Wednesday, February 26, 2020

About politicians

I’m uneasy about the simplistic, knee-jerk idea that all politicians without exception are evil and corrupt, because of the even greater wrongness that’s permitted poke its head through the cracks when we lose our respect for the political process. That said, this is good.

Friday, February 21, 2020

About Trump and Parasite

Donald Trump’s comments about Parasite winning the Oscar for Best Picture have done what they were meant to do – energise his base and annoy his non-base. The film has all the necessary attributes to make it a hate object for the president, being cast entirely with people not lucky enough to be white Americans, and it’s subtitled, which requires reading and concentration. His ignorance is genuine, but it’s also performative and weaponised. This is not just about people who don’t watch foreign films with subtitles, which doubtless covers most Americans; it’s about those who react to such films with an instinctive fear and loathing, as if they represent all that is wrong with the world. People who do enjoy them are weird, dangerous, the other.

And if Trump had actually bothered to watch the film, he’d have discovered that it’s about the perils of an unequal society, especially because it pokes fun at rich people who, like Trump himself, barely manage to conceal the visceral loathing they feel for the poor people without whom they would be unable to function. He compared it unfavourably with Gone With The Wind, which he obviously hasn’t seen either, because it’s too long and isn’t about him, or porn, but he does know that it’s reassuringly racist and sexist and was directed by the enthusiastically pro-Nazi Victor Fleming, so it must be OK.

The paradox of Trump when it comes to matters of culture is that, despite his feeble attempts to pass himself off as a man of the people, he was born into enormous wealth, and enjoyed an eye-waveringly expensive education; an education, however, that seems to have passed straight through him like cultural Olestra, never touching the sides and leaving nothing but a greasy residue.

PS: Maureen Dowd in the New York Times.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

About soaps

An article with the hook of two big TV soap operas having significant birthdays this year provides a window on the extent to which fandom and the act of viewing have become primarily performative acts:
“I watch EastEnders, Emmerdale and Hollyoaks but Corrie is the one I have to watch live,” Moran says. “I have to be alone and in silence so I can tweet reactions to my followers. Then I rewatch each episode so I can properly follow the story.”

Sunday, February 16, 2020

About Caroline Flack

Following the death of TV presenter Caroline Flack, fingers are pointing not just at the court system that was preparing to prosecute her for assault (even if the alleged victim argued against it), but also at Love Island, the TV show she presented, as well as the tabloid press that reported on her antics in such a prurient, intrusive way. And of course, to the keyboard vigilantes of social media who added to the pressure.

I know little of Ms Flack’s life and work, beyond the fact that, obviously, I’m very sorry she’s dead. But I will say that, while I hope a few TV and press executives might take the opportunity to stare into the dark recesses of their souls, none of this would have happened if millions of people, ordinary, apparently decent people, with lives and jobs, family and friends, didn’t lap at the foetid trough. If you don’t watch and read this vacuous crap, they won’t produce it and maybe, just maybe, the horrible events playing out now wouldn’t have happened.

So, faced with a media landscape where the raw power of money and market forces seems to be pretty much the only language spoken, the government decides once again to kick the BBC, one of the few places where eyeballs aren’t the only consideration. 

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

About Cruel World

Under normal circumstances, reports that a whole load of my teenaged self’s idols would be playing together in May would have me at least casually scoping flights to LAX but after about 20 seconds I remembered that most of the names on the bill would turn out to be wizened, excavated shells of their original selves, and I’d be surrounded by a whole load of other people who used to have interesting hair and nice cheekbones and we’d all be in mortal dread of Morrissey saying one of those Morrissey things and to be honest I don’t think my knees are up to it any more and oh God this means I’ve finally grown up doesn’t it?

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

About subtitles

Following on from the previous post: if stupidity is going to be lauded and weaponised, there will inevitably be overt hostility towards any manifestation of knowledge or learning. I just happened across a radio report about how few showings there are of subtitled films for deaf and hard-of-hearing  cinema-goers; a representative of the cinema trade body said that if (hearing, presumably) people go into one of these showings by mistake, they often demand their money back. Let’s be clear, these aren’t foreign language films with subtitles; they’re your standard cineplex blockbusters, Disney, Marvel, whatever, that just happen to have a thin strip across the bottom with text representing the dialogue. You don’t need to read it if you can hear the soundtrack. But the very presence of stuff that *can* be read is apparently enough to ruin some people’s enjoyment.

PS: As Bong Joon-ho, the director of Parasite, says: “Once you overcome the one-inch tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.”

PPS: Sandra Garcia in the New York Times: “For people who dislike subtitles, common complaints have been that they distract from the action onscreen, are hard to focus on, or that reading them can feel like work if a plot is complicated.”

Saturday, January 25, 2020

About stupidity

James Melville on where we are now:
Anti-intellectualism has become the new political populism and politics has become a culture war against insight and knowledge. Idiocracy has become normalised. We now appear to be at a point in our society where we simply lack the political critical thinking to call out the falsehoods. We appear to be learning facts about what doesn’t matter, but not how to think about what really matters.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

About Rebecca and Nicky Haslam

The dissertation I birthed last year (it scraped a distinction, by the way) was about the assumptions regarding knowledge we all make when communicating, and how we justify them. Essentially, what do we feel able to leave out? If we refer to, say, Ophelia, do we explain that she’s a character in Hamlet? Then, do we explain that Hamlet is a play by Shakespeare? Do we explain who Shakespeare was? If not, why not?

And inevitably, I keep coming across bits and pieces that would have made good raw material for my thesis. In Richard Davenport-Hines’s An English Affair, about the Profumo scandal, we get the following sentence:
Bronwen Astor felt as disempowered by Cliveden’s traditions and staff as Maxim de Winter’s second wife in Daphne du Maurier’s novel Rebecca, after moving into his great house Manderley.
Now, I would have thought that the general gist of Rebecca was pretty well known, even to those who’ve never read the book, from film and TV adaptations and just general conversation; especially among people who might choose to read a book of English social history about the early 1960s. Surely something along the lines of “Bronwen Astor felt as disempowered by Cliveden’s traditions and staff as Maxim de Winter’s second wife, after moving into Manderley.” would have sufficed?

Except that, only a few lines later, Davenport-Hines writes, “Nicky Haslam, who had been Bronwen Pugh’s walker...” and I had no idea what that meant, whether it was some arcane role in the fashion world, or a euphemism, couldn’t find it on Google, and had to go to Twitter to see if anyone could help. It turns out it means his job was to accompany her to social functions; and we can infer that the reader being addressed is one who knows this, but nothing about one of the most famous novels of the past 100 years.