Posts Tagged ‘Satire’

Evening Standard Set to Sell Editorial Independence to Big Business

June 4, 2018

This is a very sobering video from Novara Media, which shows precisely how degraded the mainstream media is becoming, and implicitly, why independent news outlets like Novara and the other news sites and shows I repost here are so necessary.

Aaron Bastani reports and comments on an article put up by Open Democracy last Wednesday that the Evening Standard is due to sell its editorial independence to big business tomorrow, 5th July 2018. This move, led by editor George Osborne, who not at all coincidentally used to be Dave Cameron’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, will see the paper sell positive coverage to firms like Google and Uber for £3 million. Bastani states that this is important, as it breaks down the divide between journalism and paid-for advertising content. But, he continues, it’s nothing new.

He then talks about how the Evening Standard is owned by a collection of shady Russian oligarchs, and reflects their business interests. He goes on to describe how the media is increasingly dominated by Tory politicians. The first person to interview Donald Trump when he became president was Michael Gove in the Times. Danny Finkelstein is a Tory lord, and the Standard’s Associate Editor. Robbie Gibb, who is the brother of a Tory MP, and was Theresa May’s head of communications, edited the Beeb’s Daily and Sunday Politics. Boris Johnson has a column at the Torygraph, even though he’s Foreign Secretary.

Bastani concludes that the revolving door between politics, industry and the media has vanished, and those hitherto separate areas have become fused. He makes the point that while quality journalism is a public good, if it’s left to Osborne, Johnson, Gove and Lebedev we will have ‘a profoundly broken society’.

Bastani’s right, but this is just the latest development in a process that has been going on for a very long time. Editorial independence in many papers declined in the 1980s, when newspapers like the Observer were bought up by magnates with interests in multiple industries. Tiny Rowland, who owned the Observer, owned mining concerns in Zimbabwe, and so spiked stories that paper wanted to run exposing human rights abuses there. I also remember how, in the 1990s, Private Eye also ran articles every so often revealing how the Observer had published yet another glowing article about a country or corporation, without revealing that it was a puff piece paid for by the nation or company featured.

It’s also been the case that politicians very often have had their own columns in the papers, or written the odd article about a particular issue. Sometimes this happened after they left office. For example, David Blunkett was given a column in the Sun by Rupert Murdoch. As for Robbie Gibb at the Beeb, Mike’s put up a number of articles about the way the news department at the Beeb is dominated by members of the Tory party, including Nick Robinson and Laura Kuenssberg. And it seems every couple of months someone else leaves the Beeb to work for the Tories. But the Corporation still keeps on pompously denying that it’s biased, despite its vicious attacks on Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party.

But Bastani’s piece does show how far this process has gone, and is set to go, with the Evening Standard providing puff pieces for global corporations as news, while being packed, like the rest of the right-wing media, with Tory MPs. It’s almost a case of life imitating art. Or rather satire. Remember a few years ago, when people started satirising the corporate media with comments like ‘And now for our corporate approved content’, and slogans like ‘Remember: Corporate loves you.’ It now looks almost like Osborne saw the satire, but thought it was a good idea.

Until the mainstream media reforms itself, it has shown that it absolutely cannot be trusted. And people are far better off taking their news from the alternative media instead.

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India Unveils Their Robocop

January 7, 2018

And it’s less than impressive. In Paul Verhoeven’s violent and satirical film, the Robocop of the title was a cop, Murphy, who had been set up by the company now owning the Detroit police force, Omni-Consumer Products, to be gunned down by hoodlums so that he could be re-engineered into a ruthless crime-fighting cyborgs. Of course, Murphy then rediscovered his true, human identity through a dream his human handlers were too slow to suppress. Furious, he then went off to wage his war to bring the men, who attacked him to justice and overthrow the corrupt and ambitious corporate intriguer, who had authorised the whole illegal programme and was now trying to overthrow the wise and kindly paternalistic company head.

It was violent and like Verhoeven’s later Starship Troopers, sharply satirical, with fake adverts for slickly insincere medical companies and sadistic home and car security devices running alongside a depiction of a city rapidly running out of control, overrun by gangs and terrorists. An exaggerated image of Reagan’s America.

This robot, by contrast, is much more staid and limited. The first part of this video starts more or less like a rock promo, with the machine trundling forward to a pop soundtrack. It has now legs, and consists of a human-like torso with arms and a head, supported on a pillar-like extension, widening at the base. There are clearly wheels inside, allowing it to move. It’s Indian inventors are clearly proud of it, as well they should, but its applications are strictly limited. It’s to help in only certain types of crime, and, er, traffic direction. But it does have a touchscreen and keypad to get you in touch with real cops for more serious offences. The company spokesman states that it’s not intended to put real people out of work. Which is a relief, given the grinding poverty in India itself, and over here.

However, this whole invention does remind of yet another story from the hallowed pages of 2000 AD. Remember Abelard Snazz, the Man With the High-Rise Head? The Double-Decker Dome genius problem solver, with two sets of eyes, one above the other on his enormous forehead? Snazz was an interstellar problem-solver, called upon by planets to find solutions for pressing issues. And whatever he did, always made the situation worse. Much worse. In his first outing, he was called upon by the authorities of a world suffering a massive crimewave. He solved that by building an arm of police robots. Who were too successful. Not only did they eradicate crime by arresting all the criminals, they start arresting ordinary people for completely imaginary offences. Like wearing brown shoes as a crime against fashion.

How do you deal with out of control robot cops? Easy. Snazz then builds an army of robotic crooks, to keep the robot cops occupied solving real crimes. These have the stereotyped striped jumpers, masks and hats, worn by all thieves in comics of a certain vintage.

However, there’s a problem with this. Human bystanders are being injured in the conflict between the robo-crims and the robocops. So how does Snazz solve this conundrum? He has another drink of his favourite tipple, the Syrian sentient milkshake, before designing an army of robotic innocent bystanders, who cry out electronically for the cops’ help as the robo-crims commit their skullduggery.

At which point, the whole situation is well out of anyone’s control, the maniac machines have well and truly taken over. Thanks to them the planet is absolutely uninhabitable for sane, humanoid life, and the planet and its inhabitants are forced to leave in an exodus of spacecraft. All the while blaming Snazz, who they manage to get rid of.

Every one of Snazz’s adventures ended this way, with his irate former clients shoving him out of an airlock, or forcing him down a giant Jacuzzi, or stranding him on top of a giant rubic’s cube, which it then takes him six million years to solve. Or falling into a Black Hole. The tales were hilarious, and written by Alan Moore when he could still write ha-ha, rather than turn to the serious issues, which have made him one of the foremost figures in British and American popular literature.

It’ll be a very long time before we have police robots anywhere near as efficient, or even as autonomous, as those of Robocop and Snazz. But there are serious issues. There’s a video by The Young Turks about how the authorities in one American city are using robots to harass rough sleepers. And a few years ago scientists around the world were alarmed by plans to develop automatic robot soldiers, which would kill a programmed, without conscience or mercy. Kevin Warwick, the head of robotics at Reading University, warns about such machines in his book, March of the Machines. On the top floor of his building, they’ve got a robot firefighter. It’s armed with a fire-extinguisher, and a neural net to help it recognise fires. But he points out, that all you need to do is replace the extinguisher with a gun, and programme it to recognise and kill people with blue eyes, and it will go off and execute its murderous work remorselessly. The threat is there, and genuine.

As was shown in the original Robocop movie. In that film, OCP turns to using cyborgs because the wholly robotic law enforcement machine suffers from a series of severe computer flaws. Most obviously when it fails to recognise that the board member, who has been waving a gun at it as part of a demonstration has actually complied with its wishes and put the gun down. It then shoots him multiple times before leaving him for dead.

We haven’t got there just yet, and the Indian robotic policeman ain’t heading in that direction. But the threat is there, nonetheless.

Robohunter: 2000 AD’s Warning about Crazed Robots?

December 29, 2017

Now for something a bit lighter. What struck me watching Six Robots and Us on BBC 2 last night, was how similar the real robots given to the six families to help them with their problems resembled the demented machines drawn by art robot Ian Gibson for 2000 AD’s ‘Robohunter’ strip. Written by script droid John Wagner, who was Pat Mills’ partner in crime behind Judge Dredd, ‘Robohunter’ was about a future private detective, Sam Slade, who specialised in hunting down rogue robots. In his first adventure, Slade is sent to Verdus, a planet colonised by robots ready for eventual human occupation. But the robots have developed so rapidly, that they now exceed humans in strength and intelligence. Programmed to regard humans as their superiors, they simply don’t recognise the inferior organic beings that turn up as humans, and so incarcerate as experimental animals in concentration camps.

‘Robohunter’ was one of my favourite strips in 2000 AD. It was Science Fiction, but had the wit and style of an old-fashioned hardboiled detective thriller from the thirties or forties. Slade – ‘that’s S-L-A-Y-E-D to you’ was something like a futuristic Sam Spade. Which meant that he was frequently being beaten up by the villains, before fighting his way out with a few laconic witticisms. And the robots drawn by Gibson were imaginative and convincing, with the same type of cartoony features as the robots used in Six Robots and Us.

And like very many of the other strips in 2000 AD, ‘Robohunter’ was also sharply satirical. Here’s Wagner’s and Gibson’s take on the British parliament, from the collected strips Robo-Hunter: Verdus, by John Wagner, Ian Gibson, Jose Luis Ferrer and Jose Casanovas, published by Rebellion/ 2000 AD.

Okay, so the robots sent to the families weren’t demented killing machines intent on enslaving us. In fact the Shopbot sent to a supermarket in Glasgow offered people hugs. One of the store workers observed shrewdly that he had nothing against the machine, as long as it didn’t put human employees out of a job. Quite.

And some of them actually didn’t work very well. The Carebot sent in to look after a lady with MS, thus allowing her husband some time away from looking after her, actually couldn’t physically help her. It could only remind her and her husband when she needed to take her medicine and to call him on the mobile if there was something wrong. Unfortunately, it used the internet, and so the moment the husband was out of wifi range, the connection went down and it was more or less useless.

So they’re not quite like the robots in ‘Robohunter’ just yet. But we have been warned!

Another Satirical Song: Boris Johnson and Gove Sing ‘Reunited’

December 5, 2017

This is another piece of musical satire from Dutch Wogan on YouTube. In this piece, he has Boris and Gove talk about getting back together again with the help of Rupert Murdoch after stabbing each other in the back. Here’s the lyrics:

GOVE: I was a fool to ever stab your back
Gove minus Boris is a lonely track
My leadership bid backfired when Maybot got rid
Thankfully Rupert Murdoch got me reinstated
Hey hey

BORIS: I spent the evening watching BBC News
And laughed my arse off when I saw you lose
I got foreign sec while you got it in the neck
But now let’s work together ‘cause the government’s a wreck
Hey hey

BOTH: Reunited and it feels so good
Reunited ‘cause we understood
To achieve our dream we need to work as a team
We both are so ambitious, so we’re reunited
Hey hey

Spoof Mastermind with Theresa May: Blaming the Last Labour Government

December 5, 2017

More satire aimed very squarely at the Tories. This little piece was put up on YouTube by Dutch Wogan. It’s a send-up of Mastermind, in which May responds to every awkward question about the failures of her own party and their policies by blaming the last Labour government. Just as May has been doing herself in reality recently.

In fact, the Tory tactic of blaming everything on Labour, no matter how long ago Labour were previously in power, or how far-fetched their explanation for Labour’s responsibility is, has become something of a cliché itself. Way back in the 1990s – I think it was that long ago – Harry Enfield did a short piece about the answer you’d get from a Tory politician if you simply asked him for the time.

He put on the blustering, haranguing tone, and said, ‘I cannot tell you the time right now. But I can tell you, that whatever time it is, it is a far better time than we had under the last Labour government.’

Okay, so it’s not quite the standard answer of blaming the last Labour government, but it’s close, and shows just how tired and hackneyed their responses and knee-jerk attacks on Labour to divert attention away from their own, glaringly manifest failures are.

May and the Tories, as Mike’s pointed out, have had seven years to sort out the country’s problems and cut the deficit. They haven’t, because fundamentally they don’t want to. They want to continue squeezing ordinary working people, privatising the Health Service and destroying what’s left of the welfare state, all under the pretext of tackling the deficit. Which in fact is just a cover for policies designed to enrich the bloated and exploitative 1 per cent even more.

It’s high time these clichés and the people, who mouth them, were stopped, and a proper Labour government returned to power.

The Iain Duncan Smiths: ‘All I Want For Christmas Is Universal Credit’

November 25, 2017

This is another song attacking the Tories, like last years – or the year before that’s – ‘Liar, Liar’. This time its by a group called the Iain Duncan Smiths, and it tears into him and Universal Credit. Singing as him, they say they want Universal Credit rolled out across all constituencies, and for people to pay for the phone calls to take out an advance loan. They also state that they want to keep you waiting for longer than six weeks. That’s a month without money. They also have him telling people to shut up and be positive about Brexit. While on his own personal source of wealth, the Gentleman Ranks intones ‘Affluence, man, I wed it!’ Yes, he’s another Tory waster, who’s got a rich wife or partner.

RT America Fights Back with Spoof of Corporate American Smears

October 28, 2017

This is a great little video from RT America, where their Editor-in-Chief, Margarita Simonyan, responds to the political and corporate witch-hunt against RT by pretending to show how the Russian-owned broadcaster really operates. It shows her counting out her ill-gotten gains in the company of a bear, natch – this is a Russian company. She moves around dressed in the characteristic Russian fur hat, as do many of her workers, who are shown as the bullied drones of Russian industry. And even the cleaning ladies take their orders directly from Moscow. The expats are kept shackled in the basement as evil defectors, and in the studio for foreign news all the supposed ‘live’ footage from places like Syria are in fact fakes, generated through computer graphics and the green screen. Further consultation with her senior staff takes place in a darkened room where everyone is wearing Red Army uniforms. And the news readers themselves are kept chained to their desks.

The clip concludes with a selection of various quotes on the screen by alarmed political figures and former journalists with the network, all going on about how it’s a terrible threat to American freedom and democracy. You won’t be surprised to see that amongst the Republicans there are various figures from Hillary’s branch of the Democrat Party.

The video then ends with the promise ‘Don’t worry – we’ll keep annoying them!’

This puts the lie to the stereotype that the Russians are naturally dour with no sense of humour. Yes, they have a word for ‘funny’ – it’s ‘smeeshno’, and this is very smeeshno indeed. And much of that humour was expressed in political satire. Try Gogol’s The Government Inspector. Written in the 19th century by the great Ukrainian writer, this is about a corrupt post office manager, who opens the letters coming through his office and reads them.
The late Peter Ustinov, in an interview in the 1980s described how he was walking around Moscow when a spiv sidled out of an alley. The man asked him if he wanted to buy any videos. So Ustinov said he was interested, and followed him back down the alley, wondering just what videos the man had for sale. The black marketer opened his coat to reveal-

-videos of the British Whitehall sitcom, Yes, Minister.

This was during Perestroika, and the Russians liked it, because it satirised state bureaucracy, just like so much of their great literature.

There are issues of bias, of course. The presenter of The Empire Files, Abi Martin, left RT, or was sacked, because she criticised a Russian military action on air. But that should not put people off watching RT, any more than watching the Beeb uncritically support the current regime of gangsters and Nazis in the Ukraine. I watch and reblog videos from RT on this site, because they cover issues from a left-wing perspective that you don’t see in the mainstream media. And if RT is growing, it isn’t because they are engaged in a fiendish plot to bring down our governments. It’s because they’re actually doing their job as journalists, and holding government and corporations to account, which the Western media has given up doing since they were taken over by big corporate conglomerates in the 1980s.

Pat Mills Going Underground on Class and Politics on Comics

September 19, 2017

This is another video to add to the two others I’ve posted in which Pat Mills, one of the great creators of modern British comics, talks about industry and the political dimension to his work. In this video, he talks to Afshin Rattansi of RTUK’s Going Underground.

Mills starts by talking about how, when he first got into comics, he was frustrated and it was only when he started to look back on it and analyze it that he realized he was annoyed by the lack of working class role models in comics. They were all members of the upper middle classes. It’s why in 2000 AD he wanted to include working class characters and heroes, and why he liked Jeeves in the Jeeves and Wooster books, because here was a working class character, who makes a complete mockery of his master. But what brought home to him how the system is so completely opposed to working class heroes was his attempt working on a story for Dr. Who. He wanted to include a working class spaceship captain. The spaceship itself was to be a kind of abattoir in space, and he based the captain’s character on a real person, the captain of dredger. This would have made it realistic, and the captain of such a vessel would not have been like Richard Todd. But he was told by the script editor that this was unacceptable, and he could not have a working class spaceship captain.

When Rattansi asks him whether this censorship is internal or imposed from outside, he remarks that it’s a good question, and he believes it to be a bit of both. In the case of anti-war stories, it’s imposed from outside. That was brought home to him when he was involved in an exhibition on anarchy and comics. He wanted to include Charley’s War, the anti-war strip from Battle, as there was nothing more anarchist than that. But this was refused, just as the centenary of the outbreak of the First World. It was why TV never showed any of the great anti-war programmes and films about it, like Blackadder Goes Forth or the Monocled Mutineer.

He also comments on the massive influence the American military exerts over the film and TV industry. The Pentagon and the armed forces, including the CIA, have acted as advisors on 500 films and 800 TV programmes, from Meet the Parents to the Incredible Hulk and Iron Man. Mills has said that he has always disliked superheroes as he feels that they are corporate characters, standing for the values of the system. They are there to show people that you can’t be heroic unless you’re a tycoon or an arms manufacturer, who goes out at night to beat up members of the working class. He doesn’t think the military were involved in the last Judge Dredd film, as that was made by an independent, which is probably why it was so good. Rattansi replies that Dredd is still upper middle class, as he’s a member of the judiciary. Mills states in turn that he’s a footsoldier, and that part of the attraction of the character is that he’s also partly a villain. Villains are often more interesting to watch than heroes, who can be quite boring.

He also talks about an incident in which the Board of the Deputies of British Jews objected to one of the strips in Crisis. This was based on a real situation, which Mills had heard about from talking to a Palestinian. In the story, the IDF caught and beat up a Palestinian boy in protest, leaving lying on the ground with all his limbs broken. The Board complained because they thought the lad’s body had been deliberately arranged so that it resembled a swastika. Well, replied Mills, it wasn’t, as comics writers and artists aren’t that clever to sneak those kind of subliminal messages in. And what left him dismayed was the Board was not concerned about what was going on Israel, and which is still going on in Gaza. The incident was also somewhat ironic, in that the Board complained to the comic’s publishers, which at that time was Robert Maxwell, the corrupt thief of the Mirror pension fund. The Board’s complaint fell on deaf ears, and Cap’n Bob ‘told them to get knotted’.

Mills also observes in the interview that they were able to get away with much more in 2000AD as it wasn’t real, it was science fiction. Things are all right if they occur In A Galaxy Far, Far Away. But as soon as it’s real people, the censorship is imposed.

It’s always interesting hearing Mills’ views on comics and the subversion he put into his stories. He also told the story about the Beeb’s rejection of a working class spaceship captain for Dr. Who before, at the conference on Marxism organized by the Socialist Workers’ Party. The producers of Going Underground in the clip state that they contacted the Beeb to check the story, but the BBC had not replied by the time the programme was broadcast.

Mills is wrong in claiming at Jeeves is working class. He isn’t. He’s upper middle. Butlers are ‘a gentleman’s gentleman’, and Jeeves himself makes it very clear in one of the episodes of Jeeves and Wooster that he ‘and the working class are barely on speaking terms’. This is when the Fascist leader, Spode, tries to recruit him, saying that his wretched band need working class people like him. Nevertheless, the broad point remains true: Jeeves is an attractive character for the same reason another fictional butler is, Crichton, in the Admirable Crichton. He’s a servant, who is more knowledgible, intelligent and capable than his master.

I’ve commented in previous blog posts that I think the reason that the authorities don’t want to see any anti-War material broadcast during the centenary of the First World War, is because we still have ambitions of being an imperial power, backing the Americans in their wars around the world and particularly in the Middle East. The Beeb would also probably argue that to broadcast such material as Blackadder would be ‘disrespectful’, or some other spurious excuse.

I was aware that the American military was influencing Hollywood as advisors, but I had not idea how extensive it was. Back in the 1990s the American army advised the director Paul Verhoeven on his adaptation of Starship Troopers. This was an adaptation of the book by Robert Heinlein, who really did believe that only those, who had served in the armed forces should have the right to vote. It’s a notoriously militaristic book, and provoked a very anti-military response from a range of other SF writers, including Harry Harrison, who wrote Bill the Galactic Hero to send up Heinlein. Verhoeven wasn’t impressed with Heinlein’s militarism either. He’s Dutch, and grew up during the Nazi occupation. Thus, while the film can be enjoyed as a straightforward adventure, it also contains a very strong element of satire, such as modelling the uniforms on those of the Nazis.

I was disappointed to hear that the army had collaborated with the producers of The Hulk, as this comic was genuinely countercultural. In the comic, Banner becomes the Hulk after being exposed to the nuclear blast of an atomic bomb test saving Rick, a teenager, who has wandered into test zone. Rick is a classic disaffected teenager with more than a little similarity to the alienated kids played by James Dean. In the 1970s the comic was very firmly anti-military. The Hulk fought the army across America. Banner’s personal enemy was the general in charge of the forces sent to tackle the force, who was also the father of his girlfriend. And while the Hulk was a raging behemoth, what he really wanted was to be left alone. Some of the subversive character of the Hulk came across in Ang Lee’s film, which I actually like, even though no-one else does. But it’s still disappointing to read that the American armed forces were involved.

There’s a touch of irony to Mills speaking on the programme, as ‘Going Underground’ was the first of the two ‘Comic Rock’ strips to appear in 2000AD, the other being ‘Killerwatt’, which introduced Nemesis the Warlock and his struggle against Torquemada, the Fascist grand master of Termight, Earth in the far future. The story, set in the underground maze of rapid transit tunnels within Earth’s vast subterranean network of cities, took it’s title from the track by The Jam.

Cartoon Satirising Modern Anti-Immigration Policies as Witch-Hunting

September 10, 2017

This is another bit of satire I found over on the SF/ weird art site, Tomorrow and Beyond. It shows a woman in a ducking stool in the 17th century. One of the people declares, ‘If she drowns, she’s a refugee. If she lives, she’s an economic migrant’, referring to the practice of ‘swimming’ suspected witches. It’s a fair comment on the militant anti-immigrant hysteria under Trump.

Underground Comics Legend Robert Crumb Lays into Donald Trump

September 9, 2017

This is another satirical piece I found on the SF/ weird art website, Tomorrow and Beyond, laying into the day-glo generalissimo, Donald Trump. It’s a strip by Robert Crumb from 1987 in which orange braggart gets his comeuppance and his head flushed down the toilet by a group of very offended liberals. They include two angry ladies, who given his very overt misogyny, have every right to give him an entirely unwelcome hair wash.

The site comments on the strip that although it was published thirty years ago, it’s still relevant. Quite. I think Crumb passed away a few years ago, so alas we’ll never know how he would have sent up his presidency. But odds on, it would have been extremely vicious, and guaranteed to be so offensive that it would have sent Republicans into orbit.

As a character study of Trump’s weird psychology, it’s amazing how much of it is still very accurate, and unfortunately well on display in his government and public pronouncements: the boasting, the lavish displays of personal wealth, the vanity, the need to attract the attentions of the opposite sex and the absolute incapability of believing that any woman could ever resist him, in short, the whole vulgar, materialistic vanity of the man.

This should have been a warning to everyone.

Unfortunately, it appeared in an underground comic, so the only people, who read it were the hippies, punks, stoners and other countercultural peeps, who weren’t going to vote for him anyway.