Hypnotised by television

The argument about the harm television does to children is back on the agenda. When people start on about this. I get very uncomfortable. It is more often than not the precursor to a demand for censorship. But censorship will not solve the problems they harp on about. Because none of the research that tells them content caused this or that behaviour. Ever takes into account the act of watching as part of the causal relationship. I think the act of watching television causes more damage than its content. I am not denying there is some relationship between behaviour and content. We would not have adverts if content producers did not think television could affect behaviour in some way. But for me it is the act of watching television that has the most significant effect. If children stare at the screen to the detriment of all other social interactions. It is no wonder certain damaging behaviours start to manifest themselves. It could be argued that the rampant self-interest of the last thirty years is the effect of watching ever more television. Generations of us have been brought up on an increasingly mailable television service. Multi-platform. Interactive. Streaming. On demand. Have allowed us to bend television to our individual wants. As a result. We relate to the world. The way we relate to television. In very self-centred terms. We pick and choose what we care about. The way we pick and choose what we watch. If we learned enough from our social interactions. Then our relationship with television can be categorised. And understood. But if our primary relationship is with the screen. It is inevitable that we treat our lives thusly. If we don’t like what we’re watching. We change the channel. The real danger of television is not the content. But the way we interact with it. The way it hypnotises us. And keeps us watching. Think of it in these terms. It is less the sex and violence on television. And more the sex and violence of television that causes harm.

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The illusion of choice

I use one of those postal DVD rental services. Last weekend I was really disappointed by the collection of DVD’s that were delivered. They sent me three films all of a similar ilk. Individually it might have been okay. But all together. It was like having three courses of same dish for dinner. What annoys me most about my DVD rental service. Is the imposition of their will. Over mine. And my willingness to let that happen. Think about it. These services are all the same. You can’t actually pick the films you want to watch. You can state a preference. I usually have twenty DVD’s listed at any one time. But if the monkey at the other end decides to send you all the horror films on your list. There’s shite all you can do about it. What these companies have done. Is come up with a way to offer a poorer service. And get away with it. They deliver to the door. But you run the gauntlet of sub standard postal delivery. It’s cheaper. But here are no late fees. The offer the hundreds of thousands of titles. But send you what convenient for them. Ultimately I end up feeling cheated. And out of pocket. Should I keep giving them my money? Probably not. But I do. I wish I could vote with my feet? And go back to the High Street? But because everyone is using these post based rental services. The choice of rental places on the High Street has dwindled to nothing. Ultimately the illusion of choice has short changed us.

The Social Network

thesocialnetworkTHE SOCIAL NETWORK has to be one of the best films of the year. David Fincher is back on form following the ever so slightly melancholic chore that was Benjamin Button. His direction is subtle. Even masterful. Wise enough to simply get out of the way. And let Aaron Sorkin’s writing shine. From the opening scene. Sorkin draws us in. Leads us through what. In a lesser writer’s hands. Might end up looking like a childish squabble. If you don’t know. The Social Network is about the creation of Facebook. And the ensuing fallout thereof. How much of what we see is true is anyone’s guess. But Sorkin doesn’t let the truth get in the way of a good story. Allowing the various parties to have their say. Even if it contradicts what is being said elsewhere. He lets you make up your own mind. Decide for yourself who is lying. And who is telling the truth. In doing so he manages to make you engage with some of the most unlikeable people you’re ever likely come across. They are elitist self-centred egomaniacs. Their narcissism verges on the psychopathic. Sorkin even manages to make you feel for them. When the depositions are over. And the lawyers have retired to thrash out the settlement. Zuckerberg retreats into his virtual world. And check out his ex’s status on Facebook. It’s hard not to feel something for him at this point. All of his “motivated” behaviour. And all he wants. Is to be liked by a girl. Either that. Or he is dangerous psychopath stalking an ex. You decide. Interesting. Engaging. And definitely worth seeing more than once.

Director: David Fincher
Writer: Aaron Sorkin
Production Year: 2010
Rating: 12A
Running Time: 121 minutes

The Disappearance Of Alice Creed

alicecreedTHE DISAPPEARANCE OF ALICE CREED is an interesting low budget thriller from first time writer/director J Blakeson. Two men fortify a derelict apartment. Kidnap a woman. Tie her to the bed. And demand a two million pounds ransom from her father. Eddie Marsan (Vic) is delightfully menacing as the criminal mastermind with the perfect plan. Martin Compston (Danny) turns in a similarly impressive performance as Vic’s obedient conspirator. But it is Gemma Arterton who impressed me most. She rises to the challenge and gives her most believable performance to date as the kidnapped Alice Creed. To be honest I wasn’t expecting much from this film. I knew almost nothing about it going in. So was genuinely surprised by at least one of the plot points. Although we have only three actors. And a limited number of location. It punches well above its weight. The writing is tight. The direction precise. Defiantly worth seeing at least once.

Director: J Blakeson
Writer: J Blakeson
Production Year: 2009
Rating: 18
Running Time: 96 minutes

Psychopath class

When you say the word “psychopath” images of an axe wielding homicidal maniacs come to mind. Norman Bates dragging a knife into Marion Crane’s shower. Mark Lewis skewering women so he can capture their fear with his father’s cine-camera. But those are metaphorical psychopaths who inhabit our imagination. And manifest in the films of “Psycho” or “Peeping Tom”. The truth is considerably less histrionic. A whole lot more mundane. And come in the form of the compulsive liars who always get what they want. The social butterflies able to evade responsibility for the whirlwind of destruction they leave in their wake. And the “intraspecies predators” who control others to satisfy their own selfish needs.

While researching on my first screenplay I came across Dr. Robert Hare’s Psychopathy Checklist. The checklist is the psycho-diagnostic tool most commonly used to assess psychopaths. It is a clinical rating scale of twenty items. Each item is scored between “0” and “2”. A value of “0” is given to any item that does not apply. A value of “1” is given to any item that applies somewhat. A value of “2” is assigned to any item that applies fully. The twenty items are.

  • Glibness/superficial charm
  • Grandiose sense of self-worth
  • Pathological lying
  • Cunning/manipulative
  • Lack of remorse or guilt
  • Shallow affect
  • Callous/lack of empathy
  • Failure to accept responsibility for own actions
  • Need for stimulation/proneness to boredom
  • Parasitic lifestyle
  • Poor behavioural control
  • Promiscuous sexual behaviour
  • Lack of realistic long-term goals
  • Impulsivity
  • Irresponsibility
  • Juvenile delinquency
  • Early behaviour problems
  • Revocation of conditional release
  • Many short-term marital relationships
  • Criminal versatility

When properly completed by a qualified professional the test subject is scored anywhere between “0” and “40”. The prototypical psychopath would score the maximum “40”. While someone who has no psychopathic tendencies would score the minimum “0”. A score above “30” diagnoses the subject as psychopathic.

I am not a qualified professional. But I know at least two individuals who would score above “30” on Dr. Hare’s Checklist. More worryingly I look around and see it manifest in an entire class of people. Whose actions. Attitudes. And behaviour. If taken as a whole. Would score “30” or more. I know I’m throwing boulders into the water. But I am pointing a finger. And saying it. The Middle Classes are psychopaths.

I’m not the first to look at an entire institution and conclude if it were an individual it would be diagnosed as a psychopath. Jennifer Abbott and Mark Achbar’s 2003 documentary The Corporation did exactly that. They applied Dr. Hare’s Checklist to the corporation. And concluded that if it were an individual. It would be a clinically-diagnosed psychopath.

The individual members of the Middle Class may not be psychopathic on their own. But as a whole. With a set of clearly defined values. They score “30” or above. Take that core member of the middle class. Bankers. I’d score their personality and case history as follows.

  • Glibness/superficial charm (2)
  • Grandiose sense of self-worth (2)
  • Pathological lying (2)
  • Cunning/manipulative (2)
  • Lack of remorse or guilt (2)
  • Shallow affect (2)
  • Callous/lack of empathy (2)
  • Failure to accept responsibility for own actions (2)
  • Need for stimulation/proneness to boredom (2)
  • Parasitic lifestyle (2)
  • Poor behavioural control (2)
  • Promiscuous sexual behaviour (2)
  • Lack of realistic long-term goals (2)
  • Impulsivity (2)
  • Irresponsibility (2)
  • Juvenile delinquency (1)
  • Early behaviour problems (1)
  • Revocation of conditional release (2)
  • Many short-term marital relationships (0)
  • Criminal versatility (2)

By my gorilla maths that gives them a Checklist score of “36”. They should be on a psychiatric hold. Receiving treatment. A danger to themselves and others. But they’re not. They’re allowed to go about their business. In the name of the free market. And a profit.

I have absolutely no idea how to deal with it in any meaningful way. But the next time you see some banker on television failing to accept responsibility for their action by asserting their right to a bonus. Or some well dressed politician demonstrating a callous lack of empathy by admonishing the long term unemployed. Or you see the grandiose sense of self-worth innate in parents who set up a school for their children. Take a look at the checklist. And see how they score. When I do it. They are always Middle Class. And they always score “30” or above.

[REC] 2

[REC] 2 is a worthy sequel to the one of the best horror films of recent times. Picking up exactly where [REC] left off. An official from the Ministry of Health. And three members of a GEO (SWAT) team. Are sent into the quarantined building to verify the infection has been contained. But when they encounter the infected residents. And the health official, Dr. Owen, is able to fight them off with a rosary and a religious mantra. It quickly becomes apparent that the infection is actually a manifestation of demonic evil. And Dr Owen is a priest sent by the Vatican to recover a blood sample from the source of the infection. The Medeiros girl. But as Owen and the team search for the girl. The second act takes a left turn. Three thrill seeking teenagers follow the father of a quarantined girl and a sympathetic paramedic into the building. Trapped inside they quickly become grist to the mill. Providing a level of histrionics only a teenage girl can bring. Act three brings the story full circle. As the journalist from [REC] makes a dramatic reappearance. Her story brings a satisfying, if icky, conclusion to events. From the opening sequence Balagueró and Plaza manage to maintain the frenetic pace of the original. The three acts. With three very different points of view. Open out the story enough to keep it fresh and interesting. They also manage to ramp up the first person camera thing that was so important to the original. The GEO team wear helmet cameras. The thrill seeking teenagers carry the omnipresent camcorder. We cut between the multiple points of view. Putting us right in the middle of the action. Without ever losing that dynamic first person quality. That made the first such a success. With two more films in the pipeline. [REC] Genesis and [REC] Apocalypse. The franchise looks set to stay. With luck they will be able to take the story in a new direction. Without losing the frantic, constant climax, feel of these two. A genuine scary horror film. Definitely worth your time.

Directors: Jaume Balagueró & Paco Plaza
Writers: Jaume Balagueró, Paco Plaza & Manu Díez
Production Year: 2009
Rating: 18
Running Time: 85 minutes

The Horde

hordeTHE HORDE is a no holds barred blood fest of a zombie film from France. The setup is simple. Four Parisian cops raid an abandoned tower block intent on taking revenge on the gangsters who killed their comrade. But when the dead inexplicably start to rise. The two factions are forced into an uneasy truce. So they can escape the hordes of undead. And the tower block. The embittered policemen and hardcore gangsters all have a sense of nihilism that only add to the “end of days” tone. Directors Dahan and Rocher make the most of the claustrophobic situation. Combining the action and horror in equal measure. Managing to put on screen some of the best close quarter zombie fighting I’ve ever seen. The zombies keep coming. They keep fighting. And just when you think it’s going to stop. It keeps going some more. I particularly liked Jo Prestia pummelling to death a pair of flesh hungry zombies. Claude Perron’s toe to toe fist fight with a zombie in an apartment kitchen. Finally offing the she-zombie with a fridge and a gob of disdainful spit. There is also a delightfully over the top Yves Pignot’s unleashing of an unrelenting burst of machine gun fire at a corridor of zombies. And my favourite. Jean-Pierre Martins stranded atop an abandoned car in an underground car park. Hordes of zombies clawing for his flesh. While he just keeps chopping away at them with a machete. This exact image haunts my nightmares. It is not a perfect film. The ending is weak. There is a disturbing undertone of misogyny running throughout. Character development plays second string to the action. But that’s nothing you wouldn’t expect from a film of this type. At the upper end of the low budget horror genre. Not for the squeamish. Definitely worth seeing.

Directors: Yannick Dahan & Benjamin Rocher
Writer: Arnaud Bordas, Benjamin Rocher, Yannick Dahan & Stéphane Moïssakis
Production Year: 2009
Rating: 18 Running
Time: 90 minutes

Pontypool

pontypoolPONTYPOOL is interesting take on the zombie film. Set for the most part in the local radio station. Stephen McHattie is convincing as Grant Mazzy. A shock jock from the big city reduced to plying his ware on CLSY. A local radio station broadcasting to the small Ontario town of Pontypool. A slow day of appalling weather quickly takes a turn for the worst. As reports start to come in of people having seizures. Developing strange speech patterns. And committing appalling acts of violence. As events unfold it becomes apparent that the violence is being spread by a virus contained in the English language. But Mazzy thinks he has found the cure. Or is Mazzy actually spreading the virus with his broadcast? From the opening sequence you know this is something more than your average zombie film. There isn’t a lot of the usual blood horror you’d expect. It builds its tension by feeding you images form Mazzy’s broadcast. The horror is for the most part in your head. And is all the better for it. It is an interesting little film. That poses some very interesting questions about the nature of language. It is, dare I say it, an esoteric zombie film?

Director: Bruce McDonald
Writer: Tony Burgess
Production Year: 2008
Rating: 15
Running Time: 96 minutes

All that glitters is not gold

I heard something on the radio yesterday. The average age of a first time buyer, not supported by the bank of mum and dad, is thirty-seven. Thirty-seven years old before you have enough financial history to leap the hurdle of deposit and get a mortgage. Mid-life before you can start to buy a house of your own. And things are only going to get worse.

As the ramifications of the recent financial collapse continue to unfold. It is not inconceivable that the average age of a first time buyer will push beyond forty. This delayed ability to join the fraternity of home owners will have a devastating effect on any buyer’s ability to repay a mortgage before retirement. That’s a lot of people who will never be able to get a mortgage. Never be able to buy a house.

Some might look at the current situation and argue we are going through a “natural” period of correction. Reduced numbers of first time buyers will force down the inflated price of housing. Thus allowing more first time buyer’s to enter the market. Perhaps that is true. What is more likely is that those who already have equity will be able buy up cheap property and build their portfolio. Fuelling the ever increasing rise in prices. Pushing the average age of first time buyer’s up even higher. The truth is. A lot of people will never be able to buy. And will be forced to rent for their entire life.

The usual argument against renting is that it is a waste of money. You give away all that money. And have nothing to show for it. But renting is only an issue if you look at your life as the accumulation of wealth. If you look at rent as the cost of living. It becomes less of an issue.

So why are we so obsessed with owning property in this country? Margaret Thatcher made it the cornerstone of her monetarist agenda by selling off our stock of council housing in the eighties. She sold the family silver to socially engineer the reduction of the welfare state. She made property a pension. Ask yourself. What happens to all this house wealth in the end? It is rarely passed on to the next generation. More often than not. It is levied to pay for the home owner’s retirement. Or worse still. Sold to pay the cost of residential care.

So what’s going to happen to the increasing number of people who will never be able to buy? They won’t have the cash-cow of a property to fund their retirement. What does the future hold for them? Will they have to continue working well beyond the statutory age of retirement? Or will they be abandoned, forced to live in abject poverty? That won’t happen. The state will step in and help. What state? The current government stated aim is the reduction of the state. Less state. Less help. So private companies will come to the rescue and fill the gap. What sort of care will those who don’t have property to levy actually get? The answer. Not very good care. The state will pay them? I don’t think so. Charity then? Charity will step in to help the venerable. How very progressive. It’s that kind of thinking that consolidated the need for the labour movement in the nineteenth century.

Perhaps that’s where the future lies. The rise of a genuine labour movement in this country. Will people’s inability to buy actually change people’s understanding of the world? Perhaps the coming privations will galvanise enough of us to finally force real and lasting social change for the better. Perhaps it will reawaken left-wing politics in this country.

The sceptic in me doubts it. I would love to be wrong. But I think the vast majority of us have been blinded by the glitter of wealth for it’s own sake. We’re in love with the big screen televisions that stream advertisement for the cult of celebrity like “The X Factor” and the soon to be gone “Big Brother”. We’ve had these bright lights for too long. Perhaps so long. The glare has blinded us. Made it hard to see. All that glitters is not gold.

Accusations of cynicism

Yesterday someone accuses me of being cynical. I don’t think of myself as a cynic. I think of myself as someone who has a very clear understanding of the world I live in. And a willingness to share that insight. Does my inability to wear rose tinted spectacles make me a cynic?

The Cynics as I understand it were an ancient school of Greek philosophers. They believed that the purpose of life is to live a life of virtue in agreement with nature. They rejected all conventional desire for wealth, power and fame by living a simple life free from all possessions. They believed that the world belonged equally to everyone. That suffering was caused by false judgments of what was valuable. And by the worthless customs which surrounded society.

None of that really explains the negative connotation the word cynical currently has. Half a second on the internet and Dictionary.com will tell you”cynical” is…

  • Believing or showing the belief that people are motivated chiefly by base or selfish concerns; sceptical of the motives of others: a cynical dismissal of the politician’s promise to reform the campaign finance system.
  • Selfishly or callously calculating: showed a cynical disregard for the safety of his troops in his efforts to advance his reputation.
  • Negative or pessimistic, as from world-weariness: a cynical view of the average voter’s intelligence.
  • Expressing jaded or scornful scepticism or negativity: cynical laughter.

Could the negative emphasis the word cynic now has be a response the Cynics themselves? The ideal Cynic would evangelize. They saw themselves as the watchdog of humanity? It was their job to hound people about the error of their ways. They would dig-up and expose the pretensions which lay at the root of everyday conventions. Those who were unable to answer the Cynics criticisms simply shot the messenger? But that explanation presupposes the criticism is delivered by a true Cynic; someone who lives a life of virtue in agreement with nature. The negative connotation that hangs with the word hints that the criticisms were in fact delivered by the less virtuous. It could be the negative connotation is actually an accusation of hypocrisy.

I’m no hairshirt wearing evangelist. But neither do I think of myself as a hypocrite. I do think the world we have created is too materialistic. Then again I have no real desire to shed the material comforts. I like electricity as much as the next person. I think relatively cheap, readily available food is a good thing. I like being able to get in the car and drive wherever I want. But I can also see untold amounts of suffering caused by the worthless customs and conventions which surround society. I see marriage as a mechanism designed to enslave women. I look at our obsession with celebrity as an anesthetic. And I have a real problem with the way in which the progeny of rich are routinely given the opportunity to do their ten thousand hours before anyone else.

As I say in my profile “I am by nature a deconstructor.” So I naturally find myself trying to dig-up and expose the pretensions which lay at the root of everyday conventions. I don’t see such endeavors as hypocritical. But the irony of living in a materialist world and being a deconstructor is not lost on me. I must therefore accept that an inability to wear rose tinted spectacles does in fact make me a cynic.