Friday, 30 April 2010

Counting your blessings

I never watch the telly, fate alone had me switch on BBC 1 ten minutes into Five Daughters, an unsettlingly naturalistic, expertly written three-parter dramatising the last days of the women who met their deaths at the hands of ‘Suffolk Strangler’, Steve Wright.

See what I’ve done? I’ve named him already, and not the women, but the drama does the opposite. The title flags up its point of view and intent which is to draw our killer-obsessed focus off the perpetrator and onto the women: Annette, Paula, Anneli, Gemma and Tania. The thing they crucially had in common wasn’t Steve Wright, or the fact they all, with varying frequency, made money selling sex, but that they were all seriously addicted to drugs, mostly heroin. The truth and drama are horribly sad.

There were about forty women working the streets in that district of Ipswich. Even after bodies began to surface, the women kept standing out there to make drug money, and the men kept driving by, and sometimes at the wheel would be Steve Wright. It’s hard to imagine being so in thrall to something, that you could rationalise the nightmarish risks involved in being on those corners, even as naked corpses are turning up in woods nearby. Wright was a murderer, but it was drugs that handed the victims to him so easily.

So when I watched Five Daughters I was thinking about the inhumanity in a system that lets people wind up with nothing when some people have everything, and about the crisis of feminism still faced with a culture that breeds men who visit prostitutes. If that sounds like a moral judgement, it’s really not, it’s a political one. Don’t ask me to explain the difference though. You have to wonder about the punters though, knowing as they do that the kind of men who kill prostitutes are also the kind of men that visit them in the first place, and not caring enough to want to distance themselves.

You have to wonder too what’s so bad that you need to be out of your head all the time. You wonder what the women were like before, what they wanted and never got. One of the descriptions says, ‘She had dreams of being a pop star … but ended up in a series of low-paid jobs.’ Disappointment. Despair. Is life under capitalism unrewarding or what?

Coincidentally, Vice recently posted a piece about a photographer who chronicles women working the red light district in Miami close to his office. Looking at the photographs seems lurid and intrusive but, dare I say it, addictive. I look at them and wonder, what has gone wrong? Who did this? How? Why? How hard it must be to fix a life like that in a world that despises its poor, and loathes prostitutes most of all. A wage slave, a drug slave, a sex slave, it’s a difference of degree, that’s all.

I started thinking how easy it is for some people to disappear and for nobody to notice, about the surfeit of life that poverty creates, just like the surfeit of material crap that capital depends on. Except it’s life we’re talking about. Why can’t it be worth more? The missing persons website has six pages devoted to stories of people found. There are seventy-eight and counting devoted to people still missing. Eight of John Wayne’s Gacy’s victims were never identified. Who’s going to try and find them now?

There has to be something better.

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