Sunday, 23 March 2008

The Easter Message

It's very popular for the religious to be giving messages at Easter, allow me, a member of the irreligious, to present an alternative message.

Some one thousand nine hundred and seventy years ago (or there abouts) a middle aged man was executed. He was but a man, who preached a simple message of peace and good nature. He was a great orator, a charismatic intellectual that spoke to the better nature of people wherever he travelled.

The facts surrounding the actual existance of this man, his life and his death are somewhat hazy (almost non-existant in most cases; aside from a certain specific book), but non the less, his legacy has made a mark on history. A bigger mark in the mind of our species than possibly any other human. But in the intervening centuries after this man's death, the actual message that he seemed to preach got lost amidst a great deal of noise.

Humans, being the selfish, manipulative and arrogant creatures that we are, packaged the the message of this man, labelled it and marketed it to the uneducated masses by institutions seeking to govern a growing empire. Many of the tenants of his message were pushed aside in favour of telling people how to live, what to think and who to respect. The institution fractured, believing in other tenants of their creed or different interpretations of the handbook. Over the years the institution has fought anyone with a different or dissenting point of view, crushed opposition and alternative ideas, and shed rivers of blood in fighting with each other.

Here we are though, still alive almost two thousand years later, in a totally different world to the one in which the crucified man lived in. His footprints have been patented and wrapped in dogma, associating themselves with very specific beliefs that this fellow never associated or concerned himself with. The institutions are finding it a struggle to understand our new world; seeing the way that our species is moving away from the need to have them dictate the way we think and live. The way that our sciences are disproving many of the stories of their sacred guidebook is something that they are fighting and raging against. They don't like that we are shedding our need for organised religion in our lives.

Yet strangely, the species, in moving away from the institutions, is inching closer and closer to understanding and embracing the message of the man that the institution has based its power on. Understanding that the universe does not revolve around us, learning and embracing the knowledge that the earth is not the centre of everything and that life is perhaps not a divinely created gift for mankind only has, caused us to re-evaluate our understanding of one another and realise that in this enormous, uncaring reality, we need each other more than ever. The more we learn what a tiny blip we are on the galactic radar, the more we start to understand the message of the man that was executed so long ago.

The divisions pushed and touted by the institutions of old are fading away. Our desire and need to believe in something greater than ourselves is greater than ever, as we continue to comprehend how fantastically insignificant we are amidst the oceans of emptiness in our universe. Who cares if I believe in reincarnation and you believe in heaven. Can I provide a factual answer to prove that I'm right? Can you? It's all belief. It's all faith. It's a comforting thought that we cling to faced with the harsh truth that the only thing that will definitely happen to our lives is that we will end, and we hope that there will be something more than just this momentary blip of existance. But it's all faith, people. None of us have the answer, just belief. Doesn't matter what you believe or what I believe, we all have to share the same tiny blue dot, and instead of fighting over petty ideas like colour, faith or sex, we need to start living together. In peace. As one.

Think of what we could achieve if we all worked together. We could explore space, take a really good look at the oceans, actually try to understand the mysteries of life that have divided us for so long. This is the only home we have, and this is the only life we ever know we'll have. What helps you get through it is fine, but the message that that one man preached all those years ago is now more important than ever: Peace. Love for ourselves and one another. Compassion.

Jesus Christ tried to spread that one message. I do not believe he was concerned with skin colour or sexuality, gender or physical ability. He saw through the superficiality of human beings and spoke to something deeper in ourselves. We do not need to come to God through a church or a mosque or a synagogue, we do not need an institution to tell us the importance of the message of Jesus Christ. We are alive. We are a species. We all bleed red and are all pink on the inside. We all hope there is something greater than ourselves and we all hope that this brief life is not all there is. But we do not know. The only thing we have is each other. And the commonality in our soul to reach for something better than ourselves.

This life is fleeting, and beyond that is unknown. All we can do in the meantime, living as the individuals that we are, is try to get long in peace. Together.

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

The Press

To summarise if you're lazy: The Daily Express and Daily Star have printed two front page apologies to Kate and Gerry McCann for their "unfair coverage" of the couples suspected involvement in the whole affair.

Radio 5 Live had a piece on it this morning that I was listening to, and they were talking about the media, whether or not it needs checks/restraints (in my opinion it does, but internally, there must never be external censorship of the news), how outlets can be made responsible for what they report and if its power is getting out of control. It never ceases to amaze me how selective the news media's perception of itself is.

Whenever it comes under attack (like it will be now) it points fingers. Newspapers point fingers at other newspapers or at TV and radio. Radio - as shown on 5 Live this morning - will blame the papers and TV (thankfully someone called them on it though, saying that 5 Live was a part of the machine that deserves scalding as well). TV will blame the press and radio. It never ceases to amaze me how, during the BBC phone rigging scandal, BBC News would report on the matter as if it were a completely different organisation. "Well it was BBC Entertainment that was doing it, not BBC News."

The attack that "the media" will come under over this McCann furore will play out like this: The Sun (for example) will ride it into the ground, blaming the Express and Star, as if they had never printed a bad article in their history (They are in fact probably the worst culprits of journalistic immorality). Someone from The Daily Mail (for example) will write a long and scathing commentary about how out of control the media is, hypocritically oblivious to the fact that just the week before that same columnist had been slandering someone else (if it's the Mail it would be a vaguely left leaning politician, a gay, immigrant or non-Christian). The radio will lament about the state of the press, and the TV will bemoan that the media is out of control. And it'll go on for about seven days, endless finger pointing and blame shifting, until the media has decided that the public have lost interest in it.

That's right, the media will decide when the public has lost interest in persecuting them. It's brilliant self protection is it not? Who brings these rumours of McCann deception to the public's mind? The media. Who reports that the media was wrong and out of control in doing this? The media. Who then ‘attacks’ themselves over the terrible state of the media? The media. And then who will wash the story from the popular consciousness in the blink of an eye when they feel like they’ve played out this charade long enough? The media. Why are so many middle class people terrified of "feral youths", despite the fact that all the really awful crimes that are being committed by them are in three or four major cities nowhere near the middle classes? The media. Why have people forgotten about the assasination of Jill Dando, but are still going on and on about Diana? The media. Why can Robert Murat not get a job anymore? The media.

They are untouchable. They print what they want, report what they want and destroy who they want. Should you ever bite back at them, what do you get? Usually (the McCanns are an amazing exception) it's a tiny three inch snippet of an apology at the bottom of page fifteen that no one notices.

The other place that the media will shift the blame to, is the public. Their audience. Their employers (don’t tell me that their employer is the corporation they work for, if the public don’t buy their paper, they lose their job. Supply and demand). It's become an excellent tool that the media disseminates these days, saying that "People want news! People deserve to know what's happening! It's in the public interest!" And then, when they get bitten in the backside, all their columnists write the standard "We should be ashamed of ourselves" article. No we shouldn't! You should! Firstly, in the case of the McCanns, if they want to play with the fire of the British mass media, they have to be prepared to get burnt. It's not a one way street and they knew the nature of the beast they were dealing with. Secondly, who is it that decides what is in the public interest and what isn't? Who is it who condemns the reader just for buying the paper? The media! They print the stories that they think will sell, then they blame the consumer for buying the stories they put out there.

And best of all? You can't change anything. Because to change the public opinion on the matter, to get it out there that it is the media alone that is to blame, and they that need to exercise some restraint and self censorship, who do you need the help of? That's right. The media.

They’ve got us by the balls ladies and gentlemen. They tell you what to think, what you read and what to do. Just remember that old, old saying: Don't believe everything you read.Especially when it's "news".


Tuesday, 18 March 2008

"Featuring Never Before Seen Ranting Exclusive To Blogspot!"

Something in the entertainment industry is really starting annoy me; DVDs. Namely, "Extended Edition" DVDs. When Pietro Jackson completed his “Lord of the Rings Trilogy”, he released the original version as a standard disc DVD, and then released “Extended Editions”, using all the footage from the cutting room floor; call it a “Director's Cut” if you will (though thankfully it still eschewed the infuriatingly pointless Tom Bombadill (take that fanboys)). The discs were phenomenally successful, making New Line a whole boatload of money, and also opening the door for other such films to be reedited upon release with footage cut from the original.

Upon release of the discs, Jackson made clear that he had not used all of his footage however, only the good stuff that he thought was worthy of making any kind of release was included. That point of creative self censorship seemed to be lost amidst the noise and hubbub of the Hollywood machine however, who seemed to merely look at the cash flow graph that spiked like their collective boners whenever "Extended Edition" appeared. An idea was planted. A sub-genre was born.

Cut to four years later. We see the release of "Beowulf: Limited 2 Disc Steelbook Director's Cut". We see "Saws 1-4 Extreme Edition". "Hostel 1 & 2 Unrated Edition". And a plethora of other garbage that is pumped out of the industry suburb of Los Angeles, makes very little impact in cinemas and then gets released on DVD with a huge boatload of extras and "Over 30 Seconds Of Additional Footage Exclusive To DVD!" This is another one of my (many) gripes with the film industry: You can't shine shit.

Badly made, humourless, soulless, conveyor belt films that rely on special effect, turgid comedy, a catchy, popular soundtrack (mainly the romances) to cover up for the lack of genuine feeling or chemistry between the performers, risible script and sloppy direction are always going to be terrible. People who see them - and hate them – at the cinema somehow always seem to forget what utter pigswill the film was when they hear the words "Now with X minutes of never before seen footage!" As if these additional seven minutes will make another one of Hollywood's tripe sucking abortions any better.

It is beginning to worry me, however, that with so many "Extended Editions" coming out (and I'm talking about new films here, old films have a reason to have director's cuts due to the technological limitations of the time (though five versions of “Blade Runner” is a little excessive Mr Scott)) studios may be beginning to pressure directors and editors into withholding some footage from the theatrical release in order to give the DVD more selling points. "American Gangster" - a very good film - is receiving an extended edition release. Why? If the footage wasn't good enough to make it into the theatrical release, why would it be any better in a DVD release? It will just weigh the film down. Or if it was good enough for theatrical, why wasn't it included? Don't give me any of that crap about the film being too long to hold audience interest - when Titanic is the highest grossing film in history you have all the proof you need that the great unwashed masses can cope with long films.

Once again, I feel, Peter Jackson's seminal epic proved to be a defining moment in modern cinema. It was the ultimate special effects laden blockbuster, taking audiences as high as they could go in terms of visual excitement (see my note “The Death Of The Blockbuster” for more on that), and it also proved to be the progenitor of these baneful "Extended Editions". Notice that good - really good - films don't get released on "Extended Editions". They might have a few deleted scenes, but these are never included in the main picture. Why? Because the film is complete. When you release a film, release the finished product. Don't withhold stuff in order to appease businessmen, and don't include stuff in later releases that were not worthy of being in your original vision. You never saw Raphael or Bernini adding extra bits to sculptures once they were completed. You never read of Picasso or Caravaggio sticking extras into their paintings. Hell not even modern artists like Banksy, Pink Floyd or Zaha Hadid return to tweak their work once it's finished.

If it's not good enough for the original, it's not good enough for the reprints. "No Cheap Tricks". As Geoffrey Wolff once said.

Thursday, 13 March 2008

"I Pledge Allegiance"

I have three major issues with this alleged "pledge of alleginace" that the Government wants to bring into use:

1. I have an issue pledging unfaltering allegiance to any ideal, people or belief when all three are subject to change. I have no problem with the Queen but I will not pledge allegiance to a group of inbred tourist attractions, and I will certainly not pledge allegiance to "Almighty God".

2. The whole thing smacks of another quick fix marketing ploy by this useless, wet Government to try and get people like Daily Mail readers off their back. Anyone that can't see through their smoke and mirrors and look at the real issues such as the bubmling of every data-centric scheme, failing economy, the growing Government desire to monitor every move one makes under the guise of keeping you 'safe', the overstretched, depleted military, the health service buckling under its own incompetance, the general social disillusion amidst the population, growing divides amongst communities and a cabinet of ministers who are more ineffective than a tissue in a gunfight, is deluding themselves by thinking this will mean anything.

3. Apparently the intent of this "Pledge" is to make people "proud of being British again". I have a small suggestion for the Government; instead of wasting time on vague, pointless incentives to make people proud of their British heritage, DO SOMETHING THAT ACTUALLY MAKES PEOPLE PROUD TO BE BRITISH FOR ONCE. The only sense of pride this country has is in its history, because we have nothing else to be proud of. Take this for example; the Government grants hundreds upon hundreds of asylum applications every year from people who are under no danger in their own country and just want to come to Britian because its Britain. They have turned down the application of a young man who is running from the very real threat of being deported to Iran and executed just for being gay. He has tried to apply to Denmark for asylum, but they too have turned down, and he now faces being returned here and then deported. Had he been granted asylum in the first place - this man who has spent the last few years studying and qualifying at a university here - he would not be in this horrifying predicament. Where's "diverse Britain" now?

So, should the "Pledge" ever come into action, you can be damn sure I won't ever be swearing by it. The Britain of today is one full of good ideas, but inept practitioners, more interested in themselves than their responsibility to the people that employ them. If you're proud of your country you have to be proud of all of it - present as well as past. And right now, the past is all the British have left to trade on.

Monday, 10 March 2008

"That Offends Me"

I can't provide a link to the story that inspired this article, but here's the jist of it: In Ireland a restauranteur successfully sued a critic for an unfavourable review that was published. On appeal by the paper it was printed in the judge overtunred the ruling and ordered a retrial.

Have we become that weak now? Have we become that wet and soppy about our feelings that we can't even stand up to a little criticism? By a professional critic? Good grief. First it was the religious that whined incessantly about having their feelings hurt. Then ethnic minorities. Then sexual minorities. Now its everyone else. Muslims whining about Muhammad being defamed. Catholics crying about Jesus being blasphemed against. Homos moaning about someone using the word faggot or blacks pissing about being called "articulate" (apparently it's a backhanded compliment because white people secretly think they all still "Tawk'en lik'en dis Masser')

I hate to break it to anyone who doesn't know this already, but having your feelings hurt is aprt of life. You will meet people in your life that for some reason unknown to you, will just not like you. And there are some people you will meet that you just can't stand. Now that goes for EVERYBODY and just because they happen to be black/Jewish/gay will not make you a racist/snti-Semite/homophobe. It just makes you normal. (Unless everyone you hate is black for example, then you've got problems).

The most unbelievable thing about this farce of a trial is what it is essentially saying; that a review by any critic should only be favourable, lest it seem upsetting to the person/institution it slanders. Now, with retaurants, art, theatre, film, music, everyone is entitled to their opinion. And if one person happens to think that you're food/film/play/album/painting/book is the artistic equivalent of Pol Pot, then they have the right to say so.

I thought everyone was entitled to their opinion? Apparently not if it might tread on any toes. As the great Steven Fry said: "It's now very common to hear people say 'Well I'm rather offended by that.' As if that gives them certain rights. It's actually nothing more - it's simply a whine; no more than a whine. 'I find that offensive.' It has no meaning, it has no purpose, it has no reason to be respected as a phrase. 'I am offended by that.' Well so fucking what."

This more or less sums up my whole theory on the matter. People whining about offence are people that are merely seeking attention for other like minded saps. Quite frankly if someone wants to hate me, my work or who I am, I don't care. If a critic has a problem with a book I put out then good for them. I may not agree with it, but good for them for having an opinion. I certainly will not whine about their unfair judgement, or as so many "celebrities" do these days, attack the reviewer as being a wanker. Get over yourself. You are not prescious or special, you're just another human being. We all have feelings and we all have opinions, and the sooner you learn to let them get hurt and grow from the experience, the better.

Sunday, 2 March 2008

God, Death & Hope

If you read history, you'll find that God is one of the leading causes of death. Has been for thousands of years. Hindus, Muslims, Jews, Christians, all taking turns killing each other cause God told them it was a good idea. "The Sword of God", "The Blood Of The Lamb", "Vengeance is mine". Millions of dead motherfuckers. Millions of dead motherfuckers; all because they gave the wrong answer to the God question. "Do you believe in God?"
BANG. Dead.
"You believe in God?"
"Yes.""You believe in my God?"
BANG. Dead.
"My God has a bigger dick than your God!"
George Carlin

But just think; maybe in a thousand years time, long after we're dead, our descendants will live in a world free from religious extremism. Like the 4000 year reign of the Egyptian faith, or the 2000 year reign of the Greek/Roman faith, all religions eventually die. The Egyptians never thought it'd happen to them, the Sumer never thought it'd happen to them, the Vikings never thought it'd happen to them. 2000 years of Christianity, 1600 years of Islam, 5000-6000 years of Hinduism (which seems to just keep on going), all religions die off eventually.

No matter how many people have been absolutely convinced of the truth of a faith, no matter how many thousands or millions or billions have been condemned to a hell they never knew existed, simply because they didn't know the right words, they all die in the end. Priests, holy men, believers, extremists, fundamentalists, they all end up having their attention diverted elsewhere, all end up shaking their heads at the old mystic superstitions, and all end up believing in something else.

Maybe one day in the far off future, it won't be Christ or Muhammad or Krishna that their believing in. Maybe, just maybe, it'll be ourselves.