Minority Report

I can’t stop thinking about what happened in Orlando over the weekend. It’s brought up a lot of different thoughts and issues for me. Where I thought I knew my mind, I’m now unsure. This is my attempt to reconcile those thoughts.

 

Pulse is a nightclub in Orlando, Florida. On Saturday night it was the location of the worst gun massacre in US history.

 

We’re not talking about Swindon or England or United Kingdom, we’re talking about the United States of America.

 

According to the Gun Violence Archive (http://www.gunviolencearchive.org/reports/mass-shooting) this is the 136th mass shooting in the United States this year alone – that’s one every 29 hours.

 

On the 11th June the website reports that there were five mass shootings, a day later, there was just one. But it was the worst one they’d ever had. That’s why you’re hearing about it, that’s why it’s everywhere, because even somewhere like America, this was an exceptional event.

 

The shooter went into Pulse – self-styled as the hottest gay club in Orlando, and ranked second most popular according to the users of gaycities.com (http://orlando.gaycities.com/bars/) as of 13th June – and killed forty nine people, injuring many more. The death of the shooter himself takes the number of dead to a round 50.

 

Why did he do it?

 

Short of finding a signed confession, we may never be a hundred per cent certain for the reasons behind the massacre, the gunman himself has a violent history, as well as suspected links with IS. Islamic State themselves have already claimed responsibility, but there is no substantial evidence that they had any direct involvement.

 

We do know that his father has already confirmed that the gunman became “very angry” after recently seeing two men kissing.

 

If there are so many mass shootings in America, why is it this one that has upset me?

 

The reason I can’t stop thinking about it, is because it was aimed at me. At my friends. This wasn’t done for religious reasons, or race reasons, or even because of a relationship gone wrong.

 

This was beyond race, beyond religion – but not beyond love. It was love the gunman objected to. Love between men, love between women, and any variation thereof.

 

I’ve never felt like a minority before.

 

Minorities in the we talk about them are people who need protection, people who are vulnerable. I’m lucky enough to have grown up in a time and a place where I’ve never felt that.

 

I’m a white, English-speaking man, I’m by no means rich but nor do I struggle. I live in one of the most forward thinking countries of the world and I can criticise the people who lead my country without fear of retribution.

 

I’m also gay.

 

In the past, I’ve been critical of Gay Pride events in their current form. I’ve always said that I understood why Pride marches were needed, but that I felt they weren’t needed anymore.

 

Pride marches in the UK have become over-sexualised, commercial parties. When straight families are taking their children and grandchildren to Pride events, when music acts are queuing up to take part and when the event itself is part-funded by government of the day, I can’t help but feel we’ve achieved what we set out to achieve.

 

For me, the focus should shift away from standing apart and more to integration. Being gay doesn’t define me, it is just part of who I am. I don’t need a special bar or a special nightclub or a special march. I’m proud of who I am wherever I am, whatever day of the year.

 

I’ve never begrudged those who did. I’ve always understood their reasoning. A safe place to go up to a guy and ask him out, being able to be who we really are without having to worry – but the truth is, most of us feel ok to do that most of the time these days.

 

Until now.

 

Someone invaded one of those safe places and started slaughtering us. That could have been me. I’ve not been to Pulse in Orlando, but a couple of weeks ago I was enjoying drinks in gay bars in Los Angeles.

 

They’re 2,500 miles away from each other, they’re not exactly close (the distance between them is only marginally shorter than the distance between London and Syria) but the in LA are the same as they are in Florida.

 

Someone could have taken offence at me mincing through Beverly Hills and done exactly the same thing.

 

It could have been any of us.

 

The whole incident brings up lots of different issues and already has from gun control to, bizarrely, whether the UK should leave Europe (we shouldn’t, if anything this teaches us that a tolerant world with closer links to other cultures is more important than it ever was).

 

But for me, the issue is more personal… it goes to the heart of who I am. To who we are as a society.

 

We talked about what happened in Paris, we talked about what happened in Brussels. At the office today, no one talked about Orlando.

 

It’s not an attack on the United States or the Western world. It’s an attack on a community, on my community.

 

I’m not going to forget what happened in Pulse, Orlando, and I’m not going to let it scare me into hiding away. Short of breaking out into a show-stopping performance of ‘I Am Who I Am’ complete with John Barrowman-esque jazz hands, I’m going to be the gayest gay I can.

 

I’m not going to feel like a minority anymore.

Mainlander by Will Smith

No, not THAT Will Smith. This is the writer, comedian and sometimes star of The Thick of It Will Smith, and this is his first novel.

What did I expect knowing all this? Not a lot. His is one of those faces that I recognise, but would never really be able to place. Perhaps a comedic book, but not necessarily.

So, I opened Mainlander with no real hint of what was to come, except I knew it was about a man not native to Jersey, living on Jersey.

The plot, if you can accuse it of being a plot begins with our main character Colin out on a walk to escape an argument with his wife when he spots one of his pupils on a precipice. Colin climbs down and speaks to him, then gives him a lift home.

Only later, does Colin consider that the boy may have been about to commit suicide.

Colin begins to investigate when the boy disappears, but at the same time must contend with a dependent neighbour, a crumbling marriage and a career on the brink of ruin.

I spent much of the book wondering two things – why specifically was the book set on Jersey, and why specifically was it set in 1987?

In hindsight the answer to the first question is obvious, the island, in the English Channel belonging neither to England or France, but historically attached to both of them, is representative of the characters themselves. All of them standing alone in the conflict that surrounds them.

This is particularly noted when the island’s history during the Second World War is touched upon.

As for why it was set in 1987, the only answer I can seem to suggest is that it is for one of the characters – Colin’s neighbour – to still be around, but have been an adult during the war.

The ‘denouement’ to the plot also makes particular use of the geography of the island and the descriptions of it are quite vivid, making the reader feel they’ve visited the island*.

*Note: I say that without ever having been to the island. It may be that the descriptions were shit.

My point, however, is that both the timeframe and location for much of the book are distracting and add nothing specific to the plot. Take them away and the plot that you are left with is… weak.

Indeed, one of the subplots doesn’t actually cross over with the main plot at all, and could quite easily be removed from the book altogether. It’s almost like someone felt the book wasn’t quite thick enough, and needed to add some more material.

The storm that makes up the climax of the book, finally leaves all of the characters in a more interesting place and then abruptly the book ends.

I was harsh at the beginning of this review about the plot, but only because there is a wonderful beginning and middle to the story, but no ending. The characters are well drawn and intriguing, but we seemed to spend most of the book getting to know them and then just as it’s about to get interesting we’re asked to leave the party.

This could have been so much more, but as it is, it’s three hundred pages of a nice prose that says:

“No man is an island, huh? Well, actually, they kinda are.”