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Happy 110th Birthday of “The Devil s Tower” being a US National Monument.


I’ve never seen it in the flesh (and it looks more like flesh than rock).  In my mind’s eye of course it’s made of mashed potato – its grooves painstakingly applied by Richard Dreyfuss in front of his bewildered family.

The Lakota prefer the names Matȟó Thípila or Ptehé Ǧí, and have their own tales of how this igneous rock that towers 800 feet above the plain was created.   The most prevalent story involves girls who were chased by bears praying to the gods not to be eaten and the gods promptly elevating the rock they were praying from to a convenient and safe height.   The grooves on the side are the scratch marks of bears.   I’m not a geologist and I have to say this account seems quite plausible to me.

Eccentric US President and pioneering conservationist Teddy Roosevelt made The Devils Tower (as those of European descent have chosen to call it), the very first national monument on this day in 1906.

Anyone who first became of this remarkable natural phenomenon for the first time in 1977 can only think of aliens arriving right behind it.  When you look at the state of the world right now, perhaps we really do need friendly aliens, people who can look at us all as one common species and make us think of ourselves as members of the same species.

Of course, if they’re unfriendly, then we haven’t got a prayer.  I’ve never been able to watch heroic fantasies in the Independence Day tradition because I can’t believe any kind of defense we could offer could possibly demonstrate the slightest efficacy for a single moment.  Look what 16th century Spain did to 16th century Mexico and Peru – armed with a very short list of key military technologies.  Then take that technology gap and compare it with the technology gap separating twenty-first century humans – and a civilisation that has routinised faster than light space travel (bearing in mind that the finest minds in theoretical physics have problems with the most remote speculative possibility of faster than light space travel.)  No, if aliens arrive here with hostile intent, we are exterminated or enslaved within a nanosecond.

But if they were friendly… if we could play that tune back and forth to each other and if they gave us a light show that lit up Devils Tower?   I think if the aliens were to converge on this landmark today, to celebrate its 110th birthday of being Something Official And Important, then we’d be looking for exactly the right look of affinity and estrangement from them.  We’d want them to look sufficiently different from us that we turned and looked at one another and saw that we really all have the same eyes, the same drives, the same fears and the same aching inexhaustible love for our children.

But we wouldn’t want them to look so different from us that they look as though they’re about to turn the whole planet into a slave-driven salt mine.

The Stolen Jools. All of 1931 Hollywood in 2 Reels. Part of why Laurel and Hardy is great.


The only reason why anyone would find themselves watching The Stolen Jools (1931) is if, like me, they are a Laurel and Hardy completist and want to ensure that no precious moments of Stan and Ollie screen time are allowed to go unseen.  This bizarre two-reel comedy features Laurel and Hardy in a cameo in which they play “two guys” attached to the police department.  Their car falls apart.  That’s the full extent of their involvement in this picture.   Incidentally, if there’s one thing that Laurel and Hardy movies can teach us about the Model T. is that you could basically tear it apart with your bare hands if you had a mind to it.

The “plot” of The Stolen Jools is as follows. Norma Shearer’s jewels are stolen at a swanky party and Eddie Kane has to get them back.   This review comedy features just about every Hollywood star you can think of who was available in 1931.  Norma Shearer, Fay Wray, Loretta Young, Joan Crawford, Gary Cooper, Douglas Fairbanks Jn, Wallace Beery, Edward G. Robinson, Buster Keaton, “Our Gang”, Victor McLaglen, Maurice Chevalier and the immortal Joe E. Brown are all given a few seconds each.  Never before and never since have so many legendary names been squeezed into less than twenty minutes.  There are also a number of established comic turns in this tiny film, performing truncated versions of their most successful sketches and spouting what we must assume are familiar catchphrases.  All I can say about them is that if you’ve ever wondered why Laurel and Hardy comedies have survived and those of their contemporaries have not – you could do worse than to watch this film.

So many of Laurel and Hardy’s contemporary comics function at frenetic pace.  The gags pile, giving the impression that writers and performers alike aren’t entirely sure which gags are funny and which aren’t.  A Laurel and Hardy two reel comedy might be frenetic one moment but very very slow and patient the next.  A Laurel and Hardy comedy knows that what is funny is not the amusing accident but the slow anticipation of the accident and the painful subsequent reaction to it.  None of their competitors (excepting Buster Keaton) devoted as much time to the human face and the way it communicates how an unusually slow brain tries to work something out.

The Stolen Jools meanwhile, is a sort of almost amateur caper got up by the so-called Masquer’s Club as a charity gimmick to support the National Vaudeville Artists Tuberculosis Sanitarium.  It is sponsored, ominously enough, by Chesterfield Cigarettes – whose involvement is obtrusively advertised at the start and half way through in the form of clumsy product placement.  Times have changed.  (Good.)

Norma Shearer’s jewels are eventually restored by little Mitzi Green, an eleven year old in a pretty white dress who stares and grins at the camera to declare that the moral of the story is…

“Never spank a child on an empty stomach”.

It’s just about the creepiest thing you’ve seen in your entire life.

So, George Herbert Bush is going to vote Clinton? Will this help?



Many people have (quite rightly) been saying that it’s incumbent on the heavyweights of the Republican Party not just to lay low and avoid commenting on Trump, not just to stay indoors on polling day, but to actually vote for Hillary Clinton, since the only realistic way of stopping Trump is to vote for Hillary Clinton and to encourage others to do likewise.  No matter what you feel about Hillary Clinton, she is the only means of preventing a completely disgusting and destructive person getting nuclear codes.  Clinton is a flawed individual with strengths and weaknesses.  She has a “past” for sure, but if you can’t make rational decisions to get behind flawed candidates in a crisis then you have no right to call yourself an adult.  Right now, people need to get loud and passionate about doing the only thing that can prevent a Trump Presidency. Trump, a willfully ignorant quick tempered bully with no boundaries and a climate change denier to boot, will simply kill far too many people if given the opportunity.  Trump, a man for whom using and abusing power are synonymous will, if granted supreme power, abuse it supremely.  A man whose repeated contempt for the defining Christian virtues of admitting mistakes and forgiving enemies is unprecedented in American political life cannot be inflicted on the USA – a great nation that contains many people that I love.

So at least one former President Bush has just confirmed that he will vote Clinton in solid and decided preference to a sociopath.

But winning over the Republican establishment will be worst than useless unless Clinton (and others) can somehow make sanity “cool” again.  The appalling recent precedent is, of course, “Brexit”.  The “Remain” campaign involved the leadership of every major political party, every established economic authority, and a clear working majority of the so-called “great and the good”.  But this very consensus proved counter productive.  In a campaign that will shame Britain (or what’s left of it) for many decades to come,  a “Leave” campaign spearheaded by recession-proof elitists with no loyalty to anything other than their own gargantuan egos decided to play the “anti-elitist” card.  They won – even if they have no idea what to do with their “victory”.

Likewise Trump, a hereditary aristocrat who has never had to do a day’s work in his life and whose contempt for others is the product of lifelong elite privilege, has claimed to be “taking on elites”.  With the same utter contempt for his own followers demonstrated by the likes of Boris Johnson, he is able to use the horrified disdain provoked by his own party’s grandees to his own advantage.   “All mainstream politicians hate me – ain’t that a GOOD thing?”

Brexit has demonstrated that it’s possible to win with lies and hatred just by shouting the same lies louder even when (especially when) those lies are carefully refuted.  If Trump becomes President, then Britain (or what’s left of it) will be largely to blame for setting such a dreadful precedent.  As someone who is stained and shamed by that reprehensible passport, I will be apologising to every American I know for President Donald Trump.  Maybe I should start now.  After all, I am guilty of immense moral cowardice in not recognising the sheer extent of fear, hatred and stupidity in the land of my birth.  I have been shamefully blind to the horrible things that have been simmering there.  And this moral cowardice may indirectly put Trump in a position of hideous power.  For this, I need to atone.

But yes, it is, potentially “good news” that President Bush is supporting Clinton.  But this kind of support will only translate into votes if sanity itself can be turned into some sort of positive political commodity.  And if McCain, Romney and the other Bush also come out and support Clinton, this support will only translate into votes on the ground if the idea of “consensus” is itself revivified as something cherishable.  Clinton now needs to sell the idea that having calm and constructive conversations is actually more attractive than screaming random abuse.  She needs to sell the notion that building alliances is better than making unpredictable threats.

She needs to sell the idea that “politics” itself is not an inherently dirty business but is rather constitutive of Democracy itself, is part and parcel of the very framing and imagining of the USA.  In the eighteenth-century, the USA created political structures designed to protect people from becoming the disposable playthings of demagogues like Trump.  If Trump is to be defeated then Clinton needs to remind people that rational political debate is not some “elitist” conspiracy, but rather something that has liberated  countless millions of people.

In other words, winning the vote of Bush senior will only count for Clinton if the whole concept of winning people over by persuasive means is actually recognised and celebrated.  If Clinton cannot make a positive case for sanity, then Trump’s loud case for insanity will only exploit the fact that one more “establishment” figure is lining up behind “establishment” Hillary.

Watching Passport to Pimlico after Brexit.


Richard E. Grant is introducing a bunch of old Ealing Comedies on Gold right now.  If you grew up in Ealing (as I did) these films were woven into the cultural fabric of your very being.  You can’t remember a time when you didn’t know them, and you find yourself returning to them at regular, almost dutiful intervals.  Grant is of course very personable as a host, though I could do without all those tedious and cloying generalisations about “the British character”.

I’ve long had a bit of a problem with Passport to Pimlico though.   It’s always been the “right wing” one as far as I (and others) can see.   Passport to Pimlico is (among other things) a sort of protest against post-war austerity and the state planning associated with the Labour government.  At one point you can see a placard attacking socialist chancellor Stafford Cripps.  As the residents of a neighborhood suddenly declared to be Burgundy tear up their identity cards and ration books, they liberate themselves (apparently and briefly) from the choking restraints of post war austerity.

These days of course, Westminster politicians would treat that late fifteenth-century Burgundian grant very differently.  They would use it to proclaim Pimlico a tax haven and bury all their money there.

Now it’s painful and wrong to use the same word “Austerity” to describe late 1940s Austerity and modern day Austerity.  1940s Austerity severely checked consumer spending while investing massively in education and the new health service.  1940s Austerity was “progressive” – disproportionately checking the haves while protecting the have nots.  Modern day “Austerity” (“Austeriarchy I call it),  is exclusively directed at the “have nots”,  destroying the safety net built in the 1940s while protecting those who can best take care of themselves.

That said, ration books and identity cards were a pain on a day to day basis.   Set during a long hot sweltering summer, Passport to Pimlico represents, on an obvious level, a kind of libidinous release from the shackles of an apparently puritanical “nanny state” (Stafford Cripps was not a jolly man).  And of course, the film is full of wonderful wonderful people led by Stanley Holloway.  If I were to wake up one morning and find myself a citizen of a hastily improvised micro-nation, I would definitely want Stanley Holloway as my prime minister.  And Margaret Rutherford!  Bless!  Why aren’t all late medieval historians exactly like Margaret Rutherford?  Instead of just some of them.  And isn’t that Michael Hordern?  Joy of joys, there’s a lanky young mute Charles Hawtrey.

Watching the film again, Passport to Pimlico seems far more complex and politically  polyvalent than I had thought, though no less troubling.  Freedom from a highly regulated Attlee government economy opens the neighborhood to an army of marauding spivs – an invading force which Burgundy’s only law enforcement officer is powerless to resist.  And although it’s fun to abolish closing time and drink all night, this suspension of post war regulation is offset by the cruelty of borders.  Nobody notices free movement until it is curtailed.  And when negotiations break down and the border is sealed, we start to see Burgundy-Pimlico as a ghetto.  Its children have been evacuated and electricity and water are cut off.  A new and more frightening rationing regime is implemented.  It is a testimony to the denizens of an Ealing-imagined Pimlico that violence and madness do not take hold.  The darkness of this scenario recalls the only too real ghettos of wartime Europe.

In the wake of Brexit, it is hard to watch this film and not feel aggrieved anew at the re-imposition of fundamentally unnecessary borders.  While Pimlico-Burgundy enjoys its summer holiday of sovereignty, the Burgundians are not fetishistic about sovereignty and nor are they blind to their own economic self interests.  They know that they have to be part of a larger polity.  The ultimate re-integration of Pimlico-Burgundy into Britain is never in doubt.  Sovereignty without interdependent relationships leads to impoverishing powerlessness.  There are the famous lines shouted from the upstairs window…  ”  We’ve always been English and we’ll always be English; and it’s precisely because we are English that were sticking up for our right to be Burgundians!”  There is a very great truth to the notion that you are never more patriotic than when you challenge your own government – but these Burgundians are far too sane and pragmatic to retreat into permanent paranoid militia mode.  Eventually “Big Government” is something to treat with and work with.

I suppose it would have been nice if a Europhile “Leave” case had been more dominant in the Brexit campaign.  But nobody important enough on either side of the debate shouted loudly enough about always having been European. Ah me.

Passport to Pimlico is also, critically, a film without villains.  Some people are more annoying than others, but when Stanley Holloway negotiates with Radford and Wayne (those archetypal “men from the ministry”), we are observing reasonable people not fanatics.  And Holloway’s Prime Minister Pemberton eventually gets what he wanted at the beginning of the film – a recreation area and swimming pool where the kids can play safely (although the tottering wreckage replete with unexploded material where they were already playing was probably more fun).

At the instant that Burgundy reverts to being Pimlico and legally part of Britain again, the heavens open and summer is over.  The summertime fantasy has been an intoxicating Shakespearean “green world” of possibility – but it’s been a fantasy with a dark side and like all decent fantasies it is a temporary midsummer night’s dream.  The downpour is sobering but bracing at one and the same moment.

It makes you wish that the whole Brexit campaign could been fought between the fundamentally sane and decent characters from this Ealing Comedy, rather than being driven by mendacious recession-proof opportunists who have so casually wrecked the bits and pieces left over from Britain for the next few decades.

For the 41st Anniversary of Fawlty Towers I give you The Fawlty Code – a deliberately stupid and paranoid numerological Dan Brown thriller.


fawlty tower

Exactly 41 years ago, the first episode of Fawlty Towers was first screened.   A few years ago I scribbled this – a kind of over-extended joke about paranoid conspiracy theories.

This comes in chapters.  You can treat it as a homage to a Booth-Cleese tradition of farce, or a bit of what I understand is called “fan fiction”. Certainly whatever else it is, it’s an attack on Dan Brown and a prolonged sneer at all forms of tedious numerological gibberish.  It’s about the smug anal fixations of those who can’t see horrors in plain sight because they want to believe that they’re the only people seeing anything.

So, for the 41st anniversary of the most exquisite television farce ever conceived or executed, I’m reposting this sprawling response.  Eat it in bits.  If at all.

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Happy 220th Birthday Hartley Coleridge. A life burdened by too much expectation?

Some people peak too soon.   It was David Hartley Coleridge’s fate when just a babe in arms, to inspire this poem…
The Frost performs its secret ministry,
Unhelped by any wind. The owlet’s cry
Came loud—and hark, again! loud as before.
The inmates of my cottage, all at rest,
Have left me to that solitude, which suits
Abstruser musings: save that at my side
My cradled infant slumbers peacefully.
‘Tis calm indeed! so calm, that it disturbs
And vexes meditation with its strange
And extreme silentness. Sea, hill, and wood,
This populous village! Sea, and hill, and wood,
With all the numberless goings-on of life,
Inaudible as dreams! the thin blue flame
Lies on my low-burnt fire, and quivers not;
Only that film, which fluttered on the grate,
Still flutters there, the sole unquiet thing.
Methinks, its motion in this hush of nature
Gives it dim sympathies with me who live,
Making it a companionable form,
Whose puny flaps and freaks the idling Spirit
By its own moods interprets, every where
Echo or mirror seeking of itself,
And makes a toy of Thought.
                      But O! how oft,
How oft, at school, with most believing mind,
Presageful, have I gazed upon the bars,
To watch that fluttering stranger ! and as oft
With unclosed lids, already had I dreamt
Of my sweet birth-place, and the old church-tower,
Whose bells, the poor man’s only music, rang
From morn to evening, all the hot Fair-day,
So sweetly, that they stirred and haunted me
With a wild pleasure, falling on mine ear
Most like articulate sounds of things to come!
So gazed I, till the soothing things, I dreamt,
Lulled me to sleep, and sleep prolonged my dreams!
And so I brooded all the following morn,
Awed by the stern preceptor’s face, mine eye
Fixed with mock study on my swimming book:
Save if the door half opened, and I snatched
A hasty glance, and still my heart leaped up,
For still I hoped to see the stranger’s face,
Townsman, or aunt, or sister more beloved,
My play-mate when we both were clothed alike!
         Dear Babe, that sleepest cradled by my side,
Whose gentle breathings, heard in this deep calm,
Fill up the intersperséd vacancies
And momentary pauses of the thought!
My babe so beautiful! it thrills my heart
With tender gladness, thus to look at thee,
And think that thou shalt learn far other lore,
And in far other scenes! For I was reared
In the great city, pent ‘mid cloisters dim,
And saw nought lovely but the sky and stars.
But thou, my babe! shalt wander like a breeze
By lakes and sandy shores, beneath the crags
Of ancient mountain, and beneath the clouds,
Which image in their bulk both lakes and shores
And mountain crags: so shalt thou see and hear
The lovely shapes and sounds intelligible
Of that eternal language, which thy God
Utters, who from eternity doth teach
Himself in all, and all things in himself.
Great universal Teacher! he shall mould
Thy spirit, and by giving make it ask.
         Therefore all seasons shall be sweet to thee,
Whether the summer clothe the general earth
With greenness, or the redbreast sit and sing
Betwixt the tufts of snow on the bare branch
Of mossy apple-tree, while the night-thatch
Smokes in the sun-thaw; whether the eave-drops fall
Heard only in the trances of the blast,
Or if the secret ministry of frost
Shall hang them up in silent icicles,
Quietly shining to the quiet Moon.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s body of readable poetic work is remarkably slim.  You can read all the S.T. Coleridge poems that are worth reading in an afternoon (the prose is quite another matter, oh dear me yes).  “Frost at Midnight” is as good as a Coleridge poem gets.  Perhaps it’s as good as any poem gets.

Coleridge always felt a sense of constructive “Nature” envy compared to his pal Wordsworth.  While William had roamed the Lake District as a kid, little Sam had suffered the perceptual privations of an urban upbringing.   But ah, little Hartley will have every Romantic advantage.  Little Hartley will have the most sublime natural impressions with which to associate from his earliest years.  The dazzling vistas of parental expectation are exciting and terrifying in equal measure.

David Hartley Coleridge was named after Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s favourite eighteenth-century associationist philosopher.  The original Dave Hartley was a Lockean who thought of idea formation in terms of vibrations – it was a subtle and fibrous philosophy which treated ways and means whereby everything is connected to every other thing.

Ah, too much pressure.  Little Hartley Coleridge grew up to be a rather nicer and less demanding person than his dad, a boozer rather than a druggie.  And he wrote some rather nice sonnets – something Sam Coleridge never did – sonnets which owe something to Wordsworth and remind me a bit of Keats on a bad day.  In terms of congested curricula, there’s no very overwhelming case for suggesting to students that they read the sonnets of Hartley Coleridge rather than those of Wordsworth or Keats.

But here is my favourite Hartley Coleridge sonnet, I think…

What was’t awakened first the untried ear
Of that sole man who was all human kind?
Was it the gladsome welcome of the wind,
Stirring the leaves that never yet were sere?
The four mellifluous streams which flowed so near,
Their lulling murmurs all in one combined?
The note of bird unnamed? The startled hind
Bursting the brake, in wonder, not in fear,
Of her new lord? Or did the holy ground
Send forth mysterious melody to greet
The gracious pressure of immaculate feet?
Did viewless seraphs rustle all around
Making sweet music out of air as sweet?
Or his own voice awake him with its sound?

This sonnet is almost perfect in terms of its mixture of concrete imagery and abstracted invocation.  The alliterative self congratulation of “welcome of the wind” cloys a bit and the “mysterious melody” feels a bit shopworn, but it’s an effective Edenic race memory.

The sonnet is about dawn of life, and it recollects “Frost of Midnight” which is also about dawn of life.  This sonnet is, perhaps,  about its author’s own immortality as a poem rather than a poet.  It was of course Keats who suggested that unheard melodies are sweeter than those heard, and perhaps lives unlived are more inspiring than those lived.  No real life could ever match the extrapolation of life that was imagined for Hartley by his own dad.  And rather than regret the comparative “disappointment” of Hartley Coleridge, we need to return to “Frost and Midnight” and luxuriate in the original extrapolation.

Some people will go to their graves, preserved for ever as wide eyed children in the crude iconography of public fame (Macaulay Culkin; Mark Lester), and their obituaries will be illustrated accordingly.  Hartley Coleridge, 220 years old today is preserved as a baby not a child, a baby, shaped, formed, and  inspired by the morphology of filmy distortions in a fireplace.

Donald Trump can only correct a lie with another lie.


This week, under intense scrutiny, Donald Trump finally admitted that Barack Obama was born in the United States.  His slowness to admit this truth is understandable.  After all, polls show that most Trump supporters enjoy believing this falsehood.  Backed into a corner, though, Trump finally made a concession to documentary fact.

But Trump feels dirty whenever he has to confirm an accurate fact.  It rubs him up the wrong way.  His aversion to truth and his dogged commitment to “telling it like it ain’t” is such that he needed to counter acknowledged fact with yet another egregious lie.  Apparently, it was Hillary Clinton who started the Birther campaign and he, Donald Trump, who finally put this lie to bed.

Trump needs to lie all the time for a variety of reasons.  The race-baiting message of fear and stupidity he successfully peddles of course depends on lies.  But his position as demagogue also depends on lies.

You see, if Trump were to start telling the truth, then he would start to admit “Truth” as some sort of standard.   The only “Truth” that Trump respects is “Whatever fuels Trump’s gargantuan ego at any given time”.  Truth is Trump and Trump is Truth.  For there to be some standard of Truth that functioned independently of Trump, then Trump would be acknowledging that there is something of value in the universe that isn’t Donald Trump.

Lies, Absurdities, and Self Contradictions are central to Trump’s sense of Divinity.  Only “low energy” losers  adhere to some external standard of truth.  Lying is central to the sense of entitlement that Trump, as a hereditary aristocrat, has lived and lied with his entire life.  As a billionaire,  Trump believes that words should mean whatever he wants them to mean at any given time.  The idea that language operates independently of Trump is unthinkable.

Trump has successfully exploited a sense of nostalgic frustration, not just with “politics as usual” or “the political class” or some vaguely invoked “elite” but with 3000 or so years of Abrahamic religion.  By worshipping Trump, his supporters are expressing a kind of race memory of those days when Zeus, Baal or Dagon did whatever the Hell they wanted without having to adhere to any kind of rule book.   Those cool pagan dudes never had to worry about being consistent.

Do not expect Trump to openly avow his paganism, even though his whole “never apologise” and “never take responsibility” personality is opposed to every orthodox Christian or Jewish precept you can think of.  No, Trump will not insult Jesus, partly because being a philosophically consistent Nietzschean pagan would be a version of truthfulness which the truth-allergic Trump can never digest.  No, Trump will keep Jesus – keep him on the payroll.  It’s not about how close to Jesus Trump is – it’s about how close to Trump – Jesus is.  And if Trump says that Jesus is a cheerleader for intolerance, stupidity and petty tribal resentment – then that must be what Jesus is.

No “truth” can topple Trump – because Trump offers a kind of heady abjection to the idea of a force that rejects Rule of Law as a concept.  It goes without saying, of course that “Making America Great Again” involves a rejection of constitutional checks and balances that defined American in the first place.

Orientation. Induction. Introduction. Occidentation



It’s that time of year again when I orient.  I induct.  I introduce.

Sometimes I wonder if the fact that “Orientation” is thing – a helpful grounding sort of thing – that there ought to be something called an “Occidentation” which amounts to a disorientation – a removal from any comfort zone.  If “Orientation” is all about not knowing where you are at any given time, then “occidentalism” should involve a degree of stimulating displacement.

I talk to First Years about what’s expected of them, trying to reassure them to a very specific extent without offering the kind of reassurance that leads to a kind of predictive stagnation.

I believe it was Doctor Who, just the other night, who spoke up on behalf of a certain kind of fear – the fear that quickens the pulse and keeps you alive.  Somewhere between the complacency that provokes inertia and the terror…

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Steve Jobs – a belated Film Review


This one, again, we had to wait until it showed up on satellite to see.  It’s not a movie we could take the boy to, and when someone does offer to watch the lad, we always go for something far more obviously vile and depraved to celebrate.   In short, Steve Jobs (2015, dir. Danny Boyle)  would not interest a ten year old boy, but it wouldn’t give him nightmares either – and that’s precisely the category of movie we’re least likely to go and see.

In fact we saw Steve Jobs about three times on successive nights, because we both felt we were probably missing something.  And this is a kind of testimony to the elegance of its construction as well as the fact that Sorkin’s script is denser and faster than 90% of the scripts you get to experience, making you constantly feel that you’re missing something.

The fact that this drama about Steve Jobs is completely built around three successive product launches is both truthful and sad.  This was not a man who understood, respected, or cherished anything more important than a product launch.  The movie thereby also has a theatrical feel to it as well, neatly divided into “Acts” – although Danny Boyle is careful to keep the cameras mobile and remind us that we’re watching something that only cinema can do.

Of course, the movie reminded me of The Social Network, and of course, Sorkin wrote both screenplays.  And both movies are about how technology changes human behaviour.  In Social Network, Zuckerberg, portrayed by Jesse Eisenberg as the least socially competent young man you’ve ever seen, creates a whole new platform for socialisation.  Steve Jobs, portrayed (probably accurately) by Michael Fassbender as a horrible horrible human being, a greedy and selfish tyrant without even the most basic biological components of generosity or compassion, creates products which are, paradoxically, all about human interaction.

And that’s the real paradox of the film, of “Jobs” himself (or itself?) – the very limited and specific nature of his so-called “genius”.  At one point Wozniak shouts at Jobs  – what exactly is it that you do?   Jobs was not a scientist, not an inventor, not a software engineer, not even a designer.  What Jobs was – was – at certain key (and lucrative) moments – someone who could accurately predict what human beings who are not technically literate want from their technology.  At one point Wozniak shows off a high tech watch to Jobs.  When Jobs asks him to change time zones on the watch and the front case comes off, Jobs points out that Wozniak looks like someone trying to detonate a bomb and that his watch will similarly “bomb” as a consequence..

Wozniak seems far more human than Jobs, and of course far more gifted from any sort of technological standpoint, but Wozniak is apparently limited by his own habituation to technology.  Unlike his far more gifted tech. peers, Jobs functioned at a customer level, recognising the moments that make technologically illiterate people happy when they switch on a computer.

Is there any logic to this paradox?  Was it just a bizarre coincidence that such an inhuman individual who has difficulty recognising his own child, ends up being the one to humanise technology?   Or was this level of inhumanity on the part of a human CEO necessary at some level as part of the coming cyborgification of the human race?  Jobs’ ingratitude, his cruelty, and his inability to acknowledge reciprocal obligations linking any one human animal with any other human animal are coupled with a bizarrely keen sense of what human beings want from the information age.

Seeing the film over and over again only heightens an appreciation of its logic.  The obsession with making a Mac say “Hello” at the beginning of the film is vindicated once you know the kind of character that’s unfolding.

Jobs’ job was to get humans to fall in love with machines.  He was a pimp, and pander, a go-between – hooking up carbon and silicon based life forms.

In other words – as a cyborg- he bridges a gap.  And we’re all doomed.





Could Battle of Britain Day (September 15) also be known as International Anti-Nazi Task Force Day?

I was brought up on the mythology of the Battle of Britain and consequent (or overlapping Blitz).  Both my parents were evacuated during the war, from Liverpool and London.  The house I grew up in was the only 1950s house in a road full of c. 1900 houses.  When I was but a tiny wee thing, my ma picked me up and rushed down to the end of the street so that we could both watch Edward Fox parachute into a back garden where he could be offered a cigarette in a memorable scene from Battle of Britain, the movie.

September 15th gets privileged because it was the day that the Luftwaffe really threw the kitchen sink at the RAF, hit them with everything they got, and were to be disappointed.  Seventy Five years…

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