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.