Posts Tagged ‘Horror’

Antony Gormley Presents Programme on Stone Age Art

January 25, 2019

According to the Radio Times for 26th January to 1st February 2019, tomorrow, Saturday, 26th January, Antony Gormley will be presenting a programme on the origins of art way back in the Stone Age. As well as trotting round the world looking at various Paleolithic sites, he also meets and talks to the modern practitioners of this ancient art, Aboriginal Australians. The programme’s entitled ‘Antony Gormley: How Art Began’, and the blurb for it on page 52 of the Radio Times runs

One of Britain’s most celebrate sculptors travels back in time and journeys across the globe to piece together how art began. Once we believed that it all started with the cave paintings of Ice Age Europe, but new discoveries are overturning that idea. Deep inside the caves of France, Spain and Indonesia, Gormley finds beautiful, haunting and surprising works of art. The creator of the Angel of the North asks what these images from millennia ago tell us about who we are.

There’s rather more information about the programme by David Butcher on page 50, which says

Yes, it’s a documentary about prehistoric cave art. How often over the years have we seen an arts presenter in torchlight, sighing about the ineffable power of cave painting?

But this is different. This is Antony Gormley, one of our great artists, who by lucky chance is also a better talker about art than most presenters, making a pilgrimage not just through the French caves that he first visited on his honeymoon (we see a holiday snap) but also venturing further afield to Indonesia and Australia, looking for the first stirrings of human creativity.

“This is a cathedral of joy in living things,” he says in a cave called Les Combarelles. “I think we’ve found a Palaeolithic Picasso,” he jokes in Niaux. And in an extraordinary scene at Pech Merle, with its 28,000-year-old paintings of horses, a local expert demonstrates how they were made, by chewing up charcoal and delicately blow-spitting on the rock.

The ancient cave paintings of northern Spain and southern France are superb, extremely naturalistic depictions of the creatures roaming that part of the Mediterranean during the Old Stone Age 28,000 years ago. Some of them seem to have been deliberately painted on distinctly shaped pieces of rock, so that if you come into the part of the caves where they are they appear to move. When Picasso saw them over a century ago, he was so utterly astonished at their superb quality that he declared ‘We have invented nothing!’

At the turn of the Millennium 18 years ago, Hugh Quarshie, one of the actors in Casualty, presented a programme on the art and artefacts of the Stone Age on New Year’s Eve. One of the speakers he interviewed about them was a director of Horror flicks – I’ve forgotten whom. But he made some very interesting points about the parallels between Palaelithic art and his type of movie. They were both initiatory experiences which you viewed in darkness.

There seems to have been a definite religious/ritual purpose to their production. Most of them are found in chambers deep in the cave systems, which are extremely difficult to reach. To get to one of them you literally have to squeeze through on your stomach. There was very probably an aural component to their painting as well. Quite often the rocks near them have musical properties. Their lithophones which produce musical tones when struck. It therefore seems that some of them were being played while the artists worked producing these amazing pieces of work.

No-one quite knows why these wonderful paintings were made. It’s been suggested that they may have been made to secure success in hunting, or for fertility. Others have suggested that they were produced as part of shamanic rituals, in which the painters attempted to pass through the membrane between this world and that of the spirits. Whatever the reason they were created, they’re superb. I’m not a fan of Gormley’s work, but this looks well worth watching.

Anthropologist, TV presenter and former member of Time Team Alice Roberts also talked about the ancient cave paintings of Europe this week in the last edition of her The Incredible Human Journey, the series in which she traced humanity’s emergence and spread out of Africa tens of thousands of years. This week she talked about some of the very earliest human remains found in Europe, including those of modern Homo Sapiens from around 30-40,000 years ago from a cave in Romania. A forensic artist then reconstructed what one of them may have looked like from one of the skulls found. Roberts and the artist remarked on the person’s absence of any distinct racial characteristics. It was a definite human face, but it was neither Black, White or Asian, although they pointed out that we believe the people at this time had dark, Black skin. But it comes from a time before the development of modern racial characteristics.

They also reconstructed the face of a Neanderthal from about this time. They were stocky, powerfully built people with big noses and strong brow ridges. Although they died out, some of them interbreed with the invading modern humans, so that the DNA of modern people outside Africa contains about 3%-9% Neanderthal genes. The reconstruction didn’t have any hair. Contemplating it Roberts said that although Neanderthal women probably found modern human men very handsome, and that human women obviously found something in Neanderthal males, she wouldn’t have fancied mating with them. Well, each to his or her own taste. Looking at the reconstructed Neanderthal head, it reminded me of nothing so much as that of Beeb TV presenter and former felon, Dom Littlewood.

She also covered the ancient cave paintings, talking to a French artist who worked using the same techniques. He was shown blowing charcoal on to the rock behind his hand trying to create a stenciled handprint, just like those left by the ancient artists. Like the article in the Radio Times, Roberts said that it had to be made using a distinct technique. You couldn’t take it all into your mouth and just spit it out. Instead the artist blew it out in a constant stream of spitting, leaving his hand black with charcoal. It’s quite a time consuming process, and Roberts and the artist said that some works could take as long as week.

The art of the palaeolithic is fascinating and enigmatic. We’re learning more about it and the people who produced it, but so much still remains lost in the mysteries of time.

Advertisements

Spice Girls Call on People to Support May in Brexit Negotiations

November 13, 2018

Here’s another story from the I, simply reporting a piece that was in another newspaper. Yesterday, the I was repeating a piece from the Sunday Times that David Miliband might come back to England to lead the new ‘centrist’ Blairite party that’s been debated for months now. Today, 13th November 2018, the I ran a piece about an article in the Scum, in which the Spice Girls called upon the people of Britain to support Tweezer in her Brexit negotiations with Brussels.

The article on page 7 of newspaper ran

The Spice Girls have called on Britons to back up Theresa May in her Brexit negotiations.

The band were known for their girl power message during the 1990s, but Emma Bunton, aka Baby Spice, told The Sun of a change in message more than 20 years on. She said, “It’s people power. We’re about equality and bringing everyone together.”

Bandmate Geri Horner also backed Mrs May, saying the Prime Minister did not have an “easy position”.

She said: “We don’t have to agree on politics, it’s bigger than that. You can just support a woman doing the best she can and that’s it.”

Er, no, you don’t have to support May. She might be doing the best she can, but she’s the head of a party that has single-handedly done its absolute and level best to reduce ordinary working people, the sick, the disabled and the unemployed to grinding poverty. While at the same time depriving them of employment rights, privatizing the health service and stripping back the welfare state to make benefits as difficult and as humiliating to obtain as possible. As a result, something like 14 million are in poverty, a quarter of a million at least are using food banks, and homelessness has shot up. And there is an ongoing genocide of the disabled which is largely ignored by the mass media. Her predecessor, David Cameron, by calling the referendum did more to split the UK than Sinn Fein and the Scots Nats, because everyone in Northern Ireland and Scotland wishes to remain in Europe. It’s only we English, who swallowed the xenophobic rubbish and outright lies of the Leave campaign.

And whatever Tweezer says, any deal she makes will not benefit the vast majority of this country’s people. Despite her party’s rhetoric, there have no interest in doing anything to improve conditions for the rest of us. Quite the opposite. The Tory party is the party of the rich and affluent, the aristocracy and the business classes. Thanks to austerity, their wealth has massively increased while Britain’s working people have become much poorer. Any deal May will want to make with Brussels will be intended to benefit them, not us.

The best thing in the circumstances will be for Tweezer’s negotiations to fail, an election called and the Tories kicked out and replaced with a proper, Labour government that can actually do the job of rebuilding our economy, welfare state, NHS and relationship with Europe.

As for the Spice Girls themselves, I don’t hate them, but I was never a fan. They always struck me as Conservatives, and a number of my friends didn’t think much of them, regarding them as a manufactured band. As for their slogan ‘Girl Power’, the Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror film website, Moria, in its review of their film, Spice World, said it was meaningless. It was a kind of ‘post-feminist feminism’, and so was essentially as meaningless and empty as their music. The video for ‘Spice Up Your Life’, in which the girls fly through a dark, twilight city of towering skyscrapers, drenched in rain and given occasional illumination by a distant searchlight on high-tech surf boards seems so much based on Los Angeles of the SF film Blade Runner that I’m surprised Ridley Scott didn’t sue them for copyright. Blade Runner is one of the great classics of SF cinema, not least for its striking cityscape and Vangelis’ synthesizer score. It’s a downbeat, depressing movie, in sharp contrast to ‘Spice Up Your Life’, which is just a piece of inconsequential fun. But the movie had something deep to say about humanity and our assumptions of moral superiority over the biological machines we may create to serve us. Plus the fact that it had that awesome speech by Rutger Hauer as the Replicant leader, Roy Batty, to Harrison Ford’s Rik Deckard at the end: ‘Now you know what it’s like to be a slave. To live in fear. I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe, seen ships on fire off the shores of Orion…’ etc. Seeing the Spice Girls’ video of ‘Spice Up Your Life’ the other day on YouTube reminded of just how great a piece of cinematic art Blade Runner was.

As for ‘people power’ and the rhetoric about equality and bringing everyone together, that’s very rich coming from the Scum. The Scum’s the mouthpiece of the Tory party, which has done everything it can since it was founded by Murdoch to divide Britain, not least through its strident, persistent racism. It’s thanks to the Tory party and their imitators, New Labour, that there is now a yawning chasm between rich and poor, while the Tories have exacerbated and created further racial divisions by whipping up hatred and fear against immigrants and asylum seekers. Quite apart from the general hatred and fear the Tory press incites against the unemployed and disabled, whom they despise and denigrate as ‘scroungers’.

The Spice Girls are planning a comeback, and if people like their music, that’s fine. They gave people a lot of pleasure back in the 1990s. But this time, their message in the Scum is definitely best ignored.

Thought Slime’s Top Anti-Capitalist Horror Movies

November 1, 2018

This is a suitably Hallowe’en themed video from the left-wing American vlogger, Thought Slime, which I found on YouTube. In it, he discusses the top five horror movies with an anti-capitalist messages. They are George A. Romero’s original Dawn of the Dead at 5, The Stuff, 4, Alien at 3, John Carpenter’s They Live, 2, and Society at no.1.

In Dawn of the Dead, the heroes take refuge from the zombie apocalypse in a shopping mall. However, the zombies themselves are drawn to it because of its importance to them in their former lives. Thought Slime then discusses how the film thus presents zombies as a metaphor for mindless consumerism. He also acknowledges that Romero himself didn’t intentionally put an anti-capitalist message in the movie, and only realized that he had after he had made it.

The Stuff is, Thought Slime says, not a good movie. One of the actors insisted on improvising his own lines, and it shows. But it is very clearly an anti-capitalism film. It’s about an evil corporation that finds a highly good seeping out of the ground, and decides to package it as a new foodstuff. Not only is this mess addictive, it also gradually takes over the brains of those who eat it, and eats them from the inside out. The company isn’t worried about this, because it’s making them lots of money, and so they kill Federal investigators and anyone else who might discover its evil secret. The movie also includes fake adverts for this Stuff, and has it shown served in restaurants.

Thought Slime explains just how close this satire is to the behavior of amoral companies in the real world. The tobacco companies knew about the lethal effects of the product they were selling, and continued to promote it. And Big Oil is very aware of the damage petrochemicals are doing to the environment, but are intent on selling them because of the massive products they make. Even though this threatens to destroy the world.

Alien also has an anti-capitalist message, as the real villain isn’t the titular extraterrestrial creature, but the Wayland-Yutani Corporation. The Alien’s like a wild animal, a force of nature. But the Wayland-Yutani corporation, which employs the Nostromo’s crew, are completely amoral. They want it for their weapons division, and considers the crew expendable. Thought Slime compares their disregard for the safety of their workers with that of the corporations mining rare earth elements now, who similarly aren’t concerned with protecting the lives of the miners they employ. He also ask which company would also be so set on acquiring such dangerous weapons. As he ponders, the name ‘Raytheon’ appears on the screen, the name of one of the big American weapons manufacturers. He also makes the point that the Alien itself is a metaphor for sexual assault and the invasive nature of pregnancy, but doesn’t elaborate on it as it has been better explained elsewhere.

In They Live, an unemployed vagrant, played by the wrestler ‘Rowdy’ Roddy Piper, discovers a pair of magic sunglasses that reveal that the Earth has been taken over by evil capitalist aliens, and the subliminal messages that they put in banknotes, the press and adverts to keep people enslaved, obedient and consuming. The aliens represent current capitalism and the capitalist class, while the spectacles are a metaphor for class consciousness. He discusses how the Nazis have taken this film as an anti-Semitic metaphor about the Jews, and makes the point that this is angrily denied by the director and writer, John Carpenter, himself.

He argues that within the film there is no alternative to capitalism, and compares this to Noam Chomsky’s book on propaganda. This argues that the major news outlets and the media all have this bias. He also recommends Mark Fisher’s Capitalist Realism, which argues that capitalism ensures that capitalism is the only economic model people will consider.

He puts Society in top position because, if They Live is didactic about the evils of capitalism, Society is practically a call to revolution. In this movie, the rich are a completely separate species of goo monsters with predatory sexuality that prey on the poor. The hero is a normal lad a family of them has raised, but that’s just a joke they’re pulling at his expense. He can never really be one of them. Class mobility is an illusion. They control the politicians, education system and the police. Anyone who tries to expose them is consumed by the system. It isn’t a conspiracy movie, like They Live, which suggests that before the aliens arrived, society was just and good. But in Society, there has never been a good past. The goo monster rich have always been in control. The goo monsters don’t need to do what they do. They simply behave as they do because they enjoy it. And humans are, in this movie, a metaphor for the poor.

He concludes by saying that he doesn’t think that these movies were made to turn people anti-capitalist, but framing it that way makes it easier to communicate an anti-capitalist message to people. Horror movies are uniquely positioned to do this as they are a commodification of death and suffering. They’re considered more mercenary than other movies, are cheap and easy to make, and can turn a big profit at the box office, even if they’re terrible. Here the opening titles come up for the film, Ghoulies, which he explains at the beginning of the video is one of his favourites. And even when a horror movie is good and artistically accomplished, it inspires scores of cheap knock-offs. It’s considered a low genre which provides cheap, almost pornographic thrills. Thought Slime then argues that this attitude is rooted in classism. In other words, he says, hoity-toity types ignore horror movies. Which is why they’re good for reaching out to people against capitalism.

Warning: There is some foul language, and it naturally contains clips from the films it mentions. Though as this video was posted on YouTube, it shouldn’t be too horrific for the proverbial People Of A Nervous Disposition.

Latest Train-Wreck Idea from Hunt: Recruit Business Leaders as Ambassadors

November 1, 2018

I hope everyone had a great Hallowe’en yesterday. I can remember going to Hallowe’en parties as a child, and enjoying the spooky games and dressing up as witches, wizards, ghosts and goblins and so on. At the time, it was good, harmless fun, based on children’s fantasy stories. Adults had their own parties, of course, and there was also something in keeping with the season on TV or the radio. One year, the Archive Hour on Radio 4 looked back on the history of horror stories on the wireless, going all the way back to Valentine Dyall and The Man in Black, and Fear on Four. Actually, I think the only really frightening part of a genuinely traditional British Hallowe’en were the stupid section of the trick or treaters, who threw eggs and flour at your front door, and Carry on Screaming on the TV. This is the Carry On team’s spoof of Hammer Horror movies, in which Fenella Fielding appeared as the vampire Valeria. Fielding died a month or so ago. She was a very accomplished actress, but sadly got typecast because of her appearance in the movie. She was also a staunch Labour supporter, in contrast to her brother, who was a Tory MP. The film was a spoof, but it terrified me when I was in junior school. One critic of such movies once reckoned it was more horrific than anything Hammer produced. All good fun in its time, but I completely understand why some Christians and churches prefer to ignore it.

The Tories, however, chose yesterday to announce something equally ghastly. Jeremy Hunt, the Foreign Secretary, has decided that he wants to create a thousand more ambassadorial posts. And he’s looking to fill at least some of these with business leaders.

Mike reported on this latest bad idea, and put up a few Tweets from Andrew Adonis. Adonis was a minister for New Labour, and he was very scathing about the idea. In one of them he said

we have 20 yrs experience of recruiting Trade Ministers from ‘business.’ Each of them have lasted about a year, having bagged the peerage & achieved little if anything. Think Digby Jones.

He also challenged Hunt to name one business leader who has been a successful ambassador, pointing out that they are different skill sets. It is, he said, the difference between being a successful foreign secretary and a student politician.

Mike also reminded everyone how the Tories tried a similar scheme with their free schools project. They decided to release free schools from all that stifling legislation the requires them to hire properly qualified teachers. The schools hired unqualified staff, and standards plummeted.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2018/10/31/hare-brained-hunt-wants-to-hire-business-leaders-as-ambassadors-remember-when-free-schools-hired-untrained-teachers/

It’s not hard to see that Michael Gove’s plan accomplished for schools, Hunt’s wheeze will do for British diplomacy. Ultimately, it comes from the peculiar social Darwinism the Tories share with their Republican counterparts over in the US. They consider businessmen the very best people to run everything, including essential state functions and services. Adam Curtis ripped into this idea, which was developed by the Libertarians in the 1990s, in one of his documentaries. This featured a clip of a Libertarian declaring that, in contrast to politicians, business leaders were better suited to running society because they knew what people wanted and were eager to give it to them through the profit motive. It’s a complete falsehood, as you can see from the way public services and the NHS have deteriorated thanks to Tory and New Labour privatization. Its part of the corporate takeover of the state, which has seen important posts in government go to businessmen and women, a process that has been extensively described by George Monbiot in his book, Captive State.

It also doesn’t take much intelligence to realise that not only are the skill sets involved in business and diplomacy different, but that the appointment of businesspeople in government leads, or can leads, to conflicts of interest. Trump caused controversy when his daughter attended him during talks with the Japanese. This was unethical and inappropriate, as she was the head of a business which could gain a material advantage over its competitors from the information she gained at these talks. Trade negotiations have always been a major part of diplomacy, with ministers and foreign office staff flying off to different parts of the world in the hope of achieving a trade agreement. It really isn’t hard to see how business leaders would be tempted to use their position as ambassadors to enrich themselves and their businesses.

And its also blindingly obvious that this situation will also lead to some deeply unethical foreign policy decisions. Just about the first story in this fortnight’s Private Eye is about how the government’s connections to the arms industry has kept them selling arms to the Saudis despite the butchering of civilians, including women and children in Yemen. Human rights activists and opposition groups have been calling for an end to the war and arms sales to Saudi Arabia. However, Private Eye notes that

The final decision on licensing falls to international trade secretary Liam Fox. His priority is business at any cost, and his department is judged on exports and investment into the UK.

See ‘Flying Fox’ in Private Eye, 2nd-15th November 2018, p.7).

Which shows you the Tories’ priorities in these cases: trade and business first, with Human Rights a very long way behind. But it will stop the government suffering embarrassments from ambassadors, who get concerned at the way the British government is propping up foreign dictators simply for the sake of profitable business deals. Like Craig Murray, who was our man in one of the new, central Asian states that emerged after the fall of the Soviet Union. He was appalled at the way Britain was doing just that with the local despot, spoke out, and was sacked and smeared for doing so.

It’s also a move which seems squarely aimed at preventing further social mobility. A few years ago, the government had a policy of recruiting ambassadors and staff from suitably capable people of working class background. I don’t know if the policy is ongoing. Somehow I doubt it, given the nature of this government. In theory, as currently ambassadorial staff are part of the civil service, anyone from any background can apply, provided they have the necessary skills and qualifications. In practice, I’ve no doubt most of them come from upper middle class backgrounds and are privately educated. But the ability of working class people to get these jobs will become much harder if they’re handed over to business leaders. A little while ago the newspapers reported that about half of the heads of all businesses had inherited their position. Also, by definition, working people don’t own businesses, though many aspire to have their own small enterprises, like shops or garages. But these posts are very definitely aimed at the heads of big business, and definitely not at the aspiring Arkwrights of these isles.

Hunt’s decision to start recruiting ambassadors from the heads of business will lead to the further corporate dominance of British government and politics, less social mobility for working people, more corruption and conflicts of interests. And Britain continuing to sell military equipment to despotic regimes that don’t need them and which use them to murder civilians in deeply immoral wars. But it’s a Tory idea, so what else can you expect.

BBC Drama about Horror Writer H.P. Lovecraft

October 30, 2018

This looks like it could be one for fans of the 1920s Horror/SF writer H.P. Lovecraft. Next Tuesday on Radio 4, 6th November 2018 at 2.15 pm Radio 4 are broadcasting a drama, ‘Talk to Me: H.P. Lovecraft’, by Sara Davies and Abigail Youngman. The blurb for this in the Radio Times runs

The strangest of all HP Lovecraft weird tales isn’t fiction at all but concerns his marriage to businesswoman Sonia Greene. The horrors which make Lovecraft’s fiction so chillingly effective may not have been merely a product of his imagination. (p. 139).

Weird Tales was the name of the magazine that published Lovecraft’s horror stories. Lovecraft is famous as the creator of the ‘Cthulhu mythos’, about a pantheon of evil alien gods – the Great Old Ones – that seeped down to Earth from the stars. They have been banished, but nevertheless still wait for their chance to return, when the stars are right and Great Cthulhu himself rises from the deep in the submerged city of R’lyeh. Either to destroy humanity, or bring about an unhallowed age of reveling and killing.

It’s hard to see how the cosmic horrors he described had any basis in reality. But Lovecraft himself was racist. He was anti-Semitic, despised Blacks and the non-White immigrants then entering New York and America. Recurring themes in his stories are racial decline, inbreeding and miscegenation. Not just with evil, non-human races, as in his short story The Shadow over Innsmouth, but also with other, human peoples. Cthulhu is worshipped by mixed race ‘mongrels’ like the rural people of Louisiana and the docks districts of the ports. He also had contempt for the rural ‘White trash’ of the southern US as well.

It’s questionable just how racist Lovecraft was. He was racist, but at the time so were many other Whites, and it’s actually debatable whether he was worse than most other people. I don’t know much about his personal life, except that he spent most of it in his home town of Providence, Rhode Island. I also think that his wife was Jewish. She said that she did her best for him, so that he would become a chrysalis out of which would emerge a great writer. She lamented that the great writer did indeed come forth, but that he became ever more distant from her. See the biography, The Strength to Dream. I suspect the drama’s about his deteriorating relationship with his wife, as he moved away from her to produce his tales of cosmic horror.

Refuting Anti-Semitism Smears with the Reasonableness Test: Part 1

May 25, 2018

In this post, I intend to critique and refute one of the arguments used by lawyers for the Israel lobby to support the anti-Semitism smears. This is that a comment may be fairly considered as anti-Semitic, even if this is denied by the person who made it, simply because somebody else may consider it as such. This is the argument used by the prosecution lawyers against the Black anti-racist and anti-Nazi activist, Marc Wadsworth in his trial by the Labour party. Wadsworth has a long history of defending Black civil rights. He also was instrumental in changing the law on racial harassment in concert with the Board of Deputies of British Jews after a spate of attacks on Jews following the election of the BNP’s Derek Beacon to a place on one of the London councils in the 1990s. He is in no way any kind of anti-Semite. But he is left-wing, and so Ruth Smeeth, a Blairite and supporter of Israel, accused him of anti-Semitism when he remarked on her passing information to a Telegraph journalist at a press conference. Smeeth immediately whined that this was anti-Semitic, as it was accusing her of being part of a conspiracy. Just like Nazis accuse Jews conspiring to enslave gentiles. In fact, Wadsworth’s comment made no reference to Judaism at all, and he didn’t even know she was Jewish. He states that his lawyers at the trial refuted every one of the prosecution’s arguments. Until they took a call from their lawyers, who advised them that they could still win if they claimed that another person could consider it anti-Semitic.

In many parts of the law it sometimes does come down to the question of whether a person would consider that the issue in question is the case. But there’s a proviso. It has to be a reasonable person. And in many cases where the anti-Semitism argument is used, the parallels between real Nazi doctrines or symbolism are so tenuous, that they have less similarity to what a reasonable person would be live, than with the barking mad ideas of conspiracy theorists and rumour-mongers.

Let’s take the symbolism the Board of Deputies of British Jews claimed to find in the position of a fallen Palestinian protester in a story in the 1990s comic, Crisis. Created by Pat Mills and a group of three Jews, the story was about Israel’s maltreatment and brutalisation of the Palestinians. In it, a member of the IDF beats up a Palestinian protester, breaking his limbs so that he lies awkwardly on the ground. Pat Mills is the creator of 2000 AD, and one of the major forces behind Action and the war comic, Battle. As readers of 2000AD will know, Mills is very left-wing, and a firm and very vocal opponent of racism. This is a very clear subtext in the strips Nemesis the Warlock, where a future human empire wages a war of extermination against aliens based on no more than racial prejudice, and Strontium Dog. This is set in a future where mutants are second-class citizens, forced to live in ghettos and forbidden to pursue any job other than bounty hunter. And I’ve said before that it was in the pages of Battle that I first encountered stories dealing with the Holocaust and the concentration camps. This was simply a story where a British squaddie fights his way to one of the camps and sees the emaciated inmates through the barbed wire. I can remember myself being shocked by the prisoners skeletal, emaciated appearance. As I was supposed to. The comic couldn’t show anything too explicit, but what it showed was enough. Enough to show that the Nazis weren’t just responsible for an horrific war that claimed 40 million European lives, but also for scarcely imaginable horrors perpetrated against Jews, and other racial and political minorities and dissidents. And their should be no doubt also that Mills’ co-creators on the Crisis strip were decent, self-respecting Jews, and not self-hating anti-Semites either.

But the Board ignored all this. They claimed the scene was anti-Semitic, because the position made by the Palestinian’s fallen body looked like a swastika.

This is clearly bonkers. It’s the view of someone, who has spent so long looking for anti-Semitic and Nazi imagery, that they’re finding it wherever they look. In this instance, it did the Board no good because Robert Maxwell, the comic’s publisher, stood up to the Board and told them where they could go. But the ruling that something is anti-Semitic, if someone else considers it is, makes future decisions like Maxwell’s much more problematic.

Self-described anti-racists finding what they want to find in popular culture, and making stupid claims of racism, aren’t confined to Jews and anti-Semitism. Way back in the 1990s one Black academic made a similar claim about the film Aliens. This was the sequel to Ridley Scott’s classic Alien. Directed by James Cameron, this had Ripley join a team of Space Marines as they went to wipe out the Aliens, who had attacked and killed the colonists on their planet. Moving through the Aliens’ nest, Ripley finds the Alien queen, laying her eggs which will hatch the next generation of face-huggers.

It was a straightforward SF/Horror yarn. But not according to this academic. She declared that it was a metaphor for Reagan’s America. The Alien Queen represented Black American ‘welfare queens’, who were a threat to White society and conservative values by threatening to drown everybody else with the children they brought into the world. It’s quite a bizarre theory, as nowhere in the film is there any explicit or even implicit comment about race. Except that the Marines themselves are thoroughly multicultural, with a Black sergeant, and a tough, Hispanic female squaddie, Vasquez. And the only feature the Aliens have in common with Black people is their colour. In every other respect they’re vastly different. But it shows how some people’s determination to find a political or racial subtext in a movie leads them to see things that aren’t there.

Continued in Part Two.

Art Robot O’Neill’s Twisted Take on Christmas

December 29, 2017

Kevin O’Neill is one of the great British comic artists, who came out of 2000 AD in the 1970s. His grotesque and nightmarish depictions of aliens, mutants and robots have been delighting and traumatising readers for decades. With writer Pat Mills, he created the Nemesis the Warlock strip, and has drawn the art for a number of classic comics, including Marshal Law and the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. The last has been turned into a film with Sean Connery as Alan Quatermaine. This weird vision of the Christmas season is the wrap-around cover for 2000 AD 398, for the 29th December 1984. As you can see, it shows a monstrous Santa Claus, a chimney with jaw pursuing a flying Christmas turkey, snowmen fighting, and two houses trying to burn each other down with their chimneys. Oh yes, and the mechanical reindeer that’s part of Santa’s sleigh looks anything but jolly. Though he is red-nosed.

O’Neill’s artwork was considered so grotesque and revolting that it was banned by the Comics Code. The Comics Code were an unelected body of censors set up following the scare about Horror comics that devastated the industry in the 1950s. They were charged with making sure that American comics were good, wholesome fun, and were suitable for children. I can remember Mike telling me that American comics at the time worked to be suitable for a child of seven to read. It was supposed to be a voluntary code, meaning that its decision were not legally binding, and there were comics published far outside, and often deliberately against their control: the underground comics, like Robert Crumb, and the independents, like Cerebus the Aardvark. In practice, however, the Code had a near total grip dictating what comics could or could not publish. If a comic did not have their seal of approval, then the vast majority of newsagents and mainstream retailers simply wouldn’t sell it.

This whole system collapsed in the 1980s, as a new generation of fans objected to censorship and being told what they could or could not read in their favourite literature. The result was the emergence of adult comics ‘for mature readers’, like Marshal Law. But this was not before there were a few casualties. O’Neill was one of them.

He was the artist for a story in DC’s Green Lantern Corps, written by Alan Moore, who had also been one of the script robots working on 2000 AD. In the story, the Corps visit a planet which has been overrun by demons. The Code rejected it.

Moore rang them up, and asked if they would pass it if he made a few suggested changes. No, they told him. He tried again, suggesting taking out another incident in the strip. No, they still wouldn’t pass it. So Moore asked him what was wrong with the strip, that they didn’t want to pass it.

‘O’Neill’s artwork’, the faceless censors replied. ‘It is totally unsuitable for children’.

In the end, I think DC did go ahead and publish the story, but it appeared without the Comics Code approval badge on its cover.

I really like O’Neill’s art, but there’s no getting away from the fact that it is grotesque and disturbing. I can remember reading an interview with another British comics great, Dave Gibbons, who drew the Rogue Trooper strip in 2000 AD, where he said that a fan had told him at a comics convention that O’Neill’s artwork gave him nightmares. He could only dispel these by looking at Gibbons’ smooth art.

2000 AD later paid homage to the incident in one of their anniversary issues, where Tharg walked around various characters and art and script droids in his head. O’Neill is depicted as a crazed, stunted brat drinking at of a can marked ‘Bile’. During their brief conversation, Tharg describes O’Neill’s ban by the Comics Code as his great accolade.

It says something about American culture at the time that O’Neill’s art was considered too grim and upsetting for children across the Pond, but he had been published in 2000 AD for years and was one of the comic’s cult artists.

As for the nightmarish vision of Christmas, this strangely harks back to the type of humour the Victorians themselves like to put on their Christmas cards. There was a brief piece about Christmas cards on the One Show about a week ago, where they mentioned that the first Christmas cards showed scenes of anthropomorphised Christmas food or other items hunting each other over a wintry background. Art robot O’Neill’s weird, crazed interpretation of the festive season harks back to that, although its direct inspiration was probably the iconoclastic punk ethos that ran through 2000 AD.

Here’s the two pictures. Enjoy, and don’t have nightmares!

Cartoon of Tories as Demons; Ian Duncan Smith as Pinhead from Hellraiser

June 25, 2017

Earlier this week I posted up a cartoon I drew of Iain Duncan Smith, the former head of the DWP, as a ‘leatherface’ style serial killer. The sanctions system, introduced by New Labour but massively expanded by Cameron and the Tories, have been responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of people. After much struggle with the DWP, which really, really didn’t want to release the figures, might managed to get hold of a set of stats. These showed that within the period Mike requested, 13-14,000 people had died after being found fit for work, and so had their benefits removed. Researchers at Oxford University found that in 2015, austerity had killed 30,000 people. Assuming these figures are constant year by year, and adding the number Mike revealed, this means that the Tories have so far killed 87-88,000 people. And that’s a minimum.

Mike, Johnny Void, DPAC and Stilloaks have also produced lists of disabled individuals, who have died, and the circumstances in which their lives ended in misery, poverty and starvation thanks to the DWP.

Mike and Jeffrey Davies, one of the great commenters on this blog, have described this massacre as what it is: murder, and the genocide of the disabled.

After I put up the cartoon, Jeffrey commented

‘hmm that doesn’t do him credit hes a devil full stop’.

Funny you should say that, Jeff, because that’s exactly what I drew him as, along with David Cameron, Nick Clegg, and their mistress, Maggie Thatcher.

I tried to draw IDS himself as Pinhead, the main cenobite from the film Hellraiser. This was a 1980s movie, written and directed by the horror novelist Clive Barker, and adapted from his book, The Hellbound Heart. The movie features an ancient puzzle box, the Lament Configuration, which if you solve it, opens a door to hell. The cenobites, led by Pinhead, then come through to drag you off to an eternity of sadomasochistic torture.

I drew IDS as Pinhead because of the sheer sadism built in the DWP, a sadism that comes from its leaders, firstly in New Labour, and then the Tories. The clerks interviewing jobseekers seem to delight in humiliating them, demanding to know why they haven’t looked for certain jobs, or not used the job hunting site created by Iain Duncan Smith, so they could see what jobs you’ve applied for online. As well as these interviews, jobseekers could also be tormented at home. The DWP set up a series of ‘job coaches’, who, as far as I can see, offer no practical advice for finding a job whatsoever. They just badger benefit claimants, subjecting them to more harangues about them not doing all they should to find a job.

The humiliation and belittlement is quite deliberate. It’s part of the principle of ‘less eligibility’ that Margaret Thatcher took over from the 19th century workhouses. For the poor and unemployment, the life on state aid is to be made as degrading and harsh as possible, in order to dissuade them from taking it up unless it is absolutely necessary.

Hence the sadism with which claimants are treated.

And it has worked. Many people don’t go into job centres to claim benefits until their private sources of money – borrowing from friends, or the savings they have in their bank accounts – run out, because of the ill-treatment and disrespect they receive there.

And for the Tories, this is a good scam. The fewer people sign on, the more they can claim that they have been successful in getting more people into work. The reality is that they probably haven’t got more people into work. They’ve just got fewer people signing on. And tens of thousands of those are dying.

And so you get scenes, like the one reported by Mike a couple of years ago, where ordinary people in the street comforted a young man, who came out of the jobcentre literally in tears, because he was desperate and the DWP would not give him any money. And this guy is just one example.

Not that the staff of the DWP appears to be treated any better. Former workers in the DWP have said that the department is keen to cut staff numbers, and so the clerks are terrified for their own jobs, while their superiors belittle and humiliate them. And whistleblowers also report that in order to motivate them to through more people off benefits, some Jobcentres ran competitions, giving out gold stars, sheriff’s badges and other prizes to the clerk, who got the most claimants off their books.

This system has to come from the twisted psychology of those, who set it up right at the very top in government. Remember the Russian proverb, ‘A fish rots from the neck down?’ Organisations frequently take on aspects of their leaders’ personalities. The Soviet Union under Stalin, Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy were all brutal, oppressive regimes that murdered millions, because they were headed by brutal, murderous people – Stalin, Hitler and Mussolini. And so the British state has become brutal and murderous, because it has been led by sadists like Thatcher, IDS, Clegg and Cameron.

I’m not saying that Thatcher, Cameron, Clegg and aIDS are personally murderous or violent. They may well have been perfectly genial people in private. But they clearly had a sadistic need to inflict pain and suffering on the various poorest, simply for being poor, and incorporated that attitude into their policies and the management of the DWP.

There are, however, some psychological differences between IDS and Hellraiser’s Pinhead. Pinhead, as played by Doug Bradey, had far more dignity and personal gravitas than Ian Duncan Smith. Smith, by contrast, comes across as vain, and actually rather petulant. This was shown quite clearly in an edition of Question Time a few years ago, when he angrily rounded on another panellist to lambast them, as he saw it, for not doing anything to tackle the mythical generations of families, who have never worked.

He has tried to pose as a compassionate individual. In a documentary Ian Hislop, the editor of Private Eye, made about poverty and state support, IDS wept on camera. He had, he claimed, met a young woman, who didn’t believe she’d ever have a job. ‘She could have been my daughter!’ he cried.

All fake, crocodile tears. Earlier he and his master, Dodgy Dave, had been film having a right old guffaw on the green benches in parliament when one speaker was describing the personal hardships a particular claimant had suffered due to Cameron’s and IDS’ system. The two obviously found the suffering of this disabled person hilariously funny, and didn’t bother to disguise it. It was caught by the Beeb on the Parliament channel, and Mike posted a clip of it on his blog.

Never mind the tears, that’s how IDS and Cameron really see the poor. They’re just plebs and proles, who are there to be laughed at and humiliated for the pleasure of the upper classes.

H.P. Lovecraft on Big Business Corroding American Culture

February 8, 2017

I also found this quotation by the American SF/ Horror writer, H.P. Lovecraft, in Fritz Leiber’s A Spectre Is Haunting Texas. The book’s about a skeletally thin actor from a lunar colony, who gets dragged into portraying death on stage to encourage the enslaved Mexican, Black, Indian and poor White populations to rise up against their oppressors in a post-holocaust nuclear America dominated by Texas.

Lovecraft is undoubtedly one of the great writers of his genre, but his political views were extremely unpleasant. He was a racist, and the threat of racial intermixture is a very strong element in his novels. In The Shadow over Innsmouth, he portrays a town, whose inhabitants are no longer entirely human due to generations of breeding with a fish-like undersea race. Several of his stories about families that have mutated or regressed through in-breeding, and the worshippers in the Louisiana swamplands of the dread god, Cthulhu, are described as ‘mongrels’.

The quotation makes it quite clear that Lovecraft was no Socialist, but he thought them far less of a threat than that posed by big business to genuine culture.

One thing I’ll say for labour (the British labor Party); and that is, that it isn’t as offensive as the corresponding mutatory force which now threatens culture in America. I refer to the force of business as a dominative motive in life, and a persistent absorber of the strongest creative energies of the American people. This intensive commercialism is a force more basically dangerous and anti-cultural than labour ever has been, and threatens to build up an arrogant fabric which it will be very hard to overthrow or modify with civilised ideas. (p. 163).

Now my views on what count as ‘civilised ideas’ are probably very different from Lovecraft’s. But he is right in one sense about the corrosive effect of business. Thanks to the massive influence of business on American politics, America is no longer a democracy. The country and its allies are sending their brave troops to fight and die in an ever increasing number of wars for the profit of the military industrial complex and the oil companies in particular.

A Fitting SF Book For Trump’s Attitude to Mexicans?

January 22, 2017

fritz-leiber-pic

Fritz Leiber

Looking around one of the charity bookshops in Cheltenham on Friday, I picked up a copy of the novel A Spectre Is Haunting Texas (London: Granada 1971) by the great Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror novelist, Fritz Leiber. Leiber’s probably best known for his series of Fantasy novels featuring Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser. David Pringle, the former editor of the British SF/Fantasy magazine, Interzone, named Leiber’s You’re All Alone as one of the 100 greatest fantasy novels in his book of the same title way back in the 1990s. That novel is about a man, who gets caught up in parallel society of people, who live outside ordinary humans’ perceptions, very much like the denizens of London Below in Neil Gaiman’s fantasy novel and TV series, Neverwhere.

spectre-texas-cover

I’ve wanted to get hold of a copy for some time, ever since the Scottish space scientist and science writer, Duncan Lunan, briefly mentioned it in his book on the colonisation of the Solar System, Man and the Planets. It was that night, after I’d gone to bed, that I realised how weirdly fitting the book is now that Donald Trump is president of the USA. Here’s the blurb:

El Esqueleto!

Christopher Corckett la Cruz (or ‘Scully’) is an actor, an extrovert and a ladies’ man. To most of the inhabitants of post-World War III he looks outlandish, even sinister. To their women he looks very comely. Earth looks equally odd to Scully. Hormone treatment has turned Texans into giants and their Mex slaves into unhappy dwarfs.

To the Mexes, Scully is a Sign, a Talisman, a Leader. To Scully the Mexes are a Cause. The time is ripe for revolution…

It wouldn’t surprise me if some Hispanic Americans didn’t find the book’s politics offensive or condescending. In fairness, the book was published in 1969, when attitudes to race were extremely different, and its heart is in the right place.

And the future the book describes could, terrifyingly, become all too real. The Washington military and intelligence establishment seems all too keen to start some kind of altercation with Russia, egged on by the Democrats, desperate to deflect attention away from the sleazy contents of the material published by WikiLeaks on the shady business dealings and corporate funding of their leaders. Trump wants to end immigration from Mexico by building the wall. He also wants to repatriate 11 million undocumented immigrants. But he’s not the most extreme of the Repugs. One of the most bizarre and reactionary suggestions for stopping immigration from Latin America I’ve come across from the party of Ronald Reagan and George ‘Dubya’ Bush was that illegal immigrants from Mexico should be forced into state servitude for a period of seven years. You know, like slavery.

There’s a nasty movement amongst the Republican extreme right, led by the Von Mises Institute and other corporate think tanks, to try to rewrite the American Civil War. Apparently, the issue wasn’t about slavery. It was about tariff reform. I’m not an expert on American history, but I very much doubt it. And so, I think, would just about every respectable history of the War between the States. Lincoln only reluctantly freed the slaves. There’s a quote from him, in which he said that if he could maintain the unity of the US by keeping slavery, he would. I think by that he meant that if keeping slavery would prevent the break up of the US, then he’d make that decision. And when you consider the horrific carnage that the war brought about, you can easily understand why. Nevertheless, he couldn’t avoid civil war, and freed America’s enslaved. And thus he rightly became one of America’s greatest politicians.

Now right-wing extremists in the Republicans are trying to reverse Lincoln’s achievements, and obscure the causes of the Civil War in an attempt to make a suitably inspiring, sanitised history for those raised on Reagan, von Hayek, and the Fascist enablers of the Chicago school, like Milton Friedman.

Leiber’s title seems to me to be taken from the Communist Manifesto. This opens with the line ‘A spectre is haunting Europe’, before going to claim that it’s the spectre of revolution or Communism. It was rushed out in 1848, the year of revolutions, when all over Europe working people and occupied nations rose up against their class and imperial overlords.

We don’t need violent revolution, and the horror and mass death that comes with it. But we do need strong, left-wing movements to defend and protect ordinary people from increasingly predatory and exploitative political and industrial elites.

And perhaps the whole world now need an El Esqueleto to protect them from Trump.