Vote for the Padley Centre

I don’t normally do this but a local charity, the Padley Group, is potentially in line to receive a £3,000 grant from Lloyd’s Bank. They support local people through both accommodation and specialist support, tackling a variety of complex needs such as homelessness, substance abuse, long term unemployment and mental health issues. If this is something you’d like to support, you can vote for them at this link. Voting closes on November 1st.

And I promise to update this blog in the near future!

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The Memories of 9-11

9-11 now seems to inhabit a historical hinterland; far enough away for us to be able to place it into some sense of context, but still recent enough for tears and loss. In a talk given for TED earlier this year, designer Jake Barton spoke about the challenge of designing exhibits for the 9-11 Memorial Museum, realising that visitors wouldn’t just be spectators of history but participants – the survivors, the bereaved, the first responders. It’s a haunting, moving talk that’s well worth checking out, showing ways in which a community can preserve its stories, and how museums can react when the first draft of history is still a thousand painful memories.

Let Freedom Ring: 50 Years of the ‘I Have a Dream’ Speech

imagesCA9KA8DRFifty years ago, in the shadow of the Lincoln Memorial, Washington DC echoed with the greatest speech of the 20th century.

This was long before I was born, inhabiting a world of both literal and figurative black and white, grainy film footage and crackly audio being my only connection to Martin Luther King’s iconic moment. From that perspective it’s history; inspiring history, yes, but history nonetheless.

But it’s easy to close the speech’s borders, to assume it’s only about the Civil Rights movement and racism, but it’s not that easily contained. It’s about economics and history and poverty and non-violence, themes with destinies that, like our own, are bound together with one another. How we treat refugees and the poor influences how we treat our neighbours; the decision to go to war made in plush London adn Washington offices impacts six-year-olds in Syria; one trolling joke about rape pollutes starts to pollute the whole of Twitter. King saw this, recognised how our destinies are intertwined and how our attitudes create policy and attitudes.

King says this better than you or I could though, his words carrying the weight of history and literature and scripture. Echoes of the Emancipation Proclamation and Richard III resound alongside heart cries of King David and the Prophet Isaiah. And yet that’s not all – about halfway through, King deviates from his original notes and improvises, and that’s the point everyone listening goes to church as Reverend King kicks into gear. The speech wasn’t originally meant to be about a dream; its most famous moment is the beginning of the improvisation and, possibly, the moment the orator becomes the prophet.

The Dream still isn’t a reality, not in the US, nor in the UK. The Trayvon Martin case points to that, as do the ‘Go Home’ vans driving around Britain. The narrative here is informed by racial tension, but is grounded in fear, fear of the outsider, fear of the unknown, and fear so often manifests as brutality. That’s why King’s call for nonviolence is so powerful – do you really win by using force, or do you just postpone the fight until the other guy comes back with a bigger stick? Besides, isn’t it better to live in a community defined by cooperation, not conquest.

“I Have a Dream” isn’t history, it’s a reminder. A reminder that the world isn’t equal, that racial tension is still real, that people still automatically equate ‘Muslim’ with ‘Terrorist’, that women are still forced to survive domestic and online abuse, that in some places you can still get arrested for being gay. Fifty years on, Dr. King’s words still matter.

Never Mind the Batfleck – Why Ben Affleck as Batman Isn’t really the issue

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Contains spoilers go Man of Steel.

So, the Internet snapped again. It doesn’t take much nowadays, not now we’ve adopted it as the designated home of nerd rage. The Net was designed to survive nuclear Armageddon, but announce that Ben Affleck is going to play Batman and you’ll immediately feel the servers start to buckle under the strain.

I have a pretty easy-going take on the news. Man of Steel may have had a few scripting issues, but its casting was spot-on; I have no reason to believe that Zack Snyder and co. have dropped the ball this time. The Batman mythos is full of left-field casting decisions – Adam West? Michael Keaton? Heath Ledger? – and yet they worked for the type of stories their producers and directors were telling. I’m going to give Affleck a break.

Besides, everyone knows that the One True Batman is Kevin Conroy.

No, my worry about the forthcoming Superman/Batman movie is that we’ve yet to have a solo Superman film set in this continuity, because Man of Steel was really about the last generation of Kryptonians and their mess; in some respects it felt like a prequel to a more dedicated Superman story.

Okay, I might be off-base here, but think about it; Superman’s deal is that he’s an old fashioned, straight-forward hero figure, the guy who’ll save your cat from a tree and your kid from a rampaging alien death robot. You can play around with that, but that’s his thing. Problem is, that’s yet to be established in DC’s movieverse. On his first day on the job, he’s involved in a war his dad’s generation started, resulting in obscene property damage and, presumably, thousands of casualties. Compare this to Chris Reeve’s first action set piece, where he catches a helicopter and saves Lois. Yes, Man of Steel showed Clark saving a school bus full of kids and the crew of an oil rig, but they were presented as moments that threatened his future, not that defined Superman’s character and heroism.

So a sequel is coming in 2015, but a character that is yet to be fully defined is going to be sharing screen time with another character that exerts substantial gravitational pull. I’d also argue that, story wise, Batman might be the wrong character for the first DC movie team-up. Bats is a darker, more tortured character than Superman under normal circumstances, but here we have a Superman who has seen Metropolis levelled, thousands murdered and who was forced to execute General Zod on his first day on the job, not long after discovering that his home world was destroyed and the only other survivors were genocidal fanatics.

Beat that, Batman.

The commercial motivation for all this is to establish a cinematic DC Universe and to catch up with Marvel’s success story. From that point of view, putting DC’s two biggest characters on screen together makes perfect sense. Story-wise, however, I’m not so sure, not least because, based on the plot points left at the end of Man of Steel, and established characterisations across continuities, Batman would presumably have to the winner in any moral argument – are superhumans a public threat? Yeah, look at the ruins of Metropolis. Is killing supervillains wrong? Considering the need to keep popular bad guys like Lex and the Joker alive for sequels then yeah, have a no-kill rule. So would this lead to Superman abdicating moral responsibility in his own movie?

Now, if you want to establish the basis for a Justice League movie in the Man of Steel sequel then that’s possible but you don’t cast Ben Affleck. Why? Because the hero you need is Wonder Woman.

This is because Wonder Woman is a character from a warrior culture who nevertheless works as an ambassador for peace. If you want to ask whether Superman is a noble warrior who can live with killing his enemies, or a largely peaceful guy who helps people (necessitating the occasional smack down), then she’s a character who can illuminate both sides of that debate. She’s a known quantity and a Justice Leaguer and a character that genuinely expands the DC movieverse.

Now, I know it’s problematic introducing a major female character as a way of furthering a male character’s arc, but seeing that DC seem incapable of getting a Wonder Woman film or TV show made, then maybe problematic is better than non-existent. I may be wrong on that though.

So there we go – give Ben a chance but don’t screw over Superman in the process. The casting here isn’t as important as the writing, so let’s hope the script gives us the chance to get the Justice League movie we’ve been waiting to see.

Neverending – New Comic Coming in September

My friend Stephen Sutherland has a new comic coming out in September. Check out his Tumblr for more news and sample art!