Contempt is not enough

I suppose it was inevitable that the Charlie Hebdo killings would result in an(other) unpleasant swathe of Islamophobia (even though blaming Muslims for terrorism is as logical as blaming everyone in the disc jockey profession for child abuse). I usually read about it second hand, given my general avoidance of comments on the Daily Mail website (not to mention the Daily Mail) and I wasn’t expecting to be confronted by it in Stephen Fry’s blog.

He probably doesn’t see it as Islamophobia, though his phrase ‘reasonable people’s dislike of the faith’ suggests as much. The word he chooses is contempt: whether it is a Christian or Islamic nutter in the news, he tells us, the result is that his contempt for religion increases. Since contempt is what Charlie Hebdo stands for, he sees now as an appropriate time to reiterate his own. (It rather sidelines the issue of freedom of speech, something it is possible to stand up for without either agreeing with or reiterating the thing that was said in the first place.)

I find contempt troubling. Contempt can only exist in the absence of respect or empathy. It is the primary instinct of bullies (and indeed terrorists). I also don’t think it is useful in defining satire, which surely seeks to hold a mirror up to the world and make us confront it: satire doesn’t just mock, it exposes the truth, it asks questions. The enduring quality of The Life of Brian is that it is no mere piss-take but a discourse on faith, and the saddest thing about Malcolm Muggeridge’s smug dismissal of the film was his failure to engage with it, even as John Cleese sat telling him ‘the important thing is that people should be open to the various possibilities and that they should take a critical attitude to them’.

Life_of_Brian

It is equally sad to see a man as erudite as Stephen Fry dismissing Christian and Islamic texts (and presumably all other religious texts by association) as ‘dumb, semi-literate, ill-founded, unreasoned drivel’. It’s as disingenuous a non-argument as Muggeridge’s – moreso, if you consider the wealth of narrative, poetry and history he is dismissing, not to mention that it has inspired. If Anders Behring Breivik and Said and Charif Kouachi increase Fry’s contempt, does he feel it diminish when he hears Bach’s B Minor Mass or sees the roof of the Sistene Chapel? Or is his view of religion informed only by this most selective cross section of Malcolm Muggeridge and the aforementioned deluded pricks?

Because there are plenty of others running food banks or visiting sick and vulnerable people or offering support to those in crippling debt or showing love and bravery in the face of hatred. I know faith is not a prerequisite for any of those activities, but for large numbers of people it is what inspires them. Yes, the same people ought to be able to weather contempt – actually, plenty of us do, though since Fry asks why people are ‘so fucking sensitive about their knowledge’, I would suggest that he of all people should understand how fragile human beings can be when something they care about is laid into (who can forget the haunting sight of Michael Palin on the verge of tears as The Life of Brian is unthinkingly sneered at?).

Life-of-Brian-Palin

Which is why contempt is not good enough. Even, dare I say it, when terrorism is involved, because if we make no attempt to understand the human failing that drives ordinary people to such extremes, if all we can offer is contempt, then it will only breed more contempt. Certainly if we don’t show the Muslim community respect, empathy and understanding, it will feed into an isolation that extremists will exploit in recruiting people to their cause, however deluded.

If that’s what comes out of the attacks in Paris, perhaps Said and Charif Kouachi were not so bowel-shatteringly dumb after all.

Advertisements

Death Sentence premiere

We’re delighted to announce that Death Sentence is getting its first screening at the 2nd Film Noir Festival in Paris this week. It will be shown as part of the official selection at the 3pm short film screening on Friday 28th November.

As well as the fact that subtitles make it look ten times artier than it did before, one of the many thrills of this opportunity has been to give the film and altogether more evocative French title: PLUME FATALE. Credit where it’s due, that was the clever idea of our subtitler, Stephen Wilkinson.

(Plume = feather, hence quill, therefore an abstract reference to a writer’s pen or writer/wordsmith. But in the masculine it is also is a bed/bunk, therefore an abstract reference to a marital bed.)

(Fatale needs no explanation.)

Check out some of the sexy new subtitles here:

Christmas is for sharing

Thank goodness Sainsbury’s is around to remind us that the First World War wasn’t all THAT bad. Those frost covered trenches were quite beautiful really, and our humble Tommies, watched by gentle officers, sang in different regional accents in time with the distant strains of German carolling which echoed through the snow each night. A simpler time, but on the whole a happier one.

Oh, and did I mention, there was FOOTBALL! (It was one of our Tommies what instigated it, of course. Jerry started the war but WE DAMN WELL STARTED THE FOOTBALL.) That’s why Wilfred Owen and Rupert Brooke mostly wrote poems about football, though of course their work has been hijacked by the loony left who just want to focus on the mud and blood and suffering and the fact that Boxing Day was a bit of a downer because instead of footballs it was, well, bullets and grenades, but what would they know, they weren’t there, whereas this Sainsbury’s advert has been METICULOUSLY RESEARCHED you know and clearly demonstrates that the real message we ought to be taking in the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War is:

BUY SAINSBURY’S.

Because Christmas is for sharing, you see? And sharing is the thing for which corporate giant Sainsbury’s is best known, ask any British farmer or small trader. It’s hard to think of a more appropriate partner for the Royal British Legion, except perhaps for arms traders Lockheed Martin and BAE who fortunately have both sponsored Royal British Legion events this year, because it’s important that we don’t forget the vital role the arms trade played in ensuring that all sides in the First World War were able to keep it going for four years. Because if the war had just fizzled out then THERE WOULD NOT HAVE BEEN ANY FOOTBALL AT CHRISTMAS.

And, lest we forget, that is what war, and Christmas, is all about.

Foresight

Leslie Boosey (of Boosey & Hawkes), to Benjamin Britten in 1940:

‘I think the more one is in the United States, the more one becomes impressed with that feeling of limitless opportunity which has been so lacking over here. If only there were a United States of Europe, instead of 20 squabbling countries, what a marvellous place it would be. Who knows, perhaps this is the good that may come out of the present evil…’

How quickly people forget what had to happen to push us towards a more united Europe, and our limitations without it.

Attack of the Clones

Here’s a problem which came to a head when I spent half of last night’s (very enjoyable) episode of Doctor Who thinking that Keeley Hawes’ character was the same as the recurring ‘Missy’ we have been introduced to, who is actually played by Michelle Gomez, a completely different person.

A silly mistake? I know Doctor Who isn’t mine any more, but it’s fair to say I still take more than a casual interest, so I refuse to believe I was the only person who had this problem. Okay, I was tired, and it has been a few weeks since we saw Missy – but I don’t merely put my confusion down to the fact that they have been given a sort of similar physical resemblance (power-dressed in black, power hairstyles piled and pinned, power make-up heavily applied, power cheekbones – go on, I dare you to deny that they’re more than passingly similar…).

DrWhoVillains1

No, what cemented my confusion was the fact that they have both been written with the same character. You know the one: everso sophisticated, polite yet snarky restraint, schoolmarmish and very emancipated. In fact, in describing this villainess-by-numbers, I realise that we’ve seen it in previous episodes of Doctor Who: I’m thinking of Miss Foster, Miss Kislet and Madame Kovarian.

DrWhoVillains2small

It is becoming pretty obvious what kind of woman Doctor Who writers are terrified by.

All of them fine actresses delivering fine performances, by the way – just delivering fine performances of the same character. The only substantial female villain in recent years who doesn’t fit the template is Diana Rigg’s magnificent Mrs Gillyflower, but that episode, The Crimson Horror, was atypical in virtually every way, a darkly comic Victorian runaround that had as much in common with The League of Gentleman (hardly coincidentally, also Mark Gatiss’ finest script for the show). Rigg’s tour de force breathed life into a caricature that might have been played by Gatiss himself in a different context: surely Doctor Who doesn’t need to be doing madcap steampunk absurdism to earn an interesting villainess?

dianarigg1_2553583b

There isn’t the slightest possibility that the rich tapestry of male villains on Doctor Who could ever be confused. But for whatever reason, the series seems to be stuck with a very singular approach to women. Maybe it’s Freudian.

Why aren’t the female writers doing a better job writing female villains, you ask? Ha. Only one woman has written for the series since its return. One. Count ’em. (Count ‘er, I mean.) One. She was already working on Who as a script editor, so she already had a way in for her two stories. It may be irrelevant, but they were both stinkers anyway.

For a really good episode of Doctor Who written by a woman, you need to go back to the supposed last gasps of the ‘classic’ series. You’ll discover that the final story before cancellation was written by Rona Munro (whose trilogy of historical plays just finished a run at the National Theatre, no less). You’ll also discover that she anticipated the Russell T Davies’ council estatey social realism by 14 years, laced her episodes with heavily submerged sexual metaphor and managed to slip the word ‘tosser’ in before the watershed. (Oh, she also wrote beautifully for Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor, reinvented a classic villain, understood the potential for the series to bridge two worlds and got the balance of exciting and frightening just right – in case you’re in any doubt that it’s a really good story.)

That’s the kind of brilliant female writing talent the production team should be actively seeking – specifically female, because a) the series plays an aspirational role in the lives of young boys and girls, and b) because it is clearly lacking a dimension which female writers would undoubtedly bring with them. Before we have another silly debate about whether the next Doctor should be played by a woman, there are far more pressing gender issues the programme needs to address.

Oh, and late 80s Doctor Who, on just four stories a season, had brilliant female villains.

DrWhoVillains3