The Guardian and the censorship of horror films

The Guardian is the so-called ‘liberal voice’ of the UK, and now proposes itself as one of the leading liberal voices online. It often comes out against horror films and this week, Jigsaw (a return of the Saw films) is released as this particular film series returns from the dead.

An article by Benjamin Lee was published in the paper decrying the ‘return of torture porn’ and yet again the paper sets their sights on the horror genre and in particular, ‘torture porn’ which they’ve written more or less the same article since 2007.

I get why middle class liberals at the Guardian may hates films like Jigsaw. They are after all designed for mass audiences and this sort of middle class sneering is aimed at all mass forms of entertainment, but it’s the priggish sense of superiority from the contributors and commentators mixed with a barely suppressed push for censorship that should be concerning. This isn’t to say I think Jigsaw will be a good film, it probably won’t be as barring the first Saw film there’s pretty thin pickings in that series but I get why people watch them. These are rollercoaster rides. The audience can safely wallow in gore, enjoy a few mild scares and go home safely. Yeah, the films are shite without any real importance but so what? Censoring them wouldn’t work but it’d make these middle class liberals happy they’re controlling the ‘masses’ for what they think is their own benefit.

Violent and gory stories are part of our culture. They’re embedded in religion, history and culture, so while things like Jigsaw may be bad films but they’re just part of who we are. Censoring for the wider public good is simply, bollocks and perhaps the middle class media shouldn’t be so sneering at such entertainment because people might enjoy them for what they are?

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The KLF return to the Dark Ages

Last night in Liverpool, the KLF returned to the streets in an ice cream van.

This weekend they’ll be curating a series of events under the banner of the Dark Ages, where ticket holders become volunteers in, well, nobody knows because there’s strict rules of participation.

So we enter the weekend not knowing what’s happening, and won’t until the end of the Dark Ages. We do however know there’s a book coming, 2023, and that’s it. It is glorious that in the year 2017 when the tiniest detail of films, books, etc are splattered across the white wall of our popular culture like a zombie’s brains, the KLF can still do stuff that surprises us.

And we enter the Dark Ages with a wee smile on our faces that they’re back…

Do Marvel have a diversity problem?

Marvel vice-president David Gabriel recently said that Marvel Comics are suffering a sales slump due to the fact they now publish a diverse line of comics featuring people of all sexes, races and ages. As this Vox piece says, the truth is somewhat more complex but that was lost in the outrage from all sides when this story broke into the mainstream from the comics ghetto.

What do we mean by ‘diversity’ though? Well, this is the Marvel Universe in the 1970’s into the 1980’s.

Here’s a poster of the Avengers in the 90’s.

To put it bluntly the Marvel Universe is a white one.  Sure there’s the odd green skinned hero and blue mutant but black characters, or anyone non-white, are thin on the ground. In short it doesn’t reflect the world of today and that’s a problem if you want to pitch to as wide an audience as Marvel did in the 60’s.

The Marvel Universe today is better. There’s Ms Marvel, Moon Girl and a load of other characters that expands what the Marvel superhero universe is and many of these characters are in decent to good books, but for people like Gabriel the sales figures are what’s important and they don’t add up.Which brings me to the point that this isn’t an issue for comics as a medium, but the superhero genre which may have had over the last decade undreamed of exposure, but that’s never translated to sales.

This Cracked article touches on some of the reasons why this is the case. Some of it will be painful reading as the point that Marvel can say ”we have an <insert minority here> character! Why are you moaning!?’ is going to resonate. For years Marvel did this with the Black Panther before they actually started creating other black characters but even then that was mainly to cash in on the 1970’s Blaxploitation craze.For me though the issue is accessibility. There’s no point coming up with say, a Muslim Ms Marvel if you’re rebooting the series with a new number one every other year, and your entire superhero universe has a massive crossover event once a year. People may have more disposable income in 2017 but people have limits.

If you want to have read all of 2016’s Civil War II with all the crossovers then with titles priced at $2.99 to $3.99 (or for the UK, somewhere between £2.00 and £3.50) then you’re paying hundreds to keep up with an event where to be blunt, most of the series is shite. You may pick up a few issues but finances and tedium dictate that you bin the rest so you leave only the hardcore fans to carry on. Which is another point as if Marvel pander only to the core fan (as DC Comics are doing) then they’ll never grow and develop to take advantage of the fact their films are making billions having been seen by hundreds of millions of people worldwide.

So the hard facts are that Marvel are the creators of their own problems. Yes, it’s a tough market but making it harder for readers doesn’t help so it isn’t a case that Marvel has a diversity problem which causes them sales, it has a problem with making easily accessible comics for all ages. Until it gets to grips with that and at the same time it stops pandering to a decreasing, ageing core then it won’t be picking up the readers it could, and indeed, should.

Happy birthday 2000AD

40 years ago this week I had in my hands the first issue of a new weekly boy’s adventure comic called 2000AD. It had a shite free gift as was the way with comics back then.

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The first issue featured Flesh!, a story about time-travellers coming from the future to harvest dinosaurs to help feed the future population’s desire for meat which was eagerly lapped up by me who’d lapped up the gore-soaked pages of Action. Excitement had been built up for some time as after all, Action had been neutered, and thanks to some gloriously cheesy adverts I was dying to get my hands on 2000AD.

It may look cheesy to jaded 21st century eyes but this was brilliant and along with thousands of other kids we enjoyed the first issue, and looked forward to the second which promised a new strip called Judge Dredd which surely couldn’t be as fun as Flesh! or as bizarre as the revamped Dan Dare which was no longer tired and old, but a bit disco.Whatever it was, it looked like no other comic out there in 1977.

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Of course Judge Dredd was an instant favourite as what boy wouldn’t love an ultra-violent fascist as a role model?

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1977 was a transformational year for the UK as the Queen’s silver jubilee rubbed against the growth of the Punk movement, while in the background Thatcherism bubbled away Sauron-like waiting for its moment to strike. Thanks to Pat Mills (who acted as father and midwife to 2000AD) Punk was very much written into the DNA of 2000AD and new, younger artists like Mick McMahon epitomised that new ethic.

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The Golden Age of 2000AD lasted years. For me the first 500 issues are brimming with creativity and I can’t think of a comic ever published that was so consistent in what was still basically children’s comics.

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Yet as I got older I drifted from 2000AD, especially in the 1990’s when the comic published some utter shite like Mark Millar’s Robo-Hunter. Possibly some of the worst comics I’ve ever read. In the 90’s the comics seemed burdened with bad editorial decisions or more realistically, the editors in the latter part of the 1990’s didn’t have a clue how to do their jobs hence why the comic came close to extinction.

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Yet it was saved thanks to Rebellion who cleared out the baggage, stripped the comic back to something it was previously and was left facing the 21st century looking positive. 2000ad2000 So happy birthday 2000AD. You’ve seen me through most of my life and in your own way have helped shape it and all the bad days are hopefully behind you now, and here’s hoping for another 40 years of thrills.

What is the problem with Millennials?

There’s been a video featuring Simon Sinek (he does TED talks among other things) talking about Millennials doing the rounds on social media for a while now, but in the last month has been widely shared. Have a look at it if you’ve not seen it before…

It is a fascinating clip and one on the whole that rings with some sort of truth. Having worked with Millennials there are situations where people are unprepared for the working world, and there is an element of entitlement as if you have a life being told you can get ‘anything you want’ you think that’ll carry on when you find out how the world of work works. The whole ‘safe space’ thing also means that people growing up in echo chambers struggle to engage people face-to-face. There’s also this Cracked article in answer to this. Some of it is true, some of it is bollocks; much like some of Sinek’s comments but there’s truths in both the clip and article here. It’s worth noting that every generation since WW2 (because kids aged 18-30 were being killed and maimed in the tens of thousands back then, so any generation since complaining has got it good since then) has thought they were the next golden generation.

I get that people want to have an impact, and they want to find what they want to do but you may well end up going through life bouncing from job to job. Here’s a thing though; every generation since the 1970’s at least have had to do the same and there are no ‘golden generations, and the Cracked article makes this point. There’s an issue with things like home ownership, job satisfaction, social stresses, and generally, being unable to find a place in life across all age groups.

I’ve sat in meetings at work where Millennials pull out their phones and place them on the desk. Bad, right? There’s also been middle aged members of staff doing the same thing. The truth is everyone can be a prick in the workplace. Everyone suffers stress from work. Everyone wants to do better. Do some Millennials have an entitlement problem? Hell yes, they do. Are some arrogant wee shites? Yes. Are some wanting instant gratification? Yes. That also cuts across the age groups.

The elephant in the room is class. If you’re higher up the food chain then there’s more chance of you progressing forward in life, and with a system designed to set person against person hence why slotting every generation with a shiny label like ‘Baby Boomer’ or ‘Millennial’ reduces a complex set of arguments to marketing terms. Are there issues with Millennials? Yes, there are but there’s a larger problem in that people are overall getting poorer in terms of income and chances, and while we’re all scrapping bits off each other those who sail through life easily because of inherited wealth and/or class carry on getting away with it.

The Glasgow Effect

Ellie Harrison is an artist in Glasgow who a year ago announced her latest project, The Glasgow Effect, to some serious controversy, especially from Glaswegian rapper/commentator Loki who like many pointed out the issues with middle class artists diving into working class problems to make themselves a name, and further their career.

Not to mention The Glasgow Effect is something very real that drags the life expectancy of people in the poorer areas of the city, and with archive documents from the 1970’s revealing government and council policy was to ‘skim the cream’ (shift more affluent families out of Glasgow and into the new towns being built in the land around the city far from the crushing wheels of industry) mixed with a democratic deficit (Glasgow, and indeed, Scotland, doesn’t have control on the democratic levers it needs to change things so people feel their vote is worthless) and an increasingly corrupt city council combines in a cocktail that drags people down in a way people in other comparable cities like Manchester or Liverpool aren’t.

Harrison didn’t endear herself to anti-poverty campaigners by having this image on the website for her project.

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Added to this was her mission statement;

Think Global, Act Local! is year long ‘action research’ project / durational performance, for which artist Ellie Harrison will not travel outside the Strathclyde region. By setting this one simple restriction to her current lifestyle, she intends to test the limits of a ‘sustainable practice’ and to challenge the demand-to-travel placed upon the ‘successful’ artist / academic. The experiment will enable her to cut her carbon footprint and increase her sense of belonging, by encouraging her to seek out and create local opportunities – testing what becomes possible when she invests all her ideas, time and energy within the region where she lives.

When I first saw this a year ago when I was still living in Bristol, and also in what I thought was fairly good health and not recovering from a stroke, or being treated for thyroid cancer, I found it not so much as offensive but patronising. After all, people don’t leave their area of Glasgow because they don’t have the money, or the support structure to do so and frankly, someone having a project where they restrict their movement to see how it ”increasing their sense of belonging’ smacks of Millennial self-centredness.

A year on and I’m now back in Glasgow taking time to recover from my stroke, while still receiving cancer treatment. I’m living with a friend in Dennistoun, in the East End of Glasgow while I’m unable to work, even at times unable to walk as I’ve also had a slipped disc since August. This is relevant because it means I’ve been restricted to a limited part of Glasgow which is within coughing distance of some of the worst areas of mortality and poverty not just in the UK, but Europe. Last week I went to Shettleston health centre for some physio, and the area is dripping in poverty. It is also the only area in the whole of the UK where life expectancy is falling. Compared to Dennistoun which is gentrifying for a number of reasons, the differences are stark.

And here’s my problem still with Harrison’s work. She can escape being trapped in a city (and staying in Strathclyde means you’re in a pretty huge area), those most at risk of The Glasgow Effect are trapped. There are people within walking distance of where I type this now who will never, ever leave the city they were born in and will die in.  Not through choice, not because of poor transport (and like many UK cities, transport is poor the further out you go) but because they don’t have the same chances as Ellie Harrison, who made it clear in her year that she managed to travel quite far.

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I also admit that I’m criticising this from a position where once I’m fully fit I’ll be able to have options open up for me, and right now I’ve settled on a half dozen or so possibilities, but again, I’m lucky. I appreciate the fact I’m lucky, and it strikes me from reading and watching Harrison’s statements upon completion of the project it seems clear to me that this is nothing but onanistic middle class backslapping. I don’t think the fact that Harrison spent a year restricting herself to Strathclyde benefited anyone but Harrison herself, and that it isn’t going to make some kiddie in Shettleston who is born into generational poverty feel that they’ve got opportunities.

There’s a long, and lengthy history of the middle class, and of a mainly establishment media, speaking for and down to, the working class. Assuming they’re considered at all, and of course there are virtually no working class voices in the media, which made Loki’s criticism of The Glasgow Effect welcome but ultimately Harrison left her restrictions. Most trapped in the crushing generational poverty in Glasgow don’t, and glib art projects like this don’t help. It makes the working class; the poor; the vulnerable subjects to be poked and prodded at. Rats in a cage as you will. A year long art project has only massaged the egos and consciences of people who can sail past the real Glasgow Effect quite easily and as soon as this stunt is forgotten, few in Scotland’s media will care about people dying far too young in parts of Glasgow.

Is this the return of the KLF?

The answer is yes, the KLF, aka, The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu aka The Timelords, aka The JAMS, are back. Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty have been doing their own thing for the last 23 years (and those who’ve read John Higgs excellent book on the KLF know the significance of the number 23) and now look to return in August with new material.

The Quietus outlines the story of their return, but as always there’s holes in the story which means the ‘truth’ will be something we never know and that’s a good thing in an age where everything is spelt out in minute detail for the hard of thinking.

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The excitement started on New Year’s Day when this video was leaked online.

This was the video made for the KLF night a few months back at the Cube in Bristol which in retrospect looks to to have kicked Drummond and Cauty into some sort of action but again. we’ll probably never know.

I’m sure whatever happens they’ll be a bit more to the story of the KLF and if that results in new music, art or whatever the hell they decide to do it’ll be one of the most interesting things in what promises to be a potentially bleak year.