Category Archives: Politics

Out of my cold, dead hands

In the last part of Extremists Week, our fearless correspondent Kiwizoidberg looks at the favourite films of the gun lobby

“I am COMPLETELY out of ammo. That's never happened to me before.” Michael Gross in Tremors
“I am COMPLETELY out of ammo. That’s never happened to me before.” Michael Gross in Tremors

Amat victoria curam: victory favours the prepared. When SHTF and it’s TEOTWAWKI, will you be ready? Will you grab your bug-out bag and head for the hills, or retreat to your fortified bunker? And how are you going to defend yourself from everyone else who ignored your warnings and thought you were crazy?

Welcome to the world of the Doomsday preppers. This group of people is made up of individuals, families or even communities who are preparing for the end of the world as we know it (TEOTWAWKI). They may be crazy, but their paranoia has driven them to take action. They have stocked up on water and tinned food and developed skills that they believe will help them survive whatever the world may throw at them when the shit hits the fan (SHTF). How they think the end comes about varies, but preppers are planning to survive and are willing to defend themselves by any means necessary. When this includes firearms, we have the makings of a gun-nut. The term can be interpreted as pejorative or affectionate, depending on your point of view.

When I see or hear the term ‘gun nut’, I imagine someone like Burt Gummer in Tremors (1990). Burt and his wife have a respectable arsenal in their cellar which comes in handy when the graboids invade their town. Back when the film was released, Burt seemed a likeable enough kind of crazy. Nowadays, you are unlikely to find any charming gun-nuts in film. Instead, you get characters like Harlan Ogilvy (Tim Robbins) in the basement scene from the War of the Worlds (2005), someone out of touch with reality; unstable and highly dangerous.

What is this fear that drives the preppers, and what role has film or TV played?Disaster movies are almost as old as cinema. When the genre hit its absolute peak in the 40s and 50s, it did so when WWII was a fresh memory, and when fear of nuclear weapons and Soviet infiltration were at their height. The Roswell Incident of 1947 led to sightings of UFOs everywhere – not least on celluloid. Pretty soon the latent paranoia of Hollywood B-movies was reflected on TV through shows like The Twilight Zone. Prepper lists of favourite films tend to include ‘Panic in the Year Zero’ from 1962, which tells you something about the longevity of this particular cultural crisis, and maybe why we’ve seen so many disaster movies recently. Continue reading Out of my cold, dead hands

Oh Randy, if they knew, I think they’d take me away

In the second part of Extremists Week, Niall Anderson looks at a curious biopic of the American right-wing’s favourite philosopher

Not pictured: an equivalent image of China with the words 'No, fuck off' on it
Not pictured: an equivalent image of China with the words ‘No, fuck off’ on it

In August 2010, 22-year-old Nick Newcomen took a vacation, a car, a GPS device and ten days to ‘write’ the words READ AYN RAND across a Google Earth representation of the USA. In the process, he apparently logged 12,328 miles and thirty States. Speaking to Wired two days after completing his odyssey, Newcomen said: ‘In my opinion if more people would read [Rand’s] books and take her ideas seriously, the country and world would be a better place – freer, more prosperous and we would have a more optimistic view of the future.’

If Newcomen’s project sounds insane, it might be because Ayn Rand – libertarian philosopher and didactic novelist – tends to send her devotees insane. If it sounds like complete and utter bullshit (Nick Newcomen is weirdly untraceable for a man with such a pronounced interest in GPS), well, let’s just say that Rand and bullshit were close kin, if not inseparable.

But Rand’s own story is even odder than that. She is more popular and talked-about these days than at any time since her period as a Rightist anti-draft, anti-Nam firebrand in the sixties. Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead – her major novels, in heft at least – sell close to a million copies each every year in the US. In 1999, her face appeared on a 33-cent US stamp: an oddly equivocal gesture towards someone who was both a rabid stamp collector and opposed to any federal intervention in municipal life, up to and including the existence of the US Postal Service. Her fans include Brad Pitt, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, Republican VP candidate Paul Ryan, and 30-year Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan (once a personal friend). Having died in 1982, Ayn Rand is news in a way she never quite was in life.

Which is how I came to watch The Passion of Ayn Rand, a 1999 made-for-TV biopic in which England’s Own Helen Mirren dons an assymetric wig and a wigged-out Russic accent in order to impersonate the Great Lady of Voodoo Economics. We join Rand in the 1950s, in a moment of crisis. The high priestess of rational self-interest has fallen in love – with a married man, twenty-five years her junior. Continue reading Oh Randy, if they knew, I think they’d take me away

His Words Have Impact

Beginning Extremists Week on Mostly Film, Sarah Slade looks at the musical output of the founder of Scientology, L. Ron Hubbard

What happens when you drink the Kool Aid
What happens when you drink the Kool Aid

Say what you like about Scientology, but L. Ron Hubbard’s sci-fi belief system has attracted some pretty talented musicians. Beck; the late, great Isaac Hayes; Chick Corea and…er…Leif Garrett have all taken the wisdom of L. Ron into their lives and, who knows…maybe even jammed with the great man. You see, Ron’s musical talent is an aspect of his life that I had never heard of before, but there it is, on his website – Ron, the Music Maker. I wish I had the time to read Ron’s words on Country Music, an analysis of Rock Music, Composing on The Road, or even Space Jazz, but I think we’d be better off cutting to the chase, and listening to the man’s music.

Thanks to some bloke off the Internet, you can download and experience the full majesty of the 80s classic Road to Freedom yourself, but, to spare your engrams, I’ve done it for you. Continue reading His Words Have Impact

Mostly MIFfed

Spank the Monkey waxes radical about the Manchester International Festival. Also does some dancing.

‘Is this a dagger which I see before me?’ ‘Spoilers!’

The fourth Manchester International Festival is currently in full swing, and before you ask, no, I didn’t get a ticket for Kenneth Branagh’s Macbeth. Partly because that was the first show to sell out, but mostly because of its terrifyingly high price. If it wasn’t for the opportunity to use the above photo caption (© The Belated Birthday Girl 2013) I probably wouldn’t have mentioned it here at all. Instead, I’m going to catch at the pictures this weekend, like anyone else who doesn’t have sixty-five quid to burn.

When I last wrote about the Festival back in 2011, I focussed entirely on the performance events, and that’s going to be the case again this year. I tried to get to one gallery event this time round: do it 20 13, the latest incarnation of a long-running conceptual art show that concentrates more on the description of the concepts than on the finished pieces. The random arrangement of the exhibition throughout the regular displays at Manchester Art Gallery does it no favours, because you end up spending more time with those regular displays instead. (In my case, a lovely retrospective of local philanthropist Thomas Horsfall, documenting his efforts to educate the working classes by founding the original Manchester Art Museum.)

After the jump: reviews of the things I did see. Continue reading Mostly MIFfed

Ready to take your order

Niall Anderson watches two very different cinematic confidence tricks

The Sting
Paul Newman knows more than you know

As the old joke has it: on the internet nobody knows you’re a dog. But what kind of dog are you? Are you housetrained? Do you like children? Do you have any infectious diseases? Are you even, actually, a dog?

Hoaxes and confidence tricks have always been fertile ground for drama, but certain crops have withered in recent years. The clever confidence caper (epitomised by The Sting) doesn’t seem to flourish as it used to. If it hasn’t quite died out, it’s been genetically modified into something almost unrecognisable. The films of Christopher Nolan, for instance, are all confidence capers at root, but you wouldn’t know it to look at the overbearing foliage.

Besides, there’s a new harvest. Films about, for want of a better term, being a dog. Where once the cinematic conman played a short game, hoping to trick himself into money or out of danger, he now does what he does indefinitely and for no immediately intelligible reason. His first hope is that you’ll accept him as a dog. His highest hope is that you’ll accept him as a dog for a really long time. The usual pleasures of the cinematic con trick – whether and how he’ll get away with it – are replaced by the mopier issue of why he wants to be a dog in the first place.

Catfish (2010) remains the exemplar of this new tricky cinema. A transparent and risibly faked “documentary” about how social media allows people to disguise their real identities, Catfish takes callow New York brothers the Schulmans into the American heartland to discover that the hot twentysomething pixie one of them fancies is actually a dowdy middle-aged woman with no friends and a lot of Facebook accounts. There is shock, followed by hugging and learning. The Schulman brothers learned so much, in fact, that they felt compelled to franchise their wisdom into Catfish: The TV Show – an MTV production in which Nev Schulman spies on internet daters and exposes them if they’re not telling the truth.

This seems to me to be a fairly crippled notion of the truth. It is also a fairly obvious bit of reactionary posturing about the rise of online communication. But the note of paranoia – the idea that you can’t trust anybody till you see them in the flesh – feels authentic in both its fear and naivety. Everything will be all right once all the masks are dropped. Two films coincidentally released this week take on this idea in very different ways. Continue reading Ready to take your order

Tanner 88

On the 25th anniversary of its debut  on HBO,  Phil Concannon looks back at Tanner 88.

While campaigning in New Hampshire ahead of the 1988 primary, Republican Presidential hopeful Bob Dole ran into an unfamiliar Democrat candidate. Dole did not immediately recognise this congressman and his daughter but he certainly was aware of the cameras surrounding them, and so the two men exchanged greetings like old pals, smiled, and wished each other well before going their separate ways. That might sound like a mundane incident, nothing more than a footnote to that year’s Presidential race, but there was something unusual about one of those two men. Jack Tanner was not a real politician. In fact, Jack Tanner was not even a real person.

Continue reading Tanner 88

Kill BBC4

By Niall Anderson

Do you remember the furore when BBC Knowledge was axed? Were you part of the protest?

Here was a channel dedicated to the purest Reithian ideal. It had science documentaries, serious arts coverage, challenging first-run drama and comedy. It ran twenty-four hours a day. It had recognisable anchors and presenters. Now its budget and personnel were going to be slashed by two-thirds.

Its replacement would be a mere eight hours of programming every night. Most of that would be repeats and imports. BBC Knowledge had won a small but committed audience that was growing month by month. It was surely too soon to pull the plug.

This was 2002. Continue reading Kill BBC4

Friends Like These . . .

In the second of an occasional series of what is basically an angry man baying at the moon, Caulorlime, the foul-mouthed English teacher, turns his attention to television advertising.

My wife once bought me a Fawcett Society “This is what a feminist looks like” T-shirt. It doesn’t fit any more, which is good as I have reached, and passed, the age where writing across your flabby man tits is not acceptable, no matter how ideologically sound the message. However, I stand by the sentiment. It is partly in this guise as PC Brigadier and partly as an old man that shouts at the television that I have come to a new, and depressing, realisation.

Adverts hate us all. We know this. They hate all races, socio-economic classes, ages, sexualities and genders. They hate Londoners. They hate the Welsh. They probably hate kittens. There isn’t a single stratum of society that the advertising industry doesn’t vomit contempt over. But they really hate women.

This might seem an odd proposition in 2011, after all, adverts really hate men, don’t they? Men are the ones portrayed as selfish, child-like appurtenances who, on their best day, serve only to irritate and hinder their female masters, right? It’s men who are shown misunderstanding vitamin supplements; men who are weak and hypochondriac; men who, even when the advert wishes to appeal to them, are portrayed as cock-led sex pests. The advert a year or so ago (for some shit, I can’t remember what) that had the tagline “So simple even a man could use it” would never have been screened had the gender been reversed.* Right? Right, but file all this under “Adverts Hate Us All.” Yes, men are portrayed as arseholes, but if you want to see really sinister stuff have a look at the way women are portrayed in ads. Continue reading Friends Like These . . .