The Dig

Following my parents’ recommendation during the family Skype meeting this morning, I just watched The Dig on Netflix. I’m fairly into history and archaeology, and what Mum and Dad said about it sounded interesting. To be honest though, I can’t say I was that taken by it. The discovery of a Middle Age burial ship is of course fascinating, but archeological digs, however historically important, aren’t the first thing which come to mind when trying to think of subjects for feature films. Naturally the director, Simon Stone, does his best to dramatise things, but as Mark Kermode says in his review, there’s quite a bit that just feels tagged on to jazz the film up. While there are some terrific performances in this film, especially from Ralph Fiennes, as well as some great photography, it was the type of film which had me checking the time, wondering when it was going to end. Too much of this film felt superfluous and unnecessary. Having said that, I now intend to go and read about the Sutton Hoo burial which the film was based on. I suppose the problem is, while archeology can be fascinating, it isn’t particularly cinematic.

A glimpse into American division

It may be a week or so old, but if you want to glimpse into just how divided American society has become, I think this is worth watching. If it’s anything to go by, this Channel Four news film reveals a fractured, warped society rife with conspiracy theorists and reactionaries, all too eager to hurl white hot hatred at anyone who disagrees with them. I don’t really know how widespread this issue is in America, but if the kind of political animosity on display here is as endemic as I’m beginning to fear, I think we should be very concerned indeed.

Is stuff being built elsewhere?

I obviously haven’t been able to go out and explore the city as much as I’d ordinarily like, so to keep track of what is going on, I simply go onto Youtube. There, I find videos like this about the revitalisation of the Nine Elms area. Despite the pandemic and the deepest recession in decades, there is obviously still a hell of a lot of money going into building and infrastructure across London – and that’s before we even get into things like Crossrail. I have to ask though: is this being mirrored elsewhere? It feels like years since I went outside London to another uk city. How are places like Manchester, Liverpool or Stoke doing? Are we seeing swanky new buildings being constructed there too? And if we aren’t, could this imbalance in investment be leading to the increasing resentment of London and the South I’ve been picking up on social media?

I Would Rather Speak For Myself

You may recall that, back in October, I mentioned a youtube channel by two sisters, one of whom had fairly severe Cerebral Palsy. On the face of it, the videos they made were quite unproblematic, documenting their lives, drawing viewers’ attentions to issues they found salient. Yet, forgive my grumpiness, the more of their material I came across – both on youtube and Facebook – the more problematic I found it; the more of a nasty taste it left in my mouth. It wasn’t the content of the channel which was the problem, as much as how it was delivered and indeed the very premise of the channel.

Cheethams with Dreams purports to be about two sisters in Manchester (I think) living their lives. Yet the more of their videos I watch, the more it looks to me like the slightly older, able bodied sister, Becky, is speaking for her younger sibling, Hannnah. Of course, hannah is shown using her communication aid quite a bit, but she is always cued to say pre-written sentences by becky, as if she is only allowed to speak when told to. It is clearly Becky who sets up and structures the content of the films, so that it feels like she is the one who is showing us what a marvellous sister she has, rather than allowing hannah to speak for herself or present herself to us of her own volition. Becky is presented as the one caring for and supporting her sister, for example speaking to Hannah from behind the camera as she eats her lunch with a Neater Eater, asking patronising questions, just as a parent would speak to a toddler while making a home video for their grandparents. It is as if Becky is using Hannah as an object of fascination to show the rest of the world, or presenting her as her poor crippled sister who she has to care for and support.

As you can probably tell I quite like blogging: I enjoy rambling on about whatever takes my fancy, letting the world know what is on my mind. My weblog, of course, was set up for me by my brother Luke, who is far better at such things than I am. While Luke may help me maintain my blog though, only I have any say about its content; only I write my blog entries. This blog is therefore mine and mine alone. If luke (or Mark) did have input, the nature of this blog would be totally different: it wouldn’t just be the ill-informed ramblings of a cripple, but would probably include my brothers’ perspective on what I write and what I’m up to. It would perhaps feel like they were speaking for me, or facilitating what I have to say.

Thank zark they just let me get on with it – they’re both too busy these days anyway. Yet the point I am trying to make is that, as a guy with cerebral palsy, it is important to me that my voice is my own; I don’t want anyone else to talk for me. That’s why the Cheethams with Dreams strike me as so problematic. Watching them, it is obvious hannah cheetham is perfectly intelligent; probably just as intelligent and I am, and heading to university. Yet the way her sister dominates their videos makes it feel, to me at least, like she is being spoken for, or worse, used as a means of attracting attention. In quite a few of their videos for instance, all hannah does is sit there and squeal a bit while her sister delivers the all dialogue, to my mind infantilising her quite appallingly. If Luke tried to make such a video with me, I would tell him to shove it up his arse and head for the nearest pub.

Yet we see this sort of thing quite a lot. Last night there was a program on the Beeb about Katie Price and her severely autistic son Harvey which was just as troubling. The way in which the former model constantly foregrounded herself over her son made it feel to me like she was simply using her son to get attention and reenergise her dying career. The documentary was ostensibly about Price looking for a place for her son in a post-16 special needs education college. Yet that is obviously a problem faced by many, many parents across the country, so the question arises: if the BBC wanted to air a program highlighting the problems faced by parents of young people with severe autism in their late teens, why did they do one just focussing on this former Page 3 girl?

Moreover, the way in which price treated her son was sickening. I know that he has a developmental age of around seven, but his mother was treating him like an infant, constantly referring to herself in the third person. Autistic or not, the guy deserved more respect. More to the point, price seemed determined to make sure the focus of the program was on her rather than her son, for example explaining to the camera how the unfolding events were making her feel. It was clear that she wanted the program to be about her, not her son; and that Harvey was just a useful tool with which she could gain the audience’s sympathy.

It would have been far more interesting, in my opinion, to have let Harvey Price speak for himself, insofar as he can. What must it be like to have a supermodel for a mum? Was he comfortable getting all that press attention? Wouldn’t he rather be treated a bit more like an adult? But, like Hannah Cheetham, someone else has taken it upon themselves to talk for him, using the fact he is disabled to get attention, but in doing so denying him his own voice..

Zooming on Google Maps

I realise this probably isn’t worth a blog entry, but I just want to record something weird yet annoying which happened when I was using Google Maps on Saturday. It’s one of my favourite websites, allowing me to whiz around and explore the globe from the comfort of my computer. To avoid having to use the mouse too much, I find it easier to use the arrow keys on my keyboard to move around the map, and the plus and minus keys to zoom in and out of it. On Saturday, though, instead of zooming in or out, whenever I pressed plus or minus, strings of +++ or — started to appear in the search box. I couldn’t work out why it was doing it or what had changed, and it very quickly became extremely annoying.

I spent a while trying to work out how to fix it, without luck, before giving up. This morning though, listening to the cricket test match, I thought I would check out Sri Lanka on the map. I googled it and opened the map page. To test my luck I thought I would try to zoom in and – what do you know? – it worked perfectly. It seems that if there is something in the search box already, I could still use the plus and minus keys to zoom in and out, but not if there wasn’t. That struck me as very, very weird indeed: almost weird enough to blog about.

Amazon’s Tolkien Series will be set in the Second Age

If anyone is interested in details of Amazon’s upcoming series based on Tolkien’s writing, they might want to watch this. There’s quite a bit of detail in this video, apparently derived from a leaked synopsis. I won’t comment much on it, although to be honest as a Tolkien fan, I feel a bit of trepidation about where Amazon are heading with this: A series fleshing out the Second Age is fair enough, but the synopsis seems to mention characters Tolkien didn’t create, and what the zark will Sir Lenny Henry be doing in it? It has, though, been a while since I read any Tolkien, and I’m not that familiar with the events of the Second Age, so I better go brush up on The Unfinished Tales before I go much deeper.

A British Fox News is the last thing we need right now

I think we should be very, very concerned indeed about this news that a Fox-style, right-wing bullshit spewing news channel is being created in the UK. Of course, I know that freedom of speech and plurality of opinion must be sacrosanct, but the last thing the country needs right now is a soapbox on steroids where far-right nutcases like Nick Ferrari and Julia Heartley-Brewer can mouth their empty, reactionary heads off to a captive, unquestioning audience. The country is divided enough as it is, but GB News promises to air “programming with attitude and strong opinions, serving a conservative, provincial audience supposedly ignored by the liberal metropolitan instincts of the current incumbents in British TV news.” Rather than drawing from a breadth of opinion and properly sourced material, such channels use a set of provocative, outspoken hosts to try to steer viewers towards highly conservative mindsets. Such hosts become almost worshipped or reveered by the audience; their often baseless pronouncements accepted without question. Perhaps even more concerning is the fact that it isn’t entirely clear where this new news channel is being funded from. Having watched a bit of Fox News, and seen the social and cultural problems that kind of reactionary, bigoted, intentionally divisive propaganda pump can cause, I really think this channel is the last thing we need in the UK right now.

Can America’s problems now start to be addressed?

I just gave Joe Biden’s inauguration concert a watch, and as relieved as I am that America has a properly qualified president again, I must admit my mind is split. The show was full of the self-aggrandising, self-congratulatory hogwash we now expect from Americans: they seem so eager to pronounce their country the greatest in the world, yet apparently refuse to admit, even to themselves, the massive problems their country has. At one point they lauded their healthcare system (they seem to have nicked our ‘clap for carers’ tradition) but refuse to admit how draconian their system is compared to a properly funded state healthcare system like the NHS. At least now they have a proper, decent person as their president, such issues can begin to be addressed, although I’m not holding my breath.