Bill Buckley, Gore Vidal, and the flourishing of American partisanship

William Buckley debating Gore Vidal, 1968 in public domain

In a year that Donald Trump could well become president of the United States, it is arguable that the country’s cable news networks appear, by comparison, oddly sober.

As such it is intriguing to find the roots of America’s love affair with polarised punditry dissected in The Best of Enemies, a documentary on William Buckley and Gore Vidal.

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Me and Earl and the Dying Girl: the perfect comedy for the lonely social media generation

Image Credit – From "Me and Earl and the Dying Girl" by Fox Searchlight Pictures

Even people who have 5,000 friends on Facebook can feel like they have none. This sad, scary idea is what Me and Earl and the Dying Girl examines with honesty, heart and a lot of humour.

The idea that social media can make us feel more isolated and lonely isn’t new. Various studies have looked into it over the years, and many continue to. Supposedly, not interacting with people face-to-face is something our brains aren’t equipped to handle – Internet dating is particularly counter-productive, as we can’t release all those sexy hormones correctly.

Satirist Charlie Brooker once referred to Twitter the world’s largest video game – the idea being that we’re all playing a game where we try to get as many favourites and retweets as possible. This quest to present our most broadly appealing selves is what the film’s protagonist does every day at high school.

Greg, an extremely neurotic but secretly quirky young man, tries to maintain friendships with every clique at school without belonging to any of them – censoring everything he says and does in order to get the most “likes” possible. That is, of course, until he meets Rachel.

As the title suggests, Rachel is a girl dying of leukaemia. But whilst you’ve seen boy meets girl too many times before, and whilst you’ve seen boy meets sick girl before, you won’t have seen a more heartbreaking portrayal of two teenagers rendered unable to be intimate by a world in which digital interactions are more practised than real ones.

Jesse Andrews’ script, based on his debut novel, hilariously but poignantly points out how dangerously neurotic teens are becoming. Somewhere between adverts that tell us we’re too ugly, online bullying or that mindfuck struggle between 15 minutes of YouTube fame and not making waves, it’s easy to argue that teenagers have never been assaulted by more pressures capable of making them feel inadequate.

Sadly evidence of the above can be found on Andrews’ twitter page, where on more than one occasion he’s replied to someone that they need to love themselves more.

Essentially, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is a mature version of this year’s Pixar film Inside Out. It teaches us that life can be very unfair and that sadness is natural, even helpful. It also teaches us that the most rewarding, powerful relationships in our lives can appear from nowhere – that we might not see someone right in front of us if we’re staring at our phones.

In a world where we can all-too-easily beat ourselves up in front of a screen over what message to send, or what to say to stay relevant, it’s important to remember to look up and live.

Image Credit – From Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Fox Searchlight Pictures

Why feminists don’t want you ’beach body ready‘

Beach Body Protest, May 2nd 2015, The Right Dishonourable

If there is one thing likely to rouse the Fleet Street paps to an event (besides, obviously, the promise of booze) it is a guarantee of what the pressman’s lexicon has as “totty”.

One therefore has to admire the cunning of those who decided to gather London’s feminists near Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park in nothing but their bikinis. That the assembled were there to protest the recent “Are you beach body ready?” advert, which they say places unfair expectations on women, was a neat irony, but feminism has rarely been shy about recruiting flesh to its cause in the past.

Though some 70,000 people signed a petition and several hundred complained to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) – which has duly prohibited it with questions over health claims, offensiveness and social irresponsibility – almost all of the thousand who said they would attend the Hyde Park protest bottled it at the last minute, as the rain clouds hung over London’s sky.

Such was the mismatch between journalists and protestors that it was hard at times to tell who outnumbered whom, a fact that may not be reflected in the impending reports which will doubtless feature images of the shivering would-be swimmers, many of whom had scribbled across themselves in felt-tip pen.

Though many were offended by the adverts, the main complaint was that such imagery was hurting people. Karl, one of a dozen or so men who had turned out to protest, said that he had known someone who had suffered anorexia as a result of pressure to be slim, a problem that has been widely reported in secondary schools around the country.

His friend Agnieszka said that while she believed people should watch their weight and exercise, she herself did not find the image of the advert’s bikini-clad model Renee Somerfield attractive. “To be honest I don’t want to look like that. I want to be thin, I want to be healthy: but it’s too thin.”

Despite this there was a reluctance to ban the pictures outright. Carolina, a mother who had attended with her two adult daughters, said: “I think there’s always people who will side-step government regulations.” What she called for was a “community-driven” approach, the kind of campaigning that is much in vogue among feminists as they seek to deter what they see as bad behaviour without government involvement.

Beach Body Protest at Hyde Park, May 2nd 2015, The Right Dishonourable

Worthy censorship?

Few would dispute that one of the hazards of modern life is a troubled relationship with food. Data from the UK’s National Obesity Observatory showed that 62 percent of adults aged at least 16 were obese or overweight in 2013, with men 10 percent more likely to be so than women. In the year to October 2013 some 2,560 people were admitted to hospital with eating disorders, an 8 percent increase on the year prior, according to the Health and Social Care Information Centre, a public stats body.

But some question whether it is wise to combat this problem with increased censorship of the media. Bernie Whelan, an occasional writer on the radical website Spiked, was one of the few who looked on the event with dismay. “It’s so insulting to women to say you can’t stand an advert,” she said.

Like many critics of modern feminism, she cites a growing “victim mentality” among the current crop of women’s rights activists, which has led many to support censorship as a means of improving society. “I suppose even in the 80s many feminists were censorious, but at least there were some feminists for free expression,” Whelan added with not a little regret.

Whether it is for good or ill, the influence of feminists in deciding what can or cannot be published is growing. Discussions over demographic representations in art, gendered toys for children and the alleged dangers of pornography are now the stuff of mainstream journalism, with even the folks at The Sun abandoning the decades old Page 3 feature. Perhaps the Mad Men will yet be tamed.

Fleet Street fights over leaders’ debate polls

Fleet Street, Josep Renalias

The famous partisanship of Fleet Street emerged in full view in the wake of Thursday’s leaders’ debate, which saw the chiefs of the seven main parties face off against one another in a first for a British general election.

As the dust settled on Twitter following the two hours of rumbunctious squabbling the typesetters of Fleet Street were already deciding how they would pitch the result to their readers, with the Sun’s splash perhaps the most controversial:

Toeing the same line were the folks at the Torygraph, who lived up to the nickname with the following front page:

Such partisanship is hardly unknown on the Street of Shame, with the Murdoch press infamous for their attack on Labour leader Neil Kinnock in the general election of 1992.

Even so, Owen Jones of Guardian fame was suitably aggrieved, himself taking Twitter to remonstrate with the Tory pressmen:

As Jones indicates, the polls were not quite as unfavourable to Milipede the Younger as could have been garnered from the lead stories in the Sun or the Torygraph. Not that the Guardian was completely innocent of spin:

Of course, as any statistician could tell you, polls of polls tend to be superior to any single ballot, mitigating for the bias of the question or slanted sampling that has yet to be accounted for.

Poll Natalie Bennett (Green) Nick Clegg (Lib Dem) Nigel Farage (Ukip) Ed Miliband (Labour) Leanne Wood (Plaid Cymru) Nicola Sturgeon (SNP) David Cameron (Tory)
ICM 3% 9% 19% 25% 2% 17% 24%
ComRes 5% 9% 21% 21% 2% 20% 21%
YouGov 5% 10% 20% 15% 4% 28% 18%
Survation 3% 6% 24% 25% 2% 15% 25%
Average 4% 8.5% 21% 21.5% 2.5% 20% 22%

On that basis the most plausible “winner” last night has to be Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP leader whom none of the Tory press are too keen on owing to her desire to split up the United Kingdom, abandon Trident and turn Britain into a socialist utopia (etc).

Thankfully others have since picked up on the far more boring story – these TV debates appear to have changed little, and we are still heading for a parliament more hung than a Californian porn star.

Image – Josep Renalias

Confused King Cole drives tank to BBC HQ

Many will have heard of the bemusing petition to have Jeremy Clarkson reinstated after what the BBC conveniently dubbed a “fracas” with a Top Gear producer, thus exempting journos from having to spell out any of the widely known allegations against the motorhead.

Led by political gossiper Guido Fawkes, the document has now reached 1,000,000 signatures, shortly after Guido lieutenant Harry Cole drove a tank up to BBC Broadcasting House just off Oxford Street in London to deliver those already collected.

In a bizarre interview to hacks gathered outside the Beeb’s HQ, Cole attempted to justify the petition’s request whilst skirting the fact that Clarkson is alleged to have sent a man to A&E for want of a warm steak, the kind of behaviour that would warrant a sacking from most any other job.

Source: on demand news

“Punish Clarkson all you need, but don’t punish the viewers,” Cole said, ignoring the obvious fact that in his terms they are one in the same, given that he deems the presenter “an integral part of the most popular show the BBC makes”. If the Beeb cannot harm the fans, what power do they have over Clarkson?

“Not everyone has the same leftwing, metropolitan, liberal-elite outlook on life that the BBC have,” he continued to bluster. Does he mean to suggest that prohibiting workplace violence is some radical leftwing ruse?