Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Sue Perkins, Catholicism, feminism and Glasgow

After watching the moronic Jedward messing up a kitchen floor in Celeb Big Brother, then a stale repeat called the Great British Bake Off with Sue Bloody Perkins (smugness and irritation personified – and consequently hugely in demand at BBC), I started to think that television really has NOTHING to offer any more. Nothing at all.

Then I remembered Family Guy on BBC3, but that’s too often repeated and is a US import anyway …

Next, along comes The Field of Blood – a crime drama set in Glasgow in 1982. OK, this was not a purely televisual creation. It's an adaptation of a novel, and the novel is, of course, an art form far superior to TV.

Now I like drama, and since reading the three Stieg Larsson novels earlier this year, I do also quite like crime fiction, particularly if there is a lot of psychology, moral philosophy and poetic language in it.

As for The Field of Blood (BBC1 Monday Aug 29), well I liked enough to want to watch the second part.

There is much that I like personally in this drama – not least the sweary, cynical humour of a traditional newspaper newsroom. I worked for many years as a reporter and a feature writer in such places, with their smoking, cussing, piss-taking humour etc. Frankly, I wish those days were back. Instead, news writing (and most other forms of writing) are dumbing down because writing is being de-professionalised as the internet era develops. Also culture generally has become horrible politically correct as the forces of Liberal Fascism have grown in confidence.

I also like The Field of Blood because it has Catholicism as a cultural backdrop. Catholicism is so often scoffed at by the liberal wasters who make 99 per cent of TV drama. But as someone who grew up in a Catholic culture I know how strong it is - and I predict the faith and its dolorous spirituality will make a comeback as times become progressively more testing for Western societies such as our own.

Another reason for this two-parter’s appeal – for me at least – is it’s setting in Glasgow. I like Glasgow. I lived there for a while when I was working as a reporter for a Scottish morning newspaper (the Press & Journal).

The Field of Blood has a feminist agenda. Drama cannot really get commissioned at the BBC these days unless it has a feminist theme, or a homosexual one, or a racial justice one, or an anti-Christian shtick. I’m OK about the feminist subtext of The Field of Blood, as it goes. I’m a supporter of men’s liberation, you see, so I am, of course, also a feminist.

Because if you are serious about making people free, you have to be serious about achieving freedom for both men and women equally.

At the heart of this story is a young woman from a Catholic family, Paddy (Patricia)Meehan. She is working in a newspaper office as a lowly ‘copy boy’ when she notices in a story about the grisly murder of a child a connection to her wider family.

There is a conflict between her passionate and correct belief that sometimes it is only journalists who can expose injustice – and the need of her kith and kin to protect themselves.

Procedurally, there were some weaknesses in The Field of Blood's portrayal of an old-style newsroom, and the casting was wrong, having far too many old and middle aged men in the newsroom. But the culture of such a newsroom was only slightly exaggerated. Overall, it was a fair enough stab, I thought.

This is a drama, after all – not real life.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

TV – random irritations and rampant egos of limited intelligence

Although there hasn’t really been a silly season news-wise this summer, there sure has been a load of rubbish in the popular media.

Television has become – as I predicted in the 1990s – the medium of preference for thick people. ‘The X Factor’ is back and so is ‘Celebrity Big Brother’, and, of course, the tabloid newspapers are all over them like a rash. Stupidity feeds on stupidity.

But the tabloid newspapers are also becoming, well, unfocused and unappealing as they seek to reposition themselves slightly upmarket following the phone-tapping scandal.

I can't imagine The Sun's readers giving a toss about all its VERY BORING articles about food by middle class former pop star Alex James. ‘Cheddar behaves very well in microwaves, particularly if you cut it into cubes first,’ he wrote for today’s paper. Really!

I'm a newspaper hack by trade, so the phrase SFW! instantly pops into my head whenever I see the former Blur bass player musing on matters culinary. SWF? So F*cking What?!

On the rare occasions when contemporary British TV tries to be clever, it can only manage smarmy and smart alecy. And in Edinburgh for the BBC recently, Sue Perkins interviewed two US comedians who, AMAZINGLY, were even more irritating than herself!

Does anyone at the BBC actually understand the people watching at home? Or are they all just trying to annoy everybody?

Regarding the 'revival' of Big Brother on C5, as is so often the case with celebrity shows, I recognise very few of the people as 'celebrities'. Sally Bercow, I do know about, and she is just about the only person in the house with any real eloquence or brain power. Her rampant ego, however, means any credit she earns for having reasonably sound mental faculties is negated.

As for Jedward, it seems that special provision has been made for the Irish lads, but on hearing them converse with other housemates, I can’t help wondering whether either of them is the full shilling.

When you consider what humanity has achieved, in the fields of art, philosophy, poetry, religion and the natural sciences, it is shameful to see the principal medium of our age, television, being so crammed with stupidity.

Increasingly, newspapers are like that too...

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Rough justice – the British State at its least attractive

It bitterly disappoints me that the response to the riots by the law enforcement and justice arms of England has been one of posturing, simplistic overreaction.

The jailing of two young men from Cheshire for four years for inciting disorder through Facebook is excessive and profoundly unjust.

I don't pretend to know anything substantial about the backgrounds of the men concerned, who are aged 21 and 22, but let's be clear they've been jailed for inciting a riot that never actually took place.

Could it be that they were simply silly young men, caught up in the dark excitement of the riots and in thrall to the unthinking, facile nature of digital communications networks? I think that probably is the case. I think that's the case for thousands, probably millions, of young people these days. It doesn't mean that two young men should be sentenced to jail with such unseemly haste.

We've seen courts sitting round the clock since the unrest started the weekend before last.

We've seen the cops involved in PR circuses, battering down the doors of suspected troublemakers in early morning raids - with TV news crews in attendance. There are dangers in this sort of operation. What if the cops get the address wrong and batter down the door of an elderly or infirm person, causing a fatal heart attack? It could happen.

Now, I do not condone violence at all. I have witnessed it over the years, of course, in street fights and pub brawls. Increasingly, I've noticed too that increasingly it is women as much as men who cause and are actively involved in pub brawls.

I have never been caught up in a riot. I have never experienced having my business or home or workplace wrecked by rampaging mobs. I'm sure that such scenes are, for most good people (i.e. the majority of people), frightening and profoundly depressing.

But justice should never be rushed, any more than it should be delayed. Rushing and delaying justice simply distorts and strains justice. Rushing for justice can sometimes destroy justice.

And in any case, I'm convinced what we are witnessing in the ramped up response to the riots by cops and the courts, isn't the pursuit of justice at all.

It is the pursuit of vengeance - something quite different, something very unattractive.

And there are disturbing signs that cops and courts are being goaded into going for vengeance by prattling politicians, including the Prime Minister.

Paradoxically, I think there was some 'justice' done recently - when David Cameron had to cut short his classic Posh Person from Central Casting's vacation in Tuscany because the streets of London were burning. Well, that made me laugh and it made me think ... both of which responses are good and better than rioting or looting.

That a modern state and a modern state's leader should be tough on transgressors and opportunistic thieves at a time of civil unrest is understandable; commendable even. We do need to teach people a lesson.

But that lesson must be one that makes offenders think about what they've done, and reflect on why what they have done is wrong. We must show them how people have suffered because of their selfish and violent actions.

What the state should not do is make people who have done something stupid at a time of collective madness feel like scapegoats; feel like people who can't turn their lives around; feel hated.

The tracking down of offenders needs to be done without heat and without the seeking of public relations advantage. It should be unflagging, certainly, but the punishments should not be excessive; not a knee-jerk response which will inevitably cause more resentment.

Don't sentence two young men to prison for four years for writing something stupid and opportunistic on Facebook. Save that sort of sentence for people convicted of mugging with a weapon or grievous bodily harm where the injury was not serious - as is normally the case when justice hasn't been distorted by political hysteria.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Uncomfortable truths about the ‘riots’

Quite a lot of teenage lads (and some girls) are genetically wired to kick off and to rob – for excitement and to acquire the “brands” they want for nowt.

That, simply put, is why there’s been so much copycat trouble in urban England in the last few nights since the Tottenham riots. Easy digital communications technology has also help spread the nasty behaviour.

What happened in Manchester, Liverpool, some parts of the Midlands, and in Birkenhead (near me!) in recent nights, isn’t really rioting at all. It is gleeful trouble-making, arson, thuggery, thieving and burglary, carried out by young people, many of whom are staggeringly thick, and some of whom are actually EVIL.

It has been both interesting and saddening to watch coverage of the trouble on Sky News. I’m afraid I simply can’t bear to watch the smug and the politically correct opining on the BBC News Channel.

I was particularly impressed by the contribution about the mayhem made on Sky News (Tuesday0 by crisis management expert Peter Power. The so-called riots, he said, were not politically motivated, and not a response to injustice. Rather he said they were forms of “very aggressive, late-night shopping”. Spot on.

And Mr Power rightly castigated another TV "expert" who wrongly evoked the name of American civil rights campaigner Martin Luther King in an attempt to explain (or excuse) the recent kick-offs in England.

Now, I’d argue that teenagers down through the centuries, have been gleefully disposed to join in all sorts of rebellion again authority.

But what’s changed now is that many more teenagers are inarticulate and poorly educated. You can hear it in the way they speak – and it’s not restricted to young people either, as there has been a systemic failure in education across several generations in the UK, and a coarsening of culture.

That some teenagers today are thicker than their counterparts in previous generations seems to me to be a self-evident truth. I feel sorry for these kids, really I do; being stupid isn’t a pleasant experience.

Even more worrying is that so many of today’s youngsters lack a moral compass. They have had very little moral training - the sort of instruction absolutely necessary for the formation of decent human society.

Moral training in our country traditionally comes from the Judaeo-Christian tradition – yes, the Ten Commandments and all that! For most people in England such instruction has traditionally been the responsibility of churches and of Christian parents – the passing on of immutable moral values. Now that function appears to be failing on a much larger scale than it has within my own lifetime (and I am aged 54).

Often now you hear the phrase “you don’t have to be religious to be a good person”. Perhaps, in some cases, that is true. But most people need rules and a firm teaching of the good options in life if they are to develop successfully as human beings capable of living socially.

Also, it is often parroted that a person can make their own choices about moral, religious and spiritual values – as if these were simply a matter of consumer choice! What a spectacularly erroneous view! Yet it gains a false credence in a society where worship of the self, consumer addiction, and a terrible and utterly wrong belief in human autonomy, are all encouraged.

This is serious stuff. I am talking about the proper transmission of human identity.

There is more at stakee for all of us than damaged property and stolen goods – bad and frightening though those transgressions are for those who suffer from them.

Friday, 5 August 2011

In-between the cruel laughs something is missing

Collapsing money markets, global strife and Corrie ruined ...

But never mind, because the British economy and our culture might yet be saved by the mighty export of the movie version of The Inbetweeners.

Then again, perhaps not…

I caught an episode of the larky, smutty schoolboy sitcom on C4 on Wednesday night, and, yes, I found myself tittering over it. But I was also slightly alarmed by the sexual content.

I’m no prude, but I was disturbed to see one of the characters, I think it was Simon (played by Joe Thomas), being given a hand job by a younger girl at a youth disco – while his mates watched! Simon then got beat up by a much younger boy. It was all a bit nasty, frankly.

I know the actors are actually older than the characters they play, but all the same, I felt very uncomfortable watching this.

What makes The Inbetweeners entertaining (for the most part) is that it is resolutely non-PC and it taps into the indolence and casual, piss-taking cruelty of your typical British teenage lad really rather well.

Also, the narrator, Will (played by Simon Bird) is a nerdy type and somewhat pretentious, and we all remember boys like him from our own schooldays. Will’s role really is very funny, particularly the running joke of his mum being thought of as “fit” by the other lads.

But where The Inbetweeners falls down is in its lack of humanity or any redeeming morality.

I’m serious. The very best of sitcoms always show their characters’ good sides, or let them do occasional acts of virtue or kindness, amid all the humour. You needs that because humour is essentially about hurt. We laugh because someone is hurting in a situation or they are embarrassed.

But a really great sitcom will leaven the relentless hurt and cruelty of comedy – and I’m glad to report that another show on Wednesday night did just that.

I refer to the consistently brilliant Not Going Out, and a repeat I saw on BBC1 where a confused old lady wanders into Lucy’s flat, causing all sorts of problems for Lee. But when he has a chance to, Lee does the right thing by the old lady, and invites here to a firework display.

The fact that the fireworks were awful was irrelevant. What mattered at that point – as we were laughing at dementia for God’s sake! – was that the main character did an act of kindness to a confused old person.

The show didn’t dwell on that kindness. It didn’t have to. But it was important to include it.

The Inbetweeners needs such leavening. It needs to be something more than merely nastily funny. As for the coming movie version leading Britain to an export-led recovery, well that was just my own cruel little joke.

Britcoms rarely make good films, and I think that will be the case this time. Sorry lads.