ThePageBoy

Writing, Reviewing and Criticism In The Internet Age

Tag: Twitter

PageBoyPolitics – Online Abuse Is The Refuge Of A Coward

I wrote this originally for the great web site http://www.scotspolitics.com but the range of applications this has never fails to blow my mind. I wrote something similar for funk’s house of geekery too and I’m going to keep talking about this from now on. Some things are just wrong.

One of the down sides of being a vociferous fan of free speech is that you often end up defending things that are not really very good – overly-violent horror movies, poorly written music, badly done art – but all of that is more than worth the good stuff that freedom of expression grants. I’d go as far as to say that the internet has made things infinitely better and more complicated all at the same time.

Firstly, the good. The internet has been the greatest democratising force possible in terms of engaging people. An artist? A musician? Or even if you’re just someone who wants to comment on things, the internet has given everyone a voice, and for those of us lucky enough to experience it in all of its freedom, free speech has never been freer.

Sadly though, free speech online has a dark side, just as it does in traditional, non-internet culture. As the internet becomes more and more the miasma that hangs over everything written, read and thought, the dark side of free speech has become a weird, twisted funhouse mirror of what we all may have been familiar with. For example, the situation with Mary Beard illustrates the vicious poison that can be spewed all over the internet when internet anonymity meets general misogyny.

For those who don’t know, Mary Beard is one of the foremost classicists in the country – a lecturer at Cambridge and blogger for the Times Literary Supplement. Her books and TV appearances make her probably one of the best known academics in the country. She was invited recently to appear on Question Time; asked about the impact of immigration she, (as per usual for an academic) cited a report that showed the benefits of immigration outweighed the potential problems. Innocuous enough, you might think and so it may have been in a previous generation.

However, the now defunct web site Don’t Start Me Off decided that she would be their latest target. Rather than take issue with her ideas and point of view, the sites members directed a torrent of vitriol at her and her appearance. The abuse was foul, crude and sexual and completely unrepeatable here. Beard refused to let it fly and instead wrote about it on her own hugely popular blog and as a result of the attention it received the website was shut down.

Sadly, this is just the latest episode in a long list of women who have been subject to horrendous abuse and vile threats for the heinous crime of being a woman. Being female and having an opinion was enough to generate thousands of words of abuse. As Beard accurately and succinctly noted, the issue was that “a woman, 58 and looking it, saying what she thinks, against the grain, is explosive’ to some people, and through the freedom of the internet this punitive rage found its horrible outlet.

I said that what happened to Mary Beard was just the latest in a long list of depressingly repetitive episodes of women with an opinion being told to sit down and shut up. Not for saying anything wrong, but just because they were women. They can be subject to rape ‘jokes,’ online harassment, belittlement – and myriad other small and mean tricks to try to bring them down and shut them up. For those subject to it, it must be like death by a thousand cuts for your self-esteem.

Enough is enough.

I can’t begin to express my admiration for women who have used their public platform to call out these cowards who hide on message boards and fake names, but it shouldn’t just be down to them.

As a man and a feminist there is something so profoundly depressing to see these men (and it is predominately men) vent their anger and feelings of inadequacy on women in the public sphere. The sheer engrained misogyny has to be called out by the vast majority of men who are NOT terrified and infuriated every time a woman articulates an opinion about anything.

There will be some, no doubt, who think of it as their right to free speech to threaten murder and fantasise about raping whatever hate figure du jour they have fixated upon this week. Some have even claimed that the ‘block’ button on Twitter infringes their right to be heard, as if someone ignoring them is somehow equivalent to censorship. These cowards shouldn’t be censored; they should just be drowned out by other voices. Drowned out, not just by women who refuse to be cowed but by men too. Men who have realised what these trolls and rage filled people haven’t – that women are not men’s property, but equal, deserving of the same respect given to them and not belittled simply because they’re walking around with ladyparts.

I talked a few weeks ago about the internet as a new cultural frontier – a place where the rules of how and where and when we interact with one another haven’t quite been settled yet. It’s this fact that makes the internet such an exciting place to be, but it is also what has given rise to cowards and misogynists hiding behind avatars rather than learn how to deal with someone of a different gender. There will be a time when this kind of abuse, this hatred just won’t be acceptable anymore and the people who still do it will be thought of as we think of fanatics with megaphones in public spaces. However, if the latest incident has proven anything it is that collectively we need to move towards that day even sooner.

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Who watches Watchmen whilst reading Watchmen? or, ‘This is kind of turning into a comic blog.’

ThePageBoy’s journal. April 2nd 2012

Rom-com found in alley this morning. Reviewer’s footprint on DVD case. The blogs are extended gutters, full of unread posts and comment threads that nobody cares for. One day, all the readers will drown in a flood of mediocre criticism that foams up around their broadband capacity and all the trolls will drown. All those with tumblr accounts and the people who play Farmville will look up and shout, ‘Please don’t review Watchmen!’

And I’ll look down and whisper….

‘No.’

So seeing last week as I reviewed the, frankly, fantastic V for Vendetta I hit upon a small problem. In the run up to me publishing the column I was promoting it on Twitter and was asked when I was going to do Watchmen and basically replied with ‘not any time soon.’ More fool me, due to a combination of work and other commitments I find myself falling a little behind and I needed something to write about so here we are. Well done Internet, as this generations equivalent of the spoiled child, you always get what you want.

If you haven’t been paying attention to this blog (which I realise looking at my traffic stats is a hefty proportion of the world) then you may not have picked up on the fact that I really REALLY like this comic. In terms of complexity, inter-textuality and stretching the boundaries of the form I can think of nothing that compares to it. If you haven’t read it, go ahead, click over to Amazon right now and order it. Do it. Go on, you can trust me. You’ll thank me later.

Anyway, Watchmen is basically an alternative history. In a  version of 1985 where Richard Nixon won a third term, where the Cold War with the Russians has become dangerously close to destroying the entirety of humanity and where former masked vigilantes are struggling with the burdens and pressures of trying to be a hero in a bleak dark and dangerous world. Now, I’m simplifying massively here but the plot is basically the same tired cliché of ‘save the world’ but the way this is done makes it possibly the best comic ever written.

Essentially, and in a stroke of complete genius, the destruction of the world is used as the frame for a nuanced and sophisticated exploration of how these people are trying to save us all. There is Rorschach, the man whose brand of justice is based upon the idea of punishing the wicked with a violent fervour not seen since Patrick Batemen took a nice girl out for dinner and a chainsaw. There is the genius Ozymandias, man who believes he is so much above the common man that he can literally be the salvation of the race. There is the tragic Dr Manhattan who through a terrible accident is blessed with the powers of a God, but has to watch as his disconnect from humanity becomes so great that he struggles to see why life even matters. There is the Comedian, a man with a name laden with heavy irony – full of moral certainty  and a nihilism that  the only logical thing to do is laugh at the absurdity of it all. Finally the Night Owl and Silk Spectre – two people, who for differing reasons attempt to just do the best they can. These are not your usual superheroes; the psychological profiles that Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons weave are breathtakingly complex. The plot revolves around this, showing the flaws and the struggles of trying to save the world, culminating in a horrific plan that murder half the population of New York.

For those who haven’t read the book (I told you, go order it) I will be getting in to areas that will include spoilers so consider this your warning. Firstly though lets talk about the film, released in 2009 after being trapped in development Hades for a decade or more with even the great and completely bonkers director Terry Gilliam declaring it ‘unfilmable.’ Zach Snyder on the other hand, disagreed and whilst the film performed well at the box office it divided the critics fiercely.

So, lets start with the good. Snyder is a man with some really competent aesthetic skills. This may sound like I’m damning with faint praise here but it is a very impressive job that’s done. The world the film evokes is expertly done, the design and the cinematography have the same hyper-realist edge that 300 did and it works for the most part, very well indeed. The establishment of the film’s world is something that the team behind it should feel incredibly proud of, for a reason that I suspect many of you will find a little silly at first. I am referring to, of course, the awesome credit sequence. Yes, that’s right the bit of the movie where they give the important people a chance to see their name on the silver screen. It is used perfectly as a chance to present snap-shots of the world the story inhabits, fleshing it out and bringing to life without any need for boring exposition or even any dialogue at all. The use of Bob Dylan’s ‘Times They Are A-Changin’ is a master-stroke and choosing to base the shots on extracts from part of the text of Watchmen is a stroke of adaptation genius that someone deserves major credit for. (Geddit!! sorry…)

The casting is by and large really good too, Patrick Wilson gives the film an emotional core that ordinary viewers can relate to, Jackie Earle Haley is bloody terrifying and Matthew Goode is pitch perfect as the messianic monster of the piece. Special kudos have to go to Billy Crudup as Dr Manhattan who gives the doctor both power and a hear-breaking distance from the rest of humanity.

So it looks great, the actors are great and the story is based closely on the source, thus we have a good adaptation, right?

Well..Here’s the thing. I want to love this movie, I really do. And there are parts of the film I really like. A lot. But this doesn’t quite work as an adaptation.  This isn’t a slam on anyone by the way, I agree with Terry Gilliam that this is unfilmable. I will only be touching on a couple of points but here is where the spoilers come in so…look away now if necessary.

Firstly is a problem that has become something of a trend and thus I will name…Cool shit syndrome. Now, this is where a director sees something in his source material that is really cool and then decides to put it in to his film regardless of context, for the best example of this I’ve ever seen thus far please turn to my review of Daredevil. The point is one that I can’t believe has to be explained to be people in a creative industry, namely that everything in a work of fiction is there by choice. Stuff doesn’t just happen in a comic because it looks cool; the iconography and aesthetics of comics are deliberate, so that when stuff happens it is cool for a reason. Now, the film is not the worst offender of this type, I mean it isn’t a Michael Bay movie but there are moments watching this where I thought to myself, ‘this is only here because people thought viewers would think it was cool.’ Now I have no problem with cool stuff going down; what I worry about is if that the only reason it is there is for how it looks. Because that is really dumb.

Secondly, Alan Moore syndrome. Studios! Stop trying to make Alan Moore’s work into films! They are clearly supposed to be in the form that they are; in fact, much of the brilliance in Watchmen comes from the use of form. Things like panels, background clues, motifs and tropes that are repeated are essential and work best in sequential art not in film. The rigid form of the 12 chapters works in the comic to add cohesion to the pages narrative and give time and space to flesh out characters. Play a game once you’ve read the book, go and watch the film and I swear you’ll be able to mark off where the film moves through chapter. It feels bitty and fragmented and whilst the bits are great to watch they end up as just bits.

Thirdly and this one is important. It is possible to copy the plot and action of the original source but miss the philosophical reasoning used. (Go away and read my V for Vendetta review if you don’t get that…Sorry, I’ve been very needy in this column) Let me explain… The plan of the villain in both the film and the book is broadly the same, uniting the world against an enemy in order to prevent the nuclear war. In the film, the villains plan is to blame Dr Manhattan for a series of huge explosions that kills millions to save the rest of the world from destroying itself. In Watchmen Alan Moore takes a different route, instead of using another character as the fall guy it turns out that the villain has created a psychic monster, a form of evil beyond the limits of human imagination and comprehension.

Let me summarise; in the film the enemy who unities the world is a man who can blow things up. In the graphic novel, the enemy that unities humanity is an enemy that is so terrifying you can’t understand it or it will drive you insane. The film feels a little less impressive somehow, no? The graphic novel’s way of dealing with this also closes the huge gaping plot hole the film wants you to not notice. Answer me this. Why does The Comedian visit his mortal enemy in the film? Er….coming up with nothing? Try this one. How did The Comedian find out about the evil plan? Er……. What does The Comedian say the evil plan is? Er………………..

Whereas in the graphic novel, The Comedian comes across the island that is filled with the people creating this nightmare of evil and realising the repercussions, knows that people are going to die. Crucially, The Comedian has his visage of cynicism  shattered when he realises that he doesn’t know where he stands upon it. Now that I’ve explained it, the film looks more and more like it doesn’t quite get it right.

So please, film types – pay attention. Stop trying to adapt Alan Moore’s books. Just read them instead.

Thanks

ThePageBoy

 

 

Promising not to split hairs, or ‘Benedict Cumberbatch – world’s creepiest baby sitter.’

Right,

After last week’s post I was challenged by two people on roughly the same point; that a film based on a book has to be considered an adaptation – both made the point in a different way and both very eloquently too  -(you can check them, and me out on Twitter *SHAMELESS PLUG*.) The point they both raised was, I hope, well taken and I edited the article to admit that I was splitting more hairs than someone with trichotillomania in a hair salon.

However, I think that this week’s article will help me explain my point about the artistic problem of making an incredible literary/film adaptation. Step forward Ian McEwan. Put simply I believe he is one of the best writers currently living and working in the United Kingdon, nominated for the Man Booker Prize a frankly stunning, six times. He’s a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, Royal Society of Arts and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He’s been awarded the Shakespeare Prize, appointed as the first visiting scholar and writer at Dickinson College, given a CBE and if that were not enough, The Times named him as one of the 50 greatest British writers since 1945. In short, this man has got some serious game.

So, if this is one of the UK’s finest writers who isn’t dead then it must be quite the ballsy step for a director to try to take on McEwan’s complex and inter-textual work – so who would step up? One of the heavy hitter’s of Western cinema? Well, how about a school drop out who left education with no GCSE’s? Step forward a certain young director – Joe Wright.

Joe Wright released his version of McEwan’s eighth novel in 2007 as his second feature film, Atonement starring Wrights near-ever present muse of Keira Knightly as well as the exceptionaly talented Saoirse Ronan. Almost immediately the critical reception was, bluntly, arse-kissingly good. Atonement and it’s newbie director set records as Wright became the youngest director ever to open that year’s Venice Film Festival at the tender age of just 35.

So, there’s the background. So, now, onto the critique…

And you know what? I think this might be one of the best adaptations I have ever seen. Seriously, it is just brilliant. From the opening credits the film demonstrates how to take a source material, (in this case the 2001 novel) and make into something uniquely filmic – not by trying to copy the methods of McEwan’s literary work but by using the film medium to do something the novel could not do. The way the title is brought up on-screen is simple, visual and yet nods to the inter-textuality of the original book. The letters appear as if ‘typed’ onto screen and the opening shot of Bryony Tallis’s doll house gives immediate foreground of the manipulation that she works in her fiction work and the real world relationship she destroys.

I will try not to provide too many spoilers, (this could well be futile as both but the book and the film were massively popular and deservedly so) so I will just say this. The plot of the novel hinges and depends on observation, point of view and the interpretation of things that we see not necessarily adding up to what we think. By and large I think this is a trick that the film pulls off a little better than the thoroughly excellent novel. The scene at the fountain in the novel’s opening section is a case in point. Here we read the same scene from the two opposing perspectives, Bryony from the window and Robbie by the fountain. The book dwells, (not unreasonably) on Bryony’s reactions and the scene forms, we later learn, the back bone of a short story.As much as I enjoy writers with the talent to pull off POV switches the whole things, when considered through hindsight feels more than a little like Mrs. Dalloway. This is in fact later added to the novel as a fictional publishers letter and makes the self-awareness feel like trying to have one’s cake and eat it…

The film, is in a sense less limited than the authorial voice and as such the sequence feels like it carries more weight, it’s quick but not superfluous and we as viewers see the tragedy of Bryony’s perception without the self-conscious literary-ness getting in the way. This really should go without saying as multiple camera angles are a stock in trade hall-mark of modern cinema and fit the bill perfectly for the scene at the fountain and in the library. Ronan really shines in the opening parts of the film, managing to convey not only the immediate reaction to what she see’s but also managing to show the viewer the immaturity of her character that leads her to these assumptions and the fateful accusation. The power of film is that it manages in moments what the novel would take pages to do. In seconds we can see the same event from multiple POV, and whilst as an English student I adore the writing of authors who master close third narration, the film switches things so immediately that it hightens the emotional  heft of the crucial scenes, – the library and the fountain etc.

To be honest I think this would be something one could say about the whole film, whereas Robbie’s time in  France are given over to his thought of his beloved and the limitations of being a solider by McEwan, Wright simply blows this part of the novel to dust. The five-minute tracking sequence, (a Joe Wright trademark) is simply jaw dropping. The viewer is given a sense of scale and mass suffering that the book comes nowhere near to accomplishing. The sequence in the cinema is another particular highlight, combining self-aware cinematics with pitch perfect romance.

Other particular stand out things about this as an adaptation is how the whole mechanics of the film work together. Everything here is contributing to the wider aim, the score especially does a great job, the type writer effect in the opening moments being an extremely good example and Wright’s arts training shines in the overall look of the film – the dress Knightly wears being declared as the most stylish to appear in film. To sum up, it capture the essence of the book and helps it transcend the limitations placed upon it by the novel form.

Just pause here for a second, because here comes the BUT that the whole article has been building up to. Ready??

BUT!

There is one area where I feel that this transition from literature to film, as well as it is achieved, doesn’t quite work – the ending. Whereas the ending in the novel aims at pathos as Bryony is brought back to the scene of her crime and her internal guilt is left with her. Whilst the ending of the film is very VERY good the nature of the TV interview seems designed at explication of guilt rather than acceptance. In the book, Bryony recognises that she can give them happiness, but that it would be ‘self-serving to let them forgive me.’ As haunting as Vanessa Redgrave makes the final scene, to me it smacks a little of self-justification, which is a little beneath this film and book. (Damn it, realised I said I wouldn’t do this!) Whilst that is just my opinion, I think the exteriority of a TV interview fits in with the very film-ness of Atonement as a whole, though personally I

Oh, and if you haven’t seen Benedict Cumberbatch’s scenes go away right now and watch the film. See? Fucking terrifying! And don’t over simplfy, it isn’t just the overall creepiness of the scene with Lola or even the fact that he’s a rapist. It’s this. He marries his victim and NO-ONE says anything about it. No-one. At all. Not even Lola. Just think about that, but not for too long or you’ll have nightmares about that marriage…Now, back to the point.

So, there you are. An adaptation of grace, poise and cinematic worth that does credit to the original source material. Despite my few niggles with this I still think it’s just brilliant British culture at its best. Reading over, the keen-eyed reader may come to the conclusion that all I’ve done is, yet again, spend my time splitting hairs. But thanks to Ian McEwan and Joe Wright, they are, at the very least, interesting hairs to split.

Thanks

ThePageBoy