Friday, 18 April 2008

Schandmantel

Bit of a dearth of inspiration this week, I'm afraid. I did promise myself I would try to write once a week, just for the practice, you know, but after a week of worrying about hockey results and writing lectures, I've been caught short. I haven't really need to use public toilets, either (how does that happen?), so I haven't even been able to poach others' little scribblings of wisdom.

BUT, I've been no less angry. And I've been thinking about punishment -- that is, how to get at those who deserve to pay for their transgressions against decency and justice. And not those for whom mechanisms -- feeble, insufficient mechanisms -- already exist and whose crimes should, in theory, not go unpunished. Like Osama Bin Laden or George Bush, for whom benches in war crimes courtrooms are simply being kept warm. I'm thinking about those people who will otherwise escape justice, those people whose crimes, to be fair, aren't on that scale, but by god they deserve something. Those people for whom a simple slap just won't cover it, you know what I mean?

And then I think we've missed something when we moved to our carceral society and our more 'Enlightened' conceptualisations of punishment. And then I learned about the Schandmantel. Now this is an ingenious little device. In case you can't be bothered to follow the link, it's sort of like a lighter version of the iron maiden (which apparently -- and this I didn't know -- was just an eighteenth century invention... those silly Gothic writers!). Coming into use in the 13th century, the schandmantel was simply a barrel, made of wood, that convicted prostitutes and poachers were forced to wear as corporal punishment. People would tease them and throw rotting fruit and vegetables at the wearer.

Now what a great idea, I thought. And I got to thinking that it's the modern day poachers and prostitutes that we'd really like to punish: not real prostitutes, of course, but real poachers, fine, and anyone of that ilk. Let's leave the categories open; we don't want to limit our scope here, we might be on to something.

Now, I realise that with this glorious new idea I'm going to disappoint you with my first conviction, but I think we need to fit one of these for boy-Tory and Downing Street loiterer Nick Robinson. Evil? No. But a prostitute? Most certainly a self-aggrandising media whore if ever there was one, always happy to serve the establishment and trying to set right-wing political agendas -- his opinions -- rather than do real political journalism. A poacher? Absolutely. And I don't mean that he has hunted and brought down the Big Game of the political jungle. No, I mean that he has plundered our world of its natural resources -- reason. He has killed intelligent political debate, carved-up the carcass and turned it into the in-demand commodity of gossip and tittle-tattle. (Come back Andrew Marr; all is forgiven.)

A soggy carrot up each nostril and a wet, browning cabbage over his head. I think that would do it. Maybe stick a leek in one ear, pull it out the other, and see which end turns to compost first.

Please let me know if you have any ideas for who might look nice in one of these schandmantels. It might become the in-thing to be seen in this season. Remember to include what fruit, or vegetable, and in what state of decay, you think appropriate.

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