Why Ellen Page’s speech at Time To Thrive resonated with me too.
Watch and listen:
She was the lead character in the film Juno. At the time, I remember thinking: “Now, why don’t I have someone like her in my life?” about the persona of the character she was portraying. The sort of person who you can trust with your life, will love you to bits but at the same time won’t hesitate to pull you up (even in public) when you step out of line/do something bad/fail to do something obviously good.
Not being a regular film-goer or film watcher, I’ve not seen any films she’s done since. Nor do I slavishly follow the ‘celebrity press’ that ‘critique’ what people wear when they step outside of their front door. Which is why her comment about one of those gossip pieces criticising her for wearing tracksuit bottoms ‘because they were comfortable’ is spot on. Why should anyone always be on parade?
A powerful combination of content, tone of voice and body language – that came from her heart.
Some might say that a Hollywood-level actress is able to portray this whatever the role is in the job description. But given the issue and how personal it is not just to her but to so many others, it’s not something that you can take a scripted speech, rehearse it a few times and then deliver it. Especially knowing that there will be a backlash from some quarters and that, once delivered it’s public for the rest of your life and beyond. Bravery and courage: Feeling that fear and doing it anyway.
Her comments about the industry that she’s part of (Hollywood film-making, & the global circus around it) were also very powerful. There are many of us who have – and are – within industries or organisations that don’t act in the best interests of humanity even at the best of times. It’s when you get behind the bright lights to see things for what they are that you see the good, the bad and the ugly. Ellen’s description brought this home in a very succinct and compelling manner. ‘Standards of beauty, the good life and success’ that in reality few if any of us will manage to achieve.
It is powerful because it gets people thinking; thinking about not just the messages coming from the advertisers but who are paying the advertisers and who is benefiting. It is powerful because it gets people thinking about the structures of the world that we live in. It reminded me of Green Party Leader Natalie Bennett in Cambridge recently (see here) when she talked about current levels of consumerism from a historical perspective. What is it that has enabled such conspicuous levels of consumption in recent decades compared to other centuries?
Ellen could have been talking about any other oppressed group – and the worries and fears they also have
“Days when you feel completely alone, undermined, or hopeless. And I know there are people in this room who go to school every day and get treated like shit for no reason. Or you go home and you can’t tell your parents the whole truth about yourself. And beyond putting yourself in one box or another you worry about the future. About college, or work or even your physical safety. And trying to create that mental picture of your life – of what on earth is going to happen to you, can crush you just a little bit every day. And it’s toxic, it’s painful and deeply unfair.”
It’s as if Ellen was describing my feelings in the mid-late 1990s. And I had no outlet. Mine was the last days of the ignorant. We didn’t have The Internet. We didn’t have access to the knowledge that we take for granted. We could not challenge those in authority – in my case the church – an institution committed to depriving me of knowledge rather than encouraging me to seek it out. You only have to look at the institution’s stance on sex and relationship education even in a world where social and digital media use are the norm to get an understanding of this.
In part that’s why for me spending three years in Brighton was ever so important – despite having a horrible time at Sussex uni. In the 1990s the various institutions in Cambridge had made the city stale, suppressed and insular. The divide between Cambridge University and the rest of the city was strictly enforced by its administrative staff. Ditto with other organisations – if you weren’t a member you weren’t welcome. A mindset today that now looks ridiculous. The song Affirmation by Savage Garden from the year 2000 for me was ground-breaking. Have a listen.
Finding yourself is one thing, being horrified at what you once were is another – and it’s something that takes years to get over, if we ever get over it at all.
“Loving other people starts with loving ourselves and accepting ourselves”
I sometimes say to myself that I pretend the first 30 years of my life didn’t happen – because I look back and see too many bad things about myself. I see too many things that I wish I had done differently. I see too many occasions where I wish I had courage to overcome whatever it was that was suppressing me – whether a threat of violence at school to being given bad advice by a teacher & questioning that, to not following my heart when I knew that something was wrong, or not taking an opportunity when it stared me in the face. And I hate myself for it. I continue to hate myself for it to this day.
Because I can’t change it. And part of the healing process is reconciling myself to that fact, letting it go & moving on. But it’s very very difficult.
It also explains my interest in institutions, how they function and how they are changed
The reason being that it was institutions that influenced the people around me when I was growing up – and institutions that impact us now. For example the corporate media. We are going through an era of immense social change – one where we don’t know what the end results will be – assuming there is an ‘end’ to speak of. In my early teens I grew up reading newspaper reports of members of the armed forces being kicked out of the military because of their sexuality. Not only did these people lose their jobs and the careers, they were also ‘outed’ in the national papers. This was the early 1990s. To me it still feels like yesterday. Some of those at the top of the institutions responsible for this still sit in the House of Lords. One of them is this chap – Defence Secretary during the first Iraq War of 1991. Now look at his voting record on equal rights for LGBT people.
It may be too late for me to change history, and impossible for me to re-live childhood & university years differently, but maybe I can make a positive difference to others
“There is courage in this room – all of you. I’m inspired to be in this room because every single one of you is here for the same reason. You’re here because you’ve adopted as a core motivation the simple fact that this world would be a whole lot better if we made an effort to be less horrible to one another”
This reflects not just my current mindset but also how I try to use social media too. Hence why I try to avoid things like personal attacks and swearing. There’s more than enough hate out there without me adding to it.