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Society, Politics & Law

OpenLearn Live: 31st October 2016

Updated Monday, 31st October 2016

We're back, and we're bringing Hallowain't back with us. Also: the long history of scary clowns, and the Turing Pardons.

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OpenLearn Live is a place where we pull the plums from the pudding of online learning and research. This page will be updated across the day.

OpenLearn Live has been on a hiatus, but in our last daily edition at the start of September, we explored the heating planet, heard about the ban on antibiotic soap and asked if people behave rationally

See the complete collection of OpenLearn Live

Today's posts

The long history of scary clowns

We'd like to assure you that the reason for the break in OpenLearn Live wasn't sinister, and that we certainly weren't spending our time dressed up as clowns scaring the bejeebus out of people. But, as it's Halloween, let's just take a moment to reflect on how clowns and clown-like figures have long been sending the chills down spines. Linda Rodriguez McRobbie explains just how long the red-nose brethern have been unsettling us:

The circus got its start in the mid-1760s with British entrepreneur Philip Astley’s equestrian shows, exhibitions of “feats of horsemanship” in a circular arena. These trick riding shows soon began attracting other performers; along with the jugglers, trapeze artists, and acrobats, came clowns. By the mid-19th century, clowns had become a sort of “hybrid Grimaldian personality [that] fit in much more with the sort of general, overall less-nuanced style of clowning in the big top,” explains [Andrew McConnell] Stott.

Clowns were comic relief from the thrills and chills of the daring circus acts, an anarchic presence that complimented the precision of the acrobats or horse riders. At the same time, their humor necessarily became broader—the clowns had more space to fill, so their movements and actions needed to be more obvious. But clowning was still very much tinged with dark hilarity: French literary critic Edmond de Goncourt, writing in 1876, says, “[T]he clown’s art is now rather terrifying and full of anxiety and apprehension, their suicidal feats, their monstrous gesticulations and frenzied mimicry reminding one of the courtyard of a lunatic asylum.” Then there’s the 1892 Italian opera, Pagliacci (Clowns), in which the cuckolded main character, an actor of the Grimaldian clown mold, murders his cheating wife on stage during a performance. Clowns were unsettling—and a great source for drama.

Read the full article at Smithsonian: The History and Psychology of Clowns Being Scary

Teaching in the Jungle

Last week, French authorities took action to close down the Calais refugee camp known as The Jungle. Dr Aura Lounasmaa had first-hand experience of the camp, having taught there since last year - and she shared some of her experiences:

Teaching in the Jungle requires a flexible approach and warm clothes, as few equipped classrooms are available. Timetables and schedules live their own life in the Jungle. Sometimes a class is a one-to-one discussion, reading of a text together or going over a student’s piece of writing. Other times it is a loud discussion spoken across several languages, fragments of it translated back to English.

Read the full article Teaching the people of the Calais camp

Our collection on the migrant crisis

Why the "Turing pardons" aren't pardons

During the last couple of weeks, it seemed at first that men who had been convicted under now-obsolete laws against homosexual activity would be granted a pardon similar to that offered posthumously to Alan Turing. The bill that could have made this happen, though, was talked out on the floor of the House of Commons. As ITV news reported:

Furious MPs have heckled Justice Minister Sam Gyimah with cries of "shame" as he talked for enough time to stop a vote being held over proposals to pardon gay men for now-abolished sexual offences.

Labour's Chris Bryant was close to tears as he joined fellow MPs in urging the Government to pardon all living gay men who were convicted of crimes that are no longer on the statute books.

But Mr Gyimah spoke for more than 20 minutes at the end of a lengthy debate to prevent a so-called "Turing Bill" brought forward by the SNP's John Nicolson from being put to a vote.

Read the full report at ITV News: MP close to tears as Justice Minister's speech thwarts gay pardons bill to cries of 'shame'

The government sabotaged this bill as it has its own legislation about to come forward. However, as Birkbeck historian Justin Bengry explains, what's on offer now is a lot less comprehensive:

While the dead will be granted a blanket pardon, the living must secure a ‘disregard’ before their offences will be eligible for a pardon. A disregard of conviction is a scheme introduced in the 2012 Protection of Freedoms Act. Under this legislation, men convicted or cautioned for some historical homosexual offences may apply to the Home Office to have them disregarded, effectively erasing the record of the offence, as if it had never happened. The new ‘pardon’ is therefore only a symbolic add-on. It holds no legal weight.

If the government’s language of pardon is hollow, is the disregard any better? It is, in theory, a good solution, but so far in practice it has failed. According to the government’s own data, it is incredibly difficult to secure a disregard. In 2010, the Home Office estimated that there were records of 50,000 convictions for homosexual offences on the Police National Computer. Of these, some 16,000 would now be eligible to apply for a disregard. Between October 2012 and April 2016, a mere 242 individuals applied for disregards for 317 cases. In that time, only 83 had their convictions and cautions disregarded. This means that as of April 2016 only 83 living men would be eligible for a pardon, but anyone who has since died will be granted an automatic statutory pardon.

The new statutory pardons, then, are merely political theatre meant to highlight the government’s imagined benevolence. These announcements are meant to distract us from the failure of the disregard scheme to adequately address the victimisation of queer men by the state in the past and in the present. The message is clear. Disregards for cautions and convictions that have destroyed men’s lives may be incredibly difficult to secure, but if you are patient enough, a posthumous pardon is guaranteed.

Read the full article at History Workshop: Conservative ‘Gay Pardon’ for the dead is a strategic distraction that harms the living

You may also like: Can queer couples show the way to lasting love?

Hallowain't II: Did Egyptian wives haunt their widowers from beyond the grave?

Today is Halloween, and it's the tradition on OpenLearn Live (i.e. we did it last year) in Halloween week to explore some stories of hauntings that actually were no more supernatural nor frightening than later series of Rentaghost. (Not the first series, though. We wouldn't mess with the first series.)

Last year, we gathered round the camp fire for these tales:

This year, we're starting with the question 'did Egyptian wives haunt their widowers from beyond the grave'?

Detail from Egyptian Book of the Dead Copyright free  image Icon Copyright free: A detail from the Egyptian Book of the Dead, showing some of the doors in the Field of Reeds

The answer, obviously, is no. No, they didn't. But perhaps a more interesting question is 'why would we even ask that?'

Well, we're going back some way - back to the Egypt of Osiris. The people of this time believed that the soul was made up of five elements - Ren, the Ba, the Ka, the Sheut, and the Ib. The Ka was, effectively, the life-force; the Ba the bit that went off on the journey to the afterlife. The Ba took the Ka, and together they became the Akh. The Akh would dwell forever in the glow of the afterlife.

Mostly, would dwell forever in the glow of the afterlife.


Sometimes, though, the Gods would allow the Akh to return to our realm, to deal with some sort of beef with the living.

This could be as simple as complaining that the deceased's wishes for the funeral weren't followed. On other occasions, though, the Akh could be returning to settle some other score.

Upon death, it was believed, you were granted knowledge of everything there was to know. And, if you outlived your spouse, you might get jittery - for, on death, they would be granted knowledge of every trick you pulled; every illicit dalliance; every white lie. No wonder widowers could feel the breath of wronged wives on the back of their neck.

How do we know this, though? Well, one widower, feeling outraged that his late wife was picking fights from the Field Of Reeds, left an angry note for her at her grave:

What wicked thing have I done to thee that I should have come to this evil pass? What have I done to thee? But what thou hast done to me is to have laid hands on me although I had nothing wicked to thee. From the time I lived with thee as thy husband down to today, what have I done to thee that I need hide? When thou didst sicken of the illness which thou hadst, I caused a master-physician to be fetched…I spent eight months without eating and drinking like a man. I wept exceedingly together with my household in front of my street-quarter. I gave linen clothes to wrap thee and left no benefit undone that had to be performed for thee. And now, behold, I have spent three years alone without entering into a house, though it is not right that one like me should have to do it. This have I done for thy sake. But, behold, thou dost not know good from bad.

It's possible this is the first known example of mansplaining. 

It doesn't, of course, make much sense - why would a wife feel the need to cross from eternal happiness just to berate a bad husband? Or, indeed, why with all the knowledge of the universe at their disposal, the first thing they'd do is check to see if Amenhotep really was working late at the office that time? It's more likely that the survivors were feeling not the wrath of the dead, but the stirrings of guilt.

Discover more of the Classical World with OpenLearn





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