Angelheaded hipsters burning: poetry, censorship and animation – Howl

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,

dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix,

angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night,

who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat up smoking in the supernatural darkness of cold-water flats floating across the tops of cities contemplating jazz,

who bared their brains to Heaven under the El and saw Mohammedan angels staggering on tenement roofs illuminated,

who passed through universities with radiant eyes hallucinating Arkansas and Blake-light tragedy among the scholars of war,

who were expelled from the academies for crazy & publishing obscene odes on the windows of the skull,

who cowered in unshaven rooms in underwear, burning their money in wastebaskets and listening to the Terror through the wall...” from the opening of Howl, by Allen Ginsberg.

I was lucky enough to get an advance viewing of the upcoming film Howl, inspired by Beat poet Allan Ginsberg’s famous poem, one of the seminal verse works of the 20th century and a major counter-culture landmark (right back when even the idea of a counter-culture was a new thing). Interesting to the literati, I’m sure, but some of you might wonder why I’m talking about it on the blog here. Well the film by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman has an interlaced three-part structure, intercutting between 50s style ‘documentary’ footage of James Franco (Milk, Spider-Man) as Ginsberg and the court battle when reactionary forces in American society attempted to have Howl banned from print as ‘obscene’. Linking these two strands is the third element: some wonderful animation based on the artwork and designs of acclaimed artist Eric Drooker.

How much the resulting collage will appeal to you will, I suspect, depend to some extent on your appetite for poetry (I love it, but I know a lot of people don’t care for it, which is a shame, it’s a different way of looking at the universe, like magic is to science, or jazz to Classical music). Verse is always best read out; when it is read out the voice accentuates the rhythm and life inherent in good poetry. It floats like fine jazz, conjuring imagery and emotions out of your mind, linking them, making them flow and intersect and cross-breed to spark off more images and emotions. The faux-documentary scenes of young Ginsberg reading Howl for the first time to a live audience throb with creative energy (Franco does a terrific job), but for me it was the reading of the poetry over Drooker’s animation that really worked. Animation, poetry and jazz all combining, sometimes with literal (or at least semi-literal) interpretations of the lines, at other times more symbolic in nature, dreamlike, or sometimes a dark dream, semi nightmare (for some reason it occasionally made me flash back to some of the dreamlike animated scenes in Waltz With Bashir), the animated form offers up a far superior visual compliment to the poetry than live action ever could.

The court case scenes are based on actual records and alongside the famous UK court battle a decade later over Lady Chatterly’s Lover (also for ‘obscenity’) it marks an extremely important moment in the post-war Western world where artistic freedom and freedom of speech won out over the older, more conservative, reactionary forces in society; even if you’ve never read a poem in your life Howl and the victory publisher City Lights scored in those 1950s courts have had an impact on anyone who reads or who enjoys art, because it not only broke artistic boundaries, it helped secure the primacy of the freedom of speech, that element of any democratic society that any reader holds most dear. It’s an intriguing film and for me Drooker’s art (and the work of the rest of the animation team drawing from his designs) hold the other aspects of the film together, allowing the film-makers to indulge in something other than the straight biopic you might expect (and which would never have suited a work as unusual as Howl).

HarperCollins published a graphic novel of Howl with Drooker’s artwork recently with art similar to what you will see in the film; the film of Howl itself opens in the UK on February 25th.

Censortwat

Itunes software screwed up recently – like many sites there is censoring software to ‘protect us’ and like many sites using this garbage it screws up regularly (so all sorts of harmless files or websites get censored or blocked). Danny Kaye’s “I thought I saw a pussycat” had pussycat turned into p***ycat, while, even more ridiculously the ‘Killer’ part of Queen’s Killer Queen was censored, so was Johnny Cash’s Christian name and the word ‘teen’ in Smells Like Teen Spirit. As the BBC notes ‘killer’ was censored while ‘murder’ was allowed through by the software. Well f**k me, if that isn’t the dumbest piece of s**t.

British Olympic Association climbs down on censorship claim

There had been worries recently that the contract British athletes being included in the national team for the Bejing Olympics had been reworded to censor what those athletes may say publicly about the dire state of human rights or politics in the host nation China. The BOA has now apparently clarified this position saying that while it is normal Olympic practise to inform competing athletes that they cannot use the Games as a political platform neither is the BOA in the business of trying to censor what its athletes speak about – they can talk to journalists, answer questions and so on, just not decide to use their position at the Games to stage a protest or demonstration, something which comes from the International Olympic rules. The British Athletes Commission seems to accept this adding that it is the sport which is paramount and that they are going to compete, not to demonstrate.

Which is fair enough, as far as it goes, since that is indeed what they are supposed to do. But I can’t help but wonder if the Games weren’t being held in a nation with an appalling record in human rights abuses, lack of civil liberties, environmental pillaging and few freedoms then this wouldn’t be an issue to begin with. Part of the argument for having the Games there though is that somehow it will magically make the Chinese government more accountable, allowing more freedoms and liberties – the same argument is used by giant corporations like Google and Microsoft for working with the Chinese government, then self-censoring to suit that totalitarian regime and even, allegedly, giving access to web records to track down and silence those bloggers who post opinions considered ‘dissident’. Yay for the spread of freedom by example!!!

Its an old refrain of capitalism that it promotes freedom because those are the circumstances it flourishes best in and where political argument fails to persuade those in power money and successful business might. But that’s an experiment we’re still waiting to see a definitive result on – there may be some more freedoms in China today but equally there are a lot of repressive measures, so the jury is well out on how successfully the market and giving them the Games has worked – it may have helped a bit, but it certainly hasn’t transformed the country to a land of freedom. On the Olympians front though, if an athlete does feel very strongly that an international coming together of nations shouldn’t be staged in a country where the regime denies basic freedoms, liberties and human rights then perhaps they should consider if they should take part in the Games being held there?

Because I doubt the Games will magically make things better – we’re talking about a regime, after all, who when visiting London criticised their UK government hosts for ‘allowing’ people to protest their visit, that’s the attitude they have – they think democratic countries should muzzle free speech critical of them. So I am left wondering if athletics organisations saying that the staging of the Games in China will somehow help improve that country’s lamentable record is less wishful thinking than a fig leaf to their own conscience to justify going there – honest I am not just going because I want to take part in the Olympics regardless, I really believe being there will help the people of China. Honest. Okay, perhaps that is pretty cynical, but I find it is hard not to be cynical about the whole thing. (source: the BBC)

Canadian comics banned in middle of Fringe performance

The Evening News tells of The Underground Comedy Invasion, comics from Canada, who have been performing at the Three Tuns pub, who were stopped in the middle of a show by a senior member of staff and ejected, their Fringe run there canceled. Apparently they had told jokes about child abuse, which is certainly in bad taste, but part of humour, especially underground humour, is to broach subjects which we might often find uncomfortable and distasteful – one of my comedy heroes, the great George Carlin has always stood up for that principle, where he says bollocks to anyone telling him there is any subject he can’t make jokes about because the jokes are a way of talking about something, they don’t imply support for something or condoning it – in other words a joke about something doesn’t mean you are saying yeah, let’s do it for real, nor should a joke be confused with reality since telling a joke is not the same thing as doing something. And really, you agreed to host some underground comics for the Fringe then you act outraged when they tell jokes you don’t approve of??? Er, what a shock, distasteful humour in a Fringe stand-up show… Besides which, the altercation – seen on the video below – seems to have come about not when the comedians repeated the joke but when they tried to talk about how the management had told them not to repeat the joke – so telling the joke is a no-no and telling the audience that you aren’t allowed to tell a particular joke is also apparently a no-no, which regardless of the content of the original joke seems a bit damned stupid to me.

Obviously this short clip is taken out of context, but the staff member comes across rather badly in it, just steaming in to shut the comic up as he tries to explain he can’t tell a joke because he’s been ordered not to, while the staff member also seems to confuse the joke with reality, shouting at audience members (his customers!) do you want your kids fingered??? Er, no-one is doing anything to kids there, man, you were talking about a fucking joke – this is like the cobblers in the media when Chris Morris did his Brass Eye special on child abuse, where he was showing how attitudes in the public and media go crazy over anything to do with it, precluding discussion in favour of extreme reaction. I doubt any of the comics are really trying to promote child abuse, this is a comedy act using bad taste and uncomfortable subject matter, but then so do a lot of comics, its a legitimate area for comics to explore. And asking them not to cover a subject in your venue is the right of the manager, of course, but then trying to shut them up when they tell folk about being gagged is just being OTT. Jeez, if we banned every comedian who told a joke that might be offensive to someone we’d never tell a bloody joke again anywhere (another point Carlin makes well). You know, instead of being grossly offended, if I find a comic’s material to be offensive and/or unfunny I don’t demand their head, I just don’t laugh – let them stand there in silence on stage. Not gag them. Then tell them not to mention the gag and equate that with actual abuse.

Gag that cartoonist

Yvonne sent me a link to this Daily Dilbert by Scott Adams, which I am guessing may refer to the recent case of the cartoonist Matt who works on the webcomic Three Panel Soul with Ian who was fired from a government job because he and a colleague were talking about hobbies and he said he enjoys paper target shooting. As R Stevens from Dieselsweeties notes, he wasn’t talking about guns and people, shooting people or anything of that nature, in fact he was saying he thought it would be good to have guns which would be harder to use to keep people safe. He was fired because his colleagues are now apparently scared of him.

That may sound like nonsense to some who will be thinking hey, he must have done something else, but given that since Columbine a number of US schools have expelled kids who have done nothing wrong except wear a black duster coats (thus probably alienating the kids and giving them a real grieveance to hold, ironically) and an English major at college was harassed by campus police because he had written a horror story so the dumb-ass rentacops on campus assumed he must be a homicidal maniac, and suddenly it looks a lot more plausible. The great American official logic at work – don’t do anything to control access to weapons, just fire people you don’t like; of course, if Matt was a violent gun nut then surely this would have provoked him to march down to his ex employer and shoot all the former co-workers who got him fired??? Behold the one thing scarier than nutters with guns – the average fucking idiot…

But as Yvonne points out, this Dilbert cartoon also has a certain resonance to something closer to home, about a certain bookselling blogger fired by his version of Dilbert’s Pointy Haired Boss, Evil Boss and his equally Evil Sandals, for mocking him and, of course, by firing him allowing him to step up the mocking to outright Defcon One Intercontinental Ballistic Lampooning launches. Stupidity rules, alas, but at least we can take the piss out those stupid smeggers!

Filming in the Gardens

I was asked recently to do another interview about blogging for an upcoming TV programme. They wanted to avoid the normal static interview so opted for asking me questions while walking alongside me with a camera in Princes Street Gardens, which was fine, except being a sunny, spring day the place was full and, not unnaturally, everyone was looking at us (is it for the telly? Who is he?). I’m pretty far from shy but neither am I a total extrovert (regardless of what some folks think! I think I am a bit of an introverted extrovert actually, which, if it sounds like a contradiction in terms is fine, because I’ve always enjoyed being one of those) but jeez, talk about self-conscious! This is why I much prefer doing radio (plus I have a good body for radio) or being on the other side of the camera.

Anyway, it seemed to go well and I managed to forget about everyone watching us as I got onto my High Horse and discussed freedom of expression in blogging and tried to relate it to the growing culture of censorship we seem to be experiencing from governments and corporations alike. How much of it ends up in the cut I have no idea, although the folks making it did tell me they had interviewed someone at the LSE before coming to see me and he had apparently been interested in seeing my interview because that case still comes up; I quite liked the idea of my overly-opinionated blog posts being referenced in an academic essay, it appealed to the part of me that is the Eternal Student (frankly I’d be happy spending half my life studying one degree after the other if it was feasible, purely for the pleasure of learning and applying it). It does all make me wonder what my old computer mediated communications lecturer would make of it all; I’m sure Mad Dog McMurdo would probably find it amusing.

Apart from some mild embarrassment though it seemed to go quite well and they will let me know once it is all put together, etc. Not sure I actually want to see it since frankly I avoid being in pictures for the most part, but I know my mum will want to see her wee boy on the screen; before anyone asks, I am not available to join other Z-list celebs on I’m A Talentless Twat Get Me Out of Here or Big Brother, although I am available to kiss Shilpa Shetty. Talking of which, how mad was that reaction to a very showbiz kiss? I’m told that public kissing is frowned upon in much of India; I know one shouldn’t disrespect different cultures, but burning effigies because someone kissed in public? Good grief, get over yourselves you stupid, uptight numpties!!! Can this really be the land that gave us the Kama Sutra?!!? And you just know most of the guy burning those effigies and professing outrage at this kiss would bloody love to get a chance to snog Shilpa, hypocritical tossers.

Funny thing was, as we were setting up to film I got a phone call from my Norwegian friend Vidar; by coincidence he and his friend were lying on the grass in the Gardens enjoying the sun and nursing hangovers and had spotted us, so I went off to join them afterwards. When they asked us what it was I told them we were location scouting for a new Scottish porno movie “Tossing the Caber”, but alas these days I suspect I would be relegated to a bit part (mind you, depending what bit it could still be interesting). Since it was a warm, sunny evening I ended up doing the Annual Rite of Spring, which involves paying homage to the return of the Earth Goddess in the time honoured Celtic tradition (we went to the Pear Tree and sat out in the huge, cobbled beer garden for some al fresco drinking).

Blogging anniversary

Bobbie Johnson wrote a feature in the Guardian at the weekend celebrating the tenth anniversary of blogging (ironically just as I was celebrating the fourth birthday of the Woolamaloo blog), running through various events, from the first blogs, to the appearance of Boing Boing, politicians joining the blogosphere, blogs from inside Iraq, regimes trying to censor blog and imprison their writers, the first high profile ‘doocing‘, the recent case in France with Petite Anglaise (who I’m glad to see won her case against her employers) and hey, what do you know, a mention of myself and a certain sandal-wearing Evil Boss at the Bookstore That Shall Not Be Named. Funny old world. The Guardian, along with the Scotsman, was one of the first print newspapers to pick up on that case, here it is a couple of years on still being mentioned there.

Who was that masked man?

Channel 4 News tonight carried the frankly scary story of masked private security guards garbed in black, black masks raised over their faces to create an anonymous and threatening-looking appearance, going up to British citizens on a public road in a public space along with a pinstripe suited lawyer and violating their freedom of speech, freedom of expression and clearly, to my mind, violating the freedom of the press. Locals in the area of Radley Lakes have objected to shameless energy company Npower chopping down trees and planning to use the nearby lake for a spot to dump waste ash from their power station in. Many locals have objected and been ignored, a study into the impact is under way but Npower are just carrying right on with their task while it goes on so the study will be academic. Worst of all these creep security guards who look like a cross between something from a totalitarian regime and a masked Old West bandits and the corporate lawyer have persuaded a judge to grant an injunction, based largely on some anonymous witness statements with no actual cross examination which has banned even accredited journalists from taking photographs in public spaces to cover issues which are clearly in the public interest based on little to no proper evidence.

Masked, black suited, menacing looking guards who spent most of the C4 report denying citizens and reporters their basic rights while happily filming everyone present themselves; the injunction the foolish judge gave the company on their flimsy ‘evidence’ (supposedly to protect staff, although so far no-one has proved there was any real threat) is so vague that apparently just watching the report means the viewer is also injuncted! How ridiculous is that? I’m glad C4 News reported on this because I hadn’t heard of this until tonight and from what the usually highly dependable C4 team said other large corporations are using similar dirty tricks with corporate lawyers who would be at home working for Monty Burns and their own private rent-a-cops around the UK. I find myself getting irate quite often at some reports on the news, but this made me bloody furious, that some large company would not only ignore their local residents but then use a mixture of lawyer’s tricks and sinister, masked security to violate one of our most precious freedoms. Npower, you are utterly despicable and shameless. Editorial Photographers UK has some more on this story.

Banning words

Some librarians in the US have decided to ban a new kid’s book despite the fact that the book – The Higher Power of Lucky – has just won the prestigious Newberry Medal. Why? Well because of one word in the book – ‘scrotum’. Yup, that’s a good reason for librarians to censor what books are available… Bad enough numpties demand books be pulled from libraries because stories of wizards might lead their kids into Satanism (it won’t, that’s we have good old rock’n'roll for) or that schools should ban Fahrenheit 451, but it is incredibly sad to me to hear about fellow book professionals indulging in this, they should hand in their cardigans in shame.

Outraged shocker

In a shocking piece of news some parts of the Islamic world have been insulted and outraged at something. Yes, I know, I didn’t see that happening since they it is such an easy going religion of laid back and tolerant people. Actually this looks like one of those completely manufactured stories where someone with an agenda has whipped up a media outrage, laughably over the designer Apple 5th Avenue story in New York which is a similar shape to the Ka’ba, but the report the Register had gave me a giggle today because you can so easily believe that some bunch of numpties in green headscarves would march about shouting over something like this and burning an effigy of an Ipod. In fact they may even be offended that I infered they might be offended. And that last statement is no doubt offensive to certain sections of Islam too. And that one. Hmmm, better stop now.

Conservative small towner outraged shocker

Meanwhile over in the land of the free some small towners in America have been outraged by that insult to deceny which is freedom of expression. One total eejit demanded the removal of a book which was full of bad language (no, of course he didn’t read it). The book was … wait for it… Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. For added irony he wanted to ban a book about banned books while the American libraries were running their Banned Books promotion (because everyone in the booktrade believes solidly in freedom of expression. Except perhaps on blogs). Meanwhile I mentioned an ongoing story on the FPI blog about yet another bunch of small-minded, small town yokels who are demanding their local library stop peddling porno filth in the form of two adult graphic novels, Fun Home by Alison Bechdel and Blankets by Craig Thompson.

Both are critically acclaimed works aimed squarely at adults but apparently ‘children might read them’ Yeah, and kids might find Uncle Fred’s S&M Donkey Shagging porno stash too. Or sticking with the library they might find books on sex in the health section.They aren’t in the kid’s section, so what is the problem? If you are letting your tiny tot wander round picking up and reading anything don’t blame the librarians (or booksellers as I have had personal experience of this crap here too myself) it’s your job as a parent to look after your little sprog, not to police other adults. Alison’s book I haven’t had a chance to read yet, but Blankets is a fabulous book and far from being pornographic is actually very touching and sweet. And these people are outraged that the library spent public money buying these books. Well guess what? The public libraries buy religious books which I don’t approve of and mind-rotting inane potboiler thrillers and slushy romances too, all of which I think are a waste of paper but I don’t go round demanding the libraries stop buying them. I’d just poke fun at the braindead morons who find these things intellectually stretching.

Conflicted by denial

David Irving (I refuse to give him the honorific of ‘historian’) has been jailed by an Austrian court for Holocaust denial, a crime in both Austria and Germany. I’m more than a little conflicted, I have to confess – I loathe this odious little apologist for Nazis and genocide (the shame being that apparently once upon a time he was a pretty good and knowledgeable historian) but although I despise people who persist in this fantasy of Holocaust denial it also troubles me that it is a crime punishable by jail (although obviously this is an offence with more troubling resonance for citizens in Austria and Germany than for most other nations, excepting Isreal).

It is pretty hard, if not impossible, to believe solidly in the freedom of expression if that freedom is not afforded to those who we not only disagree with but actively despise. And those of us in the bookselling trade have special reason to dislike this man, over and above his despicable lies on the Holocaust: when booksellers (including some of my colleagues in my former employer years back) refused to stock his books he launched court actions against them. Not the shops, the individual booksellers in those shops. Fortunately the company put up lawyers and he was laughed out of court. He continued to shuffle sadly around the country preaching to right wing fantasists and attempting to sell copies of his books from the back of his car and being abusive to bookstaff who said they had little interest in stocking it. Perhaps that is in itself a mild form of censorship, but booksellers should be able to decide that there are certain books they do not want to sell without fear of litigation from bullies.

Then he attacked Deborah Lipstadt (he has a history of using the courts to bully people) and found that she and her publisher Penguin were prepared to go the whole nine yards in a British court with him. He lost the libel case and was officially labelled a Holocaust Denier by a British judge, meaning we could all now apply this to him without him suing us. I ordered in a pile of Deborah’s book and we sold a ton of it – Irving was bankrupted and as such unable to run a new book company. His right wing chums stepped in to help by reprinting his tat on his behalf. Sad enough, but they also employed dishonest advertising, including taking pictures of Hitler and his senior staff used on one of the covers and arranging a picture so it looked as if they were standing around a table in a bookstore of my former employer, making it look as if they were behind his book, which they most certainly were not – nor were they happy to have their logo co-opted in this way. Gives you more of an idea of the sort of person you are dealing with, doesn’t it?

But I don’t like the notion of making the expression of a distasteful idea against the law; it is in essence what Tony Blair is trying to ram through Parliament right now with his ‘glorification of terror’ clause, which is vague and could mean almost anything, potentially threatening books, newspaper articles, books, TV, film and stand-up comedians with a possible legal attack. And it is pointless – it is not needed to tackle people such as Hamza who was recently convicted without such legislation or the creeps who marched in London after the Danish cartoons with placards which called for the beheading of those who mocked Islam or for Europe to be punished by terrorist attacks; these are all crimes under existing legislation. Even someone like me who believes in freedom of expression draws the line at people who call for harm to another and this is already dealt with under law – Blair’s new addition would create such a vague potential threat it would restrict free speech on important issues for no gain in security.

Farrah Mendlesohn, a well respected critic and writer in the SF community is so irritated that she is putting her own time and money into a new anthology of stories which would all fall foul of this new law if it goes through. And that’s what we do in a free society – we do not say we are free to speak as long as we don’t offend anyone or say something most people know to be false; no we engage in debate, write articles and books and demonstrate to those people and to society at large how wrong they are and why they are wrong. Details of Farrah’s project can be found here on Notes From Coode Street.

Still, it was hard not to smirk when Irving got sent down today; he reversed his previous claims that the Holocaust was a myth in order to weasel out of his charges. He knew when he travelled to Austria that he had an outstanding warrent for this offence from years previously, so it seems obvious he assumed either he would not be charged or he would be charged but not jailed, thus reaping the publicity and esteem he craves but which his ridiculous books have made impossible from most historical readers or academics. He told Channel 4 News earlier that he had booked a first class ticket home on a plane for this evening, so cocky was the little sod. So it is rewarding to see such a weasely and smug little git falling on his own face – and because of his own arrogance. But again I’m not happy about the restriction by law on anyone’s freedom of expression, even little creeps like him. Freedom of expression, like freedom of all types, is a double-edged sword, but one which must be applied equally to all or it is no freedom at all.

Rock and Roll

There’s been a ton of stuff online about nasty copy protection mechanisms by various manufacturers, from Tivo-type stuff controlling what you can record to the farce that was Sony’s secret use of software on many of their CDs which then installed to purchaser’s computers wihtout their knowledge (and a grudgingly issued un-install they offered which left those computers more vulnerable to internet attack than a new Windows OS). The latest to act like complete numpties are Coldplay, doing their best to show how truly rock and roll their attitude is (and even better, according to Boing Boing’s article, you can’t read these warning terms until you buy the damned CD!). Coldplay? Don’t play it, I say.