Posts Tagged ‘David Mitchell’

Documentary Tonight on the Works of SF Author Ursula Le Guin

November 17, 2019

The Beeb are tonight screening a programme ‘The Worlds of Ursula K Le Guin’ at 10.00 pm on BBC 4. The blurb for it in the Radio Times runs

The American feminist writer, who died in January 2018, was best known for her ground-breaking science fiction and fantasy novels such as A Wizard of Earthsea and The Left Hand of Darkness, Produced with Le Guin’s participation over the course of a decade, this documentary explores how she defiantly held her ground on the margin of “respectable” literature until the sheer excellence of her work forced the mainstream to embrace fantastic literature. Tyhe film features contributions from the likes of Margaret Atwood, Neil Gaiman, David Mitchell and Michael Chabon. (p. 65).

The additional piece a few pages earlier by Huw Fullerton on page 63 reads

It’s fair to say that Ursula K Le Guin was a one-off. While plenty of sci-fi and fantasy authors could be described as ahead of their time, there are few to whom this applies as aptly as Le Guin, who was writing piercing, feminist and race-sensitive works as far back as the 1960s and 70s with works such as The Wizard of Earthsea, The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed, elevating her storytelling beyond the literary fringe.

In this new film, luminaries including Neil Gaiman, Margaret Atwood and Michael Chabon pay tribute to Le Guin’s life and legacy, interweaving with unusual animation to bring her story to (appropriately) fantastical life. 

I read The Dispossessed back in the 1990s, and I can’t say I liked it. It’s about a scientist, Shevek, from a desolate world colonised by Anarchists to its twin planet of Aieio. Shevek has been working on a Faster Than Light communication device, an ansible, a concept found in other SF writers, like James Blish’s Dirac Telephone. Unable to complete it on his world, he defects to its capitalist twin, now undergoing massive worker unrest and an ecological crisis. He becomes a figurehead for the working class radicals, and helps to inspire a revolution. He gives a speech, which is praised by Earth’s woman ambassador. The planet has been left a desert thanks to capitalism’s destruction of the environment. Conditions are consequently very basic, but humanity has been taken to the stars by the Hainish after they discovered Earth. After the revolution’s success, he travels with a member of an alien race, the Hainish, an ancient race of space travelers who have established interstellar contact between themselves, Earth and Aieio and its twin, back to his home world.

Shevek’s anarchist world is a harsh environment with no animal life on its dry lands, although it certainly exists in its seas. The society is based on the ideas of Odo, a female political thinker of a century or so earlier. There is no private property, no prisons and marriage has been abolished. However, couples may live together as partners. Children are brought up in state nurseries away from their parents, who may visit them. The harsh environment and puritanical ideology means that individuality in dress is frowned on as wasteful and extravagant. Everyone basically wears the same costume, although some do make it more individual in the towns and settlements away from the Centre devoted to dyeing. There is no government, but material goods are administered by the Centre, which contains the computer complex used to administer the society.

I didn’t find Le Guin’s anarchist utopia appealing. It’s far too like the totalitarian Communist societies, and particularly Maoism in its uniforms, hostility to religion, marriage and the family. I am also not sure that feminists would like a world where the differences between men and women are so extremely minimised. While women obviously want to be free to enter masculine professions, like science, engineering, construction and so on, there’s still a desire to retain some forms of traditional femininity. This was demonstrated in a piece on the one show about three Air Cadets, who had been voted its top people, and had won a trip to America to see where the latest high performance jet fighters bought by the RAF, were being made. Two of them were young women, and the third a young Black man. It shows that the RAF are trying to recruit a more diverse membership. What I found particularly interesting was that one of these prospective fighter pilots, a woman, outside of the Cadets blogged about makeup. This seemed to me to be the RAF reassuring prospective female recruits that the could still be girly and feminine while piloting an awesome engine of death. I also remember reading an interview with the psychotherapist Suzie Orbach, the author of Fat Is A Feminist Issue in the Financial Times in the 1990s where she said she didn’t want women becoming exactly like men, or men becoming exactly like women.

Also, I found Shevek himself to be a bit of a prig. He was very sanctimonious, pronouncing on the superiority of his planet and its culture at every opportunity. Le Guin recognises that it would have problems, like hoarding, as well as the administrative elite using their authority to suppress music and literature of which they don’t approve, but looking at the problems the Communist societies experienced, it struck me that these problems would be much greater. It also struck me that there would also be a serious problem with crime and criminality, simply because of human – or in this case – humanoid nature – which could not be solved through social engineering alone.

But there is no doubt that she is one of the great SF authors with a very wide following, and I’m sure that this programme will be an excellent examination of her works.

Vox Political: Adam Hills Fighting ISIS with Mockery and Satire.

November 18, 2015

Mike over at Vox Political has written a very good piece about Adam Hills and his strategy of combating ISIS through ruthless mockery and satire. Hills, you will remember, is the Ozzie presenter of the satirical show, The Last Leg, whose regular inmates also include Victoria Coren’s other half, David Mitchell. He quotes Hills as saying that he was at a meeting with Australian diplomats and politicos in which the Middle East was discussed. They told him that ISIS are committing their atrocities in the West in the hope of creating a backlash against Islam generally. They will then try to present themselves as the true defenders of Islam to the region’s embattled peoples.

And so Hills has taken a different strategy. He attempts to fight them not by attacking Islam, but by sneering, mocking and satirising ISIS in order to deny them support and credibility. For example, he held a competition to see what they should be renamed, so long as their new monicker included ‘isis’. The winner was a lady, who suggested they be called ‘Cystitis’. And so they were on the great man’s programme.

And Hills also explains how you too can help defeat ISIS. It’s simple. You think of all the horrible, bigoted jokes about Islam, and just make them about ISIS. Thus you attack them, while stopping them promoting the racial and religious fears they want to provoke. Simples! as that wretched Meerkat would say.

The piece is at http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2015/11/18/adam-hills-explains-how-ordinary-people-can-fight-terrorism/. As well as quoting Hills, it also has videos of him ripping ISIS a new one. Not that the terrorists aren’t already full of ar****les.

This is exactly what we should be doing, and what the nations of the Middle East are doing already. Nick Knowles, one of the founders of the anti-racist group, Hope Not Hate, wrote a message to the Czech prime minister on Monday expressing his disgust at his attendance at an anti-Islam rally. Knowles stated that he had been told by MI6 that this was precisely the reaction ISIS wants. They want Muslims to be hated and despised, so that they can gain recruits from alienated refugees. Hence the need to make the point that the enemy isn’t Islam, it’s ISIS.

As for mockery, this is what the peoples of the Middle East are already doing. The Young Turks carried a report a while ago about an Egyptian wedding, where the groom and his friends staged a mock ISIS kidnapping, before throwing off their disguises. ISIS were monsters, but they can’t stop people like themselves dancing and having a good time. The Egyptians have a reputation as the funny men of the Arab world. Just as Irish comedians are the stereotypical comic entertainers of the English-speaking world, so Egyptian comedians are in demand all over the Arab world as professional jokers. And in contrast to the dour image of Islam ISIS and terrorist organisations like it wish to promote, the peoples of the Middle East see themselves as a vivacious culture of joie de vivre. I read somewhere that despite living on opposite sides of the Med, the French and Egyptians instinctively understand each other. Given that seems to be the image each country has of themselves, of people who enjoy life and good things, I’m not particularly surprised.

And The Turks pointed out that the Egyptians weren’t alone. All over the Middle East, apparently, there are TV programmes giving the supposedly fearsome and invincible warriors of the Islamic State a damn good satirical kicking. These include spoofs of talent shows, in which their fighters are shown to be stupid and utterly incompetent, their guns falling to pieces when they try to strip them down and put them back together.

ISIS are butchers, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t treat them as clowns.

And we do need to make a clear difference between ISIS and Islam. Looking around one of the remaindered bookshops in Bristol last week, I found several shelves full of books pointing out that ISIS don’t speak or represent the world’s Muslims by any stretch of the imagination. I’ve forgotten the exact title of one of them, but it clearly pointed this out. If Islam is supposed to promote terrorism, then why out aren’t all of the 1.5 billion Muslims on this planet terrorists? The answer is clearly that while some terrorist groups are Muslim, this does not mean that the religion as a whole promotes or endorses terrorism.

The enemy is ISIS and murderers like it, who wish to create fear, hatred and suspicion. We can defeat them by rejecting this, and treating them with the contempt and disdain they deserve.

Adam Hills and Wossy Tell the Rich to Pay their Tax

February 14, 2015

Mike over at Vox Political has just put up a short piece about Adam Hill’s exhortation on last night’s The Last Leg for the rich to pay their tax. He was supported in this Jonathan Ross, showing his usual bizarre taste in clothing, as well as Josh Widdecombe, David Mitchell and Alex Brooker. He also has the clip of that section of the show. Naturally, this follows the revelations that not only were HSBC helping people to avoid paying tax, the government also knew all about it. What is interesting is when Wossy and the others talk about how they don’t try to avoid paying tax, because it supports the very infrastructure they use – schools, roads, hospitals and so on.

Mike’s piece is A message for rich tax-avoiders from The Last Leg, and it’s at http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2015/02/14/a-message-for-rich-tax-avoiders-from-the-last-leg/. Go over there and have a good laugh. If you can stand the sight of Wossy’s jacket.