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If a Picture is Worth a Thousand Words…

Last week on Twitter I posted the picture shown on the left and captioned it as follows:

‘This, as a picture of everyday life, is one of the most obscene images I can think of’.

Image - Reuters via the BBC

The caption didn't quite cause a Twitterstorm (more a minor weather disturbance) but it did receive, at the time of counting and just before I began writing this article, over 2,200 ‘likes’, 724 retweets and 181 direct replies as well as innumerable indirect replies made to those who responded to the tweet itself. The vast majority have been supportive of my comment, but those who were not questioned my use of the word ‘obscene’. Was this the wrong word to use? I do not believe it was and here’s why.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines the word obscene as meaning:


Indecent, especially grossly or repulsively so

Lewd; (law, of publications)

Tending to deprave or corrupt

As we can see therefore, like many other words, obscene has more than one meaning and each can be interpreted in different ways. It is true of course that obscene tends to be applied (as Oxford suggests) to things published, either words or pictures, and in print or online. There are numerous people over the years that have fallen foul of the law in terms of what they have written, one obvious and fairly early example being DH Lawrence’s book Lady Chatterley’s Lover.

When Penguin Books published it in the UK in 1960 the firm was charged with breaching the obscenity laws of the day (Lawrence had died by this time) but the company was found not guilty in court. Since then the law has changed but obscenity law restrictions still remain. It is certainly thus true that the word obscene is often applied to matters of a sexual nature but it is not, as Oxford clearly indicates, limited to that subject.

One can be repulsed by numerous things, including the wanton littering of the countryside and streets apparently beloved of by far too many citizens of the UK. As one Twitter reply said (correctly in my view) obscene is also what has happened and is happening in Yemen and Myanmar, not to mention other parts of the world. War is indeed obscene, as often are the results of it.

I could have captioned the photograph as ‘repulsive’ and perhaps even fewer might have disagreed. But it would thus still be obscene and there are many aspects to life today that are equally so – perhaps even more than this particular image. So what is it that I find so objectionable? The answer is not limited to one part of the picture.

First of all, there are the continuing variances of argument regarding the use of face coverings (or masks for brevity). Do they work or not? My view, and it is just mine, is that they do not when applied to stopping the spread of COVID-19. They might conceivably reduce the chances of transmission but do we routinely ‘mask up’ when we have an ordinary cold (also caused by some coronaviruses as well as rhinoviruses)? No, we do not.

One point often used in favour of them is that they are used in operating theatres by surgeons all day. Actually that isn’t quite true. Yes, they are used but surgeons and other theatre staff do not use the same mask from 9am to 330pm and in every operation they conduct. Masks can be changed during a brief break in proceedings and new ones are used at the start of every operation. The used masks are disposed of in bins expressly for the purpose of ‘contaminated’ materials (ask yourself why...).

There have been instances of hospital staff posting pictures of themselves with puffed-up, blotched faces, purporting to show how they look after an exhausting day at work, dutifully masked. Exhausted they may well be (many people are after working hard all day at whatever it is they do for a living) but any nurse who wears the same face mask for the entire duration of their shift is at best foolish, at worst negligent. Properly trained medical staff should know fine well that wearing the same mask for eight hours is plain dangerous, both to the wearer and patients.

Such posts are more to do with those of left-wing leanings wanting to have a pop at the wicked Tories rather than anything else. Yet what would have been different under Labour in the UK? Precious little and probably even worse, if the performance of Labour in Wales, under its hard-left leader Mark Drakeford, is any indicator.

We digress however, at least a little - children do not of course, attend school for eight hours but they are young; they aren’t adults, fully grown and with the same physical capabilities as grown adults. The school day is their equivalent of an adult working day. And the same implications for their health are present. Keep in mind also that many children will be using public transport to get to and from school. Many will be fishing a mask out of their pockets, putting them on before boarding the bus, then removing them and putting them back in pockets and repeating the procedure before entering school. If current guidelines are enforced, they will keep them on from 9am until 330pm. Six and a half hours (with a possible break at lunch time) plus time on public transport - hardly a healthy lifestyle for a growing child.

And this is the point where kids are concerned. It is one thing to demand that adults use masks all day when at work, as inherently unhealthy as that is. It is one thing to require by law (and this is law by the way – not guidance) that people don a mask when entering public places, shops or transport. It is of questionable health benefit for an adult but given the fact that children are still growing and developing throughout their school years, another matter entirely to clamp a covering over a young nose and mouth at a time when the body is not yet grown.

Gazing wistfully at what used to be...

Image - via The Independent

But my point is not limited only to the health of the young at least where the photograph I posted is concerned. It is also the picture as a whole. Hazard tapes on the school floor, compelling them to keep away from each other and yet on the wall behind the children are framed posters of normal life. Or more correctly, normal life as we used to know it. The children standing in line are of older school age and will thus remember those days, perhaps wistfully. Those entering secondary schools, either now for the 2020/2021 academic year or one year on from then, may not. They may never have experienced a vital part of growing up; that of leaving home each day and given the oft-greater distance from home to school, learning how to use public transport by themselves; learning how to navigate from one place to another without the robotic do-as-we-tell-you regimentation of government diktat. They will not be learning how to think and act for themselves - and be able to breathe freely while doing so.

It is the 'image' the image projects. The photograph's very essence - it portrays a soulless, joyless existence, with no smile. It looks as though those in the photograph are prisoners of the school, with any spark of individual vibrancy and character beaten out of them. And it begs me to reiterate a question I have asked before; what are we teaching our children? We are teaching them fear.

We are not teaching them to be aware, to take precautions and use their brains. We are teaching them only to be afraid. And that is indeed obscene. As well as being repulsive.

On a personal note, one of the criticisms of my caption suggested I get a life and have not experienced much myself. So allow me a little self-indulgence for a moment. I have as it happens, experienced things that others have but many have not. You do not have to convince me of the danger that adults can on occasion, be to children. I already know that from my own childhood years. I have been shot at; I have been in a building that has had a bomb go off in it. I have managed to sleep though a bomb explosion as well and just as remarkably, slept through an earthquake. I have handled dead bodies and seen death at first hand. I have watched as terrorist bombs destroyed oil storage tanks (they burned for days) and yes, I have worked in a hospital. My first job after leaving school was in one, half my day in a unit for terminally ill patients and at the opposite extreme, in a maternity unit. So life at both ends as it were. I grew up in British Services schools with the cold war between west and east still ongoing and looked (with a little awe) at our rockets, on their launch pads, pointing east, knowing that the USSR's rockets were doing the same towards the west - at us. So I have seen a little of life.

I am not a believer in conspiracy theories nor do I go along with the idea that COVID-19 is a hoax. I am also not an anti-vaxxer; if it works and does so safely, fine. All medicines, without exception, have side effects of some kind including the routinely accepted flu vaccine. That one still doesn’t ‘prevent’ flu but it does help some people.

But what we have now is a situation that has seen governments worldwide go into a blind panic; we have unelected ‘advisers’ become drunk on the sudden power they have found themselves with and government ministers likewise. And they do not want to let go of it.

Desperate to be seen to be doing something, these are people that really do believe that they are doing the right things. There is the biggest danger; having sleepwalked into oppression, it is becoming the norm.

The biggest victims of unthinking government are those whose time as adults is still to come – today’s school children. COVID-19 policies are, as the Oxford Dictionary says, tending to corrupt young minds. This is what the photograph encapsulates; as I put it in my caption: ‘…as a picture of everyday life…’

And it truly is obscene.

© Kevan James 2021

Related articles:

The Trial of the People (April 6, 2020)

Careful handling or Heading for Oppression (April 20, 2020)

Social Affairs: Freedom – Hard to Get, Easy to Lose (June 13, 2020)

Have We Lost Our Marbles Completely? (November 2, 2020)

The Kids Are Alright – Or Are They? (January 21, 2021)

They Call It Madness (February 2, 2021)

Forgetting the Lessons of History (February 18, 2021)

Keeping the Cabin Clean (February 24, 2021)

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