Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Good Men Doing Nothing

Sometimes I get the impression that nothing we say or do is ever going to get through to our dear government.
The report, by the Riots Communities and Victims Panel, concludes that the riots were fuelled by a range of factors including a lack of opportunities for young people, poor parenting, a failure of the justice system to rehabilitate offenders, materialism and suspicion of the police.
Well, I could have told you that. In fact I did, and I'm an idiot. Anyone who has lived in or near a poor area can tell you that they feel the government has turned their backs on them, a feeling worsened by constant bombardment with images of London parties and the excesses of the top 10%. The Tories are taking away the welfare, arts council grants, career guidance and now education that would have enabled the poor to get a foothold in society. Faced with that, why should they listen to a legal system they soon won't be able to access? Why respect someone that doesn't respect you? All the evidence is pointing to the conclusion that the lack of opportunity and connection with society is what's causing the problem. Even if you look at it from a right-wing perspective and simplify the rioters as 'scum,' why have they become that bad? What kind of society would section off people like that and leave them to rot, instead of finding a solution to deal with them? Chase the trail of 'why' to the logical conclusion, and you find that it's gotten this bad because successive governments have wanted to push these people to one side and forget about them. Now they're demonstrating that they're sick of being forgotten, sick of being conveniently 'othered' - someone for David Cameron to hug when he's on the election trail, and demonize when he riles them up. They're not others. They're not another species, another social class. They're human beings who are sick of being pushed, and the government's only response is to push harder. The austerity drive is asset-stripping the country starting at the bottom, taking from a social group that has nothing left to give. The amazing thing is the sense of sheer helplessness we're left with afterwards. The voting system didn't stop this, because we have a coalition government. Peaceful protest methods haven't stopped it, because the government would prefer to listen to self-appointed committees, to which none of the dissenters are invited. And even violent protests like the riots haven't worked, they've just been spun to make the rioters the enemy. There is pretty much nothing connecting the government's actions to the wishes of the people. Is this really a democracy?
"All that is required for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing."
Edmund Burke
Or maybe all it takes is for us to let ourselves get to the point where our actions account for nothing.

Monday, 26 March 2012

John Carter of Mars Flop

As much of a horrendous misanthrope as I can be, I am prone to brief bouts of hope that the public express the sentiments of the Who (via the CSI Miami soundtrack); namely, that they won't get fooled again. John Carter of Mars has elicited one such reaction. I am giggling with delight at the idea of people tiring of the visual spectacle, of moviegoers switching off from shit and only attending movies by word of mouth. I know this was the sentiment in our house about the film - we had the opportunity to see it, but everyone was just tired of brainless action, and frankly nobody trusted Disney to truly deliver on the advertised promise. But the obvious failure of John Carter this weekend must set Hollywood into a flurry of panic, since as William Goldman put it, "The single most important fact, perhaps of the entire movie industry, is that nobody knows anything". To continue from yesterday's rant, money men have been running the show for too long; and while they're undoubtedly good with money, they have no idea what makes a good film. So they do statistical analysis on films that have been successful, and hash together a list of rules governing blockbusters. There are now so many tiny rules to scriptwriting - there must be one joke/point of tension per page, there must be an action sequence on page 60... Reading the list of requirements, you imagine a room full of coked-up executives excitedly trying to out-do each other's pitches for how many explosions / sky battles the finale will include. The industry is being run by excitable children, and John Carter represents the absolute apex of their idiocy. Look at any of the classic films like The Graduate, Casablanca, The Godfather - these films would all have been turned down under modern scriptwriting rules. Films that don't meet the criteria are cast out, so the potential successes that could prove the formula wrong never make it. And now all we're left with is executives scratching their heads at why formulaic pap like John Carter - films designed by committee to fulfil a checklist of cliches - are bombing. Bizarrely though, Hollywood now stands on the brink of becoming the good guys for once. Since it's been proven that the suits don't know anything about what audiences want, it falls to the studios actually looking to the public for what they want. And this doesn't mean distilling a list of cliches from films that already sold well; if they actually start using social media to contact their demographics rather than thinking of it as a demographic in itself, they could get the feedback they need. It's all out there Hollywood. You just need to know where to look.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Of Berries, Brothers and Bad TV

This post is based on a draft that has been lying around for a while. In fact it's been more than a year. It's not very often I get to start a blog with "I was talking to a celebrity, last night..." and unfortunately I've missed that opportunity spectacularly. However, the fact remains I did speak to a celebrity, so I'm going to milk it for all it's worth. The anecdote that is, not the celebrity. Oh god, this is all going wrong already... I was talking a number of months (more like two years) ago with the most excellent Mr Matt Berry (he of Garth Marenghi's Darkplace, Snuff Box and the IT Crowd) about... well, whatever you fill the time with when talking to someone who's been professionally able to fire a Glock at an army of floating stationery. Part of the Winchester Film Festival and at the time I was lucky enough to be part of the backstage entourage, so headed off to the local to keep him entertained. And the conversation came round to the youth of today, and the lack of rebellion and originality in young TV writers. Does he have a point? Of course he does, he's famous. And TV is generally terrible. Even when something new and ground-breaking (or at least breaking old ground everyone else had forgotten) comes along, it's generally a month or so before every other network is scrambling to release their own rehash of it. For every Lost, there's a Flash Forward; for every Heroes there's an Alphas. And with these rehashes comes the armies of content control people, milking down any of the originality that might have dared poke it's head out. Applying stock characters on top of overdone plots in locations we're sick of seeing, they manage to amplify the mysteries at the core of the show's pitch only in so far as to make it look like nobody on the show has any idea what they're doing. Look at Big Brother. Endemol's original Channel 4 pitch was interesting mostly because it was an experiment. Stick these unknown people in a house, set them challenges and watch the little humans scurry around their little ant farm. Look, that one just done a poo, delightful. It was exactly as promising as a date with George Osbourne. And yet the utterly unexpected happened with it. We got riveting, Machiavellian evil at the hands of 'Nasty' Nick Bateman, voyeuristically revelling in every backstab and whispered accusation; right up to his surprisingly panto-free exit to genuine hatred. We had the "won't they / won't they" drama of Tom (looking like a sad version of Jack from Lost) and Anna (looking like everyone wishes all Lesbians looked). We got Craig sleeping his way through half the competition, emerging to a surprise win and donating it to a secret disabled relative who needed lifesaving surgery - that miraculously he hadn't even been milking in the press. And it all came through Endemol releasing the reigns and taking a chance. Seeing what happens. Now, Big Brother has descended into a kind of day-release program in which the real world is spared the presence of it's worst inhabitants so we can safely gawk at them from behind a TV screen. The same characters go in and have the same arguments over the same things because the content control people have stepped in and driven it into the pit of ADHD, where only ideas that have previously been proven to work are safe for the audience of ravenous plebs that await it. I'm sick of it and I wish the show would just die, except being on Channel 5 is a much worse punishment. Now, Reality TV has become one of those dirty but inexplicably common phrases, like 'Back Sack and Crack' or 'The Conservatives.' It's gone too far to take it back - Real people wouldn't trust Reality TV any more because they know there's not going to be anything new or interesting, just the same ideas rehashed to death. Maybe this is what's holding back the next generation of writers: there are no more Monty Pythons or Young Ones to inspire them to anarchy. Or as Matt Berry put it, "Stop ranting and get me another drink."