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Thursday, November 7, 2013


Vacuous celebrity driven consumerism and criminality repackaged as a cool lifestyle choice

In the Bling Ring, Sophia Coppela's captivating take on a gang of real life teenage celebrity wannabes who steal from the young rich and famous in order to be like the young rich and famous, the overwhelming sense is of functioning dysfunctionality. Of a people so immured by their sense of ennui and inertia that without their daily fix of celebrity gossip and consumerism, they would ossify and die. 

Here young girls covet the trappings of Yamaoto and Manolo Blahnik, Westwood and Prada et al as if they were the nectar of the Gods, as in many ways they are. Taking Paris Hilton's shoes and Rachel Bilson's dresses were only part of the attraction, by wearing the clothes and jewellery these thieving cognoscenti were taking on both the trappings of their victims and becoming them at the same time. They were also, bit, by stolen bit, becoming what they coveted most, celebrities themselves, and that notoriety and that excitement , reported in breathy terms night after night on the local Beverly Hills TV channels, only made them want more.

The same sense of desperation for excitement and dissipated consumption was at the centre of Harmony Korine's film Spring Breakers in which four bikini-clad teenage girls rob cafés in order to get enough money to party like there's no tomorrow at the forthcoming Spring Break week. Here hedonism ceases to have any decadent higher plain or search for self, it is instead a decent into oblivion. Days and days of drug and alcohol fuelled partying, where pleasure is transformed into an end in itself, almost as if one arrives, and having arrived, must be seen to party, so that partying is the beginning and the end. There is no middle, no pause, no faking or resting, just relentless, continuous, ceaseless pleasure, until the pleasure, like those pursuing it, nolonger has meaning or purpose, it just is.

Ours is a world of fast connectivity and instant likes and dislikes, where gratification is almost a right and where vast wealth and glamour are paraded and flaunted, and are in turn coveted as proof not just of ones status but of ones existence. Into this mix has now been added celebrity, not fame for being famous, but celebrity of self, of the I, and the me. We are now living in a world of the vainglorious and shallow, where coveting the expensive trappings of celebrity gives succour to our fragile egos, and adorning ourselves in a veneer of celebrity-lite chic only masks our desperation to be someone more than us, or other than us. 

Social media is ME media, where Instagram selfies and Facebook fantasies of our exciting lives aspire to the celebritisation of the Self and the elevation of the nonentity into an entity. Here our online ME is the new ME, the exciting ME, the it's all about ME, me. Here we can be anything and everything. Yet most of all we want to be them, the celebrity on the front of The Sun or Closer, falling out taxis, being cheated on, or six months gone, with pictures that make us gawp. This is what we want and what the teenagers who stole from Lindsay Lohan  and Orlando Bloom want, we want what they have because no amount of fantasising on Instagram and Facebook or posing in a selfie can hide the fact that they have and we haven't. 

The alternative to the want is oblivion, to turn I want into I wasted. The heroines of Spring Breakers, drink and tease and in a drunken haze one nearly naked girl (Rachel Korine) writhes on a floor covered in the detritus of the party, singing and giggling over and over again, "you're never gonna get this pussy" while a gang of lusting, leering boys look on. You can look but you can't have.

Soon the girls hook up with a clichéd gangsta, all dreadlocks, tattoos, guns and slurred catchphrases and the girls are donning Pussy Riot style masks and making their gangsta boyfriend suck their guns before they start shooting rival niggas like real badass motherfuckers. Cute, drugged-up and celebrated the girls drive off towards the distant neon lights of the big city. Celebrity, money, and happiness awaits.

So the aspiring celebrity, self obsessed, consumer driven wannabe has three choices, the I, myself, me route of delusional Instagram selfies, Twittering and Facebook postings; stealing the trappings of celebrity; or total oblivion. 
The alternative is to walk away...

© Nigel WIngrove 2013

Wednesday, October 30, 2013


A few years ago when I first met the object of my 'its complicated' status on Facebook I had, as it happened, also just started seeing a rather lovely, though seriously bonkers pornstar. My ego being what it is, thought, very foolishly as it turned out, that I could carryon with both these extraordinary women at the same time, with their agreement of course, and that all would be rosy in the garden...

As part of the romantic process I had also hit upon the idea of taking my incredibly posh, though foul-mouthed, 'complicated' partner to see (and I have no idea why) Drowning Pool at the Astoria and the pornstar, who really looked like a pornstar should look, to the Opera. I can't remember what the Opera was called, but it was very contemporary and set in the last days of the Weimar Republic, so I was hoping that it would have a touch of Cabaret about it.

It did, but it was also an incredibly long and very experimental piece of work, and while the first half had gone quite quickly, the second half seemed to be going on and on and my pornstar companion was getting increasingly agitated and wanted to leave. It was also a very intense opera and you could literally have heard a pin drop so I quietly reassured the pornstar that it would be finishing in a few minutes. Indeed that seemed to be the case, but then, just as we were about to rush for the exits, it would start up again.

This game of cat and mouse went on for ages and was having a very detrimental effect on the pornstars emotions, and after a particularly momentous moment which really seemed to herald the end, the pornstar had stood up only to have to sit down again and exclaimed, very, very loudly to the audience and the surrounding populace, "this is intolerable!!", and flounced out.

Last night, particularly during the first forty minutes or so of Frank Zappa's 200 Motels I felt what my pornstar friend had felt all those years ago and longed to shout out that this is intolerable or words to that effect! Indeed Zappa's experimental, often discordant and unharmonious musical work is both clever and maddening, at moments infuriating and at other times really beautiful, as if Zappa'a unconventionality was, if not so much contrived, as staged rebellion except here using chords and notes rather than words and theatrics.

For those unfamiliar with 200 Motels, it is a film based on his Zappa's life on the road and this is the accompanying musical score. Back in 1971 the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra had been booked to play a concert of the films musical score at the Royal Festival Hall, but due to the number of expletives and sexual references within the scores accompanying lyrics the sellout performance had been cancelled and as a result has never been performed in the UK.

Forty two years later and 200 Motels is finally to be performed at the prestigious Royal Festival Hall on the Southbank to a select audience of Zappa fans, many of whom looked as if they had had tickets for the original show. That in a way was what this performance and the subsequent adulation for Zappa was all about. It was as if time, culturally at least, had stood still.

Written in 1971, 200 Motels, is very much of its time. Full of schoolboyish naughtiness and trite offence, for example, "Far Out!", becomes 'Fucking Far Out", which is of course terribly shocking, and then there are songs like "Penis Dimension" in which the word 'penis' is used a lot and the choir wave luminous vibrators at the audience. 1971 was also the year that OZ magazines publishers and editors were on trial for obscenity for publishing cartoons of Rupert bear having sex with his grandmother, while other Underground publications demanded the right to "fuck in the streets". Offending, was easy and usually got results from a society that was equally easily provoked into moral outraged.

Frank Zappa the provoker in this instance was incredibly prolific, producing some 62 albums in his relatively short life (he died aged 52) and had, and continues to have, a major influence. He was also politically active and remained opposed to censorship all his life. Yet watching and listening to 200 Motels with its reliance on trite swearing and vibrators to 'shock' I could not help but think is that all the sixties achieved? Is its legacy that a choir can wave luminous vibrators at the audience, while we can laugh and titter at our joyous freedom? 

I hope not, but turn on virtually any TV programme or pick up the traces of conversation in the street and the use of the f word is everywhere. Nolonger is it raining, it has to Ffffing raining, or Fffffing cold or whatever. Now vibrators and sex toys are sold in Boots alongside aspirin and plasters, now nothing in 200 Motels shocks, it just seems like the antics of a generation that wanted to be naughty and to be noticed. A generation, in fact, that wanted everything and sulked until they got it, even 200 Motels performed at the Royal Festival Hall. Far Out!

© Nigel Wingrove 2013

Monday, September 2, 2013

WEAKNESS AND LIES: Putting the Nice before the Nasty

On the BBC recently, a reporter interviewed two young Syrian women outside a café in Syria's capital Damascus, both wore modern, trendy clothes, make-up and had their hair uncovered. One women supported President Assad and said that the presence of government soldiers made her feel safe, the other women supported the rebels and believed that government forces had used the chemical weapons that killed some 1400 people on the 21st August. Neither women had any worries about openly speaking to a BBC journalist and voicing their opinions, despite one of them being highly critical of Assad's Baathist regime.

This brief interview reminded me of similar ones I saw conducted with young students and women in Baghdad, Iraq in 2003, just before the 'Coalition of the Willing' blew much of the city to pieces as part of the West's attack on Saddam Hussein in the cause of regime change and, as it transpired, a pointless search for weapons of mass destruction. Young, educated and intelligent Western style men and women were also interviewed in Tunisia prior to their Arab Spring moment, and in Gaddafi's Libya and Mubarak's Egypt, with some of the women in particular being noticeably free of the usual veils and other trappings of Islamic culture that one often expects to see worn. This is perhaps because a by-product of arab dictatorships and Baathist states, was that any dissent or movements like radical Islam or  other forms of religious zealotry which might challenge the existing status quo were ruthlessly crushed. This was bad for democracy, civil rights, and kurdish tribesmen but ironically good for women, order and preserving the nation state.

Now those women and young men are mainly silent, the women in particular are donning headscarfs and veils again, and the young men are joining armed militias, or have become radicalised as they see their once stable country descend into a mix of social chaos, car bombings, social breakdown and anarchy. Their only other option being to get out of the country and start a new life somewhere else. For many the hope and euphoria offered by an 'Arab Spring' has given way to despair and disappointment, with ideas and dreams of democracy now replaced by ideologues and mob rule.

For nearly twenty years the West has chastised and lambasted the dictatorships of Mubarak and Gaddafi and the quasi fascist Baathist regimes of Hussein and Assad, while ignoring the ills of undemocratic fiefdoms like Saudi Arabia and Qatar on the basis that they supply the West with oil, have copious amounts of money and often act as Middle Eastern power brokers when we need some quiet, behind the scenes diplomacy to smooth things over arab style. 

These, undemocratic regimes, whilst not ideal, suited the arab peoples, and would perhaps, with time, have evolved in their own way to be more 'democratic' and 'western', or equally, given the current climes, have become less democratic and more 'Islamic', again depending on the which direction the winds of change were blowing, The Shah of Iran, was famously pro Western, but also like Assad, and Mubarak, a bit of a dictator with a reputation for being harsh with dissenters and critics. So for the Shah, change came wearing black robes, a long beard and a good line in religious zealotry. 

When the Shah and his family fled Iran he also found that the West's friendship is pretty much worthless with many countries simply slamming the door shut in his face when he came to seek shelter. Equally Iran's highly educated female students, doctors and academics suddenly found that their Persian beauty and luscious locks really upset the Ayatollah's fanatical fans and were forced to stop what they doing, act dumb, cover up, and literally burqa-off! 

Indeed ever since the Shah's hasty exit from Iran the West has seemed to stumble from one ill-advised debacle to another, from Reagan's sending of US troops to Lebanon in 1982, an act of folly that resulted in the deaths of 241 US marines in a single day,  to Operation Desert Storm in 1991 - a war that disastrously failed to finish what it had started and consequently paved the way  for the chaotic state of Western involvement in the Middle East ever since.

Two decades of well-intentioned military and diplomatic manoeuvring has followed, some good, but most disruptive and ineffectual at best, and at worst, alienating and sowing the seeds of further conflict. This period heralded in a new kind of Western military approach where political correctness and a desire to do the right things has resulted in a kind of war-engagement lite with Western forces desperate not to be seen as imperialist or anti-Islamic. 
Military commanders are now often as wary of human rights lawyers and sexual equality violations in the ranks as they are about roadside bombs and snipers. 

Indeed, no sooner had the world seen the US and their Allies go into Afghanistan in 2001, and Iraq in 2003, then everyone involved wanted out as fast as possible. The fact that ten years later the Allies have made little real progress in bringing the war to a proper conclusion based on a definable victory and are instead desperately trying to extract themselves fully from Iraq and Afghanistan is made even worse with the knowledge that as soon as the last Western soldier leaves that both countries tenuous grip on order will go and chaos will ensue. 

The other legacy of Afghanistan and Iraq is that both wars have not only made the Allies timid and scared when it comes to further involvement in the Middle East generally but have created an almost phobic reaction when it comes to 'boots on the ground', a mindset that led directly to the Allied enforced no-fly zone over Libya in 2011 as that way the West could be seen to be doing something but without any real risk to Western lifes. It was also a perfect example of the West's increasing obsession with being seen to be doing the right thing, not just by ourselves, but by our enemies as well. 

Nolonger can we fight a war to defeat an enemy and win the peace, now Allied forces must win hearts and minds as well. Enemy culture and religions must be respected and the horrors of war hidden by 'surgical strikes', 'precision bombing' and drones, and amongst all this targeted killing, wars that used to take days or weeks to resolve now drag on for years, with, bar a few selected deaths and the occasional 'collateral damage', deaths, particularly Allied deaths, kept to 'acceptable' levels.  It is as if the Middle East were some grotesque video game in which players 'take out' opponents but lose points if they whack a civilian and at each level of the game the difficulties increase and the rules change slightly. The players also don't know how many levels there are or what they have to do to win? So as games go this one could go on and on.

It is telling that after George Bush's much maligned 'War on Terror' and numerous verbal faux pas's, that President Obama has been acutely careful not only to do the absolute right thing, always, but to take no risks either, in case the risk also proves to be wrong. President Obama's choice of Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State has been equally safe, as in effect by spending her time flying around the world she has been championing Obama's world view that the American President, and by extension the American people, represent 'like' rather than 'might'. As Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton has effectively shaken lots of hands and clocked up lots of air miles, but in terms of foreign policy, she, and by extension, President Obama, have done nothing other than pursue the 'like me' agenda.

This emphasis on being liked also explains the US's embracing of the Arab Spring from the outset, firstly in Tunisia, then as it was fanned by Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites, in Egypt and Libya. Both Obama and Clinton could see that the bad guys in this populist scenario were Mubarak and Gaddafi, and despite Mubarak's previous pro Western stance, he was, like the Shah before him, unceremoniously dumped by the US and UK.  This was X-factor politics writ large, the people wanted Mubarak and Gaddafi out and the West, seeing a chance to be both popular and populist at the same time, obliged. What the West hadn't thought through, as they hadn't with Iraq and Afghanistan either, was
happens next?  

The US and the West's championing of the Arab Spring had allowed the Arab peoples to became intoxicated by the idea that change was not only possible but desirable and that if the old regimes resisted and fought back then the US and the West, as they did in Libya, would step in to make change happen. Indeed the West's intelligentsia and politicians really should have known better, but they were so caught up with creating a new arab style "I Have a Dream" moment that reality was put on hold for the duration. Or at least until Gaddafi was dragged out of a storm drain and shot in the head and Christopher Stephens, the US ambassador in Benghazi, Libya, was murdered by a militia led mob. By the time Egypt and Libya began to collapse into violence and anarchy and Syria's arab spring moment had gone from street protest to all-out civil war the West knew that they had messed up. In computer game terms, they were back at the beginning with the highest difficult level possible imposed. Not a good place to be.

Syria, in fact, had ruined everything in the 'nice' stakes. Up until recently the West was somehow managing to avoid the elephant in the room that is Egypt, and the US's illustrious Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, had conveniently stepped down to prepare for a run at the Presidency in 2016 thereby avoiding anything too unpleasant in the way of questions as to why Ambassador Stephens had been left unprotected in Libya… Then civilians started being gassed in Syria and the West finally had to face up to the mess they had inadvertently done so much to create.

Syria's crisis is too extreme to be ignored for there is no disputing the ghastliness of a gas attack or, horrifically, a napalm bomb in a school playground. Yet with no concrete evidence that it was Assad's troops that were responsible for the gas attack and the legacy of two decades of misadventure in the Middle East the West is naturally reluctant to get involved and to take action against Syria. Yet having said that it would and should get involved and bomb 'selected' Assad targets, the West's consensus driven political leaders are now showing democracy and leadership at its worst, and back-tracking as fast as they can. Now damned if they do, and damned if they don't.

In the UK having rushed to get a vote for an, in my opinion, ill-advised attack on Syrian military targets as a way of punishing Assad and his regime for allegedly using chemical weapons, UK MPs have now effectively lost their nerve and rejected any possibility of war. In the US, President Obama, ever mindful of doing the right thing and conversely of not doing the wrong thing, has skilfully absolved himself of responsibility and put it to congress who can now vote for or against military action against Syria. 

A great hurrah has greeted this Presidential act of smoke and mirrors, while in the UK MPs are saving face by congratulating themselves that they have reinvigorated the constitution and stood up for democracy and peace. Yet this is not democracy, it is a kind of dumbmockracy, in which fear of making and taking an unpopular decision has made weak and fallacious men present themselves to the world as strong and resolute when in fact they are neither. Democracy is about doing and standing up for what you believe to be right even if they are unpopular, or in this instance possibly wrong. Better to have said they would do nothing. 

For the last twenty years the West's foreign policy has struggled to balance its new values of political correctness and anti imperialism with both its past and the growing threat of radical Islam within a volatile Middle East. In this the West has been helped considerably by the weakness of a Russia struggling to adapt to its post communist self, and a China where communist orthodoxy was being sublimated by a rush to embrace wealth and capitalism. 

Both countries transformational difficulties ensured that the West has had almost twenty years of being top dog and to establish its new power base and adapt its evolved democratic doctrine to the needs of a 21st Century world. Instead it has frittered away its years of strength by worrying about enforcing and championing issues of sexual politics, political correctness and climatic change and being liked rather than concentrating and consolidating itself as the doctrine of power regardless of whether that made them 'liked'. 

In the background, while the West has been agonising and theorising about governing and exercising its power in a consensual way, other countries have been adapting and growing in strength. Now a reinvigorated Russia and China, along with an empowered Iran, sit behind President Assad's Syria and watch as the West's key countries and  the world's current superpower try to avoid doing what they think is right in order to avoid, effectively, making an unpopular decision. This is niceness at any price and by pursuing this option the West is creating not a safer and fairer world, but are showing off their weaknesses. By doing so they are potentially heralding in a darker and more fractious world. A world in which new old powers will soon re-assert themselves and the established ones will rue the day that they chose to be Mr Nice over Mr Nasty.

© Nigel Wingrove, 2013

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Good Censor, Bad Censor

In a week that has seen both the condemnation of the US National Security Agency for surveying emails and other personal data worldwide, and major calls in the UK for the complete blocking of online pornography, the pressure to control and rein in the internet is growing stronger and stronger.

There is no such thing as good or bad censorship, as there are only good or bad people and content, visual, verbal or written, is what it is. It is how we, as adults, react, or respond to it that gives content its power, be it private, moral, political, sexual, criminal or offensive. Yet the internet with its labyrinthine pathways and myriad ideas, images, and views, reflects all mankind. It is our psyche, a huge digital Id into which we pour our thoughts and impulses.  Each day we upload the minutia of our lives, be they bland, brutal or base, good or bad, moral or immoral, legal or illegal, whatever mankind is capable of, the internet absorbs and stores it. Then, when we plug in, we have a choice, of what amongst man's cerebral detritus, to look at, read or ignore. 

Now our governments want to control, monitor and in some cases, expurgate sections of the internet in much the same way that doctors use electro-convulsive therapy to wipe out and erase parts of the brain. The result, even on a digital brain, is likely to be just as brutal and damaging.

Google is the current internet bugbear, chastised for the amount of tax it does or doesn't pay, and ordered by governments to stop this, or block that. Google is attacked relentlessly, but because of its size and financial clout, has been able to pretty much ignore these assaults on its propriety. However, the current furore around the activities of the US's National Security Agency (NSA) has caused Google's chairman, Eric Schmidt, to worry that the internet is about to suffer from a process of "Balkanisation", in which, like the countries of the Balkans, the internet begins the process of fragmenting as national governments seek to exert greater influence over it, essentially breaking it up.  Thereby creating a series of tightly controlled national networks and ending forever our current open communication platforms and the free flow of information that has been at the centre of the internet since its inception some twenty plus years ago.

This drive to control the internet and breakup the power of independent US companies like Google and Amazon with their huge stores of data, is coming not just from Authoritarian regimes like China and Iran, but from the law makers of the European Union. EU lawmakers in the wake of the National Security Agency scandal, are using the fear of data snooping to promote the idea of creating their own internet platforms separate from the likes of Google et al. Indeed for many European lawmakers the move now is to push for the ringfencing of their national networks which in turn will force internet companies like Google to comply with local rules for protecting local data and so on.

The result, according to an EU spokesman is that "You are likely to get a federation of different data centres, each fiefdom with its own different rules", which aside from its immediate aim of protecting its citizens data from the prying eyes of US intelligent agencies, becomes more sinister if used to repress political or other perceived subversions.

Indeed the fact that the National Security Agency (NSA) is spying on foreign nationals and probably eavesdropping on phone calls and reading the occasional email should not surprise or excessively worry us as this is what intelligence agencies do, and given that Facebook can already interpret everything from our taste in music to our political allegiances from analysing our 'Likes', the activities of the NSA will not make much difference to someone after your personal data. What should worry us are the calls for national security surveillance to be stopped or monitored, presumably by human rights lawyers and EU functionaries, as that will begin rendering any kind of clandestine snooping potentially unworkable, with possibly disastrous implications for our ongoing national security.

We should expect the United States, the most powerful country on earth to protect its people from attack, as likewise we expect our UK government agencies to do the same and as our main ally to share information and data when necessary. In effect, we expect our intelligence agencies to get the terrorists and our enemies before they get us and to do that successfully agencies need to snoop, spy and lie. Indeed, surveillance and data gathering are crucial, and by the very nature of their work the agencies involved need to be able to operate in secret, and monitoring the mass of internet traffic worldwide is a big part of that. Where this falls down is when those actions are perceived either as a threat to the citizens in whose name the surveillance is being carried out, or as a threat to other friendly nations, as the NSA's actions are now being made out to be.

Ironically in the name of democracy, and in a perceived benign move to protect its citizens from US data collecting, the EU's lawmakers could now begin the breakup of the Internet as we know it. Even more alarming is that the EU's desire to ringfence the internet along national borders is playing well with China, who's gleeful words on the NSA story see them sticking the knife in:  "Washington has been accusing China of cyber espionage, but it turns out that the biggest threat to the pursuit of individual freedom and privacy in the US is the unbridled power of the government". 

This means that countries like Iceland who have said that they wanted to ban access to all pornography, or in the UK where Prime Minister David Cameron or Labour MP Diane Abbott have called for a block on access to pornography in an effort to protect the young, and who have previously been mocked for their naiveté in thinking that an internet block along national boundaries was unworkable, can now look forward to a future where bans could not only be workable, but be made to work. Indeed, the calls of UK politicians for the blocking of pornography are now being championed by the Daily Mail and the Sunday Times. Therefore the chance for the UK Government to create its own server will now be perceived by many on both sides of the political spectrum as a real vote winner. State control of the internet along national borders is coming, and coming fast, and ironically it will be championed not by China or Iran, but by the unelected and unaccountable law makers of the EU and I believe, by our own government.

The former CNN journalist and writer Rebecca Mackinnon said in her book, Consent of the Networked: The Worldwide Struggle for Internet Freedom (2012), that: "We cannot assume that the Internet will evolve automatically in a direction that is going to be compatible with democracy" and prophetically that "Ten years from now, we will look back on the free and open internet with nostalgia". Yet this will all be done in the name of Democracy, of protecting personal data, and of fighting the currents totems of evil like racism, pornography, Islamophobia, homophobia, fascism, incitement to hatred and so on. As once the government and their state authorised censors are unleashed on an internet with borders, they will be unstoppable. For like the doctor who sees a once wild and dangerous patient rendered quiet and placid by the effects his electro-convulsive therapy, the glorious digital and untrammelled Id that represents our collective self, warts and all, will be blasted into submission and left, safe and inert, cured and cared for, in our new world, where nice is the new nasty and all bad thoughts have been erased. 

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© Nigel Wingrove 2013

Monday, June 10, 2013

Liberal Authoritarianism and the relentless march of the Little Man.

With every crime and outrage comes, in the guise of doing good or righting a wrong, more calls for state control, be it political, moral or social.

In the last few days, prompted in part by the death of the liberal philosopher in law, Ronald Dworkin, the indescribably ghastly, Keynesian and egotistical political economist, Will Hutton, has been lamenting what he sees as the slow death of true liberalism and liberal views. Indeed it is his belief that the tide of opinion is turning against big government and its role, or duty as Hutton sees it, in providing 'dignity'  and succour for those that fail as well as creating a free environment for others to succeed.

In a true Statist whine Hutton's article, "I despair as I watch the erosion of the liberal views I hold dear" lashes out at everything; from the fact that we apparently live in 'rightwing times', (if only), to the opinion that his philosopher hero, Dworkin's treasured totems of human dignity, that is 'Law and Justice', and more importantly the overpaid barristers who enforce them, are currently having their legal aid trough reduced a bit by the current government, or rather the current government is attempting to reduce it. To judge by the crying and wailing emanating from Lincoln Inn Fields and Middle Temple and the other legal fortresses of sumptuousness scattered around Holborn and Westminster the assumption would be that legal aid was being abolished completely. This is a legal aid budget that has soared over the last two decades and has helped umpteen barristers and QCs break into the million pound a year earnings bracket. Including several like Cherie Blair, who are as likely to commiserate with Hutton around the dining table as they are to attack the legal aid cuts in public, which she and 90 other QC’s have just done in an open letter to the Daily Telegraph.

What though is irking Hutton more than anything else in these times of austerity and cutbacks is that the great State largesse from which he and many of the chattering classes rely on for their wealth and status is at last beginning to be cutback or, in a few cases, stopped altogether. To Hutton and his ilk this is an anathema, a heinous attack on societies moral core and one which threatens not just his and his cronies bank balances but in his words could lead to a 'reversal of the century-long fight for genuine equality between the sexes', or could lead to reforms "of criminal justice and legal aid, the health service, climate change, employment law, social security' represents the 'wholesale inversion of a liberal society' which will beget 'economic stagnation, social atomisation and a destructive nationalism' peopled by 'tax-avoiding, climate-change-denying anti-feminists'. Phew!

This hysteria permeates much of the liberal left at the moment as their world, created as it was out of the embers of World War 2 and a desire to create a Europe devoid or war and free of racial, religious and sexual strife, in which all its citizens would be housed, fed, clothed and entitled to education and health care, is beginning to implode under the weight of its own sense of entitlement. A sense of entitlement championed and offered to every citizen regardless of their contribution or worth, and driven in part by many of the liberal lawyers and human rights specialists so beloved of Will Hutton and company.

Yet it is Hutton's response to the potential realignment of his idealised current values, or more importantly the potential that the State might loose control of those values, that is at the core of the liberal or soft left's nightmare scenario. For the modern liberal is a state control liberal, he is the man in the bureaucratic equivalent of the high visibility jacket, giving orders and, backed-up by an army of state-funded lawyers, few people say no to him. And like most people with power, even those that are in effect a powerful cog, they like it and they want to keep it.

Liberalism incarnated and administered by the Hutton's of this world is personified by the interfering and spiteful invective of the little man or woman. A beastly fusion of the Stasi, Shami Chakrabarti, and Gordon Brown, with access to unlimited funds and an army of High Visibility Jacket wearing bureaucrats waiting in the wings if the going gets tough.

These are the liberals that see in every tragedy a silver lining of opportunity: the murder of April Jones, a tragedy, new legislation to crack down on 'extreme porn' and rape pornography on the internet generally, a silver lining of new laws, more bureaucrats and a more invasive society. The murder of Lee Rigby in Woolwich and Clémént Méric in France a tragedy, the silver lining, an opportunity to ban and crack down on far right groups and other rightwing politicians that threaten the current status quo. Plus add new clauses to the incitement to religious and racial hatred legislation. Next week or next month there will no doubt be another tragedy and another barrage of new 'liberal' legislation will be unleashed to protect us and further empower the state.

The list is potentially endless as everything bad has a potential 'good' solution which in itself grows the State, enables lawyers to draft new laws and a legion of employees to enforce them. Liberalism, at least as interpreted by the Hutton's of the this world, is not dead and the world is unfortunately not full of rightwing monetarists, it is, in fact, being reborn even as aspects of it are being killed off. For every cutback and saving, for every liberal lawyer with a reduced legal aid budget who has to cut back on his trainees there are, like a Keynesian Hydra, hundreds more to take their place.

Will Hutton's great fear and motivation was that without the great behemoth liberal state enforcing Law and Justice that civility would end. That we would end up not caring. That, in fact, we would become a society where anything goes and that, as Dworkin espoused, it was the law's duty to 'uphold individual and collective morality'. Which is so typical of the benign liberal chattering classes, who, having undermined the church and all the other totems by which societies moral codes were derived for centuries, have the arrogance to think that they, and they alone, can legislate it, and enforce it, in their own liberal image. From Gay marriage to abortion, to how people discuss sex and religion, all will be defined by the 'liberal' State. 

Indeed Hutton sees our mounting crisis as an opportunity for some sort of liberal, Keynesian fightback, which is interesting seeing as how he and his cronies are still very much in control. If there is any fighting to be done it needs to come from the right and be directed against the hordes of little men and the rich, liberal lawyers and wealthy Establishment players that control them. In which case it might be worth remembering a line from Shakespeare's Henry VI: The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers

© Nigel Wingrove 2013

Monday, June 3, 2013

RELIGION, RACE and RIGHTS: The three elephants in the room that the liberal West cannot, and will not see - a self inflicted blindness that if not challenged and stopped will eventually destroy us.

The West's collective Establishment has been very busy of late minimising any damage to its multicultural agenda that could have been caused by the Boston bombings; the beheading and murder of a British soldier in London; the multiple instances of child sex abuse by Muslim men in several English cities; a week of riots in Sweden's predominantly Muslim immigrant areas, and the worldwide revulsion that one of the leaders of the West's beloved Syrian rebels, and founder of the Farouq Brigade, had been filmed cutting out the heart of a dead Government soldier and eating it in between shouts of Allahu Akbar and requests for mustard. 

The above events, coming almost one after the other, could have been expected in normal times to have given the champions and cheerleaders of our ever evolving multireligious and multicultural nirvana pause for thought. Instead, the Establishment and the mainstream media have redoubled the State's efforts to clamp down on dissenters and big up Islam-lite. In so doing the State has very effectively moved the finger of blame from the perpetrators to the accusers, whilst at the same time striving to reinforce the sense collectively that a multicultural and ethnically diverse society is both desirable and irrevocable. 

It is neither.

The raping and multiple sexual abuse of young white girls barely in puberty, the bombings in Boston at a marathon in which runners had their most prized human possession, their legs, literally blown off in the most horrific and brutal way, and the beheading of a soldier in civilian dress on a London street in the middle of the afternoon took Islam and Islamic terrorism to yet more new lows. Yet within seconds of these appalling events breaking in the news the mainstream media and government spokesmen were taking steps to nullify events as much as possible. They also managed to gloss over the one key factor in all of these terrible acts; that the perpetrators were Muslim, that their victims were not, and that the motivation for these appalling crimes was the furtherance of Islam. 

Instead in the US there was an almost audible sigh of relief when the two young Muslim brothers were found to be Chechen, with reporters and spokesmen immediately bombarding the public with anecdotes about the brutality of the Chechen war with Russia and how this must have influenced the two men. This Chechen love-in was coupled with the usual parade of happy-clappy Imans and community leaders on TV who further distanced the two bombers from Islam and within days all was, if not sweetness and light, then at least returning to normal again, almost as if the bombing had never happened. US television even managed to interview a young dancer and runner in her early twenties who had had both her feet blown off within six days of the event. She was brave and defiant and was not going to let her awful injuries ruin her life yet her spirit, indomitable and noble as it was, lacked the one emotion that our emasculated Establishment seem determined to eradicate: Anger. 

Anger at the people that are carrying out these terrible acts and anger at their apologists among us who will not, and cannot, see the terrible seeds they and their almost evangelical faith in multiculturalism have sown. In the UK the gangs of Muslim groomers, rapists and child abusers were termed 'asian' rather than Muslim and despite some token wringing of hands, the impression given by the police, social services and politicians was that they just wanted the whole sordid business to go away as quickly as possible. For the forgotten and silent victims of 'asian' abusers yet to be found there will be no Jimmy Savile style 'Operation Yewtree' to track down and expose their oppressors, in their case there will only be an embarrassed silence.

Likewise, the two men of 'Muslim appearance' who hacked a young soldier's head off were dismissed as not representing true Islam by the world renowned Islamic scholar, David Cameron. While crocodile tears flowed from the eyes of Muslim spokesmen across the land as they rushed to distance themselves from this new take on Islamic terrorism. Afraid momentarily, Imans and Muslims felt a real, palpable anger and revulsion for their faith spread across the UK, as did our politicians. For once the people were genuinely angry.  With the prospect of retribution and violence a very real threat Islam representatives did the right thing and apologised. 

But within 48 hours as usual the UK Establishment in all its myriad guises had found a non Muslim enemy to blame, the English Defence League, whose followers, whilst not responsible for the murder, could be accused of exploiting it. With a villain that the BBC and the multifaithers could really relate to and abuse without restraint the UK media let rip and tore into every aspect of the "fascist" EDL, while at the same time, as in the US in the aftermath of the Boston bombings, the Establishment simultaneously turned events around to solidify and reinforce multiculturalism by damning the EDL as racists and Islamophobics for trying to destroy it. Lost in the mêlée of course were the two head-hackers and their Islamic faith who could now be pushed to the sidelines, dismissed as both unIslamic and unrepresentative of UK Muslims.

In Sweden, almost at the sometime as Lee Rigby was having his life taken, gangs of Muslim teenagers began the first of what would be six continuous days of rioting in Sweden's capital city, Stockholm. Sweden has had one of the most courteous and generous attitudes to immigrants and asylum seekers in the world and as a result now has large immigrate ghettos in key cities like Stockholm, Malmo and Gothenburg. Sweden is also very rich and almost as soon as the riots started the Swedish media, politicians and police all refused to use the 'R' word as in race or religion, instead the rioters were classed generically as either 'youths' or 'hooligans' or both. The fact that they were Muslim youths was silenced in the Swedish media where talk of race and immigration is virtually taboo. 

The riots in Sweden have stopped now, and as in the US and UK, the Swedish Establishment is busily rebuilding the foundations of what had been, until the riots, a kind of Scandinavian multicultural Asgard.  Predictably Sweden has chosen not to blame the rioters for the riots but to self-flaggellate  and blame instead its wealth, lack of true integration and job opportunities for the rioters. The rioters ethnicity and religion is non-existent. On this, as on so much else, the Establishment is both colour-blind and faith neutral, though Sweden's citizens may in the long run turn out not be…

Nothing it seems, no matter how horrible and vile the act, will deflect our leaders and the multicultural zealots of our Establishment from their intractable faith in the glories that stem from their experiment with mass immigration and Islam's place within it. In the 1930's, only a few saw the threat posed by an ever bolder 
and ever stronger Nazi Germany, and now some eighty years later the West seems to be pursuing a policy of Appeasement to Islam in much the same way. Indeed one wonders what it will take for our great leaders, like the Islamicist David Cameron, to turn against their new faith? A beheading at a Gay wedding? A Mumbai-style attack in London's Oxford Street, or the exploding of a nuclear or biological device in a major Western City? Perhaps then the West's Establishment will finally see the elephants in the room, for if they don't then the anger that they are so keen to suppress will find its own voice and when that happens it will not be pleasant.

© Nigel Wingrove 2013

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Trained for war, hacked to death in London: The murder of a soldier

The murder on the 22 May 2013 of a young British soldier on a street in Woolwich, London, in the middle of the afternoon by two Muslim thugs, has shocked the world. It also galvanised the UK's entire liberal and religious elite into putting on their best appeasement hats in a concerted effort to make sure that this 'incident' does not upset or impact our multicultural utopia.

The soldier's blood was still wet and smeared across the South Circular when the last Labour's government's Home Secretary, John Reid, was either appearing on television news programmes talking endless nonsense about 'loan wolves' or 'clean skins' as if this were an event straight out of the Bourne Identity rather than the actions of a couple of crazed religious zealots. He also spent the evening of the 22nd May running from Mosque to Mosque in an effort to reassure the Muslim community that we know that the killers were not representative of Islam, but rather had been corrupted by rogue preachers or Al Qaeda rhetoric. 

It is indeed a sad reflection of our new Establishment's priorities that as usual it was the representatives of the murderers that were being courted and cuddled rather than the representatives of the victims or the wider society within whose country this terrible act had taken place.  No one who saw the vicious and brutal actions of the two killers will ever forget those awful images and Islam should be made to be ashamed that these killers came from within their communities. Further people will be angered by this terrible crime and Islamic communities need to know that, this time, enough is enough, and that the Kow-towing and societies accommodating of their religious mores will have to stop.  

The BBC, the States bastion of inclusivity and diversity, must have had their Green Rooms packed wall-to-wall with touchy-feely Imans, Islamic community leaders, Civil Rights lawyers, Community Outreach workers and Saint Shami Chakrabarti, Liberty's ghastly champion of civil liberties and human rights. Not present of course would be anyone opposed to Islam or multiculturalism, or who might disrespect the media's carefully engineered "this is shocking, but doesn't represent the Muslim community", blah, blah, blah, approach. The truth is though, that the murder of the soldier does represent Islam and it is representative of the 'wider Islamic community' and pretending it isn't and that this is an isolated terrorist incident comparable with the IRA, or the Provos, is dangerous nonsense.

The IRA and the other political terrorist cells, despite their often brutal and murderous actions, had, at least, some sort of political agenda and a rational aim with which the wider community could identify and eventually negotiate, Islamists have none. The Islamists see the State and their religion as one and the same, the two are inseparable, and further that anyone or culture that is not of their Muslim orthodoxy is seen as their enemy. The West, with its decadence and soft democratic ways, being the biggest and most loathed enemy of all.

Yet despite this, the West, and in particular the liberal Establishment whose adherents and devotees began and instigated the West's, in my opinion, disastrous experiment with mass immigration and multiculturalism,  refuse to be deflected by these events, no matter how ghastly they are. Indeed, as on other issues, the Establishment utilises and nullifies the occasional 'incident' like the vile Boston bombing or yesterday's grisly head-hacking murder by clever use of words and playing the Islamophobia or rascist card. 

The Boston bombers, though radicalised Muslims, were also from Chechnya, a country ravished by war with Russia and with a history of brutality, and immediately their Muslimness was pushed aside, as the media's focus concentrated on the brother's Chechnyanness.  Likewise within hours of the murder of the British soldier moderate and liberal Muslim spokesmen were emphasising again and again, often with a degree of hysteria, that the murderers were 'scum', 'not Muslim', a disgrace, madmen and, most of all, that we were all one community and that we mustn't let this event drive communities apart and so on. A desire reiterated by Prime Minister David Cameron, London's Mayor Boris Johnson, Teresa May, the Home Secretary and so on, ad nauseum.

Indeed the Media's and the Establishment's bile was reserved and directed in the main at a hundred or so English Defence League supporters who had gathered, abet noisily and looking intimidating in their masks, outside a Woolwich pub in protest at the murder of the soldier. The masks, ironically,  made them look a bit like those members of the Provisional IRA who used to gather around the graveside at the funeral of a dead comrade and then line up and fire a fusillé into the air in a quasi military salute which played well on the news. In the end the English Defence League members shouted a lot, chanted a bit,  threw a few bottles at the police and went home. The media got plenty of shots of angry white men looking for a fight, and the Guardian and Ken Livingstone made lots of warnings about Right Wing extremism, appealed for unity and increased security around Mosques. Kristallnacht 2013 it was not.

Yet, despite all the Establishment’s clever linguistics and smoke and mirrors tricks, Europe's multicultural experiment is portraying increasingly Frankenstein-like qualities as their creation lashes out and threatens both its creators and the surrounding environment. In the end Frankenstein's creation became so murderous that the local people rose up and destroyed both its creator and the monster itself. Such analogies may sound alarmist and far-fetched, yet each time a member, or members, of the Muslim community takes it on themselves to launch yet another barbaric and murderous assault on their host countries, so the day when the villagers reach for their pitch folks and torches comes ever closer. When that happens no amount of clever wordplay by the Establishment will calm the mob. 

© Nigel Wingrove 2013

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

"We've Warned You About this Man" - A goodbye to Jess Franco, one of the titans of Exploitation Cinema

The Marquis de Sade wrote ceaselessly during his long, ten year incarceration in Paris's infamous Bastille prison, and when as a punishment his writing implements were confiscated, de Sade turned to writing on his sheets in red wine, then escalated to using his blood and finally wrote on the walls of his cell using his excrement. Such was his mania for committing his thoughts to words.

Jess Franco, who died today, the 2nd April 2013, aged 83, was a filmmaker in much the same vein as de Sade was a writer, a man so obsessed with film that he would secretly film a secondary feature while shooting a commissioned work, a man who in his later years would shoot almost nonsensical 'films' in his front room, seemingly happy so long as he had a camera in his hand and could see a woman through the lens.

Prolific to the point of absurdity Franco's prodigious output varied from the truly creative, Succubus, Vampyros Lesbos, to the fabulously exploitative, Female Vampire, The Demons, Justine, through to the tedious, Esmeralda Bay, Snakewoman, to the virtually unwatchable, Paula-Paula, Al Pereira vs the Alligator Women et al. Yet Franco's place in exploitation cinema's pantheon of heroes is deserved, not for his prodigious output, but for the passion with which he made his films, for like de Sade, Franco would, if he had to, have filmed in his own blood and shit.

Franco, was in many ways, a more accomplished film director than the impression given by some of his lesser films, and had he perhaps remembered the wise saying that sometimes less is more might have concentrated on making one good film rather than ten bad ones. For when Franco got it right, as he did with titles like Justine, Succubus and Virgin Among the Living Dead, he showed a real creative and artistic flair coupled with moments of surreal brilliance. This was a man who, like his contemporary Jean Rollin, was his own worst enemy.

His reputation progressing from minor critical acclaim, to accusations of misogyny for titles like Exorcism and its later reincarnation, The Sadist of Notre Dame, through to dislike and pariah status as the sadism of films like Sadomania and Woman Behind Bars alienated genre critics, mainstream horror fans and pushed Franco more and more into the ghetto of sadistic pornography. Indeed, by the late nineteen seventies and early eighties Franco was effectively finished as a commercial film director and this should, as he was now in his fifties, have heralded either a slow exit, a career change, or retirement, and this is perhaps where Franco's obsessional film making and the precarious nature of the film business, merged. 

For the film industry has no pensions, no retirement plans and attracts mavericks and dreamers, and exploitation and sexploitation cinema, attracts more than most. All Franco could do was make films, and like Jean Rollin, Lucio Fulci and others, they were his life and without them he was creatively castrated and financially barren. That, plus his at times detrimental and obsessional need to make films, meant that Franco could not fade gracefully into the sunset but rather he lingered in the wings long after the curtains had closed, a bit like a guest at a cocktail party that refuses to take the hint that its time to go after all the other guests had left. 

When I eventually met Franco he greeted me with something along the lines of 'thank god for Redemption', not because Redemption is particularly wonderful, but because, as we had with Rollin and other directors, by releasing and bringing their films to a new audience for the first time since their cinema release we were reinvigorating their careers.

Yet in Franco's case it almost didn't happen. Twenty years ago Redemption Films released Succubus and I received a written warning from the British Board of Film Classification, that Jess Franco was a director whose films the BBFC regarded as bordering on criminal. I was told that were I to attempt to release other films by him or to bring them into the country there would be consequences… A year later I submitted Demoniac and Sadomania and both were categorically banned with the implicit threat that by pushing the work of Jess Franco I was, indirectly, championing criminal sexual material and that if I continued I too would face not civil, but criminal proceedings. I mention this for the first time because I want to get across just how much of a pariah Jess Franco was considered to be.

These are two quotes from the BBFC to my solicitors which show just how close to having criminal proceedings issued against Redemption we were for trying to champion Jess Franco:

SADOMANIA: … "it is grossly unsuitable for viewing in the home. Few, if any, of the sex scenes are consenting,… women that persistently refuse to succumb to the sadistic prison regime are systematically tortured, humiliated or degraded, often for the purpose of arousing the impotent male governor and through him the male viewer of the video work. … There is no doubt in our minds that the erotic presentation of such scenes would be found depraving and corrupting by a British jury".

DEMONIAC: …  "The Board has never granted a BBFC certificate to any film or video which seeks to encourage sexual sadism, and this film is clearly sadistic in that it seems "to have no purpose or justification other than to reinforce or sell the idea that it can be highly pleasurable to inflict injury, pain or humiliation (often in a sexual context) on others" (Home Office Report on Obscenity and Film Censorship, Williams, HMSO, 1979)…. 

The work of this particular film maker has often fallen well outside the parameters of BBFC standards because of the manner in which it presents scenes of vicious sexual violence or of violence to women in a sexually arousing context, offering little pleasure to the viewer other than a conscious vicarious gratification of misogyny. Where such emotions focus on the harming of others, the Board must always consider drawing a line, as we have in refusing a video certificate to DEMONIAC".

Redemption Films challenged the banning of these films, along with Bare Behind Bars legally, and lost. We then sought and won leave to judicially review the BBFC's entire operation, a massive undertaking and one which would, had we pursued it, opened up all the machinations of the BBFC's internal workings to public scrutiny. However, we ran out of money and had to wait until our battle over pornography several years later to finally oust the BBFC chairman James Ferman which in turn heralded in a period of more liberal censorship.

We did though release two more Jess Franco films in this period, She Killed in Ecstasy and, most memorably, Vampyros Lesbos, which became a massive seller, sales ironically not driven by the films visual content, but by its soundtrack. Released as Vampyros Lesbos: Sexadelic Dance Party, Franco's work was suddenly trendy in a new way, attracting a whole new audience among Europe's burgeoning dance and club scene. 

Now Jess Franco is rightly something of a legend and for all his contradictions, successes and failures, accusations of sadism, and inability to produce anything of real worth for the last twenty or so years, Franco was, and is, a true hero of exploitation cinema.  A man who loved, ate and slept film. A man who, despite the BBFC's vicious accusation that he was a misogynistic sadist, loved and enjoyed women, as anyone who saw his puppy like devotion to Lina Romay over nearly 40 years would know, and who in his heart was an artist and like most artists he had his flaws and weaknesses but ultimately what made him an artist was that he could do nothing else but make films. He may have used a camera rather than a paintbrush and film instead of a canvas, but that was because film was his blood, and he only stopped filming when his blood stopped flowing and his heart, like his camera, finally stopped. 

Jess Franco, reunited with Lina Romay, for one last kiss. 

Fade to black.

© Nigel Wingrove 2013