Thoughts about current issues and what's going on in the world as well as little reviews of things and handy links.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Some audio blog goodies for you:

some cool cratedigging columns:

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

----- Original Message -----
From: dash
To: wyse
Sent: Thursday, January 13, 2005 6:32 PM
Subject: In praise of Blasphemy - On Jerry Springer Opera debate

I don't know about you, but I think this article in today's Guardian is pretty much spot on! But if you don't agree, please don't hate me.


Hope you are well. Chat soon.


In praise of blasphemy

A multicultural society needs not more taboos but more tolerance for taboo-breaking

Timothy Garton Ash

Thursday January 13, 2005


Last Saturday, BBC2 showed a brilliant piece of musical theatre. Jerry Springer - The Opera was obscene, offensive, blasphemous; and the BBC was absolutely right to broadcast it. Right because the obscenity, offensiveness and blasphemy are used not just to entertain, but to convey a disturbing message about American-style popular television culture and the emotional emptiness of an atomised consumer society in which, as one chorus refrain has it, life means to "eat, excrete and watch TV".

"Oh, how my heart aches for love," the chorus sighs later, and the opera succeeds in making us feel real pathos in the character of a fat, ugly, raucous woman who wants to be a pole dancer. It does this by musical art: just listen to the fat lady sing. In a long dream sequence in hell, the Jerry Springer character is confronted by one of his programme guests who has a monkey-wrench planted in the back of her skull. We gather she has been murdered as a result of her appearance on his show. "You know, Steve," he says to his sidekick, "a person with less broadcasting experience might feel responsible."

But the BBC has acted responsibly. As its director of television, Jana Bennett, explained, the BBC weighed the programme's "artistic merit" against the offence it would plainly cause, and found the merit weighed more. Which it does. The opera is not perfect, of course, and I could make a case that it's ultimately parasitic on the debased American popular culture it satirises. But this is exactly the kind of bold artistic experiment that public service broadcasting should be showing - on BBC2, after children's bedtime, with appropriate health warnings.

The Christians who burned their television licences outside Television Centre were protesting at the wrong address. If they want to demonstrate anywhere, it should be outside the American studio where the real Jerry Springer records the programme that, as the opera notes, has a worldwide audience "bigger than Bob Hope/ and, give or take a few million, bigger than the fucking Pope". There, in the Jerry Springer show itself - as also in our own endlessly tawdry Big Brother, briefly and foolishly graced by Germaine Greer - is the true degradation of humankind.

It's interesting that the vast majority of the nearly 50,000 complaints to the BBC were lodged before the show was broadcast. Those that came after were less numerous, and many viewers called in support. A Christian from Hemel Hempstead wrote approvingly to the Times to thank the opera's authors and the BBC: "Surely public service broadcasting is at its best when it presents to viewers uncompromising questions and challenges them, without any degree of condescension, to find a solution."

So I believe the BBC has just strengthened the case for a generous renewal of its charter. And we must stand up for it against our own nasty little version of the American religious right, called Christian Voice, which found it appropriate to defend Almighty God by posting the private telephone numbers of BBC executives on its website. When abusive phone calls predictably resulted, the director of Christian Voice, Stephen Green, said: "I was a bit naive in thinking perhaps our website would only be visited by Christians." What did he imagine people were going to do when given those numbers: sing hymns down the line?

However, there is one claim made by outraged Christians that deserves closer attention. The same Stephen Green commented: "If this show portrayed Mohammed or Vishnu as homosexual, ridiculous and ineffectual, it would never have seen the light of the day. The BBC would not dare put on a programme rubbishing the Sikh religion..." Now I may be wrong, but I have a sneaking feeling that this complaint contains at least a grain of truth.

For example, I would be very keen to see Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti's play Behzti, which Sikh protests - and death threats to the playwright - forced the Birmingham Rep to remove from its programme. If that play is of comparable artistic merit to Jerry Springer - The Opera, and a televisable performance can be arranged, BBC2 should show it too. And, of course, Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses should be available in all good bookshops.

You might argue that the established, majority religion can and should take a bit more stick than minority religions, generally brought to this country by more recent migrants. But that is not the classic liberal position and I don't think it's the right one. "The sum of all we drive at," wrote John Locke in his Letter Concerning Toleration, "is that every man may enjoy the same rights that are granted to others. Is it permitted to worship God in the Roman manner? Let it be permitted to do it in the Geneva form also." What Locke claimed for different forms of religious observance must surely hold today for different targets of religious disrespect: if you allow sauce to the Christian goose you must allow sauce to the Muslim gander. Or protect them both equally from sauce.

And there is the choice that faces our increasingly multicultural society. We can try to defend an ever growing number of "cultures", defined by religion, race, ethnic tradition or sexual preference, from public comment they regard as grossly offensive. There's a case for this, but let's be clear what it will mean. The result must inevitably be that we shall have less free speech. Future historians may look back on the last three decades of the 20th century as a high point of freedom of expression, never to be achieved again. There may be a net gain in other public goods - such as civic peace - but there'll be a net loss of liberty.
Alternatively, we can take the view that, precisely because Britain is increasingly multicultural, all variations of religion, all "cultures" - including, of course, atheism, devout Darwinism, etc - should get used to living with a higher degree of public offence. Either you try to protect everyone from offence, or you allow offence equally for all. I'm emphatically of the offence-to-all persuasion.
Of course, there must be limits. That limit comes when offensive comment significantly increases the danger of violence or intimidation towards a given community. It's notoriously difficult to determine when that line is crossed. And there are many different lines: one for the law courts, another for the BBC, yet another for a small magazine or theatre. But all should have this in common: that they are drawn by a sober assessment of the likelihood of significant harm being done to the offended community as a result, and not by threats from the offended community to do harm toothers (authors, editors, television executives) if the piece is not removed. The point is to prevent intimidation, not to yield to it.

If our goal is to achieve a multi-cultural society that is both free and peaceful, then what we need is not the multiplication of taboos but the expansion of tolerance. The belief in the value of tolerance is not like a belief in Jesus Christ, the prophet Muhammad, Ahura Mazda or, for that matter, the scientific wisdom of Darwin; it's the belief that alone makes it possible for all other beliefs to coexist.

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2005

From: wyse]
Sent: 14 January 2005 09:41
To: dash

i always feel conflicted about these things. i believe absolutely in freedom of speech but i also believe in Mary Whitehouse's line "Censorship is a dirty word in any civilisation, but there comes a point when you have to say 'stop, what you're doing is wrong'."

having seen a few minutes of the opera i have so say that i was more offended at how shit it was than any of it's content. i would certainly hope that the same people defending the opera are also standing up for prince harry's right to wear fancy dress...

----- -----
From: dash
To: wyse
Sent: Tuesday, January 18, 2005 11:53 AM

howdy mr wyse,

good point about Harry. i just think he was being stupid, but don't think he should have to give a public apology. one side of me thinks he's a royal and surely should have been more aware, but the other side is that he's young, and some young people do stupid immature things like that. obviously older people do as well, but maybe hopefully anyone over 25 wouldn't be so blinkered. if the media didn't blast the pictures all over there front pages no one would have been offended at all, so they are implicated as well. there's now talk of banning the swastika in the uk which i think is silly! surely history should tell us that banning things isn't the answer to anything. it's tabloid politics.

i think there's a difference between things that are morally wrong, and things that are sure to offend. the jerry opera wasn't morally wrong, but it did offend, which in my opinion isn't reason to ban it, but should be brought into a forum where it can be debated properly (especially if shown on the BBC). i would say genuine cruelty or exploitation of people or animals is morally wrong. i think something like big brother tries to exploit people and has that facade, but because no one is forced or coerced to do anything they don't want to, it's not the worst case scenario, so is only on a tame scale. i think the high brow just get their knickers in a twist about big brother for some of the wrong reasons, but yes it does cross the line occasionally and needs to be careful. where you have documentaries that deliberately misrepresent people for a certain agenda, exploit people's situations for a good story, or try to dig the dirt for cheap irresponsible titillation, then that is immoral and irresponsible.

i also think there's a difference between religious controversy such as the jerry opera, and representations which are blatantly against people of certain religions, race, sex, etc. As representation is about writing and presenting characters, in a well rounded way, having deliberate ones which try to show a whole set of people as"___", is very dangerous and irresponsible. however, but to raise daring questions about the conventions of a religion, culture of a nation, habits of a gender, etc, I think, if done sensitively, is very commendable, even if it does offend people in the process, as some questions just need to be asked.

i wouldn't put jerry opera in the latter camp, as sensitivity and subtlety aren't two words that immediately come to mind. but it was questioning, in my opinion, not the Christian religion, but the representations we have been given over the ages of Jesus, Mary, etc, and also how those people would be treated now if they came back to earth, with shows like jerry springer and big brother everywhere.

in the same way, i think the last temptation of Christ, which got the second largest amount of complaints after opera in BBC's history isn't blasphemous AT ALL, but actually a reaffirmation of the Christian faith and shows the strength of Jesus at the most vulnerable point in his life. even He himself had doubts and asked, "Father, why has thou forsaken me?", and it is this moment of doubt that the film plays on, and then detracts, as Jesus came to know the answer as He "died" on the cross.

anyway, sorry to ramble on. i agree with mary whitehouse's quote to a certain extent, but then also have to ask, "who saying it's wrong? why are they saying its wrong? is it actually wrong, or just uncomfortable?"

here ends my sermon.

peace bro,


From: wyse]
Sent: 18 January 2005 14:45
To: dash
monsieur dash

i was trying to say that prince harry should have the same access to freedom of speech as the BBC at 20 or at 25! if the beeb can show blasphemy why can't prince harry wear something offensive to a private party? why does harry has to be 'excused' or 'forgiven' but the springer opera has to be protected from 'censorship'? what exactly is the difference between the two actions? (and don't tell me one is art, or that one comes from an immature imagination, those are just lazy liberal excuses). how can you differentiate the two by claiming one is 'questioning' a minority and the the other is 'blatantly against'? are you trying to suggest that by dressing as a nazi harry is acting against the jewish faith but david soul is just 'raising daring questions' about christianity with his portrayal of jerry in such an offensive play?

People often go to fancy dress parties as a fantasy, or something they can never be (like a timid office girl who never has sex with the light on going as a slutty nurse) and harry's act can be seen as just that. what's a more subversive thing to appear as in public than a nazi when your family has suffered snide remarks about their germanic ancestry/sympathies for decades?

the whole big brother thing is summed up completely by ben elton's 'dead famous'. someone in the guardian said 'i never thought i'd get to see germaine greer first thing in the morning', which i thought was funny.


Tuesday, January 18, 2005

"Babies are less likely to survive in America than in impoverished and autocratic Cuba [emphasis added]. According to the latest C.I.A. World Factbook, Cuba is one of 41 countries that have better infant mortality rates than the U.S."

Great gallery of Bollywood soundtrack covers

Not so great site about a British national on death row in the United States. Amnesty International calls him "the most compelling case of innocence on death row". Now let me have a look in the front of my passport and remind myself of what it says.....