Posts Tagged ‘Alan Moore’

Cartoon of Thatcher, General Pinochet, and the Man He Overthrew, Salvador Allende

June 29, 2017

This is another of my cartoons against the Tory party and its vile policies. This one is of the leaderene herself, Margaret Thatcher, and her Fascist friend, General Pinochet. Thatcher was great friends with Chilean dictator. He had, after all, given Britain aid and assistance in the Falklands conflict against Argentina. After the old brute’s regime fell, she offered him a place to stay in London and was outraged when the New Labour government tried to have him arrested and extradited to Spain on a human rights charge. Amongst the tens of thousands the thug’s administration had arrested and murdered over the years was a young man from Spain, and his government naturally wanted the old butcher arrested and tried.

The figure on the right of the picture is Salvador Allende, the democratically elected president Pinochet overthrew in 1975. Allende was a Marxist, and one of his policies was to break up the vast estates and give the land to the impoverished peasants. This was all too much for the Chilean military-industrial elite and the Americans.

Since the beginning of the Cold War, the Americans had been working to overthrew any and all left-wing governments in South and Central America and the Caribbean. These regimes were attacked because they were supposedly Communist or sympathetic to Communism. Many of the governments that the Americans plotted against or overthrew were actually far more moderate. They were either democratic Socialists, like Jacobo Arbenz’s administration in Guatemala, all were liberal. In many cases the accusation that they were Communists was simply an excuse to overthrow a government that was harmful to American corporate interests. Arbenz’s regime was overthrown because he wished to nationalise the banana plantations, which dominated the country’s economy. These kept their workers in a state of desperate poverty little better, if at all, than slavery. Many of these plantations were owned by the American United Fruit corporation. The Americans thus had Arbenz ousted in a CIA-backed coup. They then tried to justify the coup by falsely depicted Arbenz as a Communist. Marxist literature and material was planted in Arbenz’s office and photographed, to appear in American newspapers and news reports back home. The result of the coup was a series of brutal right-wing dictatorships, which held power through torture, mass arrest and genocide until the 1990s.

Allende was a particular problem for the Americans, as he had been democratically elected to his country’s leadership. This challenged the Americans’ propaganda that Communism was always deeply unpopular, anti-democratic, and could only seize power through coups and invasions. So the CIA joined forces with Allende’s extreme right-wing opponents in the military, business and agricultural elites, and fabricated a story that the president was going to remove democracy and establish a dictatorship. Allende was then overthrown, and Pinochet took power as the country’s military dictator.

In the following decades, 30,000 people were arrested by the regime as subversives, to be tortured and killed. Many disappeared. The campaign by their wives and womenfolk to find out what happened to them, which began in the 1980s, still continues. A few years ago, the BBC in once of its documentaries about the Latin America, visited Chile and filmed in the former concentration camp where the regime’s political prisoners were interned. It was situated high up in the Chilean desert. The place was abandoned, decaying and strewn with the desert dust, but still grim. The presenter pointed out the wooden building where the prisoners were tortured. It was called ‘the disco’, because the guards played disco music to cover the screams of the prisoners when they were raped.

As well as supporting its dictator against the threat of a popular Marxist regime, Thatcher and the Americans under Ronald Reagan also had another reason for taking an interest in the country. Thatcher and Reagan were monetarists, followers of the free market ideology of Milton Friedman and the Chicago school. Friedman’s ideas had also been taken up Pinochet, and Friedman himself used to travel regularly to the country to check on how they were being implemented. So much for the right-wing claim that free markets go hand in hand with democracy and personal freedom. All this came to an end in the 1990s, when a series of revolutions and protests throughout Latin America swept the dictators from power.

The links between Thatcher’s and Reagan’s administrations and the brutal dictatorships in South and Central America, as well as their connections to domestic Fascist groups, alarmed many on the Left in Britain. She also supported a ‘strong state’, meaning a strong military and police force, which she used to crack down on her opponents in Britain, such as during the Miner’s Strike. There were real fears amongst some that she would create a dictatorship in Britain. These fears were expressed in the comic strip, V For Vendetta, by Alan Moore and David Lloyd, which first ran in the British comic, Warrior, before being republished by DC in America. This told the story of V, an anonymous escapee prisoner and victim of medical experimentation at one of the concentration camps in a future Fascist Britain, and his campaign to overthrow the regime that had tortured and mutilated him. A film version also came out a few years ago, starring Hugo Weaving as ‘V’, Natalie Portman as the heroine, Evie, John Hurt as the country’s dictator, and Stephen Fry as a gay TV presenter. As is well known, it’s from V For Vendetta that inspired protest and revolutionary groups across the world to wear Guy Fawkes masks, like the strip’s hero.

To symbolise the mass killings committed by Thatcher’s old pal, I’ve drawn a couple of human skulls. Between them is a fallen figure. This comes from a 19th century American anti-slavery poster, showing the corpse of a Black man, who was shot dead when he tried to claim his right as an American citizen to vote. Although it came from a different country and time, the poor fellow’s body nevertheless seemed to symbolise to me the murderous denial of basic civil liberties of the Fascist right, and particularly by local Fascist regimes around the world, installed and kept in power by American imperialism, and its particular oppression of the world’s non-White peoples.

New Labour came to power promising an ethical foreign policy under Robin Cook. Apart from Pinochet’s arrest, this went by the wayside as Tony Blair and his crew were prepared to cosy up to every multimillionaire thug, dictator or corrupt politician, who were ready to give them money. Like Berlusconi, the Italian president, whose Forza Italia party had formed a coalition with the ‘post-Fascists’ of the Alleanza Nazionale and the Liga Nord, another bunch, who looked back with nostalgia to Mussolini’s dictatorship. This crew were so racist, they hated the Italian south, which they nicknamed ‘Egypt’, and campaigned for an independent northern Italian state called ‘Padania’.

Jeremy Corbyn similarly promises to be a genuine force for peace, democracy and freedom around the world. He might be another disappointment once in power. But I doubt it. I think he represents the best chance to attack imperialism and exploitative neoliberal capitalism.

So if you genuinely want to stop Fascism and exploitation here and abroad, and end Thatcher’s legacy of supporting oppressive right-wing regimes, vote Labour.

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Alan Moore’s ‘The Stars My Degredation’

October 27, 2016

Yesterday I put up a piece reporting the sad death of British comics legend Steve Dillon, along with his obituary from the I newspaper, and a link to the Nick Fury strip he drew for Hulk comic right at the very beginning of his professional career in comics, which can be read over at the Bronze Age Blog. Amongst the other gems from the Bronze Age of Comics – the 70s and 80s is one of the strips Alan Moore created for the music newspaper, Sounds. Written and drawn by Moore under the monicker, Curt Vile, this was The Stars My Degradation, and ran in the magazine from 1980 to 1983. This was about the space adventures of Dempster Dingbunger, and featured such characters as Three-Eyes McGurk and his Death Planet Commandos, Nekriline, who was literally dead, Laser Eraser, the deadly galactic female assassin, and the psychotic cyborg, Axel Pressbutton. Laser Eraser and Pressbutton were later to get their own strip in the British adult comic, Warrior. The strip there, if I remember correctly, was drawn by Steve Moore, no relation to Alan, under the pseudonym Pedro Henry. Moore was another stalwart of the British comics industry, and closely involved with the Fortean Times, the magazine of the weird and bizarre.

The strip’s title, The Stars My Degradation, seems to me to be a satirical nod to Alfred Bester’s classic, The Stars My Destination, also known as Tiger, Tiger. It was one of the pieces Moore created very early in his career, just before he broke into mainstream comics and became the massive legend he is today with V For Vendetta and Watchmen. Pete Dorree notes that the strip was nihilistic and satirical. In the example he gives, Moore spoofs the New X-Men, created by Chris Claremont and Johnny Byrne. Here’s the link. Enjoy!

http://bronzeageofblogs.blogspot.co.uk/search/label/alan%20moore

Daphne du Maurier Book on a Britain Dominated by America after Brexit

June 8, 2016

Yesterday, the I newspaper published a letter by a Michael Steed, discussing one of the lesser known works of the great Cornish writer, Daphne du Maurier. It was one that casts a very peculiar, and fascinating perspective over the Brexit campaign. It was about a Britain which had broken away from Europe, and formed a union with America, a political arrangement which was merely the constitutional disguise for an American occupation of these islands. Mr Steed wrote

Almost 50 years ago Daphne du Maurier wrote a novel, Rule Britannia, in which the UK elected a coalition government, and in a referendum on whether or not to stay in the EU the people voted to leave. The result was economic meltdown and the country forged a merger with the US to create a new country called USUK, with the President and Queen as joint heads of state, and created military, political and economic links with English-speaking nations to encircle Russia and its allies.

The new regime was enforced by what was, in effect, a military occupation of the UK by American forces, with rationing, roadblocks and martial law resulting in a civil war in the UK.

Now how much of that is going to happen, I wonder? (p. 14).

Du Maurier’s book is clearly a fantasy, but the Conservatives have, from time to time, urged Britain to form a union with the US. The last time they did so was in the 1920s. More recently, in the ’80s or ’90s there was a graphic novel about a Britain that had also forged a union with the US to become America’s 51st state. I think it was written by that indefatigable comics stalwart and champion of radical literature, Alan Moore. I’ve got a feeling that the story concerned industrial and political dissent in this future Britain during a presidential election.

And the Euro-sceptics and Brexiteers are keen for Britain to form closer links with the English-speaking world. One of the most vocal about this has been the Dorset Conservative MEP, Daniel Hannan, who has often appeared in posts over at Guy Debord’s Cat, where his appalling right-wing views and sheer lies have been dissected and refuted at length. Hannan hates the EU and the National Health Service, and has urged us to leave the European Union. He also has written at length about how we should also forge greater links with what he calls ‘the Anglosphere’ – the wider English-speaking world, like America, Canada, New Zealand and Australia. Part of his reason for doing so, one could guess, was not just nationalism and patriotism, but also a desire to contain and combat socialism and the Labour party through closer connections with the US.

Du Maurier’s book is clearly an exaggeration of possible trends written in the 1960s, but nevertheless it does have some basis in political fact, and the extreme attitudes of anti-Europeans like Hannan and Farage.

Vox Political on the Questionable Effectiveness of Privacy Safeguards In the Government’s Snooper’s Charter

March 1, 2016

This is another very interesting and telling piece from Mike over at Vox Political. The government has promised to tighten up the provisions to safeguard privacy in its act giving the intelligence services greater powers to intercept and store personal information from the internet, according to BBC News. It’s been described, rightly, as a ‘snooper’s charter’. It’s been on the table for months, along with cosy reassurances from the government that everything will be fine and this is nothing to worry about. It’s rubbish. Clearly, this is a threat to the liberty and privacy of British subjects. Once upon a time the intelligence services had to take a warrant out from the British government in order to tap phones. This piece of legislation gives them free warrant – or freer warrant – as an increasing amount of legislation over the years has gradually extended their ability to tap just about everyone’s electronic communications. This is dangerous, as it effectively makes everyone automatically suspect, even if they have done nothing wrong.

A week or so ago I posted up a piece I found in William Blum’s Anti-Empire Report, about the way the EU a few years ago condemned Britain and the US for spying on EU citizens. The European authorities were, at least at that time, particularly concerned about the way the US was using intercepted information for corporate, industrial espionage, not to counter any terrorist threat. So there’s a real danger that the British authorities will do the same. A long time ago, in that brief, blissful gap between the Fall of Communism and the War and Terror, the spooks at MI5 and MI6 really didn’t know what to do. The old Soviet Communist threat had evaporated, dissident Republican groups were still around, but Sinn Fein was at the negotiating table and there was a cease fare. And Osama bin Laden had yet to destroy the World Trade Centre and try to kill the president. Prospects looked bleak for Britain’s spies. It looked like there might be cutbacks, job losses. George Smiley, James Bond and the others might be faced with going down the jobcentre. So the intelligence agencies announced that they were going into industrial espionage. Lobster covered this revolting development, with appropriate boastful quote from the agencies concerned. So, if you’re a struggling businessman somewhere in Britain and the EU, with little capital but some cracking ideas, be afraid. Be very afraid. Because this bill will result in the Americans stealing your idea. Blum gave the example of a couple of German and French firms, include a wind-power company, who found their secrets passed on to their American rivals.

Mike also adds an interesting piece comparing the supine attitude of our own legislature to that of South Korea. The opposition there has been engaged in a week-long filibuster to talk their electronic surveillance bill out of parliament, to deny it any votes and any validity whatsoever. Bravo to them! Now if there’s a country that has rather more need of such a bill, it’s South Korea. They are bordered on the north with a totalitarian state that has absolutely no respect for the lives of its people, and which makes terrible threats of military action backed by nuclear warfare. It is run by a bloodthirsty dictator, who has killed members of his own family with extreme overkill. Really. He shot one of his generals to pieces with an anti-aircraft gun.

I got the impression that South Korea is like Japan. It’s an extremely capitalist society with the Asian work ethic. And it is extremely anti-Communist. I can remember being told by an spokesman for the Unification Church, who came into speak to us in the RE course at College, that the anti-Communist parts of Sun Myung Moon’s creed were nothing special, and were part of the general anti-Communist culture of South Korea. I honestly don’t know whether this is true, or whether it was then – this was the 1980s – and isn’t now. But clearly, the South Korean have very good reasons to be suspicious of espionage for their northern neighbours.

But their equivalent of this law is too much for them. And it should also be for us, if we genuinely value our privacy and civil liberties. But I’m starting to ponder whether we truly do. John Kampfner in his book ‘Freedom for Sale’ describes in depth the way Tony Bliar and Broon massively expanded the intelligence gathering powers of the authorities in this country, transforming it into something very like Orwell’s 1984. I kid you not. One local authority affixed loudspeakers to the CCTV cameras on particular estates, so they could order you around as well as keep you under surveillance. Pretty much like the all-pervasive televisions in Orwell’s Oceania. Kampfner also called into question the supposed traditional British love of freedom. He argued that it was actually much less than we really wanted to believe. Blair and Broon made no secret of what they were doing, and the British public in general bought it. Partly spurred on by the hysterics of the populist press, with Paul Dacre, Murdoch and the like demanding greater and more intrusive police powers to fight crime and terrorism.

Even Niall Ferguson, the right-wing historian and columnist, was shocked at how far this process went. In the 1990s he went on a tour of China. When he came back, he was shocked by the ubiquitous presence of the CCTV cameras. Alan Moore, the creator of the classic dystopian comic and graphic novel, V for Vendetta, said in an interview that when he wrote the strip in the British anthology comic, Warrior, back in the 1980s, he put in CCTV cameras on street corners, thinking that it would really frighten people. Now, he observed, they were everywhere.

I’m very much afraid that everywhere we are losing our liberties, our rights to freedom of conscience and assembly. That they’re being stripped from by a corporatist elite in the name of protecting us from terrorism, but which is really a façade for a military-industrial complex determined to control, and control absolutely and minutely. And what makes the blood really run cold is the sheer apathy of the great British public to this process.

I’ve been mocking Alex Jones of the conspiracy internet site and programme, Infowars the past couple of days, putting up pieces of some of his weird and nonsensical ranting. Jones is wrong in so much of what he says. He’s a libertarian, looking in the wrong direction for the threat to freedom. But fundamentally, he has a point. There is a campaign from the corporate elite to strip us of our freedoms. And our leaders – in the parliament, the press and the media, seem quite content to do little about it.

TYT Reports ‘V for Vendetta’ Finally Screened on Chinese TV

October 31, 2015

This is a slightly more optimistic piece from The Young Turks from 2012. It seems that the Chinese government has finally screened Alan Moore’s story about resistance to a Fascist, totalitarian state. They point out it was never screened in Chinese cinemas. As they say, ‘Oops! How did that one get past (the censor).’

They point out that a lot of Western movies are available in China anyway, and it might simply be due to a new Chinese leader taking power. My guess is that it’s possibly been screened because it’s such a cult film that attempts to stop people seeing it have largely failed. It’s also possibly been made palatable by the fact that the totalitarian state is a Fascist, 21st century Britain. Even so, the precise shade of political party and geographical location shown in the movie doesn’t alter its anti-authoritarian message, or make much of it any the less relevant.

China is a one party police state, which incarcerates and tortures its political prisoners. The scenes in which the guards and staff at the concentration camp are shown disposing of the bodies of hundreds of victims of human experimentation will, amongst older Chinese, recall the mass deaths that resulted from Mao’s Cultural Revolution.

China is also a state that robs its criminals of their organs for transplant surgery before they are executed. Thus Chinese prisoners are the victims of forced medical procedures in that way, another, though possibly not an exact parallel to the horrors in the movie.

The film is similarly set after there has been a holocaust against Muslims, resulting in their extermination and the outlawing of their religion. China similarly is cracking down on its Muslims, and many of the country’s indigenous Muslim ethnic groups, like the Uyghurs, feel that they are being systematically dispossessed, marginalised and persecuted in their home province of Sinkiang.

Among those sent to the concentration camps are homosexuals. In one part of the movie, Natalie Portman’s character is incarcerated to make her experience what the state’s victims go through. During her incarceration she reads letters written by Valerie, a lesbian, who really was rounded up by the regime for her sexuality. I don’t know if homosexuality is illegal in China, but it certainly is in other Asian societies, such as Singapore, and strongly disapproved of in many nations where it is legal, such as Japan. My guess is that it is illegal in China, and that this will be another uncomfortable parallel with the current regime.

But whatever the oppressive government, the Turks’ point out that the film does have a universal message that people should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people.

As our government tries to shut down the Freedom of Information Act, it’s plain that they are. Very.

Simon Pegg and SF and Comic Book Infantilism

May 23, 2015

I was on holiday last week, which was why I haven’t put anything up for a few days. Never mind – I’m back now, and ready to pour more scorn, criticism and bile on the Tory government and the establishment sycophants and global corporate exploiters that support it.

But before I do, I’d like to tackle one issue that’s been bothering me, ever since I read about it in the papers and Radio Times last week. Simon Pegg got in the news for claiming that contemporary culture was being infantilised through Science Fiction, comic books, and the movies that were based on them.

As Pegg himself admitted, this is deeply ironic comic from him. He’s made his name as an SF and comic book nerd. In Spaced, the comedy he co-wrote, he played a struggling comic book artist/writer, who worked behind the counter at his local SF and comic shop. As well as the zombie rom-com, Shaun of the Dead, he also wrote Paul, his homage to science fiction geekdom, in which he and Nick Frost play a pair of SF geeks, who stumble upon the real alien that the US government has kept secret ever since the Roswell crash. The interview in the Radio Times, in which he made the comments, begins with a discussion of his role as Scotty and one of the writers on the new Star Trek movie.

Pegg made his comments about the infantilising effects of comics and SF when talking about how he was trying to smarten up and not be a ‘slobby husband’ for his wife, Maureen. As part of which, he had stopped drinking, turned to living a healthier life style, and stopped dressing as a teenager. The Radio Times then went to state how this new, adult perspective had changed his view of Science Fiction and comics. It said

This new grown-up perspective chimes with Pegg’s views on the culture in which he made his name and plies his trade. As Mark Gatiss said in Radio Times last month, “The geeks have indeed inherited the Earth.” On the other hand, this empowers the fanboy who wrote an autobiography called Nerd Do Well.

But on the other… “Before Star Wars, the films that were box-office hits were The Godfather, Taxi Driver, Bonnie and Clyde and The French Connection – gritty, amoral art movies. Then suddenly the onus switched over to spectacle and everything changed.

Now, I don’t know if that is a good thing. Obviously I’m very much a self-confessed fan of science-fiction and genre cinema. But part of me looks at society as it is now and just thinks we’ve been infantilised by our own taste. Now we’re essentially all consuming very childish things comic books, superheroes … Adults are watching this stuff, and taking it seriously!

It is a kind of dumbing down in a way, “he continues. “Because it’s taking our focus away from real-world issues. Films used to be about challenging, emotional journeys or moral questions that might make you walk away and re-evaluate how you felt about … whatever. Now we’re walking out of the cinema really not thinking about anything, other than the fact that the Hulk just had a fight with a robot.”

Now Pegg hasn’t said anything that a multitude of other, SF writers haven’t said before. Ray Bradbury, the author of The Martian Chronicles, famously said that the ‘Golden Age’ of Science Fiction was thirteen. Brian Aldiss, who amongst his various works wrote the short story, Supertoys Last All Summer Long, on which the Kubrick/ Spielberg film A.I. was based, was highly unimpressed by Star Wars. In his history of Science Fiction, The Trillion Year Spree, he made the sneering observation of its massive fan popularity that ‘a thousand throats thirsting for escapism must be slaked (if not cut)’. Many SF authors moved away from writing SF over their careers, such as Christopher Priest. Priest denies that he was ever an SF writer, but does not despise the genre or its fans. He’s said that he still has affection for the genre. Michael Moorcock, the editor of the SF magazine, New Worlds, leader of the SF ‘New Wave’, and author of the cult Elric novels, in the edition of the 1979 series on SF writers, Time Out of Mind, also stated that Science Fiction was essentially an immature form of literature. Moorcock then considered that the reason why so many SF writers had stopped and gone on to other forms of literature was simply that they’d grown up.

The great Polish writer, Stanislaus Lem, made pretty much the same point from his own personal experience in his book on Science Fiction, Microworlds. Lem’s an extremely highbrow Polish writer, who amongst his various works wrote Solaris, which was later filmed by the Russian director, Andrei Tarkovsky. Lem has been very strongly influenced by the South American ‘magic realist’ writer, Borges, and was deeply impressed by Philip K. Dick. In Microworlds, he talks about the ‘transformation of trash’, in which the shop-worn props of Science Fiction – robots, aliens, mutants and spaceships – were transformed into a new kind of serious literature by Dick. He hoped, through his own writing and literary criticism, to make a similar contribution and raise the literary standards of the genre so that it could take its place as serious literature. He abandoned this, and the genre itself, as impossible.

Moorcock also began his career keen to raise the literary standard of Science Fiction. He was keen to import the experimental styles explored by William S. Burroughs and other, contemporary, literary writers. Again, in Time Out Of Mind, he talks about how he find his attempts to do so rejected and condemned by the SF old guard, particularly Frederick Pohl.

Now it’s fair to say that much Science Fiction is escapist fantasy, as is much literature generally. Nevertheless, much Science Fiction literature and cinema has tried to tackle serious issues. SF at times has been the ‘literature of warning’, exploring the terrible consequences that could arise if a particular political, social or technological course is pursued now. It’s also been used to critique and criticise existing society. This was particularly true of SF in the former Soviet Union, where writers like the Strugatsky brothers wrote in the ‘Aesopian mode’, to present Science Fictional fables to say obliquely observations about the true state of Soviet society, that could not be said openly.

It’s possible to draw up a list of Science Fiction novels, films and short stories, that have made serious points about human existence and the state of society. Most fans of the genre undoubtedly have their own favourites, or can think of others, that also do this. This is just happens to be the list I’ve drawn up at the moment.

1. War of the Worlds.

H.G. Wells’ novel of the devastation of Earth by Martian invaders had its origins in a discussion between Wells and his brother about the destruction of indigenous, primitive societies, by European colonialism. Wells wondered what it would be like, if a similarly technologically superior invader came and did the same to Great Britain, the leading imperialist power of the late 19th century.

The book remains relevant to contemporary society even today, more than a century after its publication. Stanislas Lem has praised the book for its depiction of the nature of total war, and what it feels like to be the victim of an invader determined to wipe you out utterly. Lem lived through the Nazi invasion and occupation of his home country. Apart from their aim of exterminating the Jews in the Holocaust, the Nazis also saw Poles, along with Russians, Ukrainians and the other Slavic peoples as ‘subhuman’, who were to be worked to death as slave labour. Their treatment of the Poles was similarly brutal. Lem felt that Wells’ novel of alien invasion gave a far better depiction of what the Nazi occupation was actually like, than many purely factual accounts of this dark period in his country’s history, to the point where he got annoyed with them and discarded them.

2. Brave New World.

Aldous Huxley’s classic dystopian novel of the dehumanising effects of biotechnology, in which humans are artificially gestated in hatcheries. In this technocratic, hedonistic society, real culture has withered away and society itself grown static because of the concentration on the purely sensual.

3. Rossum’s Universal Robots.

Karel Capek’s stage play introduced the word ‘robot’ into the English language. It was one of the very first to explore the possibility that humans could one day be overthrown by their mechanical creations. The robots in the play aren’t mechanical so much as artificially created humans, very much like the Replicants in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. Capek was writing at the time working class, radical Socialist and Communist revolutions had broken out in central and eastern Europe, and the play can also be read as a parable about their threat to the bourgeois European order.

If anything, the book has become even more relevant today, as scientists and social activists have become increasingly alarmed at the threat that robots might shortly do exactly as described in the book. Kevin Warwick, the Reader in Cybernetics at Reading University and former cyborg, begins his pop-science book on robots, March of the Machines, with a chilling depiction of the world of 2050. In this world, the machines have very definitely taken over. The mass of humanity have been exterminated, with those few remaining either living wild, if lucky, or enslaved as domesticated animals by their mechanical masters.

Some international agencies share this alarm. There is a pressure group actively campaigning against the construction of killer robots. A few years ago the international authorities were so alarmed that they actively forbade the use of such robots on the battlefield after one country made the suggestion that such machines should be used today, based on existing technology.

4. Silent Running

After working on 2001, Doug Trumbull wanted to produce a less coldly-intellectual, more emotional SF film than Stanley Kubrick’s epic. This was film is one of the first with a ‘green’ message, about humanity’s destruction of the environment. It’s about one astronaut’s quest to save the last green spaces from Earth, now preserved on spaceships, from destruction. He disobeys the command to scupper his ship and return to Earth, and takes them to safety in the rings of Saturn.

Other films exploring similar themses include Zero Population Growth and Soylent Green. In Zero Population Growth, the world is massively overpopulated to the point where most animal and plant species, including domestic pets, have become extinct. The government therefore mandates a total cessation of reproduction for a generation. The film tells the story of a couple’s attempts to preserve the life of their child after the wife finds out she’s pregnant. The husband and father is played by Oliver Reed, who was a brilliant actor as well as notorious drunk.

Soylent Green, starring Charlton Heston, and based on Harry Harrison’s book, Make Room! Make Room!, was the first SF book to explore the possible consequences of the global population explosion and mass starvation.

5. Solaris

Based on Lem’s novel of the same name, Tarkovsky’s novel explores the problem of communicating with a genuinely alien intelligence, and what this would say in turn about human nature. The story follows the attempt of an astronaut to find out just what is happening aboard a space station orbiting the eponymous world. The planet itself is one vast organism, which creates replicas drawn from the human explorers’ own minds to try and work out what they are. One of these replicas takes the form of the hero’s ex-lover, with whom he begins a second, doomed romance.

Among its comments on space and humanity’s place in the universe are the lines ‘There are only a few billion of us. A mere handful. We don’t need spaceships. What man needs is man.’

The film was remade about a decade or so ago by Steven Soderbergh. His version is shorter, but apart from adding a sex scene and making Snow, the physicist, a Black woman rather than White man, there really isn’t much difference between the two, to the point where in some places they’re shot for shot the same. I prefer Tarkovsky’s original version, but you may feel differently.

6. Stalker

This is another movie by Tarkovsky, based on the novel by the Strugatsky brothers. The stalker of the title is an outlaw, who makes his money taking people into, and retrieving objects from, a mysterious, forbidden zone. In the book, the normal laws of nature do not apply within the zone, and its hinted that it is due to the crash of an extraterrestrial spacecraft. In Tarkovsky’s version, the zone is result of some kind of disaster. Tarkovsky’s film explores the nature of guilty and responsibility as the various characters attempt to venture further into the zone. The highly polluted, dangerous environment has a destructive effect on the biology of those entering into it. The Stalker himself has a disabled daughter, Monkey. Some hope for humanity is indicated by the fact that, although she cannot walk, Monkey nevertheless has developed psychokinesis.

Although this is another classic of Soviet, and indeed SF cinema generally, I think it’s seriously flawed. Tarkovsky cut out most of the special effects sequences from the books on which Stalker and Solaris were based, in order to concentrate on the human characters. As a result, the film suffers from a lack of genuine, shown menace, and instead is verbose and actually rather boring. Also, the central character in the book is far nastier. In the final scene in the novel, he wilfully sacrifices his accomplice to one of the Zone’s traps, so that he can retrieve the central, alien object coveted by everyone venturing into the zone – a golden ball that grants wishes. This is a film, which in my view does need to be remade by a director like Ridley Scott.

7. Blade Runner.

Apart from its sheer immense style, and the beauty of some of the scenes, this is another film that attempts to explore human nature through the mirror of its artificial, bio-mechanical opposite. Although it’s told from Deckard’s perspective, in many ways he’s actually the villain. The Replicants he hunts are bio-engineered slaves, who have escaped their bondage and come to Earth in the hope of extending their extremely short, artificial lifespans. They can’t, but in the process grow and develop in psychological depth and as moral beings. To the point where they are morally superior to their human creators. The penultimate scene where Batty saves Deckard from falling shows that he has passed the Voight-Comp test, which judges a subject’s a humanity according to their empathy and desire to save a trapped, struggling animal. It also has one of the most quoted poems in SF cinema – I have seen things you people wouldn’t believe, ships on fire off the shores of Orion…’

8. They Live.

This alien invasion drama is also a sharp satire on modern, global capitalism. A homeless construction worker discovers that the world is secretly dominated and exploited by skeletal aliens, who are at the heart of global capitalism. While it’s a low-budget action piece, Carpenter has said in interviews that he intended to give it an extra element by using it to criticise contemporary politics and economics. In the film, humanity’s exploitation by the interplanetary corporate business elite and their human shills and partners is responsibility for mass poverty, unemployment and homelessness – all to boost profits. If you cut out the aliens, this is pretty much what the bankers and global corporate elite have done and are still doing today. And it’s got the classic line, ‘I’ve come to do two things: kick ass and chew gum. And I’m all out of gum.’

9. V For Vendetta

This is another film, which has been denounced by the author of the work on which it’s based, in this case the SF strip of the same name by Alan Moore, which first appeared in the British anthology comic, Warrior before being published by DC in their Vertigo imprint. The strip was very much a product of its time – Thatcher’s Britain, and the new Cold War with the former Soviet Union. The strip envisaged the emergence of a Fascist Britain following a nuclear war between the US and the Eastern bloc. Moore has said in interviews that the strip attempted to explore the moral ambiguities of violence, whether it can be justified against innocents as part of a wider campaign against an unjust system. He also wanted to make the point that many of the supporters of the Fascist regime could be considered otherwise good people, just as many otherwise decent Germans supported the horrific Nazi regime.

It’s a superhero movie, which does nevertheless accurately show the realities of life in a Fascist dictatorship – the mass internment of political prisoners, arbitrary censorship, and experimentation on those considered subhuman or ‘dysgenic’ – in the language of eugenics – by the authorities. It lacks the contemporary relevance of the original strip, as Margaret Thatcher and the Tories did have strong links to the far right. Thatcher was an admirer of Pinochet, for example. The strip explored many of the issues thrown up by contemporary stories of corruption in the political, social and religious establishment, like paedophile clergy. Despite Moore’s rejection of the movie, it’s still a piece of genre, comic book cinema that does try to make an extremely serious point about Fascism and intolerance by placing it in modern, 21st century Britain.

10. Children of Men

Based on the book by P.D. James, and starring Clive Owen and Thandie Newton, this is another dystopian yarn. This time it takes a completely different view of the future and its perils from Soylent Green and Z.P.G. In this future, humanity has been afflicted with mass sterility. No children have been born for 18 years. Owen plays a policeman, charged with protecting an immigrant woman – Newton – who carries the only child to be conceived for over a decade. As a consequence of the sterility, society in volatile and unstable. Only Britain has a relatively stable system thanks to the establishment of a Fascist-style dictatorship.

Although fiction, James’ book nevertheless explores a genuine social issue. Globally, populations are falling, to the extent that some demographers have predicted a population crash sometime in the middle of this century. In Britain and much of Europe, they’re below population replacement level. This is particularly acute in Japan, and is one of the causes of that country’s massive investment in the development of robot workers. Much of the fall in birth rates is due simply to people limiting the number of children they have in order raise their quality of life. There is, however, the additional problem in that the sperm counts of western men is falling, to the point that during this century a significant number will be considered medically sterile. Children of Men is another dystopian work that is chillingly plausible.

It’s possible to go on, and add further works of serious SF cinema, such as Terry Gilliam’s Brazil and The Zero Theorem and Gattaca, with its depiction of a stratified society ruled by the genetically enhanced. Now I have to say that I agree with Pegg that an awful lot of SF films since Star Wars has been escapist fantasy, and can see his point about some of it having an infantilising effect. This is by no means true of all of it, as I’ve attempted to show.

Even films like Star Wars that are pure, or mostly spectacle can be worth serious discussion and consideration, if they’re done well. For all its escapism, Star Wars was astonishing because it showed a detailed, convincingly realised series of alien worlds, machines and space craft. Moreover, the second movie – The Empire Strikes Back – did present Luke Skywalker with a genuine moral dilemma. His friends Han Solo, Leia, Chewbacca and the droids have been captured and are being tortured by Vader and the imperials. Skywalker is faced with the choice of trying to help them, and in so doing losing his soul, or preserving his moral integrity by letting them suffer and die. His confrontation with Vader present him further with another, particularly acute moral dilemma. Vader reveals himself to be his father, and so if he kills him, he commits parricide, a particularly abhorrent crime. This also has literary antecedents. In one of the medieval Romances, the hero is faced with the revelation that the leader of the foreign army devastating his lord’s realm is his father, and so he is confronted with the terrible dilemma of having to kill him.

Now I don’t think that the potential of Science Fiction to explore mature issues and genuinely relevant problems has been fully explored in the cinema. One of the solutions to the problem is for fans of genre cinema to try and support the more intelligent SF movies that are released, such as Moon, which came out a few years ago. This would show producers and directors that there’s a ready audience for genuine, thought-provoking, intelligent SF as well as the gung-ho, action escapism.

Sneck! Mutant Bounty Hunter In Radio 4 High Culture Shock!

April 7, 2015

Strontium Dog

Mutant Bounty Hunter Johnny Alpha, AKA Strontium Dog, from 2000 AD, drawn by Carlos Ezquerra

I’ve published a few pieces recently about comics, and particularly 2000 AD. Last week it was reported that Judge Dredd was going to be taking on Nigel Farage in the form of a hate-mongering politico, Bilious Barrage, in Mega-City 1. Now in today’s Radio Times there’s also news that another favourite from 2000 AD will get a mention on radio: Johnny Alpha, the mutant bounty hunter and hero of the strip Strontium Dog. He’s due to get an appearance on a programme about a new cycle of poems about the element, from which he and the other Search/Destroy Agents took their name The (Half) Life of Strontium.

The blurb in the Radio Times says Strontium is the 38th element in the Periodic Table and was discovered in 1792 by miners in the Scottish village of Strontian. Robert Crawford’s new suite of poems elaborates on the connections between the village in Argyll, the bomb that dropped on Nagasaki and the mutant bounty hunter, Strontium Dog.

The programme’s on at 4.30 pm. on Radio 4 on Sunday, 12th April.

The strip took its name from Strontium 90, one of the radioactive elements in nuclear fall-out. The Strontium Dogs were mutants, who were legally prevented from holding any other jobs on Earth except as bounty hunters because of their mutations. The strip combined detective adventures in a kind of future galactic Wild West, as the strip’s hero, Johnny Alpha, and his norm partner Wulf Sternhammer, roamed space bringing criminals to justice.

Alpha took his name from the alpha particles emitted by his mutant eyes. In the strip these gave him X-ray vision and the power to read minds. In practice they’re very weak. You can block them with a sheet of paper. Not that science fact necessarily gets in the way of a good tale. 2000 AD generally had a strong satirical edge, and wasn’t averse to tackling serious issues. In Strontium Dog the strips’ creators used the mutant hero and his deformed friends and enemies to explore issues of racism, prejudice and the British class system.

Alpha’s father was a ruthless right-wing politicians, Nelson Bunker Kreelman, who was determined to carry out a policy of mass murder to cleanse an irradiated Britain of its mutant population. Alpha’s own mutation was carefully hidden in order to safeguard his father’s reputation. In the event, Alpha rebels against his father, and leads a mutant revolt from one of the ancient symbols of British identity, Stonehenge.

The mutant’s victory is limited, however. Although they are tolerated, their opportunities are very limited. They are segregated into mutant ghettos, and are very much second-class citizens. When Alpha and Wulf travel, they are forced to find accommodation in the hold or in the second class cabins, as mutants very definitely may not travel first class with ordinary humans. And the discovery of mutant relatives, especially offspring, is still a major source of shame for respectable middle class Brits.

In one strip, the king of Britain, Clarkie II, attempts to bridge the divide between norm and mutant by marrying a young mutant lady with a duck’s bill from the Milton Keynes mutant ghetto. This is a step too far for his subjects, and the idealistic king is hounded, forced to abdicate, and flee into space.

It’s a slightly irreverent, but also curiously sympathetic look at Prince Charles’ actions at the time. This was before his marriage with Lady Di fell apart, and the Prince was still popular with many Brits. He also appeared to be genuinely and deeply concerned with the plight of his poorer subjects as Maggie’s recession threw millions out of work. And so the strip’s creators, Aaln Grant and Carlos Ezquerra, were able to present a fantastic version of the Prince of Wales showing his social concerns in the future. In this case, it was marrying well out of his class with a mutant girl from the wrong side of the tracks.

And what Crawford’s poem also shows us, is that apart from great literature, the major figures of British arts also started off like the rest of us: reading and enjoying the four-colour funny papers. They’ve now grown up, and Dredd, Alpha and the rest are heading upmarket alongside . At least on the radio.

Reagan Dog

Never afraid to treat authority with the amusement it deserves: Strontium Dog and his partner, Durham Red, rescue a Ronald Reagan kidnapped by time-travelling aliens.

Robin Ince and Alan Moore Explore the Hollow Earth

April 7, 2015

Next Saturday on Radio 4 at 10.30 am, the cult comics writer, Alan Moore will be one of the guests on Robin Ince’s show, Hollow Earth: A Travel Guide. The blurb for the programme states

Robin Ince explores the Hollow Earth theory, which suggests that a substantial interior space inhabited by all manner of creatures exists beneath the Earth’s crust. This idea has been around since ancient times. With the help of a classicist, a biblical scholar, a literary critic and graphic-novelist Alan Moore, Robin sets out to investigate this imagined world.

The Hollow Earth and subterranean worlds and civilisations have been a feature of SF for well over a century. Examples include Bulwer-Lytton’s The Coming Race, Jules Verne’s At the Earth’s Core, the subterranean civilisation of the Great Race in H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos, and Edgar Rice Burrough’s Pellucidar books. I remember these last from the Marvel adaptation that used to run as backing strip in Star Wars comic when I was at junior school. More recently, Stephen Baxter, the quantum physicist and SF novelist, wrote a series of novels about an underground people that reproduced asexually evolved from a lost Roman legion.

This won’t be the first time Moore has appeared on one of Ince’s programmes. He appeared with him on one of the other radio programmes hosted by Ince, discussing the nature of science. Moore is one of Britain’s best known comics creators, the author of V for Vendetta and Watchmen, so this should be quite interesting.

Vox Political: Judge Dredd Takes on Benefit Sanctions

April 2, 2015

Earlier today I posted a piece about reports by ITV and the Belfast Telegraph that 2000 AD were planning to pit Mega City One’s toughest lawman against Nigel Farage in the satirical guise of the politician ‘Bilious Barrage’. Assuming that wasn’t an April Fool’s joke, this looks like a good one to look forward to.

A few days ago, Mike posted this piece Art imitates life: Coalition ‘welf’ policies get comic-book treatment, about a Judge Dredd story in which the good Judge meets a disabled man, who has been refused food rations because the authorities have decided that after waiting six hours in a queue, he is well enough to work. After complaining about his treatment, the man is further wrongly accused of malingering by an insurance salesman he had turned down. Mike’s article begins

Sometimes, when you’re a blogger, an article comes along when you think you’re doing something else – for example, catching up on a little light reading.

Yes, even hard-nosed political bloggers like This Writer have to kick back and have a little ‘me’ time now and then – in this case, with the Judge Dredd Megazine, issue 356, dated February 17, 2015.

In the lead story ‘The Cop’, we see title character Judge Dredd’s domain – the Mega City One of a future North America – struggling to cope with the effects of a disaster. Already you can see parallels with the Great Recession of 2007 onwards.

Citizens are encouraged to help clear damage from buildings, making them usable again, in return for food rations. No effort – no food. This is actually described in the story as a ‘Work Programme’!

Then the story focuses in on “those adults who are unable to work”; one such person is thrust out of the line of workers by a classic bully-type character. Ordered to explain what’s going on, the character – clearly in bad shape, his body withered and weak – states that he has a condition in which half his body doesn’t function properly. He explains that he reported for ‘disability testing’ (a Work Capability Assessment).

“I waited six hours an’ then they told me to come down here!” the pitiful creature, named Carmody, explains. “Said if I could wait that long, it meant it couldn’t be that bad–”

Mike goes on to consider the parallels thrown up by the strip with IDS’ chequebook euthanasia, and the way the Neoliberals have stirred up hatred and a mob mentality against anyone they dub a ‘scrounger’. And Mike’s got the stats to show how often that term’s been used. He also notes that, like the insurance salesman, the Tories have also tried to introduce private health insurance.

He concludes by saying

The script for this mini-classic is by Al Ewing. It seems clear that, like another comic scriptwriter called Al – Alan Moore – he knows the score.

It’s one of the great things about the comics counter-culture. It isn’t monitored and censored anything like as heavily as mass cultures like TV.

So comics get to say what people really think.

That’s been true of British comics since the mid-70s, when Pat Mills, John Wagner and their fellow reprobates revived a medium that had become rather stale. They introduced characters and settings drawn from contemporary youth culture. This was extremely controversial. Action, which featured strips based on or strongly influenced by Jaws, Rollerball,Dirty Harry, and contemporary War films, caused a national scandal and was banned because of its violent content. It was succeeded by the thrill-powered 2000 AD, where the violence was made acceptable by being on the side of law and order. The strips were permeated by a strong, satirical edge, in which politicians, industrialists, TV personalities and pop stars were parodied and lampooned. Those who got the treatment included Maggie Thatcher, who turned up in Robo-Hunter as Iron Aggie, John Selwyn Gummer, David Bellamy – who was eaten by an escaped tyrannosaur – and Tony Blair. The Judge Dredd strip also featured a crooked businessman called Remington Ratner, whose surname is the same as a certain jeweller, who managed to bankrupt his business by making a stupid joke at a trade conference. And New Kids on the Block were clearly the inspiration for Mega-City One’s popsters, New Juves on the Block. At its height in the 1980s, 2000 AD was one of the most powerful forces shaping contemporary youth culture.

And its still making very sharp, satirical points. The ABC Warriors strip has run several stories in which its heroes, a group of former robot soldiers bringing justice and law to a violent and chaotic Mars, tell each other stories about their adventures during the Volgan Wars. This was a war between the West, led by America, and Russia, now the Volgan Republic. The War has been sold to its citizens as a defence of democracy against an aggressive dictatorship. The reality is that the West wishes to get its hands on the Volgan’s oil supplies. It’s very clear that Script Robot Mills is making a point about the lies by our governments in the invasion of Iraq.

All I can say is that it’s a pity we can’t get the good judge to round up Cameron, Clegg and co and put them in an iso-cube for a while.

The article can be read at http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2015/03/28/art-imitates-life-coalition-welf-policies-get-comic-book-treatment/

Cameron Has Killed at 2,200 People’ : Frankie Boyle at the 2014 Television Festival

January 24, 2015

boyle_1510448c

This follows on from the question Mike raised in the previous post Class divide in the arts – are they just for the toffs? at http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2015/01/24/class-divide-in-the-arts-is-it-just-for-the-toffs/. The controversial Scots comedian, Frankie Boyle, was interviewed last year at the Guardian’s International Television Festival last year by Pointless’s Richard Osman. The interview was a review of the state of television. And Boyle made it very clear that he though British television was being held back by the desire of TV commissioning editors to remain safe. Boyle made it very clear that class attitudes were very definitely a part of this. The interview can be found on Youtube with the title GEITF 2014 – Frankie Boyle: State of the TV Nation.
Boyle on the Two Most Offensive Jokes

Boyle is one of Britain’s very edgiest comedians. Osman tackled him about two of his most controversial jokes. These were about Katie Price being raped by her mentally disabled son, and a disparaging comment about the appearance of the Paralympic swimming heroine, Rebecca Adlington. Osman states that he’s a fan of Boyle, but makes it clear that he feels those jokes should never have been broadcast, and an apology should have been issued. Boyle defended the Katie Price joke by stating that he thought very hard about it. He told it because he felt it was a valid comment about Price. She had two points on which she sold herself: her looks, and her disabled son. She had other, non-handicapped children, who you never heard anything about. Boyle felt that the joke was a suitable comment on Price’s self-publicity.

False Banter on Comedy Panel Shows

Boyle made the comment that television panel shows, like Mock the Week, now relied on banter. It looked like normal conversation, but was all false. It was all scripted. And it was there, because the TV companies did not want to tackle other, more difficult issues. He specifically mentioned the two land wars in which Britain was involved at the time. Five years ago, Boyle said, you could mention them. Now they were verboten. He tried on Mock the Week to make a joke commenting on them, but was told that he couldn’t. As an example of the depths the show how reached now, he said that the last time he watched it had to make jokes about the Ryder Cup. He told the Katie Price joke because for the past ten weeks they’d been making jokes about the Olympics, and then they were being asked to return to them. Boyle’s controversial joke followed soon after.

No Challenge to Cameron’s Murder of the Disabled by Atos

As a further example, Boyle gave the murderous campaign of Cameron against the disabled. He said outright that Cameron had killed at least 2,200 people ‘bottom line’ through Atos and the fit for work test. But he was never challenged. Osman raised the topic of the Channel 4 conspiracy drama, Utopia, as an example of television tackling difficult topics. Boyle stated in his usual forthright terms that the show was rubbish. It was based very much on the type of comics produced by Alan Moore and his ilk. However, Channel 4 had taken all the good material out of it. If they were really determined to produce quality television, they’d hire Alan Moore and co. Instead Channel 4 produced endless programmes genuinely exploiting deformity and sneering at the working class, explicitly mentioning Benefits Street.

TV Bosses’ Misogyny

He criticised the channel bosses for their peculiar ideas of what was ‘fringe’ and ‘mainstream’. He’d tried to get Andrew Newsom on a programme, only to be told that she was too fringe. He felt this was rubbish, as he’d just seen her play at the Royal Albert Hall. He was also sharply critical at television’s very misogynist attitudes. When asked about the issue of quotas, and putting more women and members of ethnic minorities on screen, Boyle said he agreed with them. Regarding the proportion of women on panel shows, he felt it should be 50/50 with men. This, however, was definitely unwelcome to channel bosses. He told how he heard the regular host of a panel show use an extremely crude term for women comedians. It’s extremely coarse, so be warned. The bosses had very definite ideas about how many women should be allowed on a panel show. He tried to get a female comedian on Never Mind the Buzzcocks four times. One of these times he tried to get them to bring on Sarah Millican. He was told that this was not possible, as they already had a female comedian on for that week.

Sack the Bosses, Not Cancel BBC 3

He was very critical of the efforts of the television bosses themselves and their personal failure to increase diversity. He noted that Alan Yentob and the others bewailed the fact that there weren’t enough women and Black people on TV, while doing absolutely nothing about it, despite the fact that it was their jobs. On the subject of the scrapping of BBC 3, the Corporation’s youth channel, Boyle said that the Beeb had admitted they had made a mistake. They had been trying to get young people to watch TV instead of other media. The age demographic for the other channels was very high – in the 50s. Yet they had scrapped the channel in order to concentrate on the internet, which was precisely the thing that was taking da yoof away from TV. When Osman asked Boyle where Boyle would cut to save money, he replied that it would be with the bosses. They formed a useless layer of people, whose job was to stop programme being commissioned, often for the most bizarre reasons.

Class Bias in Satire and the Westminster Bubble

Boyle considered that such satire that was permitted, was only allowed because it came from an upper middle class voice. He gave as examples Peter Cook and Patrick Morris, the creator of Brass Eye. Anything that did not come from that social echelon, which could be easily identified as ‘ironic’, or ‘playing with concepts’, was therefore dangerous and unsettling.

He felt part of the problem was that satire in this country was very newspaper-based. He gave Have I Got News for You and Private Eye as examples. They were stuck in the Westminster bubble and the Westminster cycle as a result. Comedians like Boyle presented a problem, as editors and producers wanted them to produce party political satire, which Boyle didn’t.

Jeremy Clarkson’s a Cultural Tumour

They got on to the different way Boyle and Jeremy Clarkson had been treated by television. Clarkson, like Boyle, made controversial jokes and comments. Boyle, however, declared that Clarkson, whom he described as ‘a cultural tumour’, was acceptable because there was no context for what he said. For example, Boyle had been criticised for a comment he made about Israel during the Gaza conflict. He was attacked as anti-Semitic, an accusation which he denied. Yet when Clarkson was attacked for using the ‘N’ word in nursery rhyme, the head of BBC 1 appeared to defend him and state that he wasn’t racist. Boyle felt this might have been due to rights issues. Most producers, Boyle said, would be happy with 3/4s of the ratings, if the content was less controversial. Clarkson, however, still had his job, which suggested to him that they were afraid to sack him because of the problem of who owned the rights.

The Beeb and Scots Independence

Boyle was also one of those, who support Scots independence. He remarked on the media bias against the independence campaign, and the weird behaviour of David Cameron and the leaders of the ‘No’ team, when they ventured north of the Border. He stated that the Beeb were against independence, because the licence money from Scotland acted a subsidy for the corporation as a whole. Altogether, the BBC gains £300 million from the licence fee in Scotland. Of this, only about £40 million is spent on Scottish programmes. Another £60 million is spent ‘finessing’ programmes produced elsewhere, but which travel up to Scotland. Thus the Beeb effectively got a subsidy of £200 million from Scots viewers.

As for David Cameron, Boyle stated that when he and the ‘No’ coterie travelled up to fair Caledonia, they were so out of place that they looked like time travellers trying to find oil to power their time machine. He was particularly amused by Cameron’s comments about the ‘silent Scottish majority’. He’d never known Scots to be silent about anything.

The Sun

Osman raised the topic of Boyle’s writing for the Sun. Boyle was a left-wing comedian, but there he was, writing for Murdoch. Boyle replied that there were no ‘good’ papers, as far as he was concerned. The Observer, for example, had also cheered on the war in Iraq. He started writing for the Sun because they censored him less than the BBC. He also developed a particular technique of making sure they didn’t take too much out of his work. However, during one newspaper and magazine media event, Boyle had found his material disappearing. He asked why it was suddenly being edited out. He was told that it was because Murdoch himself was up for the event, and liked to edit everything in person. Boyle didn’t believe it was true, but went into the cafeteria early one morning to see Murdoch sat at a table, going through everything with black marker. So perhaps, he concluded, it really was true.

Upbringing of the Ruling Class

As for the ruling class, they were so appalling because of the way they were raised. It was exactly like the Spartans. At seven or eight they were taken away from their parents and placed in an all-male environment. They were then bored with Latin and other useless subjects, in order to inculcate the right attitudes into them ‘like a brainwashing cult’. And then finally and suddenly, sodomy. With this background, no wonder they were like they were.

Drama, Brothel Keeping and the Hedge Fund Managers

And as an example of the way television was reluctant to tackle anything too challenging, he gave the example of a friend of his, who was a professional television writer. The man had been hired to write a story about people trafficking for one of the cop dramas. In the script he subsequently produced, the villain was a hedge fund manager, who went into people smuggling because the returns were so good. This was very definitely not what the Beeb wanted. They told him that instead of a hedge fund manager, the villain was going to be a Russian gangster called ‘Sergey’.

So he subsequently revised the script. The villain was turned into the gangster, Sergey. But in his treatment, Sergey had gone into the people smuggling business, after borrowing money from hedge fund managers, because the return was so spectacular. This was, against, unacceptable. The villain was a Russian gangster called Sergey. He had a black leather jacket and a gun, and he was into people smuggling because he was evil. End of. The story was taken away from the writer for someone else to work on.

A few months later, the cops in New England raided a brothel. It was one of string of them, all run by a hedge fund manager. Because the returns were spectacular. It was a reality that the Beeb had literally not wanted to imagine.

Here’s the interview. Warning: Boyle’s language is at times very coarse, and the jokes about Price and Addlington are offensive.

It’s a fascinating perspective from the state of television today from someone, whose frequently tasteless jokes have almost made him an outsider. Nevertheless, Boyle makes it clear that he thinks very hard about what he says. As for the comments about satire being acceptable if it comes from an establishment voice, he has a point. Even so, Private Eye and Brass Eye at various points in their careers were barely acceptable. When it started out, Private Eye was only stocked by a very few newsagents. I remember ten years ago I took a copy of the Eye into work, and was asked by an older colleague, ‘You don’t actually read that, do you?’ Some of the Eye’s jokes have been considered in such bad taste, such as their cover satirising the mass adulation at the funeral of Princess Di, that newsagents have refused to stock it. As for Brass Eye, that was indeed so extreme in its satire that Grade had to fight hard to save it from cancellation.

As the founders of Private Eye, Richard Ingrams and co themselves made clear, they, Ingrams, Peter Cook and Willie Rushton were all far from outsiders. They were privately educated members of the middle class. Auberon Waugh was the son of the novelist Evelyn, and John Wells had been the headmaster of Eton. You couldn’t get much more establishment than that.

Private Eye also inspired David Frost’s That Was The Week That Was, the ’60s ancestor of popular satirical television. While it’s now regarded as a classic, it was intensely controversial at the time. Even in the 1980s Robin Day, the heavyweight interviewer of politicians on the Beeb, disliked it so much that he described it as ‘deplorable’ in his autobiography, Grand Inquisitor. Satire has become acceptable on TV, only because so many of its producers were respectably middle class, and even they had to work very, very hard.