Tortured Logic & Alphabet Soup

Posted by in November's Magazine

By the time this toxic harrumph passes your eyes, all of its contents will be like so much alphabet soup. Indeed so transitory is its content, I was tempted to cut it short, draw a cock and be done with it – just to tempt the editor (but I know him to be a man of substance, or substances…can’t remember which). Anyway, this needlessly vainglorious set-up aside, I shall proceed. But be warned, if you’re of a sensitive disposition you may wish to look away, because this is not likely to end up a nil-nil draw, hopefully not an own goal either. So, here goes.

It started with a complaint about a TV programme – namely, Gunpowder on BBC1. As the title suggests, it was a dramatic restaging of the characters, issues and events leading up to the famous/infamous Gunpowder Plot of 1605. That wasn’t a time known for niceties in matters of religious persecution; there was no slap on the wrist, just a chop of the wrist…after a good hanging and gutting. Such was the price paid for daring to come across as a wee bit iffy about the whole Reformation thingy. So no surprise then that the blood flowed on screen.


I say no surprise, but for some it came as a great shock. A full frontal assault on their values, their sensibilities and their very existence; how very dare they show capital punishment early 1600s style with such graphic glee? You could hear the tut-tutting in the Home Counties from here. If such wanton effrontery had been justified on the grounds of aesthetic or artistic critique of the presentation of the story, I think I wouldn’t have cared a jot (to be fair, some plaintive voices did make the point that it was the in-your-face quality of the editing that did it for them). But it seemed mostly a matter of ‘good taste’. Hmmm. Good taste…

This is where you channel the spirit of Brando from Apocalypse Now. No, not the ‘skulking in his Winnebago eating copious amounts of pizza’ spirit of Brando; the other side of him that big fleshy snooker ball who emerged from the shadows to eat up the screen and all who got in the way, with just a few slurred lines. I’m thinking specifically of the line regarding the hypocritical mores of profanity.

“We train young men to drop fire on people, but their commanders won’t allow them to write fuck on the side of their aircraft, because it’s obscene.”

It’s easy to cherry-pick for effect of course – and how much pleasure I take in doing so – after all, failing that this would just be a shopping list or some pish about greenways (and no, there’s nothing wrong with greenways). But all of that doesn’t render the underlying point of the quote invalid in this context. Which is to say that those so easily discombobulated by some horrorshow violence entirely in keeping with the nature of the content being shown seem oblivious – or choose to remain oblivious – to the endless reels of vicious slaughter, slander, suicidal murder and so on and so forth on the nightly news.

For those who think this is a Peter Finch moment, you’re wrong. I’m not “mad as hell and can’t take it anymore.” I’m pretty sanguine – mildly amused even – and prepared for this to be the situation ongoing, a situation that sees me trying to explain to my daughter why people are randomly mown down by trucks on city streets. And, as if to heap shame upon shame, explain to her why 8 people dying in a terror attack in New York City the other week got more news coverage than the 500 or so killed or maimed in Mogadishu a fortnight earlier.

How easily we become inured to it all – and how easily we succumb to partiality in our understanding of it all. To be fair if you woke Atlas-like one morning and elected to take the weight of the world on your shoulders you wouldn’t last one minute. The tonnage is growing weekly. So this is not some holier-than-thou cry from the dark. Nah, it’s just a bit of a reflection on how we mustn’t become so insulated that we would take more umbrage at a bit of theatrical gore than we would at the bloody tides that are lapping at our shores each day, every day.

Of course it’s way easier to call Points of View for a good old rant than it is to secure world peace although one time I did nearly broker a ceasefire in Sierra Leone after misdialling a takeaway number. Nobody’s calling for have-a-go heroism. What we can perhaps do is start engaging with the brutal bullshit that is the big picture just a little more and worrying less about minor mishaps on the small screen. No matter how tortured this smelly orb becomes.

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