I am a product of my upbringing and environment and have lived through many changes in attitude and the acceptability of cultural memes and the understanding of how societal approaches can impact others adversely. Today there’s a storm around the latest US Presidential twitterfart concerning four congresswomen and whether they should ‘go back’ to, in three cases, their ancestral homelands and for those who don’t like America to leave. It smacks of language and attitudes that were common when I was a teen but which, amongst people who are aware of the many differences that make up a multiethnic and multicultural population have disappeared from speech. Thank goodness.
But still, I find myself in knots, not at this most obvious example of offensiveness but the unintentional stupidities that we are all prone to.
I went to see a new play, recently transferred to the National Theatre ‘Jellyfish’. It’s a simple love story set in the down at heel faded glories of Skegness, one of many tired seaside resorts that dot the English coastline. There’s a protective mother, a feisty heroine, a diffident damaged young man and their wise, world-weary friend. So far, so trite. What makes this one different is that the heroine has Downs and so does the actress. The young man doesn’t. On the surface he’s ‘normal’ or that’s what I think were meant to believe. He too is damaged – you’ll need to see the play to understand it – and probably needs as much support as the lead.
What makes it a fascinating piece and challenges the audience to shelve their preconceptions and prejudices is the interplay between mother and daughter and the former’s understandable, if ultimately self-defeating attempts to persuade her daughter she is ‘as good as them’ ie the rest of us, yet treating her as different when it comes to adult relationships and especially sex and pregnancy.
It’s messy, awkward and uncomfortable and that was just me. It poses many questions I suspect we have all asked ourselves when dealing with anyone different from ourselves. We see the stereotype, the assumption, the facade and not the person.
Jess the super star of this production makes the point early with a crab she finds on the beach about assumptions. About identity and the importance of naming.
There are some nice touches and jokes, there’s some stilted parts and there is pathos and just a little understanding of what it’s like to be in Jess’s shoes. And the mother’s and the boyfriend’s who is treated as some sort of paedo-weirdo cross but needs her love as much as she his. She’s tougher, more robust than him though the assumptions from others is it’s the other way round.
If you liked ‘the Curious Incident of a Dog in the Nighttime’ then you may well enjoy this. Don’t expect to feel comfortable.
I also learnt a new word too: homophily – the tendency for people to seek out or be attracted to those who are similar to themselves. It seems to me that this is a bane of our complicated societies, be it hate crimes or Presidents sounding off on twitter or even an urge to decouple ourselves from Europe. I spent eight hours on Sunday going through agony as I watched England try and win a cricket World Cup. I screamed and cried and screamed some more. The objects of my ludicrous passions were eleven men of a mixtures of races, religions, creeds and backgrounds all of whom were desperate win a game for a bunch of equally disparate people. It couldn’t really have got more diverse and yet be so inclusive.
I may have wondered what sort of psychosis envelopes me that I will spend significant bundles of sterling to spend hours in an agony of indecision only to feel, not joy but gut ripping relief when it was all done and we had won. But there was one joy and that was the accumulation of differences that made up that team and that audience. Just call me mad if I say I’m going to watch another final.