Wednesday, September 30, 2009

An Outrage

This petition for Roman Polanski makes me want to vomit:

"We have learned the astonishing news of Roman Polanski’s arrest by the Swiss police on September 26th, upon arrival in Zurich (Switzerland) while on his way to a film festival where he was due to receive an award for his career in filmmaking. His arrest follows an American arrest warrant dating from 1978 against the filmmaker, in a case of morals. Filmmakers in France, in Europe, in the United States and around the world are dismayed by this decision. It seems inadmissible to them that an international cultural event, paying homage to one of the greatest contemporary filmmakers, is used by the police to apprehend him. By their extraterritorial nature, film festivals the world over have always permitted works to be shown and for filmmakers to present them freely and safely, even when certain States opposed this. The arrest of Roman Polanski in a neutral country, where he assumed he could travel without hindrance, undermines this tradition: it opens the way for actions of which no one can know the effects. Roman Polanski is a French citizen, a renown and international artist now facing extradition. This extradition, if it takes place, will be heavy in consequences and will take away his freedom. Filmmakers, actors, producers and technicians—everyone involved in international filmmaking—want him to know that he has their support and friendship. On September 16th, 2009, Mr. Charles Rivkin, the US Ambassador to France, received French artists and intellectuals at the embassy. He presented to them the new Minister Counselor for Public Affairs at the embassy, Ms Judith Baroody. In perfect French she lauded the Franco-American friendship and recommended the development of cultural relations between our two countries."

Here are some of the non-French signatories: 

Woody Allen, Pedro Almodovar, Terry Gilliam, Martin Scorcese, David Lynch, Jonathan Demme, Tilda Swinton, John Landis, Michael Mann, Wong Kar Wai, and Wim Wenders.

The full list (of over 100) is here. Looks like a lot of filmmakers believe there's one law for the little people, and one for themselves... 
Update: I was wondering why the US had decided to arrest him now, then I read this. If you want your crimes to be forgotten, it might be unwise to have a sycophantic film made about them...

Monday, September 21, 2009

Them Bleedin' Cuss Words

[This post is rather long, and contains a lot of swear words, albeit used in a context of analysis (if you wish to call it that) rather than for shock value or any other reason. However, if these words offend you greatly, please avoid. None of the following is particularly original either, but the opinions are ones that I've been casually musing about for some time now. All comments, whether yea or nay, are welcome.]
I was in work recently and half-listening to two people nearby chatting about this and that, when I started to notice that one of them, a middle-aged guy, was swearing continuously. But not in a dramatic or emphatic fashion - he wasn't discussing a stirring event in his life - but used simply as pointless adjectives. "So I went down to the f****n shop to buy a f****n paper, right, and I met this f****n guy I knew..." and so on and so on. I found that it began to bother me, because it coloured his entire discourse with an ugliness which was both unpleasant to listen to and wholly extraneous. Of course, if I had said this, he probably would have retorted "What are you talking about?" (or, more likely, "What the f*** are you talking about?"). The following is my response (a rather excessive example of l'esprit d'escalier, methinks!).
I've been thinking a lot recently about language, and swearing in particular. Or whatever you want to call it: cursing, vulgar/foul/bad/coarse/obscene language, four-letter words, expletives, profanity, et cetera. Essentially, I mean words derived from bodily parts or functions that are unlikely to be used on children's TV or in a church sermon. Such words are commonplace in our society these days, and tend to proliferate in certain circles of the Irish bloggoverse like nettles. Some people dislike them, while others seem to feel that liberally peppering the stew of your speech with cuss words is part of what makes us Irish so wonderfully irreverent and cheeky. It's also tied up in class consciousness; the perception is, it can be argued, that swearing is associated with the working classes because they are coarse, badly educated, and vulgar (but also down-to-earth and unpretentious); while the middle and upper classes traditionally avoid swearing because they're prissy, snooty and repressed, and have Hyacinth Bouquet-style delusions of respectability. It seems to tie into this peculiar horror that so many Irish people have of being seen to be "above" yourself, and that being impolite, brusque and oafish (the Michael O'Leary School of Etiquette) means that you're somehow in touch with the common man and feel no need to put on "airs and graces". I once had an argument with an English English teacher (as in a woman from England who taught English) that the reason that a lot of Irish people swear so much (and we do!) is because they subconsciously wish to deform the language of their oppressors. I do swear myself on occasion, and used to quite frequently when I worked in catering, but then everyone did - it was a way of getting through the evening in a very pressurized and crowded environment. I try not to now, for reasons that I will go through anon.
Obviously, there are times when swearing is entirely understandable. For example, you are out in your dusty garden shed reaching for the shovel when you accidentally fall against the rickety leg of a overladen set of shelves, and the entire structure collapses, bombarding you with paint tins, bottles, boxes of nails, and other sundry junk before a two-litre drum of creosote you hadn't sealed properly bursts open and pours all over you like a tarry, glutinous shampoo. You stumble to your feet like an extra from Dawn of the Dead and lurch out the door of the shed, trip over the aforementioned shovel, and fall headlong on to your future mother-in-law's Pekinese, which has just trotted into your yard to alert you of the arrival of your fiancee's parents, who've held you in contempt ever since you fell in their door blind drunk one night and threw up on their expensive imported carpet. Glued to you by the creosote, the Pekinese begins to howl like the damned as you try to yank it off your person, and when you do finally dislodge the horrid brute it is with such violence that it hits your mother-in-law's gleamingly white and very expensive trouser-suit like a sticky and wailing cannonball. At this point, it is perfectly acceptable to exclaim: "Oh, bollocks!" However, I dislike excessive (or what you might call wallpaper) swearing for a number of reasons, and it especially bugs me when people write it down.
Let us first put to bed that curious notion, espoused by people who support excessive swearing as being wonderful in every way, that they're only words. This shows a fundamental (and self-serving) misunderstanding of language: words are never "just" words. Words represent real things, and can possess enormous power. If you doubt this, fly over to London and take the tube to Brixton, walk up to the nearest black guy in the street and ask directions to Coldharbour Lane, ending your request with the N-word. You will very quickly discover, as a large and angry mob forms around you, that words can get you injured or even killed. Or, for those not adept at outrunning an enraged mob, call your wife/girlfriend/partner a "c**t" or "b***h" casually, in conversation, and see if she minds (perhaps I'm out of touch with the kids of today, but it's my experience that a lot of women have a problem with these particular epithets if directed at them). Or, on a more highbrow level, I remember reading once that the poet and concentration-camp survivor Paul Celan never once used the German word for "race" (as in ethnicity rather than athletics) in any of his poetry, due to its associations with Nazi ideology. Words can be very powerful indeed, which is all the more reason to treat them with respect...
Part 3
Why do I have a problem with swearing? Firstly, swearing is essentially coarse; these words, derived from bodily functions, are designed to be rough and unpleasant to the ear. I never use the word "f***" in the sense of its proper meaning; I would always say "slept with" or just "was with". But in general I feel that both sex and the toilet, from which all swear words originate, are fundamentally private things that should only be discussed with your nearest and dearest (or a doctor if needs be). I'm definitely not a prude as regards bodily functions, which neither bother me nor interest me, but I certainly do not wish to have my attention drawn to those of others. Why should I? They are messy, noisome, and best kept out of sight (especially if you're one of these overfed oafs who boast about the size and effort involved in your bowel movements, as if it's an defining part of your masculinity). My partner was at Electric Picnic last year and was both surprised and disgusted by the amount of Irish guys who'd whip out the chap and urinate in public, often right in front of her. Her point was that it's unhygienic, thoughtless and ignorant. I believe this view is shared by a lot of people, especially women (who tend to be more circumspect in these matters for obvious reasons), so surely common courtesy (seemingly a foreign concept in this brutish land) should dictate that you try to avoid offending people's sensibilities needlessly. Of course, in the privacy of their own homes (or on their blogs) people can roar on all day and all night about what comes out of them, urinate in their kitchen floors, and frame their turds on the mantelpiece if they wish, but in public such behaviour (or discussion of it) is entirely unnecessary.
Secondly, it's more often than not entirely extraneous. I would also say that, for a lot of people, prefixing words with "f*****" has become a habit, in the same way that teenage girls use "like" ("I was so, like, annoyed with this guy, like..." (or whatever)). Most swear words that you hear in public are not being used to describe what they were intended to describe; when they are not being used abusively, they are used as a pointless substitute for other words, or as an entirely irrelevant form of garnish. "I was going down the f****** shops and I passed by this f****** s***hole of a f****** pub. The guy who owns it is a right c***" and so forth. What do these words add to this sentence? Nothing: they don't make it more colourful or exciting or dramatic, but they do make it uglier. And isn't the world ugly and brutish enough? Listen, if you will, to the following video.

I get very tired of Connolly's continuous use of the word "f***", primarily because his material is so weak that it comes across as a desperate attempt by a self-impressed but uninspired comedian to make himself sound edgy and outrageous. It comes across as forced, but once you notice how ugly it sounds, it becomes unbearable, primarily because it’s so unnecessary. The sense of his discourse would not change one iota if you simply tweezed all the swearing out. But swearing, in this instance, is also a way of showing how unconcerned you are with social mores; like smoking, getting wrecked on cider and drugs, and listening to the music of [fill in the blank] it's thumbing your nose at respectability, and demonstrating how much of a rebel you are. You're just another celeb now, Billy, so stop pretending you're an angry young man! "I might be rich and famous, and a pillar of the Establishment I once professed to despise, but deep down I'm still an anarchist at heart! Listen to how f***** irreverent I am!" But, crucially, in addition to being extraneous, it also adds a strong sense of aggression to his performance, one of the other things I dislike about swearing. If I can once again test your patience, watch the following Connolly video (back when he was a lot funnier):

I remember that at one stage I had a temperamental video player, which would most often act up when I'd fallen in from work in the middle of the night and wanted nothing more than to watch something I'd taped earlier to chill out. I'd pop the cassette into the machine, and it'd spit it out. I'd pop the cassette into the machine, and it'd spit it out. I'd pop the cassette into the machine, and it'd spit it out. I'd pop the cassette into the machine, and it'd spit it out. This could happen up to thirty times before it'd accept the tape. By this stage I was gibbering and screaming like a psychotic on steroids, shrieking foul-mouthed abuse at this infuriating piece of equipment. It was therapeutic, though, and better than breaking the bloody thing. However, as said before, it points to a key feature of swearing: it is often an accompaniment to heightened passions, especially aggression. If you watch a film like GoodFellas or Glengarry Glen Ross (the scene with Alec Baldwin in particular) it's clear how the non-stop swearing is a major factor in increasing the film's underlying sense of threat and anger, the way it is used as a non-physical form of violence. Watch the following, and see how the swearing increases the temperature of this rather odd scene:

But a problem arises when swearing is used continually, especially in writing. Not all swearing is meant aggressively, but without facial or other cues it can come across as unnecessarily belligerent and confrontational. This may be your intent - you may be a belligerent and confrontational person, whose idea of debate is shouting your opponent down with insults rather than dealing with the substance of their argument - but I certainly find it wearing. Too often "belligerent and confrontational" can mean "bullying and abusive"! I hate confrontation, dislike raising my voice, and view argument as a way of pleasantly discussing ideas rather than competitively scoring points off the other person. But swearing also has the effect of diminishing the power of anything serious that a person writes, by reducing the impression that they are in control of their emotions and transforming their argument into a rant. And I am so tired of reading rants! Some bloggers obviously believe that it makes them sound uncompromising and hard-hitting, that it adds to the force and immediacy of their writing, but I would argue that it does the opposite. A quiet, calm, controlled voice always carries more gravitas in an argument than the swearing ranter! Of course, as said earlier, the occasional swear word, judiciously inserted, can pack quite a punch, but an unremitting barrage just becomes tiresome. Brian Aldiss once compared horror to salt: wonderful as a seasoning, but indigestible as a banquet. The same applies to swearing, in my opinion. Unless you're the sort of person who believes that statements like "Brian Cowen is a fat c***" are the height of political satire, this kind of abusive, foul-mouthed "commentary as entertainment" (a phrase I heard on the radio recently) comes across as diatribes pandering to an immature audience rather than being the challenging, daring analysis their creators imagine them to be. And, as I said before, isn't the world ugly enough, that we should try and avoid making it uglier with our language?

At this stage one one may hear the phrase "freedom of speech" come looming into view. "Why shouldn't I be free to say whatever I want?" shouts the inveterate swearer. Well, bearing in mind that you're not free to say whatever you want - make a slur on a public figure without facts to back it up and m'learned friends will give you an expensive demonstration of this - there is also the question, as I said earlier, of simple courtesy. I'm not saying that people should be prohibited from swearing by law, but that in a public place the hoary old concept of respect for others should be exercised. In the same way that a person shouldn't play their stereo too loud in an apartment, because those living downstairs have a right to peace and quiet, so a thoughtful person shouldn't swear in public, because people who dislike swearing should not have to listen to it. Seeing as swearing is, as pointed out above, usually extraneous to conversation in any case, this shouldn't be too hard. In my case, I would never swear in front of strangers or children, and try to avoid using such language altogether unless the person I'm with approves of it. It's not prissy, or prudish, or repressed, nor am I embued with a "superstitious" fear of certain words. I just believe in good manners, in trying to use language properly, and I'm sorry to say that this is a concept upon which a lot of my countrymen (and women) seem to place no value.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Venting Some Spleen: Yet Another Rant About Ireland, Saying Nothing That Hasn't Already Been Said Elsewhere, But With An Amusing Song At The End...

(The following is a short and rather unfocused rant brought on by depression at the current situation in Ireland. Please disregard if you're not in the mood and skip straight to the song at the end, which is entirely unrelated!) 
Reading about the John O'Donoghue expenses scandal recently (for those of you from abroad, O'Donoghue is a senior member of Fianna Fail, our governing party, who racked up an outrageously extravagant expenses bill over several years when a minor minister during the Celtic Tiger era), I am disgusted, but also surprised that anyone would be surprised by this. I mean, what did the Irish electorate expect to happen if they put a bunch of venal, irresponsible, arrogant chancers into office and give them carte blanche with their expenses? It was in 2006 when O'Donoghue took the now-notorious trip on the government jet to a constituency function (details here), and I can't imagine that he hid this fact as he was slapping backs and shaking hands in Kerry that night. Yet they weren't concerned with this staggering waste of taxpayers' money; instead, they voted him back into office the following year. In fact, he got 23% of the vote, the highest of all the candidates in his constituency. Or, if you want to despair, read this
It has been clear since the 1980s that Fianna Fail are the most corrupt, gombeen-ridden, unprincipled party in this country, who already bankrupted the state once with their reckless policies, yet it's only when the biggest bubble in Irish history inevitably collapsed that quite a lot of people have suddenly realised that electing such people to manage things in the first place might not be sensible. Where was the anger before? How come practically every FF minister topped the poll in the 2007 general election? Since the days of Charles Haughey, the most contemptible politician this country has produced so far, Fianna Fail have never greatly disguised their corruption and cronyism. When FF bigwigs were yakking it up with property developers in the VIP tent at the Galway Races, where were the protests? Where was the righteous fury then? The leader of the party was himself under investigation for extremely dodgy transactions, which later forced his resignation (when he wasn't recommending that people who weren't happy with the economy should commit suicide), yet a substantial proportion of his constituents, and the nation at large, didn't seem to care. If there was ever an international prize for Closing The Door After The Horse Has Bolted, the Irish should be a shoo-in. And it seems unlikely, with NAMA poised to screw the country for the foreseeable future (the last act of the Great Property Swindle, as it were), that anything is going to change. "If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face ... for ever." So said George Orwell in 1984. Well, if you want to see the future of Ireland, replace the boot with a golf shoe, picture the likes of Seanie FitzPatrick and Bertie Ahern doing the stamping, and the face as that of a mentally ill homeless guy, and you might be closer to the truth. Except there'll be some red-faced, big-bellied local in the background defending the politician: "Shure, he's a great fella all the same, hasn't he been great for the local people? So what if he kicked a homeless guy to death for the fun of it? Twas just a bit o' craic, like? It's all them Dublin media types pickin' on him!" And so on and on and on...
My apologies for this rant, but I'm so depressed and angry about what's happening in this poisoned little country that it is at times hard to think straight ... In fact, I feel better after getting that off my chest, and to apologise for that splenetic eructation, here's a song that makes me chuckle:

Saturday, September 5, 2009

An Update

In my last-but-one post, I wrote about a stained glass window in a church in Wexford which still displays a dedication made by Ireland's most notorious paedophile priest, and I mentioned that I had written to the bishop of Wexford, from whom I still await a proper reply. Now, obviously the bishop is a very busy man, but I did hear him on the radio during the week exhorting everyone to pray to God for an end to the recent rain, as it's causing great (and justified) worry to local farmers. I don't really see the point of this, seeing as God regularly fails to heed the prayers of, say, the parents of terminally sick children, but each to their own, I suppose. (I am reminded of a line in that awful film The Island, where Steve Buscemi says: "Well, you know when you want something really bad and you close your eyes and you wish for it? God's the guy that ignores you.") And for something related to that, here's a song.