Saturday, 7 April 2012

What do we want? Wait, let me make a list...

Trenton Oldfield is a man with a message.  A message he wants the whole world to hear. 

He has much to say and a blog on which to say it.  He uses long words and complex sentences.  Some of those sentences are of dubious grammatical accuracy but who needs grammar when you have a message?

Every noun has at least one adjective attached to it.  He never uses one word when six can be employed to say the same thing.  And in the midst of the references to “transnational-corpo-aristocratic ruling class (invisible)”, “manifesting a vulnerability” and to the etymology of the word “elitism”, we find a list of the many, many things that Trenton Oldfield finds unacceptable:
Removal of civil rights

Large corporations

Tuition fees

The relationship between the media, the police and politicians
The damage to public services


Forced labour in supermarkets
Spying on emails

Tax cuts for the rich
Skype calls.

Actually, I’m not entirely sure about this last one.  The tortured syntax employed by Mr Oldfield (or Oldfiled according to his own website) leaves me entirely in the dark as to whether he has some deep, fundamental objection to internet video calling itself or to the potential hacking of such calls by those in power.
Mr Oldfield also apparently objects to ““the state of exception with Olympics”.  No, I have no idea what he means either.  I can only assume he didn’t get the Olympic tickets he applied for.

Trenton Oldfield is angry about many things.  So angry, in fact, that today he decided to take decisive action.  In his blog he likens himself to Emily Davison, the suffragette who died from injuries received when she ran in front of the King’s horse at the Derby. 
So what did he do? 

He swam in front of the racing crews at the Oxford v Cambridge Boat Race, temporarily halting the event.  He chose this form of protest, according to his blog, because the race “with its pseudo competition, assembled around similar principles of fastest, strongest, selected ...etc, is an inconsequential backdrop for these elite educational institutions to demonstrate themselves, reboot their shared culture together in the public realm.”  He refers with scorn to the practice of listing the public schools attended by the participants, and asserts that the general population is disinterested in the Boat Race.
So if this annual event is so inconsequential, it begs the question as to why Trenton Oldfield, with his vital message of protest and civil disobedience, actually bothered?  If no-one is interested then what could he possibly hope to achieve?  If the event is inconsequential then surely Mr Oldfield has done nothing more than got himself wet, cold and arrested.

Of course the Boat Race is of interest to people all over the world.  Hence its multi-million viewing figures.  This is exactly why Trenton Oldfield chose to disrupt it.  Unfortunately he therefore finds himself caught between two completely opposing stances.  Is the race high-profile and his protest therefore important and memorable, or is the race a lingering, elitist anachronism of no consequence to anyone without a Champagne Charlie accent and centuries of public-school and inbreeding in their pedigree, and his protest therefore a complete waste of time?
He can’t quite make his mind up.

This indecision sets the tone for his rambling blog announcement of his intention to disrupt the Boat Race.  There are so many things pissing him off that he can’t quite decide which to highlight with his watery publicity stunt.  So he hedges his bets and lists them all.  As a result, any message he might have had is entirely lost beneath the sheer weight of disgruntlement. 
War is bad.  Racism is bad.  Misogyny is bad.

No shit.
The government is pants.  The country is broke.

Tell us something we don’t know.
It’s not exactly “I have a dream”, is it?

It took me a few minutes to work out why my gut reaction to this “protest” was to think “arse”.  It’s not just that as someone involved in rowing, and as an Oxford graduate, I know how much the race means to the crews, and how much blood, sweat and tears they invest in it.  It’s not just that I enjoy watching a good, tight race like this year’s event was shaping up to be.  It’s that I just can’t be bothered with people who protest against rather than for.
Emily Davison knew what her message was.  She knew what she was fighting for.  Whether or not you agree with some of her methods, you are left in no doubt about what it was that she wanted to achieve.  I can’t imagine her leaving a note saying “I hope my actions will highlight the general crapness of our government and help bring an end to the oppression of women, cruelty to puppies and lack of cheap corsetry.”

And she is remembered.
Mr Oldfield, however, is highly likely to go down in the narrow annals of the boat race as “wotsisface, you know that pillock who swam in front of the boats”, and is most unlikely to be remembered by the wider public at all.

But if he had been able to articulate some specific want, or if he had attached himself to some existing cause, he might, just possibly, have stood a chance of being more than a minor footnote in sporting history.
Protest has to be concise.  It has to be clear.  People want a single banner to march behind.  They want one slogan to chant.  I once attended a public meeting of lawyers to organise protests against the sweeping legal aid cuts.  There were all sorts of half-formed ideas and arguments and eventually a well-known solicitor stood up and said “You know what our problem is?  We don’t have a name.  When we are marching on parliament are we really going to be chanting “The LCCSA/BVC/LPC/WLYSA united, will never be defeated?”

Flippant?  Perhaps.  But he had a point that resonated after the laughter subsided.  It wasn’t about a single name.  It was about a single idea.  All the greatest and most memorable causes are about one thing.  And end to racism.  An end to apartheid.  An end to the oppression of women.
Trenton Oldfield’s blog is just such a mish-mash of vague disgruntlement that he couldn’t possibly articulate what it is that he wants.  He doesn’t like the way things are but neither does he have any better ideas.

Actually, he does have some ideas.  He suggests that cleaners should remove toilet paper from the loos of power; that waiters should serve the wrong food to “elitist” diners, that those with access to networking events of elitist sympathisers should let off stink bombs.
Stink bombs and general crapness.  That is Trenton Oldfield’s message.

Sorry, Mr Oldfield.  I took the time to read your blog.  But after careful consideration I am going with my initial assessment of you as “that utter arse who pratted around at the Boat Race.”  I think the controversy surrounding Zoe de Toledo's steering is likely to be more memorable.

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