The revolving doors moved him and he stepped out into the street. A great fog had shrouded the city, which smothered its life and deadened its skyline. The wind pressed heavy against the stretching bones of the London Wheel, which sought to see everything but saw only the fractured red glow of the distant towers, whose light seeped through the clouds like the flame of a flickering candle through the crevices of a closing hand.
A raindrop fell from the heavens and came crashing down onto the man’s head. He had escaped the workplace, and headed eagerly to his favourite lunch spot, hoping for a moment of silence and a bite of a sandwich. His spotted blue tie flung itself at his left shoulder, then, having been straightened back into the centre, onto his right. His head sank low into his chest as he cowered to the mercy of the wind.
Monday had thus far been stillborn. The promise of a week of fresh opportunity had seen him stapled to his desk in a way that struck him as surprisingly similar to the previous Friday. For the last three weeks he had established lunch as the centrepiece of his day- where he would leave the office and go onto the streets to consume his food. This had been a major change in his life, for, as far back as he could remember, his home-made lunch had waited for him in the communal fridge. The thick layer of sickly yellow margarine lay beneath the thin ham, squashed between the pieces of bread. This was gift-wrapped by his wife in a cellophane skin, which squeezed the margarine into the corners and dampened the crusts. Enough was enough. Besides, the communal area in which the communal fridge sat was a soulless room. All talk revolved around business, and each individual occupied their space whilst weighing up their competition across the carpet. Crumbs fell from loose mouths as they tried to establish themselves as the authoritative voice on who was next for the chop. A place without conversation would provide the only solace from incessant gossiping.
He drifted towards his chosen café with the other businessmen in a silent parade. They marched in uniform, their mouths hanging open, ready for their feeding. His thoughts fell back to the day he was forced to join them, his office lunch having been marked by the most recent of rumours to grace the room.
“I hear Richard will be fired by the end of the month” someone had said across the carpet in a gloating tone. He had shuffled in his plastic chair and began to twist the corners of the cellophane wrapper. A cold silence set in, broken only by the constant buzz of the machines. So quietly he had been sat in the corner that no one had noticed his presence, or maybe they had and were trying to undermine him. It didn’t matter, he didn’t care. He retreated further into his cave, and looked forward to the bits of bread that had remained dry. The room now seemed so obviously drained of thought and life that he became numb. The next day he set out, looking for a place in which he could think clearly and fill the stomach which drummed heavily at his bones. The café he had eventually found had nothing particularly defining about it- the coffee was hot and black, the sandwiches were cold and expensive- but it stood beside St Paul’s Cathedral, looking onto the impressive building with a pious kneel. From the relative quiet of the café window he could peer onto the steps of St Paul’s, looking in as if he wasn’t a part of the life that filled them. Tourists fell from the cathedral like coins from a slot machine; the city’s people staggered in ones and twos as if on pilgrimage, turning their backs to the grand entrance when they got near, while their eyes stared distantly into the lines of shops and businesses that littered the pavement. All around them creatures moved. The pigeons’ tensed, scrawny necks plunged at the floor, scraping their mouths against the pavement to peck at the crusts that had been left behind. And what they left behind the street cleaners came at. Swooping from dark corners of London, their fantastic fluorescent feathers were striking to the passer by, yet distracted them from realising the souls beneath the formless garish green. Into their bins the strewn food from the eateries moved; some unopened, some untouched, but still unwanted. They swept away the food so that they could buy their own. They scrubbed at a diseased floor that would never be cured. He walked up the road towards St Paul’s. An advertisement hanging from a shop blocked his view of the marvellous building and he peered round it only to be greeted by a larger sign with an arrow pointing in the opposite direction towards a burger joint. As the entrance eventually manifested itself, the fog had painted a thick grey over the intricate details. The crowds of the stairs had not noticed, and the shimmering gold of the crucifix glinted upon their heads with an approving nod.
Nearing the cafe, his thoughts fell upon his home. Shortly after his departure from the daily office feasting, his manager had called him into his office. His round table invited the pilgrim and he took his seat accordingly. The news came in a quick, cold thrust. The next three weeks would be his last; he was surplus to requirement; the machine had jammed and he would have to be shredded. It was possible that he was now liberated, but his real talents would not be able to feed his family and so he would simply wander into a similar job, with less pay and thinner walls. His eyes refocused on the world around him. The chosen café stood before him, decorated in slogans and prices. But though the red glow inside seemed inviting, he felt a sudden panic rush over him. The faces around him became diffused with the dead eyed stares of his co-workers, the red light pulsated and he became suffocated. He felt as if there were a deadweight, compressing and compacting him into the tightly canned crowd. His anonymity had been violated, and the idea of impending conversation came at him like a tube in a tunnel. He felt the cellophane wrapper coming over him, squeezing him in to the corners, and sealing in the air. His thoughts could not grow and live in this atmosphere. Where did one escape in a world in which every nook and cranny was filled with people and things and ideologies?
The rush of the wind came at him, whipping at his exposed ankles where the raised socks did not meet the upended trouser legs. He turned to face his accuser, and before him stood the grand entrance of St Pauls. The bells chimed with a heavy a blow which resonated across the square, causing a frenzy of movement like sheep called to order by their shepherd. And he, feeling the hysteria within him, quickened his step towards the doors without a thought for where he was going.
A small queue of tourists sifted through the internal entrance, and he came to the till. The worker serving was small and timid, with a vegetating brow, curling around his spectacles. Despite the incense that wafted into the passage and the dim hum of an organ, the worker did not seem to be consumed by the spiritual air. His stubby fingers jabbed at the till; sighs leaked from his mouth as he received yet another fifty pound note for the twelve pound price. The cash register and his worker were caught in a limbo between the two congregations, pulled this way and that; they existed only in the waiting room, praying for their number to be called. The worker was handed a sweaty twenty pound note, and gave a ticket to the man. The till’s teeth clamped shut with a menacing snarl and the queue shuffled forward once more.
The revolving door moved him and he stepped into the grand hall of the cathedral. A crisp packet tussled with the sole of his shoe, eventually escaping, and was carried off by the wind, scattering crumbs among the masses like communion to the hungry. A smell of blown-out candles hung in the air. Large groups of tourists clustered around statues, the flash of their cameras beating at the weary brows of forgotten saints. The man hovered near the back aisles wondering whether to go in further, but the price of the ticket was worth at least three lunches and he was compelled to go in by guilt. He slowly began to tip-toe through the endless rows of old wooden benches, his feet occasionally interrupted by piles of shopping bags scattered around the legs of the pilgrims as they hung to the benches like carcasses; their hands nailed to the wood, their heads dropped as if in deep thought. And all around them were icons of the forgotten martyrs; their faces caught in the stained glass windows, their bodies lying solemnly in marble shells. He walked up the long passage which was shaded from the glare of the electronically motored celestial lights. An elderly man lay beside him, fashioned in a cold hard stone. Pain and anguish crept through the furrowed brow on his pious face, but his lips sank softly towards his chin and there seemed a sense of equilibrium in his dead state. Of course the sculptor had intended this, but to the man it nonetheless seemed to represent a truth and reality that was forgotten.
His legs stirred again and pushed him towards the magnificent altar. The thick slab of marble was draped in golden covers and blood red sheets. And on the altar grew tusks of white candles, grasped tightly by their effulgent golden stands. Though they were not alight, the dense beams of the stands burned in the face of Christ, who drooped from his crucifix in the middle of the waxen towers. The gleam dissolved his features from afar, but the man could not take himself to move closer to discover the face on the cross. Eventually the glow around the altar became too intense, and he dropped his eyes from the crucifix and stared at his feet.
Despite the decadence and beauty of the place, he did not want to stay any longer and was reminded of his hunger as his stomach began to rumble. He would drop back into the flow of the crowds, like a pebble into a canal, and eventually find himself back in his work chair. He trudged towards the ‘Exit Through the Gift Shop’ signs, motivating himself to take another step with the slim chance that he could buy a ‘St Paul’s Sandwich’ in the shop. But as he came closer to the exit, he began to notice a small cove hidden away from the main hall. It was striking because it was cast in darkness, with only a dim light flickering. The darkness and emptiness grasped the man by his hand and led him in.
The space was stripped of any of the magnificence of the rest of the building, and only a single candle struggling in the dark could be immediately perceived. By the candle knelt an old woman, her face was tightly wrapped in a headscarf and so her features could only be seen where the flame was stirred so as to catch fleeting glances of her stony face. The man stood piously behind her, staring at her still body, wishing not to disturb her moment of silent devotion. She, who had probably only a mitre in her purse, seemed so rich in her simplicity. Her mouth gently opening and closing, her eyes drawn; she could speak freely in a world where conversation had become a means to an unperceivable end. While all around the cathedral, hordes of bodies buzzed but said and felt nothing, she penetrated their noise with her delicate mutterings.
The natural flame curled and stretched in the darkness, burning strongly but being flung from left to right as if it were despised by the wind. Despite its movement, the flame looked only at the woman, and lit her face in obsequious deference. He was consumed by a need to speak to something, to translate his fears into words and incantations; to alight a flame that burned for him. But in his life, only the flashing screen of his office computer was illuminated, preventing the gentle darkness from drawing him in and pulling forth threads of thought and contemplation. His family would of course always be there, but his voice called for an ear which did not judge and did not know him.
Despite her age she looked defiant in the face of the wind. Her back refused to stoop or cower and her stomach seemed full and satisfied. His thoughts fell to the hollow frames that trudged the streets of the city, brandishing coffee cups like symbols of devotion to a noble cause. God was absent in his life and he had concluded so at an early age- his reasons were honest, but there lay something in him that yearned for belief. There was something missing in the casino of the market world, where happiness was measured in fleeting successes and failures, where the blinding lights grabbed hold of lust and desire and made one forget about anything else. He could not find a cause, a way to satisfy his hunger, a flame to light his path. He had not found it in religion either, where from a young age he was taken by his parents and forced to recite words that did not speak to him. But this old lady, whom he did not know, had a tangible atonement in all her simplicity and silence. He began to feel he had lingered too long and risked disturbing the old lady from her prayer. His eyes fell to his watch, whose hands seemed to grasp at the half hour mark and sentence the man to his office space. He turned through the gift-shop, ignoring the claws that grabbed at stationary embellished with Christ’s face on, and left through the grand wooden doors. A solitary piece of paper with the ‘Our Father’ written on was conjured up by the wind, sucking it towards the exit, but as the man left, the doors slammed, and the paper was cast quickly into the corner.
All around him was fog and cold and sterility. The synthetic red light of the distant towers seeped through the grey and he stepped towards it as hunger grabbed hold of his being, turning the cogs from within.
Supportive ———————————- >
If you were planning a trillion-pound, sixteen-year indoctrination program to turn out the next generation of our society, which column would you build it around?
The present school system is built on fear. Fear of exams. Fear of Ofsted. Fear of failure.
All this fear can only output blank generations capable of being obedient.
Yet the world has changed since the modern school was conceived in an industrial Britain. Then the economy needed homogenised, obedient workers and pliant, eager consumers. Today the mass-customisable planet demands innovation.
Education policy must, then, topple Column B. Only then can students be free from the fear of failure.
Gerard Depardieu lumbered around the stage of a provincial Russian town, brandishing his new Russian passport, before being bundled into a traditional regional smock. Hours earlier, he had dined with President Putin. Russia was embracing an exile, driven to their country by punitive state legislation. Or so they would like to have us believe. The arrival of Depardieu was undoubtedly a coup for the government, a sign of the new appeal of Russia to those disillusioned with the West, a sign of their legitimacy as a world power. Eighty years earlier, a series of Western intellectuals had come to fete the Soviet Union and engender it with a similar validity. Yet the gulf between the visits is more than simply chronological. The “fellow-travellers” saw the USSR as an attempt to create a new civilisation; Depardieu and the modern celebrities who fawn on dictators around the world see low taxes and the loosening of an oligarch’s purse-strings.
The collapse of the Soviet Union at the beginning of the 1990s was heralded as a triumph of democracy, free markets and free elections liberating the long-suffering people. In reality, the chaotic nature of the decade led to many countries returning to more authoritarian leadership, or merely retaining Soviet-era apparatchiks in power. They invariably became incredibly wealthy and ran corrupt and abusive states. The Turkmen leader, Saparmurat Niyazov, renamed himself Turkmenbashi, Father of the Turkmen, and became known for his personality cult – he had a gold-plated statue of himself erected in the capital, Ashgabat. It revolved to always face the sun.
If Turkmenbashi was the apotheosis of venal Central Asian dictatorship, he set an example for others. Islam Kamirov has ruled Uzbekistan since 1989, becoming notorious for a series of alleged human rights abuses, as has Ramzan Kadyrov, the Chechen warlord who ascended to the presidency from the ruin of the wars there. Kamirov and Kadyrov, as well as the Putin-Medvedev duumvirate, have played host to a number of American and European celebrities, often singers performing at exclusive concerts. Their defence when questioned about the allegations against their patrons is often ignorance, a sense that politics interferes with artistic freedom, and therefore can be overlooked. The irony of citing such rights to perform as an excuse for appeasing governments such as Putin’s is evident in the aftermath of the Pussy Riot case. However, the artists represent a new global citizenry, an elite whose fame has transcended national boundaries, and are therefore free to do the same. The supranational nature of football is an example: the Dagestani club Anzhi Makhachkala has persuaded world-class players to join them, despite their location in a volatile region of the country that requires the players to make a thousand mile commute from Moscow to play, through the wealth of a local oligarch.
It is now far simpler for wealthy individuals to choose their nationality and residence. However, the contrast between this and the intellectuals who pledged their support to Stalin’s Soviet Union is noticeable. Authors may have been flattered – their books were placed in libraries and scholars discussed them in public – but this was merely securing the bargain. Those who lent their support to the USSR saw it as the future, a new civilization in the process of attaining enlightenment and perfection. They invested a secular faith into the project; modern fellow travellers are more likely to pay lip service to an individual for their personal gain. Apologies are forthcoming when their actions are noticed – Hilary Swank donated her fee to charity after appearing in Chechnya for Kadyrov’s birthday – but the motivation is plainly financial. Russia has a flat income tax rate of just 13%, and Depardieu moved there shortly after President Hollande announced a new 75% top rate for France. Many also seek the privacy of a new nationality, away from prying media attention.
Moreover, the status of those who are able to transform their national identity, and move freely, is notable. If one has sufficient wealth, it is possible. If not, one is stranded, no matter their need. When the Russian businessman Boris Berezovsky claimed political asylum in Britain, there was no detention centre and debate over status. He was accommodated, his wealth and position overriding any concerns. For your average asylum seeker, the flight for their lives could hardly be different. A two-speed system has been created, whereby national borders are erased to ease the lives of the wealthy, whilst limiting the opportunities of the global poor. Russia’s tax rate benefits only a tiny minority of the population; Depardieu’s citizenship lends needed credibility to Vladimir Putin’s regime. Either way, as in the 1930s, we all suffer from the transcendence of social norms by a global elite.
Is fear an aid or hindrance to radical political change? Josh Allen surveys the evidence.
Few subjects are supposed to provoke more fear in the hearts of the ruling class than the spectre of radical change wrought through revolution. However need this be so?
The premier revolution of the modern era occurred in the Russian Empire in late 1917 – an event which in turn shaped much of the 20th century. And yet, after the initial spasms, did much really change internally within Russia? Need the bourgeois have trembled?
The first decade of the USSR’s existence was a game of 2 halves. First came fear engendered by the Civil War. Then in more settled circumstances, came the creativity that characterised mid-’20s Russia, giving us constructivism, method acting and cut-up film-making. All within an atmosphere that was punk 50 years before The Pistols.
After this creative interregnum however, returned an intensification of fear, as the advent of Stalin’s leadership instigated a climate of terror: the NKVD, GULAG and show trial, all came to sustain and legitimate the regime-lubricating the wheels of industrialisation with blood. Was this fear and tightening of the state’s grip really a logical stage in the evolution of the revolution or a counter-revolution?
On the social front, the draconian Stalinist legal code re-criminalised homosexuality, abortion and divorce. In the class room, the regime returned Russian educational praxis to a version of the traditional tsarist model. The virtual ban on changing job, place of employment or residence meant that serfdom was back in style, only this time with no hope of “redemption” after paying an additional tax for 25 or 30 years.
By the close of the 1930s the official ideology of state with its iconographic portraits of striving workers, buxom women and fetishisation of electricity and tractors as symbols of modernity appeared to have restored orthodoxy. The entire Soviet people toiled for their red tsar under the benevolent gaze of the holy trinity: Marx, Lenin, Stalin. The father, the son and the omnipresent holy ghost. Order had returned to the Russian Empire.
Switching our focus from the tundra to Tuscany in the late 1370s, and fear is sweeping through the oligarchic mercantile elites of Europe. In Florence, the Manchester or Shenzhen of the 14th Century, members of the minor craft guilds not recognised by the municipality seized control of the guildhall and raised their banners over the means of production, distribution and exchange. They proceeded to nationalise the grain industry, raise welfare benefits by 300% and to abolish all personal titles other than “citizen”. By the middle of 1382 however, all of their changes had been rolled back.
Following the seizure of power, the leaders of the minor guilds – like Stalin and his supine cadres 550 years later – found it both expedient to maintain and indeed reinforce some of the traditions of the old magnate class. Coming to power during an economic slump is never easy, however the government of the minor guilds compounded this problem by trying to meet the debt obligations of the previous regime and instituting draconian punishments for those who did not work. The lesser artisans of Florence were left wondering what had changed, so did not ride to their nominal representatives rescue when in 1382 the Butcher’s Guild, loyal to the old regime, seized the guildhall and massacred most members of the revolutionary government, securing the rapid restoration of the old regime and in time, the emergence of the Medici family as a bulwark against future disorder and challenges to the status quo.
The fear amongst radicals that revolutionary change might prove short-lived is frequently addressed as a topic of concern in radical left-wing circles. However, it also concerns those on the right. Marx famously wrote of Napoleon the III’s destruction of the Second Republic in 1852, ‘history repeats itself first as tragedy then as farce’. He was referring to the grotesque parody of the First Empire’s (brief) achievements reflected in the ineffective and ill-thought out vanity projects and serious dubious plebiscites, focus groups and assemblies, that compromised Louis Napoleon’s ever more tenuous grip upon both France and reality.
However, the same applies to the incredibly mediocre performance that was Thatcherite Britain. The Conservative Party’s mid-1970s conversion to to neo-liberal economics gave it a revolutionary agenda just as radical as that of Militant Tendency. Despite the best efforts of Keith Joseph to brand Thatcherism ‘neo-victorianism’, since that time there has been nothing conservative about the Conservative Party.
The appalling social effects of social, political and economic Thatcherism and the corrosive effect of life in a neo-liberal world upon individuals and their relationships with each other, are well-known, well-documented and well-lamented amongst left-wingers. What is considered less often is whether the Thatcherite revolution fundamentally changed anything. Or, in fact, whether British Thatcherism and the neo-liberal movement worldwide is merely an intensification and perfection of existing trends. Much as tsarist orthodoxy found its highest expression under the supposedly atheistic and socialistic Stalinist USSR.
Thatcher and her political fear she inculcated led to the waste, inefficiency and eventual collapse of state industries. However, let us consider three of Britain’s most successful companies: Serco, First Group and – before their collapse in 2002 – Jarvis Construction. All 3 have grown through extensive state support, which has enabled them to thrive. Serco and other outsourcing companies have come into existence solely because of government policies which favour private delivery of services, create a market, which has now gone global that did not exist before.
It’s hard to see how successive governments, both Labour and Conservative, have acted differently from their predecessors of the immediate Post-War era, who tried to encourage growth in the car or chemical industries. Likewise First Group’s business model, as we have seen in York, relies almost entirely upon exploiting state subsidies and extracting the maximum profit for the least return to service users. A model, so successful, that recent acquisitions have exported it as far as Australia and the USA. Jarvis Construction, prior to overreaching itself, made a killing from rail privatisation and public sector building contracts worldwide.
How does the policy of recent governments differ then from those prior to the late ’70s? Whereas once the government championed British Aerospace, the General Electric Corporation and the British Motor Company, firms which provided skilled, reasonably secure well paid jobs in good conditions for hundreds of thousands, now they encourage and subsidise service providers which seem to profit from the general atomisation of our population and society, under the white heat of capital.
Conservatives and indeed liberals should fear the pace of change that they have unleashed, because it is, by its very nature, destabilising. It is in this whirlwind that those of us who seek to challenge the status quo might be able to seek lasting change without falling into the mires that have ensnared radicals in the past. The essence of driving effective change must be to seek out organic variant of the change we want and encourage them to blossom.
At grassroots level we should seek to build through our students’ unions or our local authorities the sort of better world we want to see – be this through start our own letting agency to challenge ineffective privately run ones or getting the parish council to collectively buy energy for our town or village, so as to reduce bills for all. Such small acts are not a plea for introspective quietism, rather an assessment that if a revolutionary situation materialises then we shall be better placed to capitalise upon it if society already has the buds of a free and equal society.
By Sania Sajid.
No, I am not a murderer. I am someone miserably trapped within the suffocating layers of colonial oppression. You might be a policeman interrogating me about my sole crime but even you are a victim. You are also a prisoner of a vicious and pitiless system that believes in killing innocents under the pretext of civilization.
My sincere apologies being for such a rude host; you are after all in my prison cell. I have some dates left over from the journey. Here you go, one for me and one for you. Firstly I must thank you for listening so patiently to me. You might not understand what I am saying but your continued presence by my side tells me that you are a moral man stuck in an immoral situation. To put your mind at ease I will declare to you that I am guilty. But before I declare what I am guilty of I will first beg you to show me further kindness and continue to listen to me.
From the frown lines on your face, I deduce that you are torn between compassion for the Arab jailed in front of you and your justice system which ensures that I face death sentence. I assure you that you have as little choice as I do. There is nothing wrong about that, it is how colonizers and colonized live together. Boundaries both geographically and culturally must be demarcated to ensure the sense of otherness perpetually hangs in the air. Ethnic segregation you must agree has structured our society and will continue to do so. Why you ask? In my opinion it is do with religion on our part and injustice from your side. I know the word injustice unsettles you but you must understand that when you came to Algeria you bought the best lands and left the worst for us. My tribe was hit frequently by famine and forced my family members to seek work on your farms and vineyards. I grew up with the stench of resentment and bitterness hanging around me. There were no roads, electricity and hardly enough food to feed the entire tribe. You see, large family is a sign of prestige for us so it meant there was very little to eat. By the time I was old enough to understand who the thief was and who had been robbed we were dispossessed of our tiny land. The main reason being we did not accept your laws regarding ownership of our land. Hunger is a powerful weapon. One time, we only had piles of wild-lily roots which we boiled and ate. Borrow money? From where could we have borrowed tell me kind officer. If we borrowed from you, you had interest rate rocketing to the sky. For some the only way out was to convert to your religion and denounce Allah and his Prophet and gave their children Latin names. I wonder what they were thinking when the call for prayers was recited five times a day. It must have been humiliating for them, nonetheless a necessary evil.
The hunger gnawed my insides and screamed for change. My hunger turned into a weapon, something I craved to fight against. So I decided to leave my village for the city. My plan was to learn a craft and hopefully send money to my family. I was ready to embrace your countrymen in order to support my dwindling tribe, more than that I had too much pride to be reduced to an illiterate statistic. I did not know my worth until I migrated and saw myself as how you see me. I was and am a faceless Arab who will never learn your ways. No matter how many times you teach me the four rivers of France or how to wear black leather boots instead of my sandals and jellaba, I cannot become what you want me to become. In the city, I worked alongside your people but never formed any friendships even though we all were equal when it came to craftsmanship. I still brought them coffee and carried out menial tasks that were beneath the other workers. The chasm between us revolved around cultural differences and when they made no move to understand who I was, I stubbornly refused to embrace their way of life as well.
Even though I received no proper education mainly because it was extremely difficult for us to enter the education system, I learnt French albeit broken sentences and picked up that our work was threatened by mechanisation. Cooperage was a dying art and our boss refused to increase our wages in order to maintain a margin of profit. It was difficult for any of us to change trade especially when it had been awfully difficult for me to convince my boss to hire an ignorant Arab. Petty money, long hours and building fatigue accumulated our anger but everyone’s hands were tied. My resentment grew and I had no desire to hold it back.
Please help yourself to some of the bread if it is still soft. I hope you understand that I am narrating to you glimpses of my life which will explain to you the reason for my guilt. The last thing I want to do is make you uncomfortable. Shall I continue? Thank you, dear officer. I woke up one day never to return to work. I never gave my boss any explanation for resigning and he never came looking for me. I felt like a slave who was suddenly free. For once in my life I had no one to answer to and no one to support. I was nothing but a dreamer and my heart leapt with youthful glory underneath the blazing sun with hope and the decision to fight back: free Algeria became my daily prayer.
My fight was not against an individual or any political party but against oppression and mass killings of innocents. I was a lowly worker who was willing to do anything to regain the once lost land that had been wrongfully snatched from us. Now, in the city I shared my room with another man who after I resigned from my job started asking me about the French I had worked with. He showed me how I was treated like a second class citizen in my own country and something must be done about it. I was pumped with contempt and anger to the point I was more than ready to hit back. My disadvantage was that I had never received formal education but because of work and my youth I was physically fit.
It happened so that my roommate kept me up all night asking me about my family, my opinion on French Algeria and what I thought of justified killings. I was never a philosopher but I knew one thing, I was not going to compromise any further. It was all or nothing. My answer registered a faint smile on my companion and he handed me a slip of paper. On the paper was a time and address that I had to visit the next morning. Looking back, I was extremely afraid to question him about what he wanted me to do or what will happen if I went there. At the designated place, the metal door opened slight and a messenger bag was slipped with a scribbled paper of further instructions. I did not even have a chance to see who had placed the bag or if I even trusted my roommate to pick it up. Yet, somehow I did. I took it and went to the place that I was instructed to drop it off. It was a bustling market square with majority of Europeans decked out in their colonial supremacy. The sun scorched the back of my head and fear trickled down my spine but I soldiered forward. I kept reciting Allahu Akbar (God is Great) and thinking of my dispossessed family. This was for my people, there was no going back.
I notice that you have turned your face away from me. I think you also know what I am about to say next. I am deeply sorry if I have caused you pain with my account but you must understand that it is a lie to say Algeria is French. Yes, one some level I was aware that I was carrying a monster in my bag which blew up the entire square and the people in it. Not only your people were killed by me, but sadly mine too. My fight had spiralled into this monstrosity which I have never stopped blaming myself for.
After the bomb implant, it was dangerous for me to go back to my apartment so I lived in an abandoned well for a number of days until the heat died down. The dominating presence in the streets was that of soldiers wearing green fatigues with trained dogs ready to jump at any suspicious Arab. It was exceedingly difficult to get out of the walled city at that time but I managed to pay for my passage back to the mountains. I was disillusioned and confused by my actions and my guilt was a parasite that ate my youth away. By the time I arrived back to my village, I was a shrunken man with no hope for the future. I was a bomber who did not know how many he had killed. The uncertainty was worse than any punishment.
Have you experienced suppression so extreme that all you can do is cry out in rebellion? The pain etched on your face shows that you are my companion in such times. I am a simple man, but I have the right to think. And I think that it is better to die on one’s feet than to live on one’s knee. So, when I went back home to find out that my village was suffering the worst famine to date due to the harsh weather conditions, my despondency grew. I could do nothing but mourn the loss of what I had never really experienced: freedom. Such mental condition can make a man go crazy. I was half deranged with guilt and anger.
A week after my homecoming, I was startled awake in the middle of the night to hear one my family members slinking away in the night. Due to the dense snow and chilly winds, it was unusual for outside trips at such a time so I followed him. He led me to a boulder at the foot of the mountain that cuts our village from the world and there he waited. I held my breath and waited with him. After a length of time, we were joined by a dark figure who exchanged greetings with my cousin. I was unable to hear their conversations without revealing myself but I knew who he had become. He had betrayed his land, his tribe and his family. My cousin was a harki and he must be killed. Allah knows and see everything!
My fight against colonialism came in the form of my cousin and I killed him in the bright daylight for my entire tribe to witness. I slaughtered him with my billhook and showed everyone how far the enemy had infiltrated our lives. My tears flowed as I saw his head separated from his body. They flowed for him and our land which was gushing with the blood of my people.
So, no I am not a murderer but a rebel. By rebelling I acknowledge your power over me but through my account I am making it clear to you that your power is dependent on my subordination. You are the guest in my land and you will leave, I promise you.
I may not believe in your justice but I believe that what I did was wrong in planting that bomb. For that crime I should be punished. I want a huge crowd of spectators hissing and cursing me when I am executed. It is only fair that I receive the same amount of hatred that I feel for them. Hatred manifests into evil. Me, I am a slave. But if I am evil, I am no more enslaved. Death is my liberation and nothing remains for me in this hell. Nothing but to be reborn or die; I choose death.
 A Harki is an Algerian who fought with the French in the Algerian War for independence.
A short story by Jake Roper
I’ve lived in this house for three years now. It’s a quaint little place – and by ‘little’ I mean ‘cheap’; but the quaint part, I actually mean that. There’s a fireplace in the front room, big plushy chairs to sit in, and a bay window that looks out onto the street. The neighbourhood? Well, it isn’t the classiest place, but I haven’t been burgled – yet. Tonight is a Sunday, just about the most boring day you can imagine.
Usually, my best friend comes over and we share a couple of glasses of something and watch a film together. (S)he called earlier and cancelled though, making this evening about as stimulating as watching paint dry. At least it’s getting dark now; I always feel a little perkier when the sun goes down. Something about the night has always interested me. It’s the way the night air smells, y’know, fresh and crisp. Plus you always get into the best hijinks at night.
I mean, who staggers around bars with their friends in the middle of the day (apart from alcoholics, that is)? While I’m on the subject of staggering, a tall looking man just walked past the window. Well, kind of shuffled past really – must’ve had a couple of drinks himself. I think he might have been muttering something. I need to get these windows double glazed; I’m getting sort of sick of hearing the footsteps of everyone who sidles past my place.
Inside, I’ve got the fire blazing and something droning away on TV. Some reality show, I think. It’s mainly just for the noise more than anything. We all do that, right? It jumps up the electricity bills and in the end you could just as easily put a CD on or something, but for some reason it always seems, I don’t know, better to have something else there with you … even if it is a bunch of egotistical has-been celebrities.
Despite all of that, I can still hear something. I can’t quite make out what it is; something close. A creak upstairs, I think; probably just the floorboards shifting about again. My bedroom is directly above this one, so it makes sense that the heat from the fire would do something to the wood. I think I might just open up that bottle of red and have a glass to myself anyway. Anything is better than actually watching this garbage on the box.
Two seconds later and I’m back in my comfy armchair, glass in hand, TV controller on the other side of the room – in other words, too far away for me to bother switching the channel over. I take to looking outside instead. There’s that tall man again; he’s still murmuring to himself. I wonder if he’s lost, or maybe just completely hammered. Ah, to hell with it. I’ve resigned myself to the fact I’m going to have to get up and grab the controller. I’m going to turn up the volume on the TV.
Maybe I ought to shut the curtains? It’s getting more than a little dark out now. I don’t even think the moon or the stars are out tonight. I’ll get up in a min– something else? Upstairs again. More creaks, but in sequence now. Like … no. Well, it’s ridiculous, but like somebody is walking around up there.
Obviously, there’s nobody up there. There are always creaks and gurgles in houses, especially ones as old as mine. They happen all the time right? It’s weird, though, when they do; sometimes – I’m not saying all the time – you kind of go back to being a kid, don’t you? You start wondering about this and that, all the same things you used to think about when you wanted to have every limb secured away underneath the covers, just in case something out in the dark grabbed onto whatever you didn’t keep hidden. The same reason why you never used to let your arm hang over the bed.
Damn, I’m thinking way too much about this. I’ll close the curtains. The streetlights have come on – well, the ones that the local yobs haven’t smashed to pieces, anyway. Wait a sec, is that him again? That tall guy is back, except this time he’s standing across the street. He’s got his back turned to me; I think he’s looking into one of the other houses. My perspective is all messed up though; half the bloody street is nothing but murk. From here it looks like he’s easily taller than the door of that place – maybe twice as tall. That can’t be right, surely? He’s wearing a coat that comes down to his ankles.
I wouldn’t want to be footing his clothes bill, that’s for– Jesus, what was that? I could have sworn I heard an intake of breath. No, that’s stupid; it’s just the house settling. I’ve lived here for three years – you’d think I’d be used to those sorts of sounds by now. It’s stupid I know, but I almost don’t want to look back outside. I mean, what am I, five all over again? To hell with it, I’m looking. The man is gone; guess he was lost after all, or managed to remember where he lives. I think I might actually close my curtains now, rather than just stand around like an idiot. Maybe I’ll go to bed, too.
Right, curtains closed, TV off. The fire has died; a smattering of feeble embers litter the bottom of the grate. Just got to switch the lights off and then I can go upstairs. Just the lights, then. I forgot how silent it gets with that racket switched off. How dark it is in this room without the lights. I can barely see my own hand in front of my face. I’ll just give myself a minute to let my eyes adjust so I don’t fall up the stairs. Right: bedtime. Hold on … I think … yeah: footsteps outside. Are they going past? No. They’ve stopped. Right outside the window. I can see a silhouette on the curtains, except… I can’t see a head. It just bleeds all the way up. And up. There’s that rattling breathing again; it’s too loud to just be the plumbing.
And it’s coming from the next room.
Suzanne Connolly analyses the intent behind the lyrics to Fleetwood Mac’s ‘The Chain’.
2013 marks the 35th anniversary of the recording of Fleetwood Mac’s generation-defining album “Rumours”, heralding the chance for them to return once again to the world stage on their upcoming 2013 tour. It is interesting, then, to consider just how “Rumours” revealed in the raw fragility of a band which would go on to have such unlikely longevity. Aspects of fear and change are apparent in almost every song featured on the album, revealing tensions and relationship breakdowns that were occurring within the band at the time the tracks were written and recorded.
Search “Fleetwood Mac The Chain 1982” on YouTube and you’ll come across what is, I find, one of the most emotionally charged live performances ever recorded. What you are watching is not simply a band performing a greatest hit, but a band performing a greatest hit in the midst of several personal crises and unapologetically showing it.
The resonance of the song’s lyrics with the band, especially in former romantic partners Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham, is evident as they showcase not only their musical talent but manifest within it their lingering tensions through brooding glares, animalistic howls and direct address from one to the other. “The Chain” happens to be the only song credited to all five members, Nicks, Buckingham, Fleetwood, McVie and McVie. Recognisable to many, partly due to the use of the bass solo on Formula 1 coverage, “The Chain” reveals the fears of a band which would profit hugely from the same internal breakdowns which threatened to end their collaboration before it had the chance to really begin.
As the lyrics show, the song deals with a fear of breaking commitment both to a relationship, as was the case with the inter-band breakups of Nicks and Buckingham alongside the divorce of John and Christine McView, as well as the fear of the breakup of the musical collaboration, shown in the accusatory lines:
“And if you don’t love me now
You will never love me again
I can still hear you saying you would never break the chain”
The final chant-like repetition of the line “Chain… Keep us together” provides a sort of mantra for the band at a time of great uncertainty as to their staying together.
Although the history of Fleetwood Mac is much longer and more complex than just “Rumours”, the band itself having several line-up changes before and after, it is undoubtedly this album which established them as one of the greatest bands of the 20th Century and is finding a revived fan-base in the 21st. Lindsey Buckingham ends the intense 1982 live performance of “The Chain” with a few words to the crowd: “a lot of people were wondering what happened to us… Well we’re here to show you that we just refuse to go away”. True to his word, 35 years on Fleetwood Mac are living up to this statement, and “The Chain”, even if they have had more than a few bumps in the road along the way.
Ellie Swire wonders if the archetypal literary hero is as courageous as he seems…
“Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid [...] He is the hero, he is everything. He must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man. He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honour, by instinct, by inevitability, without thought of it, and certainly without saying it. He must be the best man in his world and a good enough man for any world.” Raymond Chandler
He may come in a range of shapes and sizes…but take any hero of literature and it is more than likely that he will at least exhibit some, if not all of the above features. Regardless of the vast variations in time, place and the form he takes, the concept of the archetypal hero reflects universal qualities pertinent to all.
Yet among the numerous exigencies required of the hero, it is the compulsion to confront difficulty – to venture down those “mean streets”, whether they be in the form of the cave, underwater lair, enchanted castle or far reaches of the universe – that emerges as the most important of heroic virtues. For whatever else the hero may or may not lack, he will almost inevitably be obliged to prove himself through actions or deeds, to undergo tasks that are, by necessity, physically and emotionally demanding.
The hero of literature then, is fearless. He needs to be – the challenges he undertakes are enough to strike fear into the hearts of many. This is, in some sense, the whole point: by his courage (and with a little help from his gift of superhuman strength; the advice of an elderly, wise mentor; the power of chance magical object or else sheer luck) the hero is marked out as different from everybody else through his ability to successfully complete the task placed before him –the task in which all other have failed.
But in the impulse to achieve lies the question of whether the fearlessness of the archetypal hero is the product of reckless self-confidence – that is, that the hero has through his own volition, opted to go out and slay the dragon / monster / supreme force of darkness – or whether he was always destined to do so, that being his duty he has no choice in the matter.
But if the latter is the case, then can we suppose our literary heroes (and heroines) to be truly courageous? For if you were always destined to do the deeds required of you, rather than actively seeking to do so, is your heroic bravery somehow compromised? Have you simply fallen into your role as hero, for better or worse, according to the dictates of higher powers?
And what might be said of the heroes that do admit to fear? What of those heroes who are not assured of their own indestructible nature – who experience and articulate terror, trepidation and self-doubt when faced with a dangerous and seemingly impossible situation? Are Harry Potter, Frodo Baggins or any number of our favourite heroes any less heroic for feeling a little jittery about confronting the dark forces of evil?
The answer can perhaps be found in Chandler’s qualification of the hero as a “common man, and yet an unusual man”; that however fearless he is, the hero is ultimately an ordinary being, just like any one of us. And if he is human, then he is capable of possessing human emotion. It is therefore not so much what the hero feels that distinguishes him as a hero, but what he does.
And if fearlessness is manifested in action, it therefore likewise does not matter if the hero has chosen to do the tasks asked of him or not; the point is that he does them anyway, which is in itself more than what any one of us could hope to do.
As Ralph Waldo Emerson writes, “A hero is no braver than the ordinary man, but he is braver five minutes longer”. That is the ultimate difference.
Harry Robertson on whether the film can ever be the rightful property of its creator.
In 1997, George Lucas released the Star Wars “Special Edition.” Since then, he has refused to make the original cut of Star Wars available commercially, stating on several occasions that he simply wants the earlier versions to “disappear.” The matter of how the changes in the special edition alter the films is one that I will not go into. I would instead suggest that anyone interested simply google the phrase “Han shot first” and work their way through the thirty four million results.
The subject I wish to address is whether it is acceptable for Lucas to deny people access to his earlier creation. Fortunately, this is a subject that Lucas himself is pretty clear on: upon recently being asked why he hadn’t released the original cut, he responded with “Grow up. These are my movies, not yours.”
The phrase “my movies” is crucial. To assume that these films are the sole property of George Lucas suggests that one adheres to “auteur” theory – that a film is created via a realisation of the director’s vision alone. This concept originated with mid twentieth century French film making, and was largely tied up with persuading people that film was a form of art – critics of film as an art form often refer to the fact that film has no sole “artist” during its creation. Auteur theory presented a counter-argument: that the director was the artist, and the film was his work of art.
If one accepts this argument, then George Lucas is thoroughly within his rights to withhold the original cut. It may not be particularly kind to his fans, but there is no obligation for an artist to display his work publicly.
Unfortunately for George, Star Wars is not exactly a shining example of auteurship. There is considerable evidence to suggest that Star Wars (Episode IV: A New Hope for those who acknowledge the existence of the prequels) was saved from utter mediocrity by a team of editors, brought in after Lucas fired the original editor. Lucas himself re-wrote the entire story multiple times during attempts to fund the film. It does not seem too far-fetched to assume that within this stage of re-writing, outside parties may have had an influence on his decisions with regard to the plot.
With any film it seems dubious to credit the director with sole artistic input. Camera operators, editors, even the actors themselves can add to a film in ways the director may never have thought of. Lucas was a relatively unknown director at the time of Star Wars’ release, and as a result, people had considerable influence over him. As his fame grew, people lost their ability to challenge the “great” George Lucas. By the time of the prequel trilogy, Lucas actually did have full artistic control over his films – the result was the absolute train-wreck that we know as Star wars: Episodes I, II and III.
For George Lucas to deny the public access to his earlier films is frankly insulting to everyone else involved in the star wars films. The films are not “his” movies, they are the work of a talented team who created something brilliant together. George Lucas is not an auteur, he is a lucky movie-maker who struck gold. Applying the theory here is downright destructive for anyone who cares about the preservation of film as an art form.
We’re the university’s culture magazine, and we’re all about questioning your own opinions and taking on board others. To find out more of the details, check out the “About” page above.
I’m Joe Walsh, editor of The Zahir. I must say, I’m more than a little humbled to have you visit the site. Heart-warming and such. I look forward to meeting all of you over the course of the next term, and hearing your various ideas for the improvement of the magazine. Remember: there’s no “I” in Zahir.
You’ve arrived at an exciting time. Last term was the launch of a brand new design of the magazine, and it promises only to get better with a bit more experience under our belts. We went from an interior of block text and weak photos to a vibrant magazine that promotes the uniqueness and experimentation that we want at The Zahir. Articles, in turn, became significantly more flexible. If you have an idea and a way in which to present it – something that doesn’t necessarily conform to the basic article format – just hit me with an idea. My Literature editor wrote a denouncement of Shakespeare in sonnet form, for example. If your article is on some kind of cultural split, why not suggest one half of the article is at one point in the mag and the other half is at a different point? At The Zahir, we want you to express yourself in whichever way puts your idea and your opinion best across. I’ll only be impressed if you come to me with a new idea, so don’t feel shy!
The website has also been revamped over summer, in the hope that it will be a much more active aspect of the magazine itself. We want your help – so feel free to send in any videos, articles or links that you think need spreading. It will become much more significant throughout this coming term, but please do have a look at past articles to get an idea about how the magazine has changed, and how the quality that we produce is unerring.
It’s students like yourself who are the driving force behind a mag like this. We’re a culture magazine, not a newspaper. By definition, we shouldn’t be confined by structure and limitations. If you can’t be experimental at university, when can you be? Please don’t hesitate to hit me with ideas – I guarantee anything you think sounds silly will set my pulse racing. And I’ll probably have come up with something ten times nuttier.
Finally, this is the final term with the current editorial team in charge, so the most exciting change will hit us at the end of this term. All positions will become available, and a couple of new ones will be coming into play. We want enthusiasm – so even if you don’t find the time to write for us this term, please don’t consider yourself a write-off for a chance to get a role in the team. It’s what you can bring to the mag as much as anything. Ideas fuel this mag, not experience.
Email me on email@example.com, or sign up to us at Freshers’ Fair at the end of Week 1 and you will receive more information about all of the above. We also have a meeting in Tuesday Week 2 (18th October) at 5.15pm in V/123 (Vanbrugh) so that I can introduce you to myself and my editorial team. You can also find us on Facebook (the zahir)and Twitter (@zahiryork).
I’m genuinely chuffed you’ve taken a gander at the site. I hope you decide to get involved.
It would make my day. x
Around five hundred days ago, Glastonbury Festival of Contemporary Performing Arts partied its way to its fortieth anniversary. One hundred and thirty five thousand people paid a fair sum of £185 to spend up to 5 days in a tent with several hundred bands playing night and day to keep them entertained. Now whether this sounds like your idea of a great way to spend your summer or some kind of torture technique, music festivals of all sizes have, on the most part, been on the rise these last few years, and have grown in popularity with both the consumer and the consumed. The former gets a chance to relax in a field with your favourite bands and/or to go “mental”, while the latter gets another way of both promoting their act and extending their business.
But what I’d like to take a look at is how things are from the band’s perspective. Getting on the festival circuit is what most bands need to do these days; with decreased revenue from physical music releases, digital sales providing them with very little share of the profit and piracy showing no signs of stopping, artists need more ways of making money. But this takes them to pretty varied places, with some varied crowds too. Take for instance the two music festivals I went to this summer past: Benicassim festival on the coast of Spain, and Green Man Festival in Wales. To say these festivals have a different atmosphere would be the most modest description I could provide: they are at opposing ends of what I would say is the scale that the mainstream festivals tend to sit between. On one side, we have Green Man; a fairly peaceful festival, focussing on indie and folk music with a few electronic twists and turns, but nevertheless a very family friendly frolic in a forest – or more accurately, the beautiful Brecon beacons.
Benicassim, on the other hand, is not somewhere I would take a young family for face painting and Chinese lanterns. Plonked on the outskirts of a smallish town-come beach resort, Bencassim effectively imports the English and Irish once a year to destroy the local surroundings, throw up on the majority of greenery struggling on the scorched terrain, swear at some locals for not understanding what a kebab is, then leave the residents to clean it up ready for next year. But don’t worry, Mumford and Sons are there to guide you through it all.
I wouldn’t give any prizes for guessing which one I preferred, but what I’m more interested in is which one the bands prefer. There were a few crossover acts that I happened to catch at both festivals, along with some acts I have seen elsewhere than the Spanish heat. Elbow in particular I have seen several times, the last time being before Benicassim in the O2 arena in London, with a huge but very respectable crowd. In Spain, sadly this was not the case. I accept that it is generally accepted that bands have gig playlists, where there will usually be an audience which is there for you and only you, and the paying customers are therefore ready and waiting for you to play the whole dynamic spectrum of your songs back catalogue. Whilst at a festival one expects more of a “greatest hits” deal, as most likely half your crowd is there waiting for Tinie Tempah or some other chart garbage. But to be honest a lot of the time at Benicassim the crowd mocked the bands through the level of respect shown through their levels of chatting. This is acceptable if it’s Pendulum or the first band on for the day, but it is beyond the pale when you’ve got bands such as Portishead or Elbow are playing; bands that have a lot of respect and a pretty huge fan base to boot, and leads you to wonder why people are there.
This is evident from the reaction on-stage. Elbow frontman Guy Garvey, normally a happy and bouncy leadman full of stories and jokes, spent most of his set worrying about people getting crushed at the front of the audience and looking miserable. When the band attempted to play “Mirrowball” – one of their quieter and slightly lesser-known songs – it was barely audible over the general chit chat and chanting reminiscent of football derby. Green Man on the other hand was full of bands expressing their love for the festival and the crowd. With acts such as Laura Marling getting such a good reception that there was almost perfect silence throughout her entire set, on the main stage. This thus created both a better experience for the listener and a better performance by the artist.
I accept that there are certain bands and festivals which specialise in particular genres which lead to certain crowds. In Benicassim, for example, bands didn’t start playing till late at night, with the headliners tending to start around midnight or 1am. Clearly they’re going for more of a party atmosphere, however due to the 30 degree heat during the day, they’d be pushed to put people on any earlier.
In the end I think it says more about us as a nation that we’ll pay a lot of money to go smash up a bit of another country for a few days. Potentially I was simply ignorant of the kind of crowd Benicassim would attract. I still can’t deny that I had a great time, when there are one euro bottles of sangria round the corner, there was no way I wasn’t going to. But surely bands are left wondering whether anyone really cares about what they’re playing, or whether they’re just the soundtrack to three drug-fuelled nights in a row. Does it even matter? Maybe next time they should just bring a CD along and a drum kit and press play, and watch everyone have a good time. It seems to work for Chase and Status.
On 20th October 2011 Colonel Qaddafi was killed in Libya, forty two years after he took to power. News stations released rebel mobile phone footage of his bloodied corpse dragged by the feet of Libyan NTC fighters. The reaction of our NATO states was one of disinterested jubilation; it was the victory of Democracy over Tyranny. Initial reports said he was dragged outside, beaten, his clothes ripped off and shot by a rogue gunslinger in the frenzy.
Is this Creative Destruction? For a “new Libya” to be born the “old Libya” must be destroyed.
Libya before Qaddafi was in borderline poverty, the monarch King Idris did not inspire his people. Qaddafi was the natural creative reaction to the Royal decay. We cannot believe our mass media in demonising political opponents (the links between Mr.Murdoch and Parliament demonstrate this all too well). Qaddafi began as a reformer; he empowered women’s rights in divorce and inheritance, newly weds were paid $50,000 as aid for starting their family, oil and bread were subsidised, literacy rates and the country’s wealth experienced a boom.
I see Qaddafi’s accession to power as an example of greatness in leadership (comparable to Napoleon’s, Stalin’s, and even Gandhi’s), for the simple reason that it was bloodless. Sun Tzu believed that “ultimate excellence lies not in winning every battle but in defeating the enemy without ever fighting.” Qaddafi’s coup d’état had no reported incidences of violence, it was Creation-without-Destruction, if you will. It was a perfect event with a leader of a revolution that was going forward into the “Ideal State.” Unfortunately, the “Ideal” is forever imprisoned in our individual minds, although no one has the same ideal. Thus Qaddafi had to take a necessary decision in enforcing his ideal on Libya to keep the decaying effects of dissidence at bay, he used both cunning (through informants and spies) and strength (“liquidating” political enemies). This is why our media calls Qaddafi the dictator with an “iron fist,” he was essentially too idealistic to be agreeable and after 42 years of his rule peace and subservience grow tired and conflict must eventually arise.
In the playground of politics the big kids did not like Muammar, he was a Socialist, oil rich and weapons rich. The “mad dog of the Middle East” was accused of sponsoring terrorism (by countries that have overtly supported the training and funding of the Mujahadeen in Afghanistan to terrorise Soviet invaders). But the worst threat to the world powers and central banks was Qaddafi’s creative plan of a new currency, the Gold Dinar. For African and Arab-Muslim nations, this would render the Dollar useless in oil and, according to RT “shift the economic balance of the world.” Qaddafi’s demise was in the waiting.
The scene was set, world powers and the Libyan people grew restless; the NTC and no-fly zones were the natural destructive reactions to a successful, creative individual. Democratic ideals of Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité are beautiful concepts used by us to veil Destruction’s inherent link with the Good we aspire to. The price for freedom is heavy. Qaddafi’s destruction shows us that great men must fall in order to make way for a new product of creation.
The last audio message by Qaddafi I remember hearing ended with three defiant barks; “alet alman! Alet alman! Alet alman!” (“Go forward! Go forward! Go forward!).
Is Creation-without-Destruction ever possible? And can Peace ever be possible? While Man has progressed a thousand-fold, Humanity ceaselessly stands still against the currents.
To all intents and purposes, America has moved into the general election. Mitt Romney has stumbled his way to the (de facto) Republican nomination, and the far right fringes are joining with the establishment in rallying around their candidate.
Over the next six months there will be hundreds of sensational headlines attaching great significance to the latest poll, capturing a fleeting snapshot of the American public. This is all white noise. Yes, the national narrative is important, but that’s not how this election is going to be won.
The key to the White House lies in the magic number 270. Amass 270 electoral votes and that is it. You win. You’re President.
This is a fact that most of the mainstream media don’t give much time to. Lip service is paid to the importance of ‘swing-states’, but the analysis is never thorough. Studied carefully however, and Obama seems well placed for a second-term.
Almost certainly, Obama has 186 electoral votes in the bag, compared with Romney’s 156. States like California, Oregon and New York will go to the Democrats, and states like Texas, Alaska and Mississippi will go to the Republicans. This much is all but certain.
But on top of this, the Associated Press has estimated a further four states – with 55 electoral votes – lean Democrat: Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. All four were won by both Kerry and Gore, and all four were carried by at least a 10% margin in ’08. By way of contrast, only 32 electoral votes lean towards the Republicans: Indiana, Missouri and Arizona.
If we add all this up, Obama is sitting on 241, with Romney trailing badly on 188. Now, these calculations could all be upturned if events change dramatically in the lead up to November, but this is a race with a polarised electorate firmly entrenched in one camp or the other, the ‘undecideds’ are few are far between and are unlikely to dramatically alter the above estimations.
So where does that leave us?
Almost obviously, Obama is in a stronger position. If he wins Florida – a state where Obama’s team is campaigning aggressively – that would be it. The 29 electoral votes would give him a second term. More likely, considering the stubbornly high unemployment in Florida, Obama will seek to cobble together the votes elsewhere. Ohio and either Virginia or North Carolina would get him there, as would New Hampshire and important holds in the Midwest.
For Romney – a candidate marked by mediocrity – it is a big ask. While some Democrats are nervous about how close the race currently is, the odds remain stacked against him. Republicans will be hoping that the economic recovery remains anaemic and that he can slip into the White House by virtue of being seen as a man who knows how to create jobs.
Otherwise he will almost certainly be condemned to the footnotes of American history.
As part of this year’s Cultural Olympiad, the artsy side-runner to the Olympic Games, Shakespeare’s Globe has launched an ambitious programme of works to celebrate the Bard. Yet – predictably – they’ll be doing it with a difference. Each of Shakespeare’s 37 plays will be performed on the Globe’s stage in a different language.
Exciting. Innovative. Far-reaching. Controversial – yes, but also in a way which you might not have considered.
The fracas has emerged from the production of Shakespeare’s fourteenth play The Merchant of Venice, to be performed in Hebrew. The anti-Semitic nature of the piece – typified through the Jewish moneylender Shylock – already makes a Hebrew performance provocative, yet the character has been played sympathetically since the early 19th Century, and productions in Yiddish and Hebrew are not anything new.
The controversy this time lies with the company performing the play, a group from Israel named Habima (meaning “The Stage”). Habima have performed the play in many different forms from 1936 up until the present day, yet their self-proclaimed status as “The National Theatre of Israel” has provoked outcry from protest groups, opposing their presence on the international stage.
Well-known figures including Emma Thompson, Mike Leigh, Jonathan Miller and Richard Wilson have put their names to a letter written by the group ‘Boycott from Within’, calling for Habima’s production at the Globe to be halted for their complicity with the Israeli government. The group argue that Habima’s performance in the illegal Israeli settlements of the Occupied Palestinian Territory presents an infringement of international law, citing especially a production in the town of Ariel, whose controversial ‘cultural centre’ opened in 2010.
Habima argue that as a theatre group within Israel they are obligated to tour theatres throughout the region in order to receive funding; they do not force any actor to play in the Occupied Palestinian Territory if their conscience does not allow it. As many have pointed out, the Globe’s project also sees companies from countries like Iran, China and Turkey perform, whose human rights record are also highly questionable.
Shakespeare’s Globe has replied that it will go ahead with its production of The Merchant of Venice is Hebrew, despite the assertion of ‘Boycott from Within’ that it has ironically become “the language of the abuser of human rights”.
The Globe has issued a statement suggesting that an exchange of views and meeting of people is better than the “isolation and silence” a boycott would cause; yet in raising this dialogue the London-based group may be considered in implicit support.
The idea of cultural sanction seems tantamount to censorship: obscene and at loggerheads with ideas of openness and reconciliation. Nevertheless, to support a company of such partisan importance is highly questionable.
The ambiguities within our conceptions of the Middle East echo the conflict of The Merchant of Venice. What is justice; how should it be doled out?
Local Elections, and the State of Play thereafter.
Local elections are such a yawn. Most people don’t even know they’re going on, or who their councillor is, or what councillors even do. To be totally honest, I’m not really sure what they do either. And I’m sort of friends with one.
The only time local elections are ever vaguely significant or interesting is when they feed into a bigger picture and this year that happens to be the case.
Here are a few things to watch for:
Great Expectations – A classic political ploy. Political parties – usually the one in government – will talk up their opponents’ chances of success. The Tories, for example, have set the bar at an unattainably high level (1000 council seats), so even if Labour do make significant gains, the government will nonetheless argue that Labour hasn’t done as well as it should have. It’s a stupid game, and one that’s easy to spot if you’re looking for it, but most people aren’t looking.
The point here is that whoever is able to spin their numbers the best in the post mortem will be able to gain an upper hand on the media narrative for a couple of weeks, and maybe even a bit of momentum. Cameron in particular would love a chance to shine the spotlight on Labour’s inadequacies for just enough time for him to catch a breather.
Clash of the Buffoon and the Sleazebag, and Glasgow. In the interest of full-disclosure, I should declare that I lean to the left – not in a self-righteous, hypocritical, Polly Toynbee kind of way – but in a manner that is entirely appropriate for a coddled, middle class History student. Yet, regardless of this, I cannot stand Ken Livingstone. My stomach churns at the very thought of him; you just sense he isn’t a good guy. What’s worse is that I quite like Boris. I mean, if you’re going to be a Tory, at least be honest about it. Heart on the sleeve, “authenticity is the gateway to trust” (Revelations: 7;12) and all that.
The outcome of the London Mayoral election, in isolation, is not immediately important. (Although a Boris victory does place him well for a run at the top job when Cameron steps down, but that debate is for another day…)
If Boris wins – which I predict he will – he buys the Tories some good headlines for a while and Labour’s gains will get undermined a little. But that’s not a nightmare scenario for Ed Milliband. Ken is not really part of the Labour establishment, and if he loses he certainly won’t drag Ed down with him. The let-up for the Government will be temporary, and Labour will return to calling for Jeremy Hunt’s head, particularly if their gains across the country turn out to be stronger than expected.
What Labour’s elite are seriously concerned about however, is Boris winning in London and Labour losing control of Glasgow, a traditional stronghold for the party. Glasgow is being viewed as a test of Milliband’s political strength, and if he falls short he could be in real trouble, especially considering the broadly unsympathetic right-wing media.
It might be expected that the first film in what Hollywood hopes will be a multi-million dollar franchise to replace the Twilight and Harry Potter series would follow the standard blockbuster formula and contain the usual Hollywood cliques: star-crossed lovers meeting amidst a whirlwind of danger and violence, the forces of evil being vanquished by the forces of good, despite the odds, and individual heroes and heroines overshadowing the bigger picture. Thankfully, The Hunger Games largely steers clear of these exhausted themes, and even satirises them. Whilst certain criticism is fair, for instance the inevitable gaps in the film as a result of translating Suzanne Collins’s best-seller onto the screen, or the toning down of violence necessary to achieve the 12A rating, it is clear that The Hunger Games is far more mature than many anticipated. A dystopian film that explores a government’s use of gladiatorial combat to control the population, The Hunger Games has provoked feminist and political debate.
Simply becoming a box-office success despite its female protagonist, The Hunger Games takes the standard action film in a new direction. Similar to Twilight, The Hunger Games is delivered from the first person perspective of a young woman – Katniss Everdeen. However, having been thrown into a gladiatorial area, Katniss emerges as a strong, active, independent and complex character, more interested in staying alive than pursuing love interests and not a swooning flower waiting to be courted by her perfect man. Whilst some critics have argued that her athletic build is unrealistic considering her impoverished upbringing, her proficiency at hunting and archery is crucial in establishing her as a character capable of exhibiting masculine traits rather than passively blending into the background as so many female characters do on screen.
One area that bewildering provoked initial criticism from fans is the casting of certain characters, notably Rue, Thresh and Cinna, with African American actors. It seems Rue was a particularly popular character amongst the readership of the book and many fans felt her ethnicity had been altered deliberately in the making of the film for political reasons. This is not true – Rue is explicitly described as having dark skin and black hair in the novel. Since the film is set hundreds of years in the future it depicts a certain level of ethnic mixing which should be praised, not attacked by racist fans whose minds are incapable of imagining a cute, innocent child unless she is white.
Most interesting in The Hunger Games are the metadramatic themes, drawn out through the imbedding of a televised event within the film. It is clear that the film inspires general political distrust, no matter what personal biases you bring to the theatre. Whilst exploring the power of television and the government’s supreme authority over the control of the medium (a particularly contentious topic in today’s world of CCTV and media manipulation) the film also exposes the contradictions that lie between the screen and reality. Katniss and Peeta might present an image of star-crossed lovers to the world in order to please the audience and win favour, in the same way that most Hollywood blockbusters do, but the reality is very different.
Today saw the launch of possibly the most interesting and quirky project of Arts Awareness Week. The name, my friend, is ‘Yarnbombing’.
Yarnbombing – or ‘Guerilla Knitting’ as it is often labelled – aims to cover empty, often desolate locations or their features with its own woollen brand of graffiti. A broad range of people pick up their knitting needles and set to work in creating some quirky, and oddly beautiful, designs.
Across the world community spaces have been transformed, with reams of colourful wool in flamboyant designs covering the derelict, the concrete or the grey of everyday life.
SAASY, in collaboration with the group known as Knit-Soc, want to expand and beautify the area around Vanbrugh Paradise, often regarded as a focal centre of campus life. They hope to get their own special knitting packs, including wool, needles and – importantly for me at least – instructions for hundreds of people across campus.
Maddie Boden and Briony Cartmell, who are running the project, hope to create a visual spectacular from the knitted pieces given by students from all over campus – wool and knitting, it seems to them, is an unexplored medium for art. They want the creations to represent the contributions of the whole student community, bringing everyone together through doing something a bit different and ultimately learning a new skill. In turn, the pieces will be transformed into a brightly-coloured masterpiece in stark contrast to the currently miserable area, clad only in paving slabs and guano.
They’re keen to argue that knitting isn’t just for the teapot-fanciers of outer suburbia, or the genteel ladies of the Women’s Institute. Although at first it seems a little too ‘hipster’ for some sensibilities, Maddie and Briony hope that everyone can appreciate this quirky celebration of campus life and the Arts. There has already been a great deal of interest from older students, who have picked up their packs with glee; a suitable alternative to the usual mundanity of the post-exam pre-week 9 period.
Yarnbombing has a certain quirky irony, a type of courteous vandalism with aims to beautify and involve everybody in the fun.
Yarnbombing continues this week on Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday at 8pm in Vanbrugh Paradise.
For more information on where you can get the packs, or when you can actually help make the final display, please see the Arts Awareness Week timetable.
Bringing together SASSY, The Norman Rea Gallery and The Art History Society, Arts Awareness Week is running throughout week 8 with the desire to enlighten and inspire students through all things arty. An exciting week of activities ranging from extreme knitting to a chic art auction set to the dulcet tones of jazz, this week promises to be a great way to kick start your summer of relaxation. The three societies are aiming to bring awareness of the arts to campus, involving all students with activities, not just those studying History of Art and the like. The Zahir shall be covering the events all week long, the first of which was the launch party, held at the Norman Rea Gallery.
There is always an exciting atmosphere at the Norman Rea, wine flows freely and the art is usually very enjoyable; it is a hubbub of artiness, therefore it seemed the perfect place to launch AAW. The current exhibition, ‘Catalyst’ is their summer exhibition which is open to all students and members of the wider community. Pieces are submitted and then selected by a board from the gallery- York’s own version of the Royal Academy summer exhibition. Pieces ranged from large oil canvases of a mother and daughter’s relationship, to smaller, intricate glass works depicting Langwith’s transition from HesWest to HesEast. A catalyst is something which stimulates a change, creating metamorphosis from the old to the new; all of the works on display here plot this transformative theme. A particular highlight was Kat Bashford’s ‘Untitled’ which hung like bunting across the gallery space, with each panel depicting her housemates mimicking a pose captured of them when they were younger. It is a reflective work which highlights a personal transition from childhood to adulthood.
The Launch Party provided a platform on which the rest of the week can rise from. Tickets for various events were sold and pink post-boxes to submit your SASSY postcards could also be found. Speaking to organisers, AAW really does hope to be fun and informative and a perfect way in which to make everyone aware of the art around them. This week hopes to be a good one, so maybe you should all get involved- you never know, you might become quite the art connoisseur.
Today’s mural painting along the walkway to Vanbrugh Paradise allowed me to unleash my forgotten artistic side. Stretching the length of the covered walk way, this blank canvas was open to anyone and everyone who walked passed fancying their hand at a little light relief in the form of art. It is perhaps one of the most obvious and easiest ways to get people involved with ‘community art’, and it certainly gets some great results, and let’s face it, who doesn’t love getting down and dirty with a paintbrush?!
By the time I had stumbled across the mural (there were three of them in between posts) one was beautifully painted by members of the AAW team, depicting a fun and naïve illustration of campus, complete with the obligatory duck. Having seen this, I was slightly apprehensive to add to the work as I haven’t picked up a paint brush since A-Level, and although competent I was painfully aware that it takes me a long time to come up with anything of artistic value when put on the spot.
So there I was, feeling nostalgic with my sparkly pink (yes, I know…) paint, ready to pounce on the canvas. And what did I decide to draw? A flower. I wish I could have come up with something better, but I just couldn’t, I got too caught up with the excitement of pinks, blues and purples, that I fell shamelessly back into the groove of a twelve year old. Luckily I was with a friend who did just that too, so at least I could feel very immature with someone else.
This activity I think really epitomises the aim of the week, it’s so simple, yet so much fun. I thoroughly enjoyed my twenty minutes of slapping some paint onto a piece of fabric, in the vain hope that it could be classed as artistic genius. Alongside my flower I did write a very pretentious quote about something to do with art being the elimination of the unnecessary, in many ways, I really do hope that gets covered up by some other child-like flower too, but hey, I was trying to fulfil my History of Art title and cliché.
The mural will be up for the remainder of the week, so next time you walk down Vanbrugh way, cast your eye over it and seek out all the ducks, bears, hearts and shameless flowers. You might even spot the odd masterpiece or two.
This enjoyable talk from a York Art Gallery representative explained the £8m renovation of the fine Victorian building. The project will “interpret” (as the gallery’s mission statement claimed) the grand Victorian spaces. One of the major changes is the additional floor being built into one of the tallest Victorian rooms, allowing for more artwork to be displayed. It is certainly a risk considering the building is listed.
What is instantly clear is that the project needs a lot more funding – not to mention the initial stages of building to kick-start the renovation. It is universally known that public funding for the arts is being severely cut. The Arts Council earmarked £3.5m from the local budget. The renovation was originally (in the speaker’s words) “bumped up” the local council’s agenda after a private donor entailed his estate to the York Art Gallery. The entailment covers £2m of the renovation. It is obvious that most of the funding will derive from private donations: it perhaps attests that the arts are becoming increasingly pushed off the agendas of local government. The gallery’s limited funds were most apparent when the speaker suggested the struggle to acquire contemporary works. Their art fund last year was a mere £100,000.
Indeed, the renovation is clearly overdue: the ramshackle storage units for the gallery’s 1000 paintings, 270 paper artworks and 500 sculptures was built in the 1970s. For years the gallery has used pieces of foam to prevent valuable works of art have been rubbing together (damaging some original frames) as they are all piled in back-to-back. It’s a crying shame and the refurbishment of the private spaces of the gallery will no doubt be a worthwhile investment – for the health of the works themselves. The speaker mentioned the scratches done to the varnish of the Ramsay portrait, ‘Mrs Morrison’, by visitors meaning that the painting will now be glazed. The art stores seem to be the priority at this stage, perhaps more so than the gallery’s display spaces. This is seemingly justified, considering the current stores have had leaks and dust problems from the air conditioning unit which is astonishingly also in the store. Judging by the pictures in the presentation, it is a sorry state of affairs. The renovation is “preventative conservation”, the speaker said – conservation to “minimise the risk of damage and deterioration.” The new stores will boast roller racks for easy access and glass cabinets for sculptures.
Other changes include a balcony area for visitors and an extension of the existing toilets, both of which anticipate an increase in visiting rates which the speaker suggests is based on the popularity of the Hockney exhibition last year.
The public cost, as well as financial, is incurred in that the York Art Gallery will be closed for two and a half years from December this year. Thirty-four works will go on tour around Yorkshire. Many will be exhibited in three long exhibitions at St. Mary’s gallery. Four paintings will go to the National Gallery, and three to the Tate. Some may be exhibited at Fairfax House and most will sit in deep storage for the coming years.
Though it is a high price to pay, the gallery is in desperate need of attention. It is sure to be worth it in two and a half years’ time.
I wrote in these pages a few months ago about how Democrats needed to learn lessons from Republicans when it came to fighting elections. As a front seat observer to this year’s presidential race – I am currently working in the battleground state of Ohio – it seemed appropriate to offer a follow up.
The quick conclusion: the lesson has been learned. Unlike many of his predecessors – Mondale, Dukkakis, Gore, Kerry, and so on – Obama and his team are playing tough and are playing dirty. Quite simply, they are taking Romney’s greatest perceived strength and turning it into a potentially devastating weakness.
Romney’s main claim to the White House is that he has been a successful businessman and, because of this, he is far more knowledgeable about what it takes to create jobs. Obama, by contrast, a well-documented socialist with no business experience, cannot possibly know what it takes to grow an economy. Romney’s team want to focus relentlessly on just how bad the economy is and then present himself as the guy who can fix it. It really is that simple.
If you don’t believe me, look at Romney’s response to any social issue. When Obama announced support for gay marriage, Romney briefly reaffirmed his position and went back to talking about the economy. When Obama ruled by executive decree that children of illegal immigrants would not actively be pursued for deportation, providing they met certain requirements, Romney refused to talk about it, and got back to talking about economy. This is the only possible way he’s going to be able to steal the White House keys.
The problem now for Mr Romney, is that his job-creating credentials are being brought into question. Obama for America, and the Super-PAC supporting him, Priorities USA, have been relentlessly pursuing his tenure at Bain Capital, the company where he made his millions. Ads have flooded the airwaves with desolate factories and ‘real workers’ telling how the Big Bad, Out-of-Touch Mr Romney came to town, sent their jobs overseas and made millions in the process.
The media – or ‘the liberal elite,’ as Sarah Palin calls them – have been looking into Romney’s past too. The Washington Post wrote a story claiming that Romney was a pioneer of outsourcing whilst at Bain, a phrase that was quickly injected into a number of Obama spots. The Boston Globe joined the party as well, highlighting evidence that shows Romney left Bain three years later than he had previously claimed.
A narrative is starting to set in that depicts the Republican candidate as a secretive and selfish businessman who holds the interests of the rich close to his heart. Indeed, 58% of voters in swing states believe that, as a businessman, Romney’s priority was to make millions for his investors and himself, without a care for the ordinary jobs. 37% are less likely to vote for him because of his tenure at Bain, with only 27% being more likely to do so and, most troubling for the Republican, President Obama is seen by 50% to be more likely to fight for the middle-class, compared with just 31% for Romney.
In recent days, Romney’s campaign has tried to hit back, saying that Obama has been dishing out taxpayer dollars to his friends, and that, more generally, these ‘attacks on success’ have crossed a line. It hasn’t been a very potent form of counter-attack for quite obvious reasons. Firstly, the idea that Obama and the Democrats are the party gifting millions of dollars to their donors is patent hypocrisy from a party whose central fundraising pitch is: ‘If you give us a few million now, when we’re in office, we’ll make sure you make it all back in tax-breaks.’ And secondly, if a line has been crossed, it was crossed some years ago and probably by the Republican Party. That is an aside however, as this particular charge was shot down in characteristically sharp style when Rahm Emmanuel – former White House Chief of Staff, now Mayor of Chicago – told the GOP candidate to ‘stop whining.’
As Republicans did to John Kerry in 2004, Team Obama is going making sure they define Romney on their terms before Romney has a chance to do it himself. Behind the scenes, and increasingly in the open, Republicans are starting to fret, worried that Romney’s campaign is blowing an historic opportunity to seize the White House from a relatively weak incumbent caught in an anaemic recovery.
It is thus a testament to how far Democrats have come in the campaigning game that they look set, although by the slimmest of margins, to cling on to the Presidency this November.
This weekend marks 100 days until Election Day here in the United States, and this arbitrary milestone invites us to take stock of where we are and how the race currently stands. In so doing, it is necessary to get away from the talking-head punditry that incessantly – and often inaccurately – drives the day and get our feet onto firmer ground.
For starters, we need to acknowledge that this is an election taking place in a country that is deeply polarised. According to aWashington Post analysis, the traditional swing-voters that tend to decide most elections compromise only 9% of the electorate. Most Democrats and Republicans are already firmly in their corner and are very unlikely to move before November. This is not a volatile race prone to significant daily fluctuations, but rather a very steady one, with gains almost certain to be incremental at best.
With this in mind, we can ignore much of the daily cable chatter, as well as sites like Politico and Huffington Post. Whilst much of what these outlets offer is interesting – at least to a political junkie – it is also largely irrelevant. Only when a single story maintains media attention for a sustained period of time – Romney’s Tax Returns, being a good example – does it start to contribute to an overarching narrative and seep through to the voter on the street, and even then the effect is minimal. People believe what they want to believe.
To get a more accurate sense of how the electoral landscape looks it is helpful to turn to those who put their faith in the power of numbers, not punditry. Of these, the New York Times’ Nate Silver, author of FiveThirtyEight.com is perhaps the best. An economist by training, Silver shot to (relative) fame in 2008 when his election model predicted 49 out of 50 states correctly in the presidential race, missing only Indiana which went for Obama by 0.9%. He also correctly predicted the outcomes of all 35 Senate races that year too, thus establishing himself as a man to be listened to.
So how does he see that state of play this year? As of time of writing, Silver gives Obama a 65% chance of victory in the fall, against Romney’s 35%. This is Romney’s best figure since late June and shows he has gained some ground in recent weeks. Nonetheless, Romney’s lead in Florida – a state he must win to have any chance of being elected – is delicate, and well within the margin of error. What is more, Ohio, the state most likely to be the ‘tipping point’ in November, is leaning increasingly towards Obama. If Silver’s calculations are accurate, and they are about as accurate as anyone working in the US right now, then the President holds a significant lead, and in an election unlikely to change dramatically, this leaves Governor Romney facing an uphill battle.
However, there always remains the possibility that unforeseen circumstances could yet turn this race on its head. If Europe fails to get its house in order and proceeds to drag the US back into recession, the President, fairly or unfairly, will have to shoulder the blame. Then again, if the American economy turns out strong jobs figures in September and October, as it did in the early months of this year, then the President will almost certainly pull away to victory on a late surge of approval.
Romney may capitulate and be forced to release more than two years of his tax returns. He faces increasingly loud calls from Republicans, not to mention Democrats, to do so. But while the Governor is many things, he is not stupid. He must have calculated that releasing the information would be more damaging than not doing so. (The current theory is that Romney lost so much money in the 2008 crash, that he was able not to pay any tax – or at least, a very, very low rate of tax – on his 2009 earnings.) The chances are, therefore, that he will not waver from his current position of adamantly refusing to release more.
Finally, even without Europe collapsing or Romney capitulating, the televised debates, the rules of which were announced on Wednesday, could potentially tilt the balance. Romney may have an edge in this area, being well-drilled from a prolonged primary season where he took part in no fewer than nineteen debates. Obama, by way on contrast, has not debated since October of 2008. Then again, it all comes down to it on the night, and with the second debate taking place with a town hall format, Romney’s inability to connect to the average voter may be exposed in front of an audience of millions.
This said, the impact of the televised debate is generally over-hyped, and both candidates will look to escape unscathed rather than score a clear victory. In such a hostile and polarised political environment a knock-out punch is near impossible, but a glaring error could prove costly. More likely than not, the debates will teach us little new and will serve only to harden the lines on either side of the political divide.
For the majority of the country that has already decided which way they are going to vote, the next three months will only act as an example of how broken American politics is, as both sides spend hundreds of millions of dollars trying to win over a few hundred thousand voters in ten key battleground states. Those who have not made up their minds will more likely drift, with reluctance more than enthusiasm, into one camp or the other, and probably only then in the final few weeks.
The state of the race is stable and 2012 looks set to plod along towards its inevitable and momentous conclusion.
Sat at my desk, my reverie of researching Pre Raphaelite masterpieces is interrupted by an imposing visit from three men. Sporting Prada loafers with matching ‘man bags’, my initial reaction is to smile and say hello then get on with my task in hand. My boss for the week however springs to her feet and reads the situation with aplomb. The ‘heavy’ in the middle is the buyer, merely interested in price and whether the artist is known or not. His right hand man is his son, there to advise and give an opinion, but really, he has no sway on what his father will buy. And the shy, coy other man is his translator. This group of people represent a new wave of art appreciators; the East is taking over the art world and these men were certainly on a mission.
During the next ten minutes I witnessed some bizarre scenes. Barely taking note of the paintings, a series of repetitive traits would unravel. The ‘heavy’ would point to an oil painting, appearing to disregard its artistic merit; his translator would enquire after the price and the artist. My counterpart was quick to provide this relevant information whilst always maintaining eye contact with the main man. A whistle stop tour of the downstairs gallery and the men left almost as soon as they arrived, our catalogue in hand, price list included.
This is the new rising generation of art buyer. Seemingly more and more now, wealthy business men from Hong Kong and Japan are visiting the galleries and auction houses on Bond Street, stopping off at big brands to buy a classic item of clothing or the new item of foot wear, rounding off their ‘visit’ to the city with a ‘small’ purchase from a gallery.
It was interesting witnessing what struck them artistically for it is unlikely these men have an actual interest in the art works they are selecting. One canvas was enormous and depicted a classical English rural scene from the late nineteenth century, the other an intricate portrait of a woman, evidently appearing as though she had freshly stepped out of Jane Eyre. Seemingly so, the art is becoming of lesser importance to the buyer, rather they are more interested to know about its status or the status of the artist in order for them to see whether the next purchase will be beneficial to them and their status within society.
It has been noted a significant increase in paintings bought from Western Europe have been from countries in the Far East. Evidently this is where the money is lying. Our current economic situation has seen a fall in artwork bought by the ‘old type’- old money dressed in their father’s suits, sporting a Panama on a summer’s day, with a signet ring adorning a finger. Instead the big-guns are moving into shape, ready to buy with cash in hand and all of them are seeing their purchases as a happy memory of their ‘trip’ to London. Alongside the Louis Vuitton bag and Prada slip-ons, a slice of quintessential Britannia will be put on display amongst their ever increasing array of hotchpotch ‘famous’ and dare I say it, clichéd art work.
It seems sad to me that this is becoming the fate of some beautiful paintings, but right now, this is a very viable market and without it we would be losing out and traipsing behind other nations. We should be ready to embrace this new cosmopolitan buyer and be excited by the opportunities it will bring about; it certainly makes for a vibrant and exciting change within a frequently stuffy and ‘old boys’’ network.
Earlier today Mitt Romney officially announced that Paul Ryan, a Congressman from Wisconsin, and a man most famous for his radical 2010 budget, will be his Vice-Presidential nominee. Here are some hard and fast thoughts, ordered vaguely and submitted without eloquence or style (for which I apologise).
Firstly, Romney’s selection is unusually bold. Conventional wisdom held that, after the disaster of Sarah Palin in 2008, Romney, the cautious businessman, would pick a boring, white guy. Tim Pawlenty and Rob Portman were two of the favourite amongst many of the talking-heads by virtue of their staggering dullness. Ryan may be white, but he is not boring.
Instead, Romney seems to have acknowledged that his strategy of making this election a referendum on President Obama may not be enough. This is a statement of intent on Romney’s part, and an attempt to shake-up a campaign that has been slowly but surely drifting towards the incumbent.
Ryan does not suffer from the same vacant mind that shines from Sarah Palin’s every word. A policy-wonk before he is a politician, his intellect is formidable and impressive – even the President says so – and whilst many disagree with the vision he sets out for the country, he is nonetheless admired across the political spectrum for the sharpness of his mind.
His ideas on how to bring the United States back to fiscal health are radical and politically brave. The Left see Ryan as a man intent on shredding the safety net that catches the weakest in society; the Right adores him for his belligerent advocacy of fiscal conservatism. Romney had previously tentatively endorsed Ryan’s 2010 Budget but he is now inextricably bound to it. What this means will be determined in how the narrative is shaped over the next few weeks.
Team Obama – who have gained a reputation for the ferocity and speed of their response – will likely relish the chance to take on Ryan. For all his considerable intelligence he is also a relatively unknown entity outside of the political bubble. Even in Wisconsin he does not have the state-wide name-recognition that a Senator or Governor does. As they have done to Romney, the Obama campaign will seek to define him on their own terms. The man who ‘wants to end Medicare as we know it’ will be one likely line of attack, and a particularly potent one in pensioner-heavy states like Florida, which is crucial to a Romney victory.
Ryan does have his upsides, obviously. He is young, dynamic and (for a politician) good-looking. More importantly is his ability to explain complicated ideas in simple terms, an invaluable skill for any modern politician. Romney has had a problem connecting with blue-collar voters, Ryan connects easily.
Ryan’s blueprint for fiscal health also brings into focus America’s ballooning national debt. Whilst much of the blame for fiscal recklessness should probably lie at the feet of George W. Bush (an assertion Ryan would not dispute) Obama will be an easy-target just by being in office at a time when the national debt has continued to expand. The stimulus – arguably one of the reasons why America, unlike much of the Western world, currently has an economy which is growing – will be attacked fiercely.
Unlike Romney however, Ryan has barely any private sector experience. Flipping burgers in McDonalds notwithstanding, he has spent almost his entire career inside Washington, a message at odds with Romney’s private sector fetish. Moreover, Ryan has yet to properly endure the glare of the national spotlight. His vetting by the Romney camp will have no doubt been thorough, particularly after what unfolded four years ago, but the media has fresh meat to get its teeth into, so expect a vicious trial by press.
Finally, the justification behind Romney’s choice has generally pointed towards the hope that a ‘reset’ button can be hit on an election that was slipping away from the Republican. Interestingly, this was a similar rationale behind the selection of Sarah Palin four years ago. She was picked for being a ‘game-changer’ – we all saw how that panned out.
Ryan is very different from Palin in many ways, but the outcome could be similar. Defined in the right way by the Obama campaign and Romney’s decision could quickly look foolish. Vice-Presidential nominees tend not to provide big gains, but they have the potential to be very damaging.
Either way, this election suddenly got a lot more interesting, but it remains to be seen just what sort of impact Paul Ryan will have.
The dust has finally settled. The glossy and extravagant, and increasingly irrelevant, national conventions are over and the campaigns are moving into the home stretch. Yet in the aftermath of the past two weeks, one nagging question remains: Why was President Obama’s speech so decidedly average? A man who announced himself on the world stage with lofty and sparkling rhetoric managed to give an address last week that was as tepid as it was pale.
It did not help, of course, that he had two tough acts to follow. His wife, Michelle, easily the most popular Obama in America, dazzled on night one of the Convention, and on night two, Bill Clinton, the Daddy of the Democratic Party, came home to roost and stole the entire show. ‘Give the kid another chance,’ Clinton seemed to say, as he ripped into the Republicans with a smile on his face and a twinkle in his eye. The verdict on Bubba was nearly unanimous: he had delivered one of the best speeches of his political career.
But that does not explain why Obama was so flat. Yes, Michelle and Bill were good, and they set the bar particularly high, but this is a man whose life has been defined by clearing bars of seemingly impossible height. Indeed, you cannot, at least today, get into the Oval Office without the capability of rising to the big occasions. This considered, the President’s speech was baffling.
It should be said, in fairness, it was not bad speech per se. As we have come to expect from Obama, and his chief wordsmith Jon Favreau, the speech was strong on eloquence and easily passed the cadence test. On paper, its musicality was obvious, albeit not overwhelming.
But context matters, and so does delivery, and this speech ended up being mediocre by the President’s own standards. It was plain and, more importantly, it was thoroughly forgettable.
One wonders then, what was the President playing at? Campaigns are hand-to-hand fights, conducted through candidates and willing surrogates. This speech was not an accident, it was intentional, it had a purpose; it is just difficult to discern what that purpose was.
Having dwelled on it for a couple of days, the best I can make out is this: the President’s speech was a safe speech. It was the sort of speech you give if you know you are ahead. The rationale may be astute: too much hope, too many lofty promises, and Obama would have gifted his opponents a window of attack.
Instead, Obama tempered hope with reality, acknowledging 2012 is not 2008. But by being steady and statesman-like, he quietly knocked the ball onto Romney’s side of the court. It is the Republican who is behind in the race to 270, even some of his most senior strategists concede this, so it is he who has to change the race in the remaining two months.
Dazzle, Obama did not, but quietly effective, he may turn out to be.
Before we start any discussion of JK Rowling’s newest book The Casual Vacancy, I have a confession to make. I haven’t read it.
What interests me is the hype surrounding the book, notoriously the best-selling author’s first foray into adult fiction (excluding the editions of the Harry Potter books which were given those inanely dreary ‘grown-up’ covers). Proof of this maturity was even demonstrated in the obscure leaking of the curious line “miraculously unguarded vagina”. Because Rowling is so famous everyone seems to have an opinion – or at least wants one – on a novel which seems really hard to gauge.
The Casual Vacancy revolves around the picturesque town of Pagford, seethingly middle-class and forever looking down on the neighbouring council estate, ‘The Fields’. At the beginning of the book, the affable and popular Barry Fairbrother – once an inhabitant of the estate – dies, leaving a ‘casual vacancy’ on the parish council. From this point there is a tussle to fill the empty position, important because the new councillor will carry the deciding vote on whether Pagford will maintain responsibility for the run-down Fields estate, or whether they will pass it on to the nearby city Yarvil.
Against this backdrop we meet characters from both sides including – apparently – some middle class caricatures of snobbery and social envy, prejudices aplenty, set against council estate inhabitants suffering under drugs and spouting the obligatory ‘youff speek’ (“Tha’s norra fuckin’ crime”).
Starting off with a little bit of hate, we are promptly pointed to the Daily Mail. Jan Moir, a journalist who hit the headlines for her comments on the role of Stephen Gately’s sexuality in his death back in 2009, is particularly scathing. To her, the book is “more than 500 pages of relentless socialist manifesto masquerading as literature”. Referring to JK Rowling as a “left-leaning demagogue”, she criticises the author for laying into “risible middle-class values” whilst refusing to accept her own narrow-mindedness. Moir claims that all the middle-class figures are presented as “monsters”, picking on the “noble savages” of the estate – her words reminiscent of the worst 19th Century anthropology.
In an interview for the BBC’s Culture Show, Rowling said that the book was only political in the sense that any issue is political; when writing, she wanted to highlight reality and the effect of prejudice and ‘small-mindedness’ on any community. It was compassions which she wanted to drive at, claiming that she would have nothing to say with those who felt no empathy for her council estate heroine Krystal Weedon.
Comments on Moir’s article via the “Mail Online” make an interesting read, with many offering their support, both for Rowling and her novel. This is really the crux of the matter – reviews seem to be as much about the author as they are about the novel. One simply says, “She [Rowling] seems like a very nice unassuming woman, who gives away a lot of her money”. Mel, from Darlington, commented that it’s Moir herself who has “tunnel vision”, questioning whether the criticisms that “it’s not a happy book” and that there are “too many pages” are really relevant.
The Harry Potter author must have a great deal of backing regardless of reviews – her fantasy series has sold over 450 million books worldwide. With such popular support for her previous work, it’s difficult to tell who to believe – the stalwart fan or the self-conscious critic.
The Guardian’s Theo Tait seems to toe a very different line, praising elements of the novel yet not denying that it lacks the Harry Potter series’ warmth and fun: “all of the characters are fairly horrible or suicidally miserable or dead”. Apparently the book is not a masterpiece, but it’s not bad – Tait labels it “intelligent, workmanlike and often funny”, just slightly disappointing. Again, the “righteous social message” is referred to, though presumably this time to a more sympathetic audience. Tait compares it to the novels of Gaskell or Eliot, labelling it “Mugglemarch”.
People seem surprised that the Rowling could dare make comments on class and wealth, snobbery and prejudice, somehow forgetting that she’s famous for writing about boy who had to live in a cupboard because his sneeringly middle-class family were frightened of ‘people like him’. The author thrives on the shaming of narrow-mindedness and snobbery, pushed to the grotesque. Apolitical as the Harry Potter books seemed to many people, Rowling has been a confirmed supporter of the Labour Party and is a proponent and sponsor of many social justice charities.
Reviews seem to be highly conflicting, with the New York Times’ Michiko Kakutani labelling the novel “wilfully banal, so depressingly clichéd” and Time Magazine’s Lev Grossman asserting that it’s “rich with literary intelligence and entirely bereft of bullshit”. It sees clear that the novel is dark with “adult themes”, but that’s all that is clear.
We all think we know what kind of books JK Rowling produces. Probably best to read them first though.
When asked where I study I am nine times out of ten bombarded with the same old responses: ‘SUCH a lovely city- what wonderful history and culture to be surrounded by’, ‘If I was doing my degree again I’d go to York’, or perhaps my favourite, ‘oh yeah, it’s old there, right?’ So I would forgive you if you perhaps wouldn’t link York with a rise of modern art, not least the tag line of ‘edgy’ or, dare I say it, ‘hipster’.
However, if you peel away the old crumbling protective walls and think outside the box, York certainly has plenty to offer in terms of exciting new and innovative places to be. Illuminating York proceeds to display the historic city in full techni-colour, forcing the old into becoming the new and revitalised.
Over the Halloween weekend the Minster, the Castle Museum and the iconic walls and Clifford’s Tower become a blank canvas on which a spectacle is to be found. Without giving too much away, a hidden history of York will be shown in a completely different light (excuse the pun). Expect terribly clever banner art streaming across your favourite landmark, vibe-y tones tapping at your senses and a crisp Autumnal breeze.
Alongside the main ‘exhibition’, smaller independent installations can be found dotted across the city. The skeletal filaments of leaves blushing from their trees, spot light work in the night sky and window displays attracting the unseen are to name but a few.
York is certainly not just to do with the old and historic. It is becoming a hive of activity within the ever growing modern art culture of the North. It may well take time to reach the dizzying heights of Liverpool and Leeds, but York’s quaint charm has something which these cities cannot boast. Though in its raw state still, with more events such as Illuminating York occurring so rapidly, it will soon assume its place upon the cultural landscape.
Whilst York Art Gallery is not to be sniffed at, hosting an array of big name artists such as David Hockney and William Etty in recent months, York is also home to a number of art hideouts that are worth spending an hour or more seeking out. Local curator Lottie Stone has followed on from the success of her first pop up gallery and has recreated a similar space in an empty shop on High Petergate. Greatly enthusiastic about local artists and their work her gallery promotes this interest showcasing pieces by artists in the Yorkshire area. The work is also available to purchase at a reasonable price. Beautiful art trinkets and hand-made jewellery together with evening events help to create a friendly unimposing space where Stone hopes people will gather to discuss art or at least enjoy the space she has created.
If you can muster any energy after an exhausting fresher’s week, Bar Lane Studios is holding ‘The Big Draw’ this weekend inviting budding artists or those of us who like to whack a bit of paint on some paper the chance to get involved in a mass drawing session that will also be joined by local artists. You can celebrate the success of your finger-paint work with others at the Studio’s café. Throughout the following months Bar Lane Studios will be holding life drawing sessions and exhibitions. Not to be missed is their Affordable Art Fair and Christmas Craft Fair hosted by ‘Made in York’ in December.
Closer to home, on the University campus, the student run Norman Rea Gallery starts off the year with their first exhibition ‘Temple of the Occult’. Taking the form of a temple, the exhibition becomes an installation of works inspired by occult traditions and reveals religious truths. Launching on Monday 15th October, the exhibition will be held for a week in the Gallery above Courtyard.
York Student Cinema is a society run by University of York students and shows three films per week in P/X/001, with only a £3 entry free. Anyone can come along so check out their timetable online and get a bunch of friends together when you want to go. Highlights this term include Ted, The Dark Knight Rises, Taken 2 and Emma Watson’s new film The Perks of Being a Wallflower in week 9. To get the very latest releases you’ll want to head to the Picture House in York, which is situation next to Revolutions Bar on the high street. As well as Orange Wednesdays and student concessions, the Picture House runs a student Slackers Club in association with E4, which is completely free to join and offers its members exclusive screenings every month of brand new E4 shows, classic movies or even a preview of a film yet to be released at absolutely no cost. To see what’s coming up next join their Facebook page. For those more discerning film viewers try out one of their Discover Tuesday nights that showcase a diverse and influential range of films and documentaries. For anyone who wants to try something different, their Culture Shock evenings showcase the best in cult and genre cinema.
With all of the year’s most anticipated films being released this winter, make sure you don’t miss out – whether you take advantage of York Student Cinema’s fantastically low prices or visit City Screen Picture House in town. The new Bond film, Skyfall, is being released in October starring Daniel Craig and Javier Bardem, and with Sam Mendes at the helm it’s sure to be a success. In December, The Hobbit Part 1: An Unexpected Journey will finally find its way onto cinema screens, with the exciting additions of Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch to the cast. Despite its financial setbacks and filming delays, it is expected to be the highest earning film of the year and might well claim a host of awards. In independent cinema, this year will see the highest grossing independent film of all time: Cloud Atlas. Written and directed by Lana and Andy Wachowski (The Matrix, V for Vendetta) and Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run, Paris, je t’aime), the film premiered at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival and received a ten-minute standing ovation.
There is a feast of good films awaiting; if you’re a discerning student you’ll be able to see them all, and at a very student price.
This is the hip-hop that matters, it is born out of poverty and discrimination, searches for justice with beats and rhyme. There is a growing scene of Muslim hip-hop in Europe, their music expresses their hostility towards being objectified as an enemy or as dangerous people, they feel marginalized. Farah Pandith, the US representative to Muslim communities in America, says hip-hop conveys a “different narrative” to counter foreign violent ideology, it is a form of peaceful protest, and suffering is best conveyed to the privileged through the arts of music, visual media, or written literature. However these forms of protest have been condemned by governments as “Muslim hate rap,” rappers have been prosecuted and the slogans like “Free Palestine” have been tuned out of Radio One Xtra to “ensure impartiality was maintained.”
Salah Edin, a Dutch rapper, speaks of racial dicrimination and islamophobia, in his music video ‘Het Land Van,’ (funded by the government and later condemned for its racialism) he is body searched and an old man is searched because he was praying, Salah Edin’s beard progressively becomes thicker as the video progresses and this leads him headlong into Guantanamo bay.
Kerry James is a French Haitian rapper born in Paris, he is widely known in France and popular among the large West Indies and Muslim population. He speaks out against the same problems of race and religion, he says the French government are:
“…pillagers of wealth, murderers of Africans, torturers of Algerians, the colonial past is yours, you chose to link your history to ours…”
In his video people are blindfolded, handcuffed, guns and barbed wire surround them. These symbols clearly show us the feelings of the marginalized populations in Europe, and it could replay the Civil Rights Movement in America during the 1960’s and 1970’s.
Six hours after writing this article the Narcicyst (Iraqi – Canadian hip-hop artist) declared on Facebook…
“Due to partnerships that have just been made clear to me, I have chosen to drop out of the CreativeTimeSummit tomorrow in Dubai. I stand in support of the Palestinian people and against the genocide of a people and am a firm supporter of the Palestinain BDS National Committee. I apologise to the organisers here, but it is my duty and role as an Arab artist to stand with the people of Palestine. To see the change we have to be the change.”
Two weeks ago, Barack Obama was pulling away. The election that was supposed to be a photo-finish seemed to be slipping slowly – but surely – away from Mitt Romney. In nearly every key swing state the President had established small but significant leads, most beyond the margin of error. Victory was moving towards the inevitable.
Then came last Wednesday.
If Barack Obama fails to gain a second term, Wednesday 3rd October will be why. Republicans, Independents -even Democrats – all overwhelmingly agreed that Romney won the debate convincingly. Romney was slick and articulate, Obama, to the dismay of his devotees, appeared old and tired. In fact, put quite simply, he looked like he didn’t want to be there.
It was bad, and Team Obama knew it. Ten minutes before the end of the debate his top aides were already on a conference call, figuring out their next step. Their boss had taken a battering from a rival who had found the perfect moment to come good. The fact that Axelrod et al. didn’t turn up to the spin room for over half an hour points to the severity of the situation.
Shortly after the debate Obama gathered his closest advisors for the briefest of debriefs and went for dinner with his wife. He knew that Romney had got the better of him. Asked whether Kerry – who had played Romney in the practice debates – was at fault, Obama quickly responded in the negative. This was his fault, the blame was all his.
In the aftermath, Democrats expected the polling to be bad. Their expectations were met and then some. On Wednesday, for the first time in the general election period, Romney pulled ahead nationally in an average of all the major polls. 0.7% may not seem like an insurmountable lead – and it’s not – but for Democrats who had been getting increasingly comfortable as their guy pulled ahead, it was an unnerving number.
At time of writing, the momentum seems to be going only one way. Romney has eliminated Obama’s lead. Statistically they are now tied. Obama’s eighteen-point lead amongst women has closed to a one-point one. The Hispanic vote is down and Republican enthusiasm is up. As David Plouffe might put it, it is bed-wetting time for the Democratic faithful.
Such a capitulation on national television would throw most people into a prolonged period of soul-searching. Short of that, they would nonetheless have their confidence rocked and their self wracked with doubt.
If we are to anticipate the remainder of the election therefore, it is probably worth considering how Obama bounced back. The next day he shone with the charisma that so characterised his 2008 campaign. He attacked his opponent in the way he had failed to do the night before, mocking his attacks on Big Bird and burrowing at his very credibility by calling him everything short of a liar. The man on the debate stage in Denver and the man on the campaign trail could not have been more different. But as David Axelrod noted of his boss, ‘he doesn’t brood – he reacts.’
Thursday evening, Joe Biden took on Paul Ryan in the Vice Presidential debate. Generally the VP debates are all but irrelevant. This one wasn’t. Biden had to show-up and make the case for his boss. Fortunately, he did.
Much ink will be expended on whether or not Biden smiled and smirked too much. Conservatives – the most debased (and, thus, most politically astute) sort – will draw comparisons between Al Gore’s overly arrogant performance in 2000 and Biden’s this year. This point may be fair but ultimately unimportant. Biden’s job in the debate was not to win independents, which compromise an unusually small percentage of the population this year, but to fire up the base. The movement in the polls against Obama since his poor debate showing have not been because of Democrats deserting him. Rather, it has been because Republicans, suddenly filled with a belief in their candidate, have become increasingly enthusiastic about their nominee’s prospects. Democrats, by contrast, are deflated.
Joe – loyal, working-class Joe – took the fight to Ryan. We will have to wait for hard numbers to see how his performance played out amongst the more general population. Crucially however, he may have been able to stop the bleeding and slow Romney’s momentum.
The next presidential debate is on Tuesday. Expect Obama to put in a big performance. Although rarely does it seep through to the public, the President is fiercely competitive. At his regular basketball games, those who are perceived to be going easy on him aren’t invited back. What is more, he holds a genuine contempt for Mitt Romney, a man who he believes to not be good enough for the top office. He knows he fell short in his first battle. He will not let it happen again. He will take the fight to Romney with every nerve and sinew.
Obama is not done yet. Just await the comeback.
What do you make of Nick Clegg’s apology to current students for raising, rather than scrapping, tuition fees?I couldn’t even listen to it – had to turn the radio off in the car half way through. He’s the biggest let-down since the third series of My Parents Are Aliens. Maybe slightly bigger.
The York Conservatives are the biggest political group on-campus. What do you make of this and why do you think this is?We live in austere times. Politics today in Britain is maybe the kind of thing that appeals to the kind of people who are right wing. The Left’s maybe feeling pretty disenfranchised right now (I know I am). These are some potential reasons.
Which political club (York Labour Club, York Conservatives, Lib Dems, Greens, STAR etc) on-campus would cater most to your political affiliation?None, party politics at this level is pointless. Party politics at national level, is also, in my opinion, rather pointless.
What do you think York Politics is missing?Energy and youthful vim.
Generally speaking, do you tend to find York students left-wing or right-wing?A heady mixture of both. Each are vocally represented among the people I encounter.
How would you describe your political attitudes?I love democracy. I hate the three party system and first past the post. I’m liberal in my head, heart and gut.
If you voted in the last general election, how did you vote?LibDem (awkward).
Which elements of the new campus are most exciting to you? (Eg VBar, York Sports Village, new Langwith.)
Sports village would be a riot I’m sure, but I recently bought a tremendous loyalty card for swimming at another local pool, so my loyalties are of course elsewhere.
Are you happy with your department so far?English department has been a-okay thanks. I have a dreamy supervisor, and have enjoyed it mostly.
What do you enjoy most about York?It’s beautiful and relaxed and friendly.
What advice would you give to new students about York life and academia?
Don’t worry about it, do your best and be your happiest.
Debate season is finally over and it has not been kind to Barack Obama. It matters very little that he scored victories against Mitt Romney in the second and third debates, because the damage had already been done in the first.
That initial contest shattered the President’s best laid plans. Millions of dollars were spent over the summer on defining Romney as an embodiment of the extremities of the modern GOP in the hope that the weak incumbent could overcome an even weaker challenger. The execution was flawless and, up until October, the plan seemed to be working perfectly as Obama eased into a small but significant lead.
Then Moderate Mitt turned up. The man on stage in Denver bore little resemblance to the cold-hearted caricature so omnipresent in Obama’s attack ads. Mitt was reasonable, Mitt was sensible, and, most of all, Mitt was plausibly presidential. Obama, taken aback by this new Mitt, was stunned into one of the most lacklustre performances of his career. In those ninety minutes the whole race was turned on its head.
In national polls ever since, Romney has either been statistically tied or slightly ahead. Some Republicans are now arguing their man is going to win in a landslide, so great is their momentum. One went so far as to claim the Republican is going to get 305 electoral votes. Amidst this chatter, fans of the President are getting decidedly nervous, and some are hitting full-on panic mode.
They shouldn’t. Here’s why.
Firstly, the bleed that started when Romney sliced up Obama in the first debate has now been staunched by the President’s two strong showings since. Movement within the polls is necessarily small because of the unusually low number of swing voters up for grabs in this cycle and Romney’s debate bounce has almost certainly peaked.
Secondly, more likely than not this is Republicans trying to create a self-fulfilling prophecy. People like winners, and if Republicans can talk up their chances of victory enough – if they can make people believe the momentum is truly behind them – they hope that voters will jump on their bandwagon. In the chaos of the last weeks of a general election campaign – and by virtue of the media-world which we inhabit – there is little time for measured reflection. Journalists, always keen for a story, will happily churn out whatever line is fed to them, often not taking the time to realise they are acting as extensions of the campaigns. Thus the quotes from any ‘senior source’ need to be treated with a very liberal dosing of salt. Playing the media is a profession now, and some of these guys have got really good at it.
Finally, the Electoral College still favours Obama. The race is, to all intents and purposes, down to seven states: Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio and Virginia. Of these, Obama only has to win Ohio and Nevada to propel himself to the magic 270. Nevada is relatively safe territory for the President and in Ohio polling generally gives Obama an edge. Lower than average unemployment and a resurgent auto-industry helped Obama’s numbers remain stable as the race tightened nationally in the aftermath of the first debate.
It is a risky strategy for the President, and Team Obama embraces it with reluctance. Whereas four years ago Obama had any number of paths to victory, this time around nearly all his eggs are in the Ohio basket. On the other hand, Romney cannot win without Ohio and, with his well-publicised advocacy of allowing Detroit to go bankrupt, Romney faces an uphill battle there.
It is therefore the President who remains the favourite, albeit a slim one. Republicans may be ebullient, and not unreasonably so, for this race is now firmly within the margin of error, but as it stands, geography may yet see the President through to his second term.
Released fifty years after the first ever James Bond film, Dr. No, the franchise’s newest instalment, ‘Skyfall’, explores how the world has evolved in the last half century. Symbolised by the new Q, a young computer genius played by Ben Whishaw, who tells Bond ’I can do more damage on my laptop in my pyjamas than you can do in a year in the field’, ‘Skyfall’ depicts a shadowy picture of contemporary life in which asymmetrical espionage is conducted between individuals and organisations, rather than between different nations. Information leaks, CCTV, and cyber threats replace forgery, steakouts, and the threat of war. But whilst the film recognizes our global, technological age, Sam Mendes’s film also acknowledges the past – a scene shot in front of Turner’s painting ‘The Fighting Temeraire’ in the national gallery revealing a nostalgic side to Bond, who gets out his vintage Aston Martin and returns to his isolated family home in Scotland for the film’s climax.
As well as the usual car chases and explosions, ‘Skyfall’ has an emotional maturity and depth that has been lacking all recent Bond films, other than Casino Royal. With MI6 under attack as Raoul Silva, a former MI6 agent, launches a personal vendetta against M (Judi Dench), the film explores Bond’s relationship with his boss when his loyalty is put to the test. With traditionally strong performances from Judi Dench and Daniel Craig, the additions to the cast were equally impressive: Ralph Fiennes seamlessly slotted into the world of MI6; Naomi Harris, playing bond’s fellow operative Eve, lit up the screen with her sharp interchanges with Bond; Ben Whishaw is sure to become a fan favourite after his witty and compelling display; but it was Javier Bardem who really stood out with his consummate, award-worthy interpretation of the new Bond villain. His psychotic, mercurial personality was far more effective in unnerving the audience than any amount of brute strength might.
Whilst some may feel the film lacks a proper Bond girl, and there are some improbable events in the plot, this ‘Skyfall’ is definitely one of the best Bond films ever made. Brutally realistic yet humorous, wistfully looking backwards whilst glaringly modern, the same formula with unexpected twists, make sure you don’t miss this film – when you need a break from studying get down to the Picture House, and buy a ticket in advance because it’s sure to be busy.
See ‘Skyfall’ at City Screen York now.
As the President returned inside the Dome of the Capitol on Monday afternoon, shortly after the concluding his second inaugural, he paused on the top step to survey the scene below. As he looked out over the historic monuments of Washington, and the hundreds of thousands who filled in the gaps in between, he said quietly: ‘I’m going to look one more time. I’ll never see this again.’
Those two sentences tell you a lot about Barack Obama. They reveal just how acutely aware he is of his place in history; not just in his election and re-election, but also in his legacy. This speech was meant not just for America and for the world, but also for posterity. In no uncertain terms, the President cast off the chains of the electorate and embraced the liberalism that many long suspected he truly held.
In this sense, it was the speech many of his supporters have long been waiting for: bold, brave and genuinely ambitious. It vindicated those who, throughout a dispiriting first term, leapt to the President’s defence, saying that eight years are better than four, and that progress only comes with an appreciation of electoral realities.
This was Obama unleashed and more focussed. Free from the fear of the whims of the populace, and more savvy to the intransigence of his opposition, he laid out his agenda with a striking clarity and a better sense of the command of the bully-pulpit of the presidency.
By linking Stonewall to Seneca and Selma he aligned the gay marriage debate with civil rights and women’s suffrage. The impassioned and full-throated support of gay equality stood in favourable contrast to his somewhat calculated support last year. On this issue, history is only trending one way, and Obama wanted to make sure he was on the right side of it. If there is any passage that this speech will become known for, it will most likely be this one.
The reference to gun-control was quiet but unmistakable. Should Newtown slip from the collective memory, as surely it inevitably will, then its inclusion here may be judged by future generations as little more than the closing of a rhetorical device. But at this time no one doubted what the President meant. He stressed the cause of action over inaction, without sending the more sensible wing of the Republican Party – at least some of whom will be needed to pass any meaningful gun-control measure – reeling into a fit of overblown Second Amendment bluster.
Perhaps most gratifying to his liberal base was his defence of the welfare state, rejecting outright the pernicious myth that Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid are there only to help the lazy, or to drag America into lethargy. He stood up for the groups that are too easily targeted and gave voice to those rarely heard and whose cases are seldom made.
Some fear that this ideological entrenchment may cause problems when the time comes to fight over the deficit. They may be right. But Obama’s position shows he is willing to fight for what he believes in, and circumnavigate compromise with conservatives if necessary. Indeed, the fact the speech has so angered the Republican Party can only be a good thing, for whilst there is an intellectually coherent argument to be made for conservatism, the current Grand Old Party is certainly not it.
If anything was obviously lacking, it was that instantly quotable line. There was no, ‘We have nothing to fear…’ or: ‘Ask not what your country can do…’ But then, as one fictional President remarked on the latter, Kennedy really screwed his successors with that one.
In history’s pages, of course, rhetoric is one thing and achievement quite another. In his first term, with a cool head and calm demeanour, he navigated the tricky waters of foreign policy, passed his signature healthcare bill, and pulled America back from the brink of economic disaster. On Monday he laid out an ambitious plan for his legacy. If he fails to match his words with legislative accomplishments, history will rightly judge him harshly; but if he succeeds in fulfilling the great promise that he has set for himself then his place in history will be most certainly be assured.
The Norman Rea Gallery had an opening last night for its new exhibition ‘I think we should see other people’ by the artist Graham Hutchinson. He is a collector and manipulator of images, collecting them from many different cities and flea markets around Europe. These images are then altered in an attempt to create new narratives, contexts and realities and he is specifically drawn to challenging the ‘rituals, tensions and absurdity that occurs between the two sexes.’ The gallery was curated by Rachel Kidd, along with Hutchinson, who had an innovative take on how the pieces should be displayed. They was clustered around the corners of the gallery, rather than uniformly spaced, which complimented Hutchinson’s intention of the viewer being surrounded and overwhelmed by the images. When looking at the pieces the viewer is first drawn to how the faces are covered or absent, creating a void of space. Hutchinson’s intention with this was to remove the loaded focus that is usually on the face in order to have the viewer focus more on the pose or the manipulations he had made. The exhibition is able to be viewed from the 5th-19th February 2013 and is a truly remarkable experience. Below are a few questions answered by the artist.
Where is your studio currently based?
I’m based at Bloc Studios, Sheffield.
How long have you been working with collage?
I’ve been working with collage and found imagery for the past five years.
Where do you get your inspiration?
I find cutting things up quite therapeutic. I find it destructive and it seems to take a lot of negativity
out of me. Specifically, I am drawn to collecting old shabby magazines and journals which house old fashioned imagery. I find the colour and even the smell intriguing.
Is the purpose of your art purely aesthetic or is it a social/political commentary?
I consider some pieces aesthetically pleasing but most of the work comments on human behaviour, especially the relationships between the two sexes.
You disrupt the faces which causes tension, what is the purpose of this?
The main idea of hiding the faces is to cast the viewer’s eye on to the figures pose or the manipulations I have made. I think by taking the face out of the equation the work becomes more open.
What is your favourite aspect of your work?
Using scissors and glue…..I enjoy many aspects. I’m not a tortured artist. I enjoy making quick work. Each piece seems to have a short time to get finished or I become bored of it.
How do you intend for you art to be exhibited?
I will be exhibiting two clusters of works which will comprise of over a 100 works.
Why did you agree to exhibit with the Norman Rea Gallery?
I will exhibit anywhere, really. I think York is a fantastic place.
7-12th March, Ron Cooke Hub
Last night saw the opening of. The NRG worked closely with Professor Brian Cantor, Vice-chancellor of the university, in order to display his personal art collection in which contained prints and oils by artists such as Matisse, Miro, Joanna Usherwood, John Kiki and political cartoons and comic strips from the Mirror, and Pen and Ink.
Many people at the opening were excited by the prospect of viewing a Miro especially his ‘Derrière le Miroire,’ (‘Behind the Mirror’). Derrière le Miroire was a modern art periodical published by Galerie from 1946 for 35 years, containing original prints and lithographs from featured artists. Another name as familiar as Miro that was featured in the exhibition was Matisse. His ‘Le Cirque’ has a prominent focus on colour and modernity, it ties in nicely with the exhibition’s theme. Further prints, yet away from the traditional genre of art, were the political cartoons from Mirror, Mirror and the cartoon strips by Pen and Ink. These were amusing, tongue in cheek and will hopefully encourage those who don’t usually visit the NRG exhibitions to give it a try.
Sometimes prints might seem slightly disappointing, especially if emphasis is placed on the aura of an original, yet even if this is the case, the exhibition is still worth a visit. There are two commanding oil paintings, with highly textured surfaces that are worth viewing. The first is ‘Surfaces’ by Joanna Usherwood, a non-figurative piece which has a focus on the various shades of red and brown and has a textile surface invites the prohibited touch. The second oil is ‘Sphinx’ by John Kiki, the painting featured on the poster for the exhibition. It is an abstract, figurative work which was one of the most popular pieces of the opening.
A change of location also accompanied these works; rather than holding the exhibition at the Norman Rea Gallery it was shown in the Exhibition Space in the Ron Cooke Hub. This new setting complimented this exhibition, the modern architecture continued the theme of modernity, the spotlighting inside the gallery lit the artworks more effectively and the gallery space was slightly smaller which gave a more intimate atmosphere, which promulgated discussion between those attending the opening. The generosity of Professor Brian Cantor allowed his works to be shown in this space and it’s not an opportunity that should be missed.
A final note is that the Norman Rea Gallery has been allocated the time to curate one exhibition a term in the Ron Cooke Hub as well as their regular exhibitions in the Norman Rea Gallery above the Courtyard. This will not only give students the opportunity to see more exhibitions but also bring more life to Hes East.
Megan Knight looks at the visual image and questions what role it has in multi-medial dimensions of contemporary art…
In an attempt to evade an arbitrary discussion on the beginnings of art, one must acknowledge that at its very foundation, at a given time (suggested to be over forty thousand years ago), the concept of creating an image was consciously pursued. Comprehensively discussed in Whitney Davis’ ‘The Beginnings of Art’, one must maintain the belief that in moving from the spoken or written word into the realms of visual language, pictorial intention dictated a new way in which to communicate. Diffusing beyond the restrictions of context or meaning, fear of the image – and in turn, of what it has mutated into – punctuates the history of the art, fully acknowledging the threat that visual culture posed to established channels of communication.
As previously noted, I fully intend to evade a fruitless discussion on the beginnings of art; I merely seek to formally identify that in the inception of art, the image has been rejected as an object to provoke fear.
Critically paramount to the refusal of visual language, the Medieval reaction to the image in the Iconoclastic period, beginning in 726, is one of earliest, and most significant examples of the image as a threat. Recognised as a period of barbaric control of production and dissemination of images, the imposed restrictions sought to effectively remove the place of the image within an ecclesiastical environment. The fear of the image, or more extensively, the fear of God in venerating an image, propelled a period of expulsion for visual language within the liturgy.
Extrapolating the core argument of Iconoclasm, one must meditate upon the fear of the image in betraying its own ideological basis; meaning to say, the fear that the visual and aesthetic quality of a given object will undermine or wrongly convey the ideological connotations of a delineated subject. To what extent does the visual have to maintain a faithful connection with that which it represents? Surely then do we not alienate whole artistic movements?
Here it is prudent to reign in the discussion of Iconoclasm and maintain its specificity to a religious context, although the pervading questions are something to contemplate beyond the religious references and perhaps become more relevant to a contemporary audience. In extracting the image against the ideology hypothesis, and expanding it beyond its given time frame, we may as a contemporary audience seek to question the development of the image through the historical lineage of art and thus pose questions of medium and practice.
Within the artistic spectrum, one should not ignore the diversity of media that is now housed within the creative sphere. Artistic practice has developed beyond the visual; performance art and sound have moved from the peripheries of artistic consequence and feature prominently in discussion. Developing from the earliest images that seemingly form the foundations of artistic practice, the expansion of media across communication methods seeks to retain a concern for pushing a given concept into the foreground for a particular audience.
To simplify, art has gone beyond the image. Its visual constriction has expired, it has spread to movement, to touch and to sound. Does the fear of the image have a cross-media, time transcendent translation? Do we fear modern practice? Does the work of artists like Santiago Sierra and Damien Hirst threaten what we recognise as art and inspire us to fear the unknown, non-conformist ways of the modern artist?
Returning to my original statements on the birth of a visual language, one must keep discussions relative. The production of pictorial thought and the physicality of its practice in a time where images were non-existent introduced an artistic method that radicalised means of communication. One may question if in a contemporary framework, as the sensitivity of culture yields to modern practice, will we ever fear the image? Will the level of artistic innovation ever be able surpass our expectations of contemporary work that we are scared by our own advances?
Helen Shaw speaks to Olivia Arthur on her photographic essay, documenting young women in Saudi Arabia.
I recently wrote a paper on the newly published and enchanting photographic essay, ‘Jeddah Diary’. Assuming pride of place in my room, this photographic diary currently haunts my desk, although not in an exhaustive thank-god-my-deadline-has-passed-and-it-was-an-alright-piece-of-work kind of abject presence. On the contrary – against the dismal and bleak, grey window panes and walls, its sheer physicality and materiality (it’s laden with a beautifully orangey and fiery fabric), shines like a jewel in a cave. Once opened its content echoes back at its reader the very stimulating refractions and reflections it wishes to cast its magic of ambiguity onto:
‘I feel like a precious stone or diamond’, they echo each other, ‘you should keep it away from eyes to keep it in a safe place.’
It has a Golem-esque “my precious” element to it, sure, but this particular quote, printed adjacent to a photograph of a young woman wearing a full-length hijab, camouflaged by her living room curtains and sofa as she peeps out from behind to ‘see’ the outside world, poses a fundamental problem concerning the integral positioning of women’s rights within contemporary Saudi Arabian community.
Arthur’s photography offers a new vision for both Western and Eastern ideals on women’s rights and agency to engage in a level-pegging visionary dialogue, where neither assumes agency or authority over the other culture. Its approach, to create a collaborative space in order to address, inform and ultimately conduct a possible renegotiation of identity for young women in Saudi is startlingly subtle, yet powerful in its diarist format.
Revealing a series of unsettling portraits, Arthur’s photography is a multitude of dualistic and dialectic vocabulary: most fundamentally a blurring between subjectivity and objectivity, where women’s faces are censored and concealed, identities fractured and fragmented into a leg, an arm, an eye!? We start to contemplate what it means to censor or conceal identities in both the East and the West; and more so, a woman’s identity.
In true elliptical and paradoxical art historical fashion, my interpretation was that of my first thought for this article: the ghostly, shadowed identities of Arthur’s diarist entries will forever be left open to interpretation, forever left to haunt and taunt the viewer’s thoughts and opinions on women who emerge from the shadows of a patriarchal society.
I spoke to Olivia on her recent publication and what she thought these photos meant for the future in terms of the changing role of women and their rights in Saudi Arabia:
HS: How did the laws governing photography in Saudi Arabia affect your photographic practice, especially in photographing the women?
OA: I often got shouted at when I took pictures outside which is why I didn’t really in the end. Some people tell you it’s illegal, but mostly people tell you that this is a conservative country and you can’t do that, even women with full niqab. The quote on the back of the book was from one such occasion from a woman who thought I was taking her picture. In the end I only really took pictures in situations where people were aware and had accepted my taking photographs. Sometimes I would ask and they would say ‘is it just for you or for other people?’ This concept is quite prominent there, public and private photographs. I wanted to always be very clear about what I was doing, so in a way it became almost collaborative, letting them know what I was doing, making sure I knew what their limits were in terms of how much of them I could show, and then trying to make photographs that suggest a reality beyond any facade or cover. Of course with the snapshot images, it became much more a depiction of reality and the facades were often lifted. Then of course I had to put them back on (with the flash) once I realised that I couldn’t show these pictures.
HS: Do you think your photographs suggest that you are not the only ‘active’ person within the staging of these shots?
OA: The section at the front of the book I have kept as a section in order to emphasise the fact that these pictures are posed (which I think is a better word than ‘staged’ as the scenes are their own homes). These are obviously more collaborative than the others.
HS: You speak of bubbles in the introduction of Jeddah Diary; did you feel that you could easily go between these secret bubbles or that as you photographed them you made a ‘new’ bubble?
OA: I think it was both, and I think that the two roles are reflected in the two cameras that I use, medium format for the photographer and snapshot camera for the friend, but of course the borderlines are blurry. I think I was allowed to slip in and out of their different bubbles. In the end what you get is my experience of these fragments which build up to make something more like a half-made jigsaw than a bubble. I wanted the viewer to see the contradictions and non-sense that I was trying to puzzle together, to share a part of my experience and confusion with it all.
Ellie Gascoyne examines how the clash between religion and evolution theory is reflected in Cardiff castle’s architectural decor.
It is easy to think of the Victorians as being dull, prudish and averse to change, especially when faced with threats to the established religion and culture. Darwin’s theory of evolution is, for example, conventionally misconceived as having been a huge bombshell that struck terror among Victorian Christians. In reality, however, the threat of Darwin’s theory to the church was convincingly rebutted, so much so that the themes of Creation and natural history were even celebrated simultaneously in art and architecture, notably by the Third Marquis of Bute, in the construction of his Gothic, fantastical Cardiff Castle.
Initially, evolutionary theory troubled the church; it contradicted the literalist, orthodox reading of the Creation story. Evolutionary theory challenged the idea that humans were created specially, separately from other animals, and that the supposedly 6000 year-old world was created in seven days. Evolution estimated the world was in fact millions of years old, that species’ ‘creation’ or evolution took millions of years, and that, shock-horror, humans were descended from apes (so much for our being created ‘in the image of God’). Additionally, the concept of ‘natural selection’ seemed so brutal and cruel that the Christian God surely would not condone it.
The church did manage to overcome these seemingly insurmountable challenges by suggesting that evolution was part of God’s plan, and given that the ‘survival of the fittest’ was based on intellectual or moral excellence, this was not cruel or unfair. Even fossils (as William Buckland claimed) were placed deliberately by God for human discovery. Ultimately, it was concluded that science and religion’s differing notions of creation were entirely compatible, if a non-literalist reading of the Creation story were adopted.
Therefore, far from being terrified of these new discoveries and theories, many Victorians did not see them as a threat at all and positively embraced such change. One such man was the third Marquis of Bute, an eccentric and quirky character who was obsessed with natural history, ancient mythology and the occult, but mainly medieval or ‘Gothic’ architecture and art. His other passion was his faith; he controversially converted to Roman Catholicism aged 21. Being such an ardent Christian, would he not have been frightened or troubled by the new doubts posed by science?
From looking at Bute’s Castle in Cardiff, it would appear much the opposite.
Although allegedly the richest man in mid-19th century Britain, Bute inherited a ruinous wreck of a castle – dating back almost 2000 years, it was a jumble of different architectural repair-jobs from over the centuries. Undeterred by the crumbling reality of his so-called ‘picturesque seat’, Bute was determined to change it into the ultimate ‘des-res’ for the medieval, and natural, history enthusiast. Bute employed the equally eccentric architect William Burges, and together the pair created a truly individual, extravagant explosion of Gothic romanticism, with every room preoccupied with natural history: more specifically, with Creation.
Before even entering the castle, life-size stone-carved animals, including a lioness, wolf (and, of course, apes) peer down at you from the ramparts, with amber glass eyes. The inclusion of these creatures is to celebrate God’s creation, but the apes play an especially comic role in relation to Darwin’s claims regarding human ancestry. Inside the castle, the Winter Smoking Room’s stained glass windows depict Norse Gods, while two corbels represent the Sun God and Moon Goddess. Grotesque marquetry monkeys look down on visitors. In the Summer Smoking Room, the floor shows the earth at the very centre of the universe (a strong medieval belief). The walls detail legends associated with the Zodiac, whilst emblematic depictions of animals clash with naturalistic ones: on the wall tiles, a brave medieval knight battles a giant crab, whilst tiny life-size carved mice scurry across the wooden panelling. In the Small Dining Room, scenes from Genesis cover the stained glass windows, whilst painted butterflies and birds flutter around the door frames. Bute’s bedroom is dedicated to St John the Evangelist (of whom there is a statue above the fireplace) and his prophetic Book of Revelation, though colourful heraldry and a carved animal frieze also attract visitors’ attention. In the library, there are more mischievous carved monkeys, depicted eating apples, or sneakily peeking inside books – obviously reflecting the themes of temptation to gain knowledge, as in the Genesis Creation story, where Adam and Eve are tempted to eat the fruit which will give them great knowledge. Finally, the magnificent Great Hall, with its vaulted wooden ceiling and miniature castle above the fireplace, is incredibly theatrical.
So rather from being afraid of Darwin and evolutionary theory, and shying away from the most controversial topic of their era, Bute and Burges actually confronted evolutionary theory and Creation head-on, and created a humorous, ironic parody of the contemporary debate and clashing of ideologies. They were not afraid of change or ‘the new’, but used art and architecture to deride the arguments, and to realise their own unique architectural dream. All throughout the castle rooms, images derived from medieval history, the natural world and the bible all co-exist together as part of an aesthetically beautiful whole – almost as if Bute was thus giving the message that, far from being threatened by science, Christian doctrine could be accepted alongside it – there was no inherent contradiction, so no reason to fear the scientific ‘change’. Perhaps he was also trying to illustrate Sir Thomas Browne’s idea that “nature is the art of God”, and is therefore sacred anyway.
Unfortunately, the castle today has roads encircling it where Bute would probably prefer a moat to be, whilst 19th and 20th century commercial buildings peer over the battlements, which Bute would probably see as unwelcome modern encroachments, trespassing on the magical and romantic Gothic world that he created within the castle walls.
Sian Welch on the ‘what-might-have been’ in the exhibition ‘I Wish I Said Hello’
Whether it’s a fleeting conversation with a stranger, that lingering look on the bus or the person you repeatedly catch sight of in the distance, the ephemeral nature of the ‘missed connection’ has been both captivating and frustrating people for centuries. Usually associated with a romantic enterprise, a missed connection happens when two people meet unexpectedly, make an impression but somehow don’t manage to exchange contact details. It seems a natural inclination of ours to ponder upon what might have been, to fret about what our destiny holds and form romanticized alternatives.
In their recent street art installation ‘I Wish I Said Hello’, Lisa Park and Adria Navarro have scrutinized our fascination with the fleeting romantic connection. Their idea was to bring missed connection stories sent into newspapers, and their purpose built website, to the real world by plastering them on the very streets of New York City, in the exact location where the encounter took place. Modelled on the Google Maps marker, each brightly coloured sticker placed at the location encapsulates the encounter through image and quoted text. They vary in locations from subway stations to bars and street corners, not as a platform for reconnection but rather a celebration of the multiplicity of everyday poetics, mapping stories that all connect in this shared spotlight upon serendipity. Whilst I was in New York last summer I met up with Lisa to find out more about Street Art and the missed connection.
Q: So Lisa, this sounds like a really interesting way of exploring the topic of serendipity and the missed connection, how did the project come about and why choose this topic in particular?
A: Both Adria and I are students at NYU and we were set the task of exploring art and the influence of technology in our ‘Recurring Concepts in Art’ class. It’s a great class, taught by Georgia Krantz who is a big name at the Guggenheim. We had both worked in very different media before this project, so it was a challenge for both of us but through mind mapping our ideas, we kept coming up with the medium of the internet and the irony of having greater access but less intimacy in relationships. It turns out that in the era of social media, when we’re supposedly connected to anyone; the network of missed connections is one of the most inefficient ones. When we heard about the infiltration of ‘I saw you’ style posts on Craigslist (a US-based website that offers free classified advertisements) we both thought it was perfect for our project.
Q: Could you tell me a little more about what struck you in particular about these ‘Missed Connection’ posts?
A: Surprisingly, it was actually the element of loneliness that kept coming through in these ads. I think people are more willing to make something of a missed connection here in New York. People come to the city in the hopes of finding their soulmate after seeing films like Serendipity and are more often than not disappointed. Saying that though, I think that some people really do reconnect after missed connections so perhaps they should have faith in it. Two of my classmates recently got married after meeting again through a Craigslist ‘Missed Connection’ post.
Q: You just mentioned the significance of using somewhere like New York City as the starting location for your project, but how do you manage to get around the bureaucratic issues and laws that seek to circumvent Street Art?
A: There is so much Street Art in New York that funnily enough that is the reason it isn’t an issue. A few people stopped us whilst we were putting up our stickers, but only to ask about the project out of interest. I think we get away with it because we are students! Some of our pieces were taken down recently, there are six official stickers in Manhattan now but it is just part of working with an active medium. We make sure there are always a few stickers on display by putting them up a few at a time; this keeps the Missed Connection stories up to date too.
Q: How did you come up with the final design of the stickers?
A: We started out by looking at signs; we wanted something eye-catching and recognisable. We knew we had to create the stickers in a shape that would resonate with the idea of a location marker, and what is more iconic than the Google symbol? The element of technology was something that had to remain an important part of our project, and the final design of the stickers managed to encompass the concept of a location-specific, personal event with the universality of the forum in which these stories where emerging from. The text on our stickers are direct quotes from the ads, we didn’t contact the people to tell them what we were doing so it’s funny to think that the person who wrote the advertisement might one day come across their sticker unexpectedly.
Q: What was it like working collaboratively with another artist? How did you divide the tasks on this particular project?
A: I think we worked really well together. We both have very different backgrounds, I am Korean and Adria is from Barcelona and he has a background in Engineering whereas mine is in Fine Art. Through collaboration you learn a lot, I was trained to work alone but it is nice to have a partner. In terms of dividing the jobs, Adria mainly worked on the website but we both looked through the advertisements together as it was important we agreed on the most iconic encounters.
You can find Lisa and Adria’s website at: http://iwishisaidhello.org/
Jen Ward draws some surprising medieval parallels to the question of women bishops in the Church of England.
We live in an age in which the fast pace of progress is celebrated; technology is updated almost incessantly and social networking sites allow us minute by minute updates on the lives of others. International developments reach us almost instantaneously via 24-hour news channels. Change is, in many respects, now presented as a healthy and positive thing. However, on 20 November 2012, the General Synod of the Church of England voted against allowing women to become ordained as bishops. To me, this seems entirely incompatible with an age which professes to promote equal opportunities employment and is desperate to ensure it is as up-to-date as it possibly can be.
On that day, 20 November, I was frantically reading The Boke of Margery Kempe, in preparation for my ‘Late Medieval Literature’ seminar the following day. For those who haven’t come into contact with this obscure and utterly eccentric text, it follows the life of a fourteenth century female visionary who roamed the country trying to tell the word of God (which she heard from Jesus in her head) to priests and laity alike. Margery Kempe was, for many English Literature students, the straw that broke the camel’s back when it came to trying to access the Medieval period. However, when reading it, I couldn’t help but be forcibly reminded of the discussions going on in the Church of England at the moment, a mere eight centuries later.
As a practising member of the Church of England myself, I am in no hurry to condemn it. Both churches which I attend have several female members of the clergy. However, I find it alarming that Margery’s struggle to be heard amongst the patriarchy of the fourteenth-century church has such a resonance with our situation today. One of the arguments cited against the installation of female bishops is a passage of scripture in which St Paul says “I do not permit a woman to teach or have authority over a man – she must be silent” (1 Timothy 2:12). St Paul is also cited in Margery Kempe, where (in York in fact) a “great cleric quickly produced a book and quoted St Paul for his part against her, that no woman should preach”. Here they are referring to 1 Corinthians 14: 34-35, which objects to a woman speaking in a church; ever-resourceful Margery evades this by spreading the word outside the realm of church and pulpit. Perhaps this is what the women of today should do.
To me, it seems that the more the voice of a woman is denied in a church, or anywhere, the more power is attributed to it, ironically. Given that in many other walks of life women now do ‘teach or have authority over men’, it comes across as backwards, even archaic, that women’s career prospects are still limited in this way by such a large institution as the Church. However, because it is a religious institution, it is not required to follow ‘equalities and employment’ legislation.
To give the Church of England its due, the measure only failed by a narrow margin, needing a mere six more votes to get it passed. Let us hope that at the next General Synod they find those all-important votes. Did I mention this will be in 2015? What’s three years after eight-hundred?
Active contribution or passive consumption? Anisha Wilmink reviews the uncomfortable issue of the modern tourist, following her recent trip to Kenya.
To be a traveller was, in times past, to possess a lauded title. Historians, philosophers, and explorers, sustained by wealthy patrons, returned from their travels with exotic tales and theories about foreign civilisations. Only rich men could afford the luxury of desiring such knowledge, and it was the bravest and cleverest men they chose to seek it out. To be a traveller was to be a guest at banquets, to be honoured by the Queen, and to be the hero of children’s dreams. Yet the title ‘traveller’, as ascribed to Marco Polo, Christopher Columbus, and David Livingstone, has morphed into a word laden with negative connotations: tourist.
I had never felt ashamed of my desire to travel until I travelled with eleven of my school mates to Kenya. I think I have always felt so comfortable with my desire to explore other countries because I identify most strongly with a culture and country that none of my family call home. They, like me, have always had “itchy feet”, never desiring to be in one place for too long. I’ve always been a ‘foreigner’ in both the country in which I reside, and in the native homes of my parents; it simply depends on who is asking. People are prone to pity this fact, but I love that it allows me to derive pleasure from secretly calling myself a “citizen of the world”. My proverbial itchy feet mean that the moment the doors of an airplane hiss open my heart skips. It’s the lively local air forcing its way into a stale cabin that is first real clue that the whole world has changed around you. Everything about the air is different; its weight, its smell, and its texture, and within this intoxicating mixture lies coiled that first twinge of excitement: the awareness that the adventure has begun. While I savour that moment, for some people it harbours an unnatural sense of fear, the fear of stepping out of that airplane door and becoming a tourist.
On that Kenya trip, even whilst we were still allowing our lungs to acclimatise to the new, humid air, a friend of mine confessed to a swelling mixture of uncomfortable feelings inside her stomach: she was ashamed of being a tourist. As she watched the unfamiliar landscape lurching past, she was uncomfortably aware of her ‘Western’ status and of her alien presence in this foreign country. At that point in time I couldn’t understand her feelings. I wondered how a visitor could be ashamed to enjoy why people are proud of their country. If you speak to someone about their homeland, more often than not they persuade you to promise to visit and share their culture, food, and hospitality. Yet, somehow, Rosie had hit on a prominent tension so often ignored, or at least shamefully swallowed.
When travelling to Europe or North America, a tourist is at worst an annoyance; they have come to marvel at the history, culture, and sights of a developed country and they’ll leave their money in exchange. There, tourism industries are well-developed, profitable, and geared towards funnelling money into the economy. In developing countries, however, the methods are often exploitative of the locals, lucrative mainly for foreign investors, and present a dishonest – or, at best, pre-packaged – view of the country. This dichotomy between the romanticised view of safaris and ‘ethnic culture’ and the harsh realities of life is starkly evident in so many countries in Africa. English-speaking countries with a coastline and national parks such as Kenya are well versed in this narrative of double standards.
Much later on that trip, zoning out the sounds of my card playing friends and the South African MTV watched ceaselessly by the Kenyan girls who occupied the hostel, I felt similar discomfort to that my friend had confessed to earlier. I was not ashamed of being a tourist – we were not oblivious foreigners in five star hotels or isolated resorts, nor the expats in their Land Rovers and gated communities; we walked the streets and took public transport, ate in local establishments, and shopped in local markets in Nairobi. In fact, it was my brush with the volunteer sector that made me ashamed of my possessions, foreign passport, and money. I was becoming aware that to combat the potential discomfort of educated foreigners visiting Kenya, a new and uglier brand of tourism was taking root: a merger between the volunteer sector and the tourism sector.
Thousands of students, families, and couples are engaging in ‘altruistic tourism’. In my mind this is far worse than enjoying a Kenyan coastline without ever venturing out of the resort. It is far more exploitative to pay thousands of dollars to spend a week painting a school, or playing with children at a nursery for AIDS orphans, or teaching a disjointed English course. That money could be far better spent employing a local contractor to paint the school, or funding the salary of a social worker or teacher for a year. Instead, the money goes to a middle-man: somebody getting rich off the warped conscience of the Western tourist. The tourists seem to desire staged photos cradling the ‘famous’ African babies to show their friends at home what an amazing and life-changing experience they had in ‘Africah’. Taking into account the inordinate cost of the trips, these digital images equate to hundreds of dollars. The name of the country does not matter; neither does its whereabouts in the vast continent, and what happens to the child after those pictures are taken is irrelevant. For one week or ten days, the fortunate Westerner gets to realise how ‘privileged’ they are and the feeling of satisfaction will last a lifetime. All this happens at the cost of the human dignity and respect for the condition of the lives the local people are leading.
My initial joy had turned suddenly murky. My multi-national group and I had come to Kenya, just after graduating from an esteemed international school, to build pit latrines for a Maasai tribe in the Ngong hills outside Nairobi. My camera was already full of pictures of cheerful, paint-splattered students and laughing children. I did not want to return home and proudly profess that I had been in Kenya on a ‘humanitarian mission’, or that we, the privileged students, had briefly brought ‘peace and love’ to the world by building four pit latrines. The trip was led by a Kenyan student whose mother’s hostel we had stayed at, and perhaps it would have been better simply to fundraise and give her the money to spend locally. She could have hired a contractor and sent us pictures of the Maasai tribe with the finished product of the sanitation project.
A few days after my uncomfortable realisation, I sat with the other members of my group excitedly rehashing the events of the day. I smiled at a night guard who waved back at me and I realised my feelings of discomfort and guilt had entirely disappeared. I understood that I wasn’t there to assuage my feelings of Western guilt, or to provide help to ‘the poor of Africa;’ my being there to travel was what mattered.
For most people it is never possible to have the experiences we had spending each day with a Maasai tribe. I don’t know how many people can say they drank goat’s blood from a chipped tin cup or pushed a minibus from the Ngong hills to Nairobi in a rainstorm. I still laugh and treasure the memory of how a one and a half hour journey back to Nairobi turned into a four hour exercise in determination and spirit, where eleven students soaked to bone and singing camp songs pushed their minibus through quickly-forming rivers of viscous mud. Admittedly, we could have fundraised from the safety of our college, but what good would it have done us? I learned so much, I experienced adventures that will stay with me for the rest of my life, and I came into contact with people whose day I was lucky enough to share. There was a complete exchange: we were able to help support a basic need of a community, and they were able to share with us culture, reality, and adventure. I didn’t walk away from the trip feeling noble; I felt excited, lucky, and eager to share my stories.
I still take issue with altruistic tourism and sometimes I prefer not to share those ‘Africa’ photos I have. They are a great memory for me and I don’t want them misunderstood. When people ask me if I have visited Africa, I will never tell them that I went on a volunteer trip to Africa; I will tell them that I travelled in Kenya. My time with the Maasai was part of my Kenyan travels, and I have Kenya to thank for some of my best anecdotes and memories.
Do we ever grow out of our childhood fears? And can fear ever be a good thing? Stephanie Milsom takes a long, hard look at the trouble of being scared.
When I was a child, I pulled up a fallen branch in the garden and was swarmed by Killer Bugs (woodlice); I had a dream that a skeleton popped up at my window in the middle of the night; and I convinced myself that Transformers were horrific creatures that controlled your nightmares. I’m still wary of them today. I’m not sure what’s so formidable about hairdryers and hand-dryers, but the sound still makes me uneasy. Even compiling some of the short stories for this term’s edition was tough going.
Essentially, I’m plagued by an active imagination and an annoying knack of being scared – a dangerous combination, if ever there was one. I’ve also probably seen too many horror films. I’m often slightly worried that my childhood fears haven’t – for want of a better word – stopped; I don’t think my dad’s scared of anything, and he’s a perfectly normal adult. But then, I don’t think dads are supposed to be scared of anything.
I’m sure if I spoke to a ‘professional’ they’d tie it all back to some deep-seated emotional trauma/need to be loved/mental instability (delete as appropriate), but I wonder whether it’s just … well, me. It might sound far-fetched, but my fears, just like the old ‘likes and dislikes’ subsection of the questionnaire, make me who I am. I’m not too keen on the dark, so I’m light and bright and bubbly in the day, and annoyingly clingy at night. My fear of seeing something behind me in the mirror’s reflection means I don’t go the bathroom at night, so my bladder has almost super-human strength. Maybe I shouldn’t look for a ‘cure’ for my ridiculous fears and just accept that that’s me. And I’m ridiculous.
I’m also scared of normal things too, like spiders and having to clean behind the fridge. Granted, most of my ‘adult’ fears are less fantastical, but they’re just as valid. A credit card bill won’t scuttle up my arm and eat my face, or jump up behind me in the dark, all white eyes and giant fangs, but I came terribly close to destroying my credit rating last week and it was truly harrowing. After fifteen minutes of frantic googling and trying all manner of ways to work out HSBC’s online banking repayment system, I finally managed it, and sighed a not too dramatic sigh of relief. Late payments = extra surcharges = poor credit rating = no mortgage/loans/anything for me.
Okay, perhaps ‘anything’ is a little extreme, but the fact remains that the responsibility of paying your way and keeping on top of things can be just as scary as the giant arachnid/zombie hyrbid under the bed. I’m not even certain that they stop being scary as we get older, unlike said monster. Our parents and surrounding adults are only good at life (some of them, at least) because they’ve made a habit, where possible, of avoiding scary, grown-up stuff. So maybe being scared is a good thing; it stops us making stupid mistakes (ahem) and helps us to stay on track. It also gives us incredible wonder-bladders.
Alex Cochrane-Dyet examines the impact that the attack on the Twin Towers has had on the American film industry.
Ten years ago the prominent American historian Taylor Branch spoke of a possible ‘turning point against a generation of cynicism for all of us’. The image that circulated around the world of the North Tower’s glass window being penetrated by the tip of American Airlines Flight 11 had such a profound effect on the American psyche that within weeks it was being spoken of as a defining historical event. In the light of the succeeding Global War on Terrorism, Global Recession, and Arab Spring, which have all been linked back to this initial terrorist attack, this early forecast of 9/11’s impact may well have been correct. Yet, twelve years on from that unforgettable day, no major cultural works have appeared that capture our new, post-9/11 world. One might expect that given Hollywood status as America’s major cultural industry, an iconic film would have emerged to define the era; however, 9/11 has not provoked a seismic change in the film industry.
There is a short-lived ‘Amazing Grace’ quality to the initial reactions to 9/11: once Americans loved irony and took refuge in that distancing strategy but now they are earnest and authentic; once they were fragmented into various political and social identities but now they stand united; once they loved movies where tall building exploded or burned to the ground but now they don’t like those so much. But then again, yes they do. Video rental stores might have placed warnings on some films – ‘in light of the events of Sept. 11, please note that this product contains scenes that may be disturbing to some viewers’ – but violent movies continued to top the most-rented lists. One group of films that emerged after 9/11 was a new type of asymmetrical war film featuring American troops deep in enemy territory, surrounded by IEDs and hostile locals. Films such as The Hurt Locker (2008) or The Kingdom (2007) are amongst the most acclaimed of these. But whilst ‘The War on Terror’ has provided material for several extremely powerful films, they ultimately blend into the seemingly endless action movie genre, as though the stock war film has simply been updated to suit a contemporary audience: a new setting, a new enemy, some new weapons, a few new filming techniques, but nothing seminal. Whilst such films can perfectly capture the atmosphere of a particular war, they are too limited to capture any change in the consciousness of American society.
There have been the historical dramas that have tried to capture the event itself. Oliver Stone’s United 93 (2006) is perhaps the best known of these, a real time account of the events on United Flight 93, one of the planes hijacked on 9/11 that crashed near Shanksville, Pennsylvania when passengers foiled the terrorist plot. United 93 did poorly in the box office, criticised by some for commercializing a fresh wound, by others for failing to capture the scope of the 9/11 attacks. Ironically, Cloverfield (2008), a film in which New York is blown up for a big screen thrill, was far more successful – perhaps suggesting that the US audience is not so sensitive to the ideology that lies behind its movies, so long as it gets to see huge explosions. Certainly, the most sophisticated post-9/11 film produced, Cosmopolis (2012), an adaption of the prominent US author Don DeLillo’s novel, was a complete failure. We have now reached the stage, such as in Ted (2012), where it’s the jingoistic reactions provoked by 9/11 that are being cynically mocked, with a teddy bear telling the American celebrity Norah Jones, who is of vaguely Indian ancestry, ‘thanks for 9/11’. It may be that the initial estimates on the impact 9/11 had on society were too enthusiastic.
There have been implicit links to 9/11 in a variety of ways throughout the last decade of American cinema. The constant use of plane crashes in films is one of these, present in War of the Worlds (2005), Snakes on a Plane (2006) and Flight (2012). In Avatar (2009) the destruction of the towering and symbolic Tree of Eywa by American aircraft can easily be interpreted as a metaphor for the destruction of the Twin Towers and successful counter-strike by the tree’s inhabitants would appear to support America’s aggressive response. There have even been comparisons between Voldemort and his Death Eaters to Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda in the Harry Potter films. To a certain extent though, it may be that we are reading 9/11 into films. Voldemort sprang from J. K. Rowling’s imagination well before 9/11 and the best-known terrorist-themed movies remain ones made before 9/11, including Air Force One (1997), True Lies (1994), Patriot Games (1992) and Die Hard (1988) and Fight Club (1999). Overall, it seems that post-9/11 cinema is a cut-and-paste version of pre-9/11 cinema; we are simply look at the same material through a different prism.
Ally Gibson sets the standard straight when it comes to defining the ‘horror’ film.
True fear in a film is a very rare occurrence. Scare tactics come and go, and therefore get easier to watch with each “scary” film witnessed. As a result, when somebody recommends watching a ‘horror’, I tend to refuse. The genre of ‘horror’ now describes a number of films, including ‘thrillers’, ‘slashers’ and even some ‘crime’ films – many of which do not deserve the title.
I have a simple test for the classification of a true horror film: having seen it once, I must never want to see it again.
This isn’t fright: it’s pure terror at what I have seen, and usually that has nothing to do with Zombies or mass murdering chain-saw wielding psychopaths. Unfortunately, this requires exceptional talent from the director and actors. The ability to induce actual horror in an audience is a rare talent limited to a handful of people in the history of cinema.
Darren Aronofsky is one of those exceptional cases. If you have seen his most recent film, Black Swan, you might assume that his brand of “horror” comes from unpleasant images mixed in with some loose suggestions of psychological trauma. You would be very wrong. Black Swan is not his attempt to induce horror – it pales in comparison to his earlier work, such as Requiem for a Dream, in which he mercilessly subjects the audience to a film of such horrific imagery that watching it becomes almost painful. I can recall many scenes that have affected me so deeply that I cannot even entertain the thought of watching them again.
Aronofsky selects four characters: two young lovers, their friend, and an elderly lady. We then watch as over the course of a hundred minutes he takes their lives apart. The film is masterfully made – little tricks, such as constantly reducing the average scene length as the film goes on, accompanied by a musical score that slowly accelerates over the course of the film, show that Aronofsky knows exactly how to make people uncomfortable.
If you are looking for fear, my best advice is to find a film that is not described as “horror.” The characters of Requiem for a Dream are just so depressingly ordinary that we could see ourselves switched into one of their places with nothing more than a small twist of fate. If we cannot truly believe in the horror then we can only be taken in by scare-tactics – and that isn’t horror – it is surprise, which subsides by the next evening at the latest. In Requiem for a Dream, we can not only believe in the horror: we can almost see it happening to ourselves. However many times a monster jumps out at me in a film, I’ll have forgotten about it within a few hours, something unlikely to happen with Requiem for a Dream.
Barney Trimble considers the logistics of a good remake.
On the 19th of April, the original Cabin-in-the-Woods film will be remade. The first Evil Dead is often rated among the cream of B-movies, as well as instigating one of the dominant sub-genres of horror. It is, therefore, of little surprise that a remake has finally come about. However, recreating such a successful film comes with high expectations and risk, as well as going in the face of those who believed the franchise to have reached its natural conclusion.
Sequels have been scorned for many years. In Back to the Future 2, Marty McFly sees a cinema advertising Jaws 19. Nowadays we are being faced with a glut of upcoming superhero films, with ten films in development based on Marvel comics (of which only two feature protagonists who are yet to have made their big screen debut). However, as saturated with sequels as other genres may be, no other genre has been dominated by sequels, prequels and remakes as much as horror. While the most notable culprits are the Friday the 13th (twelve films) and Nightmare on Elm Street (nine films) sagas, they are far from being the only guilty parties. In fact, almost every reasonably successful horror film has been given a slew of sequels. Even Warwick Davies’ Leprechaun series managed six, going on seven, although by the time they reached Leprechaun: Back 2 tha Hood it may be fair to question their status as horror films.
While sequels may be looked over with a suspicious eye, the remake is a completely different beast. Offering a fresh start as well as a fresh perspective, it provides fans of the franchise with a new look at the original, and in most cases best, film, as well as appealing to film goers who would otherwise be put off by having not seen the rest of the series. The downside is that in creating a remake, you effectively disown all that preceded it. As a result, an unsuccessful remake can spell the end of a franchise.
So what are the chances of Evil Dead having a successful reincarnation? Much of the original’s success fell down to the two main brains behind the franchise, Bruce Campbell and Sam Raimi. Both appeared to have moved on since The Army of Darkness in 1992; Raimi was given the Spiderman franchise to toy with, while Campbell secured a succession of TV roles from Autolycus in the Xena universe through to Sam Axe on Burn Notice. However, the two have been good friends since the beginning of their careers and so a professional reunion was never off the cards. In fact, Campbell made it public knowledge that there had been discussion of a fourth Evil Dead film all the way back in 2007, long before it was officially announced in the summer of 2011. Therefore, it was clearly a decision that was not reached lightly. This in itself is grounds for optimism as any potential pitfalls should in theory have been well discussed.
Capturing the cult appeal of the original presents considerable difficulty. I recently attended a screening of the original trilogy at a cinema in London, known for attracting cult audiences, and the enthusiasm that greeted every quote was incredible. The recipe for developing such a following remains largely a mystery. Snakes on a Plane attempted to create a cult classic, but came off as trying too hard. While in theory Raimi and Campbell of all people should know the magic cult formula, replicating it seems to be as evasive as discovering it. Consequently, there is no guarantee that the remake will appeal to the original fans. There is also the complication that neither have returned to their original roles and are instead working predominantly as producers. In their places, Fede Alvarez is making his feature film debut as director and Jane Levy (Suburgatory) taking the lead as Mia, a female Ash-like character.
However, this could very well work in its favour. It is clear from both comments made by Campbell and Raimi, as well as the trailers, that this will not be a shot-for-shot remake. There are certain elements that are being kept in, most notably the infamous tree rape scene as well as the Necronomicon itself, but according to Campbell the similarities amount to “five new kids who are going to have a really bad night”. While that may be the case with the story, the spirit of the film seems, at least on the cover, to still be intact. The use of relatively unknown actors and director as well as the steadfast refusal to use CGI, relying on purely physical effects instead, should lessen fears from fans that it would be contaminated by being the focus of such media and public attention. The trailer also suggested that Alvarez is taking a different approach than the original, giving it a much more professional view than the B-movie feel of the original, while maintaining its bloody-thirsty style.
So, will Evil Dead resurrect the franchise and bring the thrills of the past to the next generation or will it suffer the same fate as many of its characters? Personally I believe that there is more cause for excitement than worry. The presences of Campbell and Raimi in the background should be enough to keep it loyal to its roots, whilst allowing it to take on its own identity under Alvarez. Treading the line between appealing and appealing to newcomers can be very tough. Whatever the outcome, though, it will be a bloody, messy and high-tempo affair, which will should make for a pretty groovy remake.
Connor Sherwin asks whether Tarentino’s Django satisfies our demand for bloodshed and brutality.
The recent release of Quentin Tarentino’s Django Unchained has sparked controversy, uproar, and admiration since its debut onto our cinema screens. Enjoyable? Yes. Profitable? Definitely. The question we should be asking, though, is “Why?”
Why do we expose ourselves to such savage violence, embracing its immorality and bloodthirstiness? Blaming “popular culture” seems overdone and frankly unconvincing. A far more entertaining argument is to consider the witchcraft of Tarentino himself, most prominently in the comedic, dripping glaze of satire that smoothes over the extreme gruesomeness. One key catalyst that has sparked this satirical exuberance within Tarentino’s work lies in his choice of actors. In Pulp fiction it was Jackson and Travolta, we now see the emergence of Christophe Waltz. Waltz plays a perfectly delightful bounty hunter who would happily take you out for dinner, treat you to a delicious cheese soufflé, buy you champagne and then blow your head off for desert. Tarentino’s marvellous script-writing abilities coupled with some incredibly adept actors mask the violence in a thin veil of acceptability.
While the horror in Django resembles more of an accident in a Heinz factory than reality, this does not allow for detachment from the explicit nature in which it is applied. The emergence of Django coincides directly with the shootings in America, putting forward the age-old question of whether entertainment based on violence has a direct impact on “real life” behaviour.
Tarentino claims that his work is directly is intended as entertainment, and entertainment alone. The unfortunate implication of this statement is the rather unfavourable light in which it shows the human race. Surely you cannot gain pleasure from the sight of nomadic brutality? Yet we do – Tarentino’s consistent box-office success proves that excitement and gore are what really get us going. Are we twisted? Messed up? Perhaps not all the time, but for some reason when the lights go out and images flicker across a screen, we change into apelike creatures with a fascination for violence. We carry on indulging in a feast of immorality, destruction and death on the big screen. Maybe we have become desensitised, and neutralised from the acidic nature of violence. Years of opposition to violence in film have passed from Kubrick’s Clockwork Orange to Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, both of which look positively reserved when it comes to Django. The slowly increasing portrayal of brutality and anarchic destructiveness has paved the way for Tarentino to indulge his conscious thoughts onto our screens, thanks to his own messed-up reality and the influence he has gained from the Cinema of a past era.
The morals of society have surely changed over the past 50 years, with cinema soaking up the juices left behind, adopting new theories and devising new forms of film to entertain and shock. The capacity to shock will always make a work of art sell – what is disturbing is simply the lengths to which Tarentino must go to shock us. Shock, excitement and utter horror have shaped the cinema experience for generations, and Django is the inevitable conclusion.