Tag Archives: America

1549 Kett’s Rebellion

During my Robin Hood phase, and unable to get to Sherwood Forest, I went to Nottinghamshire, and then to woods where other rebels gathered. Those woods have just been the backdrop to a play on the anniversary of that gathering, in Norwich.

And again, I’m led to decisive historic moments and battlers for justice. I haven’t forgotten Eliot’s Dorothea and Will – the more gentle kind of battlers – and I’ll pop up my article on their story shortly. I’m also returning to that famous forest so they’ll be more about Robin et al too.

But let me stay with Robert Kett – perhaps a name you don’t know, unlike Robin, or Boudicca, or Braveheart – our best known British freedom fighters, who’ll need little explanation, wherever you are reading this from. But Kett has much in common with all these. Perhaps he is Norfolk’s Robin. And let me link Kett, as the play did, with our current climate.

I’m not going to analyse the pantomime-like play, but its theme. The oft sung song reminded us that although the setting was nearly 500 years ago, it ‘could be any time’ – and ours. The mayor was doing a David Cameron impression. The mean ‘nobs’ all from the same school administered cuts to welfare and bullied plebs in a very familiar way.

*

The piece of news that I’m most thinking about from the last few days is the police shootings in America. I feel a little intrepid to comment, for it’s emotive and needs to be expressed well.

What I will say is that the  events at the Dallas protest turned the focus from the shootings by the police to the shootings of the police. I note that there was 1 officer for every 8 people at that demo, which is heavy. And that the demo which followed involved the police using smoke against the people.

The brutality of the killings – and sorry ‘fatal shootings’ won’t do – and the disproportion of the police’s reaction to the situations – over motor offences! –  has made me livid. I join those (isn’t that the whole world?) calling for justice and the curtailing of armed police and this heavy, ugly way of dealing with the public. A public who pay for the services of those who should be keeping us safe – but instead are unjust instruments of the establishment, and from whom we can be in danger.

I think many of us must feel that our growing resentment for the police, wherever we are, has been augmented by these shocking not even lone incidents.

I abhor that black people were the victims of these killings. It wasn’t hard to learn the names of the most recent ones – Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. But I noted that the day before, two more American young men were killed by the police, yet they are less talked about – I struggled to find their names. These both were from Latino heritage. It is significant that they too aren’t white – but also that the African Americans garnered the greatest attention.

Surely ‘Black Lives Matter’ should be ALL lives matter? I hope that’s a given.

There’s also a lesser known “Brown Lives Matter” movement.

I felt a huge de ja vu last night at the play, watching the king’s forces rush to stop the rebels in Norwich, who were slaughtered in battle or executed. Like the events of recent days, the aggrieved side, however we might understand their aggrievement, did things to their aggressors which I couldn’t condone.

But I did note that Kett’s army took England’s second city for a time. I know Bristol and York will want to squeal at this point ‘We were England’s second city!’ Can’t we share that title? But isn’t the point not a petty division (watch for those) but the empowering thought that people can hold a major city from the establishment.

Did the people of Norwich in 1549 feel any safer with the mob at the helm; was that their definition of democracy?

When I look at all those iconic historic symbols of independence, there’s a sadness that their effects were not only curtailed, but that were are still facing those issues, centuries later.

But did they fail? Should we give up trying to change the fact that, as the chorus sung last night “the many serve the few” and that the rich and powerful’s minority interest continue to crush everyone else?

No and no I do not. I do take hope from the fact that these names of freedom fighters are remembered and commemorated. We’re not cheering the mayors and earls who routed Kett’s group, we remember him.

Last night, we lit a beacon on a hill overlooking the city to not only remember the 3000 killed and hundreds hung in Kett’s rebellion, but all those who have struggled against oppression and still do – and feel under it. It was an exciting moment, to see the flames sweep in way I’ve never seen fire do before, to join with cheers and a banner.

Although not mentioned, we were asking and committing to the kind of world that Robin Hood, Boudicca, Braveheart and Robert Kett stood for coming into being. We are wanting a world which is against austerity, against unfair private ownership, and where the brutality of police and other law enforcers (what a phrase!) and the prejudice behind these recent incidents is history. We wish for justice and for reform – the sort that Will Ladislaw of Middlemarch wanted, the peaceful kind.

There was irony that I realised that no-one other than those at the play could see the beacon, despite its prominent position. Even knowing where to look, as I left Kett’s Heights I could just make out a tiny orange glow between trees.

It was also ironic that given this was a play about power to the people, the city council had to give permission for the beacon to be lit. A council that has many failings – lack of accountability and support to the vulnerable and providing basic reliable services; making heavy licensing laws which involve police in civil liberty abuses – but which also hung its flag at half mast for the recent homophobic shootings in Orlando.

Robert Kett, like Robin of Locksley, was one of the rich who instead of squashing the poor rebelling at his gate, joined and led them. In the play, the Mayor changed sides and opinions.

Out of the many warrior princes and princesses I admire, there is one who comes to mind who insisted on never killing, never using unreasonable force, and who stopped wars with love. She saw that forgiveness and change were more powerful than routing enemies. She saw too that the most powerful way to create change was through mind changing – and I add, heart changing.

I refer to my last post and that wonderful quote of Caroline Lucas, ‘where hope is powerful than hate’ – even when we feel we have a just cause; and that healing and uniting communities is more important than demarcation of difference, even self defining; brothers (and sisters) before otherness.

And as Kett’s county’s police motto says – we all need to feel our police’s priority is us.

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US Things To Give Thanks For

I’m not American, but I wanted to use today as an excuse to reflect on all the things I do like about America. So here’s my favourite exports:

Wonder Woman

Clearly a much delayed role model, I talk about her on here. My favourite superhero, making hawks doves, though a little underdressed for this time of year

Sesame Street

The subversive kid’s show I didn’t appreciate till I had come of age. Witty, surreal, clever and hilarious. Milllllk!

Neale Donald Walsch

I have to acknowledge his place on my spiritual journey, turning the boat from the Mayflower to…this is where my boat knowledge lets down the metaphor… Magical Mystery Tour? Rainbow Warrior?… not quite either of those… but a ship willing to include a new path and wider crew, and some radical thoughts about the captain

Jo Dunning

My favourite spiritual speaker and healer right now. I love to tune into her monthly Quick Pulse seminar, even though it involves staying up til 2am due to time differences. Jo’s voice is calm and truthful and I’ve been very impressed with her – I’d not normally believe some of the things she offers, but something in my gut says I can trust her

Elaine Aron

Elaine represents a whole load of things that would only come out of America, but the rest of the world needs. Normally I would resist such a statement, but I’m only doing grateful today. I’m glad that America has identified things that some other cultures would never name or explore and champion. Elaine has a trait she has called Highly Sensitive Person, which she sees as neutral-positive that explains why some people can be overwhelmed. There are many things implicit in this about growth and acceptance that I think some of American culture can be good at encouraging and addressing.

The Constitution

Sadly not what it’s living by, but a beautiful and inspiring piece to nations everywhere – and I like being built, like Camelot (as per recent post) on an idea

Sasha Cagen

She who founded the Quirkyalone movement whose blog posts are wise and inspiring, celebratory of full personhood, of sensuality, of singleness, and seeking the very best of relationships

My US friends

My life has been touched by various Americans, I have some in particular in mind at present. They’ll get personal messages.

 

I shall eat sweet potatoes tonight in your honor with and without a U!

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First Knight – Disneyland, Man Love and 2 Marys

These are three of the main thoughts I have after reviewing this film 19 years after its release, when it quickly became and stayed a favourite film.

Criticisms slipped in, but then I realised that what I thought were faults were actually hints of a different reading.

It is easy to see how beautiful, wise, good Guinevere wins the hearts of two men. But I never felt either really deserved her or were right for her. I also had trouble seeing the love between her and Arthur. I note Guinevere lost her father within the year and has only older men as companions – such as Oswald who keeps calling her “child” (far more bearable in Cold Comfort Farm), in Jacob, and then Arthur. Her mum isn’t mentioned, and nor are siblings. Ladies in waiting are given non speaking roles, and are a minimal presence. I hate Freudian missing parent theories, but Guinevere’s love for Arthur does seem to be similar to the love she may’ve felt for her late Dad: a deferent and quiet passion, unafraid but not quite equal, and not a sexual love. When Arthur greets his bride on the hill over Camelot, he arranges a military show to make an entrance, though it is not a public event (a grand debut was in Connery’s contract, but it undermines the relationship). They do not rush to greet each other, even though she’s suffered an attack en route, but he debonairly takes her hand as one would a political ally or dance partner. When they speak about their marriage the next day, there’s no physical contact until Guinevere gets out his scratch on his hand. Even when she is rescued from Malagant’s lair, the embrace there could almost be converted to beloved child and father. We never see a love scene or any other passionate kiss. At his death bed, I fail to see the look of love that Arthur notes is missing; this is again a daughterly sorrow at yet another older man leaving her.

Note he speaks of the love of Guinevere as sweetness, not passion, not a soulmate.

I felt we needed more to believe in this marriage, supposedly a love match, but I wonder if it is meant to be a will (not heart) powered steady devotion – a paraphrase of what she says to Arthur when she is discovered with Lancelot.

Lancelot appeals to the physical, courageous side of otherwise intense and sensible Guinevere, who’s already having to run kingdoms on her own as Lady of Lyonnesse. Guinevere, who wishes to live and die there (so having a great sense of settling), has been born into duty, no doubt with finery – though she says he’s taught not to put faith in it. Here comes a man without home or finery, a man who speaks his desires – but doesn’t act until the lady asks – ie gives not only her permission but initiates. He is not the body man of Lehman and Hunt’s sex obsessed essay on Titanic – the contrast is less crude than a physical macho hunk, for Lancelot is polite (compared with Mr Turner in my next post) and unthreatening. He doesn’t care about hierarchy and I think that’s what shocks Guinevere at the first rescue as much as his implication that he’d like a sexual thank you: because for him, pretty women are no better if they’re dairy maids or ladies, and he doesn’t care about monetary rewards. He’s not suddenly deferential when he learns who she is – why should saving a lady be more gratifying for him? Once I stopped expecting Lancelot to be a particular kind of man, I accepted him better.

Guinevere, like Rose in Titanic, is an action heroine. When we first see her, she’s playing a vigorous football game – foreshadowing Jennifer Elhe’s Elizabeth Bennet which came out in the UK a few months later – who is also corporeal and enjoys physical exercise (particularly under Andrew Davies interpretation). Guinevere doesn’t wield an axe like Rose, but she does escape being hacked The Shining style by one into her carriage. Like an agile Western hero, she grips unseen to the running boards and throws her world be assassin off the careering carriage, before leaping and rolling from it, then lying low and making a well judged sprint. She kills a man with a crossbow at short range. Later, she rides a spirited horse considered unsuitable for a lady by the king’s horseman, without a lady saddle; she throws a kidnapper off the boat; she has the nous to put a scrap of her dress on a tree as a breadcrumb trail to her rescuers; she twirls on a bridge over an abyss, she leaps over a waterfall and swims in the rapids.

But in all those examples, Guinevere swaps from Grace Kelly in Rear Window – remaining feminine but active – to distressed damsel. I note a powerful man – not a generic enemy – is in her presence each time. When Lancelot first appears, she’s gasping and afraid as the Malagant minion holds her. In Malagant’s slate mine palace, she is silent and compliant, again shivering as he undresses her and pushes her across the bridge to the oubliette with the slightest arm touch. And when Malagant attacks at the end, she rushes to Arthur’s bedside and never takes up a sword. But in front of Arthur and the knights of the round table, she does stand up verbally to Malagant when he attends a council meeting.

Now I’m coming to explain one of my themes. I see two Marys in Guinevere – Magdalene and The Virgin. Guinevere’s virginity is never mentioned but is prized, and there’s care for her never to even kiss Lancelot while she’s engaged (meaning that Arthur has the first experience with her) and for only a kiss to happen at Lancelot’s leaving – novel tie-in author Elizabeth Chadwick points out that such a kiss was only stopped becoming an act of love by Arthur’s interruption. Arthur, like Jesus, sees adultery of the heart as an equal sin. I see two readings of this story as allegory – one of the future, the other, the past.

As a wise spiritual ruler with a specially picked band of men, Arthur can feel Christlike. Guinevere could be his Mary Magdalene, but his relationship with her is more like mother son (or father and daughter) – linking to the other Mary of the gospels. Mary Magdalene is the naughty Mary, but some understand her to be the Kingdom’s co-creator, the enlightened one, not just the reformed demoniac/prostitute of tradition. Mary Magdalene might be the other side of Guinevere, the side who is drawn to the nomad (which Jesus was) who unlike foxes and eagles, does not have anywhere to lay his head.

But she’s also the one the villagers turn to for succour after two attacks from evil – firstly on bended knee, calling her Lady; and secondly for physical comfort after the forces of good save them – thus her Mary the Mother analogy is heightened.

Malagant is a Lucifer – once the highest of the elect, who left after a quarrel about supremacy and now seeks to terrify all Arthur’s people – a row, like in the Bible, which is never explained. I would like to have seen the “tyrant” speech of Malagant developed. In a way calm, kind Arthur is a tyrant, as is the portrayal of many monotheist’s God. Love me, and I’ll love you – cross me and there’s public judgement and death. You can only come into my kingdom by invitation, as Lancelot finds out (a bit like Calvinist theology). Arthurian god has a tempter, and both he and Malagant speak of the Law as the ultimate justice; Malagant claims he is the law, while Arthur points to something greater than himself, which is also potentially manipulative. Serving God, a country, a family or band of brothers raises the stakes and makes heavier the responsibility. The brotherhood/leadership dichotomy is a topic for another time, but I note these politically leading knights are not elected, they’re all military, and there’s no ladies – and despite having no head or foot, the round table does accommodate not only a king but a first knight.

And Camelot is the Kingdom, the heavenly city, built from his father’s legacy, a place, says director Jerry Zucker that we all want to live. Thus this neo Jerusalem is a place to aspire to, and not get cast out of for bad behaviour, or else you’re in the subterranean has-been of Malagant’s world. But it’s not just Jesus who is building a kingdom – there’s a currently earthly realm, like Camelot, which is built on ideals and ideas. Like a church, it’s not the stones themselves, but the people and dream that lives on – good job, for this fortress proves to be as robust as the cheese stall in its likeness that we see on the run the gauntlet day. That place is America. So the Disney castle look of Camelot makes sense – if it is intended: the American romanticisation of a medieval mythological ideal, the appropriation of a history they don’t have. Note the French renaissance windows: this is a new birth.

And Arthur’s existence is unproven, and so imaginations can set to work, inventing architectural details and costumes (is it coincidence that Arthur’s knights wear Star Trek like garb?). Saxons didn’t build cities so the only walls and gates around would be ex Roman – again, a great empire imposing itself, sophisticated on one hand, brutal and rash on another. Much like Arthur. His trial of Guinevere and Lancelot says – my personal hurts are a matter of state. I humiliate these people and call it an act against the realm, and I’m telling you – mess with mine or be unfaithful, and you’ll die.

Who the faithful are is my final point: the triangle is not the shape I’d assumed. Arthur is in love, but not with Guinevere. He has fallen for Arthur in a courtly ideal of unconsummated deep love that I call man love – not exactly gay (it’s so feeble that Hollywood is still not good at dealing with that in its mainstream films – yes Brokeback Mountain but think of Troy!). They couldn’t have been lovers or it alters the offence of Arthur’s discovery the love of Guinevere and Lancelot, whose “innocence” (ie lack of physical love) is important.

Arthur waits patiently for his wife to answer him and to formally marry him, but he rushes Lancelot onto his council with wedding like vows, preceded by a night of prayer and purification. This is man marriage. The scene when Arthur slips into Lancelot’s chamber and touches his bare back holds back from homoeroticism but I think the point is implied. Why, when Arthur discovers the near affair, is Arthur aggressive to Lancelot but composed with Guinevere? Because his love for Lancelot is the greater. He twice speaks of loving Lancelot to his face – “I don’t love people in slices” and “I loved you, I trusted you!”

Note Lancelot’s lack of aggression or even justification; he defers to his love, offering to die for him. In another Jesus paraphrase, Arthur brings up the theme that to die for another is the highest love (which can also be manipulative, it’s how any leader has got men to go to war) – and now Lancelot will give his life to serve his master and the kingdom.

And in Arthur’s last scene, he needs to make up to his two loves as much as they need to placate his rent heart over the discovery that the triangle does indeed have three sides. To prove the third one is most powerful, contrast Arthur’s goodbye to Guinevere to his send off to Lancelot. Arthur asks for his sword – not a phallic symbol, but as a shiny almost magical object throughout the film, to bestow a highest honour on a beloved friend. They hold hands and Arthur not only implies his blessing on Lancelot and Guinevere, he gives Lancelot the greatest privileges he can – being First Knight isn’t just political and military (I hope he doesn’t reign Camelot with only sword skill, and not state craft), it’s saying, You are my main man, I love you.

Mark Adam’s synopsis in Movie Locations of Britain started me on this road when he describes the film as Guinevere coming between Arthur and Lancelot (p151). I think he’s correct as both US and UK film covers have the two men as large and Guinevere in the background in the middle; and on the British cover, the picture of Guinevere is inside the sword, dividing them. So the courtly love here is Arthur’s for his knight; the nation state with universally applicable ideas is America, and this is the tale of taming the wanderer to become part of society rewarded by romantic love, brotherhood and knighthood – but does Lancelot lose something in becoming part of Camelot?

I look forward to getting the region 1 DVD and seeing if the extras support this, or whether this is my reading; but I enjoyed the film far more since seeing all this in it.

 

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Princess Dianas

When I changed my viewing and research from the British Royals to Wonder Woman, I was expecting a complete change. But Wonder Woman is also a Princess Diana, and politics as well as changing roles for women are key to both subjects.

Although one is blonde, one is dark; one is real, one is fiction; one is immortal, one died young, these women do have certain qualities in common:

Compassion

empathy

immediate and genuine rapport

beauty – from within as much as pleasantly aligned features –  but not an object

respect

tall – about 6ft (though Lynda Carter needed 3 inch heels to be that height)

national representative

an outsider

One was an English born aristocrat who became the wife and mother of heirs to the throne of the same country, and one was born on a secret island and took on America as her adopted country. But both had to get to learn the ways of a new world.

But Diana, Princess of Wales was more complicated and with conflicting qualities. Even those who were fond of her don’t deny a darker side. She said that her own suffering enabled and fuelled her to reach out to others.

In the TV series, Diana Prince has no emotional breakdowns and her problems do not seem very menacing or last long; but contractions have existed in all manifestations of Wonder Woman since her invention 70 years ago, and these are used more in comic story lines. But Lynda Carter said that she played Wonder Woman with a vulnerability, and that’s what made her  – and the other Diana – so appealing.

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George Galloway – I’m Not The Only One

I first found the Respect party when I did a search for alternatives to the main ones. I was  intrigued by a social justice, anti war eco driven new political group and wanted to know more about George, their best known MP. I thought I might support and learn from him.

I have come to see him as the caustic Caledonian  – Labour’s Lucifer.

I’m Not The Only One is a hard book to read – not because I can’t understand it, though he does have a wide vocabulary, and his own word “obfuscate” best describes his writing style with sentences constructed like this – but because of his tirade. After the introduction, I wondered if I could manage the rest of the book as I felt I’d been battered with an energy like Michael Moore’s, but more erudite and snide. Happily, the tone lets up a little, but it is still an intense diatribe, though profanity free. George is often very personal and insulting about other politicians. He rarely explains a situation so you only get the George rant, which feels off kilter and his long multi clause sentences seem to hide answers to or ignore the many questions a reader will have.

George spends much time aggrandising or in apologetics. He speaks of his love for Iraq, which at first was very interesting to hear a passionate description of this country  – one he claims he knows better than anyone else in Britain. But the other thread of this book is the love that jilted him, the Labour party whose exclusion after over 30 years of marriage was still very raw in this 2005 book. He defends various things said about him regarding Saddam Hussein, Mariam the Iraqi child he brought to Britain for leukaemia treatment; the War on Want funds; a transcript of his trial in Washington – but not exactly why the Labour Party claimed to need to put him on trial. He often depicts himself as a hero – and a victim.

He had not yet parted ways with Respect leader Salma Yaqoob; and this book is before his Big Brother/Jungle appearances, and that awful rape comment, which he refused to rescind. It is pre the infamous Jeremy Paxman interview when he’d just won the London seat, and though he happily put down Britain’s rudest current affairs presenter, George repeated what seemed a deeply racist and thoughtless statement for someone who claims to understand the Middle East so well. From his website, it seems his style and sentiment hasn’t changed, treating his recent Ed Miliband meeting in the same way.

Reading this book was like a rickety high speed train where you’re glad to get to the end of the journey – or disembark early.

I am surprised but glad that Penguin has published this – it shows freedom of speech being endorsed by a major publisher. For there are some shocking accusations is this book about the truth of US/UK governments and their behaviours, particularly in the Middle East. And sadly, I think they are true. And for bringing those horrors to our attention and daring to say such against grain going risky statements, I applaud George.

I do think that George genuinely wants a better world and has taken brave steps towards that. I’m just not sure about all his methods of getting there.

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Whistleblower

is a 2010 film starring Rachel Weisz about the true story of Kathryn Bolkovac.

It’s the flip side of My Age of Consent post on Socyberty (link in previous post). I want to make clear that I take abuse very seriously. Whereas some young women manipulate older people and it is inappropriate to call what might be unwise and unhealthy relationships child abuse, this film is clearly a story of what is.

In fact the legal ages are irrelevant, as what is happening is horrific and wrong for anyone of any age. It would not be less shocking if these were over 21s, and no less horrible for those that suffered.

I am not going to make any explicit comments here, should anyone be alarmed. The film too conveys horror without detail.

One one level, I am impressed by the film. It is based on the memoir of an American former police woman who was sent to Bosnia in the late 1990s as a peacekeeper, and who uncovered wide spread trafficking overlooked and often used by personnel of international military, law enforcing and peacekeeping organisations.

First of all, I want to back up. Why is an alien country going into one already torn with civil war, to have a foreign military and police help them sort out their problems?! What right does another country have to go barging and interfering, setting themselves up as world police?! Do any of these countries exemplify a perfectly just, libertarian society? No!! In fact as I shall write in the future, I don’t think democracy is the best system; I am intrigued by Isonomy as suggested by a former lecturer. (This could end up going back into another summer of Wonder Woman, who upheld democracy – see my earliest posts). And I feel that the US particularly* is not in a position to show another country how fairness works; there’s enough corruption at home without spreading it to a land limping after years of guerrilla warfare.

Spreading that corruption is exactly what seems to be happening.

Even Kathryn’s contract was dubious – $100,000 for 6 months work – tax free. After the global financial problems and cuts, such pay makes me livid – why should anyone work even indirectly for a government and be exempt from contributing with such a high salary?! “Is this even legal?” Kathy asks in the film. It shouldn’t be.

Next, there is legal “immunity” for those working for the various organisations. In the film it is called Democria, a British registered international company recruiting army and police officers. There should never be immunity – if you’re wrong, you should be brought to justice.

I feel like I did after the Valerie Wilson Plame film, Fair Game – that I both admire the person for sticking up to a powerful system and telling the world what’s really happening; and dis-ease for their jobs. As much as I don’t support the work of the CIA, the peacekeepers (ironic title) are another shadowy force supposedly for the good of civilians. Anyone reading this very much will know my thoughts on the irony of suppressing liberty to protect it, of opaque organisations off public radar who want to hold secret courts  – yes I opposed that British proposal. (See https://elspethr.wordpress.com/2011/11/28/justice-is-restored-but-the-chickens-are-gone)

The verb ‘police’ is one I am uncomfortable with. Although I have seen police strap lines claiming role is support for the public, practice is one of non action when needed with heaviness when it is not.

Kathy wants better recruitment and training for those doing her work – and clearly she took her police role seriously and genuinely, as I’m sure many others do. But that shouldn’t be a surprise – people shouldn’t be getting through the recruitment net who don’t. She recognised the need for better cultural understating in her role, but I really feel outsiders should not be there, especially as she’s shown the UN to have serious corruption at its core. She claims some officers were actually running the sex rings, while the organisation wouldn’t allow inquiries.

Death threats are are sure sign that she’s right. Officials have made statements that Kathy is wrong, even that she deserved her dismissal… but why the threats if she was erroneous and had a genuine reason to be sacked? Why would she make such a thing up, and go to such a risk, especially if it only over sour grapes for a job loss?

I was pleased that the book has been published and a film made, with many well known actors keen to be involved, as well as being an opportunity for a first time director. But I can’t see that the Whistleblower got an airing in Britain, or perhaps as widely internationally as it might have been. It wasn’t nominated for any of the usual film awards, though it did get some humanitarian type ones. I can’t find a British release date for it, and I have checked my own film magazines and brochures – I don’t think it came to my city nor was it picked up by the major cinema chains. I found it in the library, a single copy, unlike the mass orders of some new films.

I am writing this partly to say, this is a film that needs to be seen. This is an issue that needs to be known – but what can be done to stop it?

And I am also voicing my mixed views. Portrayed by a favourite actress, it was easy to sympathise with the actions of Kathryn. Reading more about her, I felt conflicted and this is as much about keeping out of other countries and the immunity/tax free corruption as it is the atrocities being inflicted on young women.

*PS that was not meant to be an anti US diatribe. You know I criticise my own country enough!

Someday, I shall write an article called “Things I love about America”.  Several individuals will feature, including dear friends.

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Contagion

A film with three of my favourite actors in is a treat that I don’t think I’ve ever had before. However it turned out not to be much of a treat. It was just OK, and I agree with the reviews that say that there’s not enough characterisation and that breadth has precedence over depth – which weakens this story.

I didn’t agree with the billings about the disquieting reality of the film. The only chill I got was from an air vent in the cinema,
and the thought of how much control is exerted by authorities, making the crisis worse. I can see the rationale behind quarantine and isolation, but this soon leads to economic problems, and the lack of what creatures most need –  connection.

I can believe that there would be looting – this is the nation that rioted over stocks of Cabbage Patch kids, so the final food and medicine is hardly a surprise.

The film feels like an authorised version where the officials are the good guys. It’s got some grey areas and tries to show a variety of issues (too many) but feels like the end of Source Code where the immorally resuscitated corpse gladly submits to serving America. (Knowing that story is written by an Englishman whose first film was a conspiracy story, I am now suspicious). This was another America speaks for the world movie, although it contains more than one European actor.

It reminded me of the last world war where peers as well as authorities imposed the desired behaviour on citizens, making them feel they let down their nation by not conforming.

I dislike the idea that the outspoken blogger is the villain, when he could have been the saviour. There’s no government cover up or disturbing bio-warfare after all – the movie feels like it has been an advert for wash your hands. The blogger’s critique is shown to finally be as dangerous and corrupt as anything he posts. But it is true that animals are sacrificed in the name of getting us a cure; and that the production of medicines and rare commodities became very lucrative during the times of disease and disaster. The public are controlled and what we know is controlled.

I am also suspicious of the medical world. I am sure many in it are genuine in the quest to make people well and to help, but it crushes anything that challenges it with the support of the legal profession and the government.

Alterative therapies are gaining recognition but have to defer to conventional western medicine to avoid law suits and being closed down.

The film has characters based on the real life Centers for  Disease, who collaborated with the film. Looking on CDC’s website, I’m appalled by the statement under Global Regional Centers for Disease Detection, end of para 1:

“Most importantly, none of these outbreaks became a health threat to the United  States”

The CDC run round the world, intervening (or is that interfering) in other countries, imposing a beast practice (interesting typo, I left that in), and yet saying that their job is well done because no one at home got hurt – as if Americans are more valuable  than Scots or Mexicans.

The CDC site feels very public relations – ‘we work for you 24/7’,’ read our real life stories about why we do what we do….’ it’s all emotive, sensationalist, reading like a party political broadcast. It’s advertising.

Another disturbing quote is:

“The United States had a choice: gamble H1N1 would not kill in high numbers, or work as fast as possible to develop a vaccine and make it available to as many Americans as possible. In fact, there was no choice—the vaccine had to be made and distributed” (italics mine)

But what of the cynical view that vaccines make money?

My thoughts are – why is vaccine the only way to deal with  illness? The film says that it is slow to make vaccines – it took 6 months to control the disease. Methodologically, growing a disease to play with it and see if you can work out how to reverse or nullify it seems a very limited and quite strange way to tackle a problem, yet it is the prevalent if not only method of science.

I am horrified that viruses are created by government paid scientists – how can that ever be justifiable?

Can’t diseases be more than just hygiene related problems – what about a deeper problem?

What would spiritual alternative healers make of this?

What of ancient and native medical wisdom?

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Change our minds, change the world

Season 3 of the 1970s TV show starring Lynda Carter – part 3 of my Wonder Woman musings

By mid season two, watching had become a chore for research. I wasn’t too excited to begin season 3. The first episode set up the expectation of further struggle to continue as well as disappointment. As pointed out by an internet site, it seemed to be targeting teenage and child audiences with its characters and themes – juveniles into skateboarding, amusement arcades, teenage music idols. There’s nothing to refer to who Wonder Woman is or where she’s from, no more poetic philosophical speeches, but just regurgitated plots about mind control and identity stealing – and even the guest actors are recycled.

It seems that Wonder Woman wanted in on everyone else’s show. Female agents were doing well: Diana Prince becomes one. Humanised robots and computers were popular: a Metal Mickey and K9 (with Roadrunner noises) are introduced. Space features regularly to be a Star Wars/Trek/Buck Rogers rival. In the penultimate episode, it seemed they were trying to copy Arnold from Different Strokes, Cheetah from Tarzan and decided that LA had more appeal than Washington.

Lynda’s long ponytail and the over zealous blusher gradually return. They rarely bother with glasses now for Diana – which are still huge – but it’s assumed no-one will make the connection between her and Wonder Woman, so there’s no need to disguise her. But that takes half the fun away!

There’s an attempt to have others in the IADC office – a short-lived woman named Bobby – but IRAC and Rover return and have more character. I was cross that like in life, computers take the jobs of people, but I became quite fond of IRAC and even found his bruised electronic ego, his raspberries and competitive board games amusing. Steve’s often kept in the office – though he’s eventually allowed out a bit more than last season – and Diana is marooned in the concrete tower of a Washington government office, without even shots of her apartment, let alone her real home.

But then I found myself enjoying it again. That is partly about Diana. If she is appealing to me, the show works. By that, I don’t mean whether she is personally attractive to me, but whether she’s attractive as a character. The warmth and naiveté of season 1 disappeared. I liken her to Evie in The House of Eliot, the BBC drama about two sisters setting up a fashion house. Evie, played by Louise Lombard, was an utterly charming 18 yr old at the start. Naturally, the character grew up and the actress did too. But what we got was not a mature version of lovably Evie, but a hard person reflected in her image change. By the end, I’d gone off Evie and that alienated me from the show. At least there were two sisters and I felt warmth toward the other. In Wonder Woman, she is the only main character and so losing connection to her meant alienation from the whole show.

The paling foundation and harsh blusher seems to change for the better, as did the shaping of Lynda’s eyebrows. The lipgloss I so wanted to blot – was. She’s naturally tanned again.  But what of her character? She’s become patronising and even predatory to kids and other young women. She’s become hard spy lady that everyone drools over but no-one was going to get.

The feminists on the DVD features said she’s sexy but not threatening to other women. But she’s too thin – and Lynda lamented on the commentary to episode one that her bones no longer shew as they did 30 years ago. She ought to be glad about that. Comic books and the actress who played her says ‘no stomachs’ to women; no cellulite, no large limbs. It’s cool to see your bones, it’s cool to be sticky.

There were flashes of warmth – such as to her friends in the skateboard episode. But the way Diana treats a child in the leprechaun episode was not her usual charm. As a child, I’d have run from this strange woman who was irresponsible in her advances towards young Lisa, not thinking how a child might be frightened. Lynda says she played the child relations as a yearning in Diana for children she doesn’t have. I didn’t see anything maternal about the way she spoke to the girl then – she was snaky and pushy, not explaining who she was, but rather sounding threatening: ‘if you want to help your friend, you’d better talk to me’.

So I changed my mind twice: from liking it more than I expected, to disappointment, back to liking it and then a ultimately a bit disappointed, perhaps in the way the show closed.

There was a little sadness when the last episode ended and there was no more TV Wonder Woman to see.

As the show was cancelled, there is no ending, as Lynda Carter laments on the commentary. She wishes there was chance to say goodbye to the character she’d played for 60 episodes and I have watched for two months.

A weakness of Wonder Woman was its lack of continuing plot and its lack of excitement. Other series drawing to a close would make us all tune in, impatient to see how it’ll all tie up.

I could think of a scenario that would make that last episode exciting. We know Wonder Woman will round off her time on earth as we’ve known her – but how? Will she marry Steve? Will she take up Andros’ offer? Will there be a pull back to her island? I would present the possibility of all three. If Wonder Woman is heterosexual, might she have to chose between her man and her people on all female paradise island? Or could this be an opportunity to change that ancient race? That would be interesting in itself.

Lynda’s suggestions of why her character could end the show were all about  love and families. I am now convinced she does mean what I feared as she has talked about this so much – the idea that Wonder Woman is lacking without husband and family (and by extension, I read, so are we). I think in that sense, Lynda doesn’t fully get her character. Wonder Woman is a goddess. There’s an issue straight away with reproducing with humans, and perhaps even questions about goddesses and physical intimacy. Like Queen Elizabeth I of England, it seems Diana has chosen a mission and her people over what we term as personal happiness.

However, often people with families say the reverse of what Lynda implies – that it takes away their identity as it subsumes them, not that they become more fulfilled and complete. How can Wonder Woman be a feminist if she retires to be a mother and wife? On the extras, various American women writers assemble to say what they love about her. They state that Wonder Woman has been an example of the dual role of women. But Lynda’s Wonder Woman would give up being Wonder Woman. To lead by example, Diana would need to continue being Wonder Woman and do her family role.

I couldn’t see in Wonder Woman what these women in the documentary could. I wonder if Wonder Woman is too American to be an icon for outsiders: it has created a sense of other in me, when at first I was inclined to the reverse. Perhaps it’s because Diana becomes naturalised to America that I stop being able to identify with her. She stops any critique of America; now it’s expected that her loyalty to her ‘new friends’ – i.e. a government intelligence service – comes before her own people. Her Mother, Queen Hippolyte, vanishes into the mirror of episode 3, season 2 and forever out of the series – never again is the island mentioned, or that Wonder Woman comes from somewhere else.

Reading an introduction by Mercedes Lackey to a 2008 comic ‘Circle’, I am reminded that in the comic book world, Diana is definitely other. Her stories feature ancient gods. She is divine, not human. She is begotten not created – yes I did borrow that line from O Come All Ye Faithful. Like Superman, she is sent to our world from elsewhere, to live as one of us. But although the 1978 Superman movie made a very clear link between the Christmas story and the film being released at that time, the Messianic parallel works better with Diana than Kal-el. It is she who is divinely progenitored from earthly materials. Diana chose her mission at a time of need – she wasn’t sent into the world as an unconsenting baby. Her mother yet lives, not as a prerecorded hologram of deceased mortal commoners, like Superman’s parents, but as an eternal wise Queen.

The DVD extras of season 3 comment on how that Wonder Woman is a change from the usual father/son relationship of hero stories, sent by and communing with her mother and sister. As the pilot bravely said: “Sisterhood is stronger than anything…” There is little of that kind of statement now. Feminism is assumed and demonstrated through ass kicking, literally. Wonder Woman now hits out before she is hit – she even headbuts in one episode (23). That goes against the peace loving message that Wonder Woman is all about. That the thoughtfulness of the start was never returned to made this a harder blow, and a missed opportunity to have used entertainment for positive world changing, as Wonder Woman was conceived to do.

 

 

 

 

 

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Woman of the Hour?

No, about 46 minutes per episode – 36 of them so far…

I have already shared my thoughts from the first series of the 1970s TV show and a little research into the comics – my first and very pleasing forray into the world of  Wonder Woman. Now I have completed watching season 2 and my feelings are different.

Wonder Woman has changed TV network and also time period. The season premiere begins by being incredibly similar to the original pilot – the crashed plane, the women on Paradise Island, the bullets and bracelets competition to win the mission of returning with the craft to America. Steve junior’s in a suit, no longer a uniform, and has grown up to look just like his Dad from the first season. Etta Candy and Colonel Blankenship are gone, and in their place at the office are a talking computer and robot, a short lived boss called Joe, an unseen voice, and later, Eve, one of the series’ several black characters (there were none in Season 1). Steve spends more time on the end of a phone and less joining Diana on escapades. Paradise Island soon ceases to feature.

Diana is now a star in her own right; she becomes a famous agent of the Inter-Agency Defense Command. In the first season, Diana wasn’t considered pretty enough to enter a beauty competition and she is picked as Yeoman due to her lack of glamour. Early in the second season, Joe isn’t sure she’s got the right wardrobe to go undercover as a ‘swinger’. Now, in every episode, her looks are commented on admiringly. Like the series itself, Diana undergoes a change halfway through. Diana’s style becomes what she’d call ‘slinky’ in the first season. Her hair and make up change and she doesn’t seem as beautiful and appealing. Comic book artist Phil Jimenez states he admires Lynda Carter’s portrayal for its grace, regality, femininity, dignity and style. Diana was naive, but never dippy. Some of that has gone by the close of this season and that has a huge bearing on my appreciation of the show.

The Wonder Woman costume has a subtle make over, making the PE pants highlegged, and the cleavage more prominent. The stunts are bigger and it seems a little more violent. There’s also greater sexism. Wonder Woman’s first girl fight left her and the other woman with ripped clothing. Later, Diana happens to rip her pants (in the US sense) in a parachute jump, at the knee; so she cuts her trousers off at the groin to make them hotpants. (Steve also falls with her but doesn’t suffer any rents to his clothes). Yet, even in a swimming costume, Ms Carter never shows her actual legs – the satin tights remain.

That line in the lyrics does, but much of the theme tune’s other words are changed and an irritating sound that like a kid who can’t play the recorder is added. The Nazis are phased out, and now Wonder Woman fights ‘on the side of right’ rather than for hers. No more stopping wars with love, no more metamorphosing doves… she’s woman of the hour and her chance to fight evil is not denied… almost as if she wants to kick ass. One comic artist on the DVD extra said that Wonder Woman wants to spread her message of love – she’s not looking for fights. Yet these lyrics suggest the reverse.

Early on in the season, there were links with the first series and the opportunity for some thoughtful questions posed. But by the end of the first disc, there’s no more just war discussion, no critiquing or even assertion of what makes America good. The side of right and America’s government are unquestionably synonymous – and Wonder Woman fights for us  – even against her own people on Paradise Island. That episode, “Trouble in the Bermuda Triangle”, speaks of aiding the American arms supremacy. The writer has misunderstood all that Wonder Woman stands for – she is for peace and justice, and would hate nuclear weaponry. I wonder if Wonder Woman had stayed in the US till the end of the war, whether Hiroshima and Nagasaki would have happened.

Episode 3 attempts to deal with how Japanese people were treated by America during the war, although the above atrocities are not talked about. Was this episode on relocation camps to abate bad feeling from Japan or to encourage fellow Americans to lose their old prejudices? It ends with the shocking line: ‘That’s why pencils have erasers’ regarding the mistakes made by America to Japan. I would be interested to know how that episode was received by Japanese viewers, as it can come across as clumsy and even propagandist; but the storyline seems at least like an attempt to deal with issues. These essays peter out shortly after.

The Nazis were appropriate adversaries with far more potential than those of the seasons set in the 1970s. Sometimes these new villains have special powers – the Japanese psychokinetic, the boy with psychic gifts – but these are appropriated by military intelligence. Villains rarely have much of a reason for being evil now. The overlooked country’s royalty trying to use the olympics to win recognition was an interesting idea – but it got lost in camp evil laughs and silent massaging twins. The writer of the Outer Space episodes with Andros returns – but this feature length episode was far poorer than the one in the first season. The aliens are now after minds, not moral judgments; and apart from a swipe at all bureaucracy, there’s little food for thought this time.

The laughs are less; since the comic books titles go, there’s no more invisible planes or voice mimicry; and only the yogic travel into outer space amused me.

It felt by the end that I was watching a different show, far different from the one I had found so inspiring and surprisingly thoughtful as well as entertaining.

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Get us out from under, Wonder Woman

When I switched my viewing and research from the British Royals to Wonder Woman, I was expecting a complete change. But Wonder Woman is also a Princess Diana, and I’ve found quite a few parallels, as I’ll explain in a future post…

The Wonder Woman Lynda Carter TV show might have cult status, but it isn’t something most people would expect to quote from literature and philosophy, or discourse on ethics and society, or teach us how to live.

Yet it does all those.

In season 1 (on which this is based), there are quotes from Socrates in ancient Greek; the behavioural psychologist, Pavlov; Dr Johnson on patriotism; economics, and scientific equations. It makes witty social critiques of bureaucracy whilst trying to address international relations. But most of all, it is a vehicle for feminism.

Wonder Woman was a war baby, created in 1941 by a controversial psychologist. William Moulton Marston (pen named Charles Moulton) wanted to right the gender balance amongst superheroes. He believed that women are the future and are natural leaders. He believed – like proponents of single sex schooling – that women thrive when away from the influence of men, and are capable of equal or better physical and mental feats. He set his heroine as being part of a Greco-Roman myth, the mighty all female race, the Amazons, living in highly civilised peace. As he wrote, women’s roles and perceptions were altering, paving the way for feminism.

By 1975 when the TV pilot was aired, feminism had happened and was on its second wave. Theologian Mary Daly had publicly left the Catholic church because of its oppressive patriarchy to live on an all women island, and allegedly communicated with men only through an interpreter. The TV show seeks to sympathise with the sentiment but to step back from that extreme and show both men and women as good and bad, capable of living together harmoniously.

The slave-like bullet proof bracelets that Wonder Woman wears were created by Moulton to remind that if women let them, they are in servitude to men. The bracelets’ secret substance gave rise to the episode title The Feminum Mystique, refracting the famous Betty Friedan text. Hindus too have seen a feminine mystique, a force called Shakti. For Moulton, this is symbolised in Wonder Woman’s lasso which compels its captive to tell the truth. Much is made of the connection between this device and that Moulton partly invented the lie detector test, but this immoral and inaccurate contraption actually does an inverse task: it spots lies, not finds out truth. Moulton claims that all women have this power to disarm and bring out honesty through charm.

It seems, like Indian women, that there is a dichotomy and contradiction between the venerable female ultimate force and a sexualised submissive domesticity. Moulton said that women’s qualities are wrongly seen as weak, but he sees their attributes as including meekness and submission. In the 1970s TV series, women’s qualities are cited as strength and compassion. Wonder Woman is the first superhero to fight with love, not for just truth and justice. The theme tune lyrics reflect this, but also the ambivalence of the show: Wonder Woman fights for democracy, love and honesty; the world is ready for her peace and women’s lib message. But she does it in satin tights. She’s conventionally attractive and slim – beauty queen Lynda Carter dieted for the role. She wears very little, despite the dress conventions and climate of her adopted home. Grace Kelly, Princess of Monaco, managed to scale a ladder in heels and a floaty dress in Rear Window, but Princess Diana of the Amazons must swap her native diaphanous groin skimming dress for a cross between a circus costume and a gym suit to assume her role in the ultimate example of democracy.

But as both lead actress and male commentators in the Season 1 DVD extras say, actually Wonder Woman in the TV show doesn’t feel titillating or objectified. All superheroes have outlandish, skin tight and sometimes revealing costumes – the Hulk, Hawkman and He Man all basically just wear underpants. Lynda Carter’s tights are a step up from having the bare legs of the comic book. Her outfit becomes simply a uniform; and although beautiful, she is never ogled over by the men around her, but accepted as their equal, if not superior. There’s a purity around her that commands awe and adulation, but not objectification.

Lynda Carter often says that it’s sad that Wonder Woman never, like her, has love or children; and that therefore most of us have more than the Amazonian Ambassador. But but I like that an ultimate heroine is complete without these. It makes Wonder Woman an even better feminist icon because it says that reproduction and marriage are not defining aspects of womanhood – indeed, personhood. It is undermining for single non parents to believe they are lesser and missing something; but it is also unhealthy for anyone to think that we need these others to be whole, or that we are defined by our relationships. And Wonder Woman does find love, on many levels: each episode, she finds a new friend, animal and human, of all ages – and is clearly close to her mother and sister. (You’ll never see Shadowlands in the same light after seeing Debra Winger’s debut here!) Carter’s insistence on repeating this idea regarding motherhood and romance is disappointing, and if it is meant how it is taken here, undermines what she brings to the role.

I at first felt the weekly girl fights were also part of degrading Wonder Woman to arousing entertainment. That might be a by-product, but as the first season’s extras imply, it’s more about giving other women key active parts that show their importance in the story. It helps the gender portrayal balance of having female villains as well as a protagonist; and a show down fight between these is normal in the action genre. Often, Wonder Woman is able to reach out to wayward sisters, particularly in Episode 3 of season 1. An unappreciated, endangered Nazi leader is recruited for the Allied forces, ending in a touching moment of bonding.

Wonder Woman also ribs beauty contests (ironically played by a Miss America) and the shallowness that makes Major Steve Trevor unable to see beyond another kind of uniform past the disguise of his bespectacled efficient secretary, Yeoman Diana Prince. Unlike Clark Kent, Diana does not act particularly different to her vigilante counterpart, so the ruse of her secret identity is more about playing to expectations and prejudices.

There’s explicit statements on gender, just war causes, and animal rights. As outsider, Wonder Woman can comment as so many sci-fis do on the fallacies of Earth people. Passionately pro-American, she still opens her adopted country to critique. She delivers a Nazi war criminal alive for a fair trial, unlike recent events in the Middle East.

The show’s makers claim their groundbreaking series opened the way for other strong women roles in television, and that fans wrote in to tell how Wonder Woman had inspired them to try new careers that they thought impossible (though admittedly these were often government and military related).

The Wonder Woman television series  remains brilliantly entertaining, and its old special effects make it all the funnier – I especially love that invisible plane. It – and she – have rightly become an icon for many, regardless of sexuality, gender or country. My hope is that in all the fun, the serious messages and discourses are not lost on viewers, and like the lyrics, it will change our minds and change the world.

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