Category: politics


REGARDING THE PAIN OF OTHERS by Susan Sontag

"Narratives can make us understand. Photographs do something else; they haunt us"

This book was first published in 2003 but couldn’t be more topical. Images of James Foley’s beheading at the hands of ISIS terrorists that briefly circulated via You Tube and Twitter this week are just the latest in a never-ending sequence of atrocities that raise ethical, and politically charged, questions about what the media should show in print, online or on TV.

It is human nature to be torn between fascination and repulsion when confronted by such images. The late Susan Sontag understood that deciding whether or not to view such graphic representations of man’s inhumanity to man makes us either spectators or cowards. Being neutral is not an option.

Regarding The Pain Of Others is both a companion piece and an updating to Sontag’s 1977 collection of essays On Photography. In it, she explores how still photographs come to influence and, in some cases, define the way we regard war and conflict.

Her starting point is the Three Guineas essay published in 1938 in which Virginia Woolf wrote of the horror and disgust she felt at seeing photographs of victims of the Spanish civil war. These  forced Woolf to conclude “War is an abomination, a barbarity, war must be stopped”. This outrage is perfectly understandable, even praiseworthy, but also naive.  Sontag asks pointedly: “Who believes today that war can be abolished?” Continue reading

The third in a series of 13 book reviews I wrote in my pre-blogging years.

 KIPPS – The Story of a Simple Soul by H.G. Wells (1905)

kippsThe excellence of this novel is not sustained to the end. Book III (Kippses) comes as quite a disappointment with its excursion into the domestic problems of the newlyweds (Anne & Kipps). Other events like the birth of their son are merely sketched in as the story drifts towards an anti-climatic conclusion.

Books I and II are, however, quite wonderful. Firstly, the plight of Kipps as he is forced into a dead-end job and sent out into the world in a state of complete innocence are superbly described.

Wells’ touches of irony are almost always effective, for example he describes the pitifully short amount of leisure time Kipps has at the end of the day as follows: “the rest of the day was entirely at his disposal for reading, recreation and the improvement of his mind”.

The confused dreams of Kipps are very believable. He, for instance, longs to be more learned but knows nothing about books, It is another irony that at the end of the novel he acquires a bookshop.

If confusion without money is bad enough, confusion with a windfall of £1200 a year proves to be just as bad. One feels for Kipps as he struggles to learn the “manners and rules of good society” and is taken advantage of by the so-called respectable classes. Continue reading

sad-brazil-fanI don’t normally blog about soccer but the unprecedented events of last night throws up issues that go beyond the so-called ‘beautiful game’.

Brazil’s astonishing 7-1 world cup defeat at the hands of a merciless German team was nothing short of a disaster not only for the team and the nation but also for the corporate interests behind the orchestration of this sporting event.

The hope, and expectation, was always that the home country would triumph so that it would end in one gigantic Samba street party.

The massive expenditure needed to stage such global happenings are enough to potentially bankrupt even the richest countries. The huge investment in the construction of soon to be redundant stadiums and facilities can only be justified if they bring wealth to the country in the form of sponsorship deals or increased tourism.

Anti-government demonstrations against high taxes, poor services and political corruption have been violently quelled leading up to the tournament and Brazil’s ignoble exit will only serve to reignite the debate about these spiralling costs. Continue reading

The late, lamented Frank Zappa preached about the need for constant vigilance against the repressive, self-righteous, bigoted forces who censor what we can see, hear and read.

Zappa was an articulate and outspoken critic of religious fundamentalists who seek to restrict our freedom claiming they are saving us from the devil’s work.

He explained his views during an interview with Larry King which you can see below.

As a way to counteract the Parental Advisory stickers on rock albums, Zappa wrote his own ‘Warning Label’ for a Mothers of Invention album.
warning-guarantee

THE ACT OF KILLING co-directed by Joshua Oppenheimer, Christine Cynn and an anonymous third person (Indonesia, 2012)

"War crimes are defined by the winners" - Adi Zulkadry (Indonesian death squad leader)

akillingA conventional documentary about the Indonesian death squads of 1965-6 would probably have used archive news footage to show the genocide and gone on to explain its impact on the families of survivors. I doubt that such an approach would have had the same impact and shock value as The Act of Killing.

For Joshua Oppenheimer and crew (many working anonymously) adopted an altogether riskier, and more controversial approach whereby the perspective is switched from the victims to perpetrators.

It affords the murderers the luxury of reenacting in cinematic terms the murderous roles they played. These self-proclaimed ‘gangsters’ and warped freedom fighters were inspired by American movies so were more than happy to turn their real life horror show into a film.

Not surprisingly, giving a voice to such monsters has been attacked in some quarters. The Christian Science Monitor and critic Nick Fraser condemn the way these cold-blooded killers can glory in their bloody actions as though they were something to be proud of.

Killers acting as victims -  Adi Zulkardy and Anwar Congo

Killers acting as victims – Adi Zulkardy and Anwar Congo

However ,the majority of critics rightly recognise the film’s achievement. The documentary may have missed out on Oscars glory but it won the BAFTA and The Guardian named it as the best film of 2013 in all categories.

Mark Kermode, writing in The Observer, described the bizarre blend of musical, western and crime genres as being “insanely surreal and distressingly domestic”.

I confess that the purpose of the dancing-girls gyrating in front of large scale model of a fish was lost on me but the other sequences are terrifyingly unambiguous. The dismembering of a teddy bear to symbolise the slaughter of a baby in front of its mother illustrates how the killers’ barbarity knew no bounds. Continue reading

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