[Written by Conal McGregor (he/him)]
[Image Credits: Andreea Popa (accessed through Unsplash) with GUM edits]
Content Warning: Article discusses the impact of inequalities within political structures, including poverty and death.
My flatmate is sitting in the kitchen of our Murano flat: dishes piled high in the sink, the table sticky. “I feel like shit,” she announces. Oh dear. What’s caused this? Impending essay deadlines? Bleak Glasgow weather? HIVE hangover? No – Iris Law’s Instagram feed of course.
For those that are unaware, Iris Law is the 19-year-old model/influencer daughter of the actor Jude Law. Her Instagram is basically an endless stream of her looking pretty incredible in various enviable situations around the globe. This montage contrasted ever so slightly with the prospect of my flatmate’s 9am Geography tutorial and had prompted her depressing declaration.
Now I don’t mean to have a go at Iris Law. I doubt she set out to use her famous father’s prestige to gain a quarter of a million followers and, in doing so, annoy me. She’s only one of thousands of influencers who have all managed to get people to invest in their brand, care about what clubs they go to, what workouts they do, what makeup they use. Admittedly, keeping the followers satisfied probably does require some degree of attention and admin. I’m sure the literal minutes spent on the beach trying to get that snap are very taxing indeed.
But the perfect lives they give the appearance of possessing have elevated many to a strange superior status. People are interested in them and – increasingly – what they have to say. There’s a subconscious feeling of, “they’re fit, and they spend their life between Ibiza and the Maldives so obviously they know what they’re talking about”. People are aware of the absurdity of such a mindset but fall into it regardless. Iris Law’s Instagram had made my flatmate feel insignificant – but why? She’s only 19 and were it not for her desirable appearance (and perhaps the famous dad) it’s likely few would have heard of her. Why is she so important?
Modern society operates under a system where people easily become admired by many for things such as simply being attractive or having an ability to shock – which are hardly admirable contributions to society. But more than simply being admired, celebrities and influencers (and their views and opinions) have come to be held as having greater value, of being worth more.
Don’t fool yourself into thinking that this is a phenomenon limited to the online Generation Z world however. The idea that some people are worth more than others has permeated its way deep into our British political structure in a very sinister manner. Let me run through some of the most recent examples.
In 2012 Prince Kwabena Fosu, a 31-year-old Ghanaian national who had entered the UK legally, died of hypothermia, dehydration and malnourishment at Harmondsworth immigration removal centre near Heathrow. At the beginning of March of this year an inquest revealed that Mr Fosu was suffering from “a psychiatric crisis so acute that even someone with no expertise would have noticed”. He was judged to have died “in plain sight” due to the “gross failures” of the agencies running the centre. His mental health was never assessed. In June 2017, 72 people died in Kensington, London when a fire started in the 24-storey Grenfell residential tower block and spread quickly throughout the building. Published victim reports reveal entire families who perished after an initial “stay put” order by emergency services. An inquiry into the disaster is ongoing, however numerous failures by the council and the contractors responsible for the building have already been revealed. Rapper and social activist Akala explained, “the people who died, died because they were poor”. In 2018 Errol Graham, a 57-year-old black man from Nottingham, died of starvation after his benefits were cut off by the Department of Work and Pensions when he failed to appear at “fit-for-work” assessments. Mr Graham suffered from depression and severe social anxiety which made it near impossible for him to leave his flat. In February, The Guardian revealed a heart-breaking letter written by Mr Graham where he pleaded with welfare officials: “judge me fairly”. When bailiffs who had come to evict Mr Graham found his body, he weighed just 30kg.
These events represent merely the most recent and salient examples of government failures being borne out against the most vulnerable in our society. Do a bit of research and it’s not hard to find hundreds more cases. In some sense, we’ve got to hope this is just down to simple neglect or incompetence. A government and wider society which doesn’t notice or doesn’t care for some people, averting its gaze from them. But could it be more malicious?
In February, Downing Street adviser Andrew Sabisky was forced to resign after a media storm created by past comments he had made where he suggested, among other things, intelligence was linked to race and that forced contraception could be used to stop a permanent underclass being created. It’s 2020 and in modern multicultural Britain we literally have a eugenicist being given a job inside our most powerful political office. The scientific and moral grounds upon which eugenics stands have long since been discredited. The blaming of social problems on the genetic makeup of the population is an easy way for the ruling elite to abrogate their responsibility to act on such issues.
This reemergence of a dangerous pseudoscience isn’t something that just happens by chance. A culture exists within our ruling class which allows this to take place: some people are more important than others. Some should be looked after and some shouldn’t. People in positions of power have come into contact with people in positions of vulnerability and neglected to notice that the vulnerable were still people. Modern discourse means that we notice our differences before we are able to connect over our similarities. Instead of simply being viewed as a human, these people have been viewed as what defines them to many: black, disabled, poor—different. Creating that separation, that “us and them” mindset, is what allowed these situations to take place.
Despite Sabisky’s resignation, Dominic Cummings, the chief adviser who hired Sabisky, is still in place and has himself expressed some questionable views on similar topics. Shockingly, but perhaps not all too surprisingly, a spokesperson for Boris Johnson refused to say outright that the PM condemned the views held by Sabisky and even distanced the government from condemnatory remarks made by a minister.
And this, in a strange sense, returns us to Iris Law. Go to her Instagram bio and you’ll find a link to a Vogue online article: “Iris Law’s Guide to the Art of Red Lipstick”. In the introduction the author explains her famous parentage and describes her as “undeniably genetically blessed”. An innocent throwaway remark, sure. But give this a bit of context—have a little think.
Today, in the UK, you can either be genetically blessed (white, rich, famous dad) or not. You are either someone society values and admires (whether you have done anything to deserve this is another matter), or you are not. You can either be someone who has the basic human right to life, or someone who does not. And if you really want to be cared for by modern British society, then do try your hardest not to be disabled, not to be a person of colour, and not to be poor. Because you simply won’t be worth as much.