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.

Try and have Merry Christmas

I’ve been remiss on this blog this year but I mean it’s been pretty quiet hasn’t it? Not much has happened. Will try and pick up the slack next year but feel like everything I need to say is being said online at the moment, a lot. The internet is just becoming background noise to be honest. 2017 is probably the year we start getting back to the real world as it seems we’ve been neglecting it and it has turned to complete shit. In the spirit of that, here’s you annual Christmas Poem from yours truly:


Merry Christmas Mrs. May

With snow gently lilting to the ground

Christmas lights casting their pearlescent glow

And a brass band blowing their mournful sound

Now wreaths of holly hung from doors to show

a welcome inside from a gilded tree,

mulling wine, chestnuts and the mistletoe

then comes a knocking and outside we see

wrapped up carolers singing songs we know.

“Do you have a license? And the volume’s

too loud. Make sure that brass band doesn’t stay,

I don’t think that’s a British seasonal tune

either. And mistletoe’s poisonous! No grey

area there, best take down this holly

wreath too. Is that snow white enough to play

in?” Poor No.10 (it’s not so jolly)

But have a Merry Christmas Mrs. May.

 


Also I made a Christmas song with my friend Christiana you can download for free over on Soundcloud. Click here to listen.

Be kind to each other. Except the 51% and anyone who voted Trump. Fuck them. They’re wrong and you need to tell them so and importantly show the evidence why. They don’t have facts to back up their racism, homophobia, misogyny and xenophobia, that’s why it’s called ‘ignorance’. Fuck 2016, let’s try and make next year better.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Batman vs Superman vs Everyone

Alright let’s get this over with. The world doesn’t need another article about superhero movies, they make enough money and don’t need defending by lone gunmen like me. HOWEVER Batman vs Superman has come under so much fire I feel like I need to say something. Because I like it. I like it a lot. Yes, I’m a DC kid, always have been, so I am biased but I never went in for the tribalism. I love Marvel and think the films are great too and they’re certainly “winning” (if this were a battle, which it isn’t). The reason I wanted to write this is because with the DVD release of BvsS the vitriol tap has been reopened and I get a little annoyed at the rhetoric that implies I shouldn’t like this film as a sane person: it’s garbage and if you like it you’re stupid, seems to be the overall line which really annoys me because I, without irony or concerted effort nor turning a blind-eye, really like Batman vs Superman.

Why?

Well let’s deal with the problems first. Most of the dislike is a matter of opinion. People do not care for the sombre, serious, murky world Man of Steel and BvsS inhabit. Marvel by contrast is bright, wry, wisecracking and fun. What warner bros are doing is quite sensible, don’t try and beat Marvel at their own game, they’ll lose. As such, the DC film universe is entirely different. My argument would be if this came out 10 years ago people would have lost their shit over it but whatever, no point ‘what-iffing’. BvsS was roundly lambasted by critics and fans, therefore there must be problems with it and there are, or rather there is. One main problem. The script.

Like every hollywood blockbuster these days, to justify the ticket price and get the most bums on seats you have to have a long film that has a universal appeal to adults and younger audiences, for lighter tone movies this is easy (Marvel strikes this balance exceptionally well) but a ‘darker’ movie will struggle. In short the script is too long, bloated and way too convoluted to be generally entertaining and despite the run time too little time is given over to development. The pacing is strong but leaves a lot behind and there are a lot of plot holes. Not to mention the confusing “Martha” plot hinge. Generally its a bit of a mess. You know, just like pretty much every major hollywood blockbuster of the last 10 years. In fact at least the Villain’s plan didn’t rely on getting captured for once like Dark Knight, Avengers, Skyfall, etc etc. Prometheus is a good example of a film destroyed by its script, it could have been great but I hate that film purely because of its script. So yeah there are script issues, lots, but no less or more than any Marvel movie it just came under greater scrutiny and comparison. When you’re up against the biggest movie series of all time and the most critically acclaimed Batman movies you can’t succeed sadly.

Then there’s Jesse Eisenberg’s repeat of his portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg as Lex Luthor. I won’t defend it, it’s a bad misstep and doesn’t fit with the tone. And is pretty annoying. BUT his motivations and his plan make as much sense as ANY other film at the moment. But yeah, Lex was a misfire.

So if we ignore my bias and accept the fact the script is droopy and flawed why do I love this film? It boils down to one reason. One word in fact: Imagery.

I know I boil everything back to Poetry but Imagery is a powerful tool in any medium and as I said waaaaay back in my post reappraising Man of Steel the iconography used is deliberate, the same is true here. Gods and Monsters, heaven and hell, Jesus and the Devil, this kind of symbolism is inherent in comic books and superheroes and was deconstructed in the comics very well. BvsS transfers this imagery to the screen, very successfully in my opinion.

I get the impression everyone hates Zack Snyder which means you should give props to Warner Bros for staking the entire series of films on a single auteur. I don’t mind him and like Watchmen a lot too. But, despite protestations, Batman vs Superman is NOT badly made. Badly written? Yes. (But for me no worse than any other blockbuster) but it is not badly made. Want to see badly made? Watch Party Monster. This will seem like Citizen Kane afterwards. Snyder, to my mind, is actually the only true blue comic book filmmaker working today because he uses the imagery and iconography of the comics for his screen interpretations, way more than Marvel does. Freeze frame any part of BvsS and it will be a (admittedly dark and murky) classic comic book panel and that is what makes my goosebumps come up. Bruce running into the cloud, Superman hovering in the air over the woman reaching out, the statue, the dream sequences, the dilapidated Wayne manor, in fact almost any frame of this film is a picture and nearly all of them reference one or many comics: Dark Knight Returns, Year One, For Tomorrow, Death of Superman and many more get visual references and I squeed a little every time. Snyder and Team have deliberately gone in a (literally) more operatic direction. The imagery of Man of Steel was the same, continual Biblical and Greek references including the hints of Darkseid as what looks like a literal devil in BvsS plant the flag pretty heavy in the ‘Serious’ camp. For a stupid superhero film where they beat seven bells out of each other this is clearly problematic and it, understandably, lost a lot of audiences. I was so happy in Man of Steel to see Zod and Supes beat the crap out of each other. If Gods did fight that’s what would happen.

In short BvsS is much more philosophical, and akin to the comics of Frank Miller, Alan Moore, et al, than any other superhero movie – which I loved – but is why I think everyone else hated it. These films are for entertainment and perhaps discussions of theology, senate hearings, heroism as a political act and personal soul searching is a bit much for people who just want a popcorn movie. Saying Batman vs Superman is ‘cerebral’ is silly, but it does ask more questions than any Marvel film does, its just not any questions an audience wants asked. Except me apparently.

This is to say nothing of Batman and Alfred being my absolute favourite screen incarnations of those characters ever. Batfleck and Irons are just EXCELLENT in those parts and I will fight anyone who says otherwise. Gal Gadot kicks all kinds of arse too, her introduction at the end was a delight for me and I look forward to her own film with relish. Also, and I will happily fight for this one, the score is better than ANY score of any blockbuster I’ve seen of late. Zimmer is a notorious thief and false advertiser of a composer but by golly he makes music that is SO memorable and attuned to the scene Marvel should actually be ashamed. It saddens me to hear Hans won’t be doing anymore such films but if it were up to me I would make it a priority to find someone with as sensitive an ear as him to score the rest.

I won’t deny there are problems with Batman vs Superman but I honestly believe it has come in for a lot of unwarranted stick that boils down to expectations and just general opinion. It can’t fight that sadly and whether we like it or not we’re grandfathered in to a million more of these films that frankly even I am sick of now but whatever. I like Cavill, I like Affleck, I like Gadot and I like Snyder. The series needs work if it wants a more favourable response next time but I really hope that doesn’t mean sacrificing all the things I like about this movie.

In short, I’m just asking for some perspective please and to stop making me feel guilty for liking this dumb film instead of your favourite dumb film about dumb superheroes hitting each other. This is all stupid and we’re all taking it too seriously, including the film I’m defending but can’t I just enjoy my favoured bit of idiocy without being made to feel more of an idiot than we ALL are for sponsoring this kind infantile nonsense? You want better films? Stop watching these. Or better still, make your own…

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P.S. If you want a more rounded response to some of the things I like about BvsS this has a lot of it (but is actually too fanboy for my likes, it defends stuff that shouldn’t really be defended and ignores parts that should be pointed out but generally I agree with it) but equally this is a good reference point for a lot of the major issues (though, again, it leans too heavily on some pretty petty stuff and – like most people – really really hates it so kinda skews the supposed objectivity). This was written in response to my buddy Matt Post making a video about why he didn’t like it so basically FUCK YOU MATT! YOU DON’T KNOW SHIT! IMMA CUTS YOU BITCH! (Seriously though he makes a good point, but it is a point I feel can be made about every superhero movie of the last 6 or 7 years).

One For Sorrow, Two for Joy, Three for…

January 2013 I was (as seems to be a regular fixture with me) unemployed and without my own home. I was staying in my friend’s box room for the winter and I had been very sick. Being painfully bored too I began writing songs and eventually had a whole album’s worth of material ready to go that was set to be a FunkNSoul/RockNRoll epic. For a catch up I  met up with my friend and frequent musical collaborator/guidance counsellor James at Platt Fields to discuss the said musical project and my usual existential angst which he so generously tolerates. As we walked around the pond I saw a magpie and offered my habitual greeting of “Good Morning Mister Magpie” as it swept by. James laughed and asked why I did that. It is a learned superstition from my Mother who insisted on saying it as it was bad luck to see a lone magpie according to the rhyme ‘one for sorrow, two for joy’. Convenient that magpies are solitary birds due to their unpleasant habits and nature but anyway. I’m not superstitious its just a habit I picked up from my Mum and magpies are very distinctive birds. James grinned and said “that’s album four’s title, the one of all piano ballads”. I laughed and we carried on chatting but as these things so often do the idea took root and by the time I got back to my friend’s house where I was staying I already had the whole album planned out. It is of no small portent that it was that month I also downloaded the video app Vine…

Over the next year I bounced back and forth between Kent and Manchester (as usual), but in May 2014 I was renting a room in a house that had my Landlord’s 120 year old Bechstein upright piano in it and the other album project was looking a long way off and expensive whereas here was a world class and unique instrument next to my head when I slept. So I bought some tapes and dug out my brother’s old 4-track Tascam Portastudio and over the course of two weeks recorded 12 tracks on the piano. Once recorded, my fear was that they sounded too similar to my last album ‘He Hath Made Me Glad’ (also named by James) in that it was me alone with an instrument and as I seem pathologically averse to repeating myself (stylistically at least) and my favourite artists always genre hop I needed to add stuff to it. By this time I had gained a following on Vine that later that year would result in a month long trip to America that changed my life. But at this stage I simply put the feelers out to see if anyone wanted to contribute their talents to the album? I got one hell of a response and subsequently got takes of vocals, clarinets, brass, strings and more.

It’s taken 2 years to amalgamate all the recordings and contributions as they slowly drip fed back to me but it’s finally finished and I love it. Whilst I am proud of the material its the contributions that have made me love this album, it’s nothing like what I originally assumed it would sound like and I couldn’t be happier about that. I am so pleased so many talented people agreed to help me out on this and make it better than I ever thought an album I recorded in my bedroom would be. So thank you to all the contributors.

A note on ‘Bedroom’ albums: This is my 3rd album and the first I recorded at home, the others were both recorded in professional studios. If you want to make an album but think you can’t afford to pay for the studio time, don’t. You have more technology on the device you are reading this through than any major band up until the 80s had. Many great musicians have recorded No.1 albums on the cheap: Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Nebraska’, Bon Iver’s ‘For Emma’, The Streets ‘Original Pirate Material’, David Gray’s ‘White Ladder’ are all “bedroom” albums. My favourite album of all time, Whatever & Ever Amen, was recorded at home by Ben Folds Five. Every computer comes with recording and mixing software that the Beatles would have killed for. An iPhone has a dynamic condenser microphone built into it. With a bit of know how you can make an album for practically nothing. Or an EP. Or just a single. Point is, it should be the songs and performance that matter the most. Ignore the gear heads and muso snobs who say it just HAS to sound this way or whatever, the Stones got yelled at by sound engineers to turn down because the guitar amps were distorting. Raw Power was refused by everyone except David Bowie because it was too aggressive. In an age where the likes of Pro Tools have standardised the recording process to a near conveyor belt level it is an act the utmost creativity to make an album the way you want to make it and that may be with Pro Tools but what I’m getting at is: that album you’ve always wanted to make but thought you needed a record contract to do it with, not only can you make it without that, you must. There’s no excuse not to. Not only that, you can get it on every major digital download site too. What are you waiting for? Get recording.

‘Good Morning Mr. Magpie’ is my 3rd LP and will be available online from Monday 1st August. It is the album I am most proud of that I have recorded and I would really love people to hear it. There will be a link to download it on here on Monday but you can hear it on Spotify, iTunes, Tidal, Amazon Streaming and more too. Please give it a share and tell your friends, I love talking about the recording process and how well the contributions turned out so come and chat to me on Twitter or here. Happy listening!

rearcover2

No Darling, Kill Your Heroes

William Faulkner told us to kill our darlings, good advice. Advice none of us listen to.

Faulkner was referring to a myriad of things with his quote but ultimately it has come to mean ‘get rid of that thing you love the most in your writing, as it is bogging it down’. What this ultimately is is an advocation of objectivity. Something you dearly love probably will not convey to a separate audience because they do not have the same intrinsic level of familiarity with whatever it is as you do and therefore do not understand the significance of that beautiful filigree patterned coffee table that keeps appearing in every scene in the Mother’s house. In short: fuck the coffee table, explain why he murdered the Dad. I hate writer’s explaining how to write as if they’re some sort of authority, so that’s all the explanation that needs for now but I do think this is not applied to our lives enough.

Hero worship is endemic in western society today. And I hate it.

Too often I see interviews, news stories or posts online praising the heroism of someone and what a testament they are to our race, a paragon of humankind. Despite being lazy hyperbole and clickbaiting the nuance of what made this person embody the qualities of heroism that we as a people so love this is dangerous as it usually ascribes the title to a group. Policemen, Soldiers, Firemen, etc are all regularly called heroes or similar breathless superlatives to that effect positioning the individuals into that of a totem for the role. The trouble is this does not account for the foibles of the individual within the role. Not for one second do I question the courage it takes to talk down a man with a weapon or view a crime scene, fight a blazing inferno or travel across the world to enforce the agenda of a safely ensconced wealthy man with fatal intensity, nor do I undersell the mental and physical cost this would place on the individual but what we should be recognising is that these are people. People come with baggage. Not every cop is a saint, not every soldier is a noble warrior and not every firefighter is a gentle giant. Sorry. As repeated new stories remind us day in, day out, the badge or coat of arms the jobs represent is a only as good as the person serving beneath that banner and sadly, sometimes these people can become power drunk or susceptible to coercion, and in some cases were just bad eggs from the start. These people do indeed sully the institutions they work for. I do not want to live in a world without police, fire fighters, doctors, soldiers or any of the luxuries I have as a tax payer. They make my life infinitely easier and I feel safer knowing they are all there. But we must recognise these are fallible systems too.

Someone once said to me that “Mums are amazing, every Mum I know is a hero”. I whole heartedly disagree with that. I have some very unpopular views when it comes to kids. I think we are over populated enough and additional members to this race that we are all fast losing is a savage blow but more relevantly whilst the creation of life is undoubtedly a miracle of evolution it is biology, and it happens several hundred thousand times a day and as unpleasant as it is to hear, some of these women aren’t very good at it. I know that will get me in a lot of trouble but unfortunately some Parents just aren’t good at their job, some of them even know it but the fact of the matter is every Mother is not a hero. Most are great at their jobs and it astounds how strong a love and bond can be that makes you not care it has been crying for 8 hours straight and get up in the middle of the night to feed it but a sad and unhappy few bring the name of motherhood down. I realise I will be lambasted for criticising the wonder of childhood and motherhood as a straight white dude and… well fair enough, I should probably shut my fucking mouth you’re right but my point remains: hero worship blinds us from the unpleasant realities of human flaws.

We are all people whatever role we have in life or society and we all make mistakes, we all lie, we all say mean things intentionally or unintentionally and when you burden someone with responsibility often they will rise to the challenge but occasionally the person will buckle. The point I’m trying to make is that we see roles, jobs, not the person serving them. If a cop gets killed the whole department goes apeshit looking for the scapegoat, a soldier is killed and they’re held up as another lost hero murdered by the forces of evil to help compel us deeper into conflict, a terrorist blows up a building and they are displayed as a dead eyed monster with webbed feet and red eyes not the scared, foolish, misguided, angry, railroaded and manipulated individual they are, or equally they would be held up by ISIS as great and holy martyr. A hero.

A Hero never saved anyone. A person saves someone everyday. Hold that person up. Praise that person. A person will do good all the time. A person will be a great mother, nurse, firemen, policeman, soldier, but people? People are stupid. People are a mob and a mob is only as smart as the stupidest person in it. Use independent thought and treat others the same way so that you don’t just lump wheat in with the chaff. People often complain there are ‘no more heroes anymore’ I wish that were true. That way anyone criticising an institution might be heard out and evidence found to support that criticism and not immediately shot down and vilified. We can be Heroes but just for one day because any longer than that and you build cults around them and these once selfless individuals can be corrupted by that sense of invincibility. For crying out loud I have been called a hero! If that doesn’t sully it’s worth I don’t know what will. So for heaven’s sake if someone does something great praise the deed, praise the person but end it there. Heroes don’t exist except in films and television. Good vs Evil doesn’t exist in the real world, I wish it did cause I’d be Indiana Jones by now. The villain deserves justice, the hero deserves death. They never helped anyone.

A hero ain’t nothin’ but a sandwich.