Tag Archives: Television

More media stuff

The Guardian seems to have started a Wire discussion group. It would be churlish to suggest that the Guardian, as an entity, never took as much interest in the Wire before it centred round a newspaper office.

(Charlie Brooker and a couple of other Guardian tv reviewers were the honourable exceptions to this.)

I’m going to steal its intro warning to explain why I haven’t been indulging in my customary gushing over the genius of the Wire:

SPOILER ALERT: Usual rules: No giving the game away if you’ve gone further; don’t spoil it for yourself if you are further behind.

Basically, it’s too difficult to remember which Wire events are OK to write about and which aren’t, in case I spoil someone’s enjoyment. Sadly, I’ve already spoilt it for myself by seeing it already. I know what’s going to happen in the wind-up part of the 5-series set, so I don’t want to watch it until I’ve forgotten enough detail to make it watchable again.

There’s an Iraq war short series from “the team who brought you the Wire.” I would be grateful if someone who’s seen it in the US will tell me if it’s good. I’ve decided to wait till it’s on television here, so as not to spoil it, in case it is good.

However, I’m so squeamish that I won’t want to watch it if it’s too distressing. Which, given that it’s about the Iraq war, is probably a certainty. So I’m in two minds about the whole thing and would welcome any guidance.

Otherwise completely unconnected to the above rambling, except for being also interesting in today’s Guardian, there’s an article by Hicham Yezza, the academic who’s waiting to be deported after downloading the al-qaeda manual for a colleague.

The UN’s committee on human rights has just published a report criticising Britain’s anti-terror laws and the resulting curbs on civil liberties. For many commentators the issues raised are mostly a matter of academic abstractions and speculative meanderings. For me, it is anything but. These laws have destroyed my life. (from Hicham Yezza in the Guardian.)

I had lazily assumed that this nonsense was all sorted out months ago. It appears not. Just because the media have lost interest doesn’t mean that this absurdity has been undone. In fact, some inexorable process – that Yezza characterises as Kafkaesque – seems have been set going.

Dawkins on Darwin, Part 3

Good programme. (Channel 4, UK. I should hope some socially conscious pirate has put it on You-tube by now. Or you could buy the DVD.) Dawkins and Dennet made a generally superb job of pointing out how the joys of the real natural universe piss all over the imaginary comforts of religion.

It was a difficult to decide which anti-evolutionist – the American woman or the British chemistry teacher – would be my first choice if I ever win a “Free kick the stupidest creationist who’s ever been on tv” competition. In the end, it has to be the British teacher. National pride requires it.

However, the American woman managed to combine a patronising manner with a studied and deliberate social “charm”. She smiled continuously – in what she must have been misinformed was a disarming way. She fixed Dawkins with steady (albeit slightly cross-eyed) eye contact and mouthed utter bullshit about “teaching the controversy.” So, it is with a heavy heart that I have to relegate her to second choice.

I was baffled by the English science teachers who declared themselves a bit scared about teaching evolution. Imagine a group of geography teachers worrying about teaching their subject, in case some student had a parent who was in the Flat Earth society. What’s the difference?

The Archbishop of Canterbury managed to tie himself in knots trying to square complete acceptance of the science with his concept of a god who set up evolution but kept out of it – while, at the same time, claiming to believe in the New Testament miracles. There was an entertaining moment where he more or less admitted his position was a fudge to deal with awkward questions.

Cross factor

Reality TV show producers are getting really desperate for topics. On the face of it, this would seem unlikely, given that reality is infinitely interesting, but to run out of ideas you have to redefine “reality” in a novel way. You have to take the word “reality” to mean “Start from an absurd premise. Gather a few people with moderate to severe psychological problems. Put them under pressure until they break.”

Granted this sounds like the actions you’d expect from a cult. So, it’s appropriate that a new UK Channel 4 “reality” show is called Make me a Christian. A crack team of four types of Christian try to change a comically diverse set of subjects.

Charlie Brooker’s introduction to this series in Saturday’s Guardian said more or less all you ‘d want to know about it.

In true oversimplified TV-conflict tradition, it’s a clash of absurd extremities. The Christians, for instance, consist of an evangelical preacher, a lady vicar, a Catholic priest and – very much heading up the pack – the Reverend George Hargreaves, founder of Operation Christian Vote, and the Christian Party, and the Scottish Christian Party, and the Welsh Christian Party. If it’s Christian and a Party, chances are George is its figurehead. He scatters Christian joy like a muckspreader flings shit: indiscriminately and everywhere.
Said Christians are pitted against a group of volunteers containing the following widely representative social types: a lesbian schoolteacher, a tattooed militant atheist biker, a white Muslim convert, a boozing fannyhound who claims to have slept with over 150 women, and a lapdancing witch. Nice work, C4. I’m sure we can all learn from this. Let battle commence.

The atheist (militant, tattooed, biker, yada, yada) complained about brainwashing. He refused to even go into York Minster, on the grounds that it was built just to keep the peasants down and had nothing to do with the “love” that this programme is supposed to be about. Well, this may have been pretty a statement of fact, but his attitide didn’t exactly endear him the other volunteers. The others hated him for his strident opposition, seemingly becoming more responsive to the evangelical message just to prove that their manners were better.

While the evangelists were cleaning out the suspiciously generic items of decor in the lesbian’s and lapdancer’s homes, the Catholic priest was bringing fresh kitsch to the home of the 17-year-old lapsed catholic father-to-be. A terrifying picture of the Pope, for instance. Some icons. You know the sort of thing. The participant’s girlfriend drew the line at one item of sculpture. “I don’t think that a dead man hanging on a cross is a nice thing to have hanging up in your house.”

When I say that the decor was “suspicious,” I mean this in the sense that the mansions of minor rock stars are suspcious on MTV Cribs. Just as the owners of many Cribs don’t seem to have ever walked through the front door before the start of filming, these people’s homes seem to have been madeover in special “reality” mode. They didn’t seem to have a book or a photograph that didn’t fit into their TV programme persona. You didn’t see the random trash that turns up in real people’s rooms. The witch’s books seemed to have been bought by the yard from the New Age section of Waterstone’s. It looked as if none had ever been opened.

She didn’t really seem like a great reader. For a start, she’s a lapdancer and would-be glamour model who has had her chest and nose cosmetically enhanced and who owns thousands of pounds worth of hideous and expensive shoes. Call me a godawful snob, but there is nothing in that list that you would usually associate with the profile of a deeply philosophical thinker.

She was a great crier, though. She was sobbing at the first suggestion from her selected christianiser that her lifestyle may not be ideal. Well, he put it much more forcefully. He said she was chasing the false idols of materialism and demonic powers and was on a trajectory to hell.

Her achievements to date don’t suggest philiosophical depths, but they do suggest a pretty low level of respect for herself and an excessive willingness to please. So, she seemed to me to be fair game for a conversion.

Her evangelist clearly felt the same. He said “She is a broken lady … but it’s a good place to be to welcome Jesus into your life.”

How transparent is that? The more fucked up the person, the more likely that the Christian can get them to accept Jesus into their lives, yada yada. What was it the biker chap said about brainwashing, again?

The religious converters have been recruited as a spiritual makeover team. The equivalent of those TV presenters who tell receptive morons how overweight they are, how filthy their houses are or how badly they are dressed.

It’s exactly in tune with standard reality tv – a messed-up person is encouraged to fall to bits on camera for the entertainment of the masses. In return they get access to the magic of fame and, if they are really lucky, a couple of years in which they are mildly interesting to the readers of Heat and can earn good money for nothing.

I tried to come up with good arguments for why the existence of a religious makeover show is even more disgusting. But I’m not going to bother. It just somehow seems even more repellent when religion comes into it.

New Dr Who series

There’s a hallowed Whydontyou tradition that this blog has to get out a quick comment on any new Dr Who series. The first episode was OK, on balance.

I’m not the world’s biggest fan of Catherine Tate (a UK comedian) and it was a national embarrassment to see Tony Blair mouthing her catchphrases (worse even than his Simpson’s cameo.) Her Dr Who character just seemed like a more sympathetic portrayal of half of her standard comedy characters. All the same, she’s very gifted and wasn’t as irritating as she might have been.

It was telling to realise that I was actually hoping for the return of Billie Piper, although her apperance seems to have just been a two-second teaser. According to the Register, Lily Allen was the top assistant choice in November. I don’t know if that was just a wild Register rumour or if it’s still a possibility. IMHO, the best assistant in the new set of Dr Who series has been Freema Agyeman.

The space ship effects were good. I’m a sucker for well done 3-d graphics and good special effects.

(Except for the hanging bit, which was exactly as silly as almost every other “hanging from the side of a building” scene ever. I mean, just try hanging from anything, even if your life DOESN’T depend on it. If you can manage 15 seconds and you aren’t an experienced mountain climber – total respect. Or try and find a multi-storey building that doesn’t generate its own wind system. )

Cultural refs:

  • A merge of the Supernanny and Anne Robinson stereotypes of bossy female Englishwomen. There aren’t many recognizable examples outside the TV world and some newspaper columns, but, hey, that’s the world now anyway.
  • The supposedly increasingly fat UK population is a really popular topic, of course. Here the idea was that excess lard turned into a life form, which was an entertaining idea.
  • People’s endless desire for any diet pills that will magically trim fat.
  • Office work. Office blocks. Those cages that hold the window cleaners who don’t actually have to abseil down the side of your building.
  • Alien visitor, crop circles and random conspiracy theories. Need I say more. Obviously, they usually turn out to be true in Dr Who.

Don’t have nightmares

This is a link to a really good, if disturbing, video. It discusses parallels between extreme Islam (in the shape of a Muslim man with a Hitler moustache) and Christian fundamentalism and how this has given our rulers a pretext to build up our fears to achieve their ends.

h/t to paul canning whose blog reminded me about the video Charlie Brooker showed to da yout’ this week, and even provided a link.

Charlie Brooker’s sample of young people found it infinitely more interesting than the youth tv dross he also showed them.

Oddly, given that Charlie Brooker is a tv critic so brilliant that he can make you chortle out loud, (hence giving away the fact you are secretly reading his Guardian column in work) his own tv ventures are not usually crowned with glory. But, even so, it takes a superhuman effort of will to disagree with his conclusions on any programme. And, he’s right on this one.

In praise of the BBC

This blog does its fair share of whining about daft things on the BBC, especially its website (“constructive criticism.”) There are disturbing current plans to cut back on everything good about the BBC, with a loss of 2,500 jobs. According to last week’s Guardian, the BBC’s high-profile serious journalists, such as Paxman, have been told not to express their criticisms of this sort of stuff on air.

The director-general has been quoted voicing the sort of Dilbert-speak that bodes ill for any organisation, from the perspective of both staff and customers. For example:

….his plan would deliver “a smaller, but fitter, BBC” in the digital age.
The six-year scheme, called Delivering Creative Future…..

Over the past few years, the BBC has expanded from being a public-service broadcaster – worthy enough in itself, to providing an almost unequalled Internet news resource. In the face of a general dumbing-down of television to a level that the average pet tortoise would find intelligible, the BBC still provides some tv and radio of amazing quality .

Well, it seems this all has to stop. The new plan is for more repeats, cuts to the television news, fewer current affairs programmes, fewer non-commercial kids’ programmes, ads on international stuff..

The editors’ blogs sound like it’s all an exciting new opportunity. Well, wouldn’t you, if you might be facing redundancy and criticism wouldn’t keep you out of that media dole queue?

…standing still is not an option because our audiences are changing and we must change with them….

Changing? More than normal changes then? In what ways? Granted most people have cable or satellite. I admit to watching minimal terrestrial tv, but that’s not because it’s over my head. It’s because most of it is hopelessly poor:

  • Soaps that should be poured down the plughole.
  • Reality shows that would make you want to Columbine the whole human race, if they actually bore any relationship to “reality”
  • Home / clothes / lifestyle makeovers, all aimed at a general transformation of the UK into a giant open-plan Stepford.
  • Programmes about raising children that make B.F. Skinner look laissez-faire
  • Plastic surgery programmes that actually promote it
  • Programmes about celebs and their weight problems
  • 100 greatest/worst adverts for car wax, or similar. With slightly recognisable talking heads discussing the choices
  • “Programmes” with a chirpy talking head and a screen puzzle designed to keep the drunk or mentally ill phoning in to “answer” trick questions at £300 a nanosecond

Basically, tv that would make the choice between watching it and gnawing off your own arm quite a difficult decision.

Is it the changing audience that’s driving this? If the audience is changing to be made up of the bedbound with broken remote controls, then maybe.

The BBC, although not blameless, is the least offender in this crap. It still represents so much of what is worthwhile in British culture. Cuts in its budget, cuts in its real staff….

Argh. That was the crunch of tooth on right arm flesh.

Wire 1 on FX-truly great episode

After mildly slagging off the Wire (that’s British for insulting, I have decided to insert idiomatic translations) I am forced to bow before it. I had forgotten that it ebbs and flows in quality. From great to genius, The episode on Monday on FX was a true work of genius.

The programme focuses on Bodie, di Angelo and Chief Daniels, each of whom is at a pivotal moment. There are so many layers of meaning that it I can’t begin to do it justice. I would be outputting exhuberantly semiotic stuff until next year. And that would be just for one episode.

So, I’ll just pick out a few points in a shamefully lame way.

On third viewing, I realised that Bodie puts on the executioner’s cap before he shoots the other child, in an episode of true horror. After this, he wears it more or less consistently. It expresses Bodie’s having become a “soldier,” a disposable cheap executioner for the Darksdales.

At the moment of the shooting, Bodie’s lieutenant is sobbing. The about-to-be-victim pisses himself. Bodie is horrified at having to shoot a boy. But he is not going to stop what he is doing either. He gets the boy to affirm that he is a man not a boy. Earlier, the about-to-be-shot boy has told Bodie that he is “a man” rather than a boy. At which point he looks about fourteen. Even the killers, despatched by Stringer Bell to do the shooting, look older. And one of the them looks 16.

Bodie has made a sort of low-level Faustian deal with Stringer Bell, as Stringer has implied that he can rise in the business if he gets rid of Ritchie. So, Bodie has already prepared to kill for a slight chance of a small improvement in his circumstances.

The Wire writers are showing us that the soldiers are children, living in desperate poverty and shooting each other over crumbs, both victims and perpetrators of the social values that support the whole system.

The moral implications of this killing are played out for Bodie through later series, as Bodie begins to dissent more and more from his role and to pay a heavy price for becoming an ethical being.

One immediate moral implication is that diAngelo, who has been getting increasingly disenchanted with his part in the Barksdales and is coming to ask himself moral questions about his life, explodes with anger about the murder of the child. This sets in train a decision to betray the gang. Which will soon become an epic moral struggle for him.

Both diAngelo and Bodie find that the development of remorse and the stirring of an ethical conscience do not bring any rewards. I think the Wire breaks some ground here. There is no sense of virtue justly rewarded and villainy justly punished. It is not a simple morality tale. Characters are killed off or survive, partly as a result of their actions but mainly as a consequence of the actions of others. You can’t just step out of “the game” by repenting.

At the same that diAngelo is developing an ethical sense, Chief Daniels is doing the same. There is battle of wits, rather than guns, between Commissioner Burrell and Chief Daniels. Burrell tries to applythe blackmail leverage he’s been holding over Daniels. He is being ordered by the political machine to stop the investigation, because it had uncovered a money relationship between the Barksdale gang and some Senators.

Daniels stands up, literally and metaphorically. As does di Angelo when he challenges Stringer Bell.

Daniels reminds Burrell that others would lose more by exposing him than would Daniels. They would have already used their leverage but for the fact that the greatest fear of the political machine is publicity. They have no intention of using their information against Daniels. So he calls Burrell’s bluff.

This stuff was powerfully moving. The moral complexities are laid out brilliantly through the masterly acting.

(As well as the writing, – taken for granted as pure genius-, the direction, the costumes, the sets, the use of music and anything else you can think of. The HBO marketing is naff, but The Wire’s got to pull an audience to satisfy its paymasters. And for bringing the Sopranos and the Wire to the television, I will forgive HBO pretty well anything.

Square-eyes

Watching over two hours a day of television is damaging to kids, according to the BBC, unselfishly reporting a study that clearly contravenes its own interests. This takes up a theme from past articles about stopping kids watching TV, on the grounds of behavioural problems, obesity or whatever is the current concern about kids and television.

Off the top of my head, I have a few questions about the evidence for all this.

  • Does “watching tv” mean sitting in rapt attention or having it on in the background, as so many of us do?
  • What are the mechanisms supposed to be that connect the square box and all these aspects of young humanity? Radiation? Mental torpidity? Engagement in popular culture? Exposure to advertising?
  • What type of tv? Are toddlers equally affected by watching CBBC or Men and Motors?
    Does the content make a difference? I’m prepared to argue that hours of watching reality tv and soaps would blunt the brain capacity of Einstein, but that’s just my bigotry. What about watching non-stop thought-provoking and educational programmes?
  • What about class effects? Middle-class kids are generally less likely to watch lots of tv. They are also less likely to be judged as having behavioural problems or be obese. Why single out tv as the crucial lifestyle difference, rather than, for example, having a decent family income, better access to other activities, less depression in the parents or any one of a huge range of distinctions?
  • Why two hours? Think of a number…..

My main quibble with the evidence is that it comes from people’s reports. When it comes to characterizing one’s parenting, no one wants to see themselves as being a “bad parent.” So, if they have soaked up any of the current standards in parenting, (i.e if they have any contact with other humans), they will claim to be keeping to them.

Parents who see themselves as bringing up their kids responsibly (who are probably those parents whose kids are least likely to fall on the wrong side of all the behavioural bars) are likely to say their kids watch a moderate apparently-ordered amount of tv. When these people are responding to survey questions, 2 hours sounds about right. They aren’t not exposing their kids willy-nilly to trash culture nor eccentrically cutting them off from the mainstream. This doesn’t mean it’s true.

This becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The hours of tv that children of self-identified responsible parents see (according to surveys…) can tell you what are the current social values for responsible tv watching. This is not the same as meaning x hours are healthy and >x hours are bad.

Do you know how much tv you watch? I have no idea. I can’t even define “watching” let alone count the hours.

News on the Wire

Casual, even indiscriminate, blog searching came up the news that HBO have finally given the Wire Series 5 a release date in the US at least. (wahay, w00t, etc.) It’s supposed to focus on the media.

In the UK, FX is showing all series straight through from Series 1 and is then supposed to go straight into series 5, when it runs out of previous episodes. I make that about a year in the future in the UK, which you’d expect to be at least 6 months after the US. The HBO site seemed to show no signs of having any future series on the go at all so I was getting a mite worried.

I know I shouldn’t even think this, let alone say it, but some episodes of series 1 have been pretty poor. (Strike me down now, Thor.) Series 1 will morph straight into series 2 which was generally poor for most of its run. When I say “poor”, it’s a relative term. The Wire is still so far ahead of anything else that even its poor episodes are pretty gosh-darned good.

But put yourself in the shoes of someone (for example moi) who has been sounding off about the Wire being the greatest work of art ever shown on television, etc, for so long that people I know have even started listening to me and watching it.

And then I find myself shamefacedly having to say “Well, that one wasn’t a very good episode” or “You have to watch them ALL to really get into the characters and storylines” or lame things like that, that sound like I’m covering my back over boosting something that turned out to be a bit naff.

Rewatching series 1 for the third pass, it is indeed still stuck a bit too much in a “TV crime” genre. That is good. Nothing wrong with the genre as such. But, I have to admit there is more cliche TV crime stuff in the first series than you’d expect after you’ve been acclimatised to nature of the Wire series as a whole. The whole set of programmes just slowly edges its way out of the “crime” category and turns into genius.

Or maybe it’s just that I don’t like McNulty, who is the central character in the first series. His character is a bit too irritating. It’s rooted in the cliche lone-wolf Philip Marlowe “flawed investigator with integrity” mould. Series 1 was just finding its feet, so it too often took the easy way out. Someone decided that McNulty’s character was supposed to bring bad to all those around him as a result of his arrogance, or something. So the cast have to keep saying that, in case you haven’t picked up on it. I can’t say that I would have picked up on it, to be honest, but that doesn’t mean that repeatedly telling me that’s what I’m supposed to see constitutes character development.

Sadly, last night’s rerun milked the whole “officer-down” scenario to death. The corrupt and manipulative Commissioner Burrell turned out to be a tower of non-judgemental sympathy to Kima’s partner. Even the repellent Rawls was there to give out sensitive heartfelt manly consolation to a McNulty whose guilt was expressed by his hands being covered with Kima’s blood. Come on. Out damned spot and all that? He wasn’t even remotely to blame. (He even threw up in a bin because she’d been shot, which seemed a bit out of character for a homicide detective.)

When a TV cop show presents someone drenched to the elbow in someone else’s blood, followed by them doing a symbolic handwashing Pilate-thing, it’s time to start putting extra notches on your cliche gun.

(I guess this blog post must be an example of what is the Americans call “tough love”, by the way. I adore the Wire but I’m not letting it get away with self-indulgence……..)

If you have started watching the Wire reruns and don’t think it’s so groundbreaking, stick with it. Because it gets more and more subtle and complex and goes deeper and deeper into the way society works.

Plus, the McNulty character is barely in it after series 1 and a bit of the series 2. He must have been too busy being a digitally-remastered Spartan, for which much thanks.

Experiment in fear

This sounds brilliant. A tv show based on exposing the mental influence of the tabloids Not just tabloids in general, with their z-list celebs and soap opera stars, but the most mind-sapping terror-inducing tabloid – the Daily Mail.

The film Supersize Me showed you are what you eat, but is it true that you are what you read?
New documentary The Daily Mail Diet aims to find out as it follows film maker Nick Angel giving up all TV, radio, print and online news sources for 28 days – except for the Daily Mail.

Mr Angel said: “It’s important to know what the Mail thinks, because it’s a lightning rod (or so it claims) to ‘Middle England’ – that ill-defined and slightly scary mass of people whose various incarnations include the ‘Moral Majority’ and ‘All Right Thinking People’.
“And in a sense, there’s a little bit of Daily Mail in all of us – who hasn’t felt their cheeks flush and blood boil when snapped by a speed camera or confronted with some maddening example of NHS bureaucracy?
“That’s what makes the Mail such a potent force – because while it’s loathsome, it’s also weirdly attuned to the dark heart of the British psyche.”

If you can get to see this programme, it sounds really worth watching.

By coincidence, it’s particularly relevant today. Following on from yesterday’s post here and Xanderg’s (of badnewsbible’s) excellent comments, the Daily Mail seems intent on lowering the bar below its even its own usual ant-limboing level.

The Tory leader is calling for the repeal of the Human Rights Act and the government is doing its best to pull the despotism rug from under the Tories by itself challenging the operation of the courts. Scenting success for its worldview, the Daily Mail has redoubled its attack, over the Chindamo case.

Here are three headlines from pages linking to today’s main Stephen Lawrence storyMail’s pages which carries the title ‘He’s no risk’: why jail boss backed Lawrence killer (I’m selflessly ploughing through this rubbish so you don’t have to. You can get the flavour of it from the headlines. But if you want to try an experimental diet of the Daily Mail, the link will take you to enough pages to undermine your will to live):
The quangocrats who let Chindamo stay (They are referring to the Immigration Appeals Tribunal, not previously known as liberal trailblazers.)
Chindamo’s Mafia gangster father awaiting trial for murder in Spain (Guilt by association, even though it seems the boy has barely seen his father since he was three.)
COMMENTARY: Has the law deprived Frances Lawrence of justice?

The Commentary refers to an editorial piece which tugs at the reader’s sympathy and emotions but signally fails to make any logical connection between sympathy for Frances Lawrence and their case for overriding EC law to deport Chindamo.

Why does justice for Frances Lawrence require that her husband’s killer doesn’t live in Britain? I know that Great Britain is a small island (compared to the land mass of Canada, say) but there are still about 65 million of us living here. The chance of accidentally bumping into him in Tesco’s is statistically pretty slim.

Just in case you think we are all certifiably mad in the UK, there’s a reasoned piece by Katie Ghose in the Guardian. This human rights hysteria threatens every one of us.

Once again we are in the grip of human rights hysteria. Variously blamed for allowing prisoners access to porn and preventing police forces from publishing photographs of suspects, the latest attack on the Human Rights Act relates to the decision not to deport Learco Chindamo, who is serving a life sentence for the murder of head-teacher Philip Lawrence in 1995.
Human rights have never been a passport to porn – nor were they an obstacle to the conviction or sentence of Chindamo, who is serving a minimum of 12 years for his brutal attack. But the truth takes a back seat when there are juicy headlines to be made out of human rights “lunacy”.

Channelling Dawkins

Dawkins latest programme elegantly put lots of the same points that I ineptly failed to make in any comprehensible manner, in a previous post on holistic medicine. That includes paying for other people’s gullibility; alternative therapies meeting a need for attention; the placebo effect and alternative therapies referring to scientific sounding concepts; and so on. (You know who you are, Deepak Chopra)

This blog is clearly channelling Dawkins. If you need any chakra realignment, you can probably get it here from now on.

Today’s episode of the Enemies of Reason series has people promoting such odd theories that Dawkins only has to smile politely and give them enough rope…. Indeed, some express such utterly strange beliefs that the only charitable explanation is that they are joking

Atlantean DNA? A woman barefacedly told the world’s best known evolutionary biologist that bits of his DNA were missing. She then waved her hands about – in a surprisingly graceless manner, given the magical ritual context – to realign the missing parts of Dawkins Atlantean DNA. I guess it worked but he didn’t grow any visible gills, sadly.

However, the therapist who seemed to be using a pricing gun to stamp the back of Dawkins neck may have accidentally amputated them, so don’t take that as a certainty.

I’ve made sense of this bit now. I was half-hoping to see Dawkins turn into an extra from that ten – or so- years old sci-fi series that was like old-style Battlestar Galactica but underwater. Without Silons. But with gills. It wasn’t good enough for me to remember its name. Stargate Atlantis – exponentially better. Why didn’t I think of that?

Well, it doesn’t really have people with gills. Anyway, the new even-more-gentlemanly-and-mellow Dawkins couldn’t even begin to qualify for the “arrogant genius” part in Atlantis, despite there being an Internet’s worth of creationists and others who think Dawkins is arrogant.

But maybe that’s what the magical Atlantean DNA lady meant. Dawkins is lacking the extra strain of arrogance that Stargate Atlantis’s Canadian genius has. So she put it back. And there are no gills to see, so there.

(See, it does all make perfect sense when you cleanse your DNA and start channelling……)

You have to worry a bit about the state of current medical education, when you see how many qualified doctors-turned-alternative practitioners Dawkins has managed to find.

One doctor detects chakras as “black holes” in the human body (or vice versa or something like that.) Another doctor – rheumatologist turned alternative practitioner – gives out water in the Royal Homeopathic Hospital, which has had a fair bit of public cash, to Dawkins’ justified annoyance.

If you live outside the UK, you can probably watch the new series on YouTube until it comes to a cable channel near you. Black Sun Journal has a link to the last episode.

Mellow Dawkins challenges New Age

The Enemies of Reason (UK Channel 4) is Dawkins’ measured attack on post-enlightenment relativism, in its New Age “spirituality” variants. He sees it as a failure of education that we are increasingly coming to treat personal feelings as superior to reason. Views that would have been dismissed as ignorant tales for the credulous a hundred years ago are socially widespread now.

Dawkins’ arguments are pretty unassailable. He presents them in a gentle way, the more remarkable because a few of his targets are engaged in the most dangerous forms of woo – spiritualists offering false comfort to the grief-stricken; alternative medical practitioners who can just provide gestures to the sick.

All the same, most of the people Dawkins talks to are polite and happy to engage in discussion and even experiment, which makes a pleasant change from the polarised debates that normally characterise this sort of debate.

Dawkins points out the ironies that triumphs of science and reason, such as the Internet, are being put to the service of irrationality – with bizarre conspiracy theories and fundamentalism being spread through the Net much more easily than they would have before it came into existence.

Answering those people who claim that logic is cold and empties the universe of meaning, Dawkins makes the point that the real universe is infinitely fascinating. His enthusiasm for the real world makes most of the ersatz magic workers

This is the strange thing about woo. It starts from a position that the real world is dull. This perspective is very hard to grasp and certainly must be a failure of our education system. The real universe is miraculous. It is always stranger than we can ever grasp. Surely, the effort of using our feeble human consciousness to understand ourselves and the nature of the universe provides enough meaning for our whole species.

Reason on TV

The Guardian’s Charlie Brooker returns to form after his recent spate of lame Big Brother-centred columns and pulled out all the stops for Richard Dawkins.

Dawkins’ new programme is on tomorrow in the UK. It’s called The Enemies of Reason and it’s on Channel 4 at 8 p.m.

Charlie Brooker’s in no doubt about how important the arguments in this programme are. He complains about the growing influence of irrationality and applauds Dawkins for trying to stem the tide. As you expect from Charlie Brooker, at his best, he expresses this beautifully.

I’ve lifted a couple of paragraphs here but it’s well worth reading.

If it wasn’t for the Enlightenment, you wouldn’t be reading this right now. You’d be standing in a smock throwing turnips at a witch. Yes, the Enlightenment was one of the most significant developments since the wheel. Which is why we’re trying to bollocks it all up…..
Everywhere you look, screaming gittery is taking root, with serious consequences. The NHS recently spent £10m refurbishing the London Homeopathic Hospital. The equivalent of 500 nurses’ wages, blown on a handful of magic beans.

And watch Dawkins of course.

Why don’t you just switch your television on..

…. and watch the Wire?

If you haven’t seen it and you are in the UK and you have Sky or cable, watch it now.

Series 1- Episode one should be on FX now. NOW unless it’s way past ten o’clock. In which case you can catch it on the repeats (possibly Sunday. Don’t as me, I’m not the TV Guide.)

If you have seen it, you probably want to watch it again a few more times anyway.

You’ll thank me later.

Charlie Brooker tries to get you to watch the Wire

Charlie Brooker has just struggled to do the Wire justice on FX. And failed. But you can’t blame him. No one can really do the Wire justice. All you do is end up saying “Best TV programme ever made” or “work of art”

He started out funny and fanatical. He was basically agreeing that it’s really boring listening to people banging on about such and such an American tv programme being great. But in any case, you can ignore them all because only the Wire was worth watching. And it’s “a true work of art.”
Then there were various talking heads, a few of whom were recognisable, saying “it’s a work of art” and so on. Someone said a freind from America had said it was the best thing that had been on TV since Abigail’s Party . Alexei Sayle said “Hi, my names Alexei and I’m a Wire-aholic”

The rest of the programme was pretty pesh. It even achieved the seemingly impossible and used clips in a way that made the Wire look corny and formulaic.

The interviews were so focussed on the British and Irish actors in the Wire as to have Brooker forced to misrepresent the plot. He introduced Stringer Bell (Idris Elba) as the leader of the Barksdale crew. Argh. This rides roughshod over a whole subplot, in which Stringer is manoeuvring his way through the ranks to take over. (Starting as the dumber but tougher Avon Barksdale’s sycophantic sidekick, he works in his own ideas about puttting the Barksdale gang on a standard commercial footing and goes for Avon’s crown.)

The talking head suggestions as to why the greatest TV series ever made wasn’t even remotely popular threw up the likeliest reasons as being that
(a) most people are too stupid to appreciate it,
(b) it’s very complex and cumulative so you have to commit to the whole thing or it’s too hard to follow and
(c) its cast is 70% black, so it would never reach a mass US audience. All probably true.
(Plus the extravagant use of cuss-words, I suspect, given that the Charlie Brooker trailer show had to blot out half the dialogue in its clips. It’s probably never going to be on mainstream TV. But, then, as one of the talking heads said, you want everyone to watch it but you also want it to kep it as your own secret.)

The main point here is that you can’t do the Wire justice. Everyone who loves it is awestruck. You just end up gushing or saying ludicrous things like “it’s your civic duty to watch it” as Charlie Brooker did at the end, “or else watch celebrity goose-wrestling on ITV6.”