Violence and the social

Stephen Fry’s two-part series Out There (BBC Two) provides a snapshot of the lives of LGBT individuals, and also attempts to ascertain and perhaps challenge the views of a few of the most prominent anti-LGBT individuals in the world.  The series highlights a number of trends, of which the most consistent are those of violence and of the social.  These two concepts are intrinsically linked, of course.  Violence itself is only possible once firm social decisions have been made and ingrained in an individual or, more often, a group psyche.  What Fry observes is the process of social exclusion and violence in its most vivid form.

Social exclusion of a certain person or group according to an identity is essential in order for violence to take place.  When we say violence, we are not just talking about physical abuse or the use of force broadly.  Violence is also present in non-physical actions.  It can take place in psychological bullying, but most prominently in Out There, it takes place in the act of social exclusion, which in turn leads to more violence.  Fry interviews a number of victims of physical violence linked to their sexuality.  These victims were abused for being different, but also for being perceived as a threat that in turn required a response.

Dehumanisation

In warfare, a soldier is expected to be ready to ‘legally’ kill other people they have never met, on the justification that that vaguely human shape in the distance is the ‘enemy’.  Identities attributed to the ‘enemy’ generally include a lack of moral values (furthermore, that ‘they’ are unlike ‘us’ in this sense), an intention to do Bad Things to Innocent People (that is, people who are or want to be like ‘us’), and, of course, a fundamental quality of being dangerous and inherently violent.  Thus, the human beings are turned subhuman via the simple use of language and identity logic.  The labelling of someone as a ‘terrorist’, for example, allows horrors such as the US’s Guantánamo Bay to continue to exist.  The only way for this to happen is for the graffiti of ‘terrorist’ to distort the statue of ‘human’ to the point where that statue’s shape and identity is lost in a mess of that identity-distorting paint.  Through painting a human as non-human, the possibility of extreme levels of hatred and violence is unveiled.

Fry’s interviews with the graffiti artists and the human statues highlight trends very similar to those seen in warfare.  Throughout the two episodes of Out There, the anti-LGBT policymakers in particular are keen to paint LGBT people (labelled for the most part as simply ‘gay’) as being:

  • obsessed in an irrational and animalistic manner with violent sexual acts;
  • complicit in making an active decision to ‘become’ gay; and
  • on the lookout for new ‘recruits’, often children, to also ‘join’ their gay ‘cause’.

In order to justify legislation against LGBT people, such policymakers need to craft arguments that are fundamentally about social identities.  In today’s wars, the enemy is often labelled as an irrational, dangerous terrorist or insurgent who wants to do immoral things to innocents while also recruiting such naïve people to their cause.  It reminds one of the idea of a zombie movie, where every human is trying to kill the undead until they are themselves bitten, at which point they must also be bashed to death in some horrific way by their erstwhile peers.  The same is also true of what Fry witnesses.  Non-straight people are turned into zombies; they look like humans, but they are no longer and cannot be treated as such, so the interviewed policymakers imply.  Some of Fry’s interviewees erroneously believe that those who identify as LGBT can be ‘cured’, of course, but this in itself is a claim based on ignorance that does great psychological violence to their ‘patients’ who, rather than being cured, appear to exhibit similar responses to people who have been traumatised or even tortured.

Conclusions

The tales of violence, often lethal, against those who identify (or in some cases, are identified) as LGBT, are horrific and the individuals who commit the acts should be held accountable for their actions.  This appears impossible for the time being in many of the countries in which the violent acts are taking place, but Fry holds out hope, advocating ‘love’ and understanding between people.  For love to grow, individuals must seek to redefine LGBT people as human beings just like them—that is, to recognise that the person attracting hatred in their society has exponentially much more in common with them than they do not.

Fry’s own role as the fictional British First World War General Melchett in Blackadder saw a parody being made of the hopeless killing deriving from poor tactics, encouraged by the demonisation of the other side (in this case, the Germans).  As we approach the First World War Centenary, we are confronting similar combinations of misjudged policy decisions justified by false projections stemming from ignorance.  While there are no uniforms (at least, no military ones), a war is being waged very loosely by certain policymakers around the world against innocents.  Much like the global war on terror, this battle is being fought in shadowy areas and with impunity for those advocating and committing the violence.  The challenge now is for such people to change their opinions and for perpetrators to be brought to justice.

To cite this article

Gilberto Algar-Faria (2013), ‘Review: Out There’, algarfaria.com, 22 October, available from: https://algarfaria.com/2013/10/22/review-out-there/

Written by Gilberto

Gilberto is a Politics PhD Candidate at the University of Bristol. His research is located within international development and critical security studies. Presently he is completing his thesis on civil society in post-war Sri Lanka.

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