Saturday, January 29, 2005

Twenty Questions

I think that, before we stand any chance of working out answers to tough questions, we need to work out what the questions are. Which we very rarely do. So, as a service to the general public, here are the relevant questions about last months Big Controversy.

1: Did the images, which portrayed St Jerry in the role of a tawdry chat-show host, considered by themselves and regardless of context, constitute blasphemy against the Springerist faith?

2: Were those images, considered in that way, likely to offend Springerists?

3: What do you mean by “offense”? Do you mean “actually painful to watch” or merely “slightly annoying”?

4: What do we mean by “blasphemy”? Is a religion free to decide for itself what is blasphemous? (In other words does “blasphemy against my religion” mean “anything my religion says is blasphemous?”) If not, who else gets to decide?

5: Are “blasphemy” and “offense” synonymous? Can something be blasphemous but not offensive? Can something be offensive but not blasphemous?

6: If I don’t belong to your church, should I care about what your church considers to be blasphemous? But if it is immoral (or at least bad mannered) of me to insult your mother, why is it quite all right for me to insult your God?

7: Can “blasphemy” or “offense” ever be legitimately used for artistic effect? Can a writer or painter ever say “I know it was offensive: it was meant to be.”?

8: If we say “This image is offensive” and “I was offended by this image”, are we saying the same thing? (Can I think that something was offensive if I personally wasn’t “offended” by it?)

9: Does the use of “blasphemous” or “offensive” images in, say, a play automatically make that play blasphemous or offensive? If an actor playing a Roman soldier spits on the image of Christ in a Passion Play, is he guilty of sacrilege? Granted that the phrase “fucking nigger” is highly offensive, does a play become offensive the moment a racist character uses the expression “fucking nigger”? (If so, who has committed the offense: the actor who said the words? The playwright who wrote them? The manager who staged the play? The audience? Everybody in the whole wide world?) If the phrase “Granted that the phrase ‘fucking nigger’ is highly offensive...” occurs in an article, does that article become offensive?

10: Does it make any difference if you print it as f*ck*ng n*gg*r?

11: Is an image less offensive if you find it in a work which has artistic merit than it would have been if you found it in a work which had none? Does the degree of artistic merit make a difference? If we discovered a lost painting by Leonardo that happened to depict the rape of a child by an adult, would the image’s offensiveness be reduced by the brilliance of the brushwork?

12: Contrawise, is the artistic merit of a work reduced if its subject matter is offensive? Could you say of the Leonardo “It can’t be a good painting, because it depicts a child being abused.”? Can we conceive of “good Nazi art”? If not, are we becoming confused about two possible uses of the word “good”?

13: If a work has sufficiently high artistic merit, does it matter who it offends? Can we says “It doesn’t matter that lots of people will be upset by the subject batter, because it is such a very pretty picture?” Is Ode to Grecian Urn really worth any number of old ladies?

14: Is it ever reasonable for someone to say “That work is offends me, so I won’t look at it”? Or is there some kind of moral duty to look at potentially offensive things? Or is it purely a matter of individual choice? Should I get around to seeing Life of Brian one of these days? Should Dastardly Dick Dawkins see The Passion of the Christ? Should anyone read Cerebus the Aardvark under any circumstances whatsoever?

15: Is it ever reasonable for me to say “That work offends me, so YOU shouldn’t look at it?” Can I be offended by a work I haven’t seen? Can’t the fact that other people are gathering to look at it be offensive in itself? Does my shock at the racist play or the pedophile picture go away simply because I don’t happen to be looking at them? Is it possible that under their cloths everyone is, in fact, naked?

16: Is your answer to question 15 affected by the number of people who find the work offensive? Do I have the same right to display a painting which is highly offensive to the 15 members of the UK’s frog-worshiping community than one which is equally offensive to the UK’s 500,000 Jews?

17: Is your answer to question 15 affected by the media in which the work is going to be displayed? Are there things which we can show to an all-ticket cinema audience which we can’t show on TV? Are there things which we can show on TV which we can’t put on a poster-hoarding near a busy road?

18: That Prince Harry, eh, what a twit.

19: What degree of “offense” and or “blasphemy” did Jerry Springer: The Opera in fact contain?

20: What degree of artistic merit does Jerry Springer: The Opera in fact possess? (Ignore this question if your answers to questions 11, 12 and 13 make it irrelevant.)

There. Now I’ve done the hard part, sorting out the answers is left as an exercise for the reader.

I didn’t see it, myself: and neither did any of the people who made such a fuss. I did get right through The Satanic Verses, though. It wasn’t very good.

Friday, January 28, 2005

My other webpage

If you want to read more of this drivel, there is about a decade's worth of it here

http://www.aslan.demon.co.uk

If this carries on, I will have to re-consider my decision to stop reading the Grauniad.

Guardian Unlimited Guardian daily comment History is blue. Discuss

"3. The abolition of the slave trade was:
a) "political correctness gone mad"; b) the only way to set quotas for immigrants coming into the empire; c) forced through parliament by the Islington liberal elite, who had no understanding of rural life in the colonies"

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

I posted it four times

I know I posted it four times. I don't know how I posted it four times. Twice, given that I tried to cancel the one with everyone's name in cc instead of in bcc, I could have understood. But not four times.

I am very sorry that I posted it four times.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Rilstone spends lunch time rehearsing tired old Lee vs Kirby debate, shock.

RPGnet Forums - Judge: Lee Entitled to Some Marvel Profits

I appear to have started blogging.

I so don’t know if this is a good idea.

My friend Rob from Bristol, who lectures in something arcane and scientific and was kicked off the “Boffins” edtion of “The Weakest Link” in round three, e-mailed me after the last update to my web-site (that’d be in 1986, then).

“You should blog.” he said.

I said I wasn’t sure if my writing could sustain the off the cuff spontinaeity which I understood an online diary to require.

He pointed out that there was nothing to stop me editing stuff before I posted it.

I said I’d think about it.

He also suggested that I had, in fact, being blogging for years.

Meanwhile, I had started using “Instant messenger” for the first time. Everyone in my new office uses I.M. It saves them the bother of actually having to talk to their co-workers. Once I had it installed, I started to use it to talk to friends, as well. It is astonishing how modern technology has come up with so many ways of wasting time at work.

Another one of my friends, Louise, who has to the best of my knowledge never been on The Weakest Link, suggested that my I.M messeges were “like Delerium on a butterfly day”. When pressed, she said she thought this was probably a good thing.

What had already occurred to me was that all those round-the-houses-and-cleverly-get-back-to-the-starting point essays and jump-between-several-different-points-via-double-carriage-returns-and-hope-the-reader-gets-the-message articles which I post to the webpage take me rather a long time to write. This can be observed by the fact that

1: By the time I’d got my thoughts down on Siegfried the English National Opera were rehearsing Gotterdamerung

2: The Christmas piece, which really needed to go out before Easter 2005, was pretty obviously rough around the edges. Unfinished, even. One correspondent concluded that I was not a true Christian because the piece, er, contained spelling mistakes.

(Andrew, Andrew, Andrew. Just because you broke the habit of beginning every third sentence with “However” DOES NOT mean you are now free to drop “of course” into every line. Especially if you are going to use “of course” to introduce pieces of information which are fantastically obscure and/or highly contentious. And just because you made a lot of notes before starting deson’t mean it’s all right to jump-cut from sentence to sentence and indeed from subject to subject without inserting links. Of course, neither the contribution made by Stan Lee nor Paul Mcartney should be underestimated.)

However, the truth is, of course (STOP IT!) that I am a radically disorganised writer. Everything I write starts out as "delerious" as my I.M messages. First drafts go:

On the whole, I’d let the hooray-Henry’s carry on fox hunting if they really want to. Was that ever a movie? One can imagine Kenneth Williams in the role of the squire on a horse (“ooo, missus, tally ho”) and a certain amount of innuendo from Sid James (“you are a foxy lady”), althought I don’t think that they ever really got into that kind of social-satire. Which reminds me, wasn’t the Simpsons good last night?

Which means that for every thousand words that spills out, without much effort, onto the page, I spend two evenings trying to wrestle it into some kind of order. I do, in fact, have 5,000 words on my hard-drive spiralling around the fox-hunting issue (among other things), but I am not entirely sure that I can face the prospect of working it up into a finished pamphlet.

And there is also at the back of my mind the niggling thought: “Is this process of working over, and working over, the same piece over and over again actually removing any vestige of spontinaeity and wit from it. Might I not just as well post the first draft and have done with it? "

Ergo: blog.

I shall post first drafts here more or less as write them, however far I wonder of the point.

I shall edit for typos and libel, but not to improve the sense or style – not, for example, to remove that horribly self-conscious example of the Friends “so” in line 1?

I’ll give it to, say, the end of February and see if I think it is worth carrying on with.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

How many members do they have? "We're bigger than David's band, but not as big as Biblical armies," says Green, gnomically. He will not be more specific, but according to 1 Samuel 29:6, David, the future king of Israel, had a 600-strong band of followers, though their leader was not, as the Christian Voice is, based in Surbiton. What's more, 2 Chronicles 14:9 records that one of the largest Biblical armies was led by Zerah the Ethiopian, who brought brought one million men and 300 chariots against King Asa of Judah. So Christian Voice, we can say with confidence, has somewhere between 600 and one million members, though no chariots.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/g2/story/0,,1387321,00.html