Friday, June 27, 2008

FIVE

I asked Jonathan what he thought of Glamourpuss. He told me:


"I fell asleep reading it.


"Not because it's boring. It isn't boring. But it is like reading a technical manual. It's got that much detail in it. The words don't make much sense to me because I don't have much understanding of the material. I've got no interest in Rip Kirby. I'd never heard of it before. I've got no interest in the fashion industry. I would find it easier to read a computer manual.


"He's taken the device that this is an origin story for Glamourpuss, except Glamourpuss isn't really a character. At the same time he's saying that he wants to work out how Alex Raymond created comic books out of photos, because he was the best at it. So it's kind of a study on that particular kind of comic. And none of those are things which interest me.


"His writing is as good as ever. I got the feeling that he's just repeating gags that he's used before, but it did make me laugh. Evil Dave Sim realising that this was actually working and that he could perhaps use this -- with a lovely little caricature of himself presumably taken from a photo. I thought that was just very well done.


"He seems to be deliberately playing up to and teasing his critics. He's chosen the fashion industry knowing that people will jump to conclusions, because he's a famous misogynist. But lots of the digs at the industry are very funny. There are some nice jokes. "Top 5 signs you've already found Mr. Right" is one of his standard jokes. You just reverse something and make it funny. Of course once you get to the 5 signs they're all absolutely wrong... Which is an old Viz joke. The scenes with Glamourpuss are a bit funny. But they're not his best stuff; not the 'early funny issues.'


"Since he's taking pictures from fashion magazines and using those as illustrations, they don't connect at all. He's got very good drawings -- translations from photos -- but they are a stream of photos of models wearing designer clothes to which he's trying to add a thought bubble which fits. There isn't a narrative.


"It reminded me most of Alan Moore's "Magic Cards" which is basically a collection of poems, or plotless prose with very good illustrations -- basically a stream of consciousness. You come to the end and think "I have no idea what he was going on about." I could read the words; I could see what was happening in the pictures; but nothing happened in the story. He'd adopted a style to write it with, but it wasn't a character. I think the same is true of this.


"There are some lovely bits where he is quoting a particular piece of fashion -- dresses or gloves or handbags or shoes -- which sounds very authentic. I don't know whether he's actually gone and learned who the designers are and what goes with what or whether he's simply copied it all out of the fashion magazines.


"That's quite amusing: that Dave Sim is writing about fashion, apparently very knowledgeably. I assume he actually sat down, read about fashion, and found out about it. Because he's mad. I'm sorry, I mean committed."

93 comments:

Andrew Rilstone said...

Okay:

Sylvia said...

Is it our turn now?

Andrew Rilstone said...

Er...yes.

SH said...

"Writing about music is like dancing about architecture." is a one of the sillier quotes people drag out.

And this even before parkour came around.

Andrew Rilstone said...

-- what are you trying to say through your work, Mr. Njinsky.

-- if i could put it into words, to you honestly think I would go to the trouble of dancing?

Tpolg said...

“For in Calormen, story-telling is a thing you’re taught, just as English boys and girls are taught essay-writing. The difference is that people want to hear the stories, whereas I never heard of anyone who wanted to read the essays.” - C. S. Lewis

Oberon said...

That's all well and good Andrew, but I don't see what that has to do with Davros.

Sylvia said...

Well--

I saw the opening salvo and thought of course of your previous giant critical sequences--Star Wars, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Wagner &c. And I went, oh, I'm going to have to read these damn books, aren't I. (Which doesn't really follow, since I have read with interest some of your pieces on shows/movies/etc that I've never seen and/or don't usually care about.)

What followed, though, after two initial posts that were both packed with quite interesting arguments about art and the artist, were the actual discussions of the new books, those books being, it appears, 1) a technically adept and occasionally funny genre pastiche that was kinda interesting and 2) a not terribly good or interesting self-important research exercise. As you established early on, the principal significance of both books is that they were created by Dave Sim. And as it turns out, not only aren't they all that good, they're not mad enough or bad enough or could-have-been-great enough to inspire the kind of wide-ranging in-depth rant we got after S3 of New Who.

Perhaps I am failing to make some important connections, but the biggest ideas in this five-parter seem to have been tossed aside in parts one and two on the way to discussing these two books. You may think "Can members of Amnesty International watch 24?" is a rhetorical question, but I do not.

Andrew Rilstone said...

If there was any kind of sub-text to the reviews, it was this: "People seem to be prepared to form opinions on Sim's work completely without reference to that work . (Only today, I found myself debating the merits of Glamourpuss with someone who had "sort of thumbed it in a shop" and concluded that it "didn't contain any writing") It therefore seem exceptionally important to focus on the actual comic book, and to go through the what-is-it-trying-to-do, how-well-does-it-do-it, was-it-worth-doing questions. The act of reviewing (reading) it is, to me, a moderately important political act."

I forget if you've read "Cerebus" or not: if you haven't, I'd put that on your list of things to get around to. (My advise, as always, is to to read vols 1 - 4, and then carry on until one volume after you get bored.)I wouldn't particularly bother with Glamourpuss unless you have a prior interest in either Dave Sim or Alex Raymond.

Salisbury said...

What did you call it? The 'Unity of the Literary Virtues'. I think you've got that wrong.

I don't know if anyone--or at least anyone thoughtful--has ever really tried to equate aesthetic value with moral worth (and vice versa) in quite that way.

Sure, insofar as a Work of Art attempts to describe Truth, it might be judged on the basis of its success. While at the same time entirely possible to separate, say, those parts of Sim's work that wallow in misogyny from those that don't and examine the latter appropriately.

But the question of whether the work should be read at all is a different and less dissemble-able one. (Which to be fair, I think you acknowledge.)

An example:

Some years ago I discovered I was fond of a number of songs by the musical act Death in June. You may or may not have heard of them.

I came into contact with the songs via a friend and knew nothing about Death in June at the time.

I must also add that, musically speaking, I am completely disinterested in song lyrics--beyond the degree to which their scansion suits the sung melody of a song. I have no ear for ‘the words’, either, and am frequently and to my continued embarrassment getting them wrong in company. Nor have I ever heard a pop-rock lyric which I believe is anything better than banal. All in all, what a band might be singing about is of no consequence to me.

Death in June are neo-Nazis.

Now, according to the non-Unity of Artistic Virtues, I should certainly be able to separate the content I enjoy (the musicality) from the content I despise (the underhanded lyrical vileness).

According the economic approach to the Unity of Artistic Virtues, I should be able to listen to Death in June without committing an immoral act myself, especially in this age of downloads where I can cause the artist actual (if limited) economic harm by illegally acquiring their music, and even disseminating it to listeners who might otherwise pay for it.

And yet, in spite of these two get out of jail free cards, I still think most reasonable people would consider my enjoyment of the band slightly suspect.

They would say, many of them, I think, that I should not be listening to Death in June whether or not I paid for the music and whether I listen to the lyrics or not.

And I’m inclined to agree.

There is no easy piece of deductive or inductive logic that might be used to explain why. Utilitarianism and rights-based ethics fall flat. I am not harming anyone, except perhaps my own sense of good taste. I am in no danger of coming ’round to Death in June’s point of view. I am certainly not broadcasting their songs publicly, and they may as well be about eating cornflakes as far as my ear is concerned. And there is of course the fact that not every Death in June song is a disgusting piece of Jew-hating, holocaust-denying despicableness. Some of them are about other things. Would the average reasonable human being agree that I can listen to the morally neutral songs and not the Jew-hating ones?

I doubt it.

This is all a bit, for me, like a man sleeping with his sister. There may be many fine and sensible arguments against a man sleeping with his sister, but at the end of the day you just don’t do it because you just don’t do it.

Now of course Dave Sim’s misogyny is not comparable with Death in June’s anti-Semitism. (Well, presumably not, I don’t know a hell of a lot about Dave Sim.) This is very much a matter of degree, and as far as I can tell in this case his opinions seem more juvenile than ugly. From my personal point of view, I will continue to enjoy the novels of Kingsley Amis despite his own misogyny—perhaps as silly and as sad as Sim’s, in its own way.

But Mary Whitehouse aside, I think to sardonically characterise your theoretical opponent’s argument with the Capitalised First Letter of Ridicule is like skimming a rock across a pond. There’s more to get to the bottom of, here.

Anyway, a fine read as usual--though it really is time you got back to Doctor Who. Quick question: Did you like ‘Forest of the Dead’, or not?

Andrew Rilstone said...

I Wasn't Intending To Use Capital Letters To Ridicule People. Socrates Or Possibly Plato Someone In A Toga Anyway Certainly Does Claim That There Is No Real Difference Between Aesthetic And Moral Judgments. Lots Of People Really Do Apply Words Like Evil To Film They Don't Like. More Than One Person Has Claimed That They Abstained From Revenge Of The Sith Because They Thought That It Was Wrong To Give George Lucas Their Money. And I Think That One May Legitimately Suspect That Some Of Those Who Say "Cerebus Sucks But Of Course I Haven't Read It" Are Dissing Sim's Art Because They Don't Like His Beliefs.

As You May Or May Not Know, My Favourite Composer (Favourite Human Artist) More Or Less INVENTED Nazism, So That May Not Be The Best Example.

I Guess The Question Is: When You Say "I Don't Listen To The Songs With The Nazi Lyrics Because I Don't" Are You Telling Me Something About YOU, Or Are You Adding In Brackets And Under Your Breath: "...And Neither Should Anyone Else."

Also I Note That You Distinguish Clearly Your Dislike Of The Lyrics From Your Admiration For The Music Itself.

Salisbury said...

Good heavens, I seem to have struck a nerve. An unintended one.

To make my point more briefly, it is: I don't think anyone, even Mary Whitehouse, holds to the Unity of Literary Virtues.

I think even Mary Whitehouse can spot the difference between artistic merit and the moral dimension.

What she may be suggesting is that the poem V should not be read aloud on Channel 4 anyway. She, I suspect, believed that its moral difficulties trump any artistic virtues it has.

I happen to disagree with her, but that is neither here nor there.

In other words, I am not convinced that there are terribly many commentators who believe that 'if a work of art is immoral then it is necessarily an aesthetically and creatively poor piece of work.'

(There might, however, be some who believe that insofar as what is moral is also what is true, an immoral work generally fails by being untrue. Probably one of those Greeks you mention.)

Whether or not someone chooses to enjoy something which they believe to possess dubious moral qualities is, for the record, as far as I'm concerned, a matter for themselves. And I, at least, am rarely consistent on the matter.

And yes, I rather thought my separating of the music and the lyrics was part of the point I was, it seems, failing to make.

Incidentally, I am also passing fond of the power electronics band Whitehouse, named for Mary Whitehouse, and considered distasteful, even immoral, in some circles.

Nick said...

No Six then?

I thought the discussion of Sim's alledged mysogeny (sp?) was rather cherry picking the arguement. There is some somewhat sexist stuff about Red Sophia. I've never heard anyone suggest that that's the stuff they have problems with

SH said...

"-- what are you trying to say through your work, Mr. Njinsky.

-- if i could put it into words, to you honestly think I would go to the trouble of dancing?"

It's a cute quote, but more a case for Mr Nijinsky not being very good with words than dancing being able to uniquely communicate ideas that words cannot. I'm of the opinion that given a sufficiently rich set of symbols, we can express pretty much anything in any form. Perhaps not with the same brevity, but still getting the same ideas across.

But that's a bit besides the point. My problem with "Writing about music is like dancing about architecture" is that it's usually trotted out to dismiss the the endeavour as pointless, when it's patently not. Even if it doesn't manage to capture or express the same ideas and feelings, it can still change our perception of the work. Look at how parkour/free running changes the relationship to architecture.

"Lots Of People Really Do Apply Words Like Evil To Film They Don't Like. More Than One Person Has Claimed That They Abstained From Revenge Of The Sith Because They Thought That It Was Wrong To Give George Lucas Their Money."

The introduction of a market mechanism makes the issue more complex than you make it out. Giving an artist money for his work incents him and others to create similar work. The Star Wars prequels are aesthetically wretched movies, and I felt bad for giving my money to Lucas (it took some serious nagging from my friends to get me into RotS after the previous two debacles), but I wouldn't call them *evil*. The problem is that when you reward aesthetically poor movies, you help promote rubbish, and that's the part I find objectionable.

Mind you, I don't go about feeling guilty everytime I spend money on a dud, but since the previous ones had sufficiently established that George Lucas couldn't direct traffic and has no one around to veto his bad ideas, I knew what I was getting going in, and really had no excuse.

Andrew Rilstone said...

Nick:

I took it that the point was that Cerebus (when it was arguably a parody book, i.e #1 - #25) and before the explicitly weird cosmology came in (roughly ,the Victor Davies section in #181) was already "misogynist". ("Misogynist from the very beginning"). Hence, my reference to arguably sexist gags -- the school girls, Sophia, Sophia's mother, etc -- in those early issues. You've surely read enough of my stuff to know that I would the penultimate person on EARTH to deny that Sim in full flight (no votes for women, no jobs outside the home for women, women created by YHWH to prove a point, compulsory wife-spanking etc etc etc)is a: incredibly hostile to women and b: mad.

Salisbury:

No, you haven't really Hit a Nerve, sorry, hit a nerve. My point about your distinguishing the musical merit of the band from it's ideology was intended to concur with yours. I have no disagreement with you saying "Nice song, shame about the words".

Do you think there is some kind of balance being struck. e.g Do you think that when you hear a fairly good rock group with extremely nasty words, you should stop listening to them; but that if it was an extremely good group with moderately nasty words, it would be okay? (Can I go in listening to Wagner which, on my view, is superlatively brilliant music with, in places totally abhorrent ideology?)

What Mary Whitehouse said, in so many words, was that the word "FUCK" was abhorrent, regardless of context. And, incidentally, if she was right, she was perfectly correct to demand the banning of "V" (and "Deadly Assassin" part 3, and "Pinky and Perky" and "My Ding-A-Ling") because she sincerely believed that violence (regardless of context) and smut (whether mild double entendre or actual porn) would destroy the moral framework of society. Where you don't think that the fascist lyrics are actually likely to do any harm.

m.f

Jallan said...

I'm of the opinion that given a sufficiently rich set of symbols, we can express pretty much anything in any form.

That’s a tautology.

You could theoretically code meanings into the gestures of dancing so eventually you got a rich set of symbols sufficient to comment on architecture. But only those who bothered to learn your arbitrary linking of certain gestures to certain meanings would really understand what you were dancing about.

The introduction of a market mechanism makes the issue more complex than you make it out.

No it doesn't. Giving an artist money for work that is both good and popular equally encourages bad artists to produce what they think is work of the same kind. And many great works, at least in part, originate as imitations of bad works.

... but since the previous ones had sufficiently established that George Lucas couldn't direct traffic and has no one around to veto his bad ideas, I knew what I was getting going in, and really had no excuse.

Lucas ability or inability in “Directing traffic” is not indicated by anything in Lucas’ films. Having people around who can veto what they believe are bad ideas is surely not always a good thing.

I rather dislike implied criticism by gross exaggeration, often because one must exaggerate as the actual work is, to most people, not nearly bad enough to support the criticism. So the critic attempts to blacken the work or artist or both even more by exaggeration or even irrelevancies like “directing traffic”.

My opinion of Lucas’ new trilogy is that the films were mediocre, and not worthy of their high box office status. But I also think that of most high box-office films (except when I don’t).

Crap that is popular isn’t a new phenomenon. Being moralistic about even seeing such things is a different sort of puritanism. Obviously your friends who dragged you into the last film don’t think it is as bad as you do. So why should your aesthetic judgment take precidence over theirs?

SH said...

You could theoretically code meanings into the gestures of dancing so eventually you got a rich set of symbols sufficient to comment on architecture. But only those who bothered to learn your arbitrary linking of certain gestures to certain meanings would really understand what you were dancing about.

Good thing we have these word things that most people know and will do the job nicely then, no?

What I don't buy into is saying "Music is so special and unfathomable and having a conversation about it is useless". I have little patience for that attitude.

No it doesn't. Giving an artist money for work that is both good and popular equally encourages bad artists to produce what they think is work of the same kind. And many great works, at least in part, originate as imitations of bad works.

True, success is also going to attract less talented imitators, but supporting the makers of bad art is only going to lead to them surviving financially and being able to pump out more of the same. And why strive for more if people will tell you your stuff is great even when it isn't?

Even if you personally don't buy the argument, surely you can see that if someone says that "I think paying money for X is wrong" it doesn't necessarily mean that they think X is evil?

Having people around who can veto what they believe are bad ideas is surely not always a good thing.

This is also true, and veto was a poor choice of words, but in the case of Lucas, you can clearly see the downward spiral starting with Jedi as people like Gary Kurtz left and he got freer and freer reign.

Having people who'll say things like "You can write that shit George, but you sure can't say it" makes a difference in creative endeavours. You need honest feedback if you're going to produce something worthwhile.

I rather dislike implied criticism by gross exaggeration, often because one must exaggerate as the actual work is, to most people, not nearly bad enough to support the criticism. So the critic attempts to blacken the work or artist or both even more by exaggeration or even irrelevancies like “directing traffic”.

My opinion of Lucas’ new trilogy is that the films were mediocre, and not worthy of their high box office status. But I also think that of most high box-office films (except when I don’t).

Crap that is popular isn’t a new phenomenon. Being moralistic about even seeing such things is a different sort of puritanism. Obviously your friends who dragged you into the last film don’t think it is as bad as you do. So why should your aesthetic judgment take precidence over theirs?


There wasn't intended to be anything implied about the criticism, just a snarky way of saying he's a bad director.

Whether the criticism is supported by others' judgment is really irreleveant, as long as *you* can adequately support it. Ultimately, the only thing that matters is your own aesthetic reaction to something, as your enjoyment of art isn't something others get to vote on.

You can have a conversation (or dance) about it, sure, and other people might help you see some things in a new light or point out bits you might have missed, perhaps even change your appreciation for something, but ultimately it's what you make of it that matters.

My reaction was that Star Wars III was badly acted (with a few exceptions), poorly directed, and horribly written, and several notches short of the basic competency that would grant it the status of mediocre. Yours obviously differed. And good for you. You probably walked out of the cinema a lot happier.

(Everyone in my company did agree that it was rubbish after seeing it, incidentally. More the fool me for giving in, I could have been extra smug if I hadn't instead just going "I told you so".)

Clearly everyone's free to enjoy what they want, but in this capitalistic society, my wallet is my voting slip, and if I spend what miniscule power I have on promoting things I'm convinced are terrible over quality I will not feel good about it.

Salisbury said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Salisbury said...

Previous attempt to post this removed due to embarrassing spelling mistake.

Andrew:

I think the whole subject is incredibly thorny. So to keep the thorns down to a manageable level, I’ll restrict my thoughts to what I think I should do, me considering myself a moral being or at least striving to be one. Also, I hope we can agree on what is ‘moral’ for the point of the discussion.

Having said that, I’m not sure what I should do.

There are certain actions which can be said to be immoral because of their outcomes. Murder is immoral because someone ends up dead at the end of it. And then there are actions we consider wrong because they appear to be, well, just wrong: brother-sister incest, consensual sale of organs, adoption lotteries, genetic manipulation of fetuses for improved lifestyle outcomes, flag burning etc.

In some of these cases, you can get to the root of the problem if you probe deep enough. (Incest substantially increases the risk of fatal congenital diseases.) In others we might decide that our reaction is knee-jerk, however strong, and dismiss it. (Flag burning.)

But there always remain a few posers in the middle: where we can’t deduce a harm, but we’re not willing to let go of our instinct, either.

My feeling is that the question, ‘Should we enjoy immoral art?’ falls into that category.

You write:

Do you think there is some kind of balance being struck. e.g Do you think that when you hear a fairly good rock group with extremely nasty words, you should stop listening to them; but that if it was an extremely good group with moderately nasty words, it would be okay? (Can I go in listening to Wagner which, on my view, is superlatively brilliant music with, in places totally abhorrent ideology?)

I’m pulled in two directions at once. On the one hand, as you say, the ideology is in places abhorrent. On the other, I wonder what sort of ignorant Philistine wants to divorce Wagner from the canon.

On the one hand I would like to say that of course I can listen to it and appreciate the good while dismissing the not-Good, and on the other hand I have a mild inclination to call myself a hypocrite.

Which probably means all we can do is apply good old fashioned ‘common sense’ here.

Or perhaps different moral modes might be applied to different situations. Murder calls for a rights-based approach--we don’t let serial killers assassinate depressives even if the former derive more pleasure from the act than the latter do from its absence. While on the question of immoral art, perhaps the answer is utility--the small amount of musical pleasure I get (let’s call it one pleasure unit per listen) outweighs the harm (which in this case is zero, because I have no fascist leanings and am only interested in the piece as a purely musical entity).

On the other hand, I can easily imagine a certain amount of disgust at my reducing the decision--whether to listen to anti-Semitic, Holocaust-denying music--to a form of ethical maths.

I think all this is by way of saying I really don’t know.

Oh, and of course this all becomes thornier still when art's ability to be a source of moral truth is put up against its ‘obligation’ to reflect it.

Sylvia said...

Oh, for threaded comments. Thanks for your response, Andrew; I think I now understand better what you were doing here.

As far as I can tell it's a fact of life that people form superficial opinions about works of art (and everything else)--but it is very frustrating, isn't it, when it is Your Thing about which they're passing judgment without bothering to have a proper look at it?

And after watching comics people's various ways of dealing with the Dave Sim Problem for some time, I've noticed that I seem to have a possibly analogous problem with David Mamet--who is not AFAIK mad, but who has been writing stupid political things and has Issues With Women. I was a little surprised the first time I had this conversation with non-theater-people:

"Look at this thing David Mamet said. He should STFU."

"I agree, it's very frustrating. I wish he'd go back to writing good plays."

"Why does anybody care what he has to say about anything? He's a waste of space!" (Or: "What good plays? I was bored by The Duck Variations and I've despised him ever since. What an idiot!")

"...actually he's a superlatively talented and significant playwright who's had a few clunkers and been politically obnoxious, but a lot of artists are jerks--"

"[strike]Wobbly sets wobbly sets[/strike] Oleanna Oleanna Oleanna!"

But after it happened a couple of times I began to think: Am I going to be having this same conversation about David Mamet for the foreseeable future? Is this like the Cerebus thing?

(So I guess I had better give Cerebus a try at last, since I would want people to do the same for my crazy-ass misogynist writer of choice.) (As long as they don't start with Oleanna.)

Mark said...

Consumption is, to an extent, endorsement. But we have no agreed standard for how broadly that endorsement should be interpreted. Can one enjoy a film without being identified as a material supporter of the nasty cult the lead actor subscribes to? Listen to a composer without being identified with their ideology? Cheer on a sprinter whose running shoes were made by third world children in appalling conditions?

In an ideal world, the duty of charity would compel the judging party to put some effort into determining just how broad an identification was intended. But mostly any expressed preference is just deployed as a rhetorical device against the speaker - someone who wants to call you a Nazi will be delighted to learn you love Wagner.

So when I read Cerebus, I'm aware that to some people this is an opener to accusations of some measure of support for/tolerance of misogyny. Fortunately, to others the tenuous link doesn't hold, and the conversations can focus on the merits of the work. (if the link ever became less tenuous, for example the 'Sim Wife Beaters Legal Defence Fund' appeared, I'd have to reevaluate my position, as consumption coupled to financial support is a horse from a different sea...)

What's really frustrating is that artist-Dave is being given jobs to do by fringe-gender-politician-Dave that really don't interest me any more. If 'earlier, funnier' Dave was choosing the projects instead, we might have a new book worth reading penned by the man at the height of his powers. Instead his best art is going into his least interesting projects. What a waste.

C A W said...

Death in June's front man Douglas Pearce isn't necessarily an organized Nazi - more like an esotheric loner interested in the uniforms and regalia of that period. He's from a UK military family, his father being an RAF pilot. Things could be written about his father complex.

Sample lines about Pearce sung by his friend David Tibet,

"There's a swastika carved, in the palm of his hand.
There's a crooked cross, that is caught in his eyes
There waits a falling sun, in his mind.
There's the honor, of violence, on his lips.
His father waits for him, at the towers of silence.
Where they worship the fires, so long ago quenched
[Edited away because of incomprehensible Internet transcription of actual lyrics]
The fork of life snapped.
They are father and son.
So mingling dust, as if life itself, had been mostly illusion.
But partially real.
And partially pain.

- from "A Song for Douglas After He's Dead"

And, aren't those blokes in uniforms actually fascinating? And... Isn't seemingly endorsing the mysticism of the Nazi era one way to attack the mystery of the lingering fascination which it still holds for many of us.

Andreas Wirsén

ian said...

Mr Rilstone has entered the wierd world of Lovecraftian exegesis! Why "Shadow" instead of "Cthulhu"? (endings better, I suppose, and its been more filmatized, but, still...
http://www.cthulhulives.org/cocmovie/
Of course, most people agree that his best work was "at the Mountains of Madness", at tale of decadent black slaves who Cannibalize...

Er, yes: Dave Sim.
Seems to be enjoying his retirement, at least: nice of him to be concerned about Jewery, though he really should not restrict himself that way(just saw memetician compare Islam to a brain parasite. Only so much one can do with rats, especially if one has grown up with Heinlein instead of "Nosferatu").
Sim, fortunatly, keeps us updated on his fascinating (much the same way Jack Chick tracts are fascinating) philososphy online: these two latest offerings also offers emotion. Perhaps he is ironizing over human "weaknesses" he claims to have left behind?.
Crazy people ought to be watched: especially clever crazy people, at the very least for reasons of self - preservation.

Gavin Burrows said...

Salisbury said...
Death in June are neo-Nazis.

C A W said...
Death in June's front man Douglas Pearce isn't necessarily an organized Nazi - more like an esotheric loner interested in the uniforms and regalia of that period

Guys, in a sense you’re both right. The only thing is, Salisbury is more right.

Contrast Death in June with Laibach. Laibach tap into neo-fascist iconography as a cross between a provocation and a laugh. I don’t think that anyone’s seriously suggested they buy into any of it. Douglas Pierce may not be an “organized Nazi”, his interest in the whole thing may merely be aesthetic. But it’s commonly agreed that he is himself seduced by that aestheticism. His attitude is that while a few people might have died in some camps here or there, on the other hand aren’t those cool-looking uniforms just to die for? That makes him, at the very least, something of a twat.

C A W said...
Isn't seemingly endorsing the mysticism of the Nazi era one way to attack the mystery of the lingering fascination which it still holds for many of us.

…which would seem an ideal point to get back to the subject at hand. Andrew’s argument seems to me to echo one put forward by Orwell in his Benefit of Clergy essay, where he responded to the then-controversial paintings of Dali…

“One ought to be able to hold in one's head simultaneously the two facts that Dali is a good draughtsman and a disgusting human being. The one does not invalidate or, in a sense, affect the other. The first thing that we demand of a wall is that it shall stand up. If it stands up, it is a good wall, and the question of what purpose it serves is separable from that. And yet even the best wall in the world deserves to be pulled down if it surrounds a concentration camp. In the same way it should be possible to say, ‘This is a good book or a good picture, and it ought to be burned by the public hangman.’ Unless one can say that, at least in imagination, one is shirking the implications of the fact that an artist is also a citizen and a human being.”

But while the advantage of this is accuracy, the advantage of the other side is neatness. We would all, I’m quite sure, feel differently about Wagner had he been composing during the Third Reich, and Hitler had sat clapping in the audience the night before invading Poland.

And of course to reach for neatness is a quite natural defence mechanism. We want things to be simple just so we can be clear about them. If I was to get a Nazi leaflet thrust through my door during an election, I would rather it was cheaply photocopied and poorly argued than glossy, eye-catching and worm-tongued. In a borderline case, I might use a single instance of a greengrocer’s apostrophe to try and convince myself we weren’t all heading for the gasworks. If we can convince ourselves, against all evidence, that Sim merely made tiny drawings which he repeatedly photocopied, our lives are simpler. If we need to ‘disappear’ the best years of his work (High Society to Jaka’s Story) then so be it.

(Sim is not a Nazi, of course. But as there are currently no Anti-Yahweist-Demiurge parties operating within my constituency I used another example.)

But to move the argument along, John Major once said “we should condemn a little more and understand a little less.” Major may have lacked access to a decent dictionary at the time, because ‘condemn’ and ‘understand’ are not antonyms at all. A couple of years ago, my mother was mugged. Her mugger was caught, whose motives proved relatively easy to understand – not altogether surprisingly, she was a heroin addict desperate for a fix. I might want to argue that it would be counter-productive to lock such a person up without looking into their addiction. This is not, insofar as I can see, the same thing as a failure on my part to condemn my mother’s mugger.

Similarly, I would argue we do need to understand where Sim is coming from. One advantage I see of Sim’s rantings is that it brings out misogynist traits which (I would argue) are widespread but subterranean in our society. Sim has worked up into a cosmology what most guys just mutter in bars. Arguing the case with Sim himself might be sheer timewasting, of course. But they exert a kind of fascination on me for exposing such notions, which may help me to understand them better.

Andrew Stevens said...

A few words about David Mamet:

1) Mamet is clearly not insane.

2) None of Mamet's political opinions are stupid. His March article in The Village Voice essentially talks about his conversion from conventional leftism to New Labour (were he English). He is still well to the left of political center in America on all issues except Israel. (Mamet is Jewish.) However, in the cloistered world of the theatre, even political centrism is a hanging offense, explaining the reactions Sylvia is currently getting. The fact that David Mamet passionately hates George W. Bush is simply not good enough to establish his bona fides as a man of good opinion. He must be absolutely in lockstep on all political opinions. Right-thinking people are "open-minded."

3) Mamet is almost certainly not a misogynist nor even a sexist. He may have Issues with Feminism, but I have seen no evidence that he has Issues with Women.

4) Mamet was accused of misogyny and sexism for the first time because of the play Sexual Perversity in Chicago. That play had a couple of misogynists in it, portrayed not at all sympathetically. Because Mamet is not Dave Sim (he considered himself, certainly at that time, a good leftist and a good feminist), he was actually appalled, rather than Sim's feigned appalled, when people called him a misogynist because one of his male characters calls one of his female characters a particularly nasty name. The chorus continued to grow louder as his career progressed, not because of any actual evidence of sexism or misogyny, but because his female characters were thought to be "shallow" or "two-dimensional" or otherwise not very good. I believe there is a simpler and more charitable explanation for this - David Mamet isn't very good at writing female characters.

5) Oleanna was, I have no doubt, partly a reaction to this. Even so, Mamet clearly intended us, by the end of the play, to feel less sympathy for John and more sympathy for Carol than in Act II (when our sympathies are clearly with John). I don't believe he was very successful at this, which is why he is so often accused of being on John's side. But throughout the play, John is pompous and smug. While most people will agree that he didn't sexually harass Carol, I think most people would also agree that in Act I, he was abusing his power over her and treating her quite insensitively and boorishly, lord to serf, rather than person to person. While the play is often seen as a criticism of feminism and political correctness "gone mad," it can just as easily be seen as a criticism of the patriarchal mentality and abuse of power prevalent in academia.

6) I suspect David Mamet may well be a jerk. His lack of social graces is frequently mentioned by people who know him.

Sylvia said...

However, in the cloistered world of the theatre, even political centrism is a hanging offense, explaining the reactions Sylvia is currently getting.

Actually, as I said in my comment, these are the conversations I'm having with people who are not deeply involved in theatre. Fellow theatre people tend to share my assumption that what Mamet says and does is probably worth having a look at and discussing even if one does not agree with it.

I agree that he is not insane.

I thought the Voice piece was absolutely fatuous, and established that after 40 years of having "liberal" opinions he didn't really think about, he had now decided to have "conservative" opinions he didn't really think about.

David Mamet is Jewish? Surely you jest!

Andrew Stevens said...

I assumed Mamet's religion is not common knowledge in England, thus my parenthetical comment.

Mamet's suggested title for the article was "Political Civility." I submit that had it received that title rather than the one it got, it would not have generated nearly as much heat. Mamet doesn't imply in the article that he has converted to conservatism so much as a moderate libertarianism of the Thomas Sowell variety. The article was clearly heavily influenced by Sowell's A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles. Whether he has given the matter a whole lot of thought, I couldn't possibly say (the article went into his reasoning, but not in the kind of depth that would convince me). However, very few people ever change their minds about anything important unless they are confronted with cognitive dissonance as Mamet says he was. He was quite candid about how his previous political opinions were basically a received faith, but how different is that from any of us really? Even political philosophers? If you tell me that you think Mamet has thought even less about his new political beliefs than his critics have of theirs, well, I tend to doubt it. Most of his critics that I have read have, as near as I can tell, never once changed their minds about anything. This does not give me a whole lot of faith in the thought processes that went into forming them.

Sylvia said...

If you tell me that you think Mamet has thought even less about his new political beliefs than his critics have of theirs, well, I tend to doubt it. Most of his critics that I have read have, as near as I can tell, never once changed their minds about anything.

I suspect our sample sets differ considerably.

Tangentially, though, I'd forgotten what-all was in the earlier Mamet comment and now realize why someone might think I was suggesting he was not sane. I'd like to retract and apologize for "crazy-ass", both because I don't think Mamet is insane or even particularly eccentric and because insanity is, of course, an illness and the suggestion that someone suffers from it shouldn't be used as an insult.

Andrew Stevens said...

You're almost certainly right about the sample. I was referring to the commenters to Mamet's article, which is surely not representative. I apologize if I implied (and I probably did) that I was referring to you or your friends.

Sylvia said...

Ah, I see. No offense taken.

We're having a nice long wander from the ostensible topic, but then, it looks like Rilstone is sitting shiva for Doctor Who right now and we might as well keep the comments section warm for him on one subject or another...

Andrew Stevens said...

Somebody on Outpost Gallifrey commented that it was like reading fanfiction written by a thirteen year old girl. I can't argue with that, but the sad thing is that it was still better than Last of the Time Lords.

Salisbury said...

The Forum Formerly Known as Outpost Gallifrey is currently expressing its usual collective indignation that anyone could say anything un-cheery about anything with a viewing audience of 1.8-billion and an collective audience rating of 16 out of ten.

That said, I rather enjoyed the finale in a kind of there's-not-really-much-to-say-about-it way.

Andrew Stevens said...

You know, it's hard to argue with them though. I accepted some time ago that the new show isn't being made for me; it's being made for a much broader audience with only an episode or two a season aimed at something approaching an adult level. It appears Journey's End will have the highest chart position of any episode of Doctor Who ever, higher than Dalekmania of the '60s, higher than early Tom Baker. It also appears to have set a record for highest Appreciation Index. I'm frankly baffled, but here in the States, the most popular TV show is American Idol which is just televised karaoke. And nobody's even drunk. Except Paula Abdul.

But it's certainly impossible to argue that RTD doesn't know what he's doing. He's obviously got a better handle on what the broader public likes than I do. I'm holding out hope that Steven Moffat will make changes to improve the series for me, but I'm not really counting on it. Because, frankly, he'd be a little crazy to do so. Davies's formula is clearly working, regardless of whether it makes any sense to me.

Gavin Burrows said...

Andrew Stevens said... actually could we maybe call you Other Andrew and Mr. Rilstone Proper Andrew?

Oh, OK then...

Andrew Stevens said:
I accepted some time ago that the new show isn't being made for me; it's being made for a much broader audience with only an episode or two a season aimed at something approaching an adult level.

I find that a slightly odd comment as the show was always made for a general family audience, in fact the points (near the end of Old Who) when it veered furthest from that struck me as the low points.

I don't know if the grandiose season finales have ever been particularly great. Perhaps there's something intrinsically at odds between The Spirit of Who and the kind of 'event TV' they epitomise. They're not really the place to look for the measure of a series, and previous episodes have been better. (Including Davies-scripted ones, both Turn Left and Midnight were better than what they were supposedly leading up to.)

Also I wonder if Davies' real sin hasn't been to carry on after he ran out of fresh material. We just know what to expect by now. Those big explosives will just be a decoy, as its actually Donna's turn to go all God-like. (Do you think they have some God Rota pinned up in the Tardis? "No, you were God last season!")

It's like a bad marriage. We've stopped noticing what he does well because he's already done it, while his foibles are now like a blow falling on a bruise. (Characters popping out of nowhere to rescue other characters.) Perhaps as a consequence I'm a little more optimistic about Moffat's run.

An example of something he still does well: when the Doctor says goodbye to Donna who barely even hears him. It's a poignant little moment that works precisely because it isn't overplayed.

In the (unlikely) event anyone's interested in further such ruminations try here!

Andrew Stevens said...

Yes, Doctor Who has always been a family programme and, at its absolute best (early Hartnell), it was wholly appropriate for everyone in the family. However, writing for the whole family is hard. Writing for kids is easy; they're entertained by any old rubbish. Writing for adults is harder. Writing for both kids and adults is the hardest thing of all. Great Doctor Who writers have managed it - Robert Holmes, David Whitaker (mostly), Steven Moffat. A great many have done a competent and workmanlike job (Terrance Dicks). My favorite stories are by Paul Cornell, but I have to think kids would be pretty bored watching Father's Day or Family of Blood and, on that level, his stories are failures. Davies, however, often doesn't bother to entertain the grown-ups at all. I first realized this with World War III and have been reminded several times since. In those cases where he has written well for adults (Turn Left, possibly Midnight), he's probably left out the kids. I'm not here to bury Davies though. He does a lot of things well and I concur that part of the problem is that he's outlasted his ideas.

Gavin Burrows said...

Andrew Stevens said...
Writing for kids is easy; they're entertained by any old rubbish...In those cases where he has written well for adults (Turn Left, possibly Midnight), he's probably left out the kids.

I wonder if these two comments don't lie faintly at odds. And in my experience kids tend to lap up Doctor Who irrespective of whether they get it or not. A friend told me recently how his daughter watches it avidly every week, then complains she couldn't follow any of it!

Aliens of London was a political satire, if a fairly blunt one, so not the first thing I'd do to draw in the kids. From previous comments, I wonder if you haven't reduced a two-part story to a farting scene...

Of course I agree that writing for kids and adults is the hardest thing. But, as you say, others have managed it...

Andrew Stevens said...

Fair point about Aliens of London. Meant for kids and adults with the political sensibility of a sledgehammer perhaps? I should have said that Davies fails at engaging adults, rather than implying that he doesn't try.

In any event, it clearly was not intended to engage me or people like me. And that's fine; most shows aren't aimed at me. Davies has been extremely successful at engaging a very large audience. Sometimes that audience even includes me (Turn Left, Smith and Jones, most of Gridlock). Most of the time it doesn't. I'll keep tuning in as long as he employs folks like Cornell and Moffat. Granting that had he been hanging on for much longer, I may have eventually chosen to start skipping the ones written by Davies himself. As it is, I'm sure I can suffer through his specials before Moffat takes the reins.

Andrew Stevens said...

Ah, I should also clarify the resolution of the apparent contradiction. You can entertain kids with really terrible Saturday cartoons or really bad CGI monsters. You can't entertain kids with Casablanca or daytime soap operas.

Andrew Stevens said...

Thinking about it more carefully, I wasn't careful with my words this time either. I'm sure Davies's style does appeal to many adults. The whole magical technology to solve all problems in the last five minutes thing probably works for a lot of people. Star Wars, after all, is one of the most popular movies ever made. It can't just be kids who watch it.

And I should say that Sarah Jane Adventures had two storylines featuring Slitheen and the Slitheen worked really well there, since that show is perfect for them. The problem Davies had in Aliens of London/World War III is he tried to create tense moments with his comedy villains and it just didn't work. You can have the farting and the zipped foreheads and the Benny Hill chase scenes and the exploding when touched by vinegar or you can ask us to take them seriously. You can't do both.

Gavin Burrows said...

Without wanting to contradict everything you say, I reckon you can do both, actually. Though its on a par with writing for kids and adults simultaneously. Blink had quite a lot of funny bits. Romero's zombie movies may be the most classic example.

I think your comments here would probably be a more accurate description of Boom Town than Aliens of London. While Aliens was (up to a point) defensible, Boom Town was the low point of the first series. Just like Unicorn and the Wasp was written around that silly Christie book cover, Boom Town was almost certainly retro-fitted around its one good scene. (Older readers may be able to guess which scene I refer to here.)

It also marked Davies' first gor-blimey literalisation of the deus est machina device. (How was my spelling there?)

Andrew Stevens said...

Hmm, not sure if you see what I'm getting at. I'm not saying an episode can't be both funny and serious. I'm saying you can't play your villains for laughs and invite us to make fun of them (as with the Slitheen) and then simultaneously expect us to be frightened of them when you decide it's time for them to be serious. About halfway through the story, the Slitheen could still make us laugh or even invoke pathos (as in Boomtown), but they couldn't be taken seriously as a threat. A villain can be both comic and threatening (Batman's the Joker), but even the Joker's funny bits are menacing. We aren't laughing at a clown. Note that much of Blink was very funny, but we aren't laughing at the hapless Weeping Angels the way we are laughing at the hapless Slitheen.

And you still haven't quite gotten it. It's deus ex machina. Ex means out of, as in exhume or exit. Est means he/she/it is, the present active indicative of the verb to be (sum, es, est, sumus, estis, sunt). So now you're saying the god is the machine instead of the god out of the machine.

Gavin Burrows said...

A villain can be both comic and threatening (Batman's the Joker), but even the Joker's funny bits are menacing. We aren't laughing at a clown.

I can see what you're saying. The Weeping Angels themselves aren't that funny, so maybe that wasn't a great example. But what about Romoero's Dawn of the Dead? The structure of the film invites us to join in with the characters as they come to underestimate the zombies. We see them custard pied and subject to all sorts of slapstick indignities. But we also know how it's really going to end... (Of course in this case the zombies are simultaneously other and us.)

I may not be great at spelling that phrase (like Peter Cook I never had the Latin), but I'm hoping that year-after-next i won't need to use it any more...

Andrew Stevens said...

Never seen the movie; I will take your word for it that it was effective. (I am forced to wonder, though. Custard pies? Really?) I still see a difference in that the heroes were presumably taking advantage of one of the weaknesses of the zombies, their slow speed, but we all know that their strength is their relentlessness. The Slitheen, however, were trying to accomplish their objectives through their clever master plan, which was rather undermined by the fact that the story constantly showed us that they weren't at all clever.

Gavin Burrows said...

Really. Custard pies.

I'd recommend at least the original trilogy of Dead films, in fact I did so here. (Incidentally the director's name Romero _ I can't even spell the words I can spell!)

I don't think the Slitheen are conveyed as stupid in Aliens of London. Their masterplan (apparently) completed, they collapse into triumphalist giggles. (There's probably a 'fat cat' metaphor in there too. Do you use that term in the States?) The humour comes through the incongruity with the gravity of office, and is enhance through the time-honoured device of adding a straight man (the military chap).

I'd concede the fart jokes overplay it and go on too long. But then again I'm not a huge fart jokes fan. When Channel Four recently broadcast their Fifty Great Fart Scenes in Films special, I switched off after the first half of it.

(NB None of the above means I'm about to be defending Boom Town, Love & Monsters, Fear Her, The Lazarus Experiment, Unicorn and the Wasp or The Dreadful Torchwood.)

Andrew Stevens said...

We do indeed use the phrase "fat cat." Indeed it originated in the United States circa the 1920s to describe wealthy political donors. You folks get it from us.

I'm actually willing to defend Boom Town and all but the last fifteen minutes of Love and Monsters. I have heard people give a considered defense of Unicorn and the Wasp which I don't happen to agree with. The rest of them, not so much.

Gavin Burrows said...

Didn't know that about 'fat cat'. That's interesting.

As said earlier, Love and Monsters had some interesting ideas later played out much better in Blink. The last fifteen minutes were a definite turn downhill, but I would use the words "bad" and "worse" there.

Andrew Stevens said...

There's a surprising amount of cultural cross-pollination between the two countries. Obviously, the U.S.'s cultural debt to England is vastly greater than England's cultural debt to the U.S., but it's not entirely one-sided.

Interestingly, there are even changes made in the U.K. which appear to be simple reactions against Americanization. For example, realize really ought to be spelled realize, not realise and has been spelled with a z since the 16th century. There's no particular reason to use the French spelling with an s instead of the phonetic and etymologically correct spelling with a z (the words come from Greek, not from French). However, when the U.S. changed the spelling of words ending in -yse to -yze like analyze, catalyze, and paralyze, the U.K. seems to have reacted against this with words ending in -ize like realize, privatize, and recognize and decided to standardize the other way. I think most English people probably incorrectly think that the -ize ending is an Americanism and it isn't.

Of course, most spelling differences are our fault, like behavior, center, defense, and analyze, brought about because Noah Webster thought the U.S. should have a separate cultural identity from England. His more radical suggestions, which would have made American English almost entirely phonetic, were not adopted. Just as well or it would be awfully difficult for us to even communicate in writing.

Andrew Rilstone said...

In "The Sarah Jane Adventures", some of the teachers at the protagonist's school get replaced with Slitheen.

Luke, who is white, and therefore nerdy, doesn't understand why the other kids think that the sounds made by the new teacher are funny: isn't farting a perfectly normal function of the human gut? Clyde, who is black and therefore cool, explains that "farts are funny, they just are."

To which one wishes to reply: no. Farts are NOT funny. Social embarrassment is funny. The extremely grotesque is funny. The sudden involuntary deflation of pomposity is funny. A fart per se is not funny. At all.

"Farts are funny: they just are" could stand as an epigram for every which is wrong with RTD's writing.

The idea that Slitheen had a "gas imbalance" in their skin-suits which happened to sound indecent is quite a good one. Quite often in sci-fi, the Evil Shape Shifting Alien has something which gives him away: funny hands, say, or glowing eyes. The idea that what gives the Slitheen away is something ridiculous could have been very funny: but only as long as everything else about the Slitheen was scary, and only so long as they themselves didn't see the joke (and the humans stopped finding it funny very quickly.)

But we shouldn't be too po-faced: rude noises feature in some of the funniest stories ever written, don't they:

Now Nicholas was risen up to piss,
And thought he would amenden all the jape;
He shoulde kiss his erse ere that he scape:
And up the window did he hastily,
And out his erse he put full privily
Over the buttock, to the haunche bone.
And therewith spake this clerk, this Absolon,
"Speak, sweete bird, I know not where thou art."
This Nicholas anon let fly a fart,
As great as it had been a thunder dent;
That with the stroke he was well nigh y-blent;
But he was ready with his iron hot,
And Nicholas amid the erse he smote....

Gavin Burrows said...

Andrew Stevens said:

Of course, most spelling differences are our fault, like behavior, center, defense, and analyze, brought about because Noah Webster thought the U.S. should have a separate cultural identity from England. His more radical suggestions, which would have made American English almost entirely phonetic, were not adopted.

Hadn't heard any of this before, about a conscious plan to phoneticise American English. I'd always assumed it came from the German influence, German of course tending more to the phonetic than English. Words like 'center', which weren't based in German spelling, had confused me but I'd kind of put them down to mission creep.

Presumably it was also considered to be a form of modernisation at the time? Get rid of those awkward, archaic spellings and put in something more streamlined. It's funny with all the examples of that, American not only used the old measuring system but the one even called 'Imperial'!

Gavin Burrows said...

Andrew Rilstone said;
and only so long as they themselves didn't see the joke

So much as we could be said to be disagreeing about anything here, it would be this one slender clause in your missive.

Andrew Stevens said...

Mr. Burrows, that is indeed my contention. I am 100% on Mr. Rilstone's side here. I was actually fine with all the farting until the Slitheen themselves spent five minutes laughing about something which there is no particular reason they should find funny. After that scene, I couldn't take the story seriously.

However, the Slitheen were perfectly fine in their two SJA stories. As a villain in a children's show, they work great. (As adults, we are conditioned not to take the villains of children's shows very seriously anyway.) It is not clear to me, by the way, that Clyde was speaking for the author of the story in the quote Mr. Rilstone gave, though he could have been.

My other problem with the story, of course, are the Iraq War jokes. Those jokes would have worked great had the story been set anywhere else but early 21st century Earth. Set it a couple of centuries from now, set it in the past (well, maybe not), set it on an alien planet. Any of those and the whole "weapons of massive destruction" gag is pretty funny. But by setting it in a world where the Iraq War clearly happened the same way it did on ours, and I spent the entire time puzzled how we're supposed to believe nobody gets the joke except the viewing audience. I would have, I think, quite liked the story with those couple of changes and found it very entertaining. But fictionally killing the (unnamed) Prime Minister and blowing up Number 10 Downing Street so RTD can have his cathartic revenge on Tony Blair? Not particularly funny, I don't think, even if one agrees with RTD's politics. Perhaps I am over-sensitive on this score; maybe I would have been fine with it prior to 2001.

By the by, I might be a Philistine for saying this, but I have never particularly dug on Chaucer. However, you could have gotten me with Aristophanes.

By the way, kudos to you, Mr. Burrows, for even being aware of the massive German migration to America. I find most Americans have no idea that Germans are our single largest ethnic group. However, the cultural influence of the Germans is, surprisingly, almost non-existent (though I'm ready to be corrected on that point by any American history scholars). Most of the influence that they did have, other than the Christmas tree, has been on cuisine (hamburgers, hot dogs, and beer - traditional American baseball food). The Germans really quite readily assimilated into the English cultures already present in America (Puritans in the North, Cavaliers in the South, Quakers in the Delaware Valley, and Scots-Irish in Appalachia). The Italians, Irish, and African-Americans have had much more impact on American culture. I don't know how much this has to do with the Germans' desire to rapidly assimilate or how much it was because of World War I when people started hiding their German heritage.

Noah Webster, though, was a New England Yankee from long-established English stock, descended from a 17th century Governor of Connecticut through his father and a 17th century Governor of Plymouth Colony through his mother. Webster was a fervent supporter of the American Revolution, was highly populist in his linguistic views, and believed the British aristocracy had corrupted the English language by controlling the spelling and grammar from on high.

By the way, I notice that in writing on this blog, I get a spelling complaint when I use a British spelling like realise. Does that happen to you folks too or is it just my browser? If it does happen, it must be absolutely maddening.

Gavin Burrows said...

I was actually fine with all the farting until the Slitheen themselves spent five minutes laughing about something which there is no particular reason they should find funny.

My problem was more that after five minutes, I’ve kind of stopped seeing the funny side of farting. As Andrew No. 1 said, it’s only ever going to be the context which makes it funny.

My other problem with the story, of course, are the Iraq War jokes. Those jokes would have worked great had the story been set anywhere else but early 21st century Earth. Set it a couple of centuries from now, set it in the past (well, maybe not), set it on an alien planet.

So you don’t like other examples of political satire? Sketch shows or newspaper cartoons? (Not an attack, I’m genuinely curious.) Satire seems to me to work best when its metaphors diminish more than distance. I don’t think Brecht made Hitler a petty Chicago gangster to set the thing away from Germany, but to make Hitler look small and unprepossessing.

The Italians, Irish, and African-Americans have had much more impact on American culture. I don't know how much this has to do with the Germans' desire to rapidly assimilate or how much it was because of World War I when people started hiding their German heritage.

Well those and the fact you could hide your heritage more easily, as the languages and culture were more similar to start with. Hence you don’t get hyphenated German-Americans, as you do with your other examples.

But I’m not sure about your first point. Isn’t a lot of American slang from the German? Dames, kids etc?

I get a spelling complaint when I use a British spelling like realise. Does that happen to you folks too or is it just my browser? If it does happen, it must be absolutely maddening.

And don’t even start me on page formats!

Andrew Stevens said...

I have no problem with political satire. My point was that it's a bizarre choice to do an Iraq War satire set in a world where the Iraq War actually happened (and it is clear from dialogue that it did). (By the by, this site or my browser just took a view and is informing me that I spelled dialogue incorrectly in that sentence. And either is correct in the States.) Davies shows people watching the acting (Slitheen) Prime Minister warning about "massive weapons of destruction" "capable of being deployed in 45 seconds." This would be pretty funny if it were set on the planet Zog. Set in early 21st century England, you have to wonder why the English people watching this aren't laughing. They ought to get the joke just as much as the real viewing audience at home.

Doctor Who offers a wealth of options for satire of this type. You can examine an historical time period with parallels to what is happening now, you can set it in the future and duplicate the situation, or you can set it on the planet Zog. Heck, if you really want to take a serious look, you can set it in Iraq. Davies chose the only setting in which that form of satire doesn't work. (Some of it would have even worked set in the States since the "capable of being deployed in 45 seconds" would be meaningless to most Americans.)

Well those and the fact you could hide your heritage more easily, as the languages and culture were more similar to start with. Hence you don’t get hyphenated German-Americans, as you do with your other examples.

But I’m not sure about your first point. Isn’t a lot of American slang from the German? Dames, kids etc?


The Italians and Irish are entirely assimilated now. It's just about impossible to know if somebody is of those ethnicities unless they tell you. I'm pretty sure most of the Irish who immigrated here came already speaking English, while many Germans probably didn't, so it should have been easier for the Irish to hide their heritage. I'm reasonably sure the Italians and Irish took longer to assimilate just because they didn't wish to assimilate as much as the Germans did. Partly this is because the Irish and Italians formed enormous enclaves - the Italians in New York City, New Jersey, and Connecticut, and the Irish in Boston, New York City, and other parts, while the Germans spread out all over the place, particularly in the Midwest. It's easy not to assimilate if you're a local majority - much harder if you're a minority. Modern American agriculture, by the way, owes a big debt to the brilliance of German farmers who developed many innovative new ways to farm huge tracts of land with relatively little manpower.

Dames is, of course, entirely archaic now, last heard in the 1940s. But surely that comes via England? As in Dame Agatha Christie or Dame Judi Dench or (eventually) Dame Joanne Rowling? In fact, I'm pretty sure dame comes from the Latin domina (mistress) via the Norman French dame. We do get the occasional word from German more directly - e.g. kindergarten, the word we use for the grade before first grade. (That isn't used by you folks across the pond, right?)

I didn't even know "kids" was an Americanism. You learn something new every day. According to the Online Etymological Dictionary, it was first recorded as slang for "child" in 1599, surely in England, and established in informal usage by the 1840s (not sure which country, probably the U.S.). But the German migration doesn't become serious in America until the 1850s.

Andrew Stevens said...

By the way, Mr. Burrows, I just read your site and you reminded me that in that last comment, I was apparently forgetting that the man I got that critique from was. . . Andrew Rilstone. My apologies to Mr. Rilstone from accidentally stealing from him on his own site.

Phil Masters said...

By the way, I notice that in writing on this blog, I get a spelling complaint when I use a British spelling like realise.

Whereas my browser seems determined to demand American spellings. It's probably (a) a function of the browser software, and/or (b) something buried deep in that browser's settings...

Ah, right. In Firefox 3, a right-click in the editor window leads to a series of options to install different dictionaries. Time for me to get the British-English dictionary. I guess it's possible that some browsers actually localise their spelling options according to flags on the page, in which case, Andrew's page may well be set as using British-English.

Gavin Burrows said...

I have no problem with political satire. My point was that it's a bizarre choice to do an Iraq War satire set in a world where the Iraq War actually happened (and it is clear from dialogue that it did).

To return to my earlier comparison, Brecht’s Arturo Ui is set in a world where Nazism happened. It doesn’t just imply this, it states it outright from the very beginning. I don’t really see why we should regard that as a weakness.

I'm reasonably sure the Italians and Irish took longer to assimilate just because they didn't wish to assimilate as much as the Germans did.

I’ve always understood it was Irish Catholics who insisted on the hyphenated-identity thing. Irish Protestants were more assimilationsit, for fairly obvious reasons. I’ve even heard people express surprise that there was Irish Protestant migration! (Though of course assimilation doesn’t mean quite the same thing in a new country as an old. The dominant culture has to be formed, it’s not just a given.)

We do get the occasional word from German more directly - e.g. kindergarten, the word we use for the grade before first grade. (That isn't used by you folks across the pond, right?)

Curse you for coming up with a better example than me for my own argument! (Normally ‘Nursery’, but ‘Pre-school’ is gaining ground.)

Dames is, of course, entirely archaic now, last heard in the 1940s. But surely that comes via England? As in Dame Agatha Christie or Dame Judi Dench or (eventually) Dame Joanne Rowling. In fact, I'm pretty sure dame comes from the Latin domina (mistress) via the Norman French dame.

‘Dames’ may be etymologically related in the way you’re describing, but has a different meaning. Dame Judi Dench is a title, like Lord or Lady. ‘Dame’ is more an endearing (if not disparaging) expression, like ‘doll’ or the British term ‘bird.’ That’s closer to the German ‘damen’ which simply means ‘woman’.

I’ve always assumed ‘kid’ came from ‘kinder’, but of course I may be wrong. English is itself little more than a dialect of German, which further complicates things. (Not to mention the fact that the Normans themselves originally came from Scandinavia.)

These terms may well be archaic now. A shame, as I’d love to hear gangster rappers rhyming about dames! Most recent additions to American English come from Spanish, don’t they?

I get a spelling complaint when I use a British spelling like realise.

Not as bad as Microsoft Word, which not just flags but auto-corrects my English spellings, and I’ve never found a universal means to switch that off!

Sylvia said...

Gavin, can't you go to the AutoCorrect option in "Tools" or "Preferences" or somewhere, depending on what version you're using, and turn individual AutoCorrect words (or AutoCorrect itself) off or on? I usually turn AutoCorrect off completely because it drives me up the wall.

Sylvia said...

Also, it's traditionally spelled gangsta. :)

Andrew Stevens said...

Phil, I'm afraid you misunderstood. I meant that this page demands American spellings and I was speculating that this must be maddening to English English speakers on a site used primarily by speakers of same.

Gavin, I do grant that Arturo Ui did the same thing as Aliens of London. I'm just not at all certain that it worked there either. Of course, Brecht was famous for his "alienation effect" to remind everyone that they were actually watching a play. If you believe Doctor Who should do this same sort of thing, frequently break the fourth wall, nod and wink at the audience, etc., then you are certainly entitled to your opinion. However, I disagree.

I’ve always understood it was Irish Catholics who insisted on the hyphenated-identity thing. Irish Protestants were more assimilationist, for fairly obvious reasons. I’ve even heard people express surprise that there was Irish Protestant migration! (Though of course assimilation doesn’t mean quite the same thing in a new country as an old. The dominant culture has to be formed, it’s not just a given.)

I generally don't hear any Irish hyphenate (much more common with Italians). Certainly, anybody who talks a lot about their Irish ancestors are, inevitably, descended from Catholics and there is still a large and recognizable community of Irish Catholic Americans in certain places (Boston most obviously). The largest Irish Protestant migration actually came over earlier than the Irish Catholics, those being the Scots-Irish (of Northern Irish birth, but Scottish descent) who settled in Appalachia and were the forerunner of what you could call "hillbilly" culture. They settled there before the American Revolution while the Irish Catholics came much later. They were one of the four great English migrations who created the dominant culture of the U.S.

As for the assimilation, the various English migrations were complete by the mid-19th century when the other major European migrations began. The U.S. had a very English culture for the Germans, Irish, Italians, etc. to assimilate to. By and large, that was what occurred. (This is also what's going to occur with the current Hispanic migration, despite much screaming from our more xenophobic elements. They seem to have forgotten that Italian immigrants of the past never bothered to learn English either. This did not split American culture because their children did learn English.)

‘Dames’ may be etymologically related in the way you’re describing, but has a different meaning. Dame Judi Dench is a title, like Lord or Lady. ‘Dame’ is more an endearing (if not disparaging) expression, like ‘doll’ or the British term ‘bird.’ That’s closer to the German ‘damen’ which simply means ‘woman’.

Perhaps. It's hard to say where the American slang dame comes from. I think damen in German is closer to 'lady' as well than 'woman.' The phrase "damen und herren," (ladies and gentlemen) for example. Don't they tend to use Frau or Fraulein for a more general phrase? I'm afraid I'm out of my depth here, though. I don't really know any German. 'Dame' circulates as American slang beginning circa 1902 so it could come from the English dame or the German dame. I can't really say which.

I’ve always assumed ‘kid’ came from ‘kinder’, but of course I may be wrong. English is itself little more than a dialect of German, which further complicates things. (Not to mention the fact that the Normans themselves originally came from Scandinavia.)

I think it just comes from 'kid' for baby goat, which entered English ca. 1200. Perhaps it does come from kinder, however. In both of your examples, though, I'm inclined to believe that an English origin is more likely than a German origin. (By the by, unlike dames, kids is definitely not archaic. You still hear it all the time. Thus, my surprise that it is purely American. We don't even think of it as slang anymore.)

These terms may well be archaic now. A shame, as I’d love to hear gangster rappers rhyming about dames! Most recent additions to American English come from Spanish, don’t they?

I can only think of one Spanish term ("loco" meaning crazy) which has entered American English off the top of my head (unless you count "hasta la vista" or "no mas," the former made famous by Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator 2 and the latter made famous by the second fight between Sugar Ray Leonard and Roberto Duran). Most gains in slang come from youth culture, as I suppose they have always done.

Andrew Rilstone said...

"Kid" is an interesting one: it's definitely informal; and it seems to be regarded as variously patronizing ("Oh, he's just a kid") or over-familiar ("The Vicar was trying to get down with the kids"). I am not going to look up the reference, but C.S.L defends his use of "kid" in one of the Narnia books because it was being used as a mild insult, but apologizes for having used it as a neutral word for child.

I wonder if English school teachers are inclined to assume that all forms of informal English that they don't like are "Americanisms"?

I was once told that America is more linguistically conservative than England, so that words which we regard as American neologisms are actually old words which fell out of use in the motherland but were retained in the colonies. (For example, the English are prone to titter is someone says that house was "burglarized"; but in fact "to burgle" is a back formation from "burglar",so "burglarized" is more "correct" than "burgled.") However, it occurs to me that the person who told me this also told me that people used to be put in the stocks with signs saying "For Unatural Carnal Knowledge" round their necks, so I have no reason to think it is actually true.

Just been reading the D.C golden age Superman collections, and have noticed that some of the lower-class characters are represented as using slang which, to my ears, sounds like archaic English -- "coppers" (rather than "cops") for policemen; and "his nibs" as a sarcastic term for a person in authority. But then, Facebook has informs me that I have a Boston accent.

I'm sorry, what was the question?

Andrew Rilstone said...

To return to my earlier comparison, Brecht’s Arturo Ui is set in a world where Nazism happened. It doesn’t just imply this, it states it outright from the very beginning. I don’t really see why we should regard that as a weakness.

I have an answer to this, currently running at 1,600 words and full of spelling errors.

Andrew Stevens said...

Your source, while clearly wrong, about the whole stocks thing (taken in by folk etymology), was definitely correct about "burgle," "burglar," and "burglarize." Burglarize is correct and burgle is, according to the Online Etymological Dictionary, "a hideous back-formation (1872)."

I also agree with the point that Americans are more linguistically conservative in general. Noah Webster set down the spelling changes for which the U.S. is guilty before people were generally literate, so he was teaching them to spell for the first time and, in some cases, he just used his own preferred spellings. (At least five generations learned to spell from Webster's textbook.) Most other differences, though, are because the U.S. stood still while the U.K. moved. The pronunciation of "schedule," for example. Schedule with an sk- has a pronunciation based on the Greek original. The U.K. version has clearly been corrupted by French (indeed, the same as with the spelling of words ending in -ize, with Oxford the sole holdout in the U.K. - clearly, this was corrupted by French spelling).

I'm guessing this is true of most pronunciations and it seems like there's a very good reason for it. England has tons of different accents packed together into a very small space. These accents pressure each other, causing pronunciation to become more fluid. The U.S. is dominated by two, perhaps three, accents - the accent of the Puritan migration from New England (the accent most people probably think of when they think of an "American" accent) and the Southern drawl primarily, with the occasional regional accent like Boston ("pahk the cah in Hahvahd Yahd", the only American accent to pronounce short a's "ah," probably accounting for Facebook's confusion).

"Kid" as a term for a human child can be dated back to 1599, predating even the Puritans landing in Plymouth, so it's highly likely that its use started in England and migrated here, though obviously I'm not sure about that.

As for "his nibs," I always thought that was more of an English expression than an American one since I first learned it from the Doctor Who story The Mutants, but it was in the mouth of a character named Cotton who spoke with a Caribbean accent and, now that I think about it, the English character didn't seem to understand him. So perhaps it was viewed as a New World expression in the U.K. in the 1970s, even though it had almost certainly gone defunct by then in the U.S.

"Copper," of course, was the original word for what are now called cops. Called "coppers" because they copped criminals. Copper is also now defunct, but was certainly still extant in the 1940s in the U.S. anyway.

Sylvia said...

The U.S. is dominated by two, perhaps three, accents - the accent of the Puritan migration from New England (the accent most people probably think of when they think of an "American" accent) and the Southern drawl primarily, with the occasional regional accent like Boston

I would like just to interject briefly once again in order to remind everyone of the existence of the entire west coast of the United States. This area includes the state of California, which has the world's seventh? sixth? largest economy and a dominant accent that one hears quite a lot of on TV and in film. It's especially pronounced in southern California, where it's a little drawly, with migrating vowels and a tendency toward upspeak--bit like if the American south, the coastal pacific northwest and Melbourne were to have a linguistic love-child.

(I won't presume to classify other widely spoken regional accents, though I think David Cross is right about there being a category of rural accent that is stereotyped as "southern redneck" but appears all over the country.)

I also can't think of many recent borrow-words from Spanish, in slang or other areas of American English. Most of the "new" slang words that have reached my ears in recent years have come from African-American slang, British or fake-British slang, or the interwebs. Or they've been horrible invented trend words like "metrosexual".

Andrew Stevens said...

Hmm. I don't disagree that there are differences between the accent in California and the accent throughout the Northern Midwest (which originates in western New England and spreads through upstate New York). But it's very hard to tell. Unless it's as extreme as the "surfer accent" you occasionally used to hear in movies like Fast Times at Ridgemont High, but I don't think there are actually that many people who talk like that. I think there's more of a claim for Texans talking differently from the rest of the South than West Coasters talking differently from Midwesterners.

I did think of another Spanish slang word that has entered American English: "cojones."

Gavin Burrows said...

Andrew Stevens said...
Gavin, I do grant that Arturo Ui did the same thing as Aliens of London. I'm just not at all certain that it worked there either. Of course, Brecht was famous for his "alienation effect" to remind everyone that they were actually watching a play. If you believe Doctor Who should do this same sort of thing, frequently break the fourth wall, nod and wink at the audience, etc., then you are certainly entitled to your opinion. However, I disagree.

Andrew, I fear you’re mixing post-modern up with metafictional. Brecht doesn’t “nod and wink to the audience” in some “is it, Isn’t it?” sort of way. His point is that we can all see full well it’s just a bunch of guys on a stage, so why bother pretending otherwise? And the more we remember its a bunch of guys on a stage, the more we’re likely to remember they’re there to tell us something.

And while it may be me being terribly dense, I still don’t feel we’ve got to the nub of your objections. Doesn’t satire by its nature have to point out at the world? It’s one thing to shut a book and say “what a charming tale of children finding a foreign land behind a wardrobe.” It would be another thing altogether to say “what an amusing little turn about some talking animals who take over a farm.” (Or, for that matter, “last week’s Doctor Who featured fart jokes and was therefore funny.”)

Andrew Rilstone said...
I have an answer to this, currently running at 1,600 words and full of spelling errors.

Let us know when it’s ready!

Andrew Stevens said...
I think damen in German is closer to 'lady' as well than 'woman.'... I think it just comes from 'kid' for baby goat... Perhaps it does come from kinder, however.

Having done a little elementary research (which of course I could have always done in the first place), I have to concede you’re right over ‘kid’. ‘Kid gloves’ is commonly supposed to have come from baby goats having the softest fur. ‘Damen’ is also closer to ‘lady’ than ‘woman’, but I’m sticking to my guns over that one! In archaic English uses it could be used as a generalised title (“the lady of the house” etc) but was always titular in some respect. In German, any woman could be referred to as a damen.

But having done some elementary research I’m willing to cite yeah (jah), nix (nichts), zig-zag (zickzack), yodel (jodela), delicatessen, scram (schamman), kitsch (kitschen) and shyster (scheisser). The last two I would have imagined to be Yiddish but are apparently German. Of course, there’s probably a thin line at times.

But of course shopping lists of phrases don’t really prove my hypothesis. It would be fairly surprising for there to be no German influence on American English. My conjecture was that German was the second-biggest influence after ‘British English’, I don’t know exactly how you’d prove that.

And of course, to get back on thread, even if I was right nothing would nix Andrew’s notion about Webster’s phonetics. There’s no reason why American English can’t have been constructed as well as evolved, most languages are. (To really get back on track, I think Dave Sim’s somewhat off-beam with all this Yahweh stuff but a talented artist nonetheless... but never mind that.)

Andrew Rilstone said...
I wonder if English school teachers are inclined to assume that all forms of informal English that they don't like are "Americanisms"?

Almost certainly. But I’d argue everything compounds because English tends to draw informal terms from German (and formal ones from Latin) in the first place. Dialects are often ‘more’ German, while what we call swear words are “Anglo Saxon terms.”

I still have some of those Sixties UK Marvel reprints (before Marvel UK), where some spidery hand would ‘correct’ the Americanisms. Every instance of ‘thru’ would be followed by a crammed little ‘ough’.

Just been reading the D.C golden age Superman collections, and have noticed that some of the lower-class characters are represented as using slang which, to my ears, sounds like archaic English -- "coppers" (rather than "cops") for policemen; and "his nibs" as a sarcastic term for a person in authority.

‘Copper’ often comes up in film noir. The following exchange happens in The Blue Dahlia;
“Got a light, copper?”
“No. And don’t call me copper!”
“Sure, copper.”
If I come across any references to rozzers or peelers I shall be sure to let you know.

Sylvia said...
Gavin, can't you go to the AutoCorrect option in "Tools" or "Preferences"...I usually turn AutoCorrect off completely because it drives me up the wall.

I’ve tried it! Thanks for the tip.

Also, it's traditionally spelled gangsta. :)

Is ya dissin’ me, bro? ;-)

Andrew Stevens said...

Andrew, I fear you’re mixing post-modern up with metafictional. Brecht doesn’t “nod and wink to the audience” in some “is it, Isn’t it?” sort of way. His point is that we can all see full well it’s just a bunch of guys on a stage, so why bother pretending otherwise? And the more we remember its a bunch of guys on a stage, the more we’re likely to remember they’re there to tell us something.

I am familiar with the difference. Though I'm much more afraid of Doctor Who going postmodern (which it has on occasion) than going Brechtian. Nobody's insane enough for the latter. Personally, I never found Brecht very affecting (I may be exposing my Philistinism again); Brecht's didacticism prevented him from being the great artist he could have been.

And while it may be me being terribly dense, I still don’t feel we’ve got to the nub of your objections. Doesn’t satire by its nature have to point out at the world? It’s one thing to shut a book and say “what a charming tale of children finding a foreign land behind a wardrobe.” It would be another thing altogether to say “what an amusing little turn about some talking animals who take over a farm.”

Perhaps I was the one being dense. I take it that you are saying that, by doing satire, you inevitably have to "break mimesis" as it were and make it obvious that the story that you're writing is just a fiction? Am I understanding you properly?

But having done some elementary research I’m willing to cite yeah (jah), nix (nichts), zig-zag (zickzack), yodel (jodela), delicatessen, scram (schamman), kitsch (kitschen) and shyster (scheisser). The last two I would have imagined to be Yiddish but are apparently German. Of course, there’s probably a thin line at times.

I buy all of these but yeah, which more likely comes from yea.

I still have some of those Sixties UK Marvel reprints (before Marvel UK), where some spidery hand would ‘correct’ the Americanisms. Every instance of ‘thru’ would be followed by a crammed little ‘ough’.

Thru? Why on earth would anyone spell it thru?

‘Copper’ often comes up in film noir.

Lots of dames in film noir as well.

Sylvia said...

Is ya dissin’ me, bro? ;-)

Ow, ow, somebody make him stop...

Gavin Burrows said...

You may be hitting my prejudices head-on here. I tend to regard post-modernism as the artistic equivalent of cancer, it seems to be able to spring up everywhere, there doesn’t seem much of a cure for it and as soon as it’s there it spreads. It even seems to have mounted hostile takeovers of other terms, hence my sensitivity to it being conflated with ‘metafictional’.

Your view of Brecht’s probably the majority one these days but not (as I’m sure you’ve guessed) one I share. I’ve even had people tell me they don’t like him because of his lack of humour! His theories are often presented as dry, arcane and jargonised, but as he said himself (in On Everyday Theatre) his biggest influence was “the theatre whose setting is the street.” It was a means to cut through stifling theatrical conventions and get back to the basics of storytelling. And I reckon he’d have written a wicked Dalek episode!

I take it that you are saying that, by doing satire, you inevitably have to "break mimesis" as it were and make it obvious that the story that you're writing is just a fiction?

Yes. (Though Brecht would of course ask why we need to ‘make mimesis’ in the first place.)

Granted, Doctor Who might not be my first example of Brechtianism in action. However as I’m currently watching the early seasons, my flatmate was curious the other day how I could bear to fill in the missing episodes with scripts or audio. But to me, it’s all pretty much like that! That great Dalek city doesn’t look much like a great Dalek city anyway, so it doesn’t matter too much to me whether I’m seeing it or being told about it. I get more engaged with the ideas something like The Daleks is throwing out. I don’t believe the oft-quoted line that special effects have led to the dearth of content, there was pretty shoddy SF while the special effects were still cheap. But to me it’s all only ever a means to an end.

I buy all of these but yeah, which more likely comes from yea.

Isn’t ‘yea’ a bit closer to ‘yo’, a general assertion of something? Like all those Kirby stories called things like ‘Yea, There Shall Be an Ending’? You can of course use the terms yes or yeah purely for emphasis, yes you can, but not to the same degree.

I forgot to say before, but a lot of British English words Americans have trouble pronouncing are the same ones as for Germans. For example Gloucester gets read as 'Glaw-ce-ster' not 'Gloss-ter."

Thru? Why on earth would anyone spell it thru?

To conserve panel real estate, probably. I’m not sure it’s an Americanism or any other kind of ism. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it outside of comics.

Lots of dames in film noir as well.

Yeah, but don’t go messin’ with them film noir dames, buddy. They ain't never no good.

Sylvia said...

Yeah, but don’t go messin’ with them film noir dames, buddy. They ain't never no good.

If you do not cease and desist your comical bad fake American dialects I shall be forced to commence posting in comical bad fake British dialects.

Pip pip cheerio.

Gavin Burrows said...

Helpful hint, Sylvia! Get confused half-way through whether you were doing an English or an Australian accent and the producers of The Simpsons will be phoning you up in no time...

Sylvia said...

Blimey! Wot'cha tryin' to say, mate? ;)

Andrew Stevens said...

Yes. (Though Brecht would of course ask why we need to ‘make mimesis’ in the first place.)

I am going to argue that this is because Aristotle was a superior aesthetic philosopher to Brecht. Tragedy brings about catharsis because A) it is distant - it is not happening to us and B) it is familiar (mimetic) so that we empathize with the characters to whom the tragedy is occurring. Without mimesis, we have no empathy. This isn't to say that no stylization is allowed, but the story must remain plausible. If the actors frequently stop to remind you that they're just actors, you no longer care what happens to their characters. This is why the worst thing an actor can do on stage is fall out of character. Virtually any other problem is forgivable, but fall out of character the show could quite easily be ruined.

Granted, Doctor Who might not be my first example of Brechtianism in action. However as I’m currently watching the early seasons, my flatmate was curious the other day how I could bear to fill in the missing episodes with scripts or audio. But to me, it’s all pretty much like that! That great Dalek city doesn’t look much like a great Dalek city anyway, so it doesn’t matter too much to me whether I’m seeing it or being told about it. I get more engaged with the ideas something like The Daleks is throwing out. I don’t believe the oft-quoted line that special effects have led to the dearth of content, there was pretty shoddy SF while the special effects were still cheap. But to me it’s all only ever a means to an end.

I'm not sure what this has to do with Brechtianism. Some methods of telling a tale ask more of the imagination than others; some require more suspension of disbelief and acceptance of the storytelling style's conventions. None of this has anything to do with breaking mimesis, which old Doctor Who carefully did not do (yes, yes, "a happy Christmas to all of you at home," I know). By the way, of course we all agree that there was shoddy SF when the effects weren't any good. This doesn't address the argument that some writers might be inclined to use special effects as a crutch so they can write lazy stories. I note that Steven Moffat has never yet created a "monster" (remember when they used to be called aliens, within the show at least) that the old show couldn't easily have created. There were bad writers on the old show, of course. But one cannot imagine one of them saying, "Well that story's going to have one of those realistic creatures the BBC's so famous for, so I don't have to sweat the plot much. People will be too busy ooh-ing and ah-ing over the giant rat to notice the plot anyway."

I forgot to say before, but a lot of British English words Americans have trouble pronouncing are the same ones as for Germans. For example Gloucester gets read as 'Glaw-ce-ster' not 'Gloss-ter."

This is just because people are trying to phoneticize an unfamiliar word. Perfectly natural for anyone who understands English phonetics to try to pronounce the word that way if they don't know how it's pronounced.

Andrew Stevens said...

Ah, that brings up a pet peeve of mine. The constant grousing in some fan quarters of William Hartnell forgetting and fluffing his lines. I understand what drives people to complain about this - it breaks mimesis for them and reminds them that William Hartnell is just an actor. I have always defended Hartnell since I never really noticed the line fluffs until people pointed them out to me, because Billy never broke character; he just kept gamely going on and acting like an old man stumbling over his words. Pretty soon they started scripting line fluffs for him (like "Chatterton" to describe Ian Chesterton or, my favorite, calling Wyatt Earp "Mr. Wearp" throughout The Gunfighters).

Sylvia said...

If the actors frequently stop to remind you that they're just actors, you no longer care what happens to their characters.

Isn't that precisely what Brecht advocates (even if he doesn't actually succeed in writing plays that do not provoke sympathy with the characters)? Except that I'm not sure I would call it "stopping" to call attention to the theatricality--I think Brecht would consider it a continuous effect.

If this is your case for Aristotle's being "a superior aesthetic philosopher", I wonder if you're not begging the question somewhat, since Brecht stands in opposition to catharsis and doesn't consider it desirable for the audience to have empathy. Do you consider empathy and mimesis to be so necessary in themselves that there's no meaningful argument to be had about whether one should deliberately negate them?

This is just because people are trying to phoneticize an unfamiliar word. Perfectly natural for anyone who understands English phonetics to try to pronounce the word that way if they don't know how it's pronounced.

Second that. "Nukyular" for "nuclear" is a pronunciation problem; "Glauw-chester" is just a common inaccurate guess based on how the word is spelled. (And like "epitoam" and other slightly embarrassing mispronunciations, once corrected it usually stays corrected.)

Sylvia said...

I said:
"Nukyular" for "nuclear" is a pronunciation problem

Or, I suppose, a regionalism, depending on whom you ask.

Andrew Stevens said...

I'm saying that Aristotle understood the purpose of art, which is to reveal the human condition, not to prescribe a remedy for it. If that's what Brecht wanted to do, he should have taken up philosophy.

Of course, there is no question that there are going to be some people who prefer Brecht, but I don't get it. Surely prose is the proper vehicle for didacticism.

Andrew Stevens said...

Sorry, I should have said nonfiction prose. Sinclair's "The Jungle" and Rand's "Atlas Shrugged" are terrible novels.

Gavin Burrows said...

Lordy, lordy, this one just keeps a-rollin’!

Andrew Stevens said...
If the actors frequently stop to remind you that they're just actors, you no longer care what happens to their characters. This is why the worst thing an actor can do on stage is fall out of character.

Nobody “falls out of character” in Brecht! Everyone in Arturo Ui stays in character throughout, there’s just a Narrator there to point out people and remind us what its all about. I’ve seen Brechtian productions where actors swap characters constantly, but they’re always in one character or the other right up to the curtain call.

What’s different is the style of acting, the way character is conveyed. I’d compare it to the difference between representational and photorealist art. No matter how realistic you make your art you’re never going to capture the intricate patterns found in something so simple as a leaf. Similarly, no matter how many hippy-dippy Stanislavskian exercises you perform, you’re never going to get anywhere near the psychological depth of even the most simple-minded person. So why set yourself up to fail? Why not accept from the outset your characters are only ever going to represent something, and do something with that?

It’s like you consider these things to be innate to drama, like trees making up a wood, before Brecht turns up to bulldoze them. Brecht is merely building his drama up from different blocks, not removing elements out of sheer wilfulness.

Sylvia said...
Isn't that precisely what Brecht advocates (even if he doesn't actually succeed in writing plays that do not provoke sympathy with the characters)?

Agree with much else you say, but here you use sympathy and empathy interchangeably. Brecht said many times that every emotional response was okay except for empathy. Empathy he felt to dilute any critical response. You can say “I sympathise with Mother Courage but she shouldn’t have done...” easier than you can say “I empathise but...”

...back to Andrew Stevens, who is saying...
I'm saying that Aristotle understood the purpose of art, which is to reveal the human condition, not to prescribe a remedy for it.

Now we’re getting to the nub of it! You will, I’m sure, have heard this one before but “art is not a mirror held up to reality, but a hammer with which to shape it.” I suspect everything else in Brecht stems from that one quote. You speak as though you consider the two things to be held in opposition. I often feel many of our most underlying notions were first articulated by the Ancient Greeks, and wonder here if we’re talking about the division between mental and manual labour. The artist’s job is to describe, not do. (Not to mention the fact that Aristotle really had a vested interest in the question.) I just don’t see any reason to divide things up like that. One quite naturally leads to the other.

Of course you could probably find people who say things like “my argument is presented in the form of rhyming couplets, and is therefore correct.” You can find people willing to say all sorts of daft things if you go looking! But you only defeat an argument at the level of its most sensible adherents, not its silliest.

...I never really noticed the line fluffs until people pointed them out to me, because Billy never broke character; he just kept gamely going on and acting like an old man stumbling over his words. Pretty soon they started scripting line fluffs for him

It’s strange to think that the rules of naturalism in drama try to trap you into things at odds with real life. People stumble over their words all the time for no reason, yet in drama it can only occur as a character indicator. It’s like the rule you can’t have two guys called Dave in the same drama, which was probably why they... oh, you’re ahead of me there.

I'm not sure what this has to do with Brechtianism.

Well I’m not arguing that Doctor Who was forged according to strict Brechtain precepts, but after forty-five years I’m the first to notice. (I do think, however, that Camberwick Green was offered as a model of Soviet collectivism.) (I don’t really.)

Perhaps a clearer example (if you’ve seen it) is the first, TV adaption of Hitch Hiker’s Guide. Adam’s conceit was of course that the universe was just England on a bigger scale, packed with the same pettiness, bureaucracy and endless sense of ennui. A universe that was all bright and spangly and eye-catching would be completely distracting to his purpose. His universe required a cheap budget! Marvin isn’t a remotely convincing robot, but he’s not there to represent robotism in the first place. He’s there to represent disgruntled cynicism, and it’s amusing to house that in a robot’s casing.

Like Brecht, I don’t like flat mirrors. But I am interested in SF as a distorting mirror. It may magnify or distort tendencies in our world, but its always reflecting back in some way. Seamless illusions interest me little. Fan fiction is particularly bad at this. Writers find a consistent explanation for how the Ogrons came to serve the Daleks, or some such. I have trouble raising the necessary interest.

It’s true, I’ll concede, that this can sometimes become merely schematic. It’s not a statement of great insight to suggest the Daleks are a little like Nazis. But had they just been like Nazis, they would have been one-note, and its unlikely they’d be around now.

some writers might be inclined to use special effects as a crutch so they can write lazy stories.

I fear its worse than you say. It’s become the writer’s very job to introduce the money shot, contrive the circumstances which permits the effects to appear. He’s become like the porn writer, whose job is to get the houswife and washing machine repair man in the bathroom together as soon as possible and then it’s job done.

Good point about Moffat. When we first see the possessed woman’s face in Midnight its effect precisely because there’s no effects, not even a rubber mask. She’s the same yet different. An example of the opposite, effects-porn tendency would be The Lazarus Experiment. Someone in accounts calculated they could afford a big CGI monster, so someone else wrote a script in which one appears. Job done.

Surely prose is the proper vehicle for didacticism.

Not the internet?

This is just because people are trying to phoneticize an unfamiliar word.

Well I don’t imagine the same people would pronounce passage “pay-sarge.” (There’s a Gloucester Passage here in Brighton.) But would a French speaker, for example, guess at the same pronunciation?

Sylvia said...
Blimey! Wot'cha tryin' to say, mate? ;)

Does anyone want to hear my funny Italian voice? I stretch out the words ‘pasta’ and ‘tagliatelli’ in order to produce a comic effect. It’s very good...

Sylvia said...

Well I don’t imagine the same people would pronounce passage “pay-sarge.”

No, because they've already seen the word "passage." (Assuming we are still talking about native speakers of non-British English.) If they had grown up being familiar with the word "Gloucester", they'd say it right on the first try, too.

Andrew Stevens said...

Now we’re getting to the nub of it! You will, I’m sure, have heard this one before but “art is not a mirror held up to reality, but a hammer with which to shape it.” I suspect everything else in Brecht stems from that one quote. You speak as though you consider the two things to be held in opposition. I often feel many of our most underlying notions were first articulated by the Ancient Greeks, and wonder here if we’re talking about the division between mental and manual labour. The artist’s job is to describe, not do. (Not to mention the fact that Aristotle really had a vested interest in the question.) I just don’t see any reason to divide things up like that. One quite naturally leads to the other.

Of course you could probably find people who say things like “my argument is presented in the form of rhyming couplets, and is therefore correct.” You can find people willing to say all sorts of daft things if you go looking! But you only defeat an argument at the level of its most sensible adherents, not its silliest.


Certainly Aristotle had a vested interest in the subject. So do you and I. I wasn't joking about being a philistine, after all. I have much less use for fiction than most people and much more for philosophy. But it wasn't some division between mental and manual labor that Aristotle was going on about. Aristotle was very much the moderate. He was reacting to Plato, who believed that poets should be banned (even Homer). The reason for this is because artists are liars, by their nature. And, of course, this is true.

Fiction, at its best, can only rise to the level of a thought experiment. What should our reaction be to such-and-such fictional occurrence? I'm not knocking thought experiments; I believe it's quite possible to gain insight from them. But then you have works like The Jungle which hold up an absurd funhouse mirror to reality and then tell you with a straight face that it's flat.

Because man quite naturally philosophizes (indeed, nothing will stop him), philosophy is the subject where every amateur thinks he is an expert. But philosophy is harder than that. You can't just read a couple of books, have a couple of intuitions, and be done. Richard Dawkins thought this too and the results were embarrassing. (If anybody is interested in a really good atheist philosopher, try Michael Martin, Professor Emeritus of Religion at Boston University.) Upton Sinclair is (or should be) an embarrassment to socialists. Ayn Rand is (or should be) an embarrassment to libertarians. (Rand actually tried to do philosophy properly as well as literature, but she went about it in the usual non-professional way, assuming that there wasn't anything in the field worth reading and starting from scratch or, at best, reading only the works of people she already agreed with.)

My point is that, if you're a truly great artist, then chances are you're not a great philosopher. There are philosophers who have thought longer and better about any philosophical issue than Russell T. Davies has ever had time to do.

Well I don’t imagine the same people would pronounce passage “pay-sarge.” (There’s a Gloucester Passage here in Brighton.) But would a French speaker, for example, guess at the same pronunciation?

My point being that, when you say that Americans and Germans both make the same types of mispronunciations and the French don't, all that you're saying is that Germans have a good handle on how English works phonetically and the French don't. I don't think it says any more than that.

Gavin Burrows said...

I’m starting to wonder if this debate doesn’t come down to two guys in a bar, one shouting ‘Classicism!’ and the other ‘Modernism!’

Anyway... Modernism!

Because man quite naturally philosophizes... philosophy is the subject where every amateur thinks he is an expert.

Well, me too perhaps. I have little use nor interest in professionalised capital-P philosophy. As Charlie said, they may have interpreted the world but the point is to change it.

I have much less use for fiction than most people and much more for philosophy.... Fiction, at its best, can only rise to the level of a thought experiment. What should our reaction be to such-and-such fictional occurrence?... My point is that, if you're a truly great artist, then chances are you're not a great philosopher.

I don’t know if you’re not loading the deck here, defining at as the handmaiden of philosophy then complaining it’s the poor relative. You seem to see fiction’s ‘thought experiments’ as extensions of philosophical parables, or Socratic dialogues. I’m not sure that’s even true of the more allegorical fictions we’ve been discussing.

Marc Bolon said songs were spells we incant to influence our moods, which seems more on the money to me than anything by Aristotle. Art existed long before there were professional philosophers in the world, I think its roots are in shamanic ritual. We use art to put us into a kind of trance state, from where we can find out things we didn’t already know we knew. We use it to make sense of ourselves as much as the rest of the world. Art can coexist with and even contain rational enquiry, but I don’t see that as its essence.

...all that you're saying is that Germans have a good handle on how English works phonetically and the French don't. I don't think it says any more than that.

I don’t know how you could conceive of someone British who’s never heard of Gloucester. They’d have to have never heard of Beatrix Potter for a start. But I think if they did mis-guess they’d guess at ‘Glo-cester’ (like glow) not ‘GlOW-ces-ter’ (like ow that hurts). We don’t naturally gravitate towards those harder vowel sounds.

Andrew Stevens said...

I’m starting to wonder if this debate doesn’t come down to two guys in a bar, one shouting ‘Classicism!’ and the other ‘Modernism!’

Anyway... Modernism!


Classicism! But at least we can both agree that the post-modernists are rubbish. I've actually always considered myself an unreconstructed modernist, but my general sympathies are certainly classicist and Enlightenment in virtually all things.

I don’t know if you’re not loading the deck here, defining at as the handmaiden of philosophy then complaining it’s the poor relative. You seem to see fiction’s ‘thought experiments’ as extensions of philosophical parables, or Socratic dialogues. I’m not sure that’s even true of the more allegorical fictions we’ve been discussing.

On the contrary, I don't think art should be the handmaiden of philosophy. I'm saying that's what the people who use art as a tool of didacticism think. And then I'm claiming that if that's how you use it, it's a poor relation of philosophy.

Marc Bolon said songs were spells we incant to influence our moods, which seems more on the money to me than anything by Aristotle. Art existed long before there were professional philosophers in the world, I think its roots are in shamanic ritual. We use art to put us into a kind of trance state, from where we can find out things we didn’t already know we knew. We use it to make sense of ourselves as much as the rest of the world. Art can coexist with and even contain rational enquiry, but I don’t see that as its essence.

Again, I have nothing to disagree with you about here. But I don't think this is a Brechtian interpretation. (Nor, by the way, do I think it's necessarily inconsistent with Aristotle. Although his Poetics is about mimetic art, the kind Plato wished to ban, and he didn't really discuss music, though he did briefly in other surviving works and, no doubt, extensively in lost ones.)

I don’t know how you could conceive of someone British who’s never heard of Gloucester. They’d have to have never heard of Beatrix Potter for a start. But I think if they did mis-guess they’d guess at ‘Glo-cester’ (like glow) not ‘GlOW-ces-ter’ (like ow that hurts). We don’t naturally gravitate towards those harder vowel sounds.

Oh, I see, you're talking about the pronunciation of the diphthong. I hadn't quite understood. (Yet another example of a conversation which takes forever in print which would be wrapped up in seconds in person.) It is quite possible that the American accent has been influenced by German. I would readily concede that. Does the British accent never pronounce ou as ow? Americans do all the time - hound, house, pout, loud, etc.

Gavin Burrows said...

But at least we can both agree that the post-modernists are rubbish.

Yes, but I would immediately insist I thought they were more rubbish, it would quickly degenerate into a pissing content of greater and greater vehemence and there would be tears before bedtime.

On the contrary, I don't think art should be the handmaiden of philosophy. I'm saying that's what the people who use art as a tool of didacticism think. And then I'm claiming that if that's how you use it, it's a poor relation of philosophy.

Okay, but you previously said...

I have much less use for fiction than most people and much more for philosophy.... Fiction, at its best, can only rise to the level of a thought experiment....

...anyway, pressing on...

I have nothing to disagree with you about here. But I don't think this is a Brechtian interpretation.

While I wouldn’t call what I said Brechtian, I don’t see it as incompatible with Brecht. Unlike other Modernists, had the world changed in ways more to his liking, I’m not sure Brecht would have changed his working methods all that much. But there was certainly an element of provocation in the way he delivered them. (The kernel of truth inside the widespread notion he was only ever interested in shock tactics.)

These provocations I regard as pretty much a good idea. There’s far too much mumbo-jumbo and mystification said about art, and it’s a good idea to prick all that. Of course the Dadaists took this to the max, by insisting art was in its entirety nothing more than a confidence trick and cash-raising exercise. (As in Grosz’s famous dictum that art exists so the bourgeoisie have something to hang in front of their wallsafes.)

But Modernism also meant Surrealism, who saw art as an attempt to unlock the unconscious. I’m not sure it’s all that valuable to weigh up these differences, you tend to just end up in semantic (if not pedantic) arguments. I prefer to think of what they have in common. And one thing they have in common is the sense of art as a tool, a means to achieve something.

Oh, I see, you're talking about the pronunciation of the diphthong

With the midddle ‘h’ silent. (Possibly a worse gag than my Italian one!)

Does the British accent never pronounce ou as ow? Americans do all the time - hound, house, pout, loud, etc.

Ironically all but one of the words you cite are Germanic in origin! (And that one, pout, is supposedly Scandinavian.) But of course that’s from the original Anglo-Saxon, not German emigres in America. We do use the ‘hard O’ but less often, I think. The odd thing is, as mentioned earlier ‘proper’ English words tend to come from the Latin and regular ones from the German. But a lot of our ‘proper’ pronunciation comes from German. ‘How now brown cow’ was a favourite of elocution lessons. Whereas an old novelty record (sung in broad Scots) had the line “there’s a moose loose around this hoose.” Not growing up anywhere near Scotland, I used to wonder what a moose was doing in a house.

Andrew Rilstone said...
I'm sorry, what was the question?

Um...

Andrew Stevens said...

I have much less use for fiction than most people and much more for philosophy.... Fiction, at its best, can only rise to the level of a thought experiment....

I seem to have misled you with the two sentences above, though, in my defense, they were in different paragraphs. The second sentence is not an explanation for the first. My little use for fiction is that I seem to have less desire than most people to be moved by pity or terror or humor (all excellent uses of fiction), not because I think all fiction is poor philosophy.

By the by, I've been thinking about whether German immigrants influenced the classic American accent (Midwestern). I'm not sure that they did. The reason why is because I'm from New England, which never got many German immigrants and my accent is nearly identical to the Midwestern accent (which originated in New England, though many New Englanders from different parts than I'm from have different regional accents). It's easy to believe that Germans, who heavily settled in the Midwest, had an effect on the Midwestern accent, but it's not clear why it would have trickled back to New England and influenced my own ancestors' accents. (There are a couple of differences between the way I speak and Midwesterners. I pronounce on to rhyme with don; my wife pronounces it to rhyme with dawn. And many Midwesterners pronounce vague to rhyme with bag, while I pronounce it to rhyme with beg, though with a slightly longer vowel.)

It is possible that what you hinted at in your comment above is true. It wouldn't at all surprise me, if we went back to 1620, to discover that people in East Anglia spoke more like modern Americans (and Germans) than they did like anybody in modern England. If so, this would be another example of American linguistic conservatism.

ngögam said...

But a lot of our ‘proper’ pronunciation comes from German. ‘How now brown cow’ was a favourite of elocution lessons.

What on Earth are you talking about? What here is supposed to "come from German"?

Andrew Stevens said...

I think he meant from proto-Germanic, i.e. not from the Romance influence on English - through Latin or through French, but from the original Anglo-Saxon.

I believe this is correct. Somebody tell me if I'm wrong, but I'm fairly sure the "ow" sound does not occur, at least not often, in the Romance languages. However, now somebody will come up with an obvious counter-example that I'm missing. Certainly, it is believed that Latin pronounced ou as "oo" and the Latin "v" (pronounced like "w") was never used to form an "ow" sound that I'm aware of.

Gavin Burrows said...

Bloody hell, I thought we'd put everyone else to sleep.

andrew stevens said...
I think he meant from proto-Germanic, i.e. not from the Romance influence on English - through Latin or through French, but from the original Anglo-Saxon.

Yup, that's what I meant.

What might be confusing is that "brooown coow" was designed to stretch the 'o' sound. (Stretch it far enough and it meant you had a decent Public School education. If you could keep it going for half a minute it meant you were at least seventh in line to the throne.)

Whereas we tend to associate German with sharp sounds. This is about the first thing someone impersonating a German accent tends to do. (Think of cheesy war movies with German officers shouting "Achtung! Schnell! Schnell!" a lot.)

But Scandinavian accents tend to have longer, rolling vowel sounds too. And I don't think anyone would say they were unconnected with German.

I think it's an Anglo saxon thing. The only question left is... how on Earth do you pronounce 'ngogam'?

ngögam said...

The words are Germanic, certainly, in that they're native English words inherited from Anglo-Saxon rather than foreign loan-words. But what does that have to do with anything? Their etymology is equally Germanic no matter what accent you pronounce them in. (They weren't pronounced with that diphthong in Anglo-Saxon, having since been through the Great Vowel Shift, and their cognates aren't pronounced with it in modern High German.) So this doesn't seem, to me, to go any way towards showing that "a lot of our ‘proper’ pronunciation comes from German".

Andrew S.: The "ow" sound (or something close enough to it) was spelled "au" (or "AV") in Latin.

(I think I pronounce "ngögam" [ˈŋəːgɑm]. I.e. the final consonant of "sing", followed by an r-less "err" vowel, followed by "gahm". Technically it should be closer to [ŋǿgam]. Feel free to use whatever approximation you prefer. I chose it mainly for uniqueness.)

Andrew Stevens said...

Good point about the Great Vowel Shift; I had forgotten how much different English vowels are pronounced from the original Anglo-Saxon.

Not sure about the "au" in Latin though. I was taught to pronounce it "aw" not "ow." I'm not sure if that really is close enough. All the "av" words I can think of (like avis or avunculus) have the v in a different syllable from the a.

thomas said...

same syllable:
"Aurum"
i don't know how the romans said it, but i was taught "ow".
interesting discussion

Andrew Stevens said...

"Aurum" is "au," not "av." Lots of Latin words have "au," I was thinking "auctoritas" or "audio" or "audacia." I also don't know how the Romans pronounced these words (nobody does - the taught pronunciations are best guess), but I believe I was taught "aw." Now that I think of it, I do pronounce audacia with an "ow" sound. Don't know if I'm just being inconsistent or if I was corrected on it by my high school Latin teacher. (My college Latin professors never bothered to correct mispronunciations, though there the ones who would really know.)

If I'm reading Wikipedia right, it's apparently actually believed that "au" is not a diphthong at all, but was actually pronounced as two separate vowels which means it should actually be pronounced "ah-oo-rum."

Andrew Stevens said...

Ack wrong there. That should have been "they're the ones."

Gavin Burrows said...

...at which point all I can do is somberly reflect that if I’d never asked Andrew Stevens if he knew what ‘fat cats’ were, non of this would ever had happened!

It always pays to know when you’re out of your depth, and at this point I’d need a Tennant-size quiff to stay above the waterline. I have at best a rough grasp of the Great Vowel Shift, while everything I know about Latin pronunciation comes from Asterix and Carry On Cleo. My mind probably gravitates towards some ‘recipe’ conception of how languages develop. (Take some Anglo-Saxon stock, sprinkle in some Latin and stir to make English.) As none of that could be employed to explain the Great Vowel Shift, you might as well a colourblind man what he thinks of blue.

The Shift was supposed to be a general change, wasn’t it? Like an earlier version of Estuary English? So how can it have led to ‘posh English’, like “how now brown cow”? Interesting question. Buggered if I know!

Things I do know something about in case I am needed later:

i) Whether fart jokes are always funny. (Fart jokes are only sometimes funny.)
ii) Whether Dave Sim’s social theroies can be said to make any sense or not. (They don’t.)
iii) Whether Pamela Anderson appears in a particular episode of Baywatch or not. (Check whether her name appears on the credits.)