Monday, 19 January 2015

Je Suis Hypocrite

After two fanatical gunmen approached the offices of Charlie Hebdo and instigated their killing spree, the world responded with collective support, through the hash tag #jesuischarlie. It was supposed to be a stand for the freedom of speech. Charlie Hebdo and all other forms of journalism should be free to print what they want, without fear of violent recrimination. That is the thought. On the face of it, such a notion is reasonable and it is easy to see why it would stir such strong emotional feeling. Then you have to remember what Charlie Hebdo have been doing.

Charlie Hebdo is a piece of propaganda, disguised as satire. It consistently tries to offend. It preaches hatred towards people of the three major religions, namely Catholics, Jews and Muslims but it seemed to believe that if it was told as a joke, it was a permitted manner to do it. I'm sorry but that is utter hypocrisy. If the KKK started a racist publication that was driven primarily by humour, we would be rightly outraged.

To make things worse, Charlie Hebdo would then be outraged at how other bodies in the press acted. Most TV news broadcasters in the UK took an editorial decision to not show the cover of Charlie Hebdo's defiant response to the shootings. Sky News had to cut an interview short when a member of Charlie Hebdo's staff tried to forcibly show the cover as she answered a question. So they wanted everyone to have freedom of speech but only if we all say what they want to say.

Does this in any way condone the actions of the gunmen? No. Not even close. Violence and murder are never acceptable reactions to offensive cartoons. Yet, what did Charlie Hebdo expect? The reaction from Charlie Hebdo seems to be defiant to some. To me, it's sick. They took those who died and used them like a soapbox to say "Look, we're right to hate Islam." They stood proudly on the graves of their dead to tar a billion Muslims with the same psychotic brush. It is shameful behaviour. It is not noble. It is not reasoned or rationale. It is ultra left wing politics in a journal. It is extremism, no matter how restrained, and it bred an extremist reaction. As a consequence, people died. People who were not even involved in the offensive material were killed.

Maybe Charlie Hebdo would have done better in learning a trait it has never exhibited. Respect. Freedom of speech doesn't mean you can say whatever you want without consequences. Every choice is free to make but not free from an outcome and a reaction. I don't care if you don't like religion. It is not acceptable to broadcast hatred about it. We shouldn't accept it about someone's race, sexuality, age, gender, career choice, musical preference or whatever else. There is something about you, whether you were born with it or a choice, that other people don't like. They should, at least, show you the respect of tolerance.

The freedom of speech should be used to uplift, educate and entertain, not destroy and demean. Because the time we are most deserving of our freedoms is when we are using them in the right way.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Age of Ultron: Marvel's Dark Knight?

2008, I remember going to see The Dark Knight by myself. I wanted to see this film so badly, I wasn't prepared to wait until my friends were free. I went and caught the last showing available on the first day it was out. It was immense. I found myself watching a film that made me want to go straight back and watch it again.  After Batman Begins, my hopes were high. All expectations were found to be petty in comparison to the behemoth of a story and experience that Christopher Nolan put together. The problem was it put a massive yoke around the franchise's neck. From thereon, that was the bar to hit. The Dark Knight Rises came out and, while I loved it, very few people think it got close to its predecessor. If anything, the success of The Dark Knight led Nolan to the decision that it had to end as a trilogy. He likened it to perpetually swelling a balloon. Eventually, it will burst. This may serving as a warning to Marvel and its cinematic universe.

As Avengers: Age of Ultron approaches, it has all the feel of a Dark Knight instalment in the grander franchise. Having made a success out of the initial film, the second Avengers film has all the qualities of its DC counterpart. Based on what we've seen, it is darker, more violent, grander and it has taken one of the most iconic villains and cast a genuinely interesting actor in the role. The smidgeon we have seen and heard of James Spader in that role hints towards a legendary rendition that could put Ultron up with other great movie villains, such as Joker, Vader and Blofeld. Add to this the certainty of increased drama, tension and the likelihood of an uneven ending, where the Avengers will have fallen apart, and it echoes the great second films in franchises we all love.

The worry is that Phase Three will be the poor aftermath after a brilliant Phase Two. We had the best Iron Man film, Thor got a decent film, Captain America became hugely relevant and Guardians of the Galaxy went from risky to box office gold. Phase Three will have loads more films but more doesn't mean better.

Then there is the prospect of the lurking villain. Thanos is so powerful that he can overcome the Avengers with relative ease. It is much like Bane taking on Batman. He picks the fight when he's at anything but his peak. Thanos is going to do a similar thing. He is about to strike when the Avengers are not only weak but at each other's throats.

There is only so far that Marvel can up the ante. Interestingly, the only MCU franchise to get to a trilogy so far, Iron Man, has never had "The world is going to end" stakes in it. The first two were very personal battles for Tony Stark and Iron Man 3 was about usurping the US Presidency. All the other films have had global/planetary stakes in play. It does prove that Marvel can do a great film without the same threat level and, chances are, they will have to dial them down a bit for some of the future films, lest they become tiresome.

What makes the fear that the MCU might start to slip was the release of the Ant Man trailer, which underwhelmed many people. It might be a genius move by Marvel, where they downplay the hype surrounding the film, lower expectations and then, if it delivers, we will be blown away by it. However, it has caused the doubts among some and a lot think this has prompted Marvel to go with the Civil War storyline as a way of kick-starting the MCU excitement again.

For now, this is all speculation. Ultron does offer Marvel one handy thing. If he proves to be the antagonist of the best Marvel film ever, he has an uncanny knack of coming back, time after time. I wouldn't be surprised if we see Spader suiting up for round two after Thanos has been sent packing. For now, April 2015 can't come quick enough!

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Born To Choose

In the USA, the documentary "My Husband's Not Gay" has had the desired inflammatory effect. For those who don't know, it is one hour show that is documenting a number of men who openly admit to being attracted to other men but choose to marry women, because that is conducive with their faith. This has sparked outrage among some of the LGBT community, who took exception to the idea that someone could choose who they loved. Now, the TV channel has played this brilliantly. It has since gone viral and will undoubtedly get good viewing figures. For me, however, it has raised an interesting point that makes me think that we still don't get it when it comes to same sex couples or indeed homosexuality.

GLAAD and other LGBT organisations have built their argument of respect for all whom they represent on the basis that they were born that way. They did not choose to be that way, so you have to respect it. Fine. Except, let me put this to you. Would a gay couple's love for each other be any less valid if they chose to be that way? I don't think so. If anything, it makes it more valid. Saying "you're born that way" as the one and only reason for someone's actions is trying to liken it to a genetic dysfunction or hereditary medical condition. However, if someone has made the choice, a conscious choice, one that has been rationalised and carefully considers the emotions involved, then surely that has more merit than anything else.

Of course, the fear is that if something is a choice, it can be changed or questioned. Look at all the laws regarding discrimination and they address age, race, disability, sex, sexuality and religion. Which one gets attacked the most openly these days? Religion. Why? Because of all of them, it is the one that is designated as a choice. One that you can change. But that is not fair. Choices are perfectly valid. You don't have to agree with them but trying to mob someone into following your choice is bullying. That is wrong.

The problem with society is that it benefits groups to polarise because it entrenches you on one side. If you've got the numbers, you'll have the victory, or at least that is the idea. For this polarisation, it comes in the form of labels, namely gay and straight. Here's a thought. You're neither. You're just a human being. I'll use myself as an example. I find women more beautiful than men. It's not that I'm repulsed by men. I enjoy their company and some of them are damn fine to look at. It's just I choose to be with women. Mainly because they're prettier. Perhaps, I was born naturally inclined to be attracted to the opposite sex but what if, tomorrow, I decide I want to be with a man. Would the LGBT community shun me, tell me I'm a fraud and that I cannot live like that? Would I be denying my nature? Would how I felt be overruled by my previous straight lifestyle? I don't see why.

The thing that defines us is not how we are born but what we choose. Our agency makes us what we are. Why are we trying to overrule this with nature? Freedom to choose should the prime human right. Not freedom of the consequences but the right to make a choice that allows someone to live how they see fit. As long as it doesn't contravene the laws of the land and shows tolerance to everyone else who observes those laws, then there is nothing to complain about. We were born to do one thing. Choose our fate. No one should be allowed to take that away from us.