x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Change inevitable, but not fun

Some of us find the new difficult, frightening even, and while the optimistic dream of a brighter future, many of us cling to the comfort of the status quo.

Sarah Lazarovic for The National
Sarah Lazarovic for The National

Pity the old, inflexible, and those of us who, even in our daily lives, struggle to cope with the smallest change. More often than not, we find the new difficult, frightening even, and while the optimistic dream of a better and brighter future, many of us cling to the comfort of the status quo. At least that’s true – or mostly true – of the greying generation.

For proof, read the pages of this week’s Review: shining youth might find texting in Arabish second nature (Linguistic twist, r04); or bravely take a musical stand against those who would deny them their human rights (Turning tables in Tunis, r10); but the ageing remainder are rather more inclined to look at the new – of which rapidly changing technology is probably the most offensive example – groan and take flight, much like Dave Eggers’s new novel The Circle (Privacy is theft, r16).

As for me? Like Bridget Jones, I have to confess to being rather slow to adapt (Bridget tweets on life, love, r16).

This cultural unease might explain the popularity in the literary world, if not in Cairo, for revision as opposed to out-and-out revolution.

Joanna Trollope is the latest author to re-imagine the work of Jane Austen under the auspices of canny publisher Harper Collins’s Austen Project. Over the next few years, works by the 18th-century English writer, who inexplicably has fans all over the world, will be rewritten by Val McDermid (Northanger Abbey), Alexander McCall Smith (Emma) and Curtis Sittenfeld (Pride & Prejudice) with adaptations of Persuasion and Mansfield Park to follow. The jury is out on whether this is commercial opportunism or creative genius (it’s probably both) but Trollope’s version of Austen’s Sense & Sensibility, complete with internet trolls and depression, is an undoubted success.

Proof that change is inevitable can be found in the most unlikely places such as the armed forces. According to a recent radio report aired on the BBC World Service, men and women have long been serving together on the front line in the forces of countries including Canada and South Africa on tours of Afghanistan and Kosovo. The report was shocking not because of any old-fashioned or sexist attitudes held by soldiers but rather the lack of them.

“If you have one standard and the individuals who are trying out for your team meet that standard, then the argument is essentially null and void,” says Ashley Colette, an officer in the Canadian army, whose training includes being able to “combat drag” a 15-stone soldier to safety. Colette has led a platoon of 50 male soldiers and won a medal for valour. The fact she changed into her pyjamas in a wardrobe in a mixed dormitory is neither here nor there. “There are way bigger things to worry about,” she says.

One strain of humanity that does seem perfectly adapted to change is the pop star, whether it’s chameleon-like changes of appearance, name or even religion to best blend in with the times; Madonna, Lady Gaga and Sean Combs are all names that spring to mind. So perhaps the secret to embracing change lies in the constant study of self? Take Miley Cyrus or Rihanna, two singers best known for posting salacious selfies.

In a recent visit to Abu Dhabi to perform as part of Rihanna’s Diamonds world tour, she appeared on stage in a modest (and peculiar) outfit at odds with Rihanna’s usually provocative image, only to blow it the following day by posing outside the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. The pictures screamed, “look at me!” when quiet contemplation of her surroundings would have been more appropriate. As the French would say: plus ça change …