Monday, 22 August 2016

The Nightmare world

Channel 4 are a bit precious about their catalogue of material, apparently it's too good to be leached by bloggers. Consequently there's no option to embed their videos from YT, so I've opted to link to the video of interest with this screen shot.

The interviewer, Krishnan Guru-Murthy, has a habit of pressing celebrities for answers to questions outside the appropriate context. A notable instance occurred at a press junket for Avengers Age of Ultron. Murthy tasked Robert Downey Jr. to ruminate on some issue by prompting him with a mention of an episode from his past that Mr. Downey would probably prefer forgotten. Not a particularly friendly thing to impose on an actor but journalists don't make that many friends. Here, he tries a similar trick on Samuel L Jackson who instead of calling foul, does him the favour of running with the ball.

Murthy makes the perennial assertion of moral entrepreneurs, that being that entertainment should conform to a wholesome template. A template dictated I imagine, by folk such as himself, the enlightened, those blessed with the appropriate insight to guide the masses--yeah! Well there's a couple of problems with that notion but it doesn't stop people like Murthy trying or indeed exerting the influence, to extend their ideals into reality.

There's a means of forcing those intent on pressing untenable ideals on the world, to face their illusions, it works every time without fail; give them what they want, then watch the destruction ensue. Unfortunately it's impossible to be insulated from the consequences of this light blue touch paper and retire approach. You can never put enough distance between yourself and those striving for the celestial grace epitomised by their vision of the perfect world. Imagine the scene, here you are Krishnan, welcome to Gruinard your very own island where you can impose your prescribed values on on literature and art to your heart's content.

The island is never enough, isolation offers no consolation if knowledge of something greater exists, it becomes a prison. That's not because there's an intrinsic need to travel beyond the hill that rises on some distant vista, it's because you have knowledge of what's on the other side of that hill. Who knows what that would be in Krishnan's imagination, probably a world populated by desolate souls, misguided and led astray by Mr. Jackson's talent. What I do know, is that these kind of extra-territorial grievances fall into two categories:-

1. It's your fault, you the unbeliever are to blame for all my woes and privations. You don't have to speak to me, interact with me in any way, you just have to be alive and have more than me.

2. Verily thou sinneth largethly, the god of [insert ideology here] commandeth me to smite thee down.

The common factor between those categories is comparison. If you live on an island and you're the only islander with a bike, you're the wealthiest person on the island. If that island is your world, you're the wealthiest person in the world, so how do you feel when you see a boat in the harbour for the first time? It's cultural rivalry, the folk on Krishnan's Gruinard can't be content with their regime in isolation, they need to assert their moral superiority. That need, the imperative to express a sense of superiority, is related directly to the level of cultural impoverishment but it's not a linear relationship. The difference doesn't have to be that great, it just has to be something evident, something that promotes envy, even if the cause is trivial.

Karl Marx travelled to England to see what the fuss was about and to get away from people trying to lock him up. While here he couldn't quite come to terms with the reality of Britain's prominence in the industrial age. His homeland, Europe's seat of learning and philosophy for hundreds of years, while prosperous, was lagging ever so slightly in comparison. So he came up with an ideology, something to explain why those goofs in England were lording it over the world. It was an ideology rooted in the Prussian tradition of state primacy practised in his erstwhile homeland but with an extra moral dimension. It was something called capitalism that was to blame, a morally bankrupt insidious institution that corrupted the natural order.

Marx invented capitalism but it was like one of the works of science fiction that impact on the reality of actual science. His negative conception of capitalism actually moulded how his ideological opponents conceived themselves, in a manner something like this: If Marx is bad then what he says is bad must be good. This kind of negative feedback is extendible in principle to any ideology with a moral imperative. Witchcraft and the devil are ideas conceived by the pious then practised and adulated by the wicked. It's one of the reasons why you can never put enough distance between yourself and the zealot once you've lit the blue touch paper. The very act of distancing is self defeating, there cannot be an idealogical vacuum in such circumstances. If something is so egregious it must be moved beyond the pale then its inverse must take its place.

I always find the views expressed by Murthy in this video a little difficult to understand, just what is the justification for this desire to prescribe entertainment? Do they really believe they're going to build a better tomorrow and how exactly to they prevent the intrusion of reality into this delusion? What happens to them when they're faced with actual evidence, do the eyes gloss over, is there a temporary loss of cognisance and the memory of the encounter consigned to oblivion? Perhaps the clue lies with perception, people with the desire to extend control over a chaotic systems or events, must perceive some direct, easily manipulated and homogeneous relationship between cause and effect. To such an imagination, an event perceived must have a cause intrinsically related to the nature of that event. So if a person is beaten or stabbed, wouldn't the natural assumption be that the perpetrator was prompted into such an act through the fictional examples portrayed in entertainment? Thankfully, reality diverges from this conception quite sharply, otherwise we'd all be in real trouble and bored snotless every time we opened a book or watched the telly. Imagine that world, the one where behaviour portrayed in fiction is relayed into reality with absolute fidelity, what a burden it would be for writers and artists, what a boon for despots and dictators.

I'm not like Samuel L Jackson I don't deny a link between fictional portrayal and events in reality, I just know that it's not one you can ascribe cause and effect to. The link is not direct, it's chaotic, by chaotic I mean complex beyond any metric or analysis. That means it's something we don't really understand and when people don't understand things, there's a temptation to fall back on intuition and guesswork. Intuition is influenced much more by symbolic association than is rational analysis and the symbolic link between fictional violence and violence in reality is one that is trivially identified. It may be forgiveable to resort to intuition when it's your only option, forgiveable that is, until you tried to apply it a dozen times only to fail on each and every occasion. We may not have a proper understanding of the problem of violence and aggression within a social context but there are a few clues, there's a disparity between cultures that is cavernous in scope. We can deduce that living standards are a factor and that crime is not necessarily related to the severity of the penal system but more through social sanctions. It seems that the fact that your mother won't talk to you is a greater deterrent to potential criminals that gaol time. There are dozens of other correlations, most of 'em probably not causally significant: the level of obesity, a seafood diet, the length of your wife's hair, whether you wear shoes indoors, how close the shops are, how much time you spend travelling to work. The bad news for Krishnan is that the level of violence portrayed in film, television and literature doesn't adversely correlate to the level of violence in a social context. In fact, the really very bad news for Krishnan, is that the correlation that has been identified, goes in the other direction.

But this symbolic link, it just persists doesn't it, over and over again it comes up. It receives the same level of consternation and credulity, the same attention seekers rally to the cause, the fall out creates the same contraction in cultural life. The interesting thing about it is that it's periodic in nature and as a form of social/collective behaviour, it bares analysis much more easily than the problem it purports to address. The focus on violence is the first aspect that needs to be understood because it doesn't actually have anything to do with violence or violent behaviour. The purported concern over violence, is actually just a focus on a form of socially abhorrent behaviour and the reason for that is, that almost other forms of behaviour once widely considered abhorrent, are off limits to those who wish to prescribe our behaviour. The other thing to understand is that this moral outrage is cyclic in nature, it reoccurs consistently and that re-occurrence is unrelated to the kind of material being subject to scrutiny and criticism. What that means is that if Krishnan got his way and he successfully ended the career of Quentin Tarantino, that the next cycle of moral outrage wouldn't be deferred. Instead the cycle continues, only the now the focus rests on the relatively impoverished material that arose from the censorship of the last cycle.

There's a marvellously transparent demonstration of the recurring nature of the moral outrage cycle in the James Bond franchise. How often have you witnessed it expressed, that Bond represents a abhorrent attitude towards woman and that he doesn't fit in with current values? Has that notion only just been expressed in the last decade, or perhaps controversy over Bond's attitude to women goes back a bit further, twenty years ago, say around the end of the nineties, no? Further than that, eighties, seventies, sixties, did that penny drop yet? There has never been a time when Bond's attitude to women wasn't a source of controversy. Bond was controversial when Fleming wrote the first book, Fleming was under and acquiesced to, constant pressure from his publisher to moderate Bond's persona. Yet there's this fictional past where Bond resides in the imagination of the moral entrepreneurs, where his dalliances and promiscuity are free from sanction. Fictionalising the past is vital to sustaining the moral outrage cycle. This reconstruction comes in two forms and those forms correspond roughly to two main types of moral entrepreneur; the progressive and the defender.

There's distinction between progressive and defensive moral entrepreneurs that seems trivially identified. If we wanted to categorise Krishnan, we'd call him a progressive, if we wanted an example of a defender we'd cite Mary Whitehouse. It's a fortuitous distinction because I've always wanted to use a particular term, this distinction is an example of a—wait for it—false dichotomy, ah that felt so—good! It's false because the motivation remains consistent between categories and the distinction commonly drawn between progressive and defender is one that depends upon context. The reason we draw this false distinction is because of the manner in which these two groups treat the past. To the progressive the past is the stone age, its ideals and manners should be consigned to history. To the defender it's the opposite, the decent into savagery is what's ahead, if the values rooted in the past can't be salvaged. So both groups, progressives and defenders, perceive a linear progression, the difference being orientation.

Fictionalising the past is vital because it's intrinsic to the moral entrepreneur's self image as a moderator of standards and ideals. It's not tenable to perpetuate the failures of the past, so the process of self deception needs to be facilitated by either ignoring or denying them or restructuring the context in which they occurred. This process can be quite elaborate and utilises a variety of techniques to moderate thought. One of the most important of these techniques is the use of language, new terms of expression are created, in this manner it's possible to create a disassociation from discredited or unfavoured notions but this is also used to redefine parameters. Terms like: sexism and sex object arise, they dissociate the concepts they encompass from terms like, loose morals and promiscuous. Parameters are redefined in both those examples, with sexism the meaning is extended to cover misogyny and sex object implies a deferral of personal volition for feminine participants.

So it's about time I wrapped this one up, is our mate Krishnan and are those folk like him ever going to disappear? I would guess probably not but it's a question that needs to be considered in the context of motive. As I've mentioned, I find the motive to be Impenetrable given the nature of reality but that assumes a degree of sincerity on behalf on moral entrepreneurs that may not be applicable. The stated motive is always the same, a better tomorrow and so is the means by which we get to that tomorrow, control over media and entertainment. What if it was the means to the ostensible goal, i.e. the control, that was the real motive? That's something I can start to make sense of.


  1. Does your seeming wish that Krishnan (and those folk like him) WOULD disappear, perhaps display a feeling of moral superiority on your own part? I'll have to come back and re-read this later, DSE. You have a tendency to 'dress up' even the most simplest of concepts in overly-wrought 'apparel' which gives the reader a more arduous journey than is necessary.

    1. There's no wishing on my behalf for the disappearance of anyone, neither Krishnan or those who share his preoccupation. My own sense of moral superiority in founded on the distaste for the dissemblers amongst those like Krishnan and to be fair to the man, I don't believe he's one of those.

      Unfortunately my view of such topics is not conducive to reductive discussion, I don't see a simple easily analysed problem, I think that's a view born out by reality. If that were not the case, the social problems Krishnan addressed, would not exist.

    2. I'd say there's still a way pf presenting the aspects of a complex subject in a clearer, more concise and cogent way, DSE, seeming contradiction not withstanding. However, I'll return to the subject when I feel more invigorated - I'm feeling rather depleted at the moment due to a medical condition.

  2. An Entrepreneur is a person who starts a business and is willing to risk loss in order to make money, so I'm not quite sure what a moral entrepreneur is. It's this tendency to use words outside their usual application which sometimes renders what you seek to say as almost inpenetrable, DSE. Words are for the purpose of communication and you don't always communicate too well. Some of my pals in the 'real world' have been flummoxed before by some of your comments on my blog, and unable to work out what it was you were trying to say. However, it seems to be that you object to people trying to 'impose' their idea of morality onto society - or in particular, onto you.

    This is to overlook the fact that everybody does this, so your argument is pretty much the same as those you would view to be on the other side to you. Sex scenes, bad language, violence, etc., on TV and films? That's because those who produce such things are trying to impose (or at least influence) their own idea of how things should be onto the rest of us. Therefore, your comment about Murthy can be as much applied to Downey, Jackson, Tarantino, and anyone else in the entertainment industry you care to name.

    I should say that I haven't seen the interview clips you speak of, so can't comment on whether they were 'outside the appropriate context' or not. However, access to superstars is limited, and I suppose the enterprising interviewer must take his opportunities to 'examine' their opinions when they present themselves.

    You make an immense assumption when you suppose that those 'intent on pressing untenable (there's your favourite word again, which you seem to use to dismiss any concept you're unable to deal with) ideals on the world' wouldn't be satisfied unless they could refashion the rest of the planet in their own image beyond their own immediate share of it. However, I suppose that point is arguable, but your view of it is so highly subjective as to make doing so entirely unprofitable.

  3. As to whether fictional violence 'causes' violence in real life, well of course it does - that's no delusion. It's your idea that it's impossible to establish cause and effect between fiction and reality that, to a degree and with limitations, more fits the pattern of delusion. Does that mean that if there were no violence in fiction that there would be none in reality? No, because violent people are violent people, but when society becomes steeped in the culture of violence as far as 'entertainment' goes, even those who are not inherently violent can be influenced in that direction. I think it's unlikely that every example of similarly-themed violence in the wake of a Clockwork Orange was committed by those with an overriding inclination to violence; some would have been carried out by those who had been influenced in that direction by the movie. Give violence a musical soundtrack and choreography and it can suddenly seem surprisingly attractive to even normally mild-mannered people. There was an explosion of teenagers wearing Crombies and Doc Martins after the movie. If a mere film can so influence fashion in such a 'cause and effect' way, do you really believe that it couldn't have a direct influence on other types of expression? However, am I saying that every instance of 'real' violence that may be influenced by examples of fictional violence can be traced directly back to its source? No, in that way, you are right to a degree that it is difficult to establish DIRECT cause and effect - at least in every instance. Sometimes the influences are so far in the past, at the impressionable and susceptible stage of the perpetrator's life, that a direct trace is next to impossible. Again I say, in that sense you are right. However, if you're asserting (as you seem to be) that a society which deprives its enjoyment from a diet of fictional sex and violence has not been (nor could be) shaped by its intake, then that seems to fly in the face of the principle 'You are what you eat'. Whether it's food for the body or the mind, there is, I believe, an obvious link to what either the individual or society as a whole 'consumes'.

    As for your statement that people tend to 'fall back on intuition and guesswork', you mean like you KNOWING that 'fictional portrayal and events in reality' is 'not one you can ascribe cause and effect to? The fact is, you're half-right and half-wrong, in that sometimes you can and other times you can't, but that hardly seems a solid bedrock on which to base your your assertion. Which, let's face it, springs more from your desire to enjoy whatever facets of popular entertainment you find agreeable without interference from 'do-gooders' (or moral entrepreneurs) than any source of undisputed fact on which you base your premise. In short, you have no 'cause and effect' argument to back up your view. It's mere 'intuition', and gives your viewpoint no more credence or authority than that of your moral oppressors.

    However, right now I need a sleep. I'll address the rest of your post later. It might be better for you to wait until I've finished, because if we get caught up in discussion over what I've said so far, we may never advance beyond this stage.

    1. Oops, that should be 'derives its enjoyment', not deprives.

  4. Okay, DSE, I've re-read your post and almost lost the will to live in doing so. You don't half batter a subject to death, and make the most exaggerated claims that don't really stand up to scrutiny. I'm not going to address every one of your points, because not only would that be an exercise in futility, it would make me as guilty as wittering on as you are. Direct cause and effect - here's an example. I remember, back in the '70s I think, Nationwide doing a feature on glue-sniffing. It was a minor pastime amongst a small percentage of teenagers, but when it was reported 'nationwide', it really took off to almost epidemic proportions (relatively speaking obviously). In reporting the trend - in reflecting a small part of reality to a wider audience - the result was not only to reflect but to magnify. This, surely, is a legitimate example of 'cause and effect'. Whether it be glue-sniffing, violence, swearing, anti-social behaviour, sex - whatever - once it has permeated society by being promulgated in all forms of the media to a wider audience, then society generally follows the trend. Society's behaviour on a larger scale is influenced by what's on telly, in newspapers, in films, books, songs, etc. I think this is a fact that is undeniable, but it's circular. Society likewise influences the media, but the point I'm trying to make is that it'a an unequal situation. Certain habits were once practised discretely amongst relatively small sections of society. In trying to reflect those small pockets of 'reality', the media spread them to an even wider audience, who were disproportionately influenced to some degree in that direction. As I said, circular cause and effect.

    However, although I believe there is a direct cause and effect, that's not to say that we can identify every instance of cause and effect. For example, you're familiar with the Biblical saying "The love of money is the root of all evil." What that's NOT saying is that the love of money is the root of EVERY INSTANCE of evil, only EVERY TYPE of evil. That's to say, that love of money can be the root (the cause) of prostitution, murder, theft, perversion, etc., on SOME - but NOT ALL occasions. In the same way, the influence of movies, TV, music, magazines, newspapers, etc., does have a direct effect on some people's attitude and behaviour, but, as you say, identifying the source in every instance is much more problematic. So I sort of agree with some of what you're saying, but I think you're over-egging the pudding. What you should remember is that those who think it's okay to show sex scenes, graphic violence, swearing, people doing the toilet (yup, I've seen it on TV - The Shield, I think) are also what you call 'moral entrepreneurs'. They think that free expression of their views is also going to lead to a 'better tomorrow', and that them controlling the media and entertainment, and fashioning it in their own image is the way to go. On either side, it seems that the goal is the same, but I find myself more in sync with the side that prefers society to exercise discretion and restraint - and SELF-control - than the side that says "hey, anything goes and f*ck all those who disagree".

    I didn't quite do your post justice perhaps, but a lot of it was more in need of mercy.

    1. Once again Kid you make a forthright contribution to the discussion. I quite like your concluding statement, "...a lot of it was more in need of mercy" which did tickle me and I think it's a line I might be plagiarising quite soon.

    2. You feel free, DSE. I think it was an Archbishop I nicked it from, so it's got a worthy pedigree.