Why I’m writing a Spanish Inquisition cop show

General grumpiness, Rants, Religion, Supernatural, Television, Utter bollocks

Well, I’ve only ever been able to see ‘The Exorcist’ as a comedy, and if you believe Martin Shaw in the BBC’s nutty new exorco-drama ‘Apparitions’, that probably means I’m possessed. Hey ho, we all have our crosses to bear (or rather, pitchforks). In my defense, the scene in ‘The Exorcist’ that first set me off is undeniably a bit nutty. It’s the one where the psychiatrists come and visit Regan. The bed’s levitating; a head’s spinning round; the wardrobe’s dancing; and the shrinks confidently declare that it’s all in her mind, with a positively surreal determination to deny reality that was really a bit too Monty Python for me.

Alas, ‘Apparitions’ – just watched on BBC iPlayer – wasn’t as entertaining. In fact, it left me feeling positively depressed. Martin Shaw is – as ever – elegantly smooth as an exorcist who bucks authority (in classic cop show style, his grumpy boss even demands his exorcist badge at one point – and of course Shaw pops up a couple of scenes later, exorcising away. I go my own way, dammit! Or, in his rather more priestly take on that particular cliche, ‘I can only promise to follow my conscience’.), in this opening episode dealing with a young girl, quite possibly the reincarnation of Mother Teresa (yup, that’s what seems to be going on), whose dad is possessed. And it’s the way that that possession is handled, and the show’s related condemnation of atheism, that left me feeling so bummed out.

So, let’s start with possession. Martin Shaw’s nemesis – the possessed dad – was, it transpires, taken ill in India, rushed to Mother Teresa’s hospital, and there baptised without his knowledge. This is the root of his problems; Shaw tells us that, if baptism isn’t followed by an acceptance of God, a void is created that demons rush into. And he backs this up with scriptural quotation, so we’re not just hearing this from him; we’re hearing it from the church. This isn’t opinion, the show makes a point of telling us; it’s doctrine. And, given that we’re told this by an experienced exorcist, in this dramatic context, it’s not just doctrine either – it’s fact.

So, what’s the problem? Well, it’s in a very reasonable objection that Possessed Dad raises. He asks about the Hindus and Muslims that are brought into the hospital, and is outraged that they should be forcibly converted. Of course, within the context of the show’s rhetoric, everything he says is false; presumably his outrage is intended to create in us, the credulous audience, a sense that in fact it’s rather good that these non-believers are getting forcibly Christianised. That’s well on the way to being rather offensive; but that’s not all. In the dramatic world that the show creates for us, the forcibly baptised are in fact empty vessels for demons. It’s unlikely that a Hindu or Muslim, unknowingly baptised, will then embrace a Christian God; and so they become the most fertile voids, wherein demons may dwell.

Ugh. And Ugh, too, to the show’s treatment of atheism. Earlier on, Possessed Dad’s daughter tries to convince a doubting Shaw that her dad is possessed. Her proof? Richard Dawkins books, ‘Jerry Springer – the Opera’ on the CD player, and so on. Atheism is here a direct path to damnation; thought independent of church dictat a sure road to destructiveness in this world (Possessed Dad ends the episode by nearly, it’s implied, raping and killing his daughter) and eternal flame in the next. Is this kind of boneheadedly authoritarian theology the kind of nonsense my licence fee is funding? I’m going to be on the phone to the Beeb tomorrow…

And I’ll have one final thing to complain about, too. Because this show really is putting across a theology of command, and that’s made very clear when we find out how Possessed Dad’s daughter was conceived. Her seed was sown on the day of Mother Teresa’s death; Possessed Dad and Mrs Possessed Dad were in Kensington Gardens, mourning the death of Diana. At least, Mrs PD was; Possessed Dad dragged her into the bushes for a quick one, ostensibly to celebrate Diana’s death but in fact to celebrate Mother T’s death. A fascinating moment, linking temporal and spiritual authority in a way not seen since the obsolescence of the divine right of kings.

So, all in all a bit of a waste of time, this programme. And (not wanting to rant excessively after the X-Files explosion below) I haven’t even mentioned the truly bizarre treatment of the show’s only gay character, an ex-leper who’s now almost a priest, until he’s cast out of the church and falls prey to the temptation to visit a sauna – ‘The Hot Room’ (because Hell’s, like, hot, and he’s going into somewhere like Hell! Good grief, I’m embarrassed to even type this stuff. Anyway…) – and as a result is flayed alive by a knife wielding demon who – we have earlier learnt – also hangs out outside the Vatican, selling the Italian version of ‘The Big Issue’. Hmm, casual – and clod-hoppingly literal – demonization of the homeless, too.

So, who’s this witless, propagandistic, two dimensional, utterly conservative nonsense aimed at? Well, certainly not people like me. I would say the deeply, narrowly religious, but I suspect that they’ll have turned off after the first five minutes, where we learn that -apparently – Mother Teresa spent the last few hours of life either under demonic attack, or actively possessed by demons. Right…

So I can’t see anyone really enjoying it (except, perhaps, for Martin Shaw’s mum, and she kind of has to), and I certainly wouldn’t recommend it. So why have I even written about it? Partially, because this kind of unpleasantly subtexted nonsense should always be dissected and exposed for the offensive cobblers that it is, and partially because I still can’t quite believe that something quite as witlessly regressive as this is being serialised on BBC1 at 9pm on Thursday nights. If nothing else, it should lay to rest the myth of the dominance of the liberal media – along with those other myths about intelligent media, challenging media, entertaining media and even just basically well thought through media.

And what now for me? Well, I’m off to get stuck into a script about a heroic crime solving heretic torturing demon fighting member of that wonderfully sympathetic organisation, the Spanish Inquisition – if I get it in front of whoever commissioned ‘Apparitions’, I’ll be a TV big shot before you know it…

The butcher’s apprentice

Film, Narrative, Rants, Television, Violence

I’m at home, watching trailers for upcoming movies on Five. Guns, fisticuffs – combat as a fundamental dramatic component. It’s so all-pervasive, you don’t notice it any more.

And I’m sick of it. Sick of the reduction of the subtle emotional conflicts inherent in drama to meatheaded literal battles; sick of the constant presentation of violence as a positive response to problematic situations; sick of the idiot miscalled-morality that can only respond to opposition with absolute destruction.

Encoded in violence-as-entertainment is a whole broken world view, over-brought in to a narrative structure that demands a frangible antagonist for every protagonist, and makes every hero an innocent victim of evil, a by-definition justified responder to a situation that’s been forced onto him or her, thus absolving them of any real moral responsibility for their actions.

This sickened externalisation of such a limited view of evil, this self-indulgent definition of the other as both dispensable and perpetually unjustified, is at the root of so much of the damage we do in the world, complaining about our own hurt while butchering by the thousand to re-confirm our brutally narrow, boneheaded definitions of what heroism is.

You want to hold up a mirror to up to the worst parts of what we are? Turn on the television, and watch endless butchery presented as narrative positivity, casual massacres as a constant solution to opposition. We are our obsessions – and, in the modern world, our obsessions are so brutally, perpetually present and exposed.

Killing the lover

Poets, Rants

Watching children and their parents on the beach at the weekend, and I was struck by how much care goes into the making of a person. None of just happen; we’re all very carefully supported, built even, over a period of decades.

And more generally, there’s a deep sense of nurture in being us. Walking through London, all you can see comes from human care; attention to construction of buildings, vehicles, goods, relationships, organisations.

A case can be made that care at that level has become pathological. Our concern to construct is so short sighted, taking place at the expense of the environment, of people elsewhere on the globe.

We are constructive for ourselves, in the short term; but we build without reference to the impact of our works. As a society, we are blind creators, destroying so much more than we create as we re-shape the world to our immediate convenience.

Which set me thinking about World War II poet Keith Douglas, and the deep honesty of some of his finest work. ‘How To Kill’ is a devastatingly good example of this. Here, he’s brave enough to be very open to the consequences of his act.

For me, though, he’s perhaps most focussed in ‘Vergissmeinicht’, contemplating a potentially lethal opponent’s corpse (‘he hit my tank with one / like the entry of a demon’), imagining the dead man’s girlfriend from a photo left near his body, then concluding –

For here the lover and killer are mingled
who had one body and one heart.
And death who had the soldier singled
has done the lover mortal hurt.

Douglas’ meaning reaches out to us from the 40s. We’re at war with so much of the world; and as we reshape the parts of it we find threatening or inconvenient, so much is lost, in so many different ways.

Monk ponder work

Rants, Religion

The dissolution of the monasteries made monks of us all, taking the monastic organisation of time and labour in pursuit of transcendent ends and releasing it into Northern European society as a whole. ‘Laborare est orare’ (itself all verbs, all doing) is made the founding principle of modern society; now our expectation is that work itself can and should be a transcendent activity, a fulfilment in itself.

Scott of the Rantarctic

America, Essayists, Novelists, Rants

Well, despite a bacon, mushroom and brown sauce sandwich, and a rather nice cappuccino, I’m still hungover, so I’m just going to rant a bit, releasing my inner literary Richard Littlejohn (for non-UK readers, a noted right wing ranting journalist / loon) on the world.

We’re going to hell in a handcart!

If there’s one thing that winds me up, it’s the way that F. Scott Fitzgerald’s comment that ‘there are no second acts in American lives’ is taken to mean that there are no second chances in American lives. You see it quoted all over the place – such-and-such has returned triumphantly from failure, ‘disproving FSF’s famous dictum’, somebody else falls into obscurity, ‘proving FSF right’.

You couldn’t make it up!!

But – if you think about what the term ‘second act’ actually means in a narrative structure context – you realise that’s not what he meant at all! Classically, in the First Act you establish a goal for your protagonist, in the Second Act you create obstacles to the achievement of those goals, and in the Third Act you show what happens when those goals are finally achieved.

It’s Political Correctness GONE MAD!!!

So, when FSF said that there are no second acts in American lives, what I think he really meant was that there’s an expectation that there should be no barriers between the desire and the fulfilment of the desire. And that’s a very intriguing comment, perfectly describing the promises that much of modern consumer culture makes to us all. You want it? You got it. No effort needed, because there’s no longer a second act.

Now that’s much more interesting than no second chances.