Hey, do you enjoy those silly little personality tests? You know, “What kind of biscuit are you?” Well here’s a theoretical question to test your mental state: You have a daughter with a fear of tarantulas. Not common or garden spiders but exotic tarantulas that you’d have to go and search for, ones that she wouldn’t have a hope in hell of accidentaly stumbling upon. So, she has this fear and as a good parent you don’t want her getting all scared. So do you:
A. Keep her away from tarantulas and maybe skip the arachnids section at the zoo?
B. Decide you are going to eliminate, if not 'ban' all tarantulas, wherever they may be, by whatever means?
C. Bring one of these massive spiders home, summon your daughter and then mercilessly dangle the damn thing over her terrified face while describing in detail how poisonous it is and how it would kill her if it ever got within biting range of her, but it won’t because you are such a good parent and would never let that happen?
If you write for the Daily Mail the answer appears to be a combination of B and C. You will declare your intention to rid the world of these tarantulas and wipe them off the Earth while simultaneously running through all the reasons we should be shitting ourselves in fear over them, inflating their potency to a level where they seem more like twenty foot talk monsters that not even bomb shelters would stop. I suppose if the readers get too panicky you can always calm them with news of Michael McIntyre’s continued existence, but the key objective really is to keep the readers upset, scared and defensive with pent up feelings of dread and impotence.*
I’ve been ignoring Melanie Phillips lately – she’s hardly worth the effort of reading unless you want to read arguments which try to compensate for a deficit in evidence by overloading on adjectives pilfered from the Daily Mail thesaurus. But her rant in the Mail today is well worth the effort, simply to see her step on a rake and smack herself square in the face. You see, Melanie, who on a good day is a shrill, paranoid fantasist, is a little more distressed than usual. Something on a flight back home, she claims, had such horrific effects on her psyche that “in addition to the jet lag, I'm now having nightmares.”
Now then, what on earth do you think a Melanie Phillips nightmare even looks like? A burkha-clad Prime Minister forcing up to pray towards Mecca? An independent Palestinian state alongside Israel, with East Jerusalem as its capital and Jewish settlements under its custody? A throng of gays prancing around being gay and getting married together before adopting kids, who might in turn catch gay? Being ignored? No, strangely enough this apologist for the Gaza massacre and advocate of attacks on Iran, who maintains that the price of all the deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq is worth it, doesn’t like extreme violence. Not when it’s up close and personal, anyway. And not when it’s fictional. That disqualifies carpet bombings and errant missiles crashing into civilian homes that kill real flesh and blood people, but not Hollywood films where blood is generated by CGI or condoms filled fake blood. For reasons that one might initially consider perverse in the extreme, she decided that, having sat through Inglorious Basterds and been shaken by its bloody violence, she was then going to take a look at Law Abiding Citizen.
In a way these whingey columns about indecency are most suited to Phillips and her lack of talent. During the Bush years she was a cheerleader for its abuses of power, but having seen her team lose the US election she has been reduced to parroting boring teabagger conspiracy theories about Obama’s background. And given that she is a second rate internet cut and paste merchant when it comes to research it is hardly worth the effort to read her crackpot ideas about global warming, MMR or global politics. Generally the only field where Melanie Phillips can be guaranteed to note down the details with assiduous attention to detail is when it comes to informing her readers about all the latest indecency that has shaken her world. But that’s not to say that the reasoning underpinning this diligence is any more sane than usual. I wrote above that her viewing of these two films might seem perverse in the extreme, but that of course overlooks the overriding mentality of a Daily Mail hack – outrage is a gift. Like other Daily Mail writers she immerses herself in the filth and immorality of these films because it spurs her and her readers on, generating hysteria. It also allows them to bask in a collective glow of self righteous superiority, reassuring each other that their traditional family values, nostalgia for more innocent times and biblical-based morality puts them firmly on the right track. Never mind that the most depraved, callous, inhuman thoughts about celebrities’ private lives, immigrants dying on the way to Britain’s shores and victims of imperial aggression can be found in the comments at the bottom of each story on the Daily Mail website. Examples are all too easy to come by on the website, so let’s instead look at some samples from Melanie’s risible column:
“[W]e are shown a scalp being sliced off to make quite sure we get the point.”
“Brad Pitt character and his band of killers […] beat heads to pulp and twist fingers in open wounds”
“[W]hat makes it so repellent is the extreme sadism of the murders that the vengeful 'victim' carries out, slowly dismembering his family's attacker in order to inflict upon him as much agony as possible - and in which the perpetrator of this torture, the supposed victim of injustice, takes a psychopathic pleasure.”
Wow, that’s quite a lot of detail. She also took time to jot down what she had heard about another film that hasn’t even been released yet:
“Michael Winterbottom has defended scenes in his film The Killer Inside Me that portray extreme violence against women. This, apparently, depicts brutal scenes of rough sex and murder; the violence, carried out to a soundtrack of classical music, is depicted in close-up shots that leave little to the imagination.”
Well why would we need to use our imaginations when we have Melanie Phillips at hand to go through each violent scene in gory detail? And Melanie doesn’t just want to shield us from violence. She also popped up on Question Time a few weeks ago to tell us why John Terry was such a bad man. While most of us were content in the knowledge that footballers have no use as role models and that it was the chance of infighting in the England squad that led to Terry losing the England captaincy, Phillips thought a list of additional naughty things might help us form a murkier mental picture. According to Martin Kelner her list of reasons disqualifying him were summed up in this neat litany:
"[M]ass public debauchery, public brawling, public drunkenness, urinating into a beer glass, and having sex with a 17-year-old fan in his Bentley".
There’s something unseemly about this detailed point by point audit of Terry’s transgressions, which crosses the line of things the public ought to care about. Her newspaper, the tabloid equivalent of a pious high priest prone to bouts of sodomy with the altar boys, was even worse, tearing through the murky history of John Terry’s mistress while also moralising about their indiscretions. Here’s a map of her home, courtesy of the Mail, maybe so that if readers want to avoid John Terry’s fate and get snared by this harlot they can give it a wide berth. And the Mail provides photos of her in skimpy outfits too. Thank you Daily Mail, if you hadn’t pointed out what she looked like with very few clothes on I might have succumbed to her too. What a service you provide the public. And here we can see a picture of John Terry’s wife’s arse. It’s a funny kind of morality that this paper promotes. Maybe it’s just trying to immunise us against this filth so we will all stop caring.
I have my limits too, but if I think something is going to offend me I don’t watch it, or I stop watching it. I don’t feel this pressing need to launch a broad crusade for the cause of decency. I assume that those that do enjoy these violent works of fiction can handle it. I can bear in mind that, while nobody can comprehensively stop young people getting their hands on material that is not intended for them, the system of classifications for strong content is as good as we’re going to get. At the Daily Mail they struggle to comprehend this and, along with their loyal readers, closely resemble a litter of shivering kids at a sleepover, hiding under the duvet and shining torches in their faces while they recount slivers of gory details they have gleaned that may or may not be true depending on what their mates at school told them. These huddled, goose pimpled kids would be sharing second hand information on things like horror films, but in the world of the Mail this activity extends from everything from violent computer games to the latest pronouncements from tasteless comedy acts. After the Brand-Ross scandal several Daily Mail writers slapped on their tin hats and went over the top to assault a whole host of comedians, seeking out jokes in settings as obscure as year-old repeats of Mock the Week and far flung stand-up gigs that their readers wouldn’t have even heard of if detailed accounts weren’t reproduced on the pages of their paper. Unfortunately these crusaders would have found that beyond their hardcore base, few other members of the silent majority would have heeded the call to leave the trenches and charge over the top because most reasonable people have a moral framework that allows them to distinguish between the effects of an offensive crank call, basically harassment, on an unwilling participant, and a rude joke. They can work out where the line is themselves and understand that if a film comes with warnings of violence then it might be best avoided by those unable to handle it. Meanwhile, the broader crusade that the Mail attempted to launch against the BBC, in which tasteless, but ultimately harmless jokes contained within TV shows were filed alongside the harassment and humiliation of Andrew Sachs in the real world demonstrated that the Mail didn’t actually understand just why the phone calls to Sachs differed from these other jokes or why they had crossed the line and generated such anger.
Back to the plane, and maybe, in her particular case, Phillips deserves some sympathy. After all, she claims that the violence in these films was unexpected to her, that she was a “hapless passenger” and “captive” to films that presumably were so powerful that they had the ability to override the off switch, not just once but twice. And she couldn’t run away and hide or jump out of the plane to escape these nasty films. And it’s not like there was any warning from the airline entertainment guide:
“True, they had a 'V' for violence warning in the airline entertainment guide. But this also suggested that these were high-quality, well-reviewed films. There was no indication of quite how disturbing were the images I was about to see.”
Okay - firstly, she’s an idiot. Secondly, that’s a rubbish sentence, because it reads as if the ‘V’ for violence suggested these films were high quality, whereas she surely meant the airline entertainment guide. Thirdly, if she was expecting the airline entertainment guide to tell her which of its films were rubbish then she should give up her last tenuous claims of living in the real world. My in-flight guide on the way back from Venezuela last year claimed that Transformers 2 was an exciting film for fuck’s sake. But finally, there is this preposterous suggestion that a film can be high-quality, or violent, but not both. Terrible commentator that she is, Melanie is an even worse film reviewer, failing to grasp the most basic principles of film making. “What else is a film like this supposed to be if not entertainment?” she asks, ignoring that films are made for a range of reasons, not just to entertain but also to inform and provoke. Sometimes violence is necessary to add realism or shed light on a character’s background. And yes, sometimes violence is there for escapism, irony or to shock. This is reflected in the classification, which for both of her nightmarish films was ‘18’. I didn’t find much to appreciate in Funny Games by Michael Hanecke, but I understood that it was intended as a thought experiment and an irritating lecture on film violence, not as entertainment. And while I struggle with the lack of empathy and vacuous use of violence in Tarantino films or the way human bodies are treated like pieces of plasticine to be fed through rusty machinery in the Final Destination series, I can keep my contempt for Kill Bill in perspective. I don’t see others appreciating it as symptomatic of a wider problem. The same goes for Law Abiding Citizen. It’s a film with a misguided idea at its core, just like all revenge dramas, which despite any contention from Melanie Phillips, are certainly not a new development. The average Tony Martin supporting DM reader could have told her this. But you don’t ban the idea, you challenge it, and remind yourself that if this happened in real life the average man on the street would be disgusted. Have a little faith in humanity.
“As people come to tolerate the ever-more intolerable, the violence has to be ratcheted up another few notches in order to shock audiences and censors whose moral sense is being progressively dulled."
I personally find tipping white phosphorous on civilian houses to be intolerable, but then again, that only happens in the real world, and who gives a damn about that? Anyone who is familiar with Phillip’s writing will recognise the casual insertion of the word ‘moral’ in front of any old noun, but a cursory glance at her writings shows Phillips knows nothing of morality; she lacks a moral framework that stretches beyond her own prejudices and self-preservation, leading to her weird opinions about gays, Palestinians, Muslims and anyone deemed to be a terror suspect, whether there is evidence for their detention without charge or not. She closes her argument by claiming that everyone who watches and enjoys violent films is degrading and brutalising themselves, while also once again showing that the barrier between fiction and reality has become indistinguishable to her:
“It is striking that, with torture now elevated to the ultimate crime of crimes so that scarcely a day passes without some fresh attempt to arraign British or American forces for colluding in the mistreatment of terrorism suspects, some of the most fashionable movies have been labelled 'torture porn'. If torture is held to degrade and brutalise those who carry it out, then torture and sadism in even Bafta or Oscar-garlanded films degrade and brutalise those who watch them.”
That’s right, the torturers of terrorism suspects at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo in the real world can be filed alongside fans of video nasties. Phillips neglects to mention that some British and American personnel have not only colluded in torture but have also been found to have carried it out themselves. Her attempts to be ironic about the torture of other members of our species being “now [sic] elevated” to the status of a serious crime is the giveaway. On the one hand Phillips wants to shield us from the evil of fictional torture, on the other she reveals she has no idea why exactly torture is so evil or for how long it has been recognised internationally, universally, as being evil.
“Next time I fly, I'll stick to a book.”
Good idea Melanie. Why not read American Psycho and the Torture Garden back to back and then save your jittery flock of sheep the trauma of stumbling upon and accidentally reading them cover to cover by noting down all the violent parts and then recounting them in methodical detail.
Seeing the latest Daily Mail at home is always a weird experience for me. Seeing it unopened on the table, alongside the shopping, is not so different from learning that there is a dead body in the cellar. At some point curiosity is going to overpower me, I have to check and predictably the results are so appalling that it sends me reeling and I need time to convalesce. The racism, sexism, prurience and volcanic concentrations of spite inside don’t come accompanied by a certificate indicating that this newspaper is designed to whip up rage in its readers. But it does come with a bold warning across the front saying “DAILY MAIL”. So when I do pick it up and get offended I can’t claim I wasn’t warned.
*I quite like Michael McIntyre
The cooking, bartending, and front of house duties are all shared by collective members, and the set-up shifts from night to night. Says one of the group members, who goes by "Lady Hop":
Kitchens and the service industry are very hierarchical set ups. The classic image is of the head chef barking orders. We organise horizontally, there's no leaders amongst us...I think it's more about everyone taking a lead in doing certain stuff. This is a shared dream of many people.What's the menu like? Mostly South American fare, but the menu changes nightly, because the chefs change nightly as well. Also, in true anarchist spirit, smoking is totally allowed in the spot, all electricity is stolen from a nearby source and piped in via a long electrical cord, and, the entire meal is "pay what you will." The restaurant is closing soon, but the group has future plans for another pop-up in another squat. Says "Lady Hop":
Each building has a different character, each time of year is different, it's nice not to be constrained to open all the time."If your rice is served slightly undercooked/inedible, you know that you've just been served by a fellow blogger here at Bastardisation of the East.
Just as strange for would-be pizza obsessives, they repeatedly gorge on the pizzas, with their disgusting toppings, but leave the crusts. They never ate the crusts, but tossed them away with the box. So not content with adding extra ingredients to warp the concept of a pizza to a level that Willy Wonka would find disturbing, the turtles actually dispense with one of the fundamental parts of the original pizza. They want a dough-based product without the structural constraints of thick crusts or the flavour constraints of a cheese and tomato base. That’s a sandwich. Or a cake. The turtles liked sandwiches and cakes. They probably couldn’t have given a shit about pizzas.
Even in the later episodes, the really, awful ones, the implausible, nonsensical free for alls, we consistently see the turtles slavering over pizzas with overpowering, inhuman, anti-pizza toppings, hankering after them like a dog hankers over his worms medication provided that it’s buried deep in the centre of a rolled-up ball of tripe. Fast forward to 3:00 in this disappointlingly half-arsed installment to see what gets them excited. And at the start of this episode they reject free pizzas as a “punishment” because they are too small. Sure, a likely excuse. Coke addicts can snort it off the seats of public toilets, yet these picky bastards don’t want their free bite-sized pizzas? There’s obviously no pizza fixation here. Perhaps what none of them were prepared to admit is that they hated pizza. Perhaps the pressure of living up to their inappropriately selected Renaissance names and fitting in with New York City forced them to shovel pizzas down their throats, just like it compelled them to wear those unconvincing trench coats and spout their trendy catchphrases. They're living a lie, fibbing just to fit in. They’re not fooling me.
To finish, here is a special fruit pizza I endured in Colombia. No, of course it doesn’t work. I had to scrape the strawberries and blueberries off to enjoy it. That’s because I actually like pizza. The Turtles, on the other hand, liked cakes.
PS: Lots of Turtles episodes are available on YouTube