Embarrassed by The Apprentice

If capitalism were a brand? What kind of brand message is THE APPRENTICE sending? I didn’t sit down and watch last nights episode. It was already on when I got in. And stayed on in the background while I busied myself with other things. In that half aware. Peripheral vision. Wallpaper kind of state. I was struck by how juvenile it all is. I realise this is a television programme. And these people are there as much for entertainment as anything else. But if these are the brightest and the best. Lord Sugar’s business is in trouble. They go about their task like a blind man in a patch of brambles. Snaggering here. Tripping there. Because as far as I can tell. They’re so busy trying to elbow their way to the front of the line. They don’t see the others in their team as anything but competition. The worst of it comes when they get to the boardroom. Where the team with slightly better result is rewarded with a trip to a peep show circus. And the others. The ones who did that bit worse. Get to play the greasy spoon blame game. The post task autopsy is like watching a child caught pinching a sibling. They shift the blame. And obfuscate. While holding their knees together. Hoping they will be believed. If they are. It’s off to slime another day. If not. They’re on their bike. Doomed to poverty. And the arbitrary nature of the labour market. If I were the brand manager of capitalism? I’d be embarrassed by The Apprentice. And what it says about my product.


Two hundred films in one year

I watch a lot of films. I tell myself it’s research. But it may have turned from professional interest. To mild obsession. Today we went to Blockbuster and hired four films to watch this afternoon. On top of the three I already have from LoveFilm. I try to keep a record of the films I watch. And so far this year I have seen one hundred films. That’s a hundred films in five months. Last year I it was one hundred and forty three. At this rate I will have watched more than two hundred films in one year. That’s new films I haven’t seen before. On top of the film I might happen upon while watching television. Or the films I watch repeatedly. The films I obsess over. Mainly those of David Mamet. I’ve watched some of his films so often now I can repeat the lines before they are said. Really annoying for anyone watching with me. Anyway. I must go. My obsession awaits. I have seven films to watch before bedtime.

Infantilizing the political system

I can’t help thinking the royal wedding. No to the alternative voting system. And today’s release of “THE KING’S SPEECH“. Are linked in some way. The royal wedding was marketed as a national event we could all unite behind. The resounding no to the alternative vote was affirmation of “business as usual” for the political class. And today’s film release is the icing on the cake of the heroic triumph over adversity myth that surrounds the house of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. The truth is I think the cycle of recent events provides a bloody nose to those of us who would like to see this country as a republic. Because it does what the house of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha always does. They distract us from the real and lasting political change needed in this country. When I tell people I think we should elect our head of state. They look at me like I’m demented. “You want a president (insert the name of the politician you hate the most)?” I would actually like to elect every person who represents me. Because if I elect them. I can un-elect them. Make them accountable for what they do in my name. But that doesn’t seem to be enough reason for most monarchists. As if wielding my franchise is some how a silly idea. And I should know better. When I ask them what exactly the house of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha does for us. All they seem able to come up with is tourism. As if having big houses for commoners to visit is justification for infantilizing the political system in this country. Because ultimately that is what the house of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha does. Its presence treats the people of this country as a “child or in a way that denies their maturity in age or experience”. I wish we could grow out of it. The way I grew out of crazy hair cuts. But as long as the house of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha remains in place. We are doomed to suckle on their breast. Treated as children unable to emancipate.

Natured or nurtured?

I have been working through some ideas for a character who is for want of a better word a psychopath. Not the axe wielding homicidal maniac type. More your person who leaves a trail of destruction in his wake type. This got me thinking about whether or not the psychopaths behaviour is something constructed by environment or naturally occurring. Is it caused by some genetic deficiency? Or is it part of some contemporary malaise? Is their behaviour natured? Or nurtured? I’m not a great believer in nature as the organising force of society. It seems to me we left the forces of nature behind when we moved into cities. And allowed every aspect of our lives to be controlled in some way. From birth to death. There is an organising principle in place. A body to categorize. An institution to reward this behaviour. Or punishes that. I think nurture is the dominant force in our lives. And holds much greater sway than nature. I can see there are some elements of what we do that are natural. That come from some deep genetic imperatives. But from where I stand. The vast majority of our behaviour. The rituals we adhere to. How we interact. Are all nurtured into us. So if we are taught to behave in certain ways by the world around us. The psychopath must be a form constructed by society. If that is the case? And they are? What lay the foundations for their behaviour? Is it some twisted version of competitive behaviour? Amplified by some early setback? Or personality trait brought on by repeated rejection by a parent? All decisions I will have to make before long. I’m guessing it was both. Plus some as yet to undiscovered traumas.

Beyond three acts

Read this very interesting piece by John Truby at Raindance WHY 3 ACT WILL KILL YOUR WRITING. It made me think about the way my writing has developed. The first draft of my first feature screenplay was a monster. I think mainly because I tried to stick to the three act structure. But as Truby points out “the 3-act structure doesn’t work because it is arbitrary.” And “places no emphasis on character.” I think it actually gets in the way of character. It certainly did for me. Subsequent drafts. And subsequent screenplays. Have all developed beyond the three act structure. My most recent screenplay “THE SINGULARITY” has nine very clearly defined plot points. One every ten minutes. And it is every ten minutes. Because I structured it that way from the outset. It felt strange when I started. Like I was a Christian discovering evolution. But once I put the three act structure behind me. I was able to plot a story more in tune with my character.

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.

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.