In my essay for the Sunday Herald I made the case for the necessity of the swearing and offensive chatter that makes up much of the dialogue in Black Watch:
They are working class, inarticulate and insecure boys with no prospects other than the army. And when these men speak, they swear. It is integral to their vernacular. To sanitize their words would be to silence them.
Unfortunately the constraints of the page forbade me from elaborating on this point…. but luckily, I have a blog.
The swearing of the enlisted men is also important because of the contrast it presents with the officer class, and the politicians who have sent Scottish soldiers into harm’s way for centuries. The show has a marvellous musical number where Lord Elgin, in full highland dress and regalia, prances around the stage, beckoning the young men to sign-up: “hurrah, hurrah!” He speaks the Queen’s English, and he is as mendacious as they come (“did I mention it would be all over by Christmas” he says as he sends the soldiers off to Flanders in 1914). In this context, the Fifer accents of the soldiers are a necessity. Homogenising the language would be an act of class warfare.
To my mind, the final genius of Black Watch lies in the juxtaposition between the coarse language and the stunning physical theatre. One reason why Steven Hoggett’s choreography is so powerful is because the precise and often tender movements emerge from characters who have been f-ing and c-ing just moments before. The combination jars the audience and is compelling, and it is the rude words that tee-up this possibility.
A headteacher in Kirriemuir has caused controversy by banner her pupils from studying Black Watch, the National Theatre of Scotland production that I worked on in 2006. What with this history, couple with the free speech work I do for English PEN, this is perhaps the perfect issue for me to write on. Over the weekend, The Sunday Herald published my essay setting the issue in its context.
Free speech controversies are like solar flares. They burn hot and bright. Right now, it is Angus that is feeling the heat. Last week, the Sunday Herald reported that one headteacher in Kirriemuir had pulled Black Watch off the Highers syllabus because it is “offensive”. Parents are angry at the decision, and have demanded an explanation. Continue reading Defending ‘Black Watch’ and free speech in the classroom
I wonder what Lord Bell thinks of Sony’s decision to cancel screening of ‘The Interview’?
Earlier this year, the Tory peer said that author Hilary Mantel should be investigated by the police after she wrote a short story called (and about) ‘The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher – August 6th 1983′.
It was a silly thing to say but free speech groups like English PEN (for whom I work) cexpressed concern at his words. Artists should be free to imagine and to fantasise, and equating a fictional murder of a head of state with actual incitement is not only fallacious, but gives dictators around the world yet another reason to shut down any kind of expression that portrays them in an impregnable light.
Which brings us on to The Interview, a comedy film in which Seth Rogan and James Franco star as two journalists who set out to assassinate Kim Jong Un. The government of North Korea called the film “an act of war” and threatened “bitter reprisals”. This week, Sony pictures announced that it would be withdrawing the release of The Interview after pro-regime activists calling themselves Guardians of the Peace hacked Sony’s computer systems, leaked embarrassing e-mails, and threatened attacks on cinemas showing the film.
Now, Lord Bell’s suggestion that Mantel receive a visit from the police is not equivalent to North Korean activists threatening violence. But Lord Bell’s idea – that fictionalised assassination of an already dead Maggie Thatcher is incitement, is surely equivalent to the idea that ‘The Interview’ is incitement. Of course, I think both ideas are false… but when a member of the House of Lords peddles the first idea, it rather gives credence to the second. Continue reading Fictionalised Assassinations
There’s a new documentary about David Hockney coming to the BBC, so he’s been doing media interviews. This morning he was on the Radio 4 Today Programme and last week he was in the Observer. Answering questions from fellow artists, he came out in support of… fracking!
Why? Well, for the pragmatic reason that we need the energy… and he can’t abide the alternative, which is wind turbines. In 2011, feeding reactionary quotes to the Daily Mail Hockney said that modern windmills are “big ugly things… I certainly wouldn’t paint them”.
I find the “beauty/ugliness” argument against wind farms incredibly odd. If we eschew renewable energy and burn more fossil fuels, as Hockney advocates, we will add to the problem of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere and accelerate global warming. This, in turn, will lead to the ruination of precisely the landscapes that Hockney and his fellow artists throughout history have enjoyed painting. Continue reading Why doesn’t David Hockney see beauty in wind farms?
Off Black Magazine launches today: fashion, arts and culture.
WE ARE DRAWN TO THE EXPERIMENTAL, STRONG, EQUAL AND FUN. WE PROMOTE FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION FOR ALL.
Me too. I was delighted to be asked to write for the launch issue (which takes ‘The Body’ as its theme) on the censorship of art and culture. My article takes in erotica, Google algorithms, 3D models of vaginas, Instagram’s terms & conditions, and Rupert Bear’s penis.
Last week The Bookseller reported on a furore in the world of e-Book publishing. Erotic self-published novels appeared next to children’s literature in the WH Smith online store, which is powered by Kobo.
This looks to me like a technical mistake, but the occurence provoked outrage. The store was taken offline for a while and many books were removed from sale. I spoke to The Bookseller about the controversy: Continue reading Defending offensive and erotic literature in The Bookseller
Something I have always found inspiring is the short acceptance speech made by Steven Soderberg in 2001, when he collected an Oscar for directing Traffic.
What I want to say is, I want to thank anyone who spends part of their day creating. I don’t care if its a book, a film, a painting, a dance, a piece of theatre, a piece of music… anybody who spends part of their day sharing their experience with us, I think this world would be unlivable without art, and I thank you…
Continue reading Soderberg on Creativity, Movies, and Cinema
Do you remember the London 2012 Olympics opening ceremony? You know, that show directed by Danny Boyle at the start of the sporting fortnight? You do? Well, in that case, you will be fascinated by this video from Fifty Nine Productions, detailing their role creating the film and video elements of that show. Continue reading Video design for the London 2012 Olympic opening ceremony
Listening to the Overthinkers over-think video game culture (last week) and films (this week), I have begun to worry that video games will never be ‘culture’. More generously, I am concerned that video games will never attain the same cultural currency as other art forms.
This is because people do not absorb the culturally significant video games of the past, as they do with significant literature, film, and music. Continue reading Why video games will never be 'culture'
Here is a photo of imprisoned Azerbaijani editor Avaz Zeynalli at his verdict hearing yesterday morning in Baku, Azerbaijan.The photo was taken by his wife, Melahet Qisuri Zeynallı (via Rebecca Vincent).
- Photo of imprisoned Azerbaijani editor Avaz Zeynalli at his verdict hearing this morning in Baku (Photo: Melahet Qisuri Zeynalli)
From the PEN International case list, (December 2012):
Zeynalli’s trial has been littered with controversies, including his defence attorney exiting the courtroom mid-trial over a row regarding the order of witnesses; a courtroom altercation with the prosecution’s chief witness, MP Gular Ahmadova; claims from Zeynalli that the evidence collected against him has been illegally obtained; and serious questions about his health while in prison.
I think this image is fasincating for two reasons. First, a relative (not a journalist) was able to take the image of Zeynalli and broadcast it around the world. This is a commonplace occurrence, of course, but we should never take it for granted. In years gone by, Governments would have relied on the slow pace of cimmunication, and the distance between cities and countries, as cover for illiberal manoeverings.
Second, its noteworthy that the image has been ‘Instagrammed’ before upload! The faded sheen to the image conveys an iconic status. In the future, I wonder if people will use some kind of filter to make court-room photographs look like court-room sketches.