and our roles in it.

When I gave a talk to his media and journalism students as austerity measures were being introduced and Education Maintenance Allowance was being scrapped, University of Huddersfield lecturer Bruce Hanlin kindly told me afterwards, ‘You provoked more questions (than usual) from students – (that) might be because your ‘alternative’ and varied way into the media might look more realistic at a time when the established media are in retreat and job opportunities at a virtual standstill.’ That was a relief: Talking to students as a university drop-out who went on to work in the media was very tricky!

Over the years my work has led me to many public speaking engagements, and with issues to passionately talk about I’d never had difficulty with them until I was interviewed for “My Life So Far” by Rony Robinson on BBC Radio Sheffield. I’d partly hoped I’d be able to highlight some important issues, and partly intended to try and tackle my aversion to talking about myself or my feelings. Funnily enough, Rony had me all choked up when he caught me off-guard posing me with the question of if I’m so keen to empower others because of the powerlessness I felt in my past. Ouch! Right in the heart, dude.

Interviewed by Rony Robinson from Jay Baker on Vimeo.

But this is why I marvel at so many people who do so many good things in life just, well…because. I often ask social justice campaigners I meet what got them active, a little envious of their stories – they got involved in a local campaign and it went from there, or they and their fellow workers went on strike (or, in my wife’s case, simply becoming a sociologist!) – because Pop Psychology 101 suggests, yes, I simply became passionate about social justice because I was bullied as a child in the 1980s. Pffft!

In his brilliant book Utopia for Realists, Rutger Bregman states, ‘Countries with big disparities in wealth also have more bullying behaviour, because there are bigger status differences’ and then goes on to cite the term ‘psychosocial consequences’ from Professor Richard Wilkinson who, alongside Kate Pickett, told me when I interviewed them both for my documentary Return to Doncatraz that ‘inequality really took off under Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s and sort of plateaued after that.’

Return to Doncatraz, as the title suggests, was a follow-up to another documentary I made, Escape from Doncatraz, which actually premiered at Kitchener City Hall in Ontario, Canada, where I got my first-ever standing ovation (presumably because they thought the British expected one rather than the documentary being all that good). I ended up over there starting up a media company with my first wife, who was a Canadian, after I’d spent considerable time with her there beforehand and my UK film company’s committee had shut it down, blamed incomplete projects entirely on me, and transferred its assets to sister companies they were running – which then made my time in Canada an all-or-nothing scenario with nothing to go back to. That kind of pressure never helps, and my then-wife and I separated, with her literally tearing up the plans for our own venture that my visa was dependent on, and I ended up homeless there, although – thanks to some fantastic friends – escaped rooflessness; sleeping in spare rooms, on floors, or in basements for weeks and then months back in Europe, staying with family in Spain. Again this was a time where I failed to effectively stand up for myself or defend myself for a fear of being too personal, or being negative, but the intentional damage inflicted on me and my reputation by a few individuals in both Britain and Canada was long-lasting yet humbling, and a valuable lesson that changed my character for the better. It’s also made me far more resourceful, better at choosing friends, less bothered about external validation, and more grateful just to have a home.

By the time I’d returned to the UK, David Cameron was claiming cuts in public services were able to be replaced by the third sector, his “Big Society” that I initially thought may be a chance for me to succeed with fresh social enterprise ideas but which turned out to be a way of, in most cases, funding those who were already running successful start-ups. My luck had largely run out. Although I was never one of them, born and raised in a mining town in a house literally split down the middle due to subsidence from the coal mines beneath it, I’d previously enjoyed success in both Britain and Canada partly because people thought I was better-educated and from a better background than I actually was: my demeanour and accent were developed not by school but by growing up consuming media and travelling and living around the world. Because I had taken advantage of this misconception, I feared anyone knowing about my failures – the sleazy real estate guy in American Beauty said, ‘In order to be successful you have to project an image of success at all times.’ And whether we admit it or not, so many of us buy into that. But now I understand that being poor is not the same as being unsuccessful. As Rutger Bregman also states in Utopia for Realists, ‘Poverty is not a lack of character, it’s a lack of cash.’

So I’ll be honest: Since my return to the UK in the era of austerity, I’ve yet to earn more than even a quarter of what I was earning beforehand (I’ll leave it to your imagination how much that might be, but rest assured I was far from rich before!) But in the years both before and after that life-changing experience, I’ve spent thousands of pounds of my own money on documentaries, business premises for social enterprises, and other good causes. Again, not because I’m somehow simply a kind-hearted good human being like the above-mentioned types, but because, if I’m honest, as you can see…I don’t really know any different. This is what I do.

I’m in my forties now and people still ask me when I’ll get a proper job.

But when I see, through Libre Digital, dozens of older people setting up their own long-term IT support group with the skills and tools given to them via the FreeTech Project, or documentaries hitting 3000 hits in three days just before an election via SilenceBreaker Media, I want to keep doing this. When I see over a hundred women playing soccer through AFC Unity when they never had the opportunities nor the environment to do so otherwise, and raising nearly 1000kg of food for local food banks, I want to do more. And when my wife and I not only work together on the above but also focus on helping other creatives, community groups and independent businesses at affordable rates via Jay & Jane, I don’t know what else I could be doing that’s so rewarding. I’ll never have a big house or car, or many if any holidays, no savings, and probably no pension. But all you can take with you is that which you’ve given away.


Jeremy Corbyn Vs the British Army

This past spring’s British general election was pretty depressing stuff. After the Liberal Democrats sold out their principles to go into coalition with the Conservatives, aiding and abetting the Tories in their quest to exploit the bank bailout’s depletion of the Treasury in order to sell off the state, few of us believed there was anything left for Britain to vote for but a Labour Party that, under Ed Miliband, moved away from Blairism and offered the promise of a better, fairer society for the working class mass majority.

But the fact is, opinion polls were wrong – ‘shy’ Tories, so ashamed of their own failures to resist the smash-and-grab, everyone-for-themselves, rampant individualism of the Tories realising Thatcherite fantasies, had gone and done their dirty deed in the voting booth on election day. The aftermath was conveyed across social media as a revelation of ‘selfish Britain’ – a population so suckered in by the lie that there was no money left, that they grabbed what they could for themselves, even at the expense of the sick, the poor, the disabled, or anyone else.

Of course, as the infamous Question Time episode showed, some of those same people also realised that they themselves were not even safe – the Tories continued their assault on the population at large on behalf of the elite 1%, determined to kill off the concept of collectivism so wounded by Margaret Thatcher, dismantling the state in as many of its forms as possible to sell off to their rich friends, and that meant looking at tax credits, housing benefit, you name it, whether you were self-employed, hard-working, or not. Even the Big Lottery Fund itself was salivated over by Gideon Osborne as a way to raid funds to cover services he’d wiped out from state provision. The Tories did, however, back down from several of these. And they did it because of a Labour Party suddenly dedicated to standing up for people. How did this happen?

After the election result, before the dust had settled or the smoke had cleared, I was already determined to offer hope of a brighter future, but my look towards the horizon was clearly stifled by my glasses prescription being out of date, because I anticipated – and accepted – the prospect of Labour’s knee-jerk reaction to Ed Miliband’s defeat to take the party a little to the right, with someone more media-friendly than down-to-earth, lovable Ed, who – despite very cleverly attempting to reconcile the narratives of the psychotic tabloid media hysteria over welfare recipients and immigrants, with his commitment to social democracy (a tightrope act if there ever was one) – was of course constantly bombarded by filthy rich media interests concerned they’d have to be millionaires instead of billionaires.

I wrote about Chuka Umunna, expecting him to be the sort of suave, smooth-talking politico Labour needed to actually get into power and do some good. Tristram Hunt, again to the right of the party, at least appeared public relations-friendly and therefore capable of winning the election for Labour. There were others too, like tabloid-friendly ‘war hero’ Dan Jarvis, and human rights lawyer Keir Starmer (named after Keir Hardie!) How short-sighted was I? All of these bottled it, preferring to wait for a more opportune moment even if it was after another Labour defeat, and even undermined the party’s socialist values in several interviews. Bastards!

So the Labour leadership pool was reduced to Yvette Cooper and Andy Burnham – predictable if unelectable candidates following their time as key figures behind Ed Miliband – and Liz Kendall and Jeremy Corbyn.

Who?

I’d honestly never even heard of either of them. My heart sank. While Yvette Cooper was doomed to the sexism of politics as “Wife of Ed Balls” and Andy Burnham was a Thunderbird-like wooden stand-in for Ed Miliband, this mousy, Blairite Kendall lass was too right-wing, while old man Jeremy was too left-wing, surely?

Apparently not. After the MPs gave him a proverbial pity lay, Corbyn got enough nominations to get on the ballot – and the left-wing party members (myself included) elected him as leader by a landslide, receiving one of the biggest mandates of any Labour leader ever, a gift for party members who still bothered to read the statement on their membership cards.

Given all candidates were seemingly unelectable, I’d already resigned myself to believing that – whatever the result – Labour were doomed to fail again in 2020, but I’d always rather lose with my integrity intact than compromise and add insult to injury by losing anyway. Nonetheless, I knew what the corporate mainstream media – owned and operated by the elite and their own interests – were about to do: terrified by the prospect of a left-wing Labour narrative or, worse yet, victory, they set out to attack.

“Red” Ed Miliband threatened the nation’s greedy landlords sucking overpriced rents paid for through housing benefit subsidies, he took on the energy monopolies, and he even dared to challenge Rupert Murdoch, the tax-avoiding immigrant war-monger in full control of The Sun, The Times, and all of Sky. Naturally, they threw as much shit at him as possible, and although not much stuck, they successfully convinced the British public he wasn’t “statesmanlike” enough, at a time when people were saying they were sick of seeing the same posh arseholes in suits within the world of party politics.

So for Jeremy Corbyn – a man who endorsed an undiluted, less sugarcoated version of Ed’s “responsible capitalism” known as, you guessed it, socialismthe mass media had to mobilise and prepare their propaganda troops with all the ammunition they could gather. Socialism, where the state reflects our collective responsibility to look after each other through taxation, investment, job creation, and even a real living wage, absolutely sickens the elites who want to continue their transfer of public powers into private interests, with next to no state provision – everything owned by profit-making companies, and people left to slowly die if they happen to be poor. They want seven cars, not five; they want three houses, not one. And they’ll stop at nothing to make sure things stay as they are.

After the transfer of £1.5 trillion of public funds into the hands of private banks, they had the media seize the story that there was no money left (a lie), and that your libraries and hospitals had to be closed down and sold off, so if you want something – anything at all – you had to pay for it. Poor? Tough, just die. That’s their message.

So yes, Jeremy Corbyn sent shockwaves through the corridors of power.

The right-wing career politicians who slapped a red rosette on and grabbed themselves a nice safe seat in a Labour stronghold were suddenly genuinely concerned. This wasn’t supposed to happen. Lowly peasant scum like us weren’t supposed to choose our party leader, they were. They only got him on the ballot to offer an illusion of democracy, with a token lefty candidate.

Even the British army elites were so shaken by the prospect of a true democratic socialist in Downing Street – the first since Harold Wilson or possibly Clement Attlee – that they openly entertained the idea of a military coup to topple a democratically-elected socialist Prime Minister.

But the greatest army was that of the media stormtroopers – soldiers who can be counted on in times like these, like Andrew Marr, who’d happily nod in agreement while interviewing a Tory, but repeatedly try to get Jeremy Corbyn to admit he wanted to re-nationalise not only the railways but – gasp! – utilities too! Commie! (He failed, by the way, Jeremy never said anything of the sort, so the conversation switched to Karl Marx, as it does). But Corbyn’s such a diplomat, he just remained civil and stuck to the policies…which is what scared them even more, because if the public catch wind of his policies, then they’re truly in trouble. It’s absolutely crucial that the dialogue remains on, for example, his choice of tie, maybe his commie buddy in college, or whatever they can think of after rummaging through rubbish bins like scavengers and bottom-feeders; hacks for the Oxbridge elites.

Even Labour and left-wing types get drawn into defending him from all-out attack on trivialities and superficialities, sometimes even going so far as criticising him themselves – which is fine if it’s a “straight talking, honest politics” discussion on policy, but it isn’t. And that’s what the media are banking on (pun intended).

The media attempt to shift focus away from policy and on to subjects like, say, sex with Diane Abbott, ooh! Better yet, they can slam customs and traditions on him, like checking whether he sings the anthem or bows forward enough; rituals rather than actual integrity of action like honouring the fallen – which he does. All the while, avoiding another war to fan the flames of terror.

While discussing Syrian air strikes as part of the latest exhausting episode of British military overseas adventures, Laura Kuenssberg made sure to keep the Labour leader away from policy and attempt to shift hypothetical scenarios, repeatedly shouting at him to state whether he’d reject military action under any circumstances without him knowing what circumstances might be presented. If she could have got him to cite a scenario where, say, a foreign army was invading the British Isles, and he’d have our brave troops kick ’em off, then – yes! – she’s got him to admit that, far from being a peacenik, he’s for military action too, just like David Cameron, and the producer yelling in her earpiece can give her a pat on the back later on in the studio, and everything’s returned to its natural order of the powerful ruling over the vulnerable. Status quo. Despair. Terror. Accepting your lot in life (hey, it could be worse).

Of course, Corbyn’s such a diplomat who likes to sit down and discuss things, he’s welcomed his fellow Labour MPs having a free vote on bombing Syria, despite his opposition to Cameron’s proposals. Corbyn has been repeatedly referred to in the press as “left-wing Labour leader” while Cameron is never, ever called “right-wing Tory leader” (maybe because that sounds worse…and if so, why is that, I wonder?) In the final bad joke, the right-wing media, since they couldn’t fully portray him as a pacifist hippie as they’d hoped, even tried to blame military intervention on Corbyn himself for allowing such discussion, rather than on Cameron, who’d been sabre-rattling for weeks wanting bombs in the first place!

So, if this genuinely good guy actually gets to the general election, consider it a blow against the vested interests that control the information channels. And if he actually wins, it will be the end of them. Just remember that the next time you find yourself defending his style of suit to your mate in the pub over a pint. Policy is everything.