Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Spectres Of The Long-Dead

Holy Glaaki, are people still making films like The Haunting of Radcliffe House? Can't the dead be left in peace?

There wasn't a sniff, not the barest molecule of postmodernism in Channel 5's Christmas serving of "scares". Everyone talks and acts like they've never seen or heard of a ghost story.  Psychics splutter, dogs slink, mysterious strangers appear from nowhere, and everywhere terrified children and sensible alternatives are ignored so that the narrative can stumble along to an ending which - in generalities and in specifics - is so derivative it does a better job of presenting the resurrected dead than the scenes with ghosts in them.

This is simply not something that should be being created in the 21st century.  Not because there's almost nothing here that requires the story be set after the 1970s (a faintly nice use of a computer screen notwithstanding), but because we should be past the point where writers can get away with this kind of unironic strip-mining of the past.  Doubtless those involved convinced themselves they were crafting something "traditional". Which is nonsense, obviously, because the central aspect of the traditional Christmas ghost story is that it should be scary. In the service of that goal you can use all the trappings of the past you want - though you can make that approach into a fetish, which carries its own problems - but the underlying story mechanisms need to be fresh. The one the one thing familiarity breeds more surely than contempt is a lack of fear.

In short, then, the aims and approach of ...Radcliffe... are working directly against each other, and the result is a pointless warmed-over corpse of a tale. It's not uncommon for this kind of total misunderstanding of tradition to exist - for people to obsess over form rather than intent - indeed it's just one more of the hundred thousand reasons people like Nigel Farage (Person of the Year in much the way Harold Shipman was briefly World's Most Interesting Doctor, one assumes) should be banished from public life, polite conversation and if possible all historical documentation.

But simply because a mistake is common doesn't make it forgiveable.  I very much think Olivia Williams and Matthew Modine deserve better than this. And I'm absolutely sure we do. What a fucking waste of Yorkshire.

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Christmas Pessimus

Everyone have themselves a great Christmas, if that's the sort of thing you're into. Oh, and if I can offer some unsolicited advice: try to avoid telling your entire family that they're a bunch of anti-Semites, as this can darken the mood during Christmas Eve dinner.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Oh, Sorkin (Part Two)

Trigger warning: references to rape storyline.

Update: My apologies to Abigail Nussbaum for incorrectly attributing her article to Emily Nussbaum.  The latter is quoted in the piece, hence my confusion, but she didn't write it.

OK, so.  The post not everyone is going to be happy about.

To recap - and therefore re-spoil - last week's Newsroom episode included a storyline in which a college student responded to being sexually assaulted by setting up a website where other rape survivors could name their attackers since, you know, it's not like any other form of punishment is likely to be forthcoming.

This plot bothered an awful lot of people, because the only main character who passed comment on the idea was a) male and b) not a fan of the idea.  And as I argued in my last post on this, the lack of a female male character here is indeed a genuine problem.  My issue here is entirely with point b).

From the comments I've read (Emily Abagail Nussbaum's being the one that sticks most in my mind) a large part of the anger over this plotline is based on the idea that the audience is supposed to sympathise with Don over the rape survivor, Mary.  Why are we supposed to? Well, because Sorkin is a sexist who writes characters who just spout his own opinions.  How do we know this? Well, just look at what Don is saying here.

This strikes me as a somewhat circular argument.  Which is not to say I don't think Sorkin isn't a sexist (or, since sexism is simply impossible for a man to escape, let's say I think he's noticeably sexist and totally unwilling to examine that fact), or even that I think his characters don't have a tendency to be preachy.  It's just that this approach doesn't strike me as the most useful one in this particular case.

For my money (and as I said last time, this is the money of straight white middle-class man, which is to say easily spent and hard to see as evidence of talent) the most useful framing for this storyline is that the idea of a name-and-shame website aimed at rapists is absolutely an idea we should discuss, and part of that discussion involves raising objections that can then be countered. The central premise of website like this is that it's worth bypassing due process in order to combat the toxic culture that says if a guy insists it wasn't rape we can just forget about it and head to the bar. And it seems to me that if you want to float this idea you don't do it by pretending it's immune to abuse, you do it by accepting it could be abused and they say so what? You say a man is afraid of being called a rapist, and a woman is afraid of being raped, and that this is a trolley problem with an actual body-count and where changing the tracks somehow seems to just make men's employment prospects a little harder.

Someone needs to ask the question so it can be answered. So it can be driven into the ground. Mary, I thought, drove it into the ground.  Maybe I'm wrong in that. But even if I am, I'm right that we should discuss this stuff. Simply put: I'd rather run with the message than beat up the messenger. No matter how much of an embarrassment he keeps making of himself.

Monday, 15 December 2014

Oh, Sorkin (Part One)

Trigger warning: references to a rape storyline.

It's now been a week since The Newsroom reached its penultimate episode that made so many people furious.  The show being what it is, there were plenty of elements for people to fasten their teeth into, but the most stinging criticisms involved a storyline - which I shall now thoroughly spoil, though it has no real bearing on the ongoing plotlines or even really the episode itself - in which a college student sets up a website to name and shame rapists after her own sexual assault, in the certain knowledge that no other punishment is ever likely to be forthcoming for her assailants.

Obviously, with so serious a subject, with so great a risk of triggering people, this is the kind of plot element that's liable to upset and anger no small number of people. This is particularly true when you're dealing with a writer who has come under a great deal of criticism for sexism in his work and his public pronouncements, and even more true when you decide that this is the kind of issue you can shoehorn into a plot about something completely different and then throw casually away.

Having said all that, though, my reaction upon watching the episode was quite different to that of many feminists and allies, and I wanted to explore why that is, because I think there's an interesting question inside all this that needs more promotion than I've seen it get in the mainstream (I suspect it's been thoroughly dissected in plenty of places, but not anywhere I've seen). To state my position ahead of time: I think Sorkin went wrong here at least three times , but the points where I find fault with him don't quite tally with the various criticisms I have read elsewhere.  Obviously, this is at heart a straight white guy announcing he wants to offer thoughts on how much he agrees with feminist critiques of a rape storyline, and those with no interest in hearing that sort of thinking might want to wander off about now.  Or, you know, switch your mind to "hate-read" mode. Whichever you prefer.

In any case, I wanted to split this into two posts, and the first one is likely to be the less contentious, since I'm starting with the areas in which I think Sorkin screwed up. The first I've already mentioned - this is not the kind of storyline you use as a B-plot and then stroll away from. A show in which we spend less time with the girl trying to regain her agency after a sexual assault than we do on the question of whether celebrity-finder apps are a good idea is not one whose priorities we should be comfortable with. Related, the fact that none of the female main characters get to weigh in on the issue in any real way leaves Don's opinions on the website unchallenged by anyone to which the narrative gives equivalent weight. This imbalance allows Don to deep six the story at the end of the episode as part of making a larger point, which both buries the issue itself and means Don is consciously ignoring the stated preferences of the rape survivor, Mary, because he knows best.

All of that are issues surrounding the actual scene which generated so much criticism, though, the actual discussion between Don and Mary.  It's here that I find myself disagreeing with some of that criticism, but like I said, I'll stick here to what I did find problematic, which in this case is Don's ridiculous assertion that he is somehow morally obligated to believe the story of the rapist over the rape victim until and unless the former is convicted in court.

This is a common and transparently idiotic dodge, brought forth like a talisman by any number of people who don't want to be inconvenienced by having to believe things about people that might actually require some action on their part. To underline how ludicrous this position is, let's try a brief thought experiment.  Imagine two housemates put a twenty pound note each on their kitchen table once a week, saving up their money.  Over the course of a year they therefore end up with over two grand on the table, in two separate piles of a little over a grand each.

Then one day one of the piles goes missing. Housemate A accuses housemate B of having taken the money and spent it on booze and blackjack, despite them having previously agreed they were going to spend the money on a ludicrously ostentatious home cinema set-up.  Housemate B for his part insists the money must have been stolen by an intruder.  Both housemates give you statements and offer various pieces of evidence to corroborate their story.

For the Don Keefer Theory of Belief to hold water, you would have to argue that whether you believe Housemate A or Housemate B would depend on which of the two identical piles of money went missing.

There's just no way this can make sense in any theory of belief.  Either one person's story is more compelling, or the other's is, or you find yourself coming down in the middle.  Not one piece of evidence or testimony changes in its plausibility depending on whether the actual remover of the cash let their hand creep six inches to the left before grabbing the wad.  Obviously it makes a difference in court, because in court you have to charge someone with the right crime, but in terms of who did what out in the world, no such absurdly narrow focus exists. [1]

Pretending it does is a way to stay comfortable.  A way to remain privileged. The fact that Sorkin saw no problem having a character espouse so self-serving an idea is a real and severe problem, for which he deserves to be roasted.


[1] One could counter all this by pointing out that there are some people for whom it would be very easy to believe they'd shaft their roommate by spending their own half of the savings but would never steal someone else's money.  But that's again a specific element of the case at hand, not a general rule.  I'm also aware that my legal naivete may mean the example I've constructed doesn't quite work - some wrinkle about communal property or something - but I'm sure with little effort alternative examples could be worked up.

The Unchronicle-ing

"It'll all go to shit once someone else shows up."
Riddick is an interesting film.  Not in terms of its narrative, really - though it isn't without its charms or its moments, even if these are rather front-loaded - but as a study in how to take a franchise that has thoroughly cratered and attempt to drag it back to its previous heights.

(Spoilers follow)

Friday, 12 December 2014

Radio Friday: Entertaining And Educational

So I was doing a quiz where I had to name every single song on every single REM studio album, and I resolved to finally work out exactly what an EBow is.

Imagine my delight when I found this video that not only shows you what an EBow is and how one uses it, but demonstrates it with a piece of music that's absolutely sublime; the best Smashing Pumpkins track Corgan never wrote.

Just wonderful.  That so easily could be an out-take from Mellon Collie, during one of those rare days Corgan was inspired to keep his mouth shut.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Seriously Unpleasant

There's absolutely no chance of this, of course.  There never was.  Daniel Larison is kind enough to highlight an article explaining why: 
Willingness to torture became, first within elite government and opinion-making circles, then in the culture generally, and finally as a partisan GOP talking point, a litmus test of seriousness with respect to the fight against terrorism. That – proving one’s seriousness in the fight – was its primary purpose from the beginning, in my view. It was only secondarily about extracting intelligence. 
I'd put extracting intelligence at third, actually, behind not just the search for seriousness but the search for bloody-handed revenge, but otherwise this is dead on balls accurate, as someone once had Marissa Tomei say. The Americans - with our own enthusiastic assistance - tortured people because it suited a certain type of mind to believe that our goals can only ever be bought with the blood of others.  We can't be serious about terrorism unless we torture someone else's sons.  We can't be serious about global stability unless someone else's kids die with their organs staining the sand outside a town they'd never heard of the day before.  We can't be serious about sensible government spending unless other people's daughters are being left alone to starve under bridges. We can't be serious about reforming the healthcare system unless other people's children are allowed to be choked to death by their own windpipes because their parents can't afford medication and every trip to the ER is a crap-shoot that sooner or later will see you roll snake eyes [1].

It's everywhere.  It always has been. Socialism is childish. Empathy is childish.  Wanting as many people as possible to live as dignified a life as possible is childish.  The only way to be serious is to pitch one's opinions somewhere between disinterested sociopathy and outright sadism.  It's like we all got as far as comprehending that nothing important was ever achieved without sacrifice, but tuned out en masse before we could be reminded that something is only a sacrifice if you're the one giving something up. Otherwise, it's theft. Theft of money, or of freedom, or of life, in the name of preserving money, or freedom, or life. Because there's only so much of it all to go around. If you don't believe that you're unserious. And because there's only so much to go around, the best thing to do is make sure those that have the most get more of it.  If you don't believe that you're unserious.

Seriousness is a murderer. You'll forgive me if I take no interest in it.

(h/t to Balloon Juice)

[1] Something the resolutely serious Dr Larison might want to reflect on himself, when he's finished complaining about how keeping one's citizenry alive costs too much.

Saturday, 6 December 2014


Ugh.  It's been quiet round here for a while, but I'm finding inspiration hard to locate amongst the fog of my cold-riddled brain.  So let's turn lemons into lemonade, with some of my favourite songs about illness.  None of that metaphor crap, either; the fevers and sicknesses here have nothing to do with love or depravity.  Just feeling awful in response to invading microbes or dick moves by your own body.

Crowded House - "Pineapple Head"

A shout out to long-term posse member (Who's) Jamie, who made me listen to Crowded House repeatedly during the nine weeks we were trapped in a room together at university.  This gets pride of place here because it's the only song I can think of which is actually about the mechanics of illness rather than the emotional fall-out; Finn apparently wrote it by listening to his feverish son and writing down his delirious ravings.  Not a cool move, perhaps, but an interesting song.

Ryan Adams - "Starting To Hurt"

Like I said, mostly songs about illness involve the emotional cost, which is entirely fair enough, but it does make it hard to find songs that aren't mired in the songwriter's self-pity about how someone else's illness is going to effect them. This song, written by Adams about the cancer that ultimately killed his friend Carrie Hamilton, manages to keep the focus entirely on the patient, concerning itself here about how much harder it is to live with a terminal prognosis before the symptoms start to make themselves known.  It's a sad song, but a well-muscled one too; U2 with better guitars and a sense of perspective.

James - "Dr Hellier"

OK, so this one is starting to move off the point a bit.  But if you're going to have a song about your illness, I think it's completely reasonable to imagine you're going to fight the gribbly bastard by shrinking yourself and going all Fantastic Voyage on its microscopic arse. Plus the contrast between the verse and chorus here is great, not so much quiet/loud as precisely measured/violently ugly. This is a bit harder to detect in the live version, but in the studio cut is really does sound like Booth is taking a hedge trimmer to his larynx.

Ben Folds Five - "Cigarette"

Depressing as hell snapshot of a man whose wife is on medication so strong she's liable to set the house on fire trying to light a tab. Which sounds awful, obviously.  If nothing else, this post is underlining how minuscule a bother my cold is in the great scheme of things, even if they do lead to chest infections rather more often than can be considered ideal.

The Darkness - "Growing On Me"

Because obviously.

Anyway, that's what I came up with. Any other suggestions? Leave 'em in comments.