Tag Archives: news

International Day of the Girl Child

Today is International Day of the Girl Child.

Two days ago, Malala Yousafzai, a 14 year old from Pakistan, was shot because the Taliban didn’t like her stance on girls receiving a decent education.

Some contrasts speak for themselves.

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The Olympics Opening Ceremony

Well that was unexpected.

I’ll admit it: I’m a bit of a cynic about London 2012, not so much of the Games themselves but because of the pseudo-Orwellian manoeuvring that’s being done to protect the ‘brand’.

Fortunately that wasn’t much in evidence last night. What we got instead, thanks to Danny Boyle, was an insane, surreal and strangely moving portrait of Britain. I went from cynic to believer within 20 minutes.

Part of what made it work so well was the ambiguity. A pastoral idyll is supplanted/wiped out by the forces of technological progress, Isambard Kingdom Brunel effectively presiding over the Scouring of the Shire, ‘Jerusalem’ acting as both England’s unofficial national song and a cry for social reform. The ceremony raised questions, which isn’t normal for this sort of thing. Suddenly the whole event became a lot more interesting by focusing on the interplay between communities.

That extended throughout the proceedings, even in the frankly bizarre interlude in which Daniel Craig stands in Buckingham Palace, an elderly woman seated with her back to him. “Haha!” we say, “It’s a lookalike of the Queen meeting James Bond!”

Except it wasn’t.

It was the actual Queen.

Who later appeared to jump out of a helicopter with a Union Jack parachute.

I swear those five minutes did more for the monarchy than the entirety of the Jubilee celebrations. By participating in – rather than being a bemused spectator of – a pop culture spectacle, the Queen entered into the day-to-day life of the the country somehow, through a conversion between high society and ‘low’ culture.

But she still managed to remain above things. Other moments seem deliberately pointed at the country’s current ruling class. Royalties from Peter Pan have always gone to Great Ormand Street hospital, so it was a piece of genius to celebrate both children’s literature and the NHS at the same time. Monsters pursue kids through a hospital at night, but those monsters are defeated by the forces of good, which include the NHS, the concept of providing healthcare on the basis of need rather than ability to pay.

The Government are currently dismantling this concept. The opening ceremony effectively attacked this policy. Like I said, things were getting interesting.

Even the celebration of British music focused mainly on the way in which it has brought communities together – that’s why it was part of a narrative that also celebrated social media and multi-ethnic relationships. It’s probably worth noting that some of the bands and songs featured here were considered controversial in their day; I suspect that was deliberate too.

I think that’s why many of us recognised Britain in the spectacle – sure it covered all the theme park aspects of the country, but they were presented in a dynamic way, conversing and interacting with each other, just as they do in everyday life. And it worked.

So congratulations Danny Boyle. You played a blinder. And rule Britannia!

Some Thoughts On The Dark Knight Rises (contains spoilers)

20120722-152803.jpg(This post contains spoilers for The Dark Knight Rises. They’re fairly vague, but enough to ruin the movie if you haven’t seen it.

As a fan of DC Comics, and of Batman, The Dark Knight Rises (TDKR) has perhaps been my most anticipated film of 2012 – while I was looking forward to seeing whether or not Joss Whedon would pull off The Avengers (he did), TDKR was the big one, the one to which I had an emotional, fanboy connection.

Then came the massacre in Aurora, Colorado.

Christopher Nolan’s Batverse has often been bruised by real world tragedy – the death of Heath Ledger, Aurora – and that can’t help but read backwards into the films themselves. There’s a grim irony in Ledger’s Joker telling Batman that “You and I will be doing this forever”, and when characters in TDKR start firing assault rifles I inwardly winced, even though there’s no resemblance between that and Aurora. Maybe these things shouldn’t have an impact on the film, but they do.

But if that’s the case then maybe there’s a positive in it. One of the themes of TDKR is that of protectors – those who’d protect Gotham City and those who’d protect Bruce Wayne himself. The most heart-breaking scene in TDKR is when Alfred destroys his relationship with Bruce in an attempt to save the man he raised from self-destruction. Even Bane, the film’s main villain, is ultimately revealed to be the protector of another character. It’s moments like this that form the film’s emotional heart and a lot of TDKR‘s humanity comes from when characters act as protectors – heck, it’s a superhero film, that’s how it should be.

So when we’re thinking about the tragedies that have befallen the Nolan films, it’s within the context of wider stories. We can remember how Jarell Brooks, who saved a woman and her two children during the Aurora shooting, or Eric Hunter, who prevented the shooter from getting into an adjacent screen. Any debate about how art influences life needs to take into account these stories, not just the screwed-up story of a man who doesn’t know what colour the Joker’s hair is.

(No, I’m not going to mention the shooter’s name. He’ll get enough publicity, and if you want a tenuous link to the movie, the revelation of the true names of two characters changes the narrative. Maybe celebrating the names of those who tried to help will do something to shift the way in which we watch the news.)

Life’s messy though, with no easy answers, no simplistic solution to debates that have been raging for decades, even centuries. In art we can at least craft a narrative that gives us closure. TDKR is largely about escape – escaping destiny, shackles, prisons of the mind as much as physical spaces like Bane’s former jail or the sociological nightmare of Gotham. Giving Bruce Wayne a happy ending could be seen as wishful thinking – a character like that is almost doomed to not find real peace – but it works, because we want the guy to be happy for once, and because, thanks to their serial, ongoing nature, it’s never going to happen in the comics, and so we get some closure in the movies instead.

It also works because it’s in a trilogy that’s loved to fracture communities, Bruce’s happy ending extends to those around him, particularly Alfred and Catwoman. It’s a moment of healing when we didn’t think healing was possible. That’s important and significant and true.

I loved The Dark Knight Rises. After all, liberation and hard-won hope are powerful things. There’ll be a new cinematic Batman eventually, that’s almost inevitable, but that movie will have a tough act to follow. Maybe the filmmakers would do well to look at the true story of the Nolan/Bale movies – they’re not about ticking off a list of elements that was found in a DC Comics office somewhere, and they’re not about the real world tragedies that accompanied them. They’re about Batman and his world and, despite all the fantasy, showing how they’re still relevant.

Thank you, Mr. Nolan.

Shooting at Screening of The Dark Knight Rises

I guess the news is everywhere now – 14 people have been killed at a screening of The Dark Knight Rises in Denver, with many more wounded.

It’s an intensely upsetting story: of course it is, no-one should be scared of visiting the cinema, especially not kids. And I guess it’s even more upsetting because the film has been so wildly anticipated since, well, the release of The Dark Knight, and because Batman is a pop culture icon, and…

And because this sort of thing just shouldn’t happen, but it does, and that’s a brutal truth that I’m not convinced we should ever accept.

There are going to be articles and outcries about gun control, about media censorship, about the depiction of violence. Yet in all these, the victims are often forgotten and become nothing more than political and social talking points. In the aftermath of a tragedy, let’s try not to let that happen.

HSBC, the Olympics and the State of the UK

You know how the last couple of years have exposed a vast amount of corruption and arrogance in the UK’s institutions? You know how each new revelation just makes things worse? Well, we all need to put aside our scandal fatigue for a moment, cos tjis one’s an absolute doozy:

HSBC works with Mexican drug cartels.

Yes, seriously.

But hey, someone’s resigned and they face a big fine, so that’s okay then.

The report notes that a US senator said that all the recent financial scandals seem to emanate out of London. It’s not surprising – we live in a country where if you screw up multi-million pound government contracts you get rewarded with more multi-million pound government contracts, and where, if you get caught doing something criminal to the world economy, you get to walk away with a massive pay-off rather than, say, going to jail.

Meanwhile, chip shops get criminalised and the disabled get demonised and the public sector gets slashed (even though we’re now reliant on the public sector to make up for the failings of the private sector in, for instance, providing security for the Olympics.

There’s absolutely nothing inspirational about all this. It’s all “I don’t recall” and “In hindsight that was wrong” and a network of connections that implicate politicians and CEOs in a giant, accidental conspiracy. They can’t even act like the Illuminati without screwing it up.

And yet this defines the story – do something spectacularly wrong and get away with it, with your slap on the wrist being accompanied by a severance package in the millions. It erodes trust and moral leadership, it widens the gulf between rich and poor and it twists our social narrative – why not nick an iPad from PC World?

Because it’s wrong. nick an iPad, pay the consequences. But that means if you help a drug cartel – a drug cartel – you need to pay the price for that. If you give tacit support to Mexican drug lords and al Qaeda you’re not just talking about “a failure in compliance”, you’re talking about decapitated journalists and suicide bombings. I hope our leaders remember this when making speeches about the scourge of drugs. When paying tribute to the next British soldier to fall in the line of duty.

It won’t happen, of course, because this amoral attitude now seems to be an intrinsic part of life. Even something like the Olympics, which should be about celebrating heroic athletic achievement now seems to be about making as much money as possible. Look at the brand police and the attempts at controlling language and Orwellian websites to help us report copyright infringement among our neighbours. It’s why I’m growing to despise the Games and they haven’t even started yet; they should be something great and positive but instead they feel like the decline of western civilisation in a tracksuit.

I just want my country back.