Sex in the (small) City

English: Limerick, looking northeast up the Ri...

Limerick - Looking North-East up the River Shannon

Last December, 27 men in Limerick, Ireland, were charged with trying to engage the services of a prostitute. These men were caught as the result of a police initiative – the oddly named, Operation Freewheel – and the ‘prostitutes’ were, of course, all undercover cops (or ‘Guards’ as we call them here in Ireland).

21 of the men pleaded guilty and were fined 470 euro each, to be paid to a local NGO that works with immigrants.  The remaining 6 men contested the charge and their cases are pending.

In the great scheme of things this is a pretty petty crime.  Seedy and unpleasant but petty. Nobody would ordinarily care that much. Except for one thing – the national papers published the names of the men involved.

Bedlam ensued.

Lots of people thought it was outrageous that these names be published.  Local papers didn’t publish the names – they too thought that it was wrong to name the men.

I was amazed at the controversy.  If 27 men were charged with theft or traffic offenses or fraud nobody would object to their names being published.  Nobody would say – ‘What about their families?’  or ‘It’s not fair on their wives and children.’ I imagine that the spouses and children of anybody who commits any crime are embarrassed by the actions of their relative.  So –

Why is this crime different to other crimes?

Who exactly will think badly of their wives and children?

If the answer to that question is – People.  Then that begs another question –

Who are these people?

Surely they are us?

Surely we can choose not to think badly of these families? As they have done absolutely nothing wrong that should be easy.

Surely if we (the people) do this then we can stop that particular consequence for the innocent families?

We speak about the people who make these judgements and do the gossiping as if they are a tribe of strangers who aren’t subject to our influence or control.  As if we’d truly like them to stop this bad, judgmental carry-on but have no power to make them desist. The thing is, this isn’t the case. There aren’t other unnamed, anonymous but extremely powerful people running around out there making these unfair judgements.

We’re the people these families dread.

We’re the people they believe think badly of them – though they have committed no crime.

The buck really does stop with us.

The power is completely ours.

We can clear our heads and discern between right and wrong.  We all know how to do this – it’s a natural capacity.  If we do that, then the innocent may still get hurt but we won’t add to their suffering. If we do that, we will be able to apply our laws in such a way that justice is done all round.

We can do this.  Immediately and without training or qualification.  We can stop this unnecessary suffering and the suffering of all families in similar positions.  It isn’t someone else’s job, it’s a job that belongs to all of us ordinary people.  There is only one thing we need in order to succeed at this –

We have to start thinking for ourselves.

The Inadequacy of Words to Express the Nature of Reality…*

War-Toys is a project undertaken by veteran photographer Brian McCarty. McCarty has set out to explore the daily experiences of children who live in war zones.  This is how he describes it himself –

“So War-Toys in a nutshell allows children to articulate their experiences of war, occupation, terrorism through a collaborative process. It’s all based on art therapy and play therapy. I essentially go and interview kids, working with established therapists. You ask them to draw a picture or write a letter, and somehow they express what they’ve seen, what they feel, what they’ve heard. And from those drawings, I then go and buy local toys, and recreate at the actual locations, what they’ve described.”

For his first War-Toys project, McCarty has chosen the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  He puts a lot of effort into remaining neutral –  “I want to show all sides of the conflict, and show the cost of the conflict from the kids, who are just stuck in the middle of this whole mess.”

This project is an excellent example of how the arts can be used not only to show the problems in the world but also to help heal the pain.

This CNN report is very informative –

Snide and Prejudiced.

The Sneetches and Other Stories

Probably the best story ever written about the danger of prejudice is The Sneetches, by Dr. Seuss.  In this story the star belly Sneetches look down on the plain belly Sneetches and the message is clear – if you have a star on your belly you are a superior Sneetch.

And then…along comes Sylvester McMonkey McBean – The Fix-it-Up Chappie.  This entrepreneur has a machine that will put stars on bellies – and so the plain belly Sneetches – overjoyed to be able to elevate themselves socially – pay him to put stars on their bellies.

Now everyone has stars on their bellies.  But the original Star-Belly Sneetches are having none of it. So, McMonkey McBean offers them a solution – he also has a Star-Off machine – “I’ll make you again the best Sneetches on beaches and all it will cost is ten dollars eaches.“.

So they have their stars removed and then so do the others and on and on it goes as they vie with one another to be the best.  A terrible confusion ensues while stars are put on bellies and taken off bellies –

They kept paying money,

They kept running through,

Until neither the Plain nor the Star-Bellies knew,

Whether this one was that one or that one was this one

Or which one was what one…or what one was who. (1)

Eventually the Sneetches spend all their money and Sylvester McMonkey McBean leaves – rich and laughing at the foolish Sneetches.

But expensive as it was, the Sneetches learn their lesson and finally realise the truth,

Sneetches are Sneetches and no kind of Sneetch is the best on the beaches.  

Proving that not only do our prejudices make us mean and ridiculous they also make us vulnerable as we invest in proving the fantasy to ourselves and everyone else.