Sunday, 26 July 2009

The Patriot

Earlier this week I sat down and watched The Patriot, a movie from 2000 staring Mel Gibson and the late Heath Ledger. Much as I would enjoy ripping the Triumphalist pile of American cock-suckery, I think that reviewing a 9 year old film might be just a little bit too far; even I have standards you know. Anyway, the film got me thinking about several things, one of which was where the nearest bucket was.

If you haven’t watched it, and I expect that you haven’t, I’ll give you a brief summary. If you feel like putting yourself through a couple of hours of futile misery by watching it then be my guest. If that’s the case you may want to skip this next bit for fear of spoilers. The film is set in South Carolina in the American War of Independence, or more accurately a parallel universe in which all Americans are righteous god-loving, high-minded demi-gods and the British are a load of snivelling, oppressive pricks that seriously lack a moral compass. The story revolves around a family, of which Mel Gibson is the father and Heath Ledger is the eldest son. In short Ledger’s character (named Gabriel... I’ll leave you to infer the obvious joke) goes off like all good flag-fucking young men should to fight in the name of freedom and justice. Meanwhile Gibson’s character pretends to be a pacifist in the name of character development. The war eventually comes to the family home and they agree to house some British wounded, in return their house gets burnt down, one of the sons gets killed and Gabriel, who is conveniently at home at the time, gets dragged off for execution. The antagonist in this case is the most stereotypically evil British Commander in the history of Film. Gibson along with his two remaining sons goes off and ambushes a rather incompetent column of troops and free Gabriel. For the next hour or so Ledger and Gibson run rings around the British with guerrilla warfare until the stereotype evil Brit starts killing everyone. With about half an hour to go, with Gabriel and any other family or love interests dead or in hiding Gibson unfurls the flag and embarks on the most sickeningly patriot conclusion to a film I have ever had the misfortune to sit through. I won’t detail it for fear of making you and me queasy.

To be fair to the film, until the last half hour the patriotism simmered gently under the surface of a decent story which focused on one specific family in the context of a larger war; it could have been any war and it wouldn’t have mattered. However once the writers killed off or conveniently removed any family interest and the director really let Mel Gibson off the leash the film took a turn down creation myth alley and it was downhill from there.

I say creation myth because the general perception of the American War of Independence is just that; a creation myth loosely based in reality. While it started as a revolution by the Americans for their own nation free from British rule, it very swiftly escalated into a much larger ‘Proxy’ War between Britain and France. The French funded the Revolution from the very beginning and ended up entering the war as the deciding factor. The war of Independence was as much a war between Britain and France as a Revolutionary War. Essentially the image which is portrayed by the media is a gross misrepresentation of the facts. It is a glorified creation myth designed only a self-gratification for the then emerging United States of America. Now that the USA is the one global superpower, this collective delusion only serves to inflate the already enormous American Ego.

The principles of Life, Liberty and a the Pursuit of Happiness are admirable ones and the American Dream, while mostly propaganda is something that we can and should respect, however the slogans and philosophical self-righteousness are a thin veneer placed upon the blatant and dangerous patriotism which lies at the heart of the American consciousness. It is easy too look at the flagpoles in every garden and chants of “USA, USA” at political rallies in a Romantic light, but in the modern world of fast travel wherever you want, it is ever more dangerous. America is no longer a distant ‘Brave New World’ an ocean away; it is a few clicks of a mouse away.

America can no longer afford to be so self obsessively arrogant. So long as films portray America as a dream world were everyman is born equal under God and Manna falls from heaven on a daily basis, American will be seen by the world not as a place were anyone can go from rags to riches with the right amount of effort and hard nosed determination, but as an outdated, self obsessed lumbering world power which throws it weight around under delusions of righteousness.

America’s collective arrogance is painfully outdated in the postmodern world we live in were people are rushing to distance themselves from their country. While there may be fringe groups and ferocious support for national sports teams, the embarrassing shadow of colonialism looms large over Europe and any national pride is left in Trafalgar Square or the Champs-Élysées. It is time that America leaves its national pride in its own monuments and approaches world affairs seeing itself on a level pegging with the rest of us, rather than trying to assume the position of superiority without consent. Rather than appearing like a teacher schooling children, America looms like a school bully ready to use force to get his way. It is past time that America forget it’s delusion of grandeur and treat the rest of the world as equals not inferiors. While this change may be gradually happening already, you need only look as far back as the Iraq War to see that it isn’t happening fast enough. Mel Gibson strutting around with a flag fluttering in breeze behind him is certainly not helping.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

And now for something completely different

Because there is nothing of any interest going on at all in the world at the moment, I decided to dig out some stuff I'd written about a year ago because I sprung upon some inspiration. I think I may have just read 1984, or something given the basic premise. Anyway, have a read and tell me what you think.

Two days ago I killed a man. At least I think it was two days ago; I’m not quite sure. The last 48 hours (or however many hours it actually is) have been timeless. You’re probably wondering why I have thrown you into the end of this story, not the beginning like any mentally stable person, but I want you to understand my motivation for writing this down and inevitably incriminating myself. The truth is not, as you might reasonably assume knowing nothing of my situation, that I am feeling very guilty and regretful over what I’ve done. The truth is that I am actually quite proud of myself; the man thoroughly deserved to die. No don’t suddenly assume that I am psychopath who has some shallow, contrived reason why my victim had to die, I’m not.

The reason the man had to die is quite simple; the more of them I kill, the more it hurts them, and the more it hurts them the better. ‘They’ are the people who rule this country, who watch our every move, who regulate our every act. The most tragic thing is that we actually elected them. Their arguments seemed so persuasive, so innocent. They were going to protect us, they said. They were going to stop the attacks, they said. They were going to protect our liberty, they said. 10 years they have been in power (10 years without an election by the way), and none of these have happened; the attacks still happen, we feel less secure that we did before and they have slowly eroded our liberty.

First it was our anonymity; the cameras, the ID cards, the constant tracking. The government now knows exactly who we all are, exactly where we all are and exactly what we have ever done. We cannot do anything without them knowing about it. They can even predict what we will do next; they are always a step ahead of us. You might want to know how this happened, how we let it happen. This is one of the things we actually accepted, back when the government listened to its people. They told us that it was to stop the terrorists, to stop the people who wanted to kill us. ‘What have you got to hide?’ they asked, ‘If you haven’t done anything wrong, what are you worried about?’ So, a little begrudgingly at first, we accepted the legislation.

I suppose that there is nothing inherently bad about the government having all of this information, when it is a good government. When it isn’t, the information gets abused, and that is exactly what happened. At first it was people who preached terrorism and spoke up for violence against people. It was not long after this that they began arresting people for speaking out against the government. ‘To present a united front,’ they told us. They shut down any newspaper that spoke out against them and now the only papers left are filled with government propaganda. Anyone who doesn’t read them gets arrested.

Despite all their measures to stop the attacks, they only got worse. They called a state of emergency and suspended the election, then they dissolved parliament. Decisions were no longer debated, they were just enacted, and no one had anywhere to voice their complaints or grievances.

The last straw was taking away our children. At first it was voluntary to send children away to government run boarding schools, now it is compulsory. If you refuse, they break down your door, steal your child and throw you in prison. No one knows what happens to them in the school or the prisons, but when they come out they are a different person. There is no mark on them, but they are different: you can tell when they talk. It is a toneless drone and whenever you mention the government they are full of praise.

As I said, it was the last straw. We rebelled. Well the word ‘we’ is a little misleading; it implies some sort of cohesive group, implies that we rebelled in an organised, collective way. But how would that be possible in a society were your every move is monitored, your every word documented? No, it would be more accurate to say that I rebelled at the same time as thousands of others. We rebelled for the same reasons, at the same time, but we were not together; we were a collection of individuals, acting for our own reasons and for our own cause. Because of this we are unstoppable; there will always be rebels, so long as we are free.

So, two days ago killed a man. I went to the government offices and waited for one of them to come out, I didn’t care whom; in this battle anyone is a target. I still don’t know who it was that I killed; it may have been a senior government official, or just a pen pusher. It didn’t matter because the more we hurt them the less able they are to hurt us and the more afraid they become, the more they will think before they act. Before the attacks have all been on civilians; the occasional government official has been caught up in the blasts, but never before have they been targeted specifically. Now that they are being targeted, they will fear us, and that fear will destroy them.

So I followed this official, through the streets, passed the occasional bombed out building. Most of the streets are quiet; people tend not to go out anymore; they’re afraid of the attacks. I don’t know whether he was aware of me or not, but he seemed to take a very roundabout route; down back alleys. I followed, and when I was in one particular alley I made my move.

Fear and anxiety drove me; the adrenaline pumping through my veins gave me the extra strength needed to make it a swift kill. I bent as if to tie a shoelace and my fingers groped for the brick I had spotted to my left. Grasping it in sweaty palms, I knelt like a sprinter, I daren’t look back; there was a camera behind be. I chose this spot because the camera would not see my face; maybe I would be able to delay my death for a few days if they weren’t sure of my identity.

The brick was heavier than I have expected and I got off to a lumbering start, eventually however I built up pace. I sprinted down the alley and leapt onto the back of my target, taking him to the ground. He was smaller than I had expected; the thick winter coat he was wearing hid his true physique. It was not easy to subdue the man; he fought ferociously, like a cornered dog, starved to desperation and frothing at the mouth. Eventually my greater strength and the advantage a weapon afforded got the better of him. I struck him until his brains spilled out onto the ground. It was a disturbingly pleasant feeling. I looked back up the alley to check that my act had not been seen by anyone, turned and walked away briskly.

Near the end of the alley a hand wrapped itself around my mouth and I was hauled through a door to my left. I stab of fear shot through me: I had been caught.

“Your first mistake was allowing them to watch you as you followed him,” the harsh Scottish accent whispered harshly in my ear. “Your second mistake was killing him in the open.” The voice went on, I was frozen by terror, like a rabbit in headlights. “Your third mistake was looking up after you smashed his brains in; you got caught on camera; they know who you are and they will stop at nothing to kill you.” he paused, releasing his grip on my mouth. I turned to face my kidnapper. He wore a balaclava so I could not see his face.

“All in all though, not a bad job; you chose a secluded location and managed that camera well enough until you gave yourself away afterwards. You didn’t let them know what your voice sound like, which is a good thing and no one but me saw you. Most people fair much worse on their first go.” I didn’t quite no what to make of this strange faceless man who talked of death so calmly, as if he was experienced at the act.

Eventually I found it within myself to speak. “So you’re not one of them?"

“Very perceptive. I’m just like you in fact.” He came very close to me. “A rebel!” he whispered in the same tone he had addressed me with at first.

“So there are more of us?”

“Oh yes, lots more, but I can’t say anything more here, it’s not secure enough; we want to keep a secret as possible. Come with me.”

He led me down into the basement of the small terraced house. He pulled off the cover of the entry shaft into the sewers and ordered me down. We landed in a foot deep of water. The tunnel was not wide enough for both of us to stand straight, so, because I wanted to question the strange man, I was forced to crane my neck against the curvature of the tunnel wall. My companion fished out a torch and turned it on; the tunnel was illuminated to reveal grime-covered walls.

“You’ll be needing this.” He said, handing me a balaclava, much like the one he was wearing.

“Why do I need to wear this down here? Surely there are no cameras here?”

“No, but we can never know whether or not we have been infiltrated, so long as no-one knows who anyone else is, they can’t tell them who we are.” I put the balaclava on.

“But if someone has infiltrated us, couldn’t they lead the police to us?”

“The tunnel system’s huge and we know it a lot better than they do. We could fight a guerrilla war against them down here quite easily, and win it in no time.”

I had meant to question him more, but there didn’t seem much more to ask; I could answer all my own questions with relative ease.

I spent the next few hours on a guided tour around the sewer system. I met many of the other rebels. There was a good number more that I had expected; some it seemed had fled down here when things first started, many more had arrived as things became gradually worse. They also had a startling number of weapons hidden away, as though they were building an arsenal.

So for the last two (or three) days I have been living down here, in the sewers. When I first asked if I could keep a diary they were sceptical, but after a while a persuaded them. So long as I didn’t give anything away about our location, they said.

The Scotsman walked up to him as he was writing in the diary.

“Come on.” he said, “Time for your second murder.”

The man put the diary and away in a safe dry place and followed the Scotsman.

I've written a couple more instalments, which I may post in the next few weeks, I may even write a bit more if inspiration strikes. Tell me what you think

Sunday, 12 July 2009

A stunning distraction

Due to a complete lack of any inspiration for a blog this week, I thought I'd just show you some really cool shit instead to distract you from my failure. This distraction takes the form of some artwork done on the sides of building. He takes bland buildings like this:

And transforms them into this:

Some other examples of his work include this wall:

Trasnsformed into this:

Or this boring concrete wall in a carpark:

Into this:

I wonder just how many birds fly into this wall every day.

It's hard to believe that this is actually a flat wall, his use of perspective and the realism of his architecture is phenomenal.

Sunday, 5 July 2009

God save the Queen?

Early this week it was revealed that British Royal family spent £1.5 million more last year that the year before, taking the total to £41.5 million. This figure does not include the ‘Civil List’, which pays for the running of the Royal household (£7.9 million per year) and the undisclosed cost for protecting the royal family. All told the total amount that the Royal Family costs the British taxpayer is almost certainly over £50 million. This figure is set to rise as the Royals have been digging into a reserve fund in order to make up a deficit in the Civil List for several years now. When the current deal expires next year the Queen will almost certainly have to go cap in hand to the government and ask for money. If whoever is in government at the time has any backbone they should refuse her.

£50 million is small change compared to the billions that the government has been pouring into the banking sector to try to prevent a wholesale economic meltdown. Nevertheless, the Royal Family remain a meaningless, archaic relic of a bygone era. The Queen performs no real constitutional purpose; she is a figurehead whose place as Head of State is merely for the sake of meaningless and every more irrelevant ceremonial formalities. Essentially the Royal Family represent £50 million which might as well be thrown into the ocean.

It would be unfair to say that the Royal Family do nothing of any use; they do extremely valuable charity work and provide a constant source of amusement and ridicule, but this is not the point; we supposedly live in a country which adheres to the principle of democracy, freedom and justice. Maintaining an unelected Head of State with unearned wealth and privileges completely discredits these ideals. The Royal Family is absurdly rich when you take into account the value of the multiple palaces and stately homes, all by virtue of being born; they have done nothing in their lifetimes to deserve the wealth they own. This unearned wealth is obscene when you consider the millions of people struggling to make end meet across the globe.

This is not to say that I abhor wealth; I regard entrepreneurs like Bill Gates; men who have earned their wealth by virtue of their own ingenuity, to be among the greatest men alive. I do abhor unearned wealth; wealth gained, not by virtue of your own intellect, but through force, fraud or by the chance of your own birth.

The only man who deserves his inheritance is the man who has no need for it; if he could make that inheritance on his own, without the help of those who have come before. There is no way that any member of the Royal Family could and ever would be able to create the kind of wealth that they inherit. There is no way any of them could even create the £50 million grant they get every year from the taxpayer; they couldn’t make it in a lifetime, let alone a year.

The Royal Family is a pointless drain on the taxpayer and it is time that we shook of the needless burden of a redundant and increasingly absurd relic from our history. The only thing keeping them there is a vague sense of sentimental patriotism; we should not allow our emotional attachment to our past to stop us from moving forward. The Royal Family is a nostalgia inducing relic which reminds us of the time when Britain was the greatest superpower on the planet, we need to get over our imperial hangover and start moving forwards if we are ever to be more than a pushy ex-power with an overinflated ego.

We currently strut around on the world stage, pretending that we still matter, throwing our weight around in an attempt to fool ourselves into believing that anyone still cares. It’s time we moved on and we should start off with getting rid of the most redundant institution of them all; the monarchy.

This is not to say of course that the beautiful palaces and statues of former greats should be removed. We can and should still remember our history; it can teach us a lot about ourselves and the way the world works. Our history reminds us that greatness is fleeting, it reminds us just how fickle and world can be. It can humble us and drive us onto to do better than our forbears. These are valuable things that everyone needs, however it is equally important that these things stay exactly where they belong; the past.

By allowing our past to live on into our future is potentially extremely damaging; it is the kind of sentimental attachment to our past that allows extreme nationalist like the BNP to get a foothold. It may seem rather innocuous, but the sentimental patriotism attached to the Royal Family can be directly harnessed by extremists and used to make themselves seem more plausible. To refuse to increate the money afforded to the Royal Family would be a small step on the way to revitalising the country and combating the dangerous rise of extremist nationalist groups. Unfortunately I doubt any government would have the backbone to tackle the monarchical relic and hence drastically change our constitution for the better.