Wednesday, April 14, 2010

They frighten me

We have a request! A Mr Organic Cheeseboard, who doesn't seem to give an address would like a post about Nick Cohen latest Standpoint 'Television' review Wireless: Curmudgeons of the World Unite. (Honestly, this does seem to be their television column this month.) And that's not wireless as 'keyboard' or 'printer' - it's apparently a term that used to refer to what became known as the 'radiogram' to bright young things between the wars. Watch out Daily Telegraph, Standpoint's after your coffin-dodging readership!

Sorry to disappoint you, Mr Cheeseboard, but I know very very little about sport on the radio - everything I do know comes from either Woody Allen's Radio Days or Stephen Jay Gould. Comrade Justin is our resident football egghead, and perhaps he'll be kind enough to cast a critical eye on our behalf in the comments. I don't think realises that his gripe against Radio 4 (which is what I assume he's talking about in the second paragraph) was put rather better more than a quarter of a century ago.

Everyone describes the same process. At first it is exciting. You're at the centre of the world. As soon as anything happens, you're the first to know about it. And there are deadlines a dozen times a day, even more, and that's intimidating and exciting. Then you get the hang of it and the excitement wears off. Your a clerk in a rather dowdy Office. There's none of the glamour of television, or the penetration of serious journalism. You're a processor of semi-official news. Some people leave at this stage. Then, if you hang on, and especially if you're promoted, you discover a new kind of pleasure. You're pleased by the ease with which you can write summaries and bulletins from news agency printouts, by the way you ca judge length. Ending a broadcast on the dot, having everything run smoothly, selecting a running order that makes sense, knowing instinctively what you can and cannot do. Professionalism

THE PLOUGHMAN'S LUNCH An original screenplay by Ian McEwan (spelling in original) from The Daily Script. It's harder to quote from than I hoped, but the speaker, played by the wonderful Jonathan Pryce, has reached "a fourth [stage]. Numbness. You do everything right, but you feel nothing either way."

The good thing is that it at least sees Nick writing well for the first time in ages: he's finally found a topic he enjoys writing about and which inspires him to actual good humour.

Green's Ulster cussedness, his towering self-regard and his indifference to the opinions of the former players and managers with him in the commentary box, who are clearly unqualified to pass judgment because they have been involved in the game only at the highest level, make him an irresistible target for the affection of many, your correspondent included, and the enmity of others. But the attention Green receives hides the fact that in their quieter way, 5 Live's other commentators are no different. Mike Ingham and John Murray will tell you if a game is awful, while Gabriele Marcotti is the finest sports analyst on radio because he never panders to his listeners but argues with them incessantly.

I know nothing of any of this. I listen to Radios 3 and 4. But Michael Henderson, who writes about (high) culture and sport, usually in the Telegraph, clearly can't stand Alan Green (warning: Daily Mail).

Let me talk about something I do know a little more about: film. I've yet to see The Infidel, which has had mixed reviews, but any film about Jews and Muslims comes close to being on-topic here. I rather admire David Baddiel. (Full pathetic disclosure: I was a runner-up [top 20 of 2000 entries, or top 1%] in a Twitter short story competition run by the Times last year and co-judged by him and John Humphreys. This may have made me like him a little more. But not that much. After all, I didn't win. Bastard.) The Jewish Telegraph likes it, but also reports that Israel hasn't bought it.

You know what's coming: the Jewish Chronicle (which DA occasionally writes for) hated it, as did Peter Whittle in Standpoint. Nick rediscovered some old depths this month. Peter Whittle didn't. He managed to write an article which stumbles between ignorance and dishonesty.

Thirty years ago, that country was ravaged by economic decline but culturally still knew what it was, and the assumptions it could safely make. Then again, few of us freshers had even heard of Islam. As we queued for the movie, we knew that something was going on over in Iran, yes, but we'd been told the Shah was a fascist tyrant. So the establishment of this new regime must have been some sort of victory for something we could vaguely assume was good, progressive, and to be supported.

Actually, I think the Pythons were taken by surprise at the reaction they produced. They went to some lengths not to be offensive with The Life of Brian. I was at school when the film came out, and I can't remember what month it did, but given that the Iranian Revolution started in February of that year, it's fairly safe, in a Brucie's Play Your Cards Right sort of way to assume that the film hit cinemas later. Anyway, I think the point of the above passage was to indicate that students and other trendies admired the Revolution. Not the case as I recall (but I didn't go to Oxford). I knew only one person who thought Iranians running Iran might be a good thing. That was me.

The Shah's replacement was an old man who famously went on to say: "There are no jokes in Islam. There is no humour in Islam. There is no fun in Islam. There can be no fun and joy in whatever is serious." So there would be no Life of Iqbal showing in downtown Tehran. Blinded by a misplaced sensitivity, cringing cultural cowardice and a very well-placed sense of genuine fear, we followed suit. Now, three decades later, we can say with certainty that there will be no Life of Iqbal at Bradford's local multiplex.

Yes, I'm certain that a film you just made up won't be shown in Bradford. We can at least agree on that. There are so many things wrong here, I don't know where to start. Islam comes in more than one flavour. Iranians aren't actually Arabs and they're Shi'a Muslims and pretty much the whole of the Arab world is Sunni. It's also possible that Ayatollah Khomeini was talking rubbish. (After all, Theodor Adorno said "After Auschwitz it is barbaric to write poetry" and Bob Dylan seemed to do alright.)

A word about this year's Oscars: what a relief that that overblown, infantile piece of tosh Avatar was stopped in its tracks, and by a small film, The Hurt Locker, which, by the standards of James Cameron's cartoon epic, has been seen by almost no one. More importantly, the simple-minded anti-Americanism of Avatar was trumped by a film which, whatever its makers' view on the Iraq war, admires and celebrates the bravery of US troops. Such a film is inconceivable here — or anywhere else in Europe for that matter.
It was not ever thus: Noel Coward did a sterling job in In Which We Serve, admittedly a wartime effort. Even as late as the Sixties, with the star-studded The Battle of Britain, it was possible for audiences here to see a straight-faced tale of heroism where nothing much was called into question. But even then, the heart was already growing feint, and really from Tony Richardson's revisionist take on the Charge of the Light Brigade in that decade it has been downhill all the way. Even when they show up in science fiction dramas such as the zombie-fest 28 Days Later, British troops are portrayed as bigoted, psychotic grunts. Our film-makers, it seems, refuse to separate the message from the messenger.

I'd like to remind the reader here that Nick Cohen hates Spooks, while I love it, although I think it's pure propaganda. It certainly shows the security services (about whom I'm sceptical) to be noble and courageous. But really, why do right-wing writers hate the market so much? Cinema is a market. People make films for money. Make a popular film and you can be rich. Lefties like fast cars, big houses, and wide screen tvs too, you know. Why aren't there more films like John Wayne's The Green Berets? Didn't Adam Smith have a theory about this sort of thing?

However, I agree with Mr Whittle that it's terrible that "British troops are portrayed as bigoted, psychotic grunts." So I'll leave you with a few thoughts from one of these lily-livered, draft dodging, effete, trendy liberals on our brave boys.

People talk of their enlisting from their fine military feeling - all stuff - no such thing. Some of our men enlist from having got bastard children -- some for minor offences -- many more for drink.

Nothing except a battle lost can be half as melancholy as a battle won.

I don't know what effect these men will have upon the enemy, but, by God, they frighten me.

By Gad, I wouldn't depend on him to fight those upstart Frenchies, etc.


Blogger flyingrodent said...

You know, if Nick didn't like 28 Days Later,* he's going to shit a brick when he sees all the napalm and flamethrowers in the sequel.

Otherwise, it's just standard right wing Kulturkampf, innit? A seat next to Jonah Goldberg at The Corner awaits.

*Lots of wingnuts hated 28 Days Later, and readers will not be surprised to learn they hated it for exactly the same reasons stated in the post. Here's one... ...Ironically entitled "How To Let Politics Ruin a Movie".

Recent movies that make the British military look good? I'll start the betting at Dog Soldiers, in which the squaddies are brave, witty and professional, even if the special effects are terrible.

4/14/2010 08:30:00 PM  
Blogger flyingrodent said...

And I'll raise myself Master & Commander, while I'm at it.

4/14/2010 08:34:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Spooks is a lot of fun, right enough. I'm actually a big fan of JAG, which may be unusual for a leftie - yeah, it's militaristic tosh, but it isn't one-dimensional militaristic tosh, and the later series when there was more courtroom action and less jumping out of choppers were really gripping. I also like The Bill, which seems to be the favourite viewing of every cop I meet. Yeah, you can do issues in drama with reducing it to TGISOOT agitprop.

Nick on quite good form though, for the first time in ages. Perhaps the key is to get him writing for pleasure rather than out of bile or submission to the Decent Imperative. Five Live means little to me - my wireless listening varies between Radio Ulster, Test Match Special and Bobby Friction, so I'll take Nick's word for it.

4/14/2010 08:42:00 PM  
Anonymous Martin Wisse said...

Unfortunately, all I can get fromt he footie on 5Live is "due to rights restrictions, this broadcast is not available in your country", so no way of knowing of Cohen actually talks sense for a change.

Dog Soldiers is indeed a good movie with sympathico military protagonists and the effects were alright. spooks is too stupid for me to watch, on top of its nasty politics.

4/15/2010 05:37:00 AM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

Thank you!

I listen to sport on 5 live a lot. Cohen is broadly right about its football coverage, though he's very one-eyed; some of the 'pundits' they have on seem to have been chosen primarily because of their ability to start a fight in an empty room (eg Steve Claridge) and I'm nowhere near as sold on Gabriele Marcotti as Cohen is - he seems unable to agree with anyone, ever. I can see why cohen, who sees himself as a 'contrarian polemicist' nowadays, likes him mind you. Marcotti is much beter in print.

I think Cohen's also right about 5 live's other commentators, though I can't see why he focuses so much on Alan Green (also admired by Clothes for Chaps btw). I don't mind Green but he's very one-note; he rarely ever says a game is good, and Cohen is quite frankly wrong in his description of Green having no respect for the ex-and-current professionals alongside him, he's always very courteous to them. Strikes me that Nick has one incident in mind here, though I don't know what. Anyway the outspokenness is, for me, the worst thing about Green, which leads me onto my main gripe, which is that Green has been repeatedly censured for racist comments about African and Chinese players on air. Cohen is usually pretty unforgiving about this...

Cohen is also right about the awfulness of TalkSport, and I'm sad to see that some of the premier league games have gone over there. however that might free up the Beeb to devote more time to non-premier league coverage - no bad thing, though Man United fan Nick might disagree. His 'old-fashioned family' thing strikes me as a bit weird though - for a 'TV critic' he clearly has no understanding of how phone-ins work. Most of the time the callers are already known to the producers, and anyone likely to swear is going to be noticed beforehand. That leads me to the other point about Talksport - he's right that it seems pretty hardcore right-wing, but 5 live phone-ins unconnected with sport aren't much beter, quite frankly, and the impartial hosts like Julian Worricker have been abandoned in favour of people like the repellent Nick Campbell and Victoria Derbyshire who consistently agree outright with far-right nutjob callers.

It's also very odd to see Nick being so tender about the BBC, which he otherwise hates with an irrational passion - to come back to the 'objectivey pro' thing, Nick's 'TV' columns have previously made the case for the tories' policy on the BBC in a consistent manner. That's not to say that one should have to bite one's tongue all the time because of potential reprisals, but surely Nick can see who is likely to be reading, and agreeing with, his Standpoint columns? Ditto all his stuff on Gordon Brown, and I notice he's laid off the Brown-bashing now.

On the other part of the post, which I really enjoyed. Whittle says that THL:

admires and celebrates the bravery of US troops

up to a point, no? I only recently saw it, and it didn't exactly make me admire the main character, and I found his 'bravery' pretty repellent (so did his comrades, as the film makes clear). The cringeworthy bit about 'going to find Beckham' aside, it painted him as an adrenaline-addicted loon whose recklessness was as much about his own private obesessions as it was with saving Iraqis. That's why it's a pretty good film (though it really isn't great) - why do so many of these pundits, Cohen included, insist on seeing films as simply pro-or anti- anything and judging their quality on that basis? The best war films are usually at least partly ambivalent - witness The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp for example, which was made in wartime and is clearly streets ahead, in every single aspect, of any of Whittle's examples. In fact the best art is usually at least vaguely ambivalent, politically - even if a piece is outspoken one way or the other that at least invites readings the other way.

4/15/2010 08:27:00 AM  
Blogger Captain Cabernet said...

which is that Green has been repeatedly censured for racist comments about African and Chinese players on air.

My linguistic intuitions may differ from yours, but I think he's been censured just once (for the offensive remarks about Djemba-Djemba) and that if he had been censured twice the word "repeatedly" would be misleading. Clearly he was an ass, but he's not comparable to, say, Ron Atkinson.

4/15/2010 09:48:00 AM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

ah yes, maybe he wasn't censured for the comment about Sun Jihai.

4/15/2010 10:06:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The problem with Alan Green is that he regards himself as a'man of the people', telling the sports-loving public what it wants to hear.

Unfortunately, like most other self-styled populists, this leads to either crude bar-room stereotyping and moaning, or dumbing-down to the supposed level of your audience.

Igor Belanov

4/15/2010 10:22:00 AM  
Anonymous skidmarx said...

Before Marcotti was on Radio 5 , he was employed by Talksport, and was noticeably the best thing about the station, though they did also once have knowledgable football correspondants from several European countries, and a tendency to concentrate far more on football than Radio 5.
Incidentally Nick may be behind the news in categorising George Galloway as a Talksport presenter. And I don't know that it's true that Paxman would never criticise the triviality of some of what he's asked to cover on Newsnight, I would have thought a careful search might reveal the opposite.
Not being the provider of the live spectacle or the TV outlet, Radio 5 can provide somthing different, but Alan Green is hardly saying "this is so boring you should stop listening to me talk about how boring it is."
Isn't JAG for the very old?

4/15/2010 11:21:00 AM  
Blogger Captain Cabernet said...

I see HP Sauce is currently inveighing against a Rev. Alan Green

Are they by any chance related?

4/15/2010 01:29:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

>But even then, the heart was already growing feint, and really from Tony Richardson's revisionist take on the Charge of the Light Brigade in that decade it has been downhill all the way

I always believed it was actually impossible to be revisionist about the charge of the Light Brigade, but now I think about it that Alfred Lord Tennyson bloke was a typical layabout leftie student who never composed a single Condemnathon against Islam.


4/15/2010 02:38:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

I'm currently a bit short of internet time (not unusual during school term, especially if I'm working across the other side of Spain as I am presently, in Gijón) but even if I weren't, I have the same problem as Martin, which is that I can't get radio commentary here. (I can, curiously, get local radio commentary sometimes, and found myself the other day listening to the Stevenage v Luton game on Three Counties Radio. Amusingly, the half-time break included a traffic report in which the presenter started telling us about traffic problems that were likely at the region's football grounds, until she paused, obviously remembering that she was actually doing this report during a match with an early kick-off and hence her report was not likely to reply. Undeterred, she ploughed on anyway and told us how traffic was likely to build up shortly around Broadhall Way in advance of a kick-off that had actually taken place about fifty minutes before.) But I digress. Anyway, what I know of Alan Green from my general reading (and remember from a few years ago) suggests that he's a cockhead with a propensity for racist commentary and a tendency to play up far too much to his self-appointed role as the man who dares to say the match is bad.

As it goes, he can't possibly be worse than the TV commentator on La Sexta - any readers living in Spain will know who I mean - who makes Jonathan Pearce sound like Kenneth Wolstenholme.

Talking of Spain, how much news are you getting about the Garzón case? This is really quite important and a cause where it probably ought to be possible to make common cause with Decentists.

4/15/2010 06:19:00 PM  

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