The stupidity of some school authorities

The BBC reports on a young lad, Rhys Johnson, who shaved his head to raise funds for a charity cancer. He raised several hundred pounds – and got disciplined by Milford Haven School. Why? Because his shaved head contravenes the school’s dress code. Seriously?

For starters do the authorities as Milford Haven School know this is 2013 and not 1813? I can understand some school regulations on appearance but find it hard to believe they are this Victorian-minded on things like a student’s hair. I’m not aware of any serious academic studies proving a link between follicle length of adolescents and cognitive abilities. I’d imagine they think this sort of petty rule enforcement ‘makes better, more disciplined students’. In fact it pretty much tends to make most schoolkids think their teachers are buffoons and idiots who delight in imposing inane rules just to annoy their powerless young charges and makes it more likely they will grow up with a strong distrust of authority figures (mind you, that is not a bad thing!). And then to enforce the letter of this rule even in a case like this? This shows astonishing inflexibility and utter stupidity from those in charge at that school. A young boy does something to help raise money for charity, to do something good, school punishes him for it. Way to teach a valuable lesson there, you utter, moronic, rule-bound idiots.

Some 250 of his fellow students walked out in protest at this injustice – the school authorities say they are “disappointed” at their actions. Again, really? Disappointed that so many of your student body saw what they perceive to be an injustice and stood up publicly with their fellows to make a stand against it? Excuse me, but aren’t those the sort of values we want to teach our children??? Do something to make the world a bit better, see injustice and stand up in opposition to it. Good for Rhys, good for his fellow students, utter shame on the hidebound, inflexible fools who are supposedly educating them.

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.

CNN

You may recall that a few weeks ago I recorded an interview for CNN for a programme on the freedom of expression online. I haven’t actually heard from them since then as to when the programme was going out, but this morning my chum George got in touch to send me this link to CNN’s page, where, lo and behold, there is an article based on some of the interviews in the programme, including myself. I do hope this doesn’t mean I’ve missed the programme!

My friend Cheryl, on reading this, sent me a link to an interesting related item where Brian Turner is facing a possible court case by a nasty company who want to sue his company and him personally over comments by disappointed customers of that company on his discussion forum. Nothing derogatory, just complaints from unsatisfied customers – however this company seems to think that customers are not  allowed to make comments and anyone who allows them should be bullied (and let’s face it, that’s what this is – bullying people and abusing their freedom of expression). Good luck to you, Brian, but a shame you need to go through this. As I said on the CNN interview, one of the biggest threats to our freedom of expression online today isn’t from governmental interference but from corporations. Corporations that haven’t realised that this kind of action backfires on them because it will line them up for ridicule and criticism online and that isn’t going to help you get new customers.

Democratic

Didn’t you just love the fine and stirring sight of an elderly man being roughly manhandled out of the Labour Party conference today for daring to attempt to raise an objection to Blair’s policy on Iraq? Truly our leaders and their party worship at the twin temples of Democracy and Freedom of Speech…

Even better the police used the hastily rushed through anti-terror laws to keep the 82 year old Walter Wolfgang from re-entering the conference, despite the fact he is rather obviously not a terrorist (although we know the police have great difficulty in telling who is a real terrorist – perhaps he is lucky they didn’t just shoot him) and has been a Labour Party member for several decades.

Labour have now apologised for the heavy handed removal but I’m moved to wonder if they would have made such an apology if it wasn’t for the fact that cameras caught their flunkies bodily handling an octogenerian party member from the auditorium and shown it on national television. Pretty embarassing stuff, but hardly unexpected to see that Blair’s party cannot even listen to criticism on the war (they earlier blocked on MP’s attempts to have a debate on the war – Tony showing again that he really values the opinion of the British citizens). To rub salt in the wound they also threw out another party member who dared to object to the treatment of this elderly man.

Blair ignored huge amounts of MPs and millions of those who marched against the war and now his conference flunkies stymie debate on it and bodily manhandle elderly delegates out for trying to speak. What next, Tony? Next time maybe you’ll just have the offending person arrested and held for weeks without trial? Maybe we can build a camp on one of the deserted islands of the West Coast of Scotland and hold a whole bunch of micscreants there who are a threat to security? Nah, surely not – no civilised nation would hold people without trial or lock them up without charge on an isolated island… Oh…

And as an interesting addendum to this travesty, Newsnight observed that it took five hours for Labour to apologise for Mr Wolfgang’s rough treatment but they still haven’t apologised to Steve Forrest, a local party chairman who had merely remonstrated with the overly steroidal-looking thugs for their ridiculous treatment of an old man. And watching the footage I’m also wondering – couldn’t Mr Wolfgang sue the stewards for assault? They have no right to physically handle him in that way; hell staff in stores are told not to touch shoplifters if possible because it could be taken as assault. I’d love to see him take Labour to court for assault and for denying his rights to the freedom of speech and expression. Democracy in action. What a fine example to set to the youth of Britain – if someone is bothering you get some large apes to physically deal with them on your behalf. This from the government who is committed to stamping out ‘yobbish’ behaviour…