Monthly Archives: March 2020

Words on Walford: Week of 9 – 13 March 2020

Love in the age of coronavirus is brutal. At least, it is in Walford. This week EastEnders gave us to not one but two disastrous proposals as Lola socially distanced herself from Jay by jumping into bed with Peter and Stuart found out that Rainie did not want to self-quarantine with him in holy matrimony. Still, the good people of E20 seem utterly unbothered by the global pandemic sending the rest of us into utter panic. You know we’re living through dark times when the world seems grim compared to Albert Square, but life must carry on—as poor Sharon is struggling to realise—so let’s crack on with some Words on Walford.

Having mentioned Jay and Lola, they feel like as good a place to start as any, especially since this week felt like it centred around them. That is, in part at least, because seeing them featured so prominently is a rare treat. Jamie Borthwick has been chronically underused for years, despite being one of the most charming actors on the show and Jay being one of the most unimpeachably decent. Since her return as Lola, Danielle Harold has likewise been relegated to supporting player; at times it felt like she was only brought back so that Lexi could also return. It’s a nice change, then, to see both getting a storyline of their own.

It’s an interesting storyline, too, even if it feels a little contrived. If you had told me even a month ago that Lola would turn down a proposal from Jay I would have laughed in your face. But fear of COVID-19 and Lola’s sudden personal growth means no one is laughing now. And when I say sudden, I mean sudden. As I said, Lola has mostly been a prop since she returned, a static character meant to serve in Ben’s (and to a lesser degree Billy’s) stories rather than carry one of her own. Because of this, we haven’t seen any character development in her—whether achieved since she returned or in the four years she spent away from the Square.

It wasn’t until last week, with her conversation with Chantelle about her pregnancy, that we began to really explore who Lola is as an adult. We got more of it this week as she cried on Denise’s shoulder. Hearing Lola discuss the youth she might have enjoyed had she not had Lexi was revealing and went a long way to explaining why she is in no hurry to marry Jay and why she jumped in bed with Peter at the first opportunity. It was refreshing to hear Lola discuss how difficult being a young, single mother has been on her are and was a wonderful moment of insight into a character who, until this point, has been somewhat of an enigma since her return. Danielle Harold gave a convincing performance, really showing Lola’s doubts and insecurities and gaining our sympathy in the process—no mean feat considering she’d just cheated on the nicest boy in Walford.

I’ll be interested to see where the Jay and Lola story goes. I have high hopes that, with Peter, we could be in store for a very interesting love triangle (one I predicted last week). All three actors—Harold, Brown, and Dayle Hudson—are capable, and I can see it being very hard to decide which pairing to “ship.” I hope EastEnders continues to explore this dynamic.

The other disastrous proposal was a little more out-of-the-blue and a little more surprising. Stuart deciding at the spur of the moment to ask Rainie to marry him is a very Stuart thing to do, and Rainie publicly rejecting him is a very Rainie thing to do. I didn’t see it coming, though—either the proposal or the rejection. Stuart seems genuinely good for Rainie, who has never had anyone fight her corner the way he does. Watching the two of them crawl around on the floor of Walford East as they searched for the ring was hilarious. I just love them, and that’s all there is to say about that. I actually expected her to say yes—after some hemming and hawing—until Stuart mentioned Linda.
Honestly, Stuart should have known better. Rainie is ashamed of her past, as we saw when an old john showed up at the funeral home, but she internalises that shame and she owns it. She isn’t proud of her past, but she is proud. So, if there’s one thing Rainie Cross won’t abide it is someone sticking their nose up at her, and no one sticks their nose up better than Linda Carter. Hell, I’m surprised she doesn’t drown when it rains. Rainie giving Linda a few home truths about addiction was one of my favourite scenes so far this year, because Linda can sit on her high horse all she likes—and she really likes it—but in the end there is nothing separating her and Rainie (or Stuart or Phil). It was good to see Rainie give her what for, and good to see her get through to Linda who finally went to a meeting.

In fact, I have more hope for the Carters than I have in months. I honestly thought Linda’s drinking would be what finally tore her and Mick apart, but they seem to be getting back on a solid footing. I think I’m happy about this. For a while, I thought breaking Mick and Linda up would make for great story, but the more I think about it the more I like that there is one couple on EastEnders that always manages to make it work. While the rest of the Square is put asunder, Mick and Linda stand firm. Other than maybe Jim and Dot, I can’t think of another couple for whom that has been true.

Well, maybe Shirley and Jean. Their friendship is one of the best dynamics on the show, and watching Gillian Wright and Linda Henry is always a delight. Watching them expose Suki was exciting and vindicating. The  performances of Wright, Henry, and Balvinder Sopal were pitch perfect. I admit I’m surprised how quickly Suki’s cancer lie was exposed; I expected this storyline to drag on into the spring. One thing is clear, though: Suki Panesar is shaping up to be a great villain. Watching her manipulate her sons, even after she admitted to faking cancer, was enthralling. Sopal plays sociopathic Suki so deliciously that I always look forward to seeing her scheme. She has the making of an iconic Walford matriarch and villain, and I hope she sticks around for a long time. With this storyline resolving itself so quickly, though, I wonder where the Panesars go from here.

That is, I wonder where the Panesars go from here with one exception. It is clear Kheerat is going to play a pivotal role in the resolution of Gray and Chantelle’s domestic abuse storyline. This week he gave Chantelle a job at the call centre, but for months we’ve seen him take an interest in Chantelle, and I (and many fans) wonder if he doesn’t know, or at least suspect, that Gray is beating her behind closed doors. Mitch, too, seems to be inching closer to discovering the truth. As I’ve said before, this storyline needs to come to a head soon because there’s not much more I can take. Watching Gray abuse Chantelle is harrowing, and while Jessica Plummer and Toby-Alexander Smith continue to give it their all, it’s just very hard to watch. Seeing Chantelle try to get up off the floor at the end of Friday’s episode, while Gray was celebrated as a hero in the pub, reminded me of Trevor and Little Mo—and not necessarily in the best way.

Still, this is an important storyline. The number of British women killed by a male partner or ex-partner in the UK rose 28 per cent over the last year. 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men will be the victim of domestic abuse in their lifetimes. Earlier this month in the House of Commons, Jess Phillips MP read out the names of more than 100 women murdered by men in the UK over the past year, something she has done in years past. I’m glad EastEnders is addressing the issue, but this storyline has been going on for the better part of a year. Gray needs to get his comeuppance soon, because it’s just very difficult viewing.

Whitney’s storyline is also difficult viewing. There isn’t a lot I want to say about it, as I’m still not a fan of this storyline (for the reasons I’ve mentioned in previous blogs), but I do want to commend Shona McGarty for an incredibly powerful performance. It isn’t easy acting by yourself, especially when you’re playing someone suffering from delusions and starvation. McGarty is absolutely nailing it, though. Every time I see Whitney my heart breaks just a little bit more. Honestly, her having a mental breakdown over the abuse she has suffered is a long time coming.

Stray observations: I am a little surprised EastEnders didn’t insert a special scene addressing coronavirus. It seems like a missed opportunity to do some public education, but looked at another way, maybe people just need an escape from the sheer terror we’re all living in so best not to mention it. A week without Ian or Kathy and only one scene with Sharon was weird but refreshing. I know I’ve said we need more Sharon, but honestly, I’m glad Jon Sen focused on some of the other characters instead of Ian. There’s more going on in Walford than Denny’s death. Jean Slater not taking her medication is not a storyline I’m looking forward to. I assume this is meant to help usher Stacey back to Walford after Lacey Turner’s maternity leave ends, but it’s so predictable and so derivative. Been there, done that. I was glad to see a small scene between Mitch and Bailey. More Kara-Leah Fernandes please. #Ballum barely featured this week and… I didn’t miss them. I’m glad Patrick is back. That scene in the Prince Albert with him, Isaac, and the other men playing air hockey reminded me of the sort of community “hang” we saw more of on the show in the 1990s, and I enjoyed it. I like it when random characters hang out. Denise playing agony aunt to Lola and Jay was a nice and natural fit for her. Denise needs a big storyline. She hasn’t had one in three years—since her GCSE/homelessness storyline.

Scene of the week: Rainie giving Linda some home truths at Walford East. Read Lady Muck for filth, Rainie!

Line of the week: “They’re called hundreds and thousands, Shirley, not ones and twos!” – Jean teaches Shirley how to properly decorate a cake

Performance of the week: Shona McGarty – she’s breaking my heart as Whitney

Character of the week: Suki Panesar – She’s a character you just love to hate. She’s made such an impact already, despite only debuting about a month ago. I cannot wait to see what trouble Suki causes in the months to come, and Sopal plays her so deliciously evil watching her is like biting into a rich and decadent Belgian chocolate—you know it’s bad for you, but it’s just so good.

Skylar Baker-Jordan is a freelance writer based in Tennessee. His work has appeared at the Independent, Huff Post UK, Salon, and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @skylarjordan and become a sustainer at www.patreon.com/skylarjordan

In the face of coronavirus, we need a little Blitz Spirit – but not in the way you think

“Well, it’s a national emergency,” I said to my grandmother yesterday as she lamented that she couldn’t find toilet paper (Brits read: loo roll) at the supermarket. “People need to stop hoarding and start realizing that we might have shortages. We might need to ration. America needs a little Blitz Spirit.”

For those unfamiliar with the term, Blitz Spirit refers to the attitude of Londoners during the blitzkrieg, or German aerial bombardment of London during the Second World War. It’s marked by stoicism, resilience, and cheerfulness in the face of a perilous situation. Over the ensuing decades it has entered British civic religion as the defining national trait, a stiff upper lip, “keep calm and carry on” attitude.

Writing in The Atlantic, Helen Lewis explained why Blitz Spirit won’t be enough to save the UK from the coronavirus. “As the government inevitably restricts Britons’ lives to slow the spread of the coronavirus,” she writes, “the country has to reject the voices urging us that we are overreacting, that we should stoically stagger on, as Saint George or Boudicca or Winston Churchill might have done.” Rather than carrying on as usual, this time we must do the opposite and change our behaviour to meet the moment. Anything less could be catastrophic.

She is right. During the Blitz, Londoners went to pubs, gathered around bombed out homes, mingled in parks and continued going to work and school. In the face of a deadly pandemic that is the worst thing you can do. Social distancing works and, as experts have said, flattening the curve—meaning slowing the spread of the virus so as not to overwhelm our medical resources—is imperative. Doing that means staying home a lot more than we’re used to and, rather than pulling together as a community, staying as far away from one another as possible.

So while in that regard Blitz Spirit is the last thing we need, there is another way to look at it—one I think we should emulate in the face of this international emergency. Yes, the dogged determination to just get on with things was a defining trait of Londoners during the Second World War, but they also understood, more or less, that in order to provide for the greater good they would have to make personal sacrifices. Foodstuff would be rationed by the state, curfews would be implemented, children would be separated from their parents in evacuations. None of this was easy, some of it was mandatory, but all of it was necessary in order to get through the crisis at hand.

I was thinking about this yesterday as I read through the comments on a Facebook post in which I asked folks how concerned they were about coronavirus. Most people were at least somewhat worried, if not for themselves then for their more susceptible friends and relations.

Yet you couldn’t be on social media yesterday and not see empty store shelves where people have panic-bought everything from the aforementioned loo roll to, according to one Facebook friend, heads of lettuce. And while most of my friends—which, it should be said is obviously not a random sampling nor a scientific poll—said they are at least a little concerned, others admitted to being shockingly blasé about it all. Whether because they think God will protect them, or they are young and healthy, or they don’t think they’ll get it, they’re going about their days and ridiculing the “panic” of everyone else.

It really bothered me, not only because this kind of attitude will help spread the virus far and wide, but because it illustrated an incredible selfishness—just as those panic-buying all sorts of items are demonstrating. Hell, people are already stealing NHS hand sanitser. Our societies are incredibly selfish, and in moments of national crisis that is incredibly dangerous.

Dr. Patti Minter, a history professor I studied under at Western Kentucky University who is now a State Representative in Kentucky, once said to me that “Ronald Reagan made it okay for Americans to be selfish again.” It’s a comment that has stuck with me over the ensuing years, and one I think is equally applicable to Margaret Thatcher and the UK. We are an incredibly selfish society, both countries, prioritising our needs over the needs of our community.

That happened during the Blitz too, of course. There was a black market for goods being rationed, and people tried to cheat the system. But by and large, people understood that in a moment of national crisis personal sacrifice was required. They made it without complaint. It was what needed to be done, so they did it.

We need that kind of moral clarity and certitude now. During the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918, society nearly disintegrated. People didn’t heed the warnings, gathered in large crowds, the virus spread, and then it was every man for himself. Folks wouldn’t check on the sick, wouldn’t bring food to those infected, no one would bury the bodies—people self-isolated too late, but when they did, my God did they self-isolate.

In a 2017 essay for Smithsonian Magazine, historian John M. Barry explains how bad it got:

 

In Philadelphia, the head of Emergency Aid pleaded, “All who are free from the care of the sick at home… report as early as possible…on emergency work.” But volunteers did not come. The Bureau of Child Hygiene begged people to take in—just temporarily—children whose parents were dying or dead; few replied. Emergency Aid again pleaded, “We simply must have more volunteer helpers….These people are almost all at the point of death. Won’t you…come to our help?” Still nothing. Finally, Emergency Aid’s director turned bitter and contemptuous: “Hundreds of women…had delightful dreams of themselves in the roles of angels of mercy…Nothing seems to rouse them now…There are families in which the children are actually starving because there is no one to give them food. The death rate is so high and they still hold back.”

 

And this is where Blitz Spirit comes in. As much as it has always been about having a stiff upper lip, it has also been about doing what needs to be done for your community and your country. We cannot give into the fear, but also cannot give into the selfishness. I see it happening already, and it’s deeply concerning. We need to face the reality that the only way we’re going to survive coronavirus is if we all pull together.

That means you may have to go without toilet paper. You might not be able to go to your local coffeeshop or bar. Those concert tickets you have? You might not be able to use them. That big trip you were going on? Cancelled.

Suck it up. Take one for the team. Even if you think you’ll be fine, think about all the people who won’t. Think about what happens if you get sick and spread it to your grandpa, or your elderly neighbour, or the little old woman trying to fill her prescription at the chemist (Americans read: pharmacy). We need to think about one another right now, which starts with accepting that we’ll have to make some sacrifices over the next few months.

So stay home. Watch Netflix. Make your own coffee. Don’t horde. Don’t panic-buy. In fact, don’t panic at all; panic is useless and counterproductive. But accept that things are going to get hard for you and for everyone else. This is a national crisis, whether you’re in the US or UK. It’s going to hurt.

We’re all going to feel it one way or another. That’s what happens in a national crisis. But remember, the operative word there is not crisis. It is national.

Show some Blitz Spirit and do what needs to be done for the country, not for yourself.

Skylar Baker-Jordan is a freelance writer based in Tennessee. His work has appeared at the Independent, Huff Post UK, Salon, and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @skylarjordan and become a sustainer at www.patreon.com/skylarjordan

Reading my teenage blog: Part II – “Its Just A Small Town Saturday Night”

“Reading my Teenage Blog” is a series of essays by writer Skylar Baker-Jordan where he, well, reads the online diary he kept as a teenager and responds as a man in his 30s. He hopes to find insights into how he – and the world –  has changed from the early ’00s to the early ’20s. Some names have been changed and some portions redacted in order to protect the privacy of those he writes about.

This one was painful because of how explicit I got. I considered redacting a few portions, and did one (I explain why I didn’t, and why I did). I’m still not sure this is the best idea I ever had. Part of me feels like this will come back to bite me in the ass. Still, I think there are lessons to be learned and insights to be gleaned by looking back at what I wrote, for the world to read on the Internet, in the early noughts. Let’s see if you agree.

Its Just A Small Town Sunday Night 4/21/2002
Well, I just got off the phone with [Sabrina]. We both agree that what happened between us last night should stay between us-especially because I’m gay. When she asked me what posessed me to do that, I said it was the high that I was on. I really think that there was so much nicotine in my system that I was high and not thinking straight. I smoked two packs in about eight hours. I’ve NEVER done that before. But moving on.

I kissed a girl and I… didn’t like it. Very fucking cute that I would blame it on being “high” off nicotine. I don’t actually remember this specific incident, but picking up on context clues and a fuzzy 18-year-old memory tells me I kissed Sabrina. This was not the last time I would kiss a girl (this would happen a couple times in college), but it was never more than a funny game to me.

From 2001 – 2002 I was on what many called at the time (and maybe still do) the “bi now, gay later” plan. I knew I was gay, but for a few months I waffled, telling others – and myself – that I was maybe bisexual. I knew I wasn’t, but being gay seemed so freaking hard. Weirdly, I remember that it wasn’t the homophobia that bothered me, but the thought of being single through high school. Of course, once I discovered that being gay wouldn’t condemn me to a sexless adolescence I quickly gave up the ghost of performative bisexuality and just came out as plain ole’ boring gay. I wonder if kids these days still struggle with this? I was the only openly gay kid in my high school (though not the only gay kid – there were others, and I knew who they were because they told me). For me, dating was a real challenge. These days, though, so many kids come out. Is finding a teenage romance still a problem? I don’t know.

I do think I remember this night, though. If not *this* night, a night around this time that has stuck with me my entire life. My sophomore year there were three girls I hung out with for a few months – Sabrina (mentioned above), Marida (pronounced Merdee), and Brandie (or Brandiie or some unique spelling – can’t quite recall). They were sound, but we drifted apart pretty quickly. I remember one night, though, spent cruising mountain roads while we blasted country music, smoking cigarettes in the park under a pale moonlight, driving 30 miles to Wal-Mart just to walk around. I’ve often wondered why I remember that night so much. We had a laugh, but we didn’t do anything memorable. Yet looking back on it, I see that it’s one of the last nights of innocence I ever had. Just me and three girlfriends goofing off. Yeah, we smoked cigarettes, but that was as rebellious as we got. Flying down a country road blasting Alabama through the mountain night felt quintessentially southern, quintessentially high school. I think that’s why it sticks with me.

Mark. We made out for about 30 minuets yesterday, and for me to say that I didn’t enjoy it would be a lie. He is so sexy, so preppy, has the cutest feet (next to [Ryan]) and is so my type. But I didn’t feel that spark with him that I felt with [Ryan]. As much as I want him to be, he’s not [Ryan]. And when I was giving him that hand job, I couldn’t help but to feel that I was cheating on [Ryan]-even though we aren’t even dating. Mark gave me his number and wants to get together again, and even though I enjoyed his company and his kisses (and his cum…..yes thats nasty I know but hey this is my diary-my most private thoughts go in here-just the whole world gets to see them), I think I like him more as a friend. In fact, my love for [Ryan] has never wavered. I only want him. And that scares me. It really does.

I almost redacted two parts of this, and you can probably figure out which two parts they are. Something we didn’t understand in 2002 is that the Internet is forever. To find my teenage blog you would really have to do some deep digging. The website has been offline for at least 16 years. Yet, it’s still there if you know where to look. That’s a frightening thought, and any Gen Z folk reading this should take heed. Nothing online ever goes away.

Now, Mark. I have no idea who this is. I do not remember a Mark. Sorry, Mark. If you read the previous entry in this series, you’ll know I do remember Ryan. He was probably the first boy I ever loved, even if it was a puppy love. Still, dealing with those feelings as a teenager is scary. I had only just turned 16 when I wrote this. At the time I felt so grown-up and certian of myself. Looking at this, though, it’s clear that I was still a child and deeply insecure and unsure of what I was doing. This isn’t new; adults looking back at their teenage years with mortification is a tale as old as time. It’s especially uncomfortable, though, when you read the words you wrote as a youth. 

[Sabrina] thinks that me giving up sexual activity is the worst thing I could do. I’m going to be so “jittery (I’ll) be bouncing off the walls.” I swear, I dunno what to do. I really, really don’t. My heart says give up sex for him, but my head (and dick) say not too. So I dunno. Me and [Sabrina] have decided to tel [Ryan] about my dream. She’s going to do it tomarrow-somehow. [REDACTED]

I redacted part of this because taken out of context or in bad faith it could be used to hurt someone, and while I think the chances of anyone I went to high school with reading this or figuring it out small, it’s not something I want to worry about. None of the people I wrote about in this diary consented to being written about, a harsh truth I have to accept as an adult and actually had to reckon with in high school. My senior year, my online diary became public knowledge and I became Gossip Girl before there was a Gossip Girl. It was never my intention, but it happened, and I couldn’t control the fallout. I was indignant at the time. I am remorseful now.

I wish I had the context for my decision to “give up sex” because I don’t remember this at all, which probably means I didn’t do it. Of course, as of this writing I was still a virgin. I wouldn’t be for much longer; looking at the date this was published, I would lose my virginity within three weeks of its writing. Still, I’d love to know what was going on in my head and in my life before and after this entry. Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on how you look at it), only excerpts of my online diary from 2001 – 2003 are available, meaning some things will be mentioned without context and with no way to know what exactly was happening. Things I thought I would remember forever have been forgotten, while some things I read bring back memories so vivid they could have happened yesterday. Funny, that.

I’m really annoyed that I didn’t know how to spell “tomorrow.”

Well, thats it. Nothing major has happened today. I’ll ttyl all.

When was the last time any of us used “ttyl.” I wonder if teenagers today even know what “ttyl” means?

Peace.

Bye.

Skylar Baker-Jordan is a freelance writer based in Tennessee. His work has appeared at the Independent, Huff Post UK, Salon, and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @skylarjordan and become a sustainer at www.patreon.com/skylarjordan

Words on Walford: Week of 2 – 6 March 2020

Farewell, Bex. The departure of Jasmine Armfield as Martin and Sonia’s daughter is the biggest development on EastEnders this week, though it is hardly the most interesting. That kind of sums up the character of Bex, though. When you think about it, she has been through a lot over the past few years—being bullied, having her boyfriend sleep with her aunt, a suicide attempt—but every storyline the writers gave her withered on the vine. That’s a shame, because Armfield is a capable actress and Bex could have been an interesting character. Instead, she was the perennial damp squib, her storylines never really climaxing into anything interesting.

The writers never seemed invested in her character, using her mostly as a plot point for other characters. I mentioned the bullying storyline, which came to a climax with Louise’s burns. The Preston storyline was always about Michelle, not Bex. The best (by which I mean worst) example, though, is Bex’s suicide attempt, which had the potential to be a compelling, issue-based storyline but instead was used to further Martin’s and Sonia’s plot. Despite being the one who tried to take her own life, Bex factored little into her suicide storyline.

Because of this, I doubt fans really notice Bex’s absence. I don’t know why Armfield left, but I can’t blame her. She never got the material she deserved. I’m glad they didn’t kill Bex off, though. The door is left open for her return, and maybe in a few years’ time the character can come back to Walford (whether played by Armfield or a recast) and make a bigger impression—one due a legacy character like Rebecca Fowler.

Speaking of legacy characters, let’s talk about Denny Rickman. It’s been two weeks since he drowned on the boat, yet it feels as though he has already been forgotten. Sharon is still grieving, and we got a few very good scenes played by Letitia Dean. Just, not enough. So far Denny’s death has been more about Ian’s guilt and now Dotty’s blackmail. It’s frustrating, because the death of a legacy character like Denny ought to at the very least put Sharon—one of the most iconic characters in the show’s history—front and centre. Maybe it will as we near the funeral, but until then I’m left wondering why we’re not exploring Sharon’s grief over the loss of her son and her relationship with her newborn son more. Instead, Denny’s death has been made about Ian sodding Beale.

Part of this is, no doubt, that Phil Mitchell isn’t around. I’m not sure if Steve McFadden is on holiday or what, but Phil’s absence in the aftermath of the boat crash is jarring. He caused the accident which killed Denny, yet he’s nowhere to be found. I’m certain we’ll get the payoff we’re all waiting for when McFadden returns to our screens, but in the meantime we’re left with no real resolution—to the boat sinking, yes, but also to the Sheanu affair, which is the storyline that just won’t end.

Even Ben, who played a massive role in Denny’s death, isn’t really grappling with that thanks to his hearing loss. It’s an important storyline and I’m glad EastEnders is exploring it, but I would like to see some acknowledgement from Ben that his stepbrother is dead because of his actions. Ben can walk and chew bubblegum at the same time, and the writers ought to be able to as well. The announcement that Paul Usher is returning as gangster Danny Hardcastle doesn’t inspire confidence, though. The last thing Ben needs is another gangster storyline, but Kate Oates and Jon Sen just can’t help themselves.

That’s a shame, because pulling Ben out of the thug life and into family life could make for some amazing stories. Some of the best scenes this week were between Ben, Jay, Lola, and Lexi. Seeing the four of them, with Callum, at the end of Friday’s episode was sweet. I want to see more of it. It’s an interesting family dynamic—mum and boyfriend, dad and boyfriend, all living in harmony and raising little Lexi. I want to see the show explore it further.

We might get that now that Jay and Lola seem to finally be getting a storyline of their own. Lola’s pregnancy wasn’t exactly shocking to anyone but her. Lola’s decision to terminate it, though, was. We didn’t get as much of Jay and Lola as I would have liked this week, but Lola’s uncertainty about starting a family with Jay so soon was an interesting development.

The couple has long been written as endgame, and the writers wasted no time splitting up Jay and Ruby to get them back together. Listening to Lola talk to Chantelle about her pregnancy, though, I was struck that she said she “likes him a lot.” She didn’t say she loved Jay, just that she likes him. Later, when talking to Jay, Lola said they hadn’t been together that long. And it’s true, they haven’t. But it’s hardly like they just met. There’s a lot of history there, so the words Lola chose are perhaps telling. I don’t think she’s as invested in this relationship as Jay is.

Which brings me to Peter. Lauren and Peter had so much drama it’s easy to forget that Lola and Peter have a history together, too. Yet the writers made a point of acknowledging that the week before last. Could they be gearing up for a Peter/Lola/Jay love triangle? It has occurred to me that could be where this is heading, though it’s just idle speculation. (I’m interested to hear what you think—chime in in the comments below.)

It’s understandable that Jay wants a child, though. To start, he loves Lola. But beyond that, Jay has never really had a family of his own. He has the Mitchells, who have mostly been good to him (not always, but mostly), but Jay is the epitome of the poor little orphan boy. It often shows in the stories he gets—or more accurately, doesn’t get—so no doubt the chance to start a family of his own is incredibly exciting. Jay might not have even realised he wanted it, but now that he has I doubt he lets it go. For someone who has never had a family, the chance at one will be strong.

That being said, Lola’s reasons for not wanting a baby are valid. Ben’s struggling, and whether it’s fair or not for Jay to accuse her of putting Ben before him, it’s at least understandable. Ben is the father of her child. Lexi nearly got ran over by a car because of Ben’s inability to hear. Putting Ben first is, in a way, putting Lexi first, which is exactly what a good parent should do.

The question of what makes a good parent is one no doubt troubling Mitch Baker. Once again the most impressive scenes of the week involved Mitch and Keegan. Keegan’s arrest and his frustration over his long wait at the hospital was tough to watch, especially considering Keegan was very clearly being racially profiled in the former. The latter is harder to say—it was clever to have a Black nurse be the one to routinely tell Keegan he had to wait to be seen by a doctor, and to be fair it’s understandable for an A&E to take more critical cases first.

What is also understandable, though, is Keegan’s frustration in that moment. For weeks we’ve seen Keegan being racially profiled and harassed, so it’s not surprising he felt—rightly or wrongly—that it was happening again at hospital. Zack Morris is one of my favourite actors currently on EastEnders, and I’m glad to see him getting another hard-hitting storyline. I was worried that the show wouldn’t do this storyline justice, but after this week I’m hopeful they will. I’m so glad, because as I’ve said before, this is an important storyline that has the potential to change the public perception of racism and policing, which at is best is what EastEnders does.

While we’re talking about race and the Taylor family, let’s talk about Chantelle and Gray Atkins. Feeling the pressure at work, Gray began spiraling out of control (again) this week. We saw him nearly attack Chantelle on Monday, but it was his scenes with his boss which gave us the most insight into Gray’s mind and motivation. A mate of mine texted me, pointing out that the fact that it was a Black woman who was piling on the pressure at work might speak to why Gray treats Chantelle the way he does—that is, he abuses his Black wife because of his anger at his Black boss. I’m sure my mate would agree it’s more complicated than that (abuse always is), but it does introduce an interesting point: what role does race play in the way Gray treats Chantelle, his boss, and others? Chantelle’s and Gray’s domestic violence storyline has, without even trying, explored the power dynamics between men and women, but Chantelle is Black and Gray is white, so there’s another power dynamic in their relationship, too. How does that influence how Gray sees his wife?

I’ll be interested to see how this plays out, especially as the show continues to subtly explore the dynamics of race in Keegan’s marriage to Tiffany, who very clearly does not understand what it is like to be a Black man in modern Britain. Again, this is just speculation, so it may be that race is never addressed when it comes to Gray and Chantelle. But if you want to explore race in modern Britain, the Taylors are the perfect family to do it. Despite having two mixed-race children, Karen Taylor has already shown she can be racist (remember her sparring with Masood over the launderette?). If this is the direction EastEnders is taking this, it will be fascinating to see how it plays out.

One thing is for certain, though: Gray needs to get his comeuppance soon. This abuse storyline has been going on since last summer, and it’s very disturbing to watch. I appreciate that the show is trying to raise awareness of an important issue, and I think they’ve done it well so far. I just don’t know how much more of Gray attacking Chantelle I can handle watching. It’s difficult viewing.

A few more stray observations: Milly Zero is a diamond and I’m so glad she’s there. I’m not just saying that because she followed me on Twitter, either. Her scenes with Ian and Peter were riveting. Jean’s farewell to Daniel was touching and comical; Mo falling into the hole was incredibly fitting. I loved the scenes between Gillian Wright and Linda Henry this week. Jean and Shirley have such a lovely friendship, and I’m glad the show is exploring it again. I can’t wait for Jean to confront Suki over her cancer lie, as it’s clear Jean knows she’s faking. Whitney’s storyline is still boring me. I want to care, but I just don’t. If Kush only got community service for his GBH charge, why didn’t he just plead guilty to begin with? Where the hell is Ruby Allen? Seriously, I’m so annoyed at how the show is wasting Louisa Lytton.

Scene of the week: Jean, Suki, Shirley, and Mo burying Daniel’s ashes in the Square. When Jean threw Daniel onto the other three I SCREAMED! Comedy at its best.

Line of the week: “Why are you so surprised, Dad? It’s just the way it is!” – Keegan throwing Mitch’s words back in his face was chilling.

Performance of the week: Toby-Alexander Smith. Gray is an abusive bastard, but somehow Smith finds a way to make him almost sympathetic at times. Seeing him struggle with the pressures of work (and the expectations of the community) was fascinating. A very nuanced performance by Smith, who conveyed both the insecurity and pressure Gray feels with the rage bubbling just under the surface.

Character of the week: Jay Brown and Lola Pearce – I can’t pick just one, because both really shined this week.

Skylar Baker-Jordan is a freelance writer based in Tennessee. His work has appeared at the Independent, Huff Post UK, Salon, and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @skylarjordan and become a sustainer at www.patreon.com/skylarjordan

Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders are both terrible candidates, but they don’t have to be. Here’s what they should do to beat Donald Trump.

With Elizabeth Warren’s departure from the Democratic primary, it is officially a two-man race for the nomination. A two old, crotchety man race. Yes, Tulsi Gabbard is still in, but unless she pulls the biggest political upset in American history either Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders will be the party’s nominee.

I don’t think either can defeat Donald Trump. I made the case against Joe Biden in January, and last month I wrote why Bernie Sanders is his own worst enemy. We are where we are, though, and while I don’t think either man can win in November, I don’t know they can’t. If they have any hope of doing it, though, both Biden and Sanders will need to do a few things that neither is comfortable with.

Let’s start with the morbid truth. If elected, Joe Biden will be 78 years old while Bernie Sanders will be 79 years old, meaning either will become the first octogenarian president during his first term. While I don’t think age disqualifies anyone from the presidency (assuming they’re over 35, as the Constitution requires), I do think that even beyond health it raises some problems.

It’s a truism that Democrats win with young, energetic candidates who inspire hope and promise change. While both Biden and Sanders are energetic, neither is young. Bernie promises change, but I don’t think he really inspires hope. Biden provides neither. This, coupled with their advanced age, means the choice of running mate is going to matter.

Of the two, it matters most to Biden. I have long lamented the fact that Democratic leadership doesn’t know when to let go of the reins of power. In 2017 I wrote an article for the Independent lamenting this fact in the race for DNC chair, pointing to two promising young candidates who were denied the chance to lead: activist Jehmu Greene and then-Mayor Pete Buttigieg. Nothing has changed since then, and Biden’s ascendency shows it isn’t going to change anytime soon.

Biden also lacks any sort of enthusiasm around his candidacy. I’ve yet to meet one excited Biden supporter. They might like his experience or trust him because of his association with Obama and decades spent in the House and Senate, but he hardly energizes the public. His policies are not bold and he himself—despite a compelling personal narrative no one can take from him—is bland in comparison to the diverse field of candidates we had.

So what can Joe Biden do to electrify his campaign? Biden needs someone to bring the “it” factor to his campaign, a “game changer” like Sarah Palin was meant to be for John McCain but who also isn’t dumb as a box of rocks. My preference is Pete Buttigieg, but there are plenty of young, progressive Democrats who are qualified to be Joe Biden’s Vice President—including plenty of women of color. Stacey Abrams and Kamala Harris are the most mentioned, but there are others and Joe Biden should pick one of them.

Then, and this is the part that makes this a game changing moment, he should pledge to serve on term. Look, no matter how you cut it, Joe Biden is old. Those close to the former Vice President are already whispering that it is inconceivable an 81-year-old Biden would campaign for reelection. He’d be 87 by the end of his second term.

If Joe Biden selected a young running mate and then appointed a young, fresh cabinet, he could be viewed as a transition figure, someone from the old guard who finally ushered in a new era of Democratic leadership. He could also provide a stark alternative to Donald Trump, showing that his campaign is about the future of America, not just a return to the status quo of the pre-Trump years. Most importantly, though, he could make his candidacy exciting, which is the last thing it is right now.

Bernie Sanders, on the other hand, doesn’t have a problem with excitement. He promises radical changes from Medicare for All to free tuition at public colleges. Boldness has never been an issue for him. What he does have a problem with, though, is growing his share of the vote. Super Tuesday saw Sanders underperform, losing states he won in 2016 and coming second to Joe Biden in delegates won. Sanders’ supporters are true believers, and he can galvanize an audience better than any politician on the left, assuming they’re already converted to his cause.

It’s almost the inverse of the problem Biden has, really. Sanders’ problem is that he and his supporters are too fervent. They ostracize anyone who doesn’t agree with them 100%. They ridicule, demean, and insult opponents and even those who agree with their policies but just aren’t convinced Sanders can deliver them. They are, to put it bluntly, mean. They’re just mean. I can already imagine a Sanders supporter tweeting at me “’oh someone tweeted a rat emoji at you and was mean to you online so poor people should all die because of it.’” Rhetoric like that is Bernie Sanders’ biggest problem.

Voters want change, and Sanders offers it. The problem is they don’t want bullying and they certainly don’t want revolution—especially a socialist revolution. They just want their lives to get better. Sanders’ policies are fairly milquetoast compared to proper socialism and he is right to point out that universal healthcare is not a controversial stance in most of the Western world. He should keep pointing this out, because I think it’s an effective strategy. What he needs to stop is his relentless attacks on the dreaded “establishment”—who they are Sanders has never made clear—and tone down his bluster.

Passion is good, but there’s a thin line between zeal and fervor. Sanders needs to show he’s a capable, rational, safe pair of hands in which to place the country. If I could say anything to Bernie Sanders, it would be “stop shouting.” Stop waving your arms around. Stop with the class warfare rhetoric, because even though I completely agree with you, it’s a turn off to most voters who still wrongly believe America lives in a classless society.

Instead, explain why your policies would make life better for those living in Kenosha, or in the towns of the Pennsylvania Main Line, or in Little Havana. Explain why they’re not actually that radical at all. Do it evenly and thoughtfully. Essentially, calm down, Bernie.

“But this is a class war! But we should be irate!” I can already see the tweets coming in. That’s the other problem Bernie has. His supporters are his worst enemy. He needs to get a hold on them. After four years of Donald Trump, swing voters do not want more of the same vitriol, anger, and rancor just with leftwing politics. You’re not helping your cause. Take a breath. Is it really worth tweeting that snake emoji at the heartbroken Warren supporter? Do you really need to tell the disaffected Buttigieg voter that he’s literally killing people because he’s now supporting Biden? Even if you truly feel that way, is that the best way to dialogue with people? No. You immediately turn them off. The old adage is true—you catch more flies with hunger than vinegar, and right now Sanders supporters are nothing but piss and vinegar.

For Bernie to attract more voters, he’s going to have to tone it down and lasso his self-righteous supporters who think being mean to people online is justified in the name of the class war. It’s not, but even if it was, it’s a terrible strategy for winning an election. People want positivity, not to be told they’re part of the “establishment” because they voted for the other guy.

I hope both candidates’ advisors recognize this, because right now both are incredibly weak nominees at a time when we need the strongest possible candidate. If Biden and Sanders can do these things, they might stand a chance at beating Donald Trump. That’s what matters.

Skylar Baker-Jordan is a freelance writer based in Tennessee. His work has appeared at the Independent, Huff Post UK, Salon, and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @skylarjordan and become a sustainer at www.patreon.com/skylarjordan

I was a Pete Buttigieg supporter. Now I’m not voting.

It still hurts. I thought if I slept on it I might feel better, but I don’t. Hell, I barely slept last night, tossing and turning until 3:00 in the morning. For those of us who supported Pete Buttigieg, who last night suspended his campaign and will no longer seek the Democratic nomination, today is just really fucking hard. It’s never easy to lose, and when you doorstep, phone bank, and throw yourself into a campaign with gusto it’s always difficult to concede defeat. It really is akin to the stages of grief.

Yet like vultures, other campaigns are already circling, trying to pick off Mayor Pete’s supporters before the body is even cold. His departure does naturally raise the question of where we on #TeamPete will end up. The conventional wisdom is we are natural Biden voters now. I think that is incredibly shortsighted and misses what it was about Pete that appealed to many of his most ardent supporters – he was young, progressive, and promised to lead us into the future, not return us to the politics of the past. Don’t count out Bernie Sanders or even Elizabeth Warren receiving a fair share of migrants from Team Pete.

Tomorrow is Super Tuesday, when my state (Tennessee) is scheduled to vote, meaning I and countless other supporters of Mayor Pete have a very short amount of time to decide where to go. For me, though, the answer is obvious: nowhere. I will not vote in this primary, unless it is for Pete Buttigieg.

Before I go any further, let me head off accusations that I am throwing a temper tantrum, taking my ball home because I lost, enabling Trump, yada yada yada. I have pledged to “vote blue, no matter who,” and I stand by that. I’m aware of the realities of the situation, and crucially, I am not a fascist. I won’t let my own grievances prevent me from doing what is best for the country. Anyone—my 10-year-old nephew, Snooki from Jersey Shore, a plague of locusts—would make a better president than Donald Trump. I am entirely committed to voting for whoever the Democratic nominee is in November. However, I will not have a say in who that nominee is.

The truth is I have been preparing for this eventuality for a while. I’m no political neophyte, and the writing on the wall was evident; I’ve known in my gut for weeks now that Mayor Pete would not be the nominee, at least not this time. There are lot of reasons for that, some of them entirely fair and some of them infuriatingly not fair. Still, I saw what was coming and considered my options. I didn’t like what I found.

I don’t think any of these candidates deserve my vote. Let’s look at why:

  • Joe Biden is a walking gaffe. As I wrote in January for The Independent, I think he should have dropped out long ago because this Burisma/Ukraine scandal—though undoubtedly bullshit concocted by the right to smear him—is an albatross around his neck. But it’s not just that. His treatment of Anita Hill during the Clarence Thomas hearings, his weird habit of smelling women’s hair, and his age (if elected, he’ll be our first octogenarian president) all concern me. The truth is, I think a Biden nomination is a disaster waiting to happen. This is his third bid for the nomination, and the third time might be the charm. Frankly, I don’t think he should have even run, though I accept it is not my place to tell anyone whether they should or shouldn’t run. But if I’m looking for the strongest nominee to go up against Donald Trump, Biden isn’t it.
  • Bernie Sanders is the Donald Trump of the left. There, I said it. In another article for The Independent, I lamented the fact that Bernie and his supporters seem to be hellbent on making every last mistake Jeremy Corbyn made as Labour leader. Last night, while all the other candidates were congratulating Pete on a race well ran and noting the historic nature of his candidacy, Bernie was trying to woo his supporters. Hard pass. I am not about to join a campaign whose supporters have spent the last several months harassing and attacking me, other Pete supporters, and Pete himself online. It’s not happening. Bernie Sanders and his supporters are toxifying American public discourse the same way the Red Hats are. What’s more is they think they are entirely justified in doing so in the name of class war, a bunch of middle-class kids who think they’re radical by supporting what are at best soft-left policies. Bernie isn’t going to bring the revolution even if he wins, because he isn’t a revolutionary, he’s a shouty old man who has enabled the most vile and vitriolic trolls. A Bernie Sanders nomination will be a disaster for the party, but by all means carry on with your ideological purity tests. I will have no part of it.
  • Elizabeth Warren is a liar. She lied about being Native American. She lied about Pete changing his policies to suit his donors. She made a mountain out of a wine cave. She has blasted big money in politics yet rolled over big money donations from her Senate campaign to her presidential campaign and just recently took money from a Super PAC. It’s upsetting, because before this election I really liked Elizabeth Warren, and for a long time she was my second choice. Not now. It doesn’t really matter, though, because right now this race looks like it’s going to be between Sanders and Biden, so she’s a non-entity. I do want to say, though, that in my experience her volunteers are very nice.
  • Amy Klobuchar is an abusive jerk. I never gave credence to those reports that Amy Klobuchar abused her staff until I saw her condescending, smug attitude towards Pete Buttigieg on the debate stage. “I wish everyone was as perfect as you, Pete.” So do I Amy, so do I. Honestly, her disdain for Pete was palpable, and it was a massive turnoff to me as a voter. It also rang as homophobic to me and many other gay men who are all-too-familiar with self-righteous people like her patronizing us. Like Warren, she’s also a non-entity if this race is how it looks right now, which is a two-way contest between Biden and Sanders.
  • Mike Bloomberg is a Republican. I mean, that’s it. He’s done a lot of good on gun violence, but I don’t trust Mike Bloomberg to govern as a progressive. I don’t like that he’s poured millions of his own money into ad buys while eschewing campaigning in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. I don’t think he would be a marked improvement on the Trump years. I don’t think he can win. That he’s still in the race when Pete Buttigieg isn’t is a damning indictment of the role money can play in American politics.
  • Tulsi Gabbard is an authoritarian sympathizer. From Narendra Modi to Bashar al-Assad in Syria to Donald Trump in America, Gabbard loves herself an authoritarian leader. Her views on foreign policy are enough to disqualify her from receiving my vote, but her record on gay rights is also questionable enough to raise red flags.

Pete Buttigieg is the only candidate who articulated a message of hope, of unity, and of moving the country forward. He’s the only candidate in this field I could enthusiastically vote for, and he is the only candidate I think could beat Donald Trump. I am utterly unimpressed with my remaining options and cannot in good faith say any of these people deserve to be the Democratic nominee. Therefore, for the first time in my life, I will not be voting in the Democratic primary. May the biggest asshole win.

Skylar Baker-Jordan is a freelance writer based in Tennessee. His work has appeared at the Independent, Huff Post UK, Salon, and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @skylarjordan and become a sustainer at www.patreon.com/skylarjordan

Requiem for Pete Buttigieg

“Being open about my sexual orientation at school – and the hell that goes along with it – is not only the right thing to do, but the only thing to do.” I wrote those words in my diary in 2003. I was running for student body president as the only openly gay student in my sleepy little town in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky. I had come out my sophomore year, and the daily crucible of homophobic slurs and threats of violence I experienced taught me that victory was a longshot.

I ran anyway.

17 years later, Pete Buttigieg didn’t become the first openly gay president. Tonight, following a blistering defeat in South Carolina, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana suspended his campaign for the Democratic nomination. As an ardent supporter of Mayor Pete, and as a gay man, I am heartbroken—as are millions of others like me, gay and straight, who felt inspired by his candidacy.

I mourn for what we were denied. The sight of an openly gay man, his husband holding the Bible, take the oath of office. White House Christmas cards with a smiling, happy same-sex couple (and possibly their children; the Buttigiegs are young enough to start a family). The inspiring rhetoric and cool-as-a-cucumber disposition which made him feel to millions of people the ablest and best hands in which to place the country. I lament the fact that thousands of volunteers and grassroots supporters around the country are feeling as heartbroken as I am, disappointed and forlorn and unsure of what to do now that the man we all believed should be president won’t be.

Yet I am heartened by what we have accomplished. Growing up, the only political role models I had were Barney Frank, a surly and stalwart old Democrat who has written eloquently about his own struggles coming out, and Harvey Milk, who was shot. That was it. At the time I mounted my campaign for student body president, no state had legalized gay marriage. Another entry in my diary from that autumn screams that “gay marriage band struck down by a court in Massachusetts!” It was a watershed moment, one that inspired a 17-year-old gay boy to keep his chin up, that it might get better.

Watching Mayor Pete speak tonight felt a lot like that. “We send a message to every kid wondering if whatever marks them as different, means they are somehow destined to be less than—to see that someone who once felt that exact same way, become a leading American presidential candidate with his husband at his side,” he said. I thought of all the 17-year-old gay kids watching him as he spoke, as he kissed his husband in front of a row of American flags draped along a stage, a loving same-sex couple who could have been our first same-sex first couple.

They would see there on that stage a middle-class, middle-American gay man who dared to dream bigger than anyone thought he had a right to dream. No one can say Americans won’t vote for a gay man for president; Pete Buttigieg, a gay man, won the Iowa caucus. He outperformed senators and governors and in three states a former vice president. He had the audacity to think America was ready for an openly gay president his husband, the first gentleman, and America proved that even if it isn’t there yet, it’s further along than many of us imagined.

At the risk of being premature—he’s not even 40, and his future is bright—this is the legacy of Pete Buttigieg. Someone always has to go first, and for gay Americans, now someone has. If voters ever had any doubt that a gay candidate could be as articulate, as unifying, as electable as a straight candidate, Mayor Pete proved them wrong. Much like Shirley Chisolm’s historic 1972 run blazed a trail for women and people of colour, Mayor Pete has laid a path for future candidates to follow. It doesn’t mean it will be easy, or it will happen in 2024 (as some supporters chanted as Mayor Pete spoke) but a precedent has been set, an apprehension calmed, a fear assuaged. It’s no longer a question of if a gay man can be elected president, but rather when.

I lost my bid for student body president in 2003. Years later, I got a message from one of my high school teachers. “You made this school a better and more accepting place,” she said. “What you did mattered.” It was one of the most touching messages I have ever received, to know that in my own small way, I changed at least a little part of the world.

I hope Pete Buttigieg feels that way tonight. He should be proud of what he has accomplished. I know I am. His campaign may have ended, but his story has only just begun. Watching it unfold, I have never been prouder to be a gay American.

Skylar Baker-Jordan is a freelance writer based in Tennessee. His work has appeared at the Independent, Huff Post UK, Salon, and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @skylarjordan and become a sustainer at www.patreon.com/skylarjordan