4 Lions – when does bad taste become dark humour?

Back in January 2009, there was a little article in The Guardian referring to thefunding of a film by Chris Morris by FilmFour, the film production arm of Channel 4.   The film, “4 Lions”, has now been produced and released to mixed reviews, some of which will have undeniably been influenced by the subject matter of the film – a comedy about Islamic extremist suicide bombers planning a bomb attack on the London Marathon.

The film was described as  showing the “the Dad’s Army side to terrorism”, as four incompetent jihadists plan an attack.  For some reason the description of the film reminded me of the description of the spoof musical ‘Springtime for Hitler’ as ‘ A Gay Romp WithEva and Adolf at Berchtesgaden’ in the movie ‘The Producers’.  Interestingly enough, given the calls from relations of people involved in the 2005 bombings for the film to be not distributed or screened, ‘The producers’ had some difficulties at the start of it’s life with problems with getting it made or shown.  Eventually it was released as an ‘art house’ film and then got big ‘word of mouth’ takeup.

Now, I love ‘the Producers’, but I’m rather less enamoured with Morris’s film, and it set me thinking about what makes some ‘bad taste’ films acceptable and others unacceptable.

I guess the first thing is the timing.  When ‘The Producers’ was made in 1968, WW2 was 23 years in the past; whilst easily within living memory, it wasn’t raw.  Less than 5 years have elapsed between the July 2005 London bombings and the release of this film.  Probably too close for comfort – and releasing the film around the time of the 2010 London Marathon was probably a brilliant wheeze  from a marketing point of view but a little ‘naff’ for those taking part in the Marathon or remembering those killed in 2005.

Then there’s the closeness to real life.  Let’s stick with ‘The Producers’ as our control here.  They made one of the two most evil men of the 20thCentury look like a buffoon, and had a series of song and dance routines that were so far over the top – and intended to be so – that there was no real link to reality.  “4 Lions’ has a group of four would-be bombers – complete with Yorkshire accents – coming down from the North to London to do the attack.  Sound familiar?  Just a little too close.

Then there’s the delicate issue of who makes the film.  ‘The Producers’ – bad taste comedy about the Nazis made by a Jewish producer, with Russian and German Jewish parents, and who also served in combat in WW2.  4 Lions is the brainchild of a comedian / comedy writer who’s best known for sketches and set-up pieces that often involve unsuspecting people who believe that they’re taking part in something ‘straight’ and are actually the butts of the humour.  4 Lions could well have been more acceptable had it been made by another comedian or had the involvement of someone directly involved.

Basically, as far as ‘4 Lions’ is concerned it’s badly timed, too close to home and made by a team who appear to be unsympathetic to the issues involved.  Morris and the film makers apparently did a great deal of research in to the whole mindset and culture of extremists to make the film.  Perhaps they should have researched whether it’s just too soon.  Or whether it’s a good idea at all to laugh about people being blown up less than 5 years ago.

Dumb beyond reason – Children’s Commissioner suggests raising English Age of Criminality

Regular readers of this blog will realise that there are certain hobby horses that I have.  One is that I ask for little from Government except that they do what only Governments CAN and SHOULD do, and otherwise stay out of my face.  The other is that I genuinely believe that there are people who can be described as evil, and that Moral Relativism is a seriously dangerous philosophy.  I explored that territory in this post – I commented at the time how surprised I was when I found a number of people on another online site berating me for calling the boys involved ‘evil’.

Well, I guess I’d better get ready for some more berating, because this suggestion from Maggie Atkinson, Children’s Commissioner for England, is a typically daft liberal riposte to a problem caused by the worst form of liberalism.  The suggestion is to raise the age of crimninality from 10 to 12, because most 10 year old criminals don’t know what they’re doing.  Bollocks.

OK…deep breath….

Ms Atkinson.  There is one question to answer here.  The vast majority of 10 year old kids do not take a toddler from a shopping mall, lie to people who stopped them about their relationship with the toddler, and then  torture the toddler to death on a railway line.  Which to me indicates one of the following:

  1. The desire to do so is very, very rare and when it does occur in someone needs to be regarded as abnormal.
  2. The desire to do so maybe more common but most children of 10 are aware of right and wrong and know it would be wrong.
  3. That even if someone did want to do it they’d be scared by the consequences.
  4. That the desire to do so is rare, AND most children of 10 are aware of right and wrong and know it would be wrong.

Now, I’d argue – being a fairly average man in the street – that (4) is the reason why this sort of crime is rare.  Most kids wouldn’t even think about it.  Videos and media imagery may bring such thoughts to the heads of a few more children, but then (2) and (3) usually kick in.  And if someone gets as far as (1) then we’re looking at someone who is either mad or bad, but is undeniably dangerous.

The Bulger killers were given a lot of help in trying to rehabilitate, but in at least one of the killers, the efforts at rehabilitation seem to have failed and he’s back inside after release on licence. 

Now.  The two boys were approached when they had James with them, and lied about their relationship with him and where they were going.  They also attempted to cover up their actions.  Now, call me simple minded if you will – and I promise I won’t mind at all – but to me lying and cover up means that at least one of them WAS aware that what they had done was wrong.  And even if only one was aware, the other went along with it, rather than admitting the situation to his parents.  So he was ashamed of what he’d done – again, that frequently indicates that we know that what we’ve done is wrong.

My point is that these kids, in my opinion, knew wholeheartedly that they’d done wrong – just like the Edlington kids.  Whilst I accept that media influences and bad parenting may have contributed to both cases, the bottom line is that in both cases I believe that it is inconceivable that they didn’t know that what they were doing was wrong.

So…there is an element of bad there…possibly some mad…but definitely dangerous.  As for rehabilitation and releasing them, even on licence, I refer you again to the story of the Scorpion and the Frog which I first related here:

There’s a fable that’s been repeated in many places, about a Scorpion who wants to cross a river.  He ponders this problem for a while when he sees a frog hopping along.  He asks the frog whether it would be possible to ride on his back whilst the frog swims the river. The frog points out that the scorpion is likely to sting him on the journey and kill him.  The scorpion replies that were he to do that, then he too would drown, as well as the frog.  The frog goes along with this, and the pair start the river crossing.  Half way across the scorpion stings the frog, and as they both drown the frog asks ‘Why?’  The scorpion sadly remarks ‘It’s in my nature.’  

It’s in my nature.  Whether mad or bad, boys such as this are evil and dangerous.  Their nature would, to me, preclude them from release; not for any desire for punishment, but because they cannot be trusted not to do something similar again.  But that’s another story, and I await the bleeding hearts telling me why I am so wrong.

PCC, Stephen Gately and liberal backlash

The Press Complaints Commissionshas decided not to uphold complaints about an article by Jan Moir about the circumstances surrounding Stephen Gately’s death.  I’m not going to rehash the details of the case – a quick Google will allow you to find the original article, but my main interest is in some of the comments that I’ve heard floated up on Twitter and other web sites about the findings of the PCC.  The PCC did indeed receive a record number of complaints – 25,000 – about the column, and there was a fairly hefty campaign mounted over social networks such as Twitter to encourage people who felt strongly to complain.  The newspaper concerned, The Mail on Sunday, dodged censure:

PCC chairwoman Baroness Buscombe said the commission found the article “in many areas extremely distasteful” but that the Mail had escaped censure because it “just failed to cross the line”.

The PCC had considered context and “the extent to which newspaper columnists should be free to publish what many will see as unpalatable and unpleasant stories”.

and two complaints to the Metropolitan police that were passed to the Crown Prosecution Service were also rejected as grounds for prosecution because of insufficient evidence that the piece breached the law.

Jan Moir’s piece was ill-timed, and some of her comments were hurtful to some people.  I guess that there were those who found the piece upsetting who didn’t complain, and that there were probably quite a few people who wholeheartedly agreed with what she had to say; after all, complaints procedures rarely get support.  But, as they say, process has been carried out and judgement bought in by the PCC and the CPS, and in many ways that should be the end of it – whether you agree with the outcome or not. 

Having said that, I wasn’t surprised today when I saw a fair amount of blather on Twitter from the ‘chattering classes’ referring to the PCC judgement, starting off by saying that as the editor of the Mail on Sunday is on the PCC, the verdict is immediately biased.  I guess that’s to be expected.  We then went in to slightly disturbing territory, with a Tweet that I came across along the lines taht the Tweeter didn’t want to censor comment but felt that something to rein in columnists from claiming authority they didn’t have.  There’s also this debate on the BBC’s own web site.  Now, why do I find that tweet rather disturbing? 

It’s all in the wording.  Where does ‘claiming authority’ start and end?  Do we apply it across the board?  Do you have to be a political scientist to talk about politics?  A GP to write medical articles?  A physicist to comment on the LHC?  And what about us bloggers?  Do we have to ‘in with the in crowd’ before we can comment on the activities of celebrities?  Do I have to have a degree in economics before I can comment on the parlous state of the UK economy?  Should we have license to comment?

I’m sorry – but a good columnist SHOULD occasionally say something that pisses people off; one shouldn’t b personally offesnive or abusive, but the sacred cows of modern society should be up for comment. Once you start down the road of ‘reining in’ columnists it’s the thin end of the wedge towards full blown censorship.  Would there have been so much fuss from the media and liberal intelligentsia were the column about the death of a young ‘smack rat’ in similar circumstances?  I very much doubt it; I fear that a lot of the reaction here has been about the death of  ‘one of their own’ in what must be described as unusual circumstances – unusual in my experience, any way.

 There’s an old saying that someone stays liberal on law and order until they get mugged or burgled; perhaps we might expand that to suggest that some people stay liberal on freedom of speech until someone dares to use it to say something they disagree with.

Saying Sorry, Contrition, Repentance and the Scorpion

Earlier this week I commented on the words of John Healey, the Housing Minister who said that repossession is not always a bad thing.  As has been pointed out, the 46,000 people repossessed in the last year would probably disagree, and would no doubt like a word of apology from him.  You know, the ‘s’ word.  Sorry.  And, I expect that they would want him to mean what he says – to be truly sorry for the hurt that his comments may have caused.

There have been other recent stories where saying Sorry may not yet be enough – John Terry and Ashley Cole, for example.  Of course, that’s a matter for them and their families, but the bottom line is that today saying ‘Sorry’ has been devalued.  People throw the word off when they get caught out and it’s hard for us to know whether they genuinely mean it or not.  Saying Sorry should be the external, communicable expression of that internal shift in attitude and behaviour that, as a Christian, I would call contrition and repentance.

An act of contrition is a prayer that expresses sorrow for sins committed.  Repentance is the next step –  it typically “includes an admission of guilt, a promise or resolve not to repeat the offense; an attempt to make restitution for the wrong, or in some way to reverse the harmful effects of the wrong where possible.” (Wikipedia)

When we hear the expression ‘Sorry’, can’t necessarily see whether someone is contrite or not, and but we can see whether someonehas been truly repentant – they change the behaviour that caused the problem and at least make a gesture towards righting the wrong.  I’ve dropped a few clangers in my time and hope that I’ve shown enough contrition and repentance for my behaviour – only people around me can tell me that.

Without contrition and repentance – even if you don’t have any religious beliefs – all that it means when you say ‘Sorry’ is that you’re sorry you’ve been caught, and the only Commandment you’re concerned about breaking is the mythical ‘Eleventh Commandment’ – ‘Thou Shalt Not Get Caught’.  To say Sorry without truly expressing contrition and repentance is like being a child making a promise with ‘crossed fingers’ – for those unaware of this particular bit of childhood culture, such a promise was held to be breakable at will.  What may be acceptable in a child is particularly sad and graceless in an adult.

Which brings us back to people in the public eye.  I’d genuinely like to believe that folks who get caught behaving badly see the light and that they will, after apologising to all concerned, will perform some little act of contrition and then prove their repentance by changing their behaviour.  After all, no one is perfect and, as they say ‘shit happens’ in the best regulated lives that may lead us in to the path of temptation.  But therein lies the mark of the man (or woman) – to be able to not repeat the errors of the past again.  

When I encounter the ‘serial offenders’ of the world who do something, apologise, claim to be contrite, publicly change their behaviour and then get caught in a similar situation a few months later I do start wondering whether there’s something more involved than just lack of will power.  Perhaps it’s character as well.  There’s a fablethat’s been repeated in many places, about a Scorpion who wants to cross a river.  He ponders this problem for a while when he sees a frog hopping along.  He asks the frog whether it would be possible to ride on his back whilst the frog swims the river. The frog points out that the scorpion is likely to sting him on the journey and kill him.  The scorpion replies that were he to do that, then he too would drown, as well as the frog.  The frog goes along with this, and the pair start the river crossing.  Half way across the scorpion stings the frog, and as they both drown the frog asks ‘Why?’  The scorpion sadly remarks ‘It’s in my nature.’  

Fortunately, most of us are civilised human beings of good character, and not toxic arachnids with an appetite for self-destruction who also destroy the lives of those around them.

Moral relativism and evil

moralityFirst of all, for anyone unaware of the news stories about the two pre-teen thugs from Edlington who tortured and abused two little boys, here’s a link to the story.  Now, I passed a comment online that I regarded the two perpetrators as evil.  I didn’t state they should be hung, drawn and quartered, thrown to wild animals, etc.  Just that they were evil.

Now, the definition of evil from a dictionary I have nearby is “morally bad or wrong; wicked; depraved; resulting from or based on conduct regarded as immoral”.  I think that the behaviour of the thugs could be described as evil under that definition.  And I’m sorry, I may come over as a roaring thunder-lizard of reactionary, non-politically correct thought but I’m afraid that someone who does evil things is, until they reform, evil.  And there appears to be no indication that these boys have shown any regret, repentance or even any sort of apology for what they did.  From past evidence, it would appear that the only emotion they have felt is the dismay at being caught.

I was quite surprised (whether I should have been or not) when someone came back and questioned whether it was right to call them evil, and other suggestions were made about whether the boys themselves were victims of their upbringing and background.  I have to say that the upbringing of these individuals is shocking depressing, but the one thing that separates human beings from animals is that between stimulus and response we have the capacity for choice.  And it is in that moment of choice – that instant where civilised behaviour, conscience and sense of right and wrong operates – that the determination to be evil is made.

The fact that some folks believe that whether a behaviour can be evil or not based purely on circumstances I find to be rather disturbing.   The idea that different moral truths hold for different people is called Moral Relativism, I don’t have any time at all for it.  Not too long ago I posted on here about the dangers of peering in to the Abyss.  These boys seem to be the products of such an activity, aided and abetted by our own culture.  Whatever the cause, I don’t honestly see how anyone can look at their behaviour and say it is anything other than evil, and a moral relativist approach to these matters helps no one except the perpetrators and apologists for them.  I’d go further; it actually promotes repeat behaviour; by failing to come down firmly about an issue and say that ‘that behaviour is wrong’ or ‘that behaviour is evil’  we provide a moral and ethical grey area. 

I don’t believe we should be ashamed to state that something is evil.  As CS Lewis pointed out in his work of Christian apologetics ‘Mere Christianity’,  the vast majority of human beings seem to have a built in feel for what’s right and wrong, what’s good and evil.   As a Christian I try not to judge; I’m far from perfect, after all, but I do believe that there is a ‘line in the sand’ which we can draw in absolute moral terms, and it’s the edge of the abyss I wrote about above.  Moral Relativism takes away the sharp drop, building steps for us all to walk down in to the abyss.  And for that reason it should be shunned.

Will no one think about the children…

I’m a big fan of ‘The Simpsons’ and in one episode there is a morally outraged female character who keeps screaming the expression ‘Will no one think about the children’ whenever something crops up.

I was reminded of this sort of ineffective moral indignation when I encountered this article in The Sunday Times about the suggested censorship of sites such as Bebo, MySpace and acebook.


Whilst I can see that there are posts and material that do require removing, I’m less convinced of the suggested ‘Remove within 24 hours of complaint’ approach.  A concerted effort by a few hardliners in some of our less liberal religious and social movements would soon have the websites removing all sorts of material.

Nothing is mentioned of appeal processes, etc. and as many of tehse sites are based in the US there is the US Constitutional Issue of Free Speech, as enshrined in the 1st Amendment.  The solution that I would adopt were I a US web site owner confronted by this sort of daft legislation from Nanny Brown’s Government would simply be to block access to the site form any UK based ISP.

And the comment about allowing children un-supervised use of the Internet not being like TV, but like letting your children play outside un-supervised is yet another issue.  When I was a child, from the age of about 10 onwards I WAS allowed to roam locally, in daylight, unsupervised.  Along with most other children of my generation.  However, I was responsible enough to have earned the trust of my parents.

Perhaps a major thing for HMG to take away from the curent fetish with protecting our children is that responsibility and supervision begins and should, under normal circumstances, end with the parents.  The state has no role unless things have gone very wrong; perhaps the fact that such studies are being commissioned indicates that several years of politically-correct nannying by this and previous Governments has generated a generation of parents who’re scared to actually be parents and state clearly to their children what is acceptable and what is unacceptable.