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Fry Up

Well the Daily Mail has responded to Stephen Fry’s heart felt plea to make a stand and not participate in next year’s Suchi Olympics. And as usual, it’s a vapid and idiotic piece that simply doesn’t get why it’s important to make such a stand.

“An absolute ban on the Russian Winter Olympics of 2014 on Sochi is simply essential,” says Stephen Fry in an impassioned letter to the Prime Minister and the International Olympic Committee, apparently written on behalf of the entire civilised world.

No. It was written by Stephen Fry on behalf of his own opinions. He just happens to sound like a lot of the civilised world.

Only Classier.

 By ‘civilised’, one assumes he means the superior, enlightened and cultured proponents of equality and human rights, as opposed to the barbaric hordes whose primitive tribal impulses seek to outlaw the propagation of ‘non-traditional’ sexual orientations, ban gay-pride marches and prohibit the adoption of children by same-sex couples, as President Putin seems determined to do.

Not to mention the legalisation of attacks on the GLBT and protection of those who attack them. In effect making them the ideal victims since the GLBT cannot fight back against any discrimination they are subjected to.

 These aggressive anti-gay laws are repugnant and so merit an ‘absolute ban’ on the 2014 winter games, according to Fry. Just as the Führer was gleefully empowered by the 1936 spectacle in Berlin, so the Russian President will doubtless exploit his country’s games for political advantage on the world stage. And a savage like him simply should not be honoured with the Olympic brand; the Five Rings ought not to be sullied by association with Putin, who is ‘making scapegoats of gay people, just as Hitler did Jews’.

And according to a lot of people who realise that this is a massive human rights issue and involves the scapegoating of a particularly exposed and fragile group of people who are often universally hated and feared without any reason. And  while I disagree that the Olympics powered up Hitler compared to all the other stuff, our participation in the Suchi Olympics gives tacit approval to actions of Russia and means that we don’t care that Russia is making up laws that can be used to discriminate and arrest some of our athletes and be used to discriminate and attack many of our guests.

And that even if granted amnesty, this is a luxury given to avoid a diplomatic incident rather than something that applies to Russians themselves. It is a loss of human rights.

 I don’t want to dwell on Fry’s association of the 2014 Sochi winter games with the 1936 Olympiad in Berlin: the systematic incineration of six million Jews in industrial ovens bears no comparison with the marginalisation and repression of minorities in Putin’s Russia, as shocking and deplorable as their ‘beatings, murders and humiliations’ undoubtedly are. I am more puzzled that an actor of the intelligence and calibre of Stephen Fry missed a golden opportunity to highlight the fact that Hitler persecuted gays as well. The pink triangle was nowhere near as prevalent as the Jewish Star, but at least 100,000 gays were targeted for torture or castration by the Nazis, and somewhere between 5,000 and 15,000 are estimated to have perished horribly in the death camps. So why they didn’t get a mention in this letter is a little mystifying.

Actually, Stephen Fry mentioned them. He didn’t mention them explicitly because they were always disliked. However the reasons for the treatment of the GLBT in Russia echo the reasons for the treatment of the Jews in Nazi Germany.

They got a mention, you just were not paying attention.

 Stephen Fry is not without clout: he has six million Twitter followers – a colossal cyber-platoon which he has readily deployed in the past to mobilise support for his latest grievance du jour. He primes and pokes, and they obligingly agitate and demonstrate by screaming their objections and questions. Then they tweet and re-tweet their defiance and disapproval in concentric circles of engineered outrage, flooding the target of their ire with a tsunami of derision and displeasure. Invariably, their chosen victim is harassed into submission and bullied into issuing a grovelling apology, whether earnest or not.

Oh no! How can a gay man of Jewish descent possibly not see the purposeful targeting of the GLBT in Russia and the empowerment of far right groups as a bad thing!

And how the fuck is this outrage engineered? I can straight up harass the GLBT in Russia and claim that Stephen Fry is a pillow biting fag who spreads HIV through his love of sailors and if Mr. Fry were in Russia there is not a goddamn thing he could do to me. He could not defend himself verbally in such a situation. And even in the cases of violence against the GLBT, the police would generally be on my side.

This is not fair. This is a travesty of justice.

So, instead of pleading with David Cameron and grandstanding to the IOC – over which the Prime Minister has no power or influence at all – why doesn’t Stephen Fry call for a ban on British engagement with Russian music, theatre and all performing arts? Why doesn’t he demand a boycott of Chekhov, Gorky, Gogol and Griboyedov? Why doesn’t he demand a ban on Prokofiev, Pushkin, Mussorgsky, Tchaikovsky and Turgenev?

Because all those guys are bloody dead. And banning them as a knee jerk to the Russian GLBT attacks is like banning French Fries because the USA’s been spying on all of us. It’s bloody stupid.

You don’t need to be Russian to play Tchaikovsky. One doesn’t have to read War and Peace in Russian either. None of these individuals are alive. Secondly? Any “Russian” orchestra has nothing to do with the government of Russia. The Bolshoi Ballet is not a part of the Russian law making system.

The Winter Olympics is a government scheme. It’s government investment and it’s designed to revitalise both sports and the local economy and create infrastructure. Tchaikovsky is not…

And unfortunately David Cameron has no real influence but he can condemn the Russian Government and make a political stand on the matter.

I’m not suggesting that UK companies abandon their planned productions of The Cherry Orchard, The Seagull, The Three Sisters, A Month in the Country, The Government Inspector or The Brothers Karamazov – all of which seem to playing somewhere in the UK over the summer. I’m saying that Fry’s rationale for a sporting boycott of Russia can logically be extended to an artistic one; indeed, it is far more attainable since that is the profession in which Stephen Fry manifestly has hundreds of very influential contacts and holds considerable influence as a theatrical knight-in-waiting (it will come). That is where his campaign ought to begin.

No it cannot. The art boycott would be as bloody stupid as that American boycott of French Things during the Iraq War. Which I thought was ironic considering how many names of things in warfare are based on French concepts.

 The excellent Cheek by Jowl theatre company, for example, frequently performs plays in Russian, and they are planning to take Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night to the Mossovet Theatre in Moscow next month. There’s nothing subversive about it: it doesn’t equate Putin with the puritan Malvolio, or portray Viola as a revolutionary member of Pussy Riot – all of which may well justify an incursion into dangerous territory to show Russian scorn her own image. It is funded by the National Lottery and supported by the Arts Council of England. Why doesn’t Stephen Fry demand a ban on this tour?

Possibly because Mr. Fry doesn’t know about an event you googled up in a pique of being obtuse?

And how many of Cheek by Jowl’s membership are gay? Do you think they feel happy about the treatment of the GLBT in Russia? What if they were out and about and got attacked?

 Why doesn’t he urge British tourists and ex-pats to boycott the opulent $700 million onyx-and-crystal Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg? This cultural crown is just as much a part of Russia’s global ambitions as next year’s Winter Olympics. The recent champagne-swilling opening gala was headlined by Placido Domingo, and the guest of honour was an unsmiling Vladimir Putin. Why doesn’t Fry phone his mate Placido and organise a global artistic embargo?

 You mean the Mariinsky Teatr that was opened in the 1860s and was a pre-October Revolution piece of ludicrous opulence created on the oppression of peasants for a rich and pampered elite? This cultural crown is part of Russian History but the ballet has never held itself to the ideals of the Olympics. There is no emblem of Ballet or Opera or Theatre that espouses equality.

As far as I am aware the Mariinsky Teatr Company is not owned by the Russian State. While it is an emblem of Russian Art it is not specifically a symbol off the Russian Government.

And what about the Bolshoi? In November they are staging a series of Britten Concerts in honour of composer’s centennial. Surely Russia’s sequinned opera singers and ballet dancers are as worthy of a total ban as their finely-tuned sportsmen and women?

 Except again the Bolshoi is not owned by the State, the venues for the various Olympic events were made using Russian State Money.

And then there’s Moscow’s terrific Lenkom – a daring experimental theatre. And the Satirikon, the Sovremennik and the Moscow Arts Theatre, famous for Stanislavsky. Not to mention the Moscow Academic Satire Theatre, the Moscow Variety Theatre, and the excellent Malyi Theatre.

Again! Same as the above. 

Why doesn’t Stephen Fry foment his six million followers into demanding that Brits boycott all of the above, with an ‘absolute ban’ on all UK performing arts engagement with Russia? This would be well within his sphere of influence and would make a real, lasting and dramatic impact.

 Actually. Many British actors particularly considering how open and progressive our society is (outside of the Daily Wail of course) would probably not wish to play at a venue where their views would get them arrested and kicked out. It’s not the venue that’s the problem it’s where the venue is situated. The Bolshoi is not the problem, it’s the Russian Soil on Which we would have to perform.

But the thing is that there is no governing body of Ballet that lauds the principles of the Olympics.

The Olympics claims too laud the principle of Equality. To go to Russia is absolutely hypocritical under the banner of equality.

He won’t, of course, because his fellow actors, dancers and musicians are notoriously poorly paid, and are likely to ignore him. Far easier to pontificate to scurvy politicians and preach about evil in someone else’s church. There is no Equity in Russia, no guarantee of paid work and no minimum wage when you get it. Every contract in the arts world is highly prized, and plans are already well-advanced for next year’s cultural Olympiad to coincide with the games.

 People are not travelling miles to work in the Russian Art World at those rates for the Olympiad. And yes Stephen Fry’s response is to also not participate in the Olympiad too.

Do you not get it? He wants us entirely out of the entire Olympic Deal. No Sports, No Singing. Why? Because  many of our GLBT athletes are not safe under the current laws and cannot be themselves and this stands against everything the Olympics is MEANT to stand for.

Fry says: ‘The summer Olympics of 2012 were one of the most glorious moments of my life and the life of my country.’ As they were for many of us, not least because the daily ecstasies and exhilarations lifted us beyond the mundane drudge of everyday life. But Stephen Fry would seek to deny such delight and elation to the downtrodden, poverty-stricken and unemployed people of Russia. It isn’t all vodka shots in the Kremlin: those that have somewhere to sleep at night often share kitchens and toilets with five other families. The Winter Olympics are a welcome distraction from cabbage soup.

Dear Daily Mail

Russian Poverty Is No Joke.

The UK’s standard of poverty is far higher than the Russian standard. These poor are unlikely to ever participate, contribute or even enjoy these Olympics. Tickets are going to be priced way outside what these individuals can afford.

The argument made can be used to argue against the apartheid bans in South Africa. Oh  but think of all those Poor South Africans who could benefit from sports! Never mind the fact that the majority of people who would benefit are not poor Russians.

And again, this is assuming that we can betray the very principles of the Olympics and the ethos behind it in exchange for the monetary benefit. 

This call for a ban represents no personal sacrifice at all to Fry himself; nor does it constitute any hardship for his fellow actors and artists. It is a haughty and detached gesture which harms the innocent and penalises Russia’s outstanding sportsmen and women who will be deprived of their chance to inspire the very generation which might sweep Putin and his thugs from power.

Oh you are serious?

I mean seriously? This guy is the editor of the Daily Fail. No wonder we treat the paper as nothing but a bullshit rag of health scares, bad advice and gossip.

I am sure the Russian Sportsmen are amazing, but I am afraid our sportsmen are amazing too. And their name would be tarnished by their participation in these Olympics. They will forever be remembered by many a GLBT teenager or kid as the athletes who betrayed their country’s own principles for profit.

Oh people like yourself may wave a flag and feel better about yourself. I dare say that the Daily Mail will be decked out in flags like it was the most Patriotic Paper in the land. But waving a flag at this travesty just tarnishes what our nation has achieved.

 By all means demand a ban on the Winter Olympics or a boycott of Russian sport if you must, but its theatre, music, opera and ballet bring just as much honour and glory to Putin as cross-country skiing, figure skating, bobsleighing and the biathlon: it is all culture readily appropriated for political purposes.

 Except the Russian Government is not putting on State Sponsored Ballet Showdowns under the International Ballet Committee which is sworn to uphold equality. It would be like the Women’s Association having their annual meeting in Saudi Arabia.

The games are going to be in the news. We are going to watch it’s opening ceremonies. We are going to watch it’s sponsors and it’s success is going to be Putin’s. At no point is someone going to say “I say! That British Chap’s Skeleton run was exceedingly good! Let’s overthrow Putin and set up a fair government!”. What we can do is show our displeasure by not participating in a major international event on Russian soil where some of our athletes cannot be themselves or have to hide what they are.

If he is genuine, Fry needs to write immediately to Declan Donnellan, artistic director of Cheek by Jowl, and demand an ‘absolute ban’ on all artistic cooperation with Putin’s Russia. He should then get his twitter hordes to pester the sponsors by fulminating all manner of disgust at their homophobic collaboration. If he does this, Stephen Fry could become a lion in winter. If not, he’s just a cat keeping down the mice.

Actually.

If our athletes and fans must go to Russia to support this travesty, then we must do so in the most fitting of British Fashions.

Instead of the Union Jack? Wave the Rainbow Flag. Wear it. What are they going to do? Arrest all of us? In front of the world?

Comments

  1. smrnda says

    Whenever someone calls for a boycott of anything, there’s always some jackass who will say “well, if you’re going to boycott X, how dare you not call for a boycott on Y and Z?”

    A boycott is a move you make to get someone to change a policy you don’t like. It’s one of many ways of trying to do this, and it’s best to do it when it’s likely to make the clearest statement and be the most effective. Right now the Russian Government wants to host the Olympics, and if its antiGLBT stance costs them that, they may consider changing it. Would boycotting Russian vodka(for example) have the same effect? Probably not, because it’d be harder to organize (it’s hard to get enough people to coordinate on consumer choices sometimes) and the producers of vodka are not the Russian government.

  2. Dunc says

    This is entirely typical for the Mail… They were vociferously opposed to the sporting boycott of apartheid South Africa too.

  3. Hairy Chris, blah blah blah etc says

    You might appreciate Robert Llewellyn’s (aka Kryten from Red Dwarf) blog post about nonsense spouted by a Russian medallist last week. She has apparently back-tracked by blaming differences in language but yeah, right.

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