TV UK, 15 October
Batman and Geldof on fathers and justice.
A documentary this week showed us that the people behind ‘Batman’ were committed, but a bit Mickey Mouse.
In Dad’s Army (Channel 4, Monday night), Fathers4Justice showed that you can get a lot of attention by just being brazen – even if you’re fairly disorganised. Fathers4Justice are the men who climb up cranes, cathedrals, and latterly royal palaces – usually dressed in a superhero costume – to protest at the unfair way fathers are treated in the family courts.
They’re the men who, when relationships have fallen apart, leave the family home ‘for the sake of the kids’. Then the divorce proceedings take months or years to sort out, by which time the courts are loath to interfere with the stability of existing arrangements and hardly ever award custody to fathers. Finally, mothers use custody as a stick with which to beat their former partners, becoming increasingly uncooperative with regards to access.
The result is a group of frustrated men who hardly ever get to see their children, and who are becoming increasingly desperate to change the law to give them a fairer hearing in the courts. Having seen traditional methods of lobbying for change fail, Fathers4Justice have taken to protest stunts to raise the profile of their campaign.
The highpoint was when one of their number, dressed as Batman, climbed over the fence at Buckingham Palace and stood on a ledge for hours, to the consternation and embarrassment of palace security – and he received worldwide press coverage in the process.
The documentary showed just how spur-of-the-moment these protests are. In the run-up to the palace protest, the main plan had been to buy a bus, paint it purple, and use it to block the M25, the motorway that rings London. They bought the bus, practically bankrupting the group’s leader, painted it purple…then ditched the plan.
Instead the documentary maker turns up at a flat in London’s East End where the militant dads are pondering whether to go through with the palace job. Their main concern was that in the current climate of terrorist alert, someone might shoot first and ask questions later. Then one said ‘Fuck it, let’s go before I change my mind’. And off they went.
They drove up to the side of the palace in a van, ran over to the fence with a ladder, and climbed on to a low roof. It was actually supposed to be Batman and Robin – but Robin bottled it when the armed police started shouting at him to get down. Batman was fearless, though, shouting ‘Fathers for Justice’ a lot while running around the balconies of the building to the front, where he remained chatting with palace officials until after the seven o’clock news went out.
The lesson of this is that pulling off such a stunt is easy – you just have to have the balls to do it. But while it certainly has brought the issue to public attention, it is not clear whether there are any coherent proposals behind the action.
Coherence was a little thin on the ground in Bob Geldof’s polemic on the same subject the following night, Geldof on Fathers (Channel 4, Tuesday night). An essay he wrote last year on the unfair treatment of fathers was subtitled ‘a sometimes coherent rant’ (1), and this programme was in much the same vein.
Geldof has firsthand experience of the devastation of divorce, having his wife leave him and take the kids with her. He was suddenly bereft of the most important people in his life. His anger was pretty understandable – how pissed off would you be if a judge told you that Paula Yates was a better parent than you?
Geldof, though, is a man of many words. In fact, this was documentary-by-thesaurus as he tried to get across how bitter he felt while substantially increasing our word power. But his favourite word is still ‘fuck’, as ably demonstrated by his quite accurate assessment of the current government: ‘This lot care more about fucking foxes than they do about fathers.’
Both Geldof and Fathers4Justice have a point. The system has chewed them up and spat them out. But ultimately they are forced to the conclusion that what is needed is more legal rights, effectively throwing them back into the arms of their oppressors.
Instead, we could use fewer rights and a bit more room for parents to sort things out for themselves. The biggest problem of all is children’s rights. On the back of making the child’s welfare paramount, the state is given carte blanche to organise private relations any way it sees fit – very frequently to the detriment of all concerned.
The shared assumption is that there is a conflict of interest between parent(s) and kids, which courts have the authority to sort out. New legal rights are likely to make family relations even more fraught than they are already.
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