Sock! Pow! Biff! Take that, contemporary superhero franchises!

This writer might previously have admitted that he feels somewhat out of step with his time. He has certainly been effusive in his contempt for the contemporary movie franchises clogging up the multiplexes – in its way, a dismal manifestation of rentier capitalism. Perhaps the most significant cultural fault line is that which separates people who take superhero movies seriously, and those who are mystified by popcorn tosh po-facedly masquerading as a window into the human condition. Nowadays we are expected to regard “origin stories” with the utmost seriousness, and to admire the conscientious mapping out and curating of a cinematic universe of characters, even though it saps all the mystery and wonder that make these stories interesting. This mainstreaming of weird, anoraky obsession is almost wholly without merit or charm, but it’s where our popular culture has ended up – an incontinent deluge of essentially interchangeable and quickly forgettable movies, and a concomitant conference circuit of stupendously risible self-importance.Read More »

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The meaning of sporting baubles

“Is this important?” is a question I am sometimes asked as I sit down to watch a game of football. It fills me with dread, not simply because it could be interpreted as a coded challenge to my commandeering of the television. It is actually a deeply philosophical question, which induces a kind of agony as I flounder in search of a response. Sometimes the question will come with a qualification. “I meant, is this for something?”, or “Is there something being handed out at the end of this?”. There is a need to know whether this game I want to watch isn’t just part of the same endless football cycle. The answer to whether a match could ever be important is obviously no, however much people approvingly quote Bill Shankly in these matters. The answer to the supposedly more benign version of the question is also no, and sometimes no less of a squirm-inducing experience.Read More »

Roger and me

Private Eye is very good at sending up journalists who write what are ostensibly tributes to recently deceased celebrities, but which are actually self-aggrandising articles about themselves; “The Bowie I knew”, and so on. Recalling my one encounter with Roger Moore, I admit I couldn’t help appropriating the title of Michael Moore’s breakthrough film. However, I largely do so to confess I didn’t really excel myself in that moment, which came during a date in a speaking tour by Roger Moore when he visited the Cambridge Union. I wanted to ask him something, but I was struggling for a good question of my own. In the end, I asked him almost the same question that Alan Partridge once asked him but couldn’t get an answer to – who would win a hypothetical fight between James Bond and The Saint? Moore took a moment to consider the question, then turned towards me with eyebrow raised archly (naturally) and replied, “It would depend on who was playing Bond”.Read More »

Will there still be a Labour Party on June 9?

Democracy is in as much trouble in Britain as it is in many other places that would style themselves as such, no matter the frequency with which its citizens are invited to the polling station. And they are being invited again, by a government that is intending to deploy a national poll as a weapon of mass electoral destruction. It has the appearance of a blatantly opportunistic move to decimate the Labour Party, but let’s not be too precious about that. Politics is a contact sport, and it makes sense to kick an opponent when they’re down, to make sure they don’t get back up again. Let’s just not swallow the fiction that there’s anything patriotic or necessary about this. For the Prime Minister, an election might remove some limitations to her freedom of action to operate domestically, but it will make negligible difference to her negotiations with the EU27 over the coming two years, as has already been pointed out.Read More »

Enjoying the kakistocracy?

kakistocracy /kakɪˈstɒkrəsi/ – government by the least suitable or competent citizens of a state.

The professionals might decry such a claim, but sometimes armchair psychology is really easy. It’s a game probably most people play with national leaders, especially at a time like ours when so much political power around the planet is being held by people who shouldn’t be allowed to have any. To survey the global landscape of power in 2017 is to behold so many figures occupying a spectrum of egregiousness that ranges from the Machiavellian to the inadequate, from malfeasance to maladroitness, it feels not so much a time to think about creating a better tomorrow, more crossing fingers that there will be a tomorrow at all.Read More »

Going La La over … what?

How much should a film be commended for being what it’s not? It’s the first thought I experienced after walking out of the cinema last weekend, as I tried to comprehend the love that’s been directed towards La La Land over the last few months. There were too many nods to Gene Kelly and other instances of familiarity and outright déjà vu for it to be regarded as something ground breaking, but it has one characteristic that prevented me feeling hostile towards it. It’s difficult to pinpoint an exact moment when ironic in-jokiness for its own sake became venerated, even if substance was otherwise absent, and La La Land is refreshingly lacking in the gruesome, artless knowingness that afflicts so many movies of the last few decades.Read More »

Culture stasis

This blog had not intended to go into hiatus for two months, but life intervened in various ways that left me with neither the time nor the energy to offer any commentary about the world around me. Since then, the United States ignored my warning to ignore the siren call of Donald Trump, Brexit head bangers seem ever more poised to visit chaos and long term decline on the UK, and another swathe of great entertainers have gone to their reward (of these, the career of George Michael has some relevance to what I will subsequently write). And now we are in 2017, which seems the scary sort of number some of us partly imagined, and partly hoped, would never come around. It is the year of the setting of The Running Man, in which Arnold Schwarzenegger tries to survive a sadistic game show, two years after the setting of Back to the Future Part II, in which self-lacing technology for shoes and hoverboards are commonplace, and already twenty years beyond the setting of Escape from New York, in which Manhattan is depicted as a giant maximum security prison. Read More »

Hold your nose and vote for Hillary

During last week, as I began thinking about this blog, Hillary Clinton was a very short price favourite to take the US presidency. Given what I have chosen to write, it being predicated on a Clinton victory, I’m not sure how useful an exercise it might turn out being if she ends up being turned over on account of a very late October surprise delivered by the FBI. I have deliberately avoided the fluff, the non-stories, the irrelevant nonsense of this campaign where it’s been possible, and I haven’t made up my mind where these new revelations fit in. Plainly some of the information that has leaked out over the summer and autumn is of some significance, and with wide ranging implications, including what it says about the role of the fourth estate itself. Attempting to shun the noise and the heat admittedly doesn’t leave a whole lot left where Election 2016 is concerned, but I still don’t feel particularly uninformed. And I vowed that after 2004, having committed so much time to keeping abreast of that campaign, I wouldn’t waste so much of my time again. Especially when the guy I was rooting for, John Kerry, turned out to be such a lousy candidate. To be fair, he has since been a pretty decent, fairly well-intentioned Secretary of State, which is one of many things that makes one wonder about the dignity stripping contortions and compromises that running for the top job seems to require.Read More »

Sequels, prequels, remakes, and the most contemptible of them all … reboots

This blog was originally intended to be a tribute to the great comic actor Gene Wilder, who passed away at the end of August. Obviously that would not be such a timely post now, and instead I will largely focus on something else. However, I will say a few things about this legendary figure, as one of Wilder’s most famous roles provides a useful starting point for my latest little tirade. For many people, especially those who first saw Wilder on screen as children, he will forever be synonymous with Willy Wonka. The film can be enjoyed superficially, but it is worthwhile to salute the subtle genius of Wilder’s portrayal, which on one level might be said to be all of a piece with the decency he projected as an actor. If you break down what he does physically, and analyse instantaneous moments, there is almost nothing especially zany or affected about anything he does with the role. There is no cynically overt attempt to chew the scenery and grab attention from the other actors. And yet the overall effect is mesmeric and disorienting.Read More »

The Corbyn Supremacy

Whither the suicide pact formerly known as the Labour Party? If, as expected, we see a comfortable repeat victory for Jeremy Corbyn in the leadership race when the results are announced on Saturday, we can expect a continuation of the psychodrama that has wracked the party of Hardie, MacDonald, Attlee and Wilson over the last year. If Owen Smith – a more impressive front bench spokesman than leadership candidate – should miraculously defy expectation, it would probably have the effect of confronting us with another kind of psychodrama, as the new members who have flocked to Corbyn would be reluctant to reconcile themselves to a reverse takeover by the Parliamentary Labour Party. Turning to Corbyn’s foot soldiers, somehow I have managed to get myself on Momentum’s mailing list, and I receive regular messages enjoining me to help keep Jeremy’s show on the road. To maintain the momentum, as it were. The most curious notion that jumps out of these emails is encountered in the regular references to “Jeremy’s leadership”, delivered without irony naturally, but which would strike many observers as impossibly contradictory.Read More »