Posts Tagged ‘David Cronenberg’

Sketch of Children’s TV Presenter Brian Cant

December 2, 2022

This is the first of a number of sketches and pieces I’m planning to put up about some of the presenters of the children’s TV programmes I used to watch in the 70s. Cant was the lead presenter on Play Away, a sister programme of the long-running children’s TV favourite, Play School, on which Cant had also appeared, but aimed at slightly older children. Play Away was also more of an ensemble programme with a whole team accompanying Cant. There was somebody Cohen at the piano, and a number of other co-presenters, some of whom I’ve now forgotten. I think one of them was Toni Arthur, who I’ve since learned was a folk musician and the author of a book on seasonal customs for children, the All The Year Round Book. One of the presenters I do remember was Jeremy Irons, who has gone on to become a Hollywood star. I was really surprised in the ’90s when I read that he was playing the lead characters in David Cronenberg’s psychological horror film Dead Ringers. This was about a pair of twin gynaecologists, one of whom goes insane and believes that the women he’s treating are all mutants. The film includes a credit to H.R. Giger, the Swiss artist who designed the Alien in those movies, for designing ‘radical surgical instruments’. It’s as far from Play Away as you can get and is a reminder that the cast of such programmes are actors, who also take adult roles. Somebody must have seen Irons in Play Away and recognised his potential.

Cant was also the narrator for three interlinked children’s series, Chigley, Trumpton and Camberwick Green each set in one of these small fictional towns. These were animated series using small figurines and were similar in style, using the same type of figures and music. Trumpton started off with Cant announcing, ‘Here is the clock, the Trumpton clock. Telling the time, steadily, sensibly, never too quickly, never too slowly, telling the time for Trumpton.’ The various characters also had their own theme songs. One of the characters, whose figure I’ve drawn being looked at by Cant, was Windy Miller. Miller appropriately enough lived in a windmill. His song began, ‘Windy Miller, Windy Miller, sharper than a thorn’. The theme song for the local fire brigade began with a rollcall of their names, ‘Pugh, Pugh, Barney McGrew, Cuthbert, Dibble, Grubb.’ The railway also had its own song with the words, ‘Time flies by when you’re the driver of a train as you ride on the footplate there and back again.’ These shows have developed a cult following. In the 1980s the band Half Man Half Biscuit released a record Trumpton Riots, about what would happen if Trumpton had a riot. According to rumour, it parodied the train song with the words ‘Time flies by when you’re the driver of a train, as you ride on the footplate with a cargo of cocaine’. You can find videos of ‘Trumpton Riots’ on YouTube, including the lyrics. These words don’t seem to appear, but perhaps they’re on another song with a similar theme. Half Man Half Biscuit, as their name suggests, had a peculiar sense of humour. One of their other songs was ‘All I Want For Christmas Is A Dukla Prague Away Kit’. This was just before Communism fell, when there were far fewer people from eastern Europe in Britain, who might genuinely want such a football kit for their collection.

The series’ visual style has also influenced pop video producers. One of the series began, if I recall correctly, with one of the characters spiralling up out of an opened music box. Something similar occurs in the Ting Tings’ video for ‘That’s Not My Name’, where the two leads seem to spiral up into view from something off camera below them. The producers of another pop video for a song with the delightful name ‘Burn The Witch’, deliberately based its style on the three children’s series. He also appeared in a pop video for Orbital’s The Altogether in a sequence which was similar to Play School, the children’s TV programme that preceded Play Away and in which Cant also appeared as a presenter. He also appeared in a number of other programmes and theatrical productions. Wikipedia notes that Cant won a poll as the best-loved voice from children’s TV in 2007, and three years later in 2010 he won a special award at the BAFTAs for his work in children’s television. Accepting it, Cant said: “When I was a child I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child. When I became a man I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child, and they paid me for it.”

For further information, see:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brian_Cant

I found this rendition of the Play Away theme with a still of its cast on Bobby Gathergood’s channel on YouTube.

I found this video of Trumpton’s opening titles on the It’s Sam! channel on YouTube:

Saudi Arabia Plans 500 Metre Tall, 170 Km Long Mega-Skyscraper. Where’s Judge Dredd

July 27, 2022

Here’s a bit of light relief. Just this evening the internet news page put up a piece from Sky News, reporting that the Saudis are planning a massive megastructure called the Line. It’s going to be 170 km long by 1/2 km tall, for 9 million residents, all occupying separate communities. And their needs will be catered to by autonomous services, run by AI. The article begins

‘Revolution in civilisation’: Saudi Arabia previews 170km mirrored skyscraper offering ‘autonomous’ services

If it was the opening sequence of a science fiction movie, few would be surprised.

In a glossy video narrated by an American voiceover artist, Saudi Arabia has previewed The Line, a 170km long skyscraper standing 500m tall – higher than New York’s Empire State Building.

It is designed for nine million residents living in a “series of unique communities”.

Residents will have access to “all their daily needs” in “five-minute walk neighbourhoods”.

“Autonomous” services are being promised through the use of artificial intelligence, in what is being described as a “revolution in civilisation”.

The 200m wide linear structure, to be clad in mirrored glass, is the desert kingdom’s attempt to create a “healthier, more sustainable quality of life” with communities “organised in three dimensions” – as opposed to traditional cities which it says are “dysfunctional and polluted” and “ignore nature”.

Another video shows the resident of a grey urban jungle escaping to The Line, which is portrayed as an oasis.

To be built in the country’s northwest, it is planned to cover 34 square kilometres and travel from end to end is expected to take just 20 minutes.

There will be “no need for cars” and carbon emissions will be zero, the country said.

Energy and water supplies are described as “100% renewable”.

Inside, there will be a “year-round temperate micro climate with natural ventilation”.

The futuristic project is part of NEOM, a $500bn economic zone expected to be partly financed through a flotation expected in 2024.

NEOM was announced in 2017 as part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030 reform plan which is intended to help diversify Saudi Arabia’s economy away from oil.’

See the article by Andy Hayes athttps://www.msn.com/en-gb/news/world/revolution-in-civilisation-saudi-arabia-previews-170km-mirrored-skyscraper-offering-autonomous-services/ar-AAZZFXB?ocid=msedgntp&cvid=b5213d7d2e414ce0b7e4564c3eadcbb4

Okay, we’ve heard this stuff before Way back in the ’50s or 60s there were plans to construct a similar habitat, 50 miles or so long, stretching across America. There were also plans to enclose New York, or at least Manhattan beneath a giant geodesic dome. There have also been plans by the Japanese to build similar megastructures right out in Tokyo bay. These would also be ultra-high tech, and be built by robots, as shown in documentary about it on Channel 4 some time either in the ’90s or the early part of this century. And there were even plans to create an enclosed city in the Canadian arctic. This would shelter from the elements under a protective dome, in which its citizens would enjoy a mild climate despite the snow and ice floes outside. It would even have a moving artificial sun to give the illusion of daylight at temperate latitudes during the long, arctic winter.

The Lower Manhattan Expressway Project: a predecessor to Saudi Arabia’s the Line? From Reyner Banham, Megastructures: Urban Futures of the Recent Past (New York: Monacelli Press 2020) 19.

None of this was every built. They were far too ambitious, both financially and technologically. And I foresee that this will go the same way.

Which may not be a bad thing, as it really does remind me of various pieces of SF literature: Judge Dredd and J.G. Ballard’s dystopias, particularly High Rise.

In the long running 2000AD strip, Dredd is a member of the autocratic police force, the judges, trying to enforce law and order in Mega City 1. This is a gigantic city of massive tower blocks stretching across the entire east coast of America from the Canadian border down to Florida. On the other side of the continent is Mega City 2, while down south is Texas City. This hasn’t quite reached mega city status as it doesn’t have a billion inhabitants. Between them are the Cursed Earth, a radiation desert full of lawlessness, inhabited by mutants, created by the nuclear that destroyed America and democracy and which led to the rise of the judges. The city has a 95 per cent plus unemployment rate caused by massive automation. Crime is rampant with the judges trying to keep a lid on things.

It’s grim vision of the future but one with a sharp, satirical sense of humour. One of the strip’s writers and creators described Mega City One as a gigantic black comedy. Which it is, as the strip sent up contemporary pop music with inane rock bands like New Juves on the Block (a slight resemblance to New Kids on the Block, an ’80s band?), weird fashions, and totally bonkers game shows. In one of the very early Dredd strips, contestants were literally betting their lives. It’s satire, but the Russians nearly got there for real. After Communism fell, one of the Russian TV stations ran a game show in which contestants had to steal a car. For real. There were real cops chasing them. If the contestant escaped, the car was his. if they caught him, he really did go to the slammer. In another Dredd strip, they sent up World of Sport on ITV and some of the adverts then running on British television. The good lawman had landed on a planet inhabited by 12 different alien races, all of whom were at war, which was broadcast on their television as a form of entertainment. Among the adverts spoofed was one for the chocolate bar, Bounty. The real advert featured a group of young people running on to a desert isle while the voiceover announced ‘They came in search of paradise’. The parody advert had the same scene, but with aliens, followed by the line ‘they found – landmines’, accompanied by explosions and the slogan ‘protect your waterhole with Brax. Brax wipes them out – dead’. It was this sharp, satirical edge that has made Dredd and 2000AD one of the great British comics for nearly the last 50 years.

And added to all this mayhem and criminality, the occupants of the various mega blocks would develop block mania, a fanatical devotion to their own block, and start a war with the neighbouring blocks. Saudi Arabia’s the Line sounds like something of a trial run for all that craziness.

The future of urban civilisation? Dredd out looking for perps and muties from the cover of 2000AD Prog 409.

It also reminds me more than a little of Ballard’s works. Ballard was a member of Michael Moorcock’s team on the British SF magazine, New Worlds. This deliberately set out to break the established conventions of science fiction at the time. It was highly controversial, spurring a debate about its obscenity or otherwise in parliament in the 1970s. And Ballard was one of the writers shocking and provoking. His novellas were published by Weidenfeld & Nicholson, but Weidenfeld didn’t read them and so had no idea of just what kind of a literary monster he was publishing. That is, he didn’t, until one day he was in New York and went browsing on one of the news stands. Flicking through one of the magazines he found a piece by Ballard entitled ‘I Want To F**k Ronald Reagan’. This was in the 60s, nearly two decades before the former actor became president. A shocked Weidenfeld then sent a telegram to his secretary and staff in London saying ‘Do not publish!’

Ballard was also responsible for the novel Crash, about a secret society of perverts who get their jollies from car accidents. This was filmed in the ’90s by the Canadian film director, David Cronenberg, to the massive outrage of the Heil, which immediately started a campaign to have it banned. In the end it flopped, but nevertheless did get critical acclaim from some parts of the SF community.

Much of Ballard’s fiction takes place in enclosed, ultra-modern communities. There, life has become so anodyne and boring that the corporate powers running these communities deliberately stage murders, violent crime and rape in order to stimulate their bored drones and give them something to live for. One of these dystopian novellas was High Rise, about a cutting edge skyscraper. In it, the rich lived at the top, and the poor lower down at the bottom. However, civilisation begins to break down so that society in the tower block takes on the class antagonism of outside society. This leads to real, physical class conflict and violence. It was filmed a few years ago, but I’m not sure how many people saw it.

Trailer for the film High Rise, starring Tom Hiddleston with Jeremy Irons and based on the novel by J.G. Ballard. From the StudioCanal channel on YouTube.

In real life, Ballard was boringly normal. He stayed at home, writing and caring for his wife, while taking his children to school. Despite his grim fiction, he was horrified by the war in Bosnia and the dangerous way the conflict promoted psychopathic violence as people struggled to survive. Visitors were often surprised by the fact that he wasn’t what Private Eye used to call ‘a wild-eyed dement’ straight from one of his novels.

Ballard, unfortunately, is no longer with us, having passed away a few years ago. He gained critical acclaim for his novel Empire of the Sun, based on his experiences as a child growing up in a Japanese POW camp following their capture of Shanghai. It was filmed by Steven Spielberg. and garnered a number of Oscars, just as the previous film adaptation of his work, Crash, didn’t.

But I’ve got a feeling that if the Line is ever built, it’s going to be far more like Mega City 1 and High Rise than any other SF utopia.

And the desert in which the Line is set even looks a bit like Dredd’s Cursed Earth.

So, can we expect crime, violence, mutants, block wars and perps getting thirty years in an iso-cube? And will Saudi Arabia suffer the attentions of the Dark Judges – Fear, Fire, Death and Mortis – come to kill everyone on Earth. Because all crime is committed by the living.

The Tories and the War on Drugs

June 16, 2019

There’s been some amusement to be had this past week with various leading Tories coming out and admitting to having used drugs. Michael Gove confessed to having snorted cocaine, and Rory Stewart admitted that he’d smoked opium once, 20 odd years ago, when he was backpacking around Iran. It was at a wedding. He claimed that it couldn’t have affected him much, as he was walking 25 – 30 miles a day. My guess is that in reality he’d have been stoned out of his tiny patrician brain. It’s generally the lean, fit people, who are most affected by intoxicants, as you can see by all the tales about champion marathon runners and other athletes, who become massively drunk when they celebrate with half a pint of booze afterwards. Then there’s Paul Staines of the Guido Fawkes blog. He hasn’t come out of the stoner closet, but he was notorious as a Libertarian for taking and advocating DMT as a mind-expanding drug. My guess is that he’d need it. As a member of an organisation that was so right-wing, it invited the leader of one of Rios Montt’s death squads from El Salvador to be their guest of honour at their annual dinner, Staines would need some powerful hallucinogenics to convince himself he was a decent human being.

Boris is also widely suspected of having done drugs, and it’s almost certain that the allegations are true, and of continuing to use them. But he hasn’t confessed to it. When asked whether he had at a press conference about his candidacy for the Tory leadership, he brushed the question aside by claiming that he thought the British public were more interested in what he intended to do as politician than whether he took illegal substances. He might be right for some people. We’re so used to public figures, like actors, rock stars and other media celebrities, coming forward to admit that they took drugs some time in their lives, that it almost seems unremarkable. In some parts of the entertainment industry, it’s even to be expected, as with tales of pop musicians, which have become part of the general pattern of rock excess. However, Boris’ own political career isn’t any recommendation for him as Prime Ministerial material either. He’s been so egotistical and massively incompetent that many people would have to take large amounts of illegal chemicals to be persuaded otherwise.

Author’s impression of Theresa May with potential voter.

There’s more than a little fun to be had out of all this furore. Some wag with a better grasp of video editing than yours truly could provide us all with a laugh by cutting their speeches with bits from notorious films about drugs from the past. Like the 1950s anti-cannabis film, Reefer Madness, or David Cronenberg’s ’90s flick, The Naked Lunch, based on the notorious book by William S. Burroughs. This latter film is roughly based on Burrough’s own life, and is about a pest exterminator, who gets high on the ketamine he’s using to kill the insects. As the drug takes effect, he hallucinates that he’s some kind of SF spy, and has to make his report to Interzone before flying to Morocco after accidentally shooting his wife while they were playing William Tell. The hallucinations include the hero seeing everyone in a bar as mugwumps – humanoid lizards – and a gay talking typewriter-beetle. You could have some fun showing Boris sitting down to type his statement for the leadership election, but showing the hands of Cronenberg’s hero typing away at the beetle creature. Though as the beetle-typewriter then goes on to declare how wonderful homosexuality is, this scene might not be appropriate. The Tories have declared themselves at ease with the gay community, and no-one could ever accuse Boris of it. Another excellent film candidate for mixing with the Tory leadership speeches would be Terry Gilliam’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, based on the book by Hunter S. Thompson, illustrated by Ralph Steadman. Which also has a bar full of hallucinatory lizards, bats coming down out of the desert sky, and Richard Nixon erupting out of a TV set, amongst other bizarre visions.

But there’s also a very serious side to all this. The great commenters on Mike’s blog, when he covered this story, made some very good points about these people’s hypocrisy. They’ve all done drugs, and got away scot-free, in contrast to more ordinary users, who’d been to jail. One commenter told how he had a friend, who now suffers from PTSD because of what he’d experienced in prison after being convicted of a drugs offence. And the whole affair also seems to me to be a replay of a similar scandal back in 2004, when a number of other Tories confessed to having used cannabis.

The furore was started when Anne Widdecombe announced that she wanted harsher sentences for drugs, quite at variance with the party stance on the issue at the time. A number of Tories then came forward to announce that they’d taken it. Matthew Parris then gave his view about it all in an article he wrote for the Spectator. One Tory revealed that he had smoked cannabis at Oxford. This didn’t shock Parris, who was far more outraged by the way the august gentleman had consumed it. Parris declared that he could have been smoking cowpats for all he cared. What offended him was that the pretentious so and so had put it in his pipe. He smoked a pipe! It’s something you can imagine Rees-Mogg, the MP for the 18th century, doing. If he were inclined towards the substances used by Thomas De Quincy and Coleridge, of course.

This came at the time the government was considering changing its policy towards drug abuse. Much had been in the news about the success the Scandinavian countries, Portugal and Switzerland had achieved in their battle with illegal drugs, in contrast with Britain’s failure to combat or contain its growing drugs problem. These nations had a softer approach to tackling drug abuse. Addicts were treated not as criminals, but as sick people, who needed to be helped. But this was too namby-pamby for Widdecombe and those like her. Parris wrote that this had also been the policy in Britain, and had been giving positive results. But it all changed with the election of Ronald Reagan. Reagan wanted a war on drugs, and as American’s ally and the Special Relationship, we had to follow suit. The result was harsher sentences for drug offences, which actually had a negative effect on what they were trying to achieve. Treating drug addiction as a sickness makes sense, as no-one wants to be sick so they seek help. Criminalizing it, however, gives it a kind of glamour. You ain’t sick, you’re gangsta! Public enemy No. 1. And so far from deterring people from using drugs, the policy actually helps to promote it.

And then there’s the racism of the War on Drugs. Hillary Clinton deliberately played on White American fears of Black criminality when she announced Clinton’s new, tougher policies on drugs back in the 1990s. She talked about ‘superpredators’ – at the time, a term that was only used about Black men. The laws were also framed so that it targeted Blacks rather than Whites. Although studies have shown that Whites are just as likely to use drugs as Blacks, the majority of those arrested and convicted are Black. And I suspect that the situation is similar over here. Certainly it’s been clear to me from talking to Black friends that they believe that Blacks suffer disproportionately harsher punishment than White drug abusers. I know many Blacks, who won’t touch the stuff, and they make the point very clear to Whites trying to encourage them to do so.

It seems very clear to me that we need a return to a saner, more effective drugs policy. One that discourages it as it helps the victims by treating it as a disease, rather than giving it a spurious glamour it doesn’t deserve by criminalizing it. A policy that punishes and cures White and Black equally, instead of playing to White fears and racism.

But for me, the most toxic drug not mentioned in the Tory leadership contest is Conservatism. This has destroyed whole communities, and comprehensive wrecked Britain, creating poor healthcare, unemployment, despair, depression and general poor mental health, all while fostering racism, bigotry and bitter resentment against the poor, disabled and marginalised. It has done this while creating illusions of prosperity and national greatness. It’s time it was stopped. The pushers of this vile drug – Johnson, Gove, Leadsom and the rest of them – should be properly punished by losing any and every election they take part in. And the literature that encourages this vile drug – the Times, Torygraph, Mail, Sun and Express, should be binned at once and readers should turn to proper news outlets.

Only then can we look forward to a saner society, less afflicted by drugs.

Alex Jones: People Are Having Sex with their Cars

January 15, 2018

More madness from the ever fertile imagination of Alex Jones. In this clip from The Majority Report, host Sam Seder and friends comment on a clip from Jones’ InfoWars show, in which the conspiracy theorist rants about how there is a movement encouraging people to have sex with cars.

He starts off by talking about sex robots, before going on to claim that people are having sex and marrying their dogs and cats, and are having sex with cars. He then claims that if you identify as blind, and pour ‘Draino’ into your eyes to blind yourself, the governments of the US, Britain and Canada will pay you money to support yourself as you were mentally ill. He then goes on to say that he fancies buying one of these sex robots just to torch it. We need, he says, to form a human union and defy the elites, who are controlling us. They want to make normal sex biologically impossible, in order to absorb us into the Matrix. People have been brainwashed into this by Hollywood.

Seder and his crew make the point that they have no doubt that some men will insert their penises into whatever they can find. His female co-host states that when she was working on Death and Taxes there was indeed a man arrested for having sex with his car. She was part of a jailhouse protest to get him released. There’s a lot of joking about what the chants were ‘Ha-ha, ho-ho, let the carf***er go!’ But there’s hardly a movement for people to have sex with their vehicles.

They also speculate that Jones himself has personally bought one of these sex robots, and this whole segment is him trying to explain it away in case anybody else has seen it and come to the conclusion that Jones is a pervert.

Okay, there are people out there building sex robots. One of these appeared a little while ago on Philip Schofield’s show on ITV. There was even a Spanish brothel stocked exclusively with robots, which closed down after three works. One of the sentient robots on the Channel 4 SF series, Humans, which was based on the Swedish TV series, ‘Real Humans’, was one of the machines in an all robot brothel. Which incidentally escapes and goes on the run after killing one of the customers. I think Ray Kurzweil has also predicted that in a very few years people will be having sex with robots. One of the underground comics in America is Wet Satin, whose female creator writes stories based on women’s sexual fantasies. One of illustrations from the comic, at least as it appears in Dez Skinn’s survey of comics across the world, has a woman in the tender embrace of C-3PO. This surprised me, as I’d assumed that R2D2’s best mate was a little too camp to be an object of sexual desire for women. But obviously not. And Tanith Lee wrote an SF story about a woman, who has a romance with a robot, The Silver Metal Lover, way back in the 1970s.

But sex robots are just a progression from blow-up dolls, and while they are being developed, there’s no movement for people to marry them or outlaw normal human reproduction in favour of everyone having sex with machines. At the moment, the sex robots are pretty crude. They’re not really sentient machines, like all the other robots being developed at the moment. The type of mechanical people, with whom you could have a proper relationship, like C-3PO are a very long way off. Most people, I guess, won’t find them attractive, and will regard anyone with the money to buy them with the same contempt they regard those men, who buy inflatable women.

And yes, there are people, who have sex with their cars. Jones waxes somewhat graphic about this, talking about ‘fully lubed-up tailpipes’ and claiming that normal peeps, who won’t have sex with robots or cars, will be attacked as prejudiced or homophobic. Way back in the 1990s Channel 4 screened a documentary late one evening about people, who were sexually attracted to cars. I stayed up to watch part of it, as I’ve got a strong tolerance for weirdness. But this was too weird and creepy even for me, and I turned it off and went to bed, feeling somewhat soiled. I have a feeling it comes from a peculiar mental disorder, in which people attribute human features and characteristics onto inanimate objects. This goes much further than simply giving your car a name, or referring to it as ‘he’ or ‘she’. This is more like the mad German woman, who married the Berlin Wall a few years ago. This story got a few laughs on Have I Got News For You. And then there was J.G. Ballard’s infamous novel, Crash, filmed by David Cronenberg, which is all about a secret society of perverts, who get off on car crashes. The film was highly praised by the British small press SF magazine, The Edge, but sent the Daily Mail into a frothing rage, and they organised a campaign against it. It flopped massively over here, taking only a few tens of thousands of pounds before it was banned.

So while there are mentally ill perverts and transgressive writers, like Ballard, who explore cars and sexuality, like the sex robots there is absolutely no movement to normalise this. I can’t imagine a time when anyone, who has sex with an automobile or similar inanimate object won’t be regarded as a pervert, or simply a person with severe mental health problems. No-one’s going to accuse anyone of being unfairly prejudiced or ‘homophobic’ towards people with this kind of prejudice. And incidentally, that comment from Jones shows his prejudice against gay rights by equating homophobia and homosexuality with what are actually forms of mental illness.

As for people pouring drain cleaner into their eyes deliberately to blind themselves, this shows Jones’ anti-welfare outlook. He clearly thinks that such people should not receive state aid after damaging themselves. But these people do need help, most pressingly before they actually decide to harm themselves. I’ve known people, who suffered from very severe depression and were prone to self-harm. It’s not something they’d voluntarily do, if they could avoid, but brought about by a mental condition that they’d far rather not have. Jones is therefore severely misrepresenting them if he thinks that those, who do suffer self-harm, willingly and cheerfully go about it. Again, it also shows Jones’ own prejudices. He thinks someone, who blinds themselves with drain cleaner, would do it for the same reasons some people identify with the opposite biological gender. Er, no, Alex. There’s a difference between self-harm, and transgenderism, regardless what some of the Republicans say about male to female transpeople being ‘castration fetishists’.

Jones is clearly wrong in just about everything he says here about there being a secret conspiracy to normalise and promote these sexual practices. He doesn’t have anything really profound to say about the prospect of robot prostitution or sex robots. But it is clear that he has a very vivid, lurid imagination.

More Tory Madness at the Polls: Theresa May Most Popular Leader Since Churchill

April 29, 2017

What are they on?
Or to put it another way, how stupid and gullible do they think the British public is?

I’ve blogged today about the unreliability of the polls. These supposedly show that May has a 16 per cent lead over Jeremy Corbyn, who is, as the Tories and the Blairites are constantly screaming, supposedly unelectable. But those same polls, as Mike has said on his blog, show that the Tory lead apparently fell by eight points in just one week. And the I newspaper also claimed in an article this past week, that while May was in an overall lead, Labour was far more popular with young people.

All this is I can believe. I also mentioned in my last article about the polls a piece by Guy Debord’s Cat, where he argued that polling isn’t designed to provide an objective description of how popular our leaders are, or who really thinks what about a particular issue. They’re carefully manufactured by the polling companies – largely Tory – and the media – also largely Tory – to show the results they want, in the hope of influencing the electorate, thus showing the power of the press as opinion formers.

Hence the constant refrain from the Blairites, the Tories and their lickspittles in the press that Jeremy Corbyn is supposedly massively unpopular with suitable polling figures trotted out to show this. Supposedly. In fact, the media and Corbyn’s opponents within and outside the Labour party are absolutely terrified of him being popular. If – terrible thought! – Corbyn actually wins the election, it will put an end to nearly forty years of Thatcherism in one form or another. The rich might have to start paying their fair share of the public purse again, while the poor might start seeing improvements to wages, services and proper welfare provision. One that provides them with the maintenance they need and treats them with the respect and dignity they deserve. And it will stop the privatisation of the NHS, which UNUM, Branson, BUPA, Circle Health and the other private healthcare providers angling to get some of the market occupied by the NHS are so keen on.

Now I’m prepared to accept that May probably is in the lead over Corbyn in terms of personal popularity, because of the relentless campaign by the mainstream media to promote her. That lead, however, needs to be heavily qualified. Richard Seymour in his book Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics has pointed out that the ‘Project Fear’ the mainstream media has launched against Corbyn in the hope of terrifying people into not voting for him has backfired. People are reacting against the media’s demonization and constant lying. And so far from making Corbyn unpopular, he’s become more so with people expressing their support for the Labour leader, and getting news and information about him, not from the papers, TV or radio, but from social media on the Net. This is being done spontaneously by ordinary people not connected to the Labour party.

But this is one claim about May’s popularity I find extremely difficult to believe.

According to Have I Got News For You, who announced this straight-faced, Theresa May is the most popular British Prime Minister since the War.

As the little lad used to say on Different Strokes way back in the ’80s: ‘What you talkin’ about, Willis?’

So we’re being asked to believe that Theresa May, who doesn’t want to appear in the leader debates, says she doesn’t want to talk to the press, and makes very few public appearances, and when she does, they’re very carefully stage-managed, is more popular than, well, great British Prime Ministers like Clement Atlee, Harold MacMillan, Harold Wilson or even Tony Blair and Maggie Thatcher? Thatcher was a disaster for this country, but she was massively popular. She was also was massively unpopular, to the point where she was supposedly the most popular and unpopular British Prime Minister since the War. She’s still the great, molten idol of the Tories and Blairite Labour. The first thing Blair did was have her round No. 10 for tea after he won the election.

Thatcher was so strident and strong that she got the nickname ‘the Iron Lady’. May, by contrast, is very definitely weak and wobbly, as Mike’s pointed out, despite all the cries by the Tories and the press that she’s ‘strong’ and ‘stable’.

So the question has to be asked: do the Tories and the press really think that we’re all that stupid to believe this rubbish?

Or, alternatively, have they been drinking too much, or partaking of Jazz cigarettes or other illicit recreational substances? I mentioned in an earlier post that the mugwumps about which May was asked, apart from being an Algonkin word meaning ‘great chief’, were also the strange lizard creatures in David Cronenberg’s film version of The Naked Lunch. Very roughly based on the novel by William S. Burroughs, this is about a pest control man, who suffers massive, very weird hallucinations after he becomes addicted to the poisons he uses to exterminate the bugs and other vermin. The mugwumps in the movie are just some of the bizarre creatures he sees.

Boris Johnson this week called Corbyn a ‘mutton-headed mugwump’, and now the Tory press reckons she’s the most popular Prime Minister since Churchill. Whether or not illegal substances are involved, someone’s clearly tripping.


Theresa May and Mugwump celebrate her lead in the polls. Don’t have nightmares.

Weak and Wobby May Gets Hit with the Mugwumps

April 29, 2017

Which can be very painful, and requires careful treatment.

Mike yesterday put up a piece describing the way the ‘strong and stable’ Tories, led by weak and wobbly Theresa May were disintegrating before our very eyes. This features some cool video and sound clips clearly showing May looking and sounding lost. Literally, in one case, where she really doesn’t know where she is.

Boris Johnson had attacked Jeremy Corbyn as a ‘mutton-headed mugwump’. So when May appeared on his show, Chris Doidge of Radio Derby asked her if she knew what it was. Listen to it. She doesn’t answer him, but immediately answers a completely different question, about how the Tories represent ‘strong and stable leadership’. Thus giving those trying Mike’s Tory election drinking game their first sup of booze of the day.

Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable defines the term as

An Algonkin word meaning a chief; in Eliot’s Indian Bible the word “centurion” in Acts is rendered mugwump. It is now applied in the USA to independent members of the Republican party, those who refuse to follow the dictates of a Caucus, and all political Pharisees whose party vote cannot be relief upon. It is also used in the sense of “big shot” or “boss”.

Johnson was probably thinking of this definition to insult Corbyn by reminding him of the way many members of his party had conspired against him. But it’s also something of a Tory own goal, as there’s clearly opposition to her in her own party. Otherwise, why would the Sun have put such bug-eyed headlines as ‘Crush the Saboteurs’ on their front page?

Of course, in the David Cronenberg’s 1991 film of William S. Burrough’s novel, The Naked Lunch, the mugwumps are the weird lizard-like creatures the hero sees, thanks to the hallucinatory effects of the pest poison to which he has become addicted.

A mugwump and friend discuss May’s strong and stable Tory leadership.

Ah, but who knows what rarified pleasures go on behind the closed doors of the Bullingdon Club!

Then there’s the clip of her appealing to people to come to ‘this particular town’. As one of the Tweeters Mike quotes points out, she doesn’t know where she, and isn’t pleased to be there. Another Tweeter also points out that she looks to the right and down, which is a classic ‘tell’ of liars.

Thursday she turned up in Leeds to give a speech at a workplace. Another Tweeter stated that the clip of that, too, is deceptive. She gave her talk after work, to an audience that as exclusively invited. Far from being a great popular speaker, like Corbyn, it’s all very carefully stage-managed.

There’s a comparison to be made there with Stalin and Mussolini. Stalin also wasn’t a great public speaker, contrary to the impression that mad dictators bent on genocide are always great orators. He used to give his speeches at the annual May Day parades via gramophone records, with a very carefully vetted audience as far away from him as possible.

As for il Duce, the old thug was surrounded wherever he went with members of his secret police in plain clothes. Thus he was always guaranteed an appreciative audience to the exclusion of any real members of the public, who may have wanted to see him. At one public gathering, he asked all the plain clothes thugs to take a step back so that he could see the genuine public. Well, they did, and he didn’t: the crowd was entirely made up of secret policemen, like one of the jokes from G.K. Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday.

And Nero also surrounded himself with a sycophantic claque of followers, whenever he fancied himself as the great lyric poet at the theatre. He’s infamous for fiddling while Rome burns. Which is a fair analogy for May’s performance in Britain under Tory leadership. She’s also warbling on to a hand-picked claque, posturing as the great orator, while the country collapses in poverty thanks to her party’s massive economic mismanagement and determination to grind working people down through welfare cuts, wage freezes and the privatisation of the NHS.

The Ballardian Totalitarianism of Cameron’s Britain

November 17, 2013

Last Thursday the Mirror ran a story reporting the Conservative’s deletion of their election promises from their website. They noted that this was the re-writing of history like that done by Big Brother’s totalitarian dictatorship in Orwell’s classic 1984. It was Orwell, who coined the classic statement that he who controls the past, controls the present and future, though he phrased it far better than my own memory allows here. The Mirror also reported that, astonishingly, Conservative Central Office attempted to defend their actions with the excuse that they were trying to help visitors find their way around their website better. The Mirror did not, however, pick up the similar totalitarian impulses behind this attitude. While Orwell’s description of the way absolute dictatorships distort and re-write history is well-known, this last aspect of such tyrannical regimes is far less famous. It comes not from Orwell, but from that old author of transgressive SF, J.G. Ballard.

Ballard’s novels and short stories, such as High Rise, Concrete Island, The Atrocity Exhibition and Super Cannes, are set in depersonalised, alienated futures, inhabited by psychopaths and characterised by social breakdown and savage, extreme violence. His novel, Crash, filmed in the 1990s by David Cronenberg, is about a subculture of the victims of motor accidents, who gain sexual pleasure from car crashes. The novel itself was so shocking that the publisher’s reviewer wrote a note about it say, ‘Author mentally deranged – do not publish’. Cronenberg’s film was so extreme that it sent the Daily Mail into another moral panic. Acting once again as the guardian of the nation’s moral purity, the Mail launched a campaign against it and the film flopped as a result. Many see it as a classic of SF and transgressive cinema. Ballard himself was completely different from the violent and psychotic characters in his work. Visitors to his home were surprised to find him living in respectable suburban domesticity, caring for his sick wife and raising his children. Listening to his cultured Oxbridge tones on the radio brought to mind a gentleman, who enjoyed a good malt and a good cigar, and whose favourite reading was Wisden, rather than the delineator of brutal violence and bizarre and extreme sexuality. Ballard is now recognised as one of the great SF writers of the 20th century, and his work has garnered respect outside the SF ghetto in the literary mainstream. This is partly due to the way it examines the role played by the media, including news reportage, in shaping the post-modern condition.

Back in the 1990s Radio 3 ran a short series of five interviews with writers, artists and scientists. Entitled Grave New Worlds, the series explored the transhuman condition. Amongst the guests on the programmes were the SF author Paul J. McAuley, the performance artist Stelarc, feminist writers on women and digital technology, and J.G. Ballard. The conversation got on to the subject of Ballard’s then recent novels, in which the heroes enter gated, corporate communities. Instead of peace and harmony, the heroes find that these communities are based on violence, in which brutal attacks on outsiders are used to bond together the communities’ inmates. Talking about these savage dystopias, Ballard stated that in his opinion the totalitarianism of the future would not use force, but would be characterised by servility and obsequiousness. It would claim to help you.

There is an element of this spurious claim in previous totalitarian regimes. At times both the Nazis and Stalin’s Communist states claimed to be somehow helping their victims. The propaganda films produced by the Nazis to allay international concerns about their treatment of the Jews, purported to show the victims of their deportations happily working on their new, luxurious plot of land in the special areas allocated to them in the East, rather than the violence and horrific, mass murder of the Concentration Camps. The Jews featured in these films were all forced to do so by the Nazis, the victims of beatings and torture before and after they appeared in front of the camera. Immediately after the filming was over, I believe some were taken away to be killed in the death camps.

Stalin’s propaganda for his collectivisation campaign similarly showed crowds of joyous peasants voluntarily entering collective farms bursting with food and abundance. Kniper’s stirring song, Wheatlands, written for this campaign, contains lines where the peasant subjects of the song declare that they weren’t forced iinto them. They certainly did not show the squalor and deprivation within the collective farms, nor the mass starvation caused by the campaign in the Ukraine and other areas of the former Soviet countryside.

Back in Nazi Germany, a group of shopkeeper’s in Munich took the Nazi’s professed commitment to the Corporate state at face value, and attempted to set up a similar corporation themselves. This new body was expected to regulate trade and prices. The result, however, was inflation. The Nazis reacted by dissolving it and arresting its members. They pasted notices over the arrested individuals’ shops, stating their offence and that they were ‘now in protective custody at Dachau’. This somehow suggests that it was for the victims’ benefit, rather than their punishment.

Ballard himself was a high Tory, who felt that increased legislation was stifling Britain by making it too safe. He wrote Crash while he was a correspondent for a motoring magazine. Driving along the new motorways, he felt the experience was too bland and antiseptic, and so in his imagination created a cult around a charismatic psychologist, Vaughn, whose members got their sexual kicks from staging the very accidents road and motor vehicle legislation was intended to remove. The violence in his novels, like Super Cannes, was a deliberate attempt by these societies to counteract the debilitating ennui experienced by their wealthy members by stimulating them at the most primal level through violent threats to their lives.

Now my memory of the 1970s was rather different from Ballard’s. Admittedly, I was only a boy at the time, but I do remember the road safety films. ‘Clunk Click, every trip’, with the vile Jimmy Savile, told you to wear a seatbelt. ‘Don’t be an Amber Gambler’ warned drivers of trying to rush through the orange light at crossings. There were also campaigns against drunk driving and speeding. Dave Prowse, the man behind the Darth Vader costume, appeared in one set as the ‘Green Cross Man’, helping kids cross the road safely. Alvin Stardust also appeared in one of these. Rather than the bland landscape of antiseptic safety Ballard complained about, these public information films traumatised a generation of children with images of mayhem, destruction and carnage. Cars were totalled, and drivers, passengers and pedestrians ground to bloody pulps on regular programming slots – usually just before Grandstand on Saturday afternoons. Rather than senses-dulling boredom, I’m surprised these films didn’t turn everyone watching them into quivering nervous wrecks at the thought of venturing out on the highway.

Despite Ballard’s own Right-wing political views, his observation that future totalitarian regimes will be manipulative and claiming to serve their victims, rather than adopting the naked use of force, does describe the style of Cameron’s own administration and its steady erosion of personal freedom. The ostensible rationale behind the Work Programme and Work Fare, is supposedly to get the unemployed back into work by helping them acquire the necessary skills and the habit of working. The terms and conditions imposed on Job Seekers by the DWP is presented as a ‘Job Seekers’ Agreement’, as if it were a bargain struck between two equal parties, and freely accepted by the unemployed, rather than forced on them through economic necessity. Esther McVey even had the gall last week to claim that the people suffering from sanctions on their benefit, were those ‘who refused the system’s help’. They were made to look like recalcitrant, who had gone back to recidivist scroungers, rather than the victims of a highly exploitative system that sought for even the smallest reason to deprive the poor of an income.

The papers also this week carried the news that the legislation proposed by the government to replace the ASBOs would also allow local councils to ban peaceful protests and demonstrations on the grounds that these constituted a public nuisance, or would annoy, upset or inconvenience local residents. It’s a totalitarian attack on free speech, but again masked by the claim that somehow people are being protected. Now the authorities will act to curb and ban demonstrations that may lead to violence or a breach of the peace, such as Protestant marches in Northern Ireland that go through Roman Catholic areas or demonstrations by the BNP or English Defence League that enter Black or Muslim areas. While the authorities’ actions against such marches are resented by the groups planning them, I doubt many people object to the bans on the grounds that the marches are deliberately provocative and would result in violence. Cameron’s legislation goes further than these entire reasonable concerns. Instead, they allow public protests to be banned simply because the residents in the area in which they are held may find them simply inconvenient, like being too noisy. The legislation’s main objective is to stop political protest. It is, however, disguised with the claim that it is giving local people the power to stop troublesome individuals upsetting the rest of the community, like the cantankerous pensioner, who was given an ASBO to stop him being sarcastic to his neighbours.

There is also something Ballardian about Cameron, Osborne and Boris Johnson’s own background. They were members of the elite Bullingdon Club after all, an elite society of the extremely wealthy. Even if they don’t go around beating, maiming and killing non-members as an exercise in corporate bonding, nevertheless they seem to have a shared contempt for the poor coming from their common background.

So Ballard was exactly right. The new totalitarianism does indeed claim to be helpful and somehow serving you, even as it takes it away its citizens’ incomes, their rights to free speech and assembly, and their pride. It’s just that Ballard got the political direction wrong. He thought it was going to come from the Left, rather than the Libertarian advocates of deregulation on the Right.