Is Pride Enough? A critical account of 2017’s Brighton Pride.
Walking through Preston Park the morning after Brighton Pride, I found a sign: “The first Pride was a riot”.
2017’s Pride, on Saturday 5th August, was not anything like a riot. There was nothing confrontational about it. But a lack of confrontation doesn’t only mean an enjoyable, peaceful experience for everyone. It also means passive acceptance, a void of critical rebellion against homophobia, without meaningful and active pursuit of change.
In Mark Fisher’s Capitalist Realism (2009), Fisher says our sense of rebellion – our desire to break the bonds that displease us – is placated by investing in a concept of objective change. If I feel disappointed by society’s inability to house every single person, rather than offering my time and energy to volunteer for a homeless shelter, I simply invest in a charity, giving them, say, £10 a month. The revolutionary within me is appeased, the rest of society feels that my actions have helped, whilst the capitalist machine that consumes the money from the underclass continues to keep millions hungry on the streets.
Rather than really do anything, we just offer flimsy words of futile optimism. “Well done”, “It’ll all be fine”, “This is so lovely!”.
And at Pride it was hard to find anyone who was actually doing anything to push for real change. When I asked how Pride was changing perceptions of LGBTQ people in society, one man looked around the street (populated mostly by young, good-looking straight people drinking beer), and said, ‘Well, look how much fun everyone’s having!’
A young woman, also on a street of pretty young people, replied, ‘We’re changing by being together! Everyone is together today!’
But everyone was not together. The people in Brighton that day were together, but not everyone. The bigots had left. That isn’t unity.
People had fun. People laughed, danced, drank. Nobody rioted. You don’t riot at Pride, not anymore. People were not angry about an entire culture that expressly beat and silence anything and anyone different.
Rather than any fundamental urge to change the wrongs of the system, there was a constant but vague sense of optimism. In Capitalist Realism, Fisher discusses Adam Curtis’ comments on the culture of “hugs and kisses”:
Hugs and kisses come from feel-good social programmes that do nothing over and above making people feel momentarily able to live another day of mechanical and abstract capitalist production, making money for someone else, whilst imagining that society is all on their side. After all, the people that contribute to these programmes are so friendly and always so good.
Hugs and kisses come from positive algorithms in online advertising that convince people the whole world is on their side.
You are hugged and kissed all over. It feels so good to be loved. Nobody feeling that universal love wants to riot. So there was no riot at Pride that day.
This love perpetuates that superficial unity, if only for a day. In our private lives, we feel united: the people on TV smile at us, the people on our social media feeds agree with us, the simulacra of the screen keeps us separated from the danger on the news. We are loved. We all believe we are capable and independent, strong. No one will drag us down from that direct ray of simulated love.
Why would you ever want to rebel against love? You are constantly praised for being who you are; you belong to the system, you are in a more perfect union, you are uniquely necessary to the system.
If you want a semblance of “LGBTQ equality” at Pride, if you do anything more than participate in this perfect union, if you dare think about a riot, then your “hugs and kisses” will crumble into dust. This facade only works if everyone believes they are outwardly united, but inwardly, deep inside, you know the secret truth: you are secretly so special that pride is for you. To turn away from Pride would be to try to actively, violently, change anything. And we can’t have a riot at Pride. Nobody likes a riot.
So the only way to rebel is to invest in the system of hugs and kisses, to outsource alternative opinions to things outside the supposed unity of people. To things like businesses, charities, newspapers. If you read The Guardian and they support Pride then they have done something, ergo you’ve done something by reading The Guardian. This is advocacy by proxy, this is fight for LGBTQ rights by commercialization.
At Sainsbury’s supermarkets in Brighton they had banners hanging in their windows reading “Sainsbury’s loves Pride”. In estate agents’ windows on Lewes Road signs said “We wish you all a happy Pride”. Once a riot – what once pushed for real political and social change – 2017’s Pride weekend was represented by capitalist investment.
The message is: “If you buy things at Sainsbury’s, if you come to this estate agency, you are helping the LGBTQ community.”
That is a lie.
As Jarett Kobek writes in his 2017 novel I Hate the Internet, ‘Their social activism occurred on mechanics owned by the Patriarchy. Their social activism occurred on platforms designed for the sole purpose of advertising.’
People bought glitter. People bought fishnet tights. People bought beer with the word ‘pride’ in the title. People bought sunglasses. People bought pink clothes. People bought rainbow flags. People bought acceptance. People displayed the singular neoliberal self and its superior morality, in the chronic craze of capitalism, to show they were each unique.
To celebrate this as an end is to cheer the drinking games of heterosexual capitalists with their faces covered in glitter and an adamant pride in how liberal and free they are for attending Pride. This was worth all the LGBTQ people who have ever been beaten, hated, spat at, murdered. All the LGBTQ people who have ever pushed against the boundaries of the system, wanting only to live. For this.
There is a joke in Paul Beatty’s 2015 novel The Sellout: ‘I seriously doubt that some slave ship ancestor, in those idle moments between being raped and beaten, was standing knee-deep in their own faeces rationalizing that, in the end, the generations of murder, unbearable pain and suffering, mental anguish, and rampant disease will all be worth it because someday my great-great-great-great-grandson will have Wi-Fi, no matter how slow and intermittent the signal is’.
In the same vein, I seriously doubt that any LGBTQ rights campaigner would see this esoteric party as evidence of liberated progress.
The running theme of Pride runs as follows: every LGBTQ person in the city of Brighton must spend the entire year waiting for the one summer weekend. Based on choices they never made, picked out of the darkness for something innate and natural in them, they are told to run into the streets in fancy dress and joyfully applaud their own alienation from society, affirming that they are just different, unique, that all they can offer to the world is endless happiness and party-pleasing excitement.
Pride is not only about unity. It is also about self-expression, self-liberation, self-acceptance. Just pull out your credit card. Pride is about belonging to the capitalist machine. Pride is the inevitable co-option of the riot, the neoliberal individualization of the special, unique self.
Pride was once a riot. Now it is a piss-up for self-expression. Nobody needs to fight against homophobia and transphobia. Why? They danced, had a few drinks on a rainy Saturday. Problem solved. Each individual believes they are glorified by the gods of gayness. They expressed their unique self better than the others, buying the same glitter, the same tights, the same beer, clothes, sunglasses. Each individual feels so good: they achieved something. They have invested their money and time in a counter-culture movement of liberation, can’t you see it from the poster in the window of Sainsbury’s?
But that is a lie: they fed the capitalist machine.
People feel emboldened when they leave Pride. They feel united, accepted. But only amongst people who were already convinced. They are only being hugged and kissed more and more by the same uncritical shortsightedness: acceptance by people who already accepted. While at Pride, I met a woman from Brighton whose overtly homophobic boss goes on holiday to London for that weekend every year.
Pride began as a riot. Pride began as an active push towards change. It didn’t work. Society is still, in numerous ways, homophobic, transphobic, bigoted and backwards. A special day of drinking and dancing with people who are more proud of their appearance of liberal generosity, a day when there are no bigots in Brighton, a day when all the storefronts put up posters, is not a productive means of changing anything. The dances stop, the glitter comes off, the posters come down out of the windows, the bigots come back to Brighton. That day of Pride was complacency.
I remember that sign I saw in Preston Park, and now I see: we need to do something.
Elliot C. Mason is a writer and a student of literature and linguistics.
Brendan Sibley’s article on Deleuze and violence in British and American novels: http://undercurrentphilosophy.com/long/deleuzian-response-jamesons-raymond-chandler/
A very interesting book on these themes is ‘Inventing the Future: Postcapitalism and a World Without Work’, by Nick Srnieck and Alex Williams, published in 2015.