breaking bad

Television cinematography as art

Can you tell this is my one time a week I allow myself to much about online? Back to work in a few moments.

Here is a beautiful video showcasing the Cinematography of Breaking Bad.

What I want from art of all kinds is to feel the beauty and horror of life, to wake up from the kind of dull trance we fall into (I fall into, I think other people do): as Wordsworth said 'Getting and Spending we lay waste our powers'.

I think that video works as a standalone.

There are clever things in particular camera shots. For example, sitting in front of the desert sunset you see Walt is eating a hoop-shaped thing. That is a 'FunYun', and he has mocked Jesse for eating them. Walt eating Jesse's food is a gentle sign of their reconciliation. In the next series, on the day they destroy the camper van, Walt sees a bag of FunYuns in the van, and he reconciles with Jesse. This kind of narrative thread adds a further layer to the shots. But I think the video stands alone as a piece of TV poetry.
breaking bad

Tom Watson, please take special care

I think the senior Tories caught up in this abuse scandal are horrible selfish people, but I don't think most of them are child abusers. I think Tom Watson MP is good to his core, and has done so many good things. But I think he is at risk of making an error.

It must be very difficult for him. He was told things which must have seemed almost impossible to credit, about phone hacking by newspapers, then about Jimmy Saville and so on. And all the allegations so far have been shown to be true, and there had been a massive establishment cover-up. What an emotional impact that must have had on him.

But now, in my opinion, unscrupulous or emotionally damaged people may have started to take advantage of him.

Here is what he wrote this week:
As I type this blog post, I’m half-smiling about how insane all this appears. It sounds like I’ve taken leave of my senses – just like they said I had during the early days of the hacking scandal. Maybe I have.

I don't believe he has taken leave of his senses. I think he is - quite understandably - overwhelmed by how many seemingly-impossible things have proved to be true, that it is hard for him to know what to credit. This does not make him bad or stupid. But it makes him vulnerable.
Many ordinary people have contacted me about suspicions they have had of a wider wrongdoing – in some cases so heinous it made me cry. They have talked of psychopaths marking children with Stanley knives to show “ownership”.

I think the knife thing is an urban legend. And I think there is a big risk that individual details like this will be proved false and people will use that to discredit the overall story. People want to restore the status quo. They want to believe it is all about specific individuals, who can be exposed once they are safely dead. People really, really want to believe that powerful people are basically benign. So Watson - a good, brave man - needs to be very careful this week.
breaking bad

The Tory abuse allegations

The Tory I didn't want to name the other day was Lord McAlpine. It now transpires that it was sensible to be cautious. It appears the abused children were told the person abusing them was McAlpine when he was actually some other rich old man. The BBC fucked up for the second time, which is tragic.

I also know at least two of the names that were given to David Cameron (on air by Philip Schofield) - and I don't believe these two men to be paedophiles. Although they are senior Tories whose policies I hate I think they are innocent of this. They were both part of an upper crust gay subculture in the 80s and 90s. I am pretty certain of that because a very affluent gay man I used to be close to was part of the same subculture. I have never made anything of that knowledge, because I don't believe in outing harmless sexual proclivities. One of the two is an affable enough chap, the other is a nasty piece of work in my opinion. It doesn't matter, I think they are both innocent.

On the subject of sexual abuse I stand by what I have been saying all week:
Obviously there are secrets - like who exactly did what and when - but secrecy is there to protect the incompetence and weakness of the powerful. It doesn't give politicians and their pet journalists special power or competence, quite the reverse, it allows them to be rubbish... The only thing that happens when details come out is that what has been frankly obvious to anyone with eyes can't be denied any longer - not the individuals but that attitude that some people are expendable, usable, less important. Although of course some people will bitterly continue to deny.

sheenaghpugh rightly responded that the names of individuals are important for prosecution. Yes, and I won't deny there is also a natural human tendency to want to know names and faces - that's how our mind's work.

But the overall issue doesn't change - which is that child abuse has been allowed to flourish by a culture which says rich white men are more important than all other types of human being. That their word is more reliable. That their sexual needs are the norm. That their pleasure is more important than the pain of children. A rape culture in other words.

What I am scared about is that people will focus on names, and when a particular name is shown to be false they will think this solves the problem. It does not. The names are - I won't say a red herring - but the insider knowledge is less important than what should be clear to all. Rape culture is evil and needs to be changed.
breaking bad

The Long Con

I just read an article by the American historian Rick Perlstein (author of Nixonland) which develops the idea I was kind of kicking around in my head yesterday, that 'Insider knowledge' is overrated. The article is called The Long Con and it's about how political mailing lists have been used by con artists since the early sixties to mail scams out to victims. And a lot of these scams are based on supposed 'insider knowledge', send money to learn about the cancer cure doctors are keeping to themselves or whatever.

In the last page of the article Perlstein raises another point, which I find fascinating. Loud public affirmation of things that people at some level know are not true serves as a group bonding thing. Here he is on the Romney campaign:
Lying is an initiation into the elite. In this respect, as in so many others, it’s like multilayer marketing: the ones at the top reap the reward... Sneering at, or ignoring, your earnest high-minded mandarin gatekeepers—“we’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers,” as one Romney aide put it—is another part of closing the deal. For years now, the story in the mainstream political press has been Romney’s difficulty in convincing conservatives, finally, that he is truly one of them. His lying—so dismaying to the opinion-makers at the New York Times—is how he has pulled it off once and for all.
Knowing deep inside that something isn't true makes it bizarrely more emotionally compelling to a certain kind of person. Orwell wrote quite a bit about this. For example I think those people who make a big fuss saying 'Obama is a Muslim' don't really believe it. And in a funny way the fact that they know it isn't true makes it more exciting to say it, and hang out with other people who say it. Or you know 'Homosexuals are going to inject our children with AIDS' or whatever bullshit. It excites them in an unhealthy way I think, because they know it isn't true, but they can all get together and say it to each other.

If I try to put it in a nice way, some people are strongly attuned to group cohesion and group membership - which is a natural human thing - and affirming an untruth in solidity with others emphasises the strength of their social ties. Just like for a different kind of person affirming 'the truth' against social unpopularity is quite thrilling in a different way.
breaking bad

You don't need to be an Insider

I went to bed early last night. Apparently there was a Newsnight report about the ongoing child abuse revelations which are rocking the British establishment. The BBC cautiously redacted the name of the friend of Margaret Thatcher who was closely involved. So this morning I thought I would give myself a little test of how easy it would be to find out who he was. It took less than five minutes. And it was only as long as that because I had the wrong name in mind. I have decided not to link to any websites, because it will all be out by the end of the day anyway. For example, wikipedia staff have edited content, but wikipedia editing history is open to anyone to read. If you care to know you can find out. PS it is not a fascinating fact or anything.

There was an article in Crooked Timber about the concept of Insider knowledge (it's not about child abuse).
Most of the time, you can learn as much or more from intelligently consuming publicly available information as you can from attending purportedly insider briefings... (in fact) you are likely to end up with a less biased understanding. ... the reasons for the apparent near-unanimity among foreign policy specialists that going into Iraq was a good idea was a combination of bad sources, careerism, and substantial dollops of intellectual dishonesty.

I agree with that post: the idea that powerful people have some kind of secret understanding, closed to the rest of us, is self-serving bullshit. OK, obviously there are secrets - like who exactly did what and when - but secrecy is there to protect the incompetence and weakness of the powerful. It doesn't give politicians and their pet journalists special power or competence, quite the reverse, it allows them to be rubbish. And secondly, while the details of allegations can be hidden (for a while) the overall attitudes of superiority and selfishness which enable abusive behaviour are obvious to anyone who cares to see.

Let me take an example from outside Western society, and outside right wing circles. Both Stalin and Mao were linked to people who physically abused others. In both cases the details were suppressed. But do we think that ordinary people in those countries did not know? Or that the attitude which enabled that abuse was not clear to all? Of course people knew. And it is just the same for us. (By 'the same' I mean we already know in our hearts, like people in Russia did. The wicked deeds are different).

I think the only thing that happens when details come out is that what has been frankly obvious to anyone with eyes can't be denied any longer - not the individuals but that attitude that some people are expendable, usable, less important. Although of course some people will bitterly continue to deny.
breaking bad


Sorry I have been very poor at reading livejournal this autumn because my life is very busy. Best wishes to all lj friends on the East coast of the US. Hope there aren't too many problems from the storm coming over this evening.
breaking bad

Derren Brown and magical narrative

My daughter is a big fan of Derren Brown and she was telling me about his new show Apocalypse. We were saying how his explanations of 'how he does it' are always fake, and the real trick is something else going on while your attention is caught up in his elaborate psychological explanation. And also how he makes use of the narratives which already exist in our society to control his subjects. One of my daughter's closest friends was brought up on stage at a Derren Brown show, and analysing her experience afterwards made it clear how he uses the narrative of 'being on stage with Derren Brown' for example (and other common cultural narratives). By the way this is absolutely not a criticism or a debunking, I think it's brilliant stuff. There are layers within layers, and the first revelation is always a fake one. Not a problem, and I think he's a lovely man, who deserves his success.

A friend said she thought government was like that - there is one bit of business going on in the public view, which corresponds to culturally accepted narrative of 'what government does' and then another thing going on which is government actually being effective and producing results while our attention is on the showmanship. She thought the current government were only doing the 'government narrative', like a magician who does the hand-waving and distraction, but who isn't actually working meanwhile to make the trick happen.

And then I was comparing what happened to the Lib Dems in 2010 - and we saw a lot of this on livejournal - to a kind of hypnosis. They were swept up by a powerful narrative, and it ate them and destroyed them. But I don't feel they are blameless, because they were psychologically ready to be tricked. They were kind of asking for it.