Give Us Moor

 

‘Get Out’ stormed to the top of the box office upon release and proved/disproved many conceptions/misconceptions about what makes a popular movie, from a film whose plot is built largely on race and social issues. Most notably it, along with films like Moonlight, Rogue One and Hidden Figures proves inclusion, diversity and representation sells or at the very least does absolutely no harm to ticket sales. A bad film effects ticket sales. And Get Out is most definitely a good film. As a fan of Key & Peele I had no doubt about the kind of quality Jordan Peele could muster but the viewing public and certainly THE MARKET was rather surprised by its success. Garnering near universal praise it is a standout horror/thriller classic already and hopefully marks a watershed moment for racial attitudes within Hollywood. And it is that last point that is so interesting to me. Plenty of films have been made that discuss similar themes and even have a similar story (Peele himself calls it ‘Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner?’ vs ‘The Stepford Wives’) so what about Get Out really captured the imagination? There are a lot of answers to this, the most important being the racial tensions at play in societies across the globe right now, but also the idea of gentrification taken to its absurd extreme. For me, it’s all about the last 20 minutes or so.

Much was made of the opening 3rd of the film that displays not just the pernicious effects of negative racism but equally the troubling effects of “positive” racism i.e. delight at a relative losing to Jesse Owens, wanting to vote Obama for a 3rd term, generally over praising the main character and his culture and so on thus excluding as exceptional Daniel Kaluuya’s character Chris rather than including him. But I found the thing that made me most uncomfortable as the credits rolled was my feeling and assumptions as to how the film would end which I discovered were… actually pretty racist. This is 100% because of the way Hollywood portrays POC in movies and as a film fan these assumptions were built into me so I made assumptions as to a twist. What do I mean by this?

At the end, after the family’s plot for Chris is revealed he begins his escape and this is where my ‘I know how films work, me’ assumptions kicked in. Chris flat out murders the entire family in various gruesome ways and you are WITH him the whole way, an excellent display of how Peele has got you rooting for these odious monsters to die despite the fact, as a majority white audience, they – sadly – represent us, but at every turn I constantly was waiting for the about face. “There’s no way he’s gonna make it” I thought, waiting for the rug to be pulled from under me. But he doesn’t. Through wily cunning and determination Chris ploughs on, even trying to help the maid who we know to be with the family as he makes good his escape and destroys the house in his departure. Even up to the last minute I was internally begging for Chris to make it, to survive, to Get Out, but knew, because I know how films work, that wasn’t going to happen. Chris was doomed. The whole finale was a dream, I thought, a hallucination brought on by the hypnosis, or the police car was a real police car and Chris was about to become another young black police statistic, or Rod was in on the whole thing or had been hypnotised too etc. But when the credits finally rolled and Chris Got Out I was left with a horrible sense of guilt at how I had spent the whole film waiting for the black guy to get caught or fail or die, i.e. my own racism. The opening 3rd hadn’t affected me that much, I’m sure I have acted questionably around BAME people but never that bad and was brought up well enough to be polite and genial to everyone whatever their race, gender or creed, but my instant assumption that the black guy couldn’t win, that he could not succeed where so many other white protagonists did (particularly white female protagonists), that the black character could not triumph, made me very ashamed. And that is what is most incredible about the film.

As well as being a tour de force of small scale but big idea filmmaking, with a faultless ensemble cast, a near total lack of CGI, minimal gore but used to wince-inducing effect, pitch-perfect tone and a lean yet well paced script, what amazed me the most is how the very structure of the film itself asks you to question racial assumptions. The very existence of the film in the mainstream demands discussion as to why we expect it shouldn’t be there. For me this is the absolute triumph of this movie. In an interview Jordan Peele expressed his dislike for the sledge-hammer politics that surround the race debate in America, saying that the “conversation is broken” around race, by which I think he means the topic is continually brought up but either side continues to be combative and no ground is made. The miraculous thing about this film is that, on every level, it offers up a question to a white audience and a white industry as to what our assumptions and prejudices about race are. From the surface to the very meta notion of a movie about a black man getting revenge with no comeuppance (just like every white protagonist in cinematic history) being such an alien and revolutionary thing, Get Out asks ‘why do people of colour get treated differently?’ This was brought shattering to the foreground when Moonlight was robbed of its moment at the Oscars by the false announcement of La La Land as winner of Best Picture. An all black cast and crew forced to share their win with an almost all white cast and crew and – most uncomfortably – every pundit who immediately heaped praise on La La Land as a deserving win having to then instantly back track and say exactly the same about Moonlight, quickly proving how hollow that praise really is. Not to insult La La Land at all as I have not seen it yet and heard nothing but good things about it but the response to the screw up was most revealing.

Race and nationality is the topic of our time. As every country closes its borders in support of the fringe voices demanding a backwards step to nationalism and exclusion in its political policy, it is culture that needs to open its borders and be more inclusive and open up the dialogue, something the powers that be are insistent on shutting down. Support for films that are inclusive and take risks (so long as the film is actually good) and condemnation for films that whitewash (I’m looking at you Gods of Egypt) are what shift industry standards and most importantly move the fucking MARKET away from the homogenous white mess we’ve been fed from a shit coated trough for the last few decades. If you’re at the cinema and have a choice between another white populated blockbuster and a film with even just one POC or non-binary character go and see the latter. Its a small start but we can already see the positive results.

Get Out’s budget was a paltry $4.5million (that sounds a lot but it really ain’t. That wouldn’t even cover a Marvel movie’s food budget), it has so far made $160million at the Box Office and it’s still going. The studio that sponsored the project, Blumhouse, have a track record for sniffing out a success. Saw, Insidious, Paranormal Activity, The Purge are all multi-sequel box office smashes from that same studio which indicates they understand audiences and Get Out is no exception. Film studios realised recently (prior to the Marvel boom) audience numbers were slipping again thanks to streaming services and 3D being the giant pile of dogshit that it is wasn’t helping, so they very sensibly attempted to diversify and take a few risks. Pleasingly this paid off and over the last few years we’ve seen the biggest studios go out on much greater limbs and surprise, surprise it has paid off. It is laughable that making a film with two female leads or with non-white or non-English speaking actors should be considered ‘Risky’ but that’s the kind of dumbass hacks we have in charge, be it a film studio or a country. What Get Out is the poster boy for is that inclusion matters, representation is beneficial to everyone and most importantly don’t patronise your audience. Get Out is a multi-layered GEM of a movie that doesn’t talk down to its audience whilst confronting a large part of it with a very real, very horrific issues that is quite literally killing people. Now if we could just get just one film, just ONE, with the positive portrayal of a Muslim man or woman then we might really be cooking with gas. With films like Black Panther from Marvel on the way though and I don’t doubt Jordan Peele’s ascension to the Hollywood director A-list the future is looking a lot darker. But, like, in a good way.

Post Script: So chuffed to see British actors like Daniel Kaluuya, John Boyega, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Idris Elba being the leading men in all the modern cinema classics as an antidote to white guys named Chris. If you haven’t watched Daniel Kaluuya’s episode of Black Mirror do so now. It’s a pip.

Arriving at Another Language

A lot is made of what we say at the moment. We are made to choose our words very carefully. Saying the wrong thing can get you pilloried, abused, shamed or even fired in this day and age due to the immediate and vociferous reaction by online mobs who are only too happy and quick to reach for the torch and pitchfork. Both the left and right appear to have their demands on how sacrosanct language is and how it should be deployed and used; the Nu-Right delight in using inappropriate language, pleased when they offend by using racist or sexist slurs, complaining of political correctness gone mad, whilst the Left angrily demand all discourse be pulped through the fine mesh screening filter of tolerance and inclusion. Ironically the roles of both have reversed, the typically free and liberal Left demand control and censorious guidelines for discourse and the traditionally control loving Right dislike the control imposed upon their vocabulary. Some more sensible people would argue that the best method lies somewhere in the middle, that one side shouldn’t be so quick to clutch their pearls and the other should not so deliberately try and goad and insult. The trouble is the whole debate isn’t as cut and dried as this. Ironically both sides are guilty of the others sins yet are seemingly unable to recognise the deficiencies in their argument. Language (whether it be English, Spanish, Cantonese, Flemish or any language) is a strange and capricious beast that has been variously described, mainly in science fiction, as living creature, totem and even a virus. For a better understanding of how language can affect us on a fundamental level there is a modern treatise for just this topic in the recent film ‘Arrival’.

*Spoilers for Arrival ahead*

Directed by Denis Villeneuve and based on the short story ‘The Story of Your Life’ by Ted Chiang, ‘Arrival’ is ostensibly a science fiction film about invading Aliens. This is far from true it turns out when the Aliens try to communicate with us and by learning their language the lead protagonist discovers it has altered her perception of time. Events of her future appear as memories and events of her past appear as current. Whilst the film itself deals with determinism (an interesting source of intense debate in the field of physics as the Uncertainty Principle comes under closer and closer scrutiny thanks to developments at CERN) it is a profound indicator of how language, on a fundamental level, changes a person’s perception. A study by Georgetown University in America discovered that learning two languages and developing an increased vocabulary increased the Grey Matter in the brain but the European Commission published a study in 2012 that showed people fluent in more than one language suffered from poorer verbal skills because they carry two or more languages with them every time they speak thus creating difficulties whereby they use fewer words day to day and have more frequent tip-of-the-tongue moments as the brain tries to compute a vast library of sounds, this means being bilingual effects your speech on a lexical level but also a syntactic one. Therefore while being bilingual does effect your brain development, increasing the efficiency of the brain’s executive control system that looks after high-level thought, multi-tasking, and sustained attention, and the increase in grey matter, no study exists that shows links between bilingualism and executive intelligence, emotional intelligence and intelligence quotient, i.e. being bilingual doesn’t actually make you smarter (despite what a typically histrionic and poorly researched article by the Daily Mail may have said). What it DOES do, rather amazingly, is changes the actual physical structure of the brain and its processes. So on a very basic level we are defined by the language we speak and how often we speak it. When it comes to perception however things get even more interesting.

Much is made of ‘The Right Word’. Certainly as a poet this is always the bullseye you aim for but what it implies is how the wrong word can create a really deep shift in a discourse or simply total confusion. By omitting a word or clarifying clause to a statement, or simply emphasising the wrong part of a phrase, a jovial conversation can quickly become an argument. The joke of the little boy asked to go down the road and see how Old Mrs Kettle is only to return with the answer “78” contains an inherent truth that our moment is defined by the language we choose to employ. Time itself can be warped and changed simply by shifting tenses, something many note in the English and French languages as being particularly odd. Gone, go and going; past, present and future, if misused can create a strange logical time loop. “Where have you been?” when asked of someone not completely fluent in English, replied with “I go to the toilet” taken at face value means they are going to the toilet at that moment (and more importantly didn’t answer your question!). Of course we know this is malleable, especially when dealing with people who do not speak our language, but when taken on a broader scale we are essentially walling ourselves into our cultures with our given languages. In literature, particularly poetry, much is made of a translation because something written artistically in its mother tongue will be intrenched in cultural nuance, aphorism, argot, idiom and technicalities not present in the other language, therefore something is missing in transference, typically the inherent ‘sense’ of the original is lost. The first line of Albert Camus ‘The Outsider’ being a fine case in point. In poetry there is an oft ignored method called the ‘Version’ whereby you do not translate the poem necessarily but re-write it, hopefully capturing its essence, in your own tongue and hopefully impart that which the original did and it is this that creates the most interesting response to those who argue over language via the notion of language as response to perception rather than perception as a response to language and therefore a way of ‘translating’ an idea/poem/image so it is better understood in its nature by those reading/seeing/hearing it.

Nietzsche once said: “I am afraid we are not rid of God because we still have faith in Grammar”. Which feeds in well to the major political arguments surrounding the Left and Right’s demands on language; both sides are failing their respective battles because they both believe their language is the correct one and not the fallible creature it truly is. The flaw that Nietzsche, I think, is trying to wrestle with is that language indicates the way things are, not that the way things are informs language. As an example, if you were to see a four legged animal on a lead in the street you might say “that’s a dog” and you would be right, we have the word Dog so when it is said our mind immediately conjures up the image of a dog. The trouble is we then imagine a Platonic ‘Form’ of a dog, an ideal dog that doesn’t exist or is probably our favourite dog from real life or fiction, until we begin to describe it with an endless stream of adjectives: its a short haired, jack russell terrier, with a loud yip and a milky eye that farts when it sneezes and doesn’t eat dried food because… etc. Language does not account for the uniqueness of the dog in an instant when attempting to communicate this. We can see and absorb the individual nature of it but have to create a spider graph of words around it to lock down it’s reality in conversation or dialogue. An ideal language would be able to invent a word upon seeing the object that perfectly communicates its individual features, its nuances and its character, something that Ted Chiang and Denis Villeneuve approach in their story of a language that can perfectly communicate between species because it relies on an entire lifespan of the individual to find the correct instance or example of something that needs to be communicated as Amy Adam’s character does to the Chinese general which in turn saves the globe from intergalactic war. A language that communicates totally and completely in the briefest time would be incredibly freeing, imagine being able to gather all the nuance and empathy of a political argument in a sound.

Sadly we aren’t there yet. As Nietzsche said we are still ruled by our God of grammar, that god in our syntax that still says “It is raining”, “What time is it?” The magical IT or THEY that controls our structure of speech and ultimately our reality, or at least our perception of it. France even has its Conservatoire which perfectly maintains the French vocabulary so no foreign words can intrude unnecessarily, a true example of the tyranny of language personified as a loop; we define language, language defines us. Which, for me, is where poetry comes in. The poet Don Patterson described poetry as “A method of failure”, by which he meant poetry should always exceed its grasp, trying to capture the ineffable in a word or phrase, so that whilst it may fall short we do then have a more appropriate short hand for a given feeling, emotion, state of mind, place, time and so on. Shakespeare was the master of this, a neologist of such depth and complexity nobody goes a single day speaking English without quoting him. No one individual has done more for English communication and expression since. The notion, so beautifully captured in both the short story and film of Arrival, that every facet of our lives is defined not just by our experiences but how they are communicated is one that everyone speaking any language today should heed. With societal division at its highest in centuries the need for better communication, a more frank and nuanced dialogue, is desperately needed and – for me at least – that means: more poetry.

The Market as Automata

The Conservative government recently announced their Spring budget via the near universally derided Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond. My loathing for the Tories is undisguised but when they announce their budget for the year ahead it is time to pay particular attention as it describes, better than any rhetoric, what the beliefs and ideologies of Conservatives are and most importantly where their faith lies which is (and seemingly always has been) in that strange and ephemeral thing: The Market. This reliance, even dependence, on The Market demands a close examination of what it actually is, ironically something it resolutely resists. Economists, theorists and sociologists have spent centuries attempting to understand the abstract notion of one country’s market going to a market where other country’s markets are; a Common Market or a Market for Markets. Something that conjures the image in my mind of a town market of wooden stalls selling fish, fruit and vegetables piled on top of one another.

But The Market is somewhere we all sit and something all our lives are irrevocably tied to. Any job we have is apparently part of this metaphorical Market place and anything we buy is defined by this Market. What most interests me about The Market is its abstract (ultimately fictional) nature those invested in it, literally i.e. all of us are, by involvement or association, also abstracted. Dehumanised. We can see this in the language used to describe anything as soon as The Market is involved: people who buy products are ‘Consumers’, a work of creative art like a novel is a ‘Unit’, the Employed & Unemployed are reduced to a figure with no context as to the circumstances of their Employment status. In relation to this and most interestingly The Market actually responds poorly if people are humanised or a company caters to this need for context surrounding the individual that purchases goods or services. JC Penny in the States removed all reduction sales, offers and coupons from its stores and instead passed those onto the shopper by favouring low prices. It did away with attempting to fool customers with deals and treated them as adults with a respect that they would appreciate in a move to simply lower prices. Sadly, sales dropped and their Market share plummeted straight after. EA with the release of their videogame Titanfall 2 at the end of 2016, decided to buck the trend of pure profit online sales after the initial purchase of a game, seen in things like Season Passes and MicroTransactions that allow for further downloadable content, by doing away with these and treating customers with maturity and not attempting to milk further cash from a game that would already cost $60. Yet despite critical praise and a more than favourable audience response, EA found the title under performing in sales and no doubt the bucking of the Market Trend will be blamed for a significant hit in profits in their pre-Christmas sales. In short, if choice or personal/individual response is introduced to The Market it shuns this.

Yet the curious dichotomy remains that we talk about The Market as if it is a living entity or in some way is aware; it ‘responds’, it ‘moves’, it ‘dictates’. Marx in the Grundrisse says that Capital – and make no mistake when we refer to The Market we are explicitly referring to Capitalism – cannot abide limits, it has to turn it into a barrier which it then circumvents or transcends. This language of Capital consciously not abiding resistance further muddies the water by personifying The Market further. Some say this is because The Market is run by people, nations, that this anthropomorphises occurs but as stated above The Market ‘resists’ the introduction of consciousness or choice or simply our humanity. Which begs the question: what is it? Well the official answer is that it is a systemic process, an algorithm dictated by the interactions of other financial algorithms. Yet a market ‘personality’ exists, we see it in the post Referendum plummet of the Sterling and most interestingly in the crash of 2008-09 when, in a letter to the queen, leading Economists and business leaders said they “failed to account for Systemic Risk”, which put bluntly means they didn’t expect The Market to change its mind. Yes we know the crash was due to hedge funds, loans and credit reaching a critical mass but the simple fact this was not planned for or foreseen indicates an element of whim (or if you don’t agree with that then its simply supreme idiocy on the part of financiers and business leaders). Beyond this the fact that whole governments and nations bow to the deference to the all powerful, all knowing MARKET could easily be transposed to a religious context replacing that respective deity with any other. Yet I doubt any modern economist or politician would accept that they are kneeling at the alter of Financial Consciousness. It might be easier to understand both the actions of the Market (and by extension any deity’s) actions by looking at the more Economically palatable idea of Automation.

The word Automaton comes from the Greek ‘autos’ meaning self, therefore meaning ‘acting of oneself’. Today it is used when referring to robots or machines acting as people but there is an interesting legal obfuscation in the definition of the word. If you were to kill a passenger in a car because you sneezed and caused a crash this can be legally defined as ‘Death by Automata’ and you avoid personal culpability, a reflex or ‘knee-jerk reaction’ is an automated response, conscious thought and brain function is not involved when a doctor taps your knee and your lower leg springs forward. Most of our definitions of Automation rely on an attachment to, if not a reliance on, human conscious thoughts or at least our human abilities, so the idea of automation within The Market is still problematically human with its capricious changes yet continually resists our introduction. Is this independence from, yet reliance upon humanity and our choices from The Market a sign of a form of intelligence?

Artificial Intelligence has long ceased to be a question of if but when. The greatest minds in the world are trained on developments in this arena as whilst it could vastly increase our quality of life it conversely presents substantial threats to our existence not to mention the moral implications of a conscious mind not bound by the frailties of the human body. We already talk to Siri on our phones and algorithms on Google already predict our diaries, our journeys and destinations, what we buy and who we want to call. The Market is an entirely abstract entity now, the cash in our hand’s worth is dictated by digits being changed in millions of computers across the globe. We have already personified it and left it in charge of our careers and livelihoods to our great cost as we repeatedly discover but still defer to the apparently objective wisdom of this Automated System. This objectivity is supposedly The Market’s greatest strength but objectivity can be a dangerous thing. Objectivity is what we see in the animal kingdom where parents neglect or actively kill their offspring, where many animals are cannibals, or in nature where every volcano, tsunami and earthquake has no subjective interest. And need it be reminded of the existential dilemma presented by the total objectivity of the cosmos in which we sit. Objectivity provides science with some of our greatest innovations yet continually confronts us with moral dilemmas as a direct result of that objectivity coming into conflict with our human subjectivity. Scientists must often intervene with subjectivity on the objective experimentation with foetuses for discoveries within the field of stem cell research, the moral discomfort of using dead foetuses to further the health and prosperity of the human race. As such, is a purely objective Automated System really the best thing to guide our lives and political discourse?

The biggest concern, as mentioned above, is how closely this all relates to magical thinking akin to religious faith. A true regression to the pre-enlightenment era where we create causal relationships where perhaps there are none. We know this Market exists but are its movements and changes a response to our input or vice versa? Is the Market responding to titanic shifts in political power, business mergers, credit sales or are we just responding to The Market shifts?

With Thatcher’s faith in The Market still casting its long shadow, this year’s budget was a terrifying reminder that it is The Market that matters and not people. The tax hike on the self employed is an excellent example of this. With the removal of any sort of job security in the current job Market with the prevalence of zero hour contracts and utterly unreasonable demands being placed on the workforce, the financial market must be appeased with monetary recompense for these foolishly human instabilities. What is most notable about this budget is what it didn’t say and what it did not acknowledge. No mention of climate change, threats to the environment or clean energy, no mention of library closures, not even a mention of the Conservative’s manifesto that promised no increases in NI contributions. And most worryingly not a single mention of ‘Brexit’ which will undoubtedly push the Sterling into another free fall, yet Hammond comfortably made Market predictions well into the 2020s despite the very swift approach of one of the most tumultuous political eras in living memory. Again, The Market will decide. All hail The Market.

Disco 2000

 

Comics, to me, are as important a piece of literature as any other. Like all art some are better than others, some exemplify all that is good about comics others exemplify all that is bad but to dismiss the entire genre as childish or in some way ‘low art’ is itself truly childish. I read both books and comics from roughly the same age. From between the ages six to twelve was my heyday of comic books until they took a back seat and throughout my teenage years read a lot of books I felt I had to read and I now realise wasted a lot of my time in doing so. I returned to comics in my early twenties and read all the comics I should have been reading instead and was rewarded in doing so. I’ve read plenty of great and rubbish comics when I was young but looking back some were absolutely excellent and informed my reading later in life. Throughout my life though some comics persisted, some comics I bought when I could and always returned to characters and strips out of sheer delight and fascination. One of those was Batman in any and all his incarnations, the other was 2000AD.

2000AD celebrated its 40th birthday last week and judging by Twitter it is in rude health, despite certain worrying moments where sales slipped and discontinuing the print edition was mooted. 2000AD is one of the few British comic books still going and more importantly thriving (along with the similarly iconoclastic and anarchic VIZ) which is one of the many reasons I love it so much. It was also an early stomping ground for and launched the talents of some true luminaries of the comic book form. The likes of Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, Neil Gaiman, Brian Bolland, Mark Millar, Dave Gibbons, Pat Mills, John Wagner, Carlos Ezquerra, Alan Grant and many more besides were all featured early in their careers by 2000AD and whether you read comics or not believe me the cultural landscape would be MUCH poorer without these people in it. People generally tend to think of Judge Dredd when 2000AD is brought up and he is undeniably the superstar of the comic but the likes of Slaine, Rogue Trooper, Strontium Dog and even its ‘Editor’ the alien Tharg has gone on to achieve wider acclaim. Not least for a largely independent comic to last 40 years is an achievement in and of itself. It continues to foster new comic writing talent and its ‘Future Shocks’ shorts (one of the few comic strips that canvas from open submissions which I myself have submitted to in the past (to no success)) is still going strong too. They even took on characters from discontinued British magazines like Dan Dare from Eagle comics, another character I have an inherited love for. In short 2000AD is nothing shy of a British institution.

I first read 2000AD by mistake. There was a hardware and second hand bookshop in my old hometown (yes such a thing exists) and as a kid I was always on the hunt for books to read. With my chum we’d go to different bookshops in town (of which there are now considerably less) and have a hunt around. In this particular shop there was a bargain bin for old comics in which you could buy a bundle for something stupid like 10p. My friend liked this because he was a fan of old second world war comics of which there seemed to be an unending supply of. Some of these I enjoyed but even at that young age war porn put me on edge. Instead there were several bundles of 2000AD comics from the early 80s and on a whim I bought a couple of rolls. The first thing that surprised me was they were printed on newspaper like my sister’s Beano and my Dandy used to be, by then I was used to the far more glossy (and expensive) covers of American comics. The printing was also a bit more ‘vintage’ as we call it now, serrated page edges, print holes, colour codes on the inside margin, etc which was unusual but what surprised me more was what was inside. First and foremost, blood, guts and boobs were in each ‘Prog’ in some form or other which to a young kid was a fantastic discovery and a thrill that I had somehow got away with buying these comics. More than this was the illicit thrill of actually more dynamics in a comic. I had discovered that in Batman and DC in general things were a little darker and lines of good and bad were blurred a little more but in 2000AD ‘Good guys’ didn’t exist. Everyone was generally horrible or cruel or had their own selfish agendas and wherever there were ‘good’ people, or at least those with morals that extended beyond themselves, they were punished or beaten down or turned. Importantly however this wasn’t portrayed as a good thing, everyone and everything was terrible in 2000AD but it was pointing and laughing and sneering at this. This was basically my first introduction to dark satire, my genre of choice, which I would find later in abundance in the likes of Chris Morris and Charlie Brooker. With 2000AD though everything was fair game and it wasn’t simply satirised but lampooned, made grotesque, then violently eviscerated. I read and re-read those 10 or so comics 100 times. I wasn’t allowed to buy the current editions back then as they had that damn warning on the cover ‘Mature content. For adults only.’ Not long later it turned out my father was working freelance with some of the artists and designers from 2000AD and would bring home new Progs every so often so I circumvented this problem but only occasionally. Since then I have only bought the odd prog (again similar to VIZ) but when I do I’m always delighted to find every comic strip is still as dark, as angry, as cynical, as sardonic, as biting, as graphic and as FUN as it was when I read those out of date 80s editions as a 10 year old.

2000AD holds a unique place in comics alongside the likes of the Beano, the Dandy and VIZ because, for me at least, they are exemplars of a certain British way of thinking and our sense of humour. I am not a patriotic man, certainly not these days, but if I were asked to explain what being British meant I would probably say to read these comics for the answer. British comics, like American comics, exist in a fantasy version of their home nation; a world of park rangers and strange garage inventors, eccentric vicars and fascist bobbies, a world where the protagonist is a Menace, a freak, dirty, grumpy, an upstart and all with a pig-headed, stubborn refusal to accept a lesser lot and cow tow to those who tell them not to which is similar to the American comic style but the difference is who they are fighting. Typically Spider-Man fights the purse snatcher for the nice police/state/corporation whereas the Brit fights that establishment tooth and nail. Every character in 2000AD is cynical, skeptical, original and stubborn, unlike America where the heroes are typically squeaky clean or fight for ‘Truth, Justice and the American Way’ or that malleable thing ‘Liberty’, British comics aren’t interested in Heroes, we want actual every people, people from council estates, the working class, the ugly, the unpopular. 2000AD has never attempted to gloss over the disgusting neglect in British society and never afraid of where to lay the blame or point the finger. Where Captain America fights for the maintenance of the status quo, Judge Dredd does the same but in a dystopia where he is undeniably a right-wing, totalitarian monster. It is no coincidence Dredd was born in the UK of 1977 a year of Strikes, a rise in Conservativism in local elections, the release of ‘Never Mind the Bollocks’, the ‘Troubles’ in Ireland, the release of ‘Star Wars’ and most soberingly a year in which the Yorkshire Ripper was claiming more victims. Whilst American comics offer an escapist fantasy and obliquely reinforce the will of the state and the American Dream, British comics show life as it is now from the gutter up, aggressively denouncing those in power, be it through the depiction of an imperialistic ‘Teach’ or a fascist cop, or representations, though sometimes problematic – some pretty dubious sexual politics being the worst offences – , of leaders or the general public as gullible or naive fools. These are a far more honest, if extreme, and dare I say it responsible approach to depicting the world.

Today serial print media is in decline, more people read online and spending is at a low and yet 2000AD perseveres. I myself (under-employed yet again) am unable to afford the special 40th Anniversary edition but I would definitely urge you to. The Dandy ended its print edition some years back which broke my heart but was understandable and the majority of kids weekly literature is generally limited to some commercial tie-in that’s either short lived, some imported American run or just plain rubbish. Luckily we have new kid on the block, The Phoenix, which flies the Brit comic flag proudly and whilst it doesn’t go to the extremes of yesteryear it is certainly a breath of silly, weird and action packed fresh air in the comic book market. For me though 2000AD stands front and centre, most certainly not waving a flag, but forging ahead into the dark and scary political landscape of nationalism and fascism that we are witnessing, to mercilessly take the piss, send up, mock and generally laugh at it all. So thank you Tharg and everyone past and present at 2000AD for maintaining an uncompromising publication and remaining resolutely human. Drokk yeah.

The Beauty of Fascism

 

Have you noticed that Trump says ‘Beautiful’ a lot? And words similar? Everything he likes or that benefits his administration or wants to create will be beautiful. The same kind of language appears in the rise of similar parties in the UK and Europe, not necessarily beating the drum of ‘Beauty’ but certainly speaking in terms of restoration and face lifts. London since the stock market crash has become a forest of cranes and building sites as modern architectural wonders grow into the air. A political equivalent of ‘keeping up appearances’ in the eyes of the world permeates the Nu-Right. Watching a recent party political broadcast on behalf of our unelected Prime Minister in a pathetic attempt to placate the growing unrest (in spite of soaring opinion polls for her and her party) it was a bizarrely rose tinted video filled with smiles and opulence, an Instagram-like filter was even used to give the whole affair a golden hue as if far from being plunged into a bleak future of segregation, vilification and economic suicide, the nation and her party literally glowed with delight and promise. A return to Aesthetics seems to have been adopted by the leading political parties of developed nations today.

Aesthetics was a philosophical movement developed from the early Greek idea of Beauty, one of Plato’s ‘Forms’ by Alexander Baugarten in the 18th century. It deals with the nature of art, beauty and taste through the creation and appreciation of something beautiful. One of the most noted Aesthetes was Oscar Wilde. Prior to the second world war the appreciation of art and beauty was reasonably uncomplicated, the Romantic ideals of beauty are still indelibly printed on our collective consciousness. “A rose by any other name” and so on. Beauty, thanks to the Romantics and Aesthetes, became inextricably linked with love and was often assigned an equivalence with truth. Art and culture prior to the rise of Modernism near universally accepted the most beautiful things as the best and most honest. And then Nazis appeared. Part of the Nazi ideology was an entrenched desire and love of beauty. The very idea of an Aryan Race is that of a race of perfect and beautiful people, a master race. The Nazis hoarded art and built vast and grand buildings, each a mass of finely detailed and exquisite design and architecture. Since then a love and appreciation of beauty has become problematic, it is now linked with humanity’s darkest hour. Beauty had become inherently ugly.

In the fairy tale of Beauty & The Beast, a rude and selfish man is punished for this crime by “Being made to look as ugly on the outside as he is on the inside” and thus turned into a beast. Throughout the tale he is confronted by a woman, the embodiment of beauty, and made to change his nature by falling in love with this beautiful girl. On the brink of death the Beast is brought back to life by the woman’s declaration of love and transforms him back into a handsome prince. At play here is a traditional association with beauty, that it can transform the ugliness and cruelty in the world into the good and beautiful. It has often been noted in analysis of this story that identity is in fact lost through this conformity. Applied to real life – the idea of an unattractive person who is withdrawn and insular because of society’s treatment of them because of their appearance, that they should simply be a nicer, more welcoming person to those who insult or deride them and then they will be seen as beautiful – this seems like a problematic acceptance of aesthetic beauty so as to conform to a society that demands they be hidden from view. The need for the Beast to ‘transform’ into a handsome prince so he may be better accepted and therefore worthy of marriage speaks volumes for how the adoration of beauty lacks a great deal of humanity.

The fascism of beauty is still very much alive and well, we all know the unfair standards of beauty set by mainstream media and its focus on aesthetics (certainly when it comes to women) and how ostracising it is. Post WWII the modernist movement even went some way to attempt to counteract it. Brutalist architecture and much more plain, abstract, disjointed, even plain ugly design was incorporated into architecture, literature, music and art itself but in the same way as we resist the ugly undercurrent of beauty we equally resist the unattractive veneer of a more fair minded appreciation of the world, people and culture. Anyone who has seen Kubrick’s vision of A Clockwork Orange will know how oppressive the Brutalist architecture aesthetic is and yet the right has openly returned to its love for beauty. Why?

The answer, I think, lies in the Philosopher and MP Edmund Burke’s treatise on the Sublime.

Burke again takes note of the Greeks and their idea of The Sublime and sees it not simply as that which is beautiful i.e. aesthetically pleasing, but as that which can destroy us. He points out that the sight of a beautiful vista: a tempestuous ocean from the shore line, the grand canyon, a forest of redwoods, etc belittles us, reminding us how small and insignificant we are and how easily a roaring sea, bolt of lightning, a volcanic eruption or a tornado could snuff us out at any given moment. The sublime is beautiful and dangerous. As such, this seems to be how fascism adopts beauty for its own ends. Beauty and grandness is imposing and implies threat so by adopting each of these and the mode of Aesthetics the parties most in need of appearing strong, desirous of little challenge and the outward appearance of welcome and inclusion appear stronger, welcoming, inclusive and warrant little challenge.

Equity by contrast is ugly. The need for humans to create beauty inherently requires the removal or hiding of anything not aesthetically pleasing or meeting the individual’s taste, hence the fascism, but a more egalitarian, equal, equitable aesthetic vision requires the inclusion of the parts of society and art and culture that generally we do not care for. Featuring the handicapped, the mentally ill, the non-gender-normative, and just generally anyone who is not aesthetically pleasing is representative of the world as it stands today but this is not the world we see represented through art. If anything these supposed minorities are shamed into either conforming to a given aesthetic taste or simply shunned. This was changing until recently. With the sudden rise of right wing populism the demands on a more ‘Traditional’ aesthetic standard has been rekindled and anything not deemed beautiful is neither necessary nor desired. Sadly the left seem as resistant to letting its standards of beauty slip to combat this. Fairness, inclusion and equity, that which ‘Liberals’ or any left leaning individual deem to be their dictums, by their very nature are messy, difficult and yes, very ugly.

What Burke calls The Sublime is a beauty of nature, of existence itself and importantly rife with ugliness throughout. To experience it is to be humbled and to dwarf our petty demands on the planet or the cosmos, this is not something that can be manufactured by humanity and it is why Trump and his acolytes’ continual allusions to beauty ring so hollow. Be suspicious of those who try to convince you of the beauty they see without acknowledging the ugliness too. It’s only fair.

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Death of Art, Birth of Content

 

The question ‘what is art?’ has long plagued our species as we seem to be the only species that creates it. One definition is that Mankind makes two things: Tools & Art. Tools serve a physical and singular purpose whereas Art does not. Others say it is simply pure expression of the Will with no absolute purpose. Whereas a lot of people say Art does have a deep and profound purpose even an instructive one. The debate will rage for many centuries to come I’m sure but one thing is for certain humankind has created Art since the birth of consciousness and it shows no sign of stopping. Art seems to be a by-product of living. People who claim to have no creative or artistic leaning will still be creative in some way or will have some creative outlet, no matter how small or apparently inconsequential. The difference between the everyday person who is creative and The Artist is that The Artist has a passion for the Arts and dedicates study, education, time and effort to their development in the field so they might become more accomplished in it.

Content is a funny word. With the same spelling but a subtle difference in pronunciation it can either mean a state of peaceful happiness or a thing that which something contains. The meaning of the latter was once an identifiable object: the content of a glass was water, the content of a painting was a landscape or a portrait. Today the meaning has become more abstract. Content has providers, editors, managers, controllers and more. Content now has many meanings under one heading.

In recent years technology has levelled a great deal of playing fields in every industry and certainly in the arts. As an example for Photographers, what would have taken years of study in a darkroom to develop the techniques associated with printing a photograph and editing its final product and then a minute understanding of curation and galleries to display in is superseded by Instagram which will edit an image in a moment and display it for millions in mere seconds. We would call the former Photographer an Artist yet scholars, academics and critics would sneer at describing an ‘Instagrammer’ as an Artist. Thanks to technology developing a more egalitarian distribution of automated expertise the establishment surrounding the Art world is forced to find ways of differentiating the Artist from the everyday person and their creative outlet, thus dismissing Instagram and similar social media sites. What this implies is that to critics of internet outlets Art, ‘real Art’, is about the discipline and effort involved not necessarily the content of the Art. The creativity and uniqueness of a given image is dismissed due to its medium and normally what the image is of. Kim Kardashian’s Instagram feed became a book of self portraits published by Rizzoli, InstaPoet Rupi Kaur’s collection of Poetry ‘Milk & Honey’ is published by Andrews McMeel, both sell very well and both are largely not taken seriously by the artistic establishment or general patrons of the Arts. If they are called an Artist it is with the caveat ‘Internet’ or ‘Social Media’ as a prefix. In addition, with technology making many different styles and disciplines of Art available today’s ‘Internet Artist’ is often a multi-disciplined, multi-skilled creator. YouTube celebrities often write and edit their own videos, direct short films, setup photography shoots, write their own books, develop independent channels for reviews, journalism or anything that takes their (and their audience’s) interest. As such many people in more traditional media outlets and art industries struggle to define what these Artists actually are.

To counteract this they have instead been labelled as ‘Creatives’ and what they create, their creative output, is ‘Content’. This signals a very important change in the perception of the modern Artist: The Artist as commodity. The chief manner in which many internet Artists make their money is advertising. The average Youtuber or Instagrammer has a provable audience share in their follower count, they have metrics on who sees them, who interacts, how often and so on. This repurposing of business speak, ‘Creative’ and ‘Content’, for Artists and their output is indicative of how their creativity is perceived by those wishing to finance their creativity. Since the first Artist, their making a living has been a problem. The inherent monetary value of Art is at the whim of the public and like the definition of art itself it is hard to ascribe a financial definition to it too. Often an Artist relied on a Patron or familial wealth to support their endeavours, today these still stand but they have just updated. Many Internet Artists see the patronage of advertisers as freeing, no need to break into the near impossible Artistic Society bubble, yet as YouTubers recently discovered advertisers have certain demands and legalities they must abide by and so must control how their products are advertised which many YouTube artists and their ‘Content’ don’t adhere to. As such a recent crackdown meant a lot of YouTubers lost money due to monetisation of their videos being removed and in some cases channels were shut down. Unfortunately due to the open nature of the internet the absence of one channel/profile is often of little concern to the site as whole as there is always a wealth of other Creatives churning out Content daily.

Art has intrinsic value in that it is essential to life, whether we realise it or not. Cuts to funding in the Arts makes it harder and harder to make a living or even develop the skills necessary to become an Artist in an educational institution. Therefore it makes sense that Artists use one of the only avenues left available to them to educate themselves, develop their craft and create and publish works of art. Yet they are immediately dismissed as crass, vain, cheap, intellectually barren and so on. Not all ‘Content’ on the internet is great by any means but there are some truly great artists producing genuine works of Art online that get buried amongst the chaff. Throwing the baby out with the bath water regarding internet Artists may seem trivial but traditional Artists and their mediums are going to have to accept that digital ‘Creatives’ and their ‘Content’ are, in many ways, the future and have the potential to be as revolutionary and valuable as themselves and should afford them the same titles of Art and Artist. The goal should, ironically, be to judge them and their work on their Content not their medium.

An Alternative Life

 

There’s a scene near the beginning of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade where Indy is teaching a class and says “Archaeology is the search for Fact, not Truth. If it’s truth you’re interested in Dr. Tyree’s philosophy class is just down the hall.” At a time in history that will now forever be viewed as a cataclysmic slide into retrograde beliefs and historically appalling ideologies this phrase, of all phrases, seems to strike a ringing chord for me. Celebrity Scientist Neil deGrasse Tyson tweeted recently “I dream of a world where the Truth is what shapes people’s politics, rather than politics shaping what people think is true.” When the gatekeepers of important political information are outright lying using what they claim are ‘alternative facts’ the Truth has suddenly become a rare but malleable commodity, akin to gold. But it very much depends on your perspective today who you believe is the alchemist. And what rare metals you believe are facts.

I spent some time sofa surfing in Brighton last year before I travelled to America where I spent Hallowe’en, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year and – importantly – the Election with my girlfriend. Whilst sofa surfing I was left to chat with my friends’ flatmate who liked a chat of an evening. His favoured topic of discussion was science. He loved it, delightfully rattled off scientific facts he had learned through casual study in his personal time and took even greater delight in pointing out the foolishness of people who had faith or believed in something that was only explainable without empirical evidence. His passion regularly made these discussions animated. At another time I was out for dinner with my work colleagues when a similar discussion came up and I happened to point out my general contempt for a Mr Richard Dawkins (not because I disagreed with his theories but I find him a singularly unpleasant fellow) to which I was taken to task, quite aggressively, by a colleague who I am still good friends with but at the time seemed to see me as akin to a child murderer. She took great objection to my dislike for a scientist and took it to mean I had no belief in the scientific method or empirical evidence. Nothing could be further from the truth. I believe profoundly in the scientific method, evidence based research, model projection and you ignore the findings of these at your peril. Anyone who does not recognise the contribution to society made by the scientific community is outright incorrect.

In my current under-employed state I watched through the entirety of Rick & Morty on Netflix the other day and was totally enamoured with it. Not just because it’s uniquely animated and performed, nice and short – each episode clocking in around the 20 minute mark – and genuinely funny and original but because akin to my other favourite cartoon Futurama, it is very very smart. Unlike the open sewer that is The Big Bang Theory which merely parrots scientific findings and geek culture buzzwords the writers probably find on Reddit, Rick & Morty takes huge concepts and ideas and doesn’t attempt to boil them down so they’re digestible but uses these as a premise to explore character development and story arcs, just like in y’know real life. Hanging from the paper thin premise of a knock-off Doc & Marty from Back to the Future they explore graph theory, string theory, the Post Hoc fallacy, the Uncertainty Principle and much, much more. Like Futurama it is beloved by the ever critical (and massively egotistical and arrogant) ‘Nerd’ culture, calling it a “love letter to science”. And whilst I occasionally found it glib or walking well trodden ground from other sci-fi that it was well above, I loved it too ranking it an equal favourite animation with Futurama.

And I think this is where the problem comes from.

My whole life I have never vilified religion or the religious and I still don’t. Why? Because the people against it, relishing in referring to themselves as Atheists, have come across as even more volatile, aggressive, bombastic, argumentative, determined-to-convert, rude and down right unpleasant than any ‘Religious’ zealot I have yet met. It is not a new theory but one that is spat upon today that Atheism is just as much a religion as any other. In the above mentioned conversations and so many more throughout my life, when I point out there are just as many holy books, churches, temples, priests and other religious ephemera attributed to Atheism as any other organised religion, I have been met with a (very literally) violent reaction. There are, obviously, differences between Science and Faith, namely Science has a need to demand criticism, questioning and wants to be proved wrong i.e. like life itself it wants to progress which indicates it’s probably the right path to take. However you’re slightly blinkered if you think faith hasn’t been proven wrong and developed over the course of 3 millennia. What startles me though is how staunchly any questioning of Science is refuted with the immediate appearance of mountains of evidence to support whoever’s claims are being questioned and the line of questioning duly shut down completely as if to say “that’s that put to bed.” This seems to negate the very rule which they live by, a lack of query. If, as I do, you truly believe science is for the benefit of mankind and will provide us a species with a future, this kind of questioning really shouldn’t have any impact on you or your faith (yes, Faith) in it.

What I think is missing from everyday life today – and most definitely on the internet – is Philosophy.

Let us define terms here, I am not speaking of a life philosophy or personal philosophy which everyone develops over time and throughout their life but actual Philosophy. In its simplest form this is the question ‘Why?’ to be asked of everything. And I mean everything. Sadly today it does not seem to be asked of anything. It also requires a difficult and complicated understanding of a lot of different aspects of life, culture and yes Science. This requires reading, a lot of it. In the world of the internet, long form ‘Content’ is discouraged and actively ignored in a culture of tl:dr (as this blog will attest) so the idea of reading an entire text of very difficult theorem and dialectics based on largely intangible evidence is off putting to the point of I-don’t-care. The odd youtuber tries to bring Humanities to the table of ‘Vlogs’ but they are vastly outweighed by the number of loud and proud science channels/profiles.

A few of my friends are Academics, all both doctors and lecturers in the Humanities field and all have expressed dislike of current studies in Neuroscience. They feel with computers creating graphs of emotional responses to literature, or a model for the perfect novel, something is being lost in the analytics of culture – and Humanity – by the human mind. The scientific method aims to create an objective view of the world and our universe so it can be better studied but as Heisenberg himself pointed out: “that which you study you also change”. We change the outcome by measuring it. That is because as humans we are subjective. In short: a fact is rarely an objective one.

If you’re a fan of video games like me you may have heard of GamerGate. This was a recent explosion in a particularly vile sub-section of the internet and gaming culture that found a flimsy excuse to exercise their most misogynistic tendencies and were quickly laying waste to certain websites and certain careers that didn’t align with their views under the banner “Ethics in video games journalism” whilst simultaneously being the most unethical bunch of parasites in the world. You may not have heard of them or may have forgotten them but you know them now because they’re the people who got the UK to leave the EU and got Trump elected. They’re also the idiots who tried to boycott the latest Star Wars films because they were lead by girls and talk about the entirely fictitious ‘White Holocaust’. Milo Yiannopoulos is a good example. These giant children see themselves as Geeks, Nerds, the ‘Alternative’ crowd. They consider themselves informed and erudite and coincidentally are staunch believers in empirical science. In the same way as both the leave campaign and remain campaign AND the Democrat and Republican campaigns were all pretty detestable and had ‘Facts & Figures’ to support their claims, facts – it would seem – ended up being a dangerous thing. This, for me, stems from the religion or rather the Zealotry of Atheism and/or Science. Which is where Rick & Morty comes in.

Rick & Morty is indeed about science, Rick is a scientist but the show’s strength is not it’s adherence to science it’s Rick’s ultimate contempt for it. Rick & Morty is more of a show about Philosophy, reconciling the knowledge of oneself and the universe that science brings, with our existence as a whole. Something French author and Philosopher Albert Camus referred to as The Absurd and what is generally paraphrased today as ‘Existentialism’. Ultimately a pure scientist or Atheist should end their life immediately. We have nothing to live for, nothing matters, we are cosmically insignificant, overwhelming evidence suggests humans are a negative force on planet Earth and over population is hastening us towards a swift extinction anyway. But they don’t. We thrive as a species because of science. This dichotomy, this search for meaning in a meaningless existence, is a profound and troubling question that most people shy from. Some people feign Nihilism (normally the same people who love 90s grunge) as a cool exterior or adoptive identity but true Nihilists are rare, if not totally extinct because we have generally accepted we give ourselves meaning to live. See how philosophy helped us? If we didn’t develop these theories we’d all collapse screaming into an abyss as Nietzsche would have it. Rick & Morty explores many of these challenging themes in some depth but the fact that this seems to be overlooked in favour of the science of the show I find troubling. Even the word Science to me has become troubling, or at least its usage has, in the same way as ‘Content’ has come to mean many things whilst killing the nuance of many others, this dogmatic adherence to the Saviour That Is Science is damaging in the extreme. Claiming our involvement in the world is a binary response of either Faith or Science is what got us where we are today in the west: totally divided. Both could learn from one another yet both have dug their heels in harder and harder and resist the scientific and objective method of query as well as the philosophical, less tangible method of query. Both sides sharing links to biased articles, Tim Mnchin songs, videos of Stephen Fry DESTROYING RELIGION, interviews with Climate Change denying scientists and other equally specious ‘Content’ to serve a given agenda. There’s a reason the study of Consciousness is referred to as ‘The Hard Problem’. There is a great quote from a book called Boneland by Alan Garner where a character says “I’m for uncertainty. As soon as you think you know, you’re done for. You don’t listen and you can’t hear. If you’re certain of anything, you shut the door on the possibility of revelation, of discovery. You can think. You can believe. But you can’t ‘know’.” We know an awful lot today but there is a vast gulf between information, knowledge and wisdom, a gulf most of us are happy to stand on either side of and never try to traverse.

In the first chapter of Hard Times by Charles Dickens, ‘The One Needful Thing’, the first words of the book are spoken by Mr Gradgrind: “Now, what I want is, Facts.” The book goes on to reveal Gradgrind as cold and cruel, concerned only with numbers and facts. The more I hear about facts at the moment the less inclined I am to want to listen. Not because I don’t believe in evidence or proof but because the legacy is so pernicious. Like a great band or artist who inspired a legion of rather dreadful imitators (I’m looking at poor Jeff Buckley here) the sanctity of facts has come under the wrong kind of scrutiny but for me the true damage is there is no search for Truth. After all, they’re not the same thing. Philosophy is just down the hall.

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P.S. There are some excellent articles and videos on the web about the Philosophy of Rick & Morty, Wisecrack’s in particular.