Black Mirror

About a year ago, American nerds on Twitter started raving about a television series called Black Mirror. I was rather surprised to discover it was an obscure British show from 2011, but found it had grown in popularity through 2013-14 whereupon Netflix picked it up, ploughed in some money, and released another two seasons. This explains how American audiences suddenly got interested.

I started watching it when I first heard about it, but gave up after the first two episodes which I thought were vaguely interesting but nothing special. Then about a month ago I’d watched everything else on my list so gave it another go, and was hooked. The series consists of stand-alone stories of between 45 and 90 minutes all set in the reasonably near future where different technologies are deployed in everyday life. Society looks pretty much as it does now, only augmented by new technologies, and although some feature in multiple stories, you generally get a different one each episode. Almost always, the storyline revolves around some ethical problem the technology throws up, and how it can be harnessed for the good, create moral dilemmas, or abused for nefarious ends. The mood is generally dark, but occasionally one is positively uplifted, for instance in the episode San Junipero.

While most people rate Black Mirror highly overall, there is little agreement over which episodes are the best and worst. I didn’t find any of them terrible, and most were very good with one or two being brilliant. My favourite was White Christmas, with an ending so horrific it gave me nightmares that evening. White Bear, San Junipero, Shut Up and Dance, and USS Callister were probably the next best, in no particular order. I think it speaks to the strength and depth of each storyline that there is little consensus on which episodes are the best, and it really comes down to what aspect strikes a chord with you. Aside from the intriguing technology, the acting is superb with many a famous face popping up, and the series being split between America and the UK keeps things fresh.

Black Mirror was probably the best television series I’ve watched in a long time, and shows the exceptional talent of Charlie Brooker, who wrote most of the storylines. I don’t mind admitting there were two or three episodes which made me wish I’d written something half as good. If you’re into sci-fi, I highly recommend it.

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Louis Theroux’s Altered States – Episode 1

After receiving several impatient emails from readers, I finally got around to watching the first episode of Louis Theroux’s Altered States BBC series, which was about polyamorists. It’s a very interesting hour of television, particularly if you knew nothing about polyamory before. But if you’ve been following my blog for a while you’d find it interesting in a different way thanks to all the small details which indicate what’s going on behind the facade.

Theroux moves between three groups of polyamorists, all living in or around Portland, Oregan, which appears to be a city full of complete weirdos – and commentator Howard Roark (readers are invited to ask him to explain himself in the comments). I’ll structure this post differently from the program, and describe each group in succession.

The first is made up of two men and two women, all in their fifties. Jerry is an IT analyst who is married to Heidi, a therapist. Between them they have a daughter who looks about 9. Twelve years ago they “opened up their marriage” because Heidi felt depressed and, to put it bluntly, shagged some fella she knew back in college. So we’re not 5 minutes in and already we learn the underlying reason for this polyamorous lifestyle is mental health problems on the part of the woman. For the past 5 years, Heidi has been with a fellow called Joe, who is big, bald, and bearded. He comes over to Jerry and Heidi’s house once a week and sleeps downstairs in a bed with Heidi while Jerry stays upstairs. The daughter seems fine with all of this – for now, anyway.

Later on we meet Joe’s wife Gretchen, who doesn’t have purple hair but she has dyed the front few strands lilac. She’s fifty years old, and has two kids with Joe, both under ten. When Theroux turns up at her house, Heidi and Joe are in bed together. Heidi is wearing a t-shirt with a reference to polyamory, and you see a lot of objects advertising their lifestyles throughout the program. Theroux has a serious discussion with Gretchen in the kitchen which is revealing. Gretchen seems to resent that she is responsible for her husband’s happiness, and think it’s his issue to deal with. Perhaps unintentionally, she gives the viewer the impression that the only form of happiness she recognises is that derived from sex. She doesn’t like sleeping with Joe and is happy to let someone else “take a turn at the wheel”, and we soon learn why. Gretchen has been going to sex clubs since she was 20 and living in San Francisco, and is still into bisexual orgies with strangers. It quickly becomes obvious that Gretchen doesn’t give a damn, Joe loves Heidi because she gives him attention, and Jerry looks as though he’s about to kill himself. Jerry is not seeing anyone else and isn’t ever likely to: he’s just the poor schmuck who agreed to polyamory because he didn’t want to lose the only women he’s ever loved (one suspects). Heidi sees how much it’s hurting him but is too damned selfish to either set him loose or quit polyamory. He cuts a pitiful figure throughout, but he and his wife deny he’s unhappy even when Theroux presses them. Jerry’s responses sound as though he’s been brainwashed by a cult, and I suppose he has.

Theroux asks Gretchen whether the polyamorous arrangement she has with her husband is not simply “slow divorce”. She denies it, but admits there are problems; like other polyamorists I’ve met, she’s adamant they have nothing to do with their chosen lifestyle. Both Gretchen and Heidi distance themselves from the idea that they have any responsibility towards their respective husbands’ happiness, and that, coupled with shots of them sitting under blankets on the sofa smooching one another, make this group of fifty-somethings come across as incredibly immature.

The second set are a bunch of modern-day hippies who live in a commune consisting of a few houses and a vegetable patch. The main house is stuffed full of books and paraphernalia, almost of all of which has something to do with sex. It’s apparent that sex and polyamory defines them more than anything else, and if those are stripped away they’re unbearably dull and probably not very bright. We are introduced to Mattias, a weedy-looking hipster and his partner AJ, who looks as though she’s just been rescued from a cult. AJ is pregnant with Mattias’ kid (that’s what we’re told, anyway). With them is Joelle, who rents (or owns) the gaff, and first approached AJ for some lovin’ but got passed onto Mattias instead. One gets the impression this bunch aren’t too fussy who they’re with – male or female – provided it’s somebody. Joelle has 4 partners, but she “doesn’t like to use such hierachal terms in her poly-dynamics”. Well, me neither. It turns out AJ was married for ten years in a polyamorous marriage, which is surprising because she looks about thirty. With one eye on the character in my book, I’m half tempted to wonder if she too needed a US residency visa aged 21. Less surprising is the revelation that her husband left her for someone who wanted a monogamous relationship, which made her feel betrayed. Again like my character, it hasn’t occurred to her that polyamorous men might not make the best husbands.

Later on we find out AJ has met someone else, another weedy hipster and software developer called Q. We are told they met at – wait for it – a class she was teaching on how to use sex toys. I swear I’m not making this up. I didn’t even know there were classes on how to use sex toys, but apparently they’re delivered in Portland by pregnant women. Maybe that’s what keeps Mr Roark sticking around? When interviewed, they speak as if they’re on a higher spiritual plane, as if promiscuity has gifted them insight unattainable by lesser, monogamous beings. But I reckon the pretentious language is simply sophistry to avoid admitting they’re hurting each other. Theroux interviews Mattius and asks how he feels about another man shagging the mother of his unborn child and he rambles for a minute or two before admitting that yes, it’s pretty f*****g hard. Like the first group they seem impossibly childish, and matters aren’t helped when they attend a semi-naked costume party and then a soft-porn orgy attended by the sort of fat, ageing, tattooed, ghouls you see in pictures from Burning Man. One of the things I liked about watching this program was how so many of the threads I’d written about on this blog wove neatly together. The physical resemblence of this second group with some of the polyamorist/Burning Man lot I encountered was striking. In the epilogue we learn AJ has given birth to Mattius’ child but “they have decided not to assign the baby a gender”. That meaty slap you can hear as the credits roll is my palm hitting my forehead.

The third group was a woman and two men…sorry, boys…in their late twenties who live together as a threesome. They work in “tech and engineering” and look as though they’ve come straight from an all-night session of Dungeons & Dragons. If these three didn’t lose their virginity to each other on the night they all met, I’d be astounded.

Their relationship started as a threesome, but now Nick and Bob appear to take it in turns with Amanda after finding there were some, ahem, sexual incompatibilities. They all still sleep in the same bed, however. In the beginning they seemed to be fairly happy, but as the program went on it was revealed that Amanda is on medication for depression which she’s had since her teens, when she engaged in self-harm. Both the boys mumbled that they’d prefer to be “enough” for Amanda, but each accepts they never will be. When Theroux remarks that Amanda seems lucky to have a double dose of love and support to help her deal with whatever monsters lurk in her past, it is hard not to conclude it’s attention she craves. She obviously has deeper underlying needs, and whether these can be met over the long term via a threeway relationship with a couple of man-children is doubtful.

In summary, the episode confirmed something I already knew but polyamorists go to great lengths to deny: they are simply not normal. Now I don’t care what polyamorists do, but the idea that these are ordinary, well-adjusted people who simply choose another relationship arrangement is not borne out by the evidence . As I’m fond of saying, for many this is less a lifestyle choice than a coping mechanism, and despite protestations from polyamorists, a lot of them seem to end up hurt or making their existing condition worse. My point is, should you ever encounter a polyamorist on a dating site you should assume they are very, very different from normal people regardless of what they say. And if they used to be polyamorous, they owe you a long and detailed explanation right up front. Even then, you should probably just walk away.

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TV Advertising

Does anyone know anything about how TV advertising works in the UK? I’m doing a case study for my MBA and need to know a bit about how it’s structured.

I assume there is an intermediary, some sort of advertising agency, between (say) Coca-Cola and (say) ITV. So Coca-Cola produce an advert and rather than take it directly to ITV, they go through the intermediary. So, does anyone know:

1. Who the main intermediaries are in the UK?

2. What their role is? Do they get a list of slots from ITV, etc. with a price alongside each one, and fill them accordingly with ads their clients have given them?

Or have I got this wrong somehow? I’m looking for the basic structure of the business here, not whether it’s outdated, relevant in today’s world, etc. Any help would be much appreciated.

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Robin plays Hillary

Ancient readers may remember last year I gave my opinion on House of Cards and wasn’t very impressed:

Somewhere between Seasons 2 and 3 the feminists got hold of the script and effectively made the show all about Frank Underwood’s wife, played by Robin Wright.

The audience, by having it rammed down their throats every episode, is expected to unconditionally accept that Claire Underwood is a brilliant politician, responsible for every success her husband has achieved, desired sexually by every man who meets her, and is easily capable as a president herself (there is a Season 5 on the way).

Unsurprisingly:

The eight-episode final season of House of Cards, expected to drop on Netflix this autumn, will focus on Claire Underwood’s career.

The character became the US president at the end of the last season, a position previously held by her on-screen husband.

I suspect this was the intention long before Spacey quit the show amid allegations he’d been having affairs with young men who may or may not have been wholly enthused with the idea. I’ll not bother watching it, especially now Spacey has gone – one of the few in the show who could act. By contrast, and as I said before, Wright wears the same arse-hugging style of dress or skirt in every shot, manages a single facial expression throughout the entire series, and for each pivotal scene the only thing that changes are the words being spoken.

I can imagine that Season 5 will be a liberal fantasy of what a Hillary Clinton presidency would have looked like, minus the corruption and deteriorating health. I can see why there’s a market for this, and no doubt the media will be gushing with praise at a season which “shows us what is possible”, but I can’t imagine any men will be watching it. Not any that know how to use a torque wrench, anyway.

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Sex and the City didn’t air on Discovery

I often remark on here that rather too many women thought Sex and the City was a documentary. I’ve now found an article that shows I wasn’t exaggerating:

When the last episode of “Sex and the City” aired in February 2004, I hosted a viewing party for 200 guests. It was my swan song as well: Eight months later, I would move to New York, where, armed with my “Sex and the City” DVDs, my transformation really began.

Based on what I knew from “SATC,” I expected the city to sweep me off my feet. I envisioned nonstop brunching and shopping.

What always surprises me about these stories is the lack of friends and family who try to talk some sense into them.

I lived on food bought for me on dates and the occasional bodega tuna sandwich. For clothes, it was wrap dresses from Diane von Furstenberg sample sales combined with loans from designers who took pity on me — like Betsey Johnson, whom I’d interviewed at Fashion Week. Different men I dated gave me YSL shoes and status purses, just like Big did for Carrie on “SATC.”

She’s relying on “dates” for food and clothes. Yay for female empowerment!

I also subscribed to Carrie’s ethos when it came to men. There was no such thing as a bad date — only a good date or a good brunch story. In my writing, I gave my boyfriends nicknames (one was “Prom King”) just like Carrie and her friends did.

I went out with a prince: Lorenzo Borghese from “The Bachelor.” I even dated the British ex-boyfriend of “Sex and the City” creator Candace Bushnell — the original Carrie. He was one of a few men who comprised the composite character Mr. Big.

A common feature among women who spent a decade sleeping around is their belief that anyone is in the slightest bit interested in their exploits. Seriously, does anyone care who she was shagging in New York a decade ago? She didn’t even manage to screw a household name.

Between 2004 and 2011, I filmed nine TV pilots — many of which were reality shows, and all of which were a derivation of some kind of “SATC” role for me. I was always the Carrie. In one pilot, I hosted for Animal Planet; the premise was that your dog would choose whom you’d go out with.

One can’t honestly say at this point that getting the dog’s input is a bad idea.

Their core complaint about me was that I was a quote-unquote “fame whore.”

I suspect many of your female contemporaries thought that description contained one word too many.

Finally, I cut my ties to New York and moved to San Francisco full-time in 2013. I tried being a tech columnist and writing a personal-growth book called “Experiments in Happiness.”

Which sits on my shelf beside Paul Gascoigne’s book “Experiments in Sobriety”.

These days I work as a change activist, mounting summits for world leaders and serving as an adviser to startups and entrepreneurs looking to better the planet.

So she’s found religion. Sadly she’s not locked herself away in a convent.

I’m finally living a life of integrity, and I’m attuned to my values. I never heard about values on “Sex and the City.”

Well, no.

I dated a woman for a while, a beautiful entrepreneur who was also jilted by New York — that’s definitely not something you saw Carrie do.

How edgy. No sign of mental disorder here at all, oh no.

But dating is not front and center in my life anymore, although it was all I talked about in my 20s. That’s pretty one-dimensional.

You think?

Last year, I ended a two-year relationship with a man who ultimately couldn’t commit and wanted to be polyamorous.

Heh! I suspect he could commit, only not with someone who spent a decade shagging random men in New York in return for food and clothes. And why wait two years? Desperation much?

Again, “SATC” and the “lessons” it taught me is the culprit.

It wasn’t supposed to be a lifestyle manual. And as Daniel Ream often points out, the book was far more realistic in its portrayal of single life in New York than the TV series was, and ought to have served as a warning.

The show wasn’t a rubric on how to find a lifelong partnership.

You don’t say!

If I was more grounded and had honestly assessed whether this man was a good partner for me, I don’t think we ever would have dated.

So it’s the fault of a TV show which concluded in her early twenties that she dated an unsuitable man in her mid-thirties? For all the talk of female empowerment, a lot of these modern women don’t seem to have quite grasped the whole personal responsibility thing, have they? Nor do they seem to understand that the choices you make in your twenties stay with you for life.

Crushed and needing to regroup, I took a sabbatical and lived in Bali for eight months on a healing journey.

Heh.

I was also celibate during my time there.

Much to the disappointment of knuckle-dragging Australian youths in beer singlets.

I do wonder what my life would have looked like if “Sex and the City” had never come across my consciousness.

I don’t know, but I’m confident if you got lost in the Arctic wilderness you’d blame Ice Road Truckers.

Perhaps I’d be married with children now?

Given your appalling judgement, immaturity, and lack of impulse control I’d say that’s highly unlikely.

Who knows, but I can say for sure that, as clever and aesthetically pleasing as the show was — and, as much as I agree with its value of female friendships — it showed too much consumerism and fear of intimacy disguised as empowerment.

Modern feminism is rather good at disguising all manner of vices and self-destructive behaviour as empowerment.

Whom you’re dating, what you’re wearing, or how good you look at that premiere — none of that s–t matters unless you genuinely love yourself. Solid relationships are what really matter.

Who knew?

Truth be told, I wish I had never heard of “SATC.” I’m sure there are worse role models but, for me, it did permanent and measurable damage to my psyche that I’m still cleaning up.

As useful a description of the effects of modern feminism as you’re likely to find.

Two months ago, I started seeing someone I never would have dated 10 years earlier.

A whole two months? How long to you think she can hide the disgust?

Back then, I wasn’t looking to get married or seek a lifelong partner, and that was a mistake. This man is a very reasonable choice, and I’m at a place in my life where reasonable is very sexy.

Two. Months.

Now, I feel like genuine me — I’m no longer a Carrie Bradshaw knockoff.

No, you’re now Samantha. Congratulations!

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Conquest’s Second Law, Netflix Edition

Back when he was blogging, the Oilfield Expat wrote a piece on the management of Netflix in the early years (it’s worth reading the whole thing). His post was based on an article describing the techniques employed by the CEO Reed Hastings, according to the lady who was their chief talent officer between 1998 and 2012. Underneath, commenter dearieme added this remark:

I dare say that if netflix survives long enough to become a “mature” corporation it will become just as bad.

Well, Reed Hastings is still the CEO but this didn’t fill me with confidence:

Barack Obama and Michelle Obama are teaming up with Netflix to produce films and TV shows.

Netflix say the former US President and First Lady have “entered into a multi-year agreement” with the service.

It says the “films and series” will “potentially” include “scripted series, unscripted series, docu-series, documentaries and features.”

“Barack and I have always believed in the power of storytelling to inspire us,” said Michelle Obama.

Presumably there is a shortage of seasoned professional TV producers forcing Netflix to recruit former politicians and their wives. Or, it’s simply a way for wealthy liberals to bankroll the Obamas’ lifestyle to which they’re now accustomed:

This is third-world stuff, and I think it’s safe to say sensible management practices have left Netflix, along with the smart money. Give it a year or so and they’ll have gone full SJW.

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Babylon Berlin

I’ve spent the past few weeks watching the TV series Babylon Berlin which has been airing on Sky Atlantic (the second season has just finished). My Dad recommended it, and IMDB tells us:

Most expensive non-English language drama series ever made in history and also most expensive German TV series at the time of its first season release with a budget of approximately 40 million Euros.

As far as I know it’s not been dubbed and all the dialogue takes place in German with some Russian thrown in, but the subtitling is excellent: no Chinese DVD effort here. It takes place in 1920s Berlin and follows the path of a young detective sent over from Cologne to investigate vice, corruption, and blackmail in Germany’s capital.

The first thing that struck me is that the actors can actually act. All of the leads are capable of portraying a range of emotions, in stark contrast to most American TV shows. I recently watched The Man in the High Castle and found the leading woman wore the exact same facial expression from start to finish, and her boyfriend wasn’t any better. How these people ever got through an audition to secure the part is beyond me, but thankfully the Germans playing roles in Babylon Berlin are proper actors.

The characters are more interesting too. I’ve written before about how I like characters to be complex and not squeaky clean or cartoon villains, and I was delighted to find that few of them in Babylon Berlin were one-dimensional. Nobody is wholly good, many of them are morally compromised, and the bad guys aren’t going around raping people to let everyone know they’re bad. (I recently got introduced to the series Outlander. Sure enough, by the second episode a dastardly English redcoat is raping a bonnie Scottish lass in front of her brother, the hero of the series. I switched it off right there.) You’re never too sure who to root for because you don’t really know who’s who in the swamp of corruption and intrigue they’re all operating in. There are a few clichéd moments, but none bearing the saccharine we’ve come to expect from American or British TV series, which often seem like they replaced the scriptwriter with software.

The producers have also shown some balls in choosing to set it in the 1920s. It would have been very easy to set the show in the 1930s and beat the audience over the head with a “Nazis are bad” message, but instead they picked an era of surprising complexity which isn’t well known. The First World War looms large over several of the characters, former soldiers and widows alike, and we get a glimpse of the German perspective and the impact it had on their lives. I can’t think of another series or film that addresses this in any way. A large part of the plot concerns the social and political changes taking place in Germany, especially the threat of Communism supported by the fledgling Soviet Union now under Stalin, but the audience is never told what to think. They managed to capture issues of considerable complexity without taking sides, which is a rarity these days. The plot is complicated and I lost my way a few times, but it was at least believable. The Man in the High Castle only managed to advance the plot by portraying the totalitarian, ruthlessly paranoid Japanese occupying government as utterly incompetent, incapable of performing basic background checks. Babylon Berlin thankfully doesn’t use blithering idiocy to get the script working, although there are a few too many coincidences and chance encounters for my liking.

Finally, the production quality is superb. The clothes, set design, and attention to historical detail meets the standards set by Boardwalk Empire and on these measures you’d believe you were watching a big-budget American series (only with some money set aside for a scriptwriter and some actors). There are several scenes which are beautifully shot, and visually it is a pleasure to watch. The score is probably good too but, as I’ve mentioned before, I don’t notice.

Babylon Berlin was the second German TV series I’d watched recently which I was very impressed with, the other being Deutschland 83. I’m rather hoping they keep this up.

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Jimmy Kimmel’s Crocodile Tears

A day or two after the massacre in Las Vegas, American talk show host Jimmy Kimmel went on stage with a passionate plea to “do something”. Political commentator Ben Shapiro took issue with this, and made a video dissecting Kimmel’s words. Below is Shapiro’s video which includes clips of Kimmel speaking. I’m not going to ask anyone to watch the whole thing unless they’re really interested, but please look at it between 1:10 and 2:30.

Shapiro says he believes Kimmel is sincere, but I think he’s being rather generous: to me it looks like bad acting, hamming it up for the camera.

Since I’ve been living in Paris there have been two gun-massacres: Charlie Hebdo and the Bataclan Theatre. Both were shocking and induced a numb, almost surreal atmosphere in the place but neither reduced me to tears. Now Kimmel was raised in Las Vegas since the age of nine, but still, I don’t think news of a shooting in Pembroke would have me blubbering in the office. Now if Kimmel lost close friends and acquaintances in the attacks, I would understand. I’d also understand if he was there at the time: the trauma of being involved in these things can reduce ordinary people to a gibbering wreck. Now perhaps Kimmel listened to or read the accounts of the survivors just before walking on stage: they can be both harrowing and heartbreaking, even decades after an event, but even then I doubt they’d make him cry in the middle of doing his job.

That’s not to say men don’t get emotional. I lost my best friend last year and talking about him still brings me out in tears, that’s just the way it is. And I occasionally find myself choking up at a particularly moving scene from a film or book: the writers of the Toy Story sequels had an exceptional talent for this. A scene where Woody’s horse is told he can’t go with his master is emotional manipulation on a scale that ought to banned outright. My point is not that men don’t get emotional, it’s that men don’t get all teary over the murder of people they don’t know and didn’t witness. Women might, but then women cry over damned near anything. Men, when faced with news of a terrorist attack or mass murder, get angry not upset. They want to go out and exact a terrible revenge, not weep in public. Kimmel has gone on stage without deciding whether he wants to be upset or angry which suggests he’s neither, he just wants to score political points and virtue-signal.

Earlier this year Kimmel’s newborn son received life-saving medical treatment, which he used as the basis of his opposition to the Trump administration’s healthcare reforms:

During his opening monologue on Jimmy Kimmel Live on Monday, host Jimmy Kimmel cried openly.

His eyes welled up first, as he described the recent birth of his weeks-old son. And then Kimmel struggled to speak, as he recounted how, within hours of Billy’s birth, a nurse noticed that he was purple and whisked him away for observation.

“Now more doctors and nurses and equipment come in, and it’s a terrifying thing,” Kimmel said, the emotion obvious in his voice. “My wife is back in the recovery room, she has no idea what’s going on, and I’m standing in a room full of worried-looking people—kind of like right now.” The team discovered Billy had a congenital heart defect. He was rushed into emergency surgery.

Now it is perfectly normal for a man to get emotional and cry when talking about the near-death of his newborn son. Whether it is appropriate to do so on national television in order to make a political point is less certain. I’d say no, frankly. That sort of stuff should be kept private unless specifically related to the subject at hand, and especially not wielded as a political club.

I reckon after the episode about his son, Kimmel thought it made him look better – more “passionate”, “vulnerable”, and “human” – and so he’s decided to make it his shtick. Now it might be popular among women and the legions of rather wet men that inhabit the modern west, but most men ought to be retching over the back of the sofa at this performance. I wanted to slap his silly face and tell him to pull himself together. Men don’t cry over this sort of thing, and if they do – well, God help us.

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Nocturnal Animals

Last night I watched Nocturnal Animals, starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Amy Adams. If you haven’t seen it and wish to, you might want to skip this post because SPOILERS FOLLOW.

The film concerns the owner of an art gallery (Adams) who’s made a right hash of her life. Severe Mummy and Daddy issues drove her as a young graduate to marry her childhood friend (Gyllenhaal) who’s a budding author but seems to be hopelessly naive about what that entails. For example, he complains his wife criticises his work, into which he’s poured his heart and soul. Well, wait until it hits the shelves pal, then you’ll know what criticism is. After two years of marriage she bins the author for some hot-shot Adonis she works with. The film takes place 19 years later when the Adonis is cheating on her with a younger, prettier woman and her gallery is failing. Cue lots of shots of her sitting in the dark, alone and weeping. The only thing missing was her securing an order for half a dozen cats down at the local pet shop.

I think the lesson we’re supposed to take away is that you should always follow your heart and stand by your first true love no matter what. The lesson I actually took away was that spoiled brat women in their twenties acting like stroppy teenagers in dealing with their parents are likely to make catastrophic decisions which will leave them alone and miserable later in life. That’s not really the point of this post, though.

Instead I’m going to talk about lazy plot devices. Early on in the film Adam’s character receives a manuscript from her ex-husband, who she’s not seen in decades, and reads it. The film then becomes a story within a story, and we see the tale in the manuscript being played out. The idea is that the author’s new novel is so brilliant that his ex-wife will see she made a mistake in dumping him all those years ago.

The problem is the novel doesn’t seem very good or original. It concerns a man who is run off the road by rednecks (of course) in Texas after which his wife and teenage daughter are raped and murdered. The man survives and seeks revenge. This story has been done a million times already, so I wasn’t persuaded it could induce a change of heart in his ex-wife. What they needed was a really clever story, not a by-the-numbers rape-revenge yarn, but I guess if they came up with one they’d probably just make a film of that rather than use it as a sub-plot in a film about a lonely, ageing woman.

But my main issue is with what this tweet complains about:

I’m not alone in finding rape increasingly being used as a plot device, and not liking it. I’ve complained before about bad guys in movies and TV series being made into cartoons, and the audience battered over the head with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer to ensure we’re left in no doubt who is good and who is bad. Making the bad guy a rapist appears to have become the default way of going about it, and I find it lazy. Rape may induce feelings of disgust and hatred, and make for intense scenes the audience won’t forget, but it’s akin to the shots of emaciated African kids with flies around their face you see in TV adverts begging for money – it’s cheap, emotional blackmail. Some years ago my sister noticed the frequency with which rape is used as a plot device when writing for the F-Word:

James Patterson’s 1996 bestseller Kiss the Girls features two male serial killers who keep beautiful, intelligent young women in a basement and sexually abuse, torture and kill them.

Before Patterson there was Dean Koontz, another immensely popular US thriller writer, whose 1986 book Night Chills features a string of graphic rape scenes alongside a female lead character who outsmarts a male military officer at every turn.

In short, male novelists have for decades been selling graphic capture-rape-torture-kill novels by chucking in ‘strong’ female characters for balance, and have even gained plaudits for highlighting violence against women in the process.

The Spectator’s Gary Dexter is in no doubt about the reason for Patterson’s appeal: “Patterson likes rape, torture, mutilation and death. So do his readers. Who doesn’t? It has been estimated that Patterson’s lifetime sales of thrillers have now topped 150 million, and that one in every 15 hardbacks bought in the world in 2007 was a Patterson novel, which means that we must all like rape, torture, mutilation and death, perhaps with extra rape on the side, and then some child rape, child torture, child mutilation and child death, then some more rape, more death and more rape, and finally some rape, death, rape and death.”

Ken Follet’s The Pillars of the Earth was another bestseller which had the bad guy raping women with such frequency I’d roll my eyes wondering why the editor didn’t point out he’d used this scene already.

It may be necessary to include a rape scene in a film or novel – The Accused would hardly work without it, nor would I Spit on Your Grave – but in most cases it is necessary only because the writer lacks the skill or imagination to come up with anything else. You might forgive the writers of Game of Thrones frequently throwing in rape scenes because that particular series relies heavily on torture-porn, but others don’t have that excuse.

Prompted by a friend, I recently watched the pilot of the TV series The Americans. Sure enough, the female lead gets raped by her superior in a flashback, just to make sure the audience knows that this guy is evil and deserves everything that’s coming to him. The fact that his raping her is absolutely ludicrous both in terms of historical accuracy and the plot doesn’t seem to matter: the important thing is we get to see a woman being raped, thus ensuring we all talk about how serious, edgy, and thought-provoking the series is. For me, it simply showed the writers are so lacking imagination the script might as well have been created by a piece of software.

Nocturnal Animals wasn’t a bad film, and I liked the ending, but lazy writing using rape-revenge as a plot device let it down badly. I look forward to the day when authors and scriptwriters quit doing it. It’s probably one of the few subjects on which I agree with the feminists.

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Doctor who?

I confess I don’t know the first thing about Doctor Who, and have only heard of it through the background noise of popular culture and the occasional reference to daleks. I have absolutely no idea who he is or what he does, which is why I care not a damn that the character has been switched to a woman played by actress Jodie Whittaker.

I don’t know if this switch will be good or bad, but the early signs are that it is highly politicised which rarely makes for good programming. The media – including the BBC which owns the Doctor Who rights and makes the programmes – is full of people saying how important this is, how glass ceilings have been broken, and how this is unprecedented, none of which is likely to be true. There is absolutely no reason why a female lead in a sci-fi series cannot be excellent, but it is more a question as to whether the demands of the SJWs in charge at the BBC and their cheerleaders outside can be satisfied while making the damned thing watchable. Somehow I doubt it.

I’ve already expressed my opinion that House of Cards started well, sucking in audiences with a strong male performance, before the feminists hijacked the script and made it all about his damned wife. I suspect the same thing will happen with Doctor Who, only from a much weaker position. From what little I have read about Doctor Who on various blogs, it’s gone from naff but popular with kids to rather wet and overly keen to push the BBC’s preferred brand of politics. Having not seen a single episode that might be an unfair summary, but it would hardly be surprising if accurate. I expect a female Doctor Who will be used to push lefty agendas even further, alienating core viewers, delighting a gaggle of feminists who will blame collapsing viewing figures and poor reviews on misogyny, and wrecking the brand.

The problem is as I described in this post:

 A female lead these days needs to be one of the following:

1. An innocent victim of some more powerful force (such as a violent husband, or asshole boss) who she eventually overcomes through perseverance and/or being much cleverer than her adversary. (A Goody)

2. A ripped, kick-ass chick straight out of comic-book fantasy who beats up Samoan extras and can throw knives through chipboard.  (Can be a Goody or a Baddy)

3. A sassy, independent, fuck-you-in-your-face, policewoman, soldier, politician, or CEO.  (A Goody)

4. A woman who saves her husband/boyfriend from his own stupidity. (A Goody)

Laurie Penny has weighed in with a New Statesman article which, as David Thompson observes, is largely about her:

When I told my mum that Doctor Who was a woman now, I wasn’t sure how she’d react. In fact, she was remarkably accepting. “After all this time,” she said “I’m just happy for you. I know you’ve thought about it a lot, and it’s practically normal now. I hear they’ve even got female Ghostbusters these days.”

I wonder how many takes that took before Ma Penny finally said something which Laurie could use? It has all the authenticity of the raspberry flavouring in a bright blue Slush Puppy. But on this point she’s right:

Even now, female protagonists are still rare enough in popular culture, and most of them tend to win the day by showing up in undersized perfect hair and kicking people in the face. This is the sort of female hero we’ve learned to tolerate, the “fighting fuck-toy”, in Anita Sarkeesian’s immortal words – damaged but sexy, a stock figure for whom “well-rounded” is a strictly physical description.

She’s describing No. 2 in my list above, and I find them as annoying as she. But Laurie and her ilk think the answer is to make female characters like No. 3 instead, despite what she says here:

Doctor Who is a different sort of hero. The Doctor solves problems not by being the strongest, the fastest or the one with the biggest army, but by outthinking everyone else in the room. Far too many female characters are two-dimensional.

Feminists think a character has depth if she upholds values they agree with. For instance:

I’m ready to watch a woman save the world again and again by being very, very clever and very, very moral, without having to have a man sort anything out or come and save her.

Does that sound like a multi-dimensional, complex character to you? To me it sounds more like a woman trying to play a dull man. I find overly moral male characters painful to watch, which is why I don’t like Tom Hanks’ films much. I prefer to watch characters that have major flaws like the rest of us, or those that are generally assholes but we like them anyway. Decent female roles are almost impossible to come by thanks to the very same SJWs that are now complaining they are two-dimensional. Which producer would dare sign off on a character like Scarlett O’Hara these days?

Jodie Whittaker might be the first female Doctor Who, but she runs a real risk of being the last – of any sex.

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