Tuesday, April 28, 2015


I have heard Bob Dylan perform on four occasions now. Every time there has been ecstatic applause and standing ovations. And every time the question is asked: are we standing up and cheering this old guy because he used to be Bob Dylan? Or are we cheering the idiosyncratic, gravelly old blues-man we've actually seen on stage?

So the thing we already knew, the thing that made the people at that American Star Wars convention cheer like they were at a Rock Concert, is that we see Han Solo and Chewie. We knew we were going to see Han Solo and Chewie, inasmuch as we knew that Harrison Ford was in it and Peter Mayhew was in it; but like, actually seeing them. Actually seeing them. That's Dylan on the stage there, playing Blowin' in the Wind on his mouth harp. He's not actually playing it very well, or even, you know, recognisably. No, didn't you hear me? That's Dylan. On the stage. Playing Blowin' in the Wind.

Tatooine. Presumably Tatooine. Crashed X-Wing in foreground. Presumably X-Wing. Slow pan through sand dunes. Realization that we are not looking at a sand dune but at a wrecked Star Destroyer. Definitely a Star Destroyer. Definitely wrecked.

Shipwrecks are cool, and Star Destroyers are cool, and the idea of wrecked Star Destroyer is definitely cool, and raises the question "what the hell wrecked it"? 

Star Wars: Rebels opened with a shot of the hero, Ezra, looking at a Star Destroyer as it passed over head; which I argued was a play on the iconic opening scene of Star Wars. Wouldn't it be interesting if the opening scene of the trailer was also the opening scene of the movie?

  • Star Wars: We are way above the surface of Tatooine. A little ship flies over head. Suddenly, a much bigger ship (which we now know, but didn't then, to call a Star Destroyer) flies over, dwarfing it.
  • Star Wars: Episode VII: We are on the surface of Tatooine. We see the wreck of a little ship. Then we see the wreck of a much bigger ship, which we recognize as a Star Destroyer.

The voice of Mark Hamill; presumably Mark Hamill: "The Force is strong in my family. My father has it I have it, my sister has it, you have it too."

Luke Skywalker, singing one of his old hits. It's what he said to Leia on Endor when he finally admitted to her that they were related. 

The trailer assumes you can identify the quote. The trailer also assumes that you can identify Han Solo, the Millennium Falcon, Star Destroyers, lightsabers.... Or maybe it doesn't. Maybe great big spaceships and portentous mythological quotes are cool whatever their sources?

We know from the prequels that Jedi Knights are celibate, and always have been. So presumably, the "you" must be one of Leia and Han's children. From which, incidentally, it would follow that Leia never became a Jedi, that Luke's prophecy that in time she would learn to use the Force never came true. 

If the Force is passed through families, does it make a great deal of sense for the Jedi to be celibate? Like the famous Irishman who said that genetics is when your parents can't have children and neither can you.

As he says "My Father has it" (as opposed to, for example, "My Father had it") we Darth Vader's melted breath mask. I think it is displayed on some kind of plinth. We hear (I think we hear) Darth Vader breathing in the background. 

Luke told Leia that he was her brother on Endor. Darth Vader was cremated on Endor; that's where his ashes and the remains of his armour presumably lie. Does that mean that part of the Force Awaken will be set on Endor? (There are trees in the X-Wing vignette.) Would that mean...

.... more Ewoks?

Actually, I don't think more Ewoks would necessarily be the worst idea in the world. What I do think would be the worst idea in the world is to bring Darth Vader back from the dead. YES, Vader is the second most iconic villain in the entire history of cinema; but he gets an absolutely brilliant death scene in Return of the Jedi. Well, I liked it. Not everyone does. But even if you are one of the people who didn't like it; even if you don't buy the notion that a death-bed repentance can wipe out a life time of Dark Sideyness; even if you are seriously p'd off that George pasted Hayden Christopher's face over Sebastian Shaw's in the "special" edition; then it is still unthinkable that Darth Vader should recover from his death and spend three more films, innumerable comics and a stand-alone movie ranting at underlings and strangling admirals. It would undo the ending of Return of the Jedi; change the trajectory of the sextology; make the prequels pointless (don't say a word). 

On the other hand, this is the guy who changed James T Kirk from Horatio Hornblower to James Dean, so there is no guarantee that he Gets It.

We see Luke ... we assume it is Luke ... touching Artoo Deetoo with his prosthetic hand.

That's dark, isn't it? The prosthetic hand is a reminder that Luke was roundly trounced the first time he met Vader; and also a symbol of Luke's potential to go over to the Dark Side. There is a sense in the scene that he's reconnecting with Artoo; touching him for reassurance; remembering the old times; reaching out to a friend?

Someone hands a lightsaber to someone...

At first I assumed it was Luke, handing a lightsaber to his nephew or niece, the "you" of the opening speech. But that arm looks awfully thin to be Mark Hamill's. (Some people think they can see an alien face. I think they are taking the whole thing a bit too seriously.) 

And isn't that Luke Skywalker's lightsaber? The Lightsaber that his father wanted him to have, when we was old enough (from a certain point of view)? But wasn't that lightsaber in Luke's hand when Darth Vader chopped it off in Empire Strikes Back? So shouldn't it, by rights, had been floating around the clouds of Bespin for the last 40 years? 

And anyway, if Clone Wars is cannon, which, rightly or wrongly it is, Jedi are not given their lightsabers; they make them, as part of a right of passage. The Jedi does not choose the lightsaber, the lightsaber chooses the Jedi.

But the semiology is irresistible. Star Wars started with a great big space battle. The Force Awakens starts in the aftermath of great big space battle. The first scenes are looking backwards. Ship wrecks. Relics. Old friends meeting.  Then, the Torch is quite literally passed and...                                                                                                                                                                                                                        ...bang, bang, bang, ten tiny small little vignettes whoosh past us, actiony bits which are, after all, what Star Wars is really about.... 

We see speeder bike girl, sad Stormtrooper and little orange droid (who we now know to call Rey, Finn and Beebee) running away from an explosion. 

We see Finn sweating and taking off his helmet. 

We see Finn near a crashed space ship and Finn helping him to his feet. Very likely their first meeting. 

We see the cross-bladed lightsaber from the first trailer being swung (in a burning building, with a stormtrooper in the background) and then a separate shot of a guy with a metal mask (Kylo Ren?) holding up his hand to do something Forcey. 

It's a different lightsaber; not the one with the crosspiece. So the dark guy from the first trailer is fighting against this guy. So either this guy is the goodie; or that guy is; or else the Dark Side are fighting among themselves. 

Or he has two lightsabers. Or it's a continuity error. It's too early to say. 

Whoever he is, he's breathing like Vader. So perhaps it was his breathing we heard over Darth Vader's mask. Holding onto the Sith Lord's breath mask as a "relic" is the kind of thing Dark Side baddies might do, isn't?

(A half formed plot starts to coalesce. It is the future. The events of Star Wars have already become legendary. Most people don't believe in the Jedi. Luke Skywalker has vanished. A secret cadre who fancy themselves Sith Lords preserve Darth Vader's mask as a holy relic. Another sect have scoured Bespin and preserved Luke Skywalker's lightsaber, legendary and precious as Excalibur. And then for some reason Luke Skywalker, long hidden, emerges.)

Final Shot of Han Solo and Chewie.

And it quite definitely is a shot of Han and Chewie, being Han and Chewie, but much older. Well, Han is much older. It is canonical that wookies live much longer than humans. (Chewie appears briefly and irrelevantly in Return of the Sith.) 

Han Solo hasn't changed his clothes in 40 years. 

I am not quite sure. I want to see Han Solo again. But I want to know what Han Solo has been doing for the last thirty years. I don't, to use an analogy I have perhaps used too much, just want to see someone put their Han Solo action figure on the table. 

What did Han do after Return of the Jedi? Did he go back to his old life — if not actually as a pirate than at any rate as professional trader and money maker and trouble maker? Or did he stay with the rebels, in the New Order? I think I would rather there were scenes in which we meet an elderly, abrasive senator (or president? Or ambassador) and to our surprise say "hey, didn't you used to be Han Solo", than seeing a very old Harrison Ford trying to strike poses that he first struck thirty eight years ago. I think I want Luke to be the new Ben, old and wise and mysterious, not a guy of 60 trying to swing across chasms. 

When Star Trek was a going concern, stupid people called it "wheelchairs in space" because it was, like, really funny that a guy of 50 could be a ship's captain. I am one of those who likes Dylan as he is now; who thinks that his new performances are quirky as hell but genuinely interesting. But Dylan plays himself as he is now, a gravelly old man in a hat. He doesn't remotely pretend that at 73 he can still be a fresh faced young spokesman for the new generation. 

Let us hope that Han Solo doesn't turn out to be an aging rocker embarrassingly wiggling his arthritic hips.

"Chewie, we're home."

What was it that the wise man said you can't ever do?

Saturday, April 25, 2015


The Fantastic Four trailer didn't make me nearly as angry as the Superman trailer. It doesn't seem to have been put together by someone who actively dislikes The Fantastic Four, merely by someone who hasn't read it. And it is certainly nice to see some footage in which The Thing looks like a 3D rendering of an early Jack Kirby Thing, as opposed to, and there is really no nice way of saying this, a poo.

But still, how could anyone get to work on an F.F movie and miss the neon lights flash above every, single issue screeching "The Fantastic Four is a story about a family. The Fantastic Four is a story about a family." (They are sometimes actually referred to as Marvel's first family, aren't they?) 

Reed Richards is a Father Figure. He is middle aged. He is grey around the the temples and smokes a pipe. He is clever and stuffy. He loves Sue. He fought in the French Resistance. (We can probably drop that bit.)

Sue Storm is a Mother Figure. Or, if you prefer, she is a Big Sister figure. She is sensible and practical and the glue that holds the group together. She loves Reed. 

Johnny is the Kid Brother. He is young and reckless. Johnny and Sue are orphans. Sue had to be a mother to her kid brother when their Dad died. That's why she's inclined to be fuddy-duddy and stuffy. 

Ben is Big Brother. Ben and Johnny act like feuding siblings; Sue and Reed act like anxious parents. But Ben is actually Reed's contemporary. He was a fighter pilot in the War. Some people think that the name Benjamen Jakob Grimm suggests that he came from a minority ethnic background. Definitely he came from the poor bit of New York. The cigar, if nothing else, shows that he's the character who Jack Kirby identified with. (We can probably lose the cigar.) 

Superman is not about a god-like alien but about a geeky little guy from the sticks who is also a god like alien. The Fantastic Four is not about four people with amazing powers, it's specifically about an American family who acquire amazing powers. 

"Your my husband, Reed...The world won't come to an end if you take time out for dinner"
"I wish wish I could be sure of that, Sue darling."

"You flamin fig-head! When I'm thru with you there won't be enough left to light a fire-cracker!"
"Ben, don't! That fire proof vault door cost a small fortune!"

I don't want to open up the whole Kirby vs Lee fissure again, but surely, surely, surely the Fantastic Four are made of dialog much more than they are made of drawings and made of cool powers? And if you create four characters who wouldn't say those kinds of things to each other, then what you have created no longer has anything to do with the Fantastic Four? 

Obviously, in the process of making a movie, you have to change stuff. Well, no, actually, that isn't completely obvious to me at all. Of all the comic books out there, the Fantastic Four is the one that permits least messing around with. It is essentially itself: a slab of Kirby pictures illuminated by a wodge of Lee dialogue which is what it is and can't be anything else. Ultimate Spider-Man massively messed around with every aspect of Spider-Man's top heavy mythos, and ended up with something that felt more like Spider-Man than Spider-Man had for years. Ultimate Fantastic Four did the same thing to the F.F and ended up being a fairly good science fiction comic about some unrelated characters in vaguely similar uniforms. My preferred Fantastic Four movie would be one which stayed as close, visually and thematically, to the comic book as the Watchmen movie did to the Watchmen comic. Imagine taking F.F 48-51 and treating them more or less as your storyboard; putting the same kind of effort into Galactus' shorts as they did into Dr Manhattan's wassissname. If that can't happen, then at least set the thing specifically in the 1960s against the background of the Cold War, the Beatles, Atomic War, the Summer of Love, incredibly sexist attitudes, very short skirts. (Surely it matters that The Fantastic Four, the first ever super-hero celebrities, happened at the exact same time as that other Fab Four?) But if even that can't happen, then we know it is possible to wrench a character out of his original context without utterly dismantling him. Mr Cumberbatch has show that you can remove Sherlock Holmes from his world of gas lights and hansom cabs and steam trains and drop him into the world of mobile phones and computers and sex and still have him remain recognizably Sherlock Holmes. Because the character remains the same. Because his relationship to Watson (and Mrs Hudson, and Moriarty, and the police, and his clients) remains recognizably Holmsian.

Of course Reed Richards doesn't need to be a resistance leader. But he does have to be old and stuffy. Of course Ben doesn't have to be a World War II veteran. But he does need to be New York Jewish wisecracker.  

I can cope with the F.F exploring an alien dimension rather than being astronauts. Particularly if the Negative Zone is going to be a thing. If some of the villains are going to come from the Negative Zone and the Fantastic Four are going to be Negative Zone explorers then it makes sense for their powers to come from the Negative Zone rather than Outer Space. 

And the Human Torch effects look cool. 

And Doctor Doom looks like Doctor Doom, and not, say, a cloud of purple gas.

But, oh, for Jack's sake....

The Fantastic Four have been "re-imagined" as a group of kids, under the tutelage of an elderly scientist named Franklin Richards who actually has to say all-I-want-to-know-is-where-are-my-children at one point. Reed is bespectacled teen-aged nerd stumbling wide eyed into great big science thing and being shy around Sue and generally trying to be Peter Parker . 

There has been much speech about how it would be a good thing if there were more characters in movies who were not white dudes.

I agree that it would be a good thing if there more characters in movies who were not white dudes. If Johnny is going to be black and his dad is going to be a black then I am really not at all sure why his sister can't be black as well. Perhaps because Sue and Reed have to be an item and you are only allowed to have movies in which a black lady in love with a white man if that's the main thing the movie is about? (In which case, why not have a black Reed Richards as well? What possible reason is there for this Fantastic Four not to be an all-black team? Why am I even talking about this when it basically doesn't matter?) 

My question was going to be: wouldn't it also be a good thing if there were characters in movies who were older white men, older black men, older women -- if every character in every movie wasn't automatically about 17? Wouldn't it also be a good thing if the great -- the greatest -- American graphic novel about the 1950s nuclear family who get amazing powers to fight commies and aliens and planet eating space gods in purple shorts didn't have to be re-imagined as the story of Wise Old Franklin Richards and how he mentored four young outsiders, helping one to reach his full potential and one to learn to be a team player and one to overcome his callous upbringing and I to open up her heart and let other people in....

Apparently, Reed is not going to be able to stretch his body. No, Reed is going to be able to warp space around himself so his body appears to stretch. 

I can hardly bear to look.

The Ant-Man one, one the other hand, I rather like, and it's pretty obvious why. 

The Fantastic Four and Superman are like geek Holy Writ. They need to be treated with respect. Preferably reverence. Ant-Man isn't even my tenth favorite character. There have been bits and bobs of fun stuff done with him over the years, like when he accidentally created the evil robot Ultron, but that job's been given to Tony Stark for the movie franchise. 

Stan Lee eventually spotted that a character whose only power is to make himself small isn't all that interesting. He reasoned that if a character can use magic pixie dust to make himself very very small then surely he could use that same pixie dust to embiggen himself. Changing his name from Ant-Man to Gi-Ant Man was actually rather inspired. I bet a very small amount of money that they're saving that for the post cred of this movie. 

So, I don't specially care if this movie is faithful to the Myth of Ant-Man and am happy to let it stand on it's own six feet. At one level, it seems to be about as generic a superhero trailer as you could imagine, from the New York skyline in the opening shot, to the sliding doors opening on the big science room that looks and awful lot like the Fantastic Four's big science room to someone saying "Are you ready to become the hero you were meant to be?" Right at the end our hero indicates that he thinks Ant-Man is a bit of a lame name and you can just hear the director saying "No...More like Robert Downey Jnr!" in the background. There is some kind of argument between the guy who invented the shrinking suit and some other guy, and our hero, wearing a Red Suit (that looks a little bit like a very olden days Ant Man costume) seems to have a fight with a baddie wearing a Yellow Suit (that makes those of us who know about these things say "Aha! Yellow Jacket".) I fully expect the argument to be between Hank Pym's bosses, who want the shrinky powers to be used for military purposes and Hank Pym who wants it only to be used for the betterment of mankind, but that's not in the trailer. It's just the kind of thing that this kind of superhero movie tends to be about. 

But if you are going to make a superhero trailer, this is how you ought to do it. I don't want to be lectured about the philosophical ramifications of people with superpowers. I don't want to be introduced to each character one by one. I don't even specially want a recap of the origin. I want to know how much fun a movie about an incredible shrinking superhero is going to be. And in this case the answer seems to be "quite a lot of fun". In two minutes we see him running alongside giant ants; bungie jumping into some teeny tiny tube; running along the barrel of a gun; running around a children's toy train track and derailing Thomas the Tank Engine. 

It is very possible that the trailer has shown us all the movie's highlights. It is very possible that this is one of those films where they put a few highlights in specifically so they've got something for the trailer.

But right now, Ant-Man is the superhero movie I'm actively looking forward to. 

Thursday, April 23, 2015


I cannot say how much I hated this trailer. I do not understand how dearly beloved characters — or, as I suppose we must learn to say, "franchises" — get into the hands of people who don't understand them. In some cases who actively dislike them.

Who is this stuff for? I have complained before that children are aware of funny pirates that go "arrrr!" long before they have had a chance to be scared of Long John Silver; that people's first exposure to Dracula is in the form of Vampires Love Underpants. Yes, I have admitted that, for me, the Real Star Wars, the Primary Star Wars is Roy Thomas's comic; but we are raising up a generation for whom Star Wars (and Harry Potter, and Spider-Man, and Doctor Who, and the Lord of the Rings) were Lego figurines first and everything else afterwards.

Apart from anything else, this stuff is out of date. Thirty years of of date, and frankly it was already a bit old hat in 1986. But it is very nearly 50 years since the live-action Batman first appeared on TV, and we still, with a terrible, tedious reflexology begin every, single essay on comic books with the words "KAPOW! SMASH!" usually followed by "COMICS AREN'T JUST FOR KIDS".

Well, no; they are not. But it would be nice if there were comics that kids were actually able, or indeed legally permitted, to read. It has been said by cleverer people than me that Stan Lee raised the target demographic of super-hero comics from aged 10 to about aged 14. I encountered Spider-Man when I was 8. Yes, there was stuff which went over my head. There is stuff in Winnie-the-Pooh which went over my head. But there was no doubt that I was reading about a kid who was slightly older than me, who got bullied at school, with a fussy "mum" and amazing powers and scary baddies and cliffhanger endings.

Alan Moore to some extent forswore "darkness" in the years after Watchmen, and tried out things like 1963 and Tom Strong and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen — re-embracing his inner KAPOW! Frank Miller, admittedly, continued to embrace his inner spartan. But the movies have never moved on. It's as if Tim Burton expected Michael Keaton to ask the chicks if they wouldn't mine jiving a cup of java juice before laying down some hep grooves and burning their draft cards because dammit, that how Spider-Man spoke and that's obviously the last word in revisionist realism. (And yes, things really have become so predictable that we are looking back on the '89 Batman movie — which was little more than a collection of scenery for Jack Nicholson to chew — if not exactly with nostalgia, then at any rate with a sense of relief.) 

So yes, by all means, the Batman - Superman team. Batman "vee" Superman if you absolutely must. The Famous Batman used to stand in for Superman in weeks when Bud Collyer needed time off to recover from all the breakfast cereal he'd been eating. It was never very interesting. They were too nice, too similar. If you absolutely have to have groups of good guys, they need to be good guys who basically don't agree with each other. And a very long time ago someone spotted that Superman and Batman could be played as good guys who didn't agree about what being a good guy meant. Who maybe didn't even agree about what was "good". 

Superman: bright, shiny, noble, law-abiding, Boy Scout, almost to the point of being naive.

Batman, dark, dark urban, dark vigilante, the dark Dark Knight, the Dark Knight Darkens. 

Dark Batman is more interesting than the silly Batman (who never quite existed outside of the KAPOW! television series). Dark Batman is more in keeping with the basic premise of a character built of rage. But just because Dark Batman is cool is does not follow that Dark Superman and Dark Spider-Man and Dark Paddington Bear would be equally cool. The darker the dark character is the more he needs a bright character character to stand next to. And the brighter the bright character is the darker and cooler the dark, cool one will look. (This is the point of Robin.)

This is one of the things the X-Men movies fumbled very badly: they were so in love with Wolverine that they allowed Cyclops to be a wimp. And Cylcops cannot be a wimp. Cyclops must be tall and moral and impressive and heroic precisely because that makes Wolverine darker and scarier in comparison. 

Superman has a very simple narrative core. And yes, I know that this narrative core did not drop fully formed from the brow of Siegel and Schuster. There was a time when Superman was not yet Superman; when he couldn't fly and dropped wife-beaters out of windows and worked for a guy called George at a paper called the Star. The myth of Superman didn't arrive in a single blinding revelation; it grew. (And yes, it continues to grow. Pa and Ma Kent used to have always been dead, but now they have always been still alive.) But if there is one thing that has been consistent in every incarnation from cornflake packet to movie serial, it has been Clark Kent, Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen and Perry White. Not in any great big structuralist sense ("aha, of course, there must always be a Hero and a Hero's Love and a Hero's Friend and a Hero's Irrascible Boss Who Keeps Saying Don't Call Me Chief.") Just in the sense that that's how it has always been. That's the Tradition. There's this geeky little newspaperman, rather shy, very old fashioned; and there is this hot young newspaperlady, especially at a time when hot young newspaperladies weren't all that common, and the geeky little reporter is crazy about the lady reporter but he is outclassed, outshone, literally eclipsed by the BLOODY AMAZING GODLIKE SUPERHERO who keeps rescuing her and she doesn't suspect, not even for a moment, well, maybe she does, sometimes, just a little bit, that the geeky little man she hardly notices and the BLOODY AMAZING HERO are, get this, THE SAME PERSON.

Superman isn't about what would happen if an alien landed on earth. Superman isn't about how the human race would react to a god/God/ in their midst. Superman is about a perfectly ordinary little man who is also a god.

(And yes, once you have spotted that and told stories about bald headed supercriminals and little men in funny hats who disappear if you say their name backwards then of course you can squint your eyes and say "but in the 'language of the night' isn't the perfectly ordinary little man who no one pays much account to who is also God quite a lot like a much bigger and more special story?" Although I don't think that anything very interesting often follows from that observation.) 

So: I cannot say how much I hated this trailer.

FIRST we have dark, dark series of logos, and dark dark musical chords, and someone's voice speaking over a black screen and a dark, dark view of a New York / Metropolis skyline because all superhero trailers have to begin with a view of the New York / Metropolis skyline, because that says to people "it's okay, this is in the real world, it's not skiffy". (Nerd-trailers begin with a picture of stars or planets for the same reason.)

THEN we have dark pretentious voice-overs asking the sorts of DEEP PHILOSOPHICAL QUESTIONS that no-one would ever ask about a comic-strip character who wears blue tights. The main claim appears to be that being powerful is a Bad Thing in itself, because if you are powerful, people will want to follow you, and Lord Acton said that thing about absolute power corrupting absolutely.

I think that the thing about absolute power corrupting absolutely had to do with giving absolute political power to an individual. I think the idea is that if you or I or David Cameron were given the kind of political that Sadamm Hussien or Kim Jong-Un has, we would be tempted to use it and inevitably become as cruel and erratic as they are. The theory is not, I think, that weight-lifters are more immoral than biologists, and that Olympic weight-lifters are more immoral than those who compete at a club level and that therefore a man who could life a Soviet Space Capsule with one hand is likely to be completely immoral.

People who are better at recognizing voices than me think that it's Lex Luther speaking, so it maybe that we are supposed to listen to the pretentious voice-overs and think "what a load of obvious nonsense, I sure hope no-one falls for any of that" as opposed to "those are really interesting questions about the myth of Superman that have never occurred to anyone before, I am sure interested about how the film is going to Explore them." 

THEN we have scenes of people seeming to worship Superman in a way that no-one has ever done in the comic.

THEN we get a close up a statue of Superman, in an empty space (probably intended to recall Ground Zero) over which someone has scrawled "false god".

And we have dark shots of Batman, looking dark, thinking dark thoughts in square boxes.

And then we have lots of explosions.

And then we get him darkly confronting Superman in the dark.

(Has Batman been taken in by obviously silly propaganda by Lex Luthor? In which case is the rebooted Batman is a fool and a villains stooge? Or does Batman agree with the Big Philosophical Questions and think that the existence of Superman is a Bad Thing? In which case is the rebooted Batman a superhero who doesn't agree with the idea of superheroes?)

But anyway: that's very much where we are the moment. Big philosophical questions that no-one should ever have asked with explosions in the place where answers ought to be.  

Doctor Who fans talk about "my Doctor". My Doctor is the one with the scarf; your Doctor is the one with the stick of celery; his Doctor is the one with the plimsoles and the awful scripts. So, yes, just because my Superman is Christopher Reeve's doesn't mean that your Superman can't be Grant Morrison's or Smallville or the DC Animated Universe.

But are there really really really going to be kids for whom "my Superman" is a dark statue of dark darkness in a dark city with "false god" scrawled darkly across the darkness?

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Epiphany experienced while drinking coffee and muffins in a hipster cafe in the trendiest street in England.

I do not especially like comic books,
and never have.

I have always liked superheroes,
and still do.

I am pretty sure
this makes me
a bad person

Wednesday, April 08, 2015


“I'm really very sorry for you all, but it's an unjust world, and virtue is triumphant only in theatrical performances.” -- The Mikado


Can you have a "sequel" to a "fairy tale"?

If a fairy tale is a story which ends "and they all lived happily ever after" then the answer is "no", you cannot have a sequel to a fairy tale. Because we have just defined "fairy tale" as "a story which cannot have a sequel".

This is not to say that Cinderella and the Prince did nothing for the rest of their lives. Doubtless they held elegant balls and launched ships and made speeches to the nation at Christmas. It is even possible (let us hope) that Princess Ella used her new-found power to improve the lot of abused scullery maids up and down the country. I suppose they became King and Queen eventually; and I suppose the Prince must have been sad when the King died. But to live happily ever after means to live as happily as anyone can, not to never have a single bad day.

Eventually, Queen Ella and King Charming must have got old. We don't want to see that. We can take it for granted. I think the King probably dies first. The Queen is sad for a bit, of course, but she is a pious lady and believes that they'll be together again in Heaven. She lives on for a few years as a very contented widow, taking the title Queen Mother, and dies at a very advanced age surrounded by children and grandchildren and one very small great grandchild. Which is as happy an ending as anybody gets.

That's why we use the term "fairy tale ending" to mean "everything came out fine in the end". Because everything doesn't usually come out fine in the end in real life.

Because stories lie to us and we shouldn't read them, particularly not to children.

Because stories arbitrarily stop before Prince Charming contracts typhoid fever and Cinderella crashes her golden coach in a tunnel in Paris.

Because a story is a thing made of words, and a fairy tale is a particularly beautiful but particularly artificial creation precisely because it is closed off, finished, complete in itself.

As a matter of fact, the Cinderella story doesn't begin with the words "once upon a time". It begins "There was once a rich man whose wife lay sick..."  But that's still a beginning.

Stuff must have happened before Cinderella's mother got sick and her father married a nasty widow with two beautiful but wicked daughters. (It is only in the most vulgar versions of the story that Cinderella's sisters are ugly). But that's where the story starts. You could say things about Cinderalla's life with Baron Hardup before the Baroness got consumption (I assume it was consumption) but they wouldn't be part of the story. They might be part of a different story, but that story wouldn't be worth telling, because right up until her mum died, Cinderella was a perfectly ordinary little girl. (Grown ups sometimes read books about perfectly ordinary little girls to whom nothing interesting ever happens, but that's because they are too old to know any better.) Unless, I suppose, you think that Cinderella was a special little girl from the beginning. That the very moment she was born, a chorus of Fairy Godparents sang to the world that this was the Chosen One whose destiny was to marry the Prince, establish an alliance between House Hardup and House Charming, establish a dynasty, bring peace to the land...

But that's a different story. And it's turned "Cinderella" into a different story, and not such a good one. "Cinderella" is the story of an ordinary little girl who falls in love with a Prince.

(Cinderella was different from other little girls because she was lucky enough to have a fairy godmother. So I suppose you could tell the story of how her godmother came to be a fairy, and if she remembered to send a card for her confirmation, and whether the Vicar minded. But so far as I can see it was normal to invite fairies to Christenings in those days. Things only went wrong if you forgot. And anyway, in the Grimm tale it's the spirit of Cinderella's mother in Heaven who arranges the miracle. That's a much better story.)

So that's the answer to my question. Yes, you can continue telling a fairy story after you have said "and they all lived happily ever after." And yes, you can extend the fairy story backwards and say what happened before you said "once upon a time". But what you would be left with would no longer be fairy tale.


If you are briefed to write a new story about an already existing character, there are two questions you could ask.

a: What was fun about this character to start with? So Let's create more stuff which is fun in just that way!

So if you are creating new Spider-Man stories, it is your job to think of better wisecracks than ever before; ways for Jameson to be meaner than every before; and an animal themed bad-guy who is more ridiculous and more scary than anything Steve Ditko and his assistant ever dreamed up.

If you take this approach, the audience will say "What the hell was the point of that? We already have loads of good Spider-Man stories!"

b: Let's suppose this character and their situation is perfectly real -- what would follow logically and realistically from that?

If you take this approach, it is your job to pretend that no-one apart from you has ever written about Spider-Man before. And to suspend your disbelief and assume that there really was a 15 year old boy with insect-like powers in 1960s New York, and that he really did decide to become an urban vigilante in his pyjamas. What would really have happened?

If you take this approach, the audience will say "What was the point of that? It had absolutely nothing to do with Spider-Man."

Star Trek: Wrath of Kahn was the product of the First Approach. It does all the stuff that Star Trek does on the TV, only more so. Batman: The Dark Knight Returns was arguably the product of the second approach: granted that there were such a person as Batman, it asks, what affect would he have on the world? What would the authorities think about him? What would happen when he's too old to carry on?

There are, of course, other approaches as well. Maybe the existing stories were told by unreliable narrators and you are going to reveal that the "real" Conan was a wimp and a braggart and the "real" Sherlock Holmes was a fool. Maybe you are going to tell an origin story in which some unrecognizable character gradually turns into the famous one. (This appears to be the only approach Hollywood now permits. An origin myth for Paddington Bear, forsooth?) And, of course, you might very well decide to slap the character's name on some entirely unrelated property and affect incredulity that anyone ever thought that your Tarzan character would have anything to do with some book by Edgar Rice Borroughs.


In 2001, Marvel Comics did a thing called Ultimate Spider-Man which may have been the last comic I unreservedly loved. (*) The idea, in case you have forgotten, was to do create a new comic, unconnected to the Marvel Universe and 40 years of Spider-Man continuity which would sort-of kind-of retell Spider-Man from scratch, as if it were happening right now, and sort-of kind-of make sense. Spider-Man was no longer a thirty year old college lecturer and photo-journalist married to a supermodel who had experienced the tragic deaths of his entire family, several fiances, and defeated the Mad God of Titan. He was Peter Parker, a 15 year old school kid who was just about to have an unfortunate mishap involving a spider.

The cool thing about this was that it didn't matter if you hadn't read Spider-Man for a decade and didn't know that Peter had sold his soul to Satan in return for the clone of his second dead girlfriend not having been sleeping with the resurrected clone of his worst enemy. You could go back to reading about the young kid whose got superpowers and hasn't figured out how to use them. Which is what was cool about Spider-Man to begin with.

But within within a year — within five years — this new Ultimate Spider-Man was not really recognizable as Spider-Man. He was a pretty much an unrelated character in a similar costume some of whose villains had some of the same names.

Not because the writers hadn't been true to the original brief. They had been. "Let's suppose that Spider-Man is a real kid, in the real world...what would happen?" they asked.

And the answer, of course, was Stuff. And if you a trying to tell a realistic story once Stuff has happened, it can't un-happen. The character grows and mutates and evolves and become a different character.

In the end they killed him off, which I suspect was the plan from the beginning.


Opera-buddy sometimes refers to the Great Underpants Question.

How is it, she asks, that the Famous Five can go on camping holidays that seem to last the whole summer long and never once change their underwear? If we assume that the underpants washing happens off stage, who does the laundry?

This matters more in some universes than in others. It doesn't break genre too much to assume that, from time to time, Frodo and Sam find a bit of water to bath in; and when that happens Sam takes the opportunity to do a bit of laundry as well. (I am not sure if people even wore underwear in Middle-earth. We are all a lot more sensitive to bodily smells than people were in the days when the Queen had a bath once a month whether she needed it or not.) And there are lots of stories in which underwear and laundry and other boring smelly things simply don't exist. Winnie-the-Pooh would be one example. Hamlet would be another.

I think that the the point of the Underpants Question is that it is perfectly okay not to ask it. But once you have asked it, you can't unask it. If, on just one occasion, we decide that we can't go and ask questions about the mysterious foreign gentlemen in the big house because we’ve been sleeping in tents for four days without a change of clothes and smell to high heaven; then we can’t say in the next chapter "oh, everyone was locked in the mysterious foreign gentleman's cellar for three days without needing to go to the loo, but that’s fine, because it’s not that kind of story."


I read the first couple of Timothy Zahn books with enthusiasm, and kept reading the old Marvel comics out of bloody minded loyalty. But I never properly bought into the Star Wars "extended universe".

Of course we want more Star Wars stories; but of course novelisations and sequels are only ever going to be novelisations and sequels. There is no Aristotelean mean between "All you have done is told the exact same story as A New Hope all over again only less well" and "What the hell did that even have to do with Star Wars?"

George seemed to have recognized this in the early days, when he was still talking in terms of a IX or XII part history of the Skywalker clan. Star Wars 2 is not a sequel, he kept saying, it's a different story set in the same universe.

Dispatches came to me from the extruded universe from time to time — Han and Leia were married, with twin children; Chewbacca had died. Luke had got married: to a lady named Mara. Later on it turned out that Jedi were celibate, and always had been. I assume this was covered. Although there were occasional smiles of recognition, this was not a setting I recognized or had much desire to visit. Shadows of the Empire was quite interesting, if a little preoccupied with underpants. Too much Stuff had happened. Each book added a Clone of the Emperor, a New Empire, an Invasion of Cybernetic Cockroaches or a Galactic Civil War. Each book made Star Wars, my Star Wars, my Journey of the Hero to save the Universe from the Emperor's Ultimate Weapon smaller and smaller.

An on-line Star Wars resource tells me that Mrs Skywalker was an agent of Palpatine and "a Force Using operative in her own right". That Anyone can type the words "Force using operative" and still believe that you are talking about Star Wars eplains why I never bought into the Extended Universe. (And now it has been decanonised.)


I suppose this is why the great poets invented Tragedy.

The story of Cinderella and Prince Charming is over because the story teller has declared that it is over: he can't stop someone else from writing, or everyone else from imagining, a story in which they feud and quarrel and then decide it's fairest on the kids if they have as amicable a separation as possible. But the story of Romeo and Juliet is much more satisfactorily over because they are perfectly and irrevocably deaded.

(*) Nova. I positively like Nova. But it's only doing Ultimate Spider-Man again, in the "official" Marvel Universe which seems now to be distinguishable from the Ultimate universe only by checking Nick Fury's skin colour. The point of the the Ultimate Universe was that it was more realistic and less comic-booky than the Marvel Universe, but in the last decade the Marvel Universe has stopped trying to be comic booky. So Nova is a pretty good run on "what if a young lad got crazy superpowers in an otherwise realistic universe." So is Ms Marvel. So, obviously, was the original 1960s Spider-Man. 

If you are interested in fairy tales, you should totally buy my game.

Saturday, April 04, 2015

How to Make the Bible Mean Whatever You Want It To Mean - A Very Boring Note

It has been suggested to me that I should have quoted the eucharistic passages from the Gospels more fully. 

It may be that the "revolutionary Christ" theory involves rejecting the "bread and wine" section wholesale (since it seems to come from Paul) and retain the other material as more "authentic".  You could certainly make out a case that Luke's version is a composite of two different versions (note that the wine is passed round twice.) 

This would leave us with something like this. 


When evening came Jesus was reclining at the table with the twelve...While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying: "Take and eat, this is my body. Then he too the cup, gave thank and offered it to them, saying "Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it answer with you in my father's kingdom. When they had sun a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.


When evening came Jesus arrived with the twelve...While they were eating, Jesus took the bread, gave thank and broke it, and gave it to his disciples say, "Take it: this is my body." Then he took the cup, gave thank and offered it to them, and they all drank from it. "This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many" he said to them. "I tell you the truth, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it anew in the kingdom of God"


When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. And he said to them. "I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you the truth, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the Kingdom of God. After taking the cup he gave thanks and said "Take this and divide it among you. For I tell you I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes." And he took bread, gave thank, and broke it, and gave it to them saying: "This is my body given for you: do this in remembrance of me." In the same way after the supper he took the cup, saying "This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you."

Leaving us with: 


When evening came, Jesus reclined at table with his twelve disciples. And he said to them. "I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you the truth, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the Kingdom of God. I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in my father's kingdom. Do this in remembrance of me." When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

If still don't get why he rejects 1 Corinthians as a Paulist invention by holds on to "do this in remembrance of me" as coming from the original left-wing Jesus.

Thursday, April 02, 2015

How To Make The Bible Mean Whatever You Want It To Mean (2)

I promise this will be my last post about Giles Fraser. He writes substantially the same column every week, so I could continue writing substantially the same rebuttal indefinitely. And writing about this kind of thing forces me to adopt an attitude of piety which must be hysterically funny to anyone who knows me personally. I sure you would all rather be ignoring another Star Wars piece. 

But I did think his last one was a good example of the total intellectual bankruptcy of the liberal position, so I am going to have one last go at showing what my problem is with the guy.

There are a number of different ways of reading the New Testament. But I think it would be quite a good idea for anyone setting themselves up as an Expositor to pick one, say what it is, and more or less stick to it. At one time, I attended a Charismatic "house" church. They had a pretty clear approach. The Gospels, they believed, were accurate written accounts of stuff that really happened. They were also the inspired and infallible word of God, but what God had mainly inspired the writers to do infallibly was to accurately record what had really happened. Any honest writer would have written much the same. Thus: “Many learned people have used human wisdom to invent some reason why St John tells us that the miraculous drought consisted of 153 fishes. But in fact, God’s word tells us this because it is the number they actually caught.”

At almost the other extreme, I expect that by now we have all read Francis Spufford’s Unapologetic. He thinks that the Gospels are stories — stories which Christians have instead of answers to hard questions about God and suffering. He says that he thinks that the story is true; but doesn't think that's really the point.

And obviously, people in olden times thought it was all allegorical. Five levels of allegory, only one of which was suitable for the Common People. And scholars have applied various criteria to try to construct (they admit that it's a construct) a figure called "the Historical Jesus". 

So: what is Giles Fraser's approach?

His latest piece is about Easter and Passover and Holy Communion. He thinks it is nice that Jews can be flexible about how they celebrate Passover, and that it's a shame that Christians are bound by strict liturgical rules when they celebrate the Eucharist. I get that. But when he starts talking about God and Jesus and the Bible and stuff, my head starts to spin, slightly. 

This year, in an unusual quirk of the calendar, Passover and Easter overlap, with the Jewish celebrations beginning on the day Christians call Good Friday. Though this is rare, it is unsurprising....

This is an odd way of putting it. For centuries Christians celebrated Easter on the date of the Jewish Passover, which ever day of the week it fell on. The decision that Easter Sunday should always fall on a Sunday, and that Good Friday should always fall on a Friday was made at the Council of Nicea in 325 AD. Fraser believes that for the last sixteen hundred and ninety years, the thing calling itself "the church" has not being following Jesus but a "death cult" largely invented by Constantine and promulgated at Nicea. So it's mighty interesting that he is so keen on Easter being at Passover and a bit suspicious of the Nicean “first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox” formula. 

– not least because the last supper that Jesus ate with his friends the night before he died was a Passover seder. “Do this in remembrance of me,” he told them.

Allow me to improve the above: 

"...not least because three of the Gospels say that the Last Supper was a Passover seder. The other one very definitely says that it wasn't.  'Do this in remembrance of me' he told them, according to one of the four."

It's not Giles' fault that the four evangelists don't agree. Most academics and many clergy would counsel against harmonization. But if you are going to merge four different stories into one composite version, sheer honesty requires that you signal to your audience that this is what you are doing. "We have four stories about the Last Supper. They don't agree on every point. But what seems to have happened is something like this..."

“Remember: Jesus wasn’t a Christian. But for the Christians that followed, he was re-described as the lamb sacrificed at Passover. “Christ, our Passover, has been sacrificed for us,” says St Paul, taking his own Jewish theology of temple sacrifice and boldly, even offensively, applying it to a man who was strung up by the Romans as an enemy of the state."

This says a bundle. 

If Fraser is right here, John the Baptist never said "Behold the lamb of God..."; Jesus never said "the Son of man came to lay down his life as a ransom for many". If Fraser is right Jesus saw no connection between his own death and the Passover sacrifice. That was a wholly original idea, thought up by Paul. If Fraser is right, all the bits of the Gospels that talk about the Priests conspiring with Pilate to have Jesus killed — Judas and the arrest in the garden and the trial, pretty much our whole Easter narrative is fiction. This is not a matter of interpretation: Fraser is rejecting the story in the Gospels and offering us an alternative one. 

What does it mean to say that Jesus death was "re-imagined" as a sacrifice? If it means "Christians realized that the true, objective significance of Jesus' death could best be understood in terms of Jewish temple sacrifice (even though Jesus may never had said so in quite those words)" then Fraser and us Evil Constantianian Death Worshipers are pretty much in agreement. But if he means "Christians thought up the idea out of their heads, and its a pretty idea, even though obviously it isn't true, whatever 'true' means" then I think Fraser is... Well.... Not Christian. Something else. A heretic, and quite a boring one at that. Unless I am and he isn't. Or we both are. 

But let's not worry about orthodoxy. The point is that Fraser's arguments do not work on their own terms. The liberal case never does. 

Pay attention, please. This next bit is quite boring. 

There are four Gospels. One of them doesn't really have a "last supper" and if it does, it definitely isn't a Passover. So we can put that one on one side. Let's compare the three which are left. The bits which envisage Jesus death as a sacrifice and were therefore made up by St Paul I have deleted: 

Mathew: And as they were eating, Jesus took bread and blessed it, and break it, and gave it to the disciples, and said Take, eat, this is my body. And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them saying, Drink ye all of it, for this is my blood of the new testament which is shed for many for the remissions of sins."

Mark: And as they did eat, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and brake it, and gave to them saying: eat, this is my body. And he took the cup and when he had given thank he gave it to them: and they all drank of it. And he said unto them: This is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many.

Luke: And he took bread, and gave thank and brake it, and gave unto them saying this my body which is give for you, this do in remembrance of me. Likewise also the cup, after supper, saying "This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you."

The highlighted section "this do in remembrance of me", which Fraser thinks is the real deal, only appears in one version of the story: Luke's Gospel. If Fraser is correct that this is the important bit, then Matthew and Mark totally missed the point of what was going on. And, in fairness, Luke says, more or less in so many words, that he doesn't like the other Gospels and is offering his as an improvement on them. 

So: stripped of the Pauline additions you are left with something like: 

And as they did eat, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and brake it, and gave to them saying: This do in remembrance of me. And he took the cup and when he had given thanks he gave it to them: and they all drank of it. 

That's what "really happened".


The oldest account of the Last Supper doesn't come from the Gospels. It comes from Paul. (Luke was a mate of Paul's — at any rate he wants us to think he was.) And what does Paul say that Jesus said?  

For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the same night in which he was betrayed, took bread: And when he had given thanks he break it, and said, Take: eat, this is my body, which is broken for you. This do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also he took the cup, when had supped, saying This cup is the new testament in my blood, this do ye, as oft as ye drink it in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread and drink this cup ye do shew the Lords death til he comes

How does Paul know about the Last Supper? He wasn't there. He did meet some of the disciples who were there, but he doesn't say that they mentioned it. He says he knows about the Supper because God told him. It's very hard for us to get our heads round the fact that for Paul the fact that he didn't hear about Jesus from eye-witnesses but from the resurrected Jesus makes things more reliable, not less. But he does. God told Paul that Jesus said that his death was a sacrifice and the wine and bread were in some way his blood and body. And God also told Paul that Jesus said "do this in remembrance of me". Presumably, Paul told his mate Luke and Luke put it in his Gospel. Very possibly the other writers knew Paul's version of the story as well. On what basis should we treat one part of Paul's version as simply what happened; and another part as something which Paul made up?

Fraser talks as if you can strip away layers of Christian theology about Mass and Sacrifice and symbolically eating Jesus’ body; and get to the Original Last Supper, which was just Jesus sharing Passover with his friends. But you can’t. If you scratch the surface of Matthew, Mark and Luke what you get to is Paul. If Paul was wrong about Jesus being the Saviour then everyone is wrong about everything and always has been. 

And then, further down, Fraser lays the cards which he has been palming very firmly on the table: 

For it remains the central task of the church to channel a story of massive emotional power, a story in which the freedom meal of Passover inspires an extraordinary act of non-violent resistance against the brutality of Roman occupation.

I think that the reason that Matthew, Mark and Luke place the Last Supper specifically at Passover is to underline the theological point that Jesus was the Lamb of God. Fraser thinks that it was historically factually a Passover meal. It may have been that as well. I'm more inclined to think that John is the one who sticks to the original historical sequence of events. He, Fraser, then invents off the top of his head something which isn't remotely hinted at in the Gospels or Paul or any Christian source: the idea that this meal “inspired an act of resistance against the Roman empire”? 

What happens in the story is that Jesus is arrested; tried for blasphemy by the religious authorities; and his death warrant is reluctantly rubber stamped by the secular governor. Yes, the story says that the religious authorities say “oh, didn’t we mention, he’s calling himself a King, sounds pretty anti-Roman to me” and that Pilate snarlingly hangs a sign saying “Jewish King” on the gallows, but the story says that Pilate didn’t know who Jesus was, didn’t think that he’d done anything wrong and wanted to let him off.

In what way can Jesus be said to have engaged in "non-violent resistance"? What revolution is the Last Supper meant to have inspired? How did it mitigate Roman brutality? Please don't tell me that Fraser believes in that old conspiracy theory about Jesus arranging his own crucifixion with the idea that the sight of a crucified messiah would cause all the Jews to rise up in rebellion against the Romans, but that the whole thing backfired horribly and the survivors had to come up with a story to make a macabre cock-up look like a great victory. Bigger men than him have made asses of themselves over that one.

Into this story is folded a dramatic re-imagining of God not as some alien force hovering above us, but as a human being fully alive, yet prepared to give of his life in the battle against inhumanity and darkness.

The Creed says For us men and our salvation he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary and was made man. I agree we could lose the “men” part; and apparently biologists still get confused by the “down” part; but I think most of us understand what this is saying whether we believe it or not. Is "God is re-imagined as a human being" a Guardian-friendly way of saying the same thing, or does it mean something different? 

Fraser’s words could be understood to mean that he does not believe in the incarnation as a thing which happened (God became a man) but thinks of it in terms of a change in the way people decided to think about God. But if what happened was that humans said “Let’s stop using the word God to refer to the unseen force that made the universe and use it instead to refer to exceptionally good human beings, such as, you know, that chap who tried to start a revolution and got crucified, what was his name?” then I struggle to see why we are even bothering to talk about Jesus. 

Again. It is possible that "prepared to give his life in the battle against inhumanity and darkness" is just a less vivid and less dramatic way of saying that there was none other good enough to pay the price of sin, he only could unlock the gate of heaven and let us in. But I very much fear that the "inhumanity and darkness" that Jesus gave his life for are merely the “inhumanity and darkness” of the nasty Roman empire — and by extension, whatever nasty political entity Fraser is worried about this week --  the City of London, fracking, the Internet etc etc etc. 

That would be my guess. I would guess that he believes that Jesus was a radical political thinker; that the Last Supper was in some sense a revolutionary call to arms; that the Crucifixion was in some obscure way an act of defiance against the political evil of the Roman empire; and that when Christians call Jesus "God" they are not saying that he is "God" — that would be ridiculous. They are merely saying something like "a radical lefty being tortured by a fascist state is in some sense the most admirable and praise-worthy thing it is possible to imagine."

Many years ago I attended a lecture by Don Cupitt at the University of York. Cupitt said nothing very interesting. When he had finished saying it, a friend of mine named Matt, who would have been leader of the Student Anarchist Society if the Student Anarchist Society believed in having leaders, raised his hand and said the following words. 

"I agree with nearly everything you have said this evening, but I do not understand why you put in terms of all this reactionary Christian bullshit."

I agree that you should respect and revere prisoners of conscience and people being killed for their beliefs. Many people think that in Mandela or MLK we find the best of the human race. Looking back at a story about how your community escaped from tyrants in the past is a very good way of inspiring them to escape from tyrants in the future. And I suppose it is just possible that letting a tyrant kill you in the most horrible way possible is a powerful way of winning the moral argument. (Me, I'm with Salman Rushdie on this one. I don't think letting the authorities torture you is the best form of revolution. I do think that that may be just what the authorities would like revolutionaries to believe.)

But all of that could be said in plain English. In a very real sense, what  do people like Fraser think is gained by putting it in terms of all that reactionary Christian bullshit?

A prolegomena to all future essays

when you write articles and journalism rather than scholarly papers sometimes you resort to short lively phrases to indicate the types of things you have in mind which in a more formal piece of writing might need qualifications for example if i wrote the man on the clapham omnibus i think you would know what i meant and wouldn't need to say ah but what about the woman and and hasn't the clapham omnibus been replaced by a tram and anyway who the hell calls them omnibusses any more

omnibum? omnipodes?


when I say church of england i probably mean mainstream unthreatening religious belief even though i know there are some nasty extreme wings of the church of england as well.

when I say radio 4 listener i prolly mean a sort of comfortable well educated middle class liberal english person EVEN THOUGH i know that some of the late night talk shows are quite racy and i once knew a poor person who liked nicholas parsons (there was a lady who liked nicholas parsons and also a parson who liked nicholas ladies)

when I say sun reader i mean a certain sort of tory voting working class ... oh god you know what i mean by sun reader

when I say mail reader i mean a racist

when I say guardian reader i mean a certain kind of academic theoretical left winger who worries a bit about ideological purity, say, checking up on whether his fruit comes from a country which traders with israel even though they print a variety of different opinions

by guardian writer i mean a person who writes in the guardian

similarly for middle class public schoolboy oxbridge type sussex university graduate hipster folkie comprehensive schoolboy tory lib dem hipie

i hop that i have not offended any one in any of those groups three of which i am included in myself