Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Review: The Steven Nolan Show 09/10/2013

The Nolan Show is occasionally capable of some of the worst examples of local journalism.  The episode earlier this year where they covered the flag protest should live in infamy.  Inviting a crowd of sectarian bigots who had actually scared off a lot of the people who had ordered their tickets because you don't want an empty studio was ill considered at best and calculated irresponsible sensationalism at worst.  The show does from time to time throw up the odd surprise.

Tonights episode was something else.

They took on the abortion issue and the ambiguities in the law here by talking to the family of a woman who found out that the foetus she was carrying basically didn't have a head and wouldn't live long after the birth and the amount of shit that she and her family have been through. He had the Womans mother on the panel, Rosie Ward from the Christian Medical Centre on the other chair towing the fundamentalist Christian party line, Bernie Smith of anti choice group Precious Life in the audience, Goretti Horgan from Alliance For Choice and Breedagh Hughes from the royal college of midwives making an appearance by satellite. Nolan himself, who was definitely on the right side of this one, was chairing the whole thing as usual and let the facts speak for themselves without letting his ego get in the way of the debate, which made a nice change.

It made the family's dilemma quite clear and it also exposed the inhuman hateful attitudes of Precious Life to a T. Some of it was brutal, both in good and bad ways. Smith got a complete rinsing from Nolan and the mother of the woman, she was basically made to admit that she would force a woman against her will to carry a foetus that was going to die to full term and when presented with the Womans account of being harassed outside a FPA centre by her own activists she refused to condemn their behaviour. Its that sort of thing that has the potential to actually shift people on this issue.

I also noticed that That last chap to speak from the floor on tonights Nolan Show IS actually one of those creepy anti-choice people that stand outside the FPA on Shaftsbury square. I pass there going to work all the time and I recognise his face. The pictures they use of "aborted Fetus" as part of their scare tactics aren't taken from abortions at all, they are actually miscarriages.  Precious Life seem to have clocked that this one didn't go at all well for them and seem to be shitting themselves, and are actually calling for a campaign against the Nolan Show on twitter now.  Good.  Picketing people who are emotionally distressed isn't cool, even people I know who would be quite anti abortion are disgusted by their actions, something Nolan seemed happy to call Smith on.  Seeing the mother of the victim of that behaviour confronting Bernie Smith is probably going to be my TV highlight of the year.

Goretti played an absolute blinder explaining the political realities of the situation but wasn't on it for long enough.  The woman who was on representing the Royal College of midwives called the current legislative guidance from the NI assembly around abortion and the legalities of the women who travel to Britain to get it done "intimidatory and threatening".

There were a few niggles, but it was extremely well done. If you haven't seen it catch it on iPlayer

Monday, 2 September 2013

What I did during the war

A bit late for the ten year anniversary of the beginning of the Iraq War but ah well, better late than never.  This seems somewhat timely giving whats going on in Syria and the Tory-Lib Dem coalitions response to it.  Last week Cameron lost a major vote on mobilising for a British component to the inevitable American intervention was stopped.  We never got that far with Iraq, lets hope that we can actually Stop The War this time.

This was an interview by correspondence I conducted with an old friend from the University of Essex student movement, Gawain Williams for his dissertation.  It details the very small part I played in the anti-war movement.

What I Did During The War

Me at the demo against the labour party conference in 2006
What class, if any would you consider yourself to be a part of?  And what do you consider to be a class?
I think that the Marxist class categories reflect the reality of class better than the traditional British way of dividing things into Upper, Middle and lower/working class.  That said the British way reflects an ’Identity’ in terms of how people define themselves, which despite a more tenuous basis in social reality has a reality of its own.  Personally I find it very complicated to pin down a class for myself.  My Parents are from working class backgrounds but made good, my Dad is a classic baby Boomer, born 1947 and was among the first generation to benefit from free education.  Him and my Mum I’d argue are intelligensia, i.e. proletarian in regards to their relationship with the means of production but with their intellectual labour power being exploited rather than physical.  Aside from being a student I’ve only really had fairly menial jobs, white collar but essentially proletarian in terms of my relationship to what I produce and the means of production.

Anyway, you could make a good case for Middle or Working class depending on your definition, and if you really want to push it, Lower middle or Upper working class etc.
Are you a member of a Party or where you during you involvement in the anti war movement?
I have been in the Irish and British SWP.

Were you involved in any Anti War / Peace movements before the 2001 War on Terror began?

Were you involved in any other political activity before participating in anti war demonstrations?
I was at some of the earliest of the current crop of Anti-Capitalist demonstrations in Belfast back in 2000.  I also demonstrated over student issues when I was at the Belfast tech around the same time.
How were you involved in the Anti War Movement?
I attended and helped leaflet for protests in Ireland before I went to Colchester, George bush’s visit to Dublin in 2005, Shannon Airport protest in September the same year etc.  When I moved to Essex university campus to begin my masters degree I made it a priority to get involved with the Anti-War movement on Campus.  Along with Dominic Kevakeb I helped start the STWC branch on campus, I was involved in the stall and postering for the March 18th 2006 demonstration, which I also attended.
What motivated you to join the movement?
The feeling that something unutterably wrong was happening.  By the time of the war in Iraq I was a fairly well-versed Anti-Capitalist Marxist and I felt that it was the sort of thing I should have been involved in if I was serious about my beliefs.

Why did you attend speeches on the War? I.e. personal learning or meeting other activists?
 I wanted to learn the arguments so I could argue in my own right to convince other people we were right.  I wanted facts and data I could quote.  I try to talk to people that aren’t engaged and there are a lot of myths and misconceptions that are perpetrated through the media.  I don’t think in terms of conspiracy so much as institutional bias, though there is some deliberate misinformation floating about I would agree with Nick Davies assessment that it accounts for only about 5-10% of the bullshit.  Anyway, there is a wide barrier of crap between the average punters idea of whats happening and what is actually going on and I like to hear from the experts so I can build a few wrecking balls for that barrier.
Did / Do you Believe your actions would/ Will help end the War?
Not in the immediate short term but eventually, yes.

Do you think the anti war movement could have been more successful?
In the abstract sense that anything can always be better because there’s no such thing in reality as perfection, yes it could have been.  I mean we haven’t ended the war yet have we?  A prolonged general strike back in 2003 could have done it but the unions were in no shape for a fight like that.  I think the objective conditions have moved on and an industrial action in the event of an attack on Iran is looking lige a possibility.  Still you have to remember that the working class movement had had the last 20 years of having the shit kicked out of it.  That we achieved what we did was fantastic.
What were the most successful, and least successful activates you took part in?
Hard to quantify that sort of thing.  Most Successful was probably the stormont demo in 2007.  We took over the stand that was set up for the press and absolutely scared the bejesus out of the Stormont security people.  Least, well there were a couple of meetings that weren’t very well attended and ended up with just the usual suspects preaching to the converted.

Do you think that Colchester having a large military presence helped or hindered your actions in anyway?
I didn’t really do a lot of activism off campus in Colchester itself, so it wasn’t really an issue for me.

Do you see you involvement in the stop the war movement as distinctly separate from other political activates you’re involved in?
Well, yes and no.  Considering that when me and Dom (Dominic Kavakeb) arrived the SWSS branch was moribund, there wasn’t a STWC Soc. on campus and that was the first year of Student Respect, we more or less had to get everything up and running ourselves.  In my recollection everything did kind of blur into everything else.  That said, we were all aware that that isn’t how it was supposed to be, I remember Dom talking about getting different people to chair the different meetings because it was him doing a lot of the work.  Also, at any given time when we were actually doing stuff it was always a particular thing we were doing it for.  EG. If there was a stall there was always a load of stuff on the stall to say what the stall was about.  There were people who were involved in the Respect and STWC stuff who were from outside the party and wouldn’t have done anything for SWSS but would leaflet and poster with us for Anti-War stuff.  Alys wasn’t in the party at this point and would have done a lot of stuff with us for STWC, bringing materials up from London, and being with us on the stall.  Erkhan was another.  Adam used to confuse me, he was in the SP, allegedly he ran the SP in Campus, but he went to all the STWC meetings and seemed to be around a lot, I was actually under the mistaken impression that the SP were in Respect.

Do you discuss your involvement in the anti war movement with your family?
Yes a lot actually.  My Dad was politically engaged when he was my age, he’s still technically a member of the Workers Party, or so he says.  My Mum’s never been very political but it’s a big part of my life so its something we’d talk about.  Each of them have been on Anti-War marches in Belfast largely thanks to myself.

Are there any newspaper headlines concerning the war that you remember?
Nah, I don’t read the papers.
Did you find that social aspects of the anti war movement made involvement easier?
It was nice and all but I was never into the whole social side of it.  I suppose the best way to put it is that even if everyone else in the movement were a bunch of anti-social dicks I’d have done it anyway, so the social aspect was pure gravy.

Did the war effect your voting?
Not  really.

Did you attend anti war events on the campus?
Attended and helped run a few.

Did you attend any events outside of Colchester?
Yes, Colchester was one full year within an involvement over the last couple of years.

Did you carry out any political actions with people from the anti war moment that did not relate directly to the war/ i.e. anti racism / elections?
Yes, election work and work around local issues in Belfast

Would you still have been involved in / attended anti war meetings, lecture, and protests if the war had been carried out by the UN or NATO?
Yes.  In fact I expected at the time that the UN would go along with the Americans, that they didn’t just compounded my take on things, not swayed it.

Do you see the 1990-91 gulf war as distinctively different from the current occupation of Iraq?
Yes and no.  It’s all a part of the great game of America extending its global hegemony, however I see the two invasions as representing different stages in the project.

Were you involved in any protests against the 1990-91 Gulf war?
I remember shouting “Up Sadam” at a couple of Brits and running away when I was a kid.  Does that count?  LOL.  I remember my P6 teacher being very Gung-Ho and explaining the war to us.  I think I said something like “Aye but what about Isreal, they’ve done all sorts and America doesn’t go after them cause they’re all mates”.  I knew absolutely nothing about it, I think I’d heard that on TV and it sounded good, but it did the trick, his face went black and he started making half-arsed excuses and just not explaining things very well.

Stop the war coalition uses the term ‘war’ to encompass a number of issue such as the military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan , torture in Guantanamo Bay detention camp, the occupation of Palestine , the Israeli military operation in Lebanon and government reactions to Iran.   What do you see as the main aims of the anti war movement?
To engage people.  The specific aims are to get the troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan and prevent any future wars with Iran.  Gitmo is obviously related to this.  Palestine and the Lebanon situation involve Israel, which is the central cause of instability in the Middle East and the central prop of American imperialism, on the basis of pure tactics you can’t have a lasting peace in the Middle East while the issue of Israel-Palestine is unresolved, so its definitely in there.

Religion was depicted as being important in the war on terror with George Bush even claiming to be on a mission from god. Did this interpretation of religion differ from you own and did it effect your involvement in the anti war movement?           
The notion of religion and how much religion itself is a problem or just the way conflict is expressed is a major question in how you approach the situation we had back home in Northern Ireland.  I had it fairly straight in my head that religion doesn’t create problems on it’s own well before the war.

Do you think technology played an important role in your participation?
Nah, if anything the internet is a distraction for activists IMO.  The fight is on the streets, sitting at home arguing with idiots online is fun but you never really win.

Did you continue working in the Anti war movement once you left Colchester?

Is there anything at all you would like to say about your involvement the campaigns?

Just that while we weren't able to Stop the War and the Respect Party, which came out of the Anti-War movement has hit some serious problems in the last year, I think it was all worth while.  If we hadn't done what we did I have no doubt that they would be in Iran now and threatening god only knows who else.

And that was the end of that.  Looking back on it there are not many answers to those questions that I would have changed, except that my cynicism of the Left and its flaws is better informed by experience, yet I do not consider my time around the movements to have been wasted, nor do I let cynicism over-rule my natural romantic/optimistic streak, and god knows I have had plenty of excuses to do so.

In retrospect the Iraq War was part of the testing process for our post-information technological revolution generation.  It was one we failed to some extent however to quote Finn The Human, failing is just the first step to getting really good at something.  I did a little for the movement, more than most but not as much as I should have.

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Cartoons all Revolutionary Socialists should make their kids watch, Part V Pom Poko

Pom Poko (Studio Ghibli 1994)

What it’s about:

In my previous entry about Princess Mononoke I talked a little about heavy industrialisation of Japan, the transformation of the Japanese countryside over the post war period and the effect of this on Japanese culture.  This techno/ecological revolution is, along with the psychological trauma of the loss of the war and the nuclear attacks that ended it, one of the great meta-themes of Japanese popular culture in the late 20th century.  Princess Mononoke dealt with this phenomenon as an allegorical fantasy.  Pom Poko deals with these themes directly.

A small community of Tanuki (Japanese Racoon-Dog  creatures) find their area under threat from the expansion of Tokyo as their rural habitat is targeted for urban development.  The film follows them over the course of the next couple of years as what normally happens to small societies / communities that get in the way of the onward march of industrial capitalism happens to them as the countryside is developed into housing around them.

Why it’s Good:

Pom Poko is one of the more underrated of the Ghibli films.  Maybe it isn’t quite as good as some of the other Ghibli films on this list, it isn’t one of Hayao Miyazaki’s, but i think it is up there with the best of them.  It’s a lucid and informative examination of complex and rather adult themes that is completely comprehensible by children.  Its also one that I have a soft spot for because it is an activists film.  At first, after the small communities of Tanuki that had fought amongst each other are united by the common threat, they form a committee and have a debate about what is to be done, the merits of direct action are discussed and assessed against more symbolic forms of struggle.  The ultimate fate of the Tanuki has parallels with the fates of other indigenous peoples who got in the way, from the Native Americans, the Tribal peoples of Africa and the Aboriginal people of the antipodes.  If you’ve studied the Ghost Dance or the Xhosa cattle slaughter the scene with the non-transforming Tanuki forming up into a ship and going out to sea to die should strike a chord as a slightly encoded representation of some of the great human tragedies of the last couple of centuries.  I always cry at that part.

The chairman tries to maintain order as everyone else gets a bit over excited

There is also a really brilliant visual conceit that actually tends to confuse adults but small children seem to take to immediately.  The drawing style for how the Tanuki are depicted changes depending on which aspect of their existence is relevant to the plot at a given time.  This sounds more complicated than it is, basically, whenever the film wants to emphasise the reality of the situation the Tanuki are depicted realistically, more or less as they are in reality, when we’re in the story for most of the film when we are looking at the Tanuki as individual personalities they are depicted in a cartoony anthropomorphic fashion, a small amount of clothing (which doesn’t cover their scrotums on the male characters, which are apparently magic) which is more or less as they are depicted in traditional Japanese culture.  In parts of the film where the Tanukis emotions are heightened to the point where they are acting or feeling events as a collective the individuality of the characters is de-emphasised and they are all depicted in broad strokes, literally, as the art style is flattened and simplified to the bare minimum.  This is a really neat conceit that conveys a lot visually in a way that you couldn’t do in any other medium.  Using the style and complexity of the art for narrative emphasis is something that is simple and intuitive, its also something typical of Japanese visual storytelling methods, you get it in a lot of Manga and Anime, but rarely in the west.

What the Young ’Uns will hopefully take from it: 

1st meeting of the local community residents association to
discus the "Human Problem"
Well, the film has an obvious environmentalist message, its a good introduction to the notion of what capitalist development does to the land and to any inconvenient inhabitants of that land that happen to be in the way.  Its also a bit of a primer in community politics.  As soon as the bulldozers move in to the area the little Tanuki stop fighting amongst each other, form a residents association, have po0litical discussions about how best to deal with the situation, some favour direct action in the form of violence and sabotage against the humans, some argue for more measured forms of resistance.  As the plot shapes up,  these different strategies are tried to different levels of success, its this that drives the story along in fact.   Most kids films and series and entertainment in general, even ones I’ve spoken about here, tend to be plotted along the capitalist / individualist model, the lone hero or band of heros against discreet groups of baddies .  Its refreshing to see something that is about communities and interest groups and how they interact because this is how the real world actually works.

Also, Japanese Racoon Dogs have magic testicles.  Thats a lesson that frankly we should all learn.  Seriously, other cultures are a lot less squeamish about depictions of certain aspects of the human physiology.  In Japan, cure little cartoon creatures with anatomically correct scrotes aren’t a big deal.  A good thing too, frankly this is better than teaching children to be ashamed of their bits, ‘cause that isn’t going to do them any harm when they get older, right?

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

On Novel to Film adaptations

Film and Prose fiction are very different medium, so even when you're talking about the same story, characters and content you are never comparing like with like. Films, like music, are an experience to be absorbed. Prose, words on a page, that's you hacking the source code of your own consciousness and doing so at your own pace. I think a lot of the time its unfair to compare the two.

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 Sometimes a good movie can be made out of a book, Chuck Palahniuk rated the Fight Club film over his own book because Fincher was able to improve it by picking up on things that were inherent in the novel and bring them out and do justice to the plot. Some types of plot and themes are better suited to film, action and violence are really hard to do well in a novel. Theres things you can do in a book you can't do on screen and vice versa, a lot of it is to do with perspective, Shutter island was a great book but the twist at the end of the film makes absolutely no sense if you can actually see what the main character is looking at, so to my mind the film was terrible, and Leonardo DiCaprio was horribly miscast. Sometimes the difference between the mediums is just too much for a straight adaptation and the film becomes a very different beast, I thought the movie of The Unbearable Lightness of Being was a lot better than the book because I find the authors "tell then show" style of framing the story to be really heavy handed and you can't really do that in a film without an all consuming voice over that sits heavily on the narrative or loads of "inner voice" stuff like in the David Lynch version of Dune.

I don't mind differences between films and the books or comics they are adapted from as long as the differences are appropriate to the medium and aren't just part of the process of shoehorning a thing from one medium into the other to make money even though its completely inappropriate and just not right for the medium.

The Johnny Depp version of Alan Moores From Hell was a conspicuously bad offender for that. Turning a really long and well researched peice of quasi-historical fiction into a film of appropriate length was just never going to work and what you ended up with was a stylish mess with tons of plot holes and none of the depth of the original. The original was about taking this really stupid bit of conspiracy literature and elevating it into an elaborate metaphor and exploring the nature of history, consciousness and our perception of reality, in the film it missed all that and you ended up with just the stupid conspiracy theory and the sort of trashy sensationalism that the original critiqued.

A good adaptation on the other hand would be something like Blade Runner. The book Blade Runner was based on Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? was quite a good bit of weird 70s Sci-Fi, it had a good story, well told and the ideas in it were quite interesting, but the film made a lot more out of it, streamlined the plot, added a brilliant set of visuals (the special effects absolutely rinse Dicks functional descriptive prose - difference appropriate to the medium) and add a bit of emotional complexity and Philosophical depth that was inherent in the book but wasn't quite present on the surface. Dick was firmly of the on the side of the 'people > replicants' Roy batty is less sympathetic baddie in the novel that Rutger Hauer made him and the whole "is Deckard a replicant" thing is a minor plot turn that goes on for a couple of chapters in the second act before being given the definitive answer - i.e. no, rather than an elaborate subtext, subtly and delicately woven into the film in a way that you wouldn't pick up on if you weren't paying attention. Bladerunner was a class film that did justice to its source material and more.

My favourite film is actually an adaptation of a book, but the versions are centuries apart and come from quite different contexts, I have to say as well that I haven;t read the original but I know enough about it and the author to have an appreciation of it and how it informs the adaptation. That film is Salo, or the 120 days of Sodom by the Italian director Pier Paulo Pascolini. It manages to be an adaptation of a book that ought to be unfilmable, a blinding dissection of fascism and also a really harsh look at post industrial capitalist culture at the same time. Its every bit as horrific as the source material, bordering on hardcore porn, the only real difference between it and a hard BDSM porno is that its not really meant to be sexually arousing. Honestly, if you are going to watch it I'd recommend watching it a couple of times, you need to do that to get over the horror of what's actually in front of you before you can really start engaging with it. Because of the real fucked up nature of whats happening on screen it is easy to miss the depths of what Pascolini is saying. Its all about observation and the desecration of the human body, one of the themes was what Pascolini called the death of sexuality (his pessimistic take on the sexual revolution of the 1960s) I think the way that the thing prefigures and sort of critiques reality television shows that he was absolutely spot on.

To illustrate why its so good and how it works, there is a fairly infamous scene in it called The Shit Feast, that is pretty much what it sounds like. The shit feast is consumer culture in general, as well as a comment on fast food, and its the fucking Bush Tucker Trial on I'm a celebrity get me out of here and its every way that the system perverts your natural need to ingest. Everything that happens in it is significant and multifaceted in its meanings, within the overarching structure of meaning, i.e. that the Republic of Salo is actually Society.

 Thats part of why i love it, that and the madness of the stories that surround it, the possible role of the film in Pascolinis death the year after it was released, the bannings and unbannings (James Ferman passed it uncut for viewing in the UK as a "fuck you" to the BBFC on his last day on the job). I think you could argue that its one of the most significant works of art by a Marxist working in any of the arts. Getting back to why its a good adaptation too, DeSade was an extremist, a revolutionary spirit of his age just as Pascolini was of the post modern age. Its a story with its roots in European royalist absolutism, set in a Fascist puppet state, but meant to be about contemporary society. The way it is both a critiques fascism by equating it with older versions of absolutism and then equates Fascism with Bourgeois liberal democracy. This in itself mirrors (deliberately I would say) the Marxist conception of society, political power and class struggle.

Its a brilliant film, and a reinvention of the source that brings it up to date and makes it understandable and relevant. Its the way you should so an adaptation of any book, be true to the substance of the work even if you have to rework the specifics.

 I'll finish up with a short list of the films I haven't mentioned yet that I've enjoyed in spite or because of the original:
 The Lord of the Rings (Jackson and Bashki versions)
American Psycho
Tank Girl (inferior to the original but still quite good)
The HBO TV adaptations of the Sookie Stackhouse novels and George RR Martins Game of Thrones.
Pretty much any version of Dracula but especially Murnau's Nosferatu
 Ringu (I read an English translation of the novel and the film is so much better, the plot is just a lot better suited to the screen)
 A Clockwork Orange (both film and book are amazing and done magnificently in a way suitable to its own medium, each perfect in their own way).
Interview With a Vampire
The Princess Bride

 Can't think of too many more, and if I started listing all the adaptations that have profoundly disappointed or even annoyed me I'd be here all night.