Review: “Late Night with the Devil” starring David Dastmalchian and Ian Bliss

May 7, 2024

I recently acquired an Atari 2600 Plus video game console, an updated version of the 1977 original. I collect games via eBay to play on it. The aesthetics of Space Invaders, for example, are straightforward and basic; the console itself is made of black plastic and wood veneer. I like it very much.

My enjoyment partially reflects my nostalgia for the period from whence it came. I particularly like games such as 1978’s “Circus Atari”, whose objective is to bounce clowns off a see saw to pop rows of floating balloons. The balloons themselves are squares, the clowns are pixelated stick figures. This is a far cry from “Grand Theft Auto”.

It’s not just games and consoles; I find that I like the look of cars and clothes of that period more than previously. Even the colour beige seems more attractive than it once was. There is something about the time that was more innocent, more pleasing to the senses than would appear at first glance.

The Seventies were not a simple epoch: Watergate, the Yom Kippur War, and Stagflation are but a few chapters of its troubled history. Our collective faith in institutions took a significant hit from which it has apparently never recovered. However, there was a sense that we had places to look for answers for our pent-up angst. Some people took up radical political causes, others tried communal living. Many people took up new diets, others new excesses. More than a few tried new religions, others dabbled in the occult.

Most people, however, went to work, came home, tried to cope with tough times as best as they could. They turned on their large colour cathode ray tube television sets to get some relief. Johnny Carson, Carol Burnett, and others did their utmost to fill the evenings with entertainment. It was a time in which three major networks (ABC, CBS, NBC) dominated America’s airwaves, and they all had late night programmes which tried to capture people’s attention with varying degrees of success.

The Cairnes brothers, an Australian duo of filmmakers, use precisely this setting to plunge us into horror. It is a rarity: a precisely made, beautifully crafted horror film which perfectly captures the essence of a bygone era.

The Cairnes make use of film clips and narration by Michael Ironside to introduce us to Jack Boyd (David Dastmalchian), a fictional talk show host broadcasting out of New York City. He is a rival to Johnny Carson, then the undisputed king of late night talk shows. Boyd, however, clearly does not carry the same heft of talent. Given this impediment, despite showing early promise, he never quite reaches Carson’s level. The narrator states that even an episode which featured an interview with Boyd’s dying, beloved wife, still placed second to Carson in the ratings.

Boyd’s desperate attempt to revive his flagging career via a Halloween special leads to horror. Boyd invites a psychic named Christou (Fayssal Bazzi), a magician and professional sceptic (Ian Bliss), and a parapsychologist (Laura Gordon) and her young ward Lilly (Ingrid Torelli). Lilly claims she is possessed by a demon. In other words, it is a cauldron of contrasting personalities set to boil over. Almost literally, all hell breaks loose.

One strength of the film lay in its period details: terms such as “Nielsen sweeps” make a reappearance after long being dormant. Wardrobes, equipment, and colour schemes are perfect. The tense and nervy nature of the age and the false bonhomie of showbiz are all evident.

The dominant colour footage arises from the show’s “taping”; backstage shots are filmed in black and white. We not only see the surface gloss but the tension which lay beneath, the backbiting and rough ambition.

Also, the acting is superb. Mark Kermode, the prominent film critic, described the Jack Boyd character as “oleaginous”. This is an apt description; Dastmalchian is in turns sympathetic, grasping, and unlikable. He was able to maintain consistency despite so many changes in register; this is remarkable.

Ian Bliss, the veteran Australian actor, is also excellent as Carmichael Haig. Haig is a fictional representation of James Randi: Randi was a magician who became a full-time debunker of paranormal phenomena. In the Seventies, when charlatans who proffered supernatural experiences abounded, Randi did a public service. In this scenario, Randi’s avatar is both compelling and harmful. He illustrates the hubris of someone too certain of facts. Doubt should both enrich and inform our understanding of the world.

Rhys Auteri, an Australian comedian and actor, deserves special mention for his portrayal of Gus, Boyd’s sidekick. Late night programs relied not just on charismatic hosts, they often required a foil. Auteri’s Gus is believable, self effacing, and shows in the “off camera” scenes that he has an acute and accurate sense of peril.

However, the real breakout star may be the young Australian actress Ingrid Torelli; she portrays Lilly, a survivor of a Satanic cult. Lilly claims to be possessed by a demon whom she calls “Mr. Wriggles”. She is deeply unnerving from the moment she first appears. There is a terrifying aspect about her, perhaps lurking in the contrast between her innocent mien and the evil lurking within her. If this turn does not lead to her getting more prominent roles, it will be a grave disappointment.

If I have one criticism of the film, it is that it carries on long after I would have finished it. The studio descends into chaos after Lilly summons the demon. There is a moment when the screen cuts to a test card reading “Station Difficulties”. I would have left it there. Sometimes the conjurings of the viewer’s imagination are more terrifying than any further narrative. In the brief pause, before the story continued, my mind raced in fifty different directions. The film resumes and carries on a bit longer; the journey to the ending seems too much, though the ending itself is more than adequate.

However, this point seems minor. It is easy to see why this film won plaudits from Stephen King. For those who want a Seventies period piece or just a good scare, I highly recommend this movie.

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Review: “The Gentlemen” starring Theo James and Kaya Scodelario

March 18, 2024

Theo James is the Duke of Halstead

Many artists have an unmistakeable style.  Van Gogh’s brushstrokes are unlike anyone else’s; they may be imitated but never repeated.  Hemingway’s prose is clipped and edited to a degree dissimilar to another author’s.  No one used cinematic montage like Sergei Eisenstein did.  

Similarly, a Guy Ritchie production bears hallmarks of its own. Characters are lurid, as if the contrast settings have been turned up all the way. Violence is sharp, brutal, yet at times almost casual. London is the centre of the universe. 

Sometimes this formula works well, others, less so. However, in “The Gentlemen” on Netflix, Ritchie’s formula makes a particularly strong outing.

We begin, perhaps unexpectedly, on the border between Turkey and Syria. Captain Edward Horniman (Theo James), son of the Duke of Halstead, is a UN peacekeeper, checking travellers’ paperwork along with his team. He is clearly efficient, commanding, self-controlled, and possesses a dry sense of humour.  A black car pulls up; a solicitor informs the Captain that the Duke is dying. Edward has to return home. 

Home is a deeply dysfunctional place; it becomes quickly obvious why Edward might prefer the Turkish-Syrian border to his family’s ancestral pile. His older brother Freddy (Daniel Ings) is unreliable, addicted to cocaine, and thoroughly dissolute.  His mother Sabrina (Joely Richardson) is somewhat distant in line with the predilections of the aristocracy.  Only the groundskeeper Geoffrey (Vinnie Jones) and his younger sister Charly (Jasmine Blackborow) are obviously reasonable, realistic, and rational. 

The Duke (Edward Fox) dies, but unexpectedly names Edward as his heir, much to Freddy’s explosive chagrin.  Inheriting the dukedom is a poisoned chalice; Edward discovers that his father has been working with drug dealers in order to keep the family financially afloat. Specifically, the departed Duke allowed a vast indoor marijuana farm to be set up underneath the estate’s dairy. In return, the Duke received an annual consideration from the dealers to the tune of millions of pounds.  The criminality does not end there. Worse, Freddy made a poor investment with the financial backing of a group of Liverpool drug dealers, and unless he pays, the gang will kill him.

This is a Guy Ritchie production.  Unlike real life, Edward doesn’t even consider calling the police. Rather, he begins a journey into a dark world of intrigue and violence.  There is an elegant and sophisticated crystal meth dealer from America, in the form of Stanley Johnston (Giancarlo Eposito, who also played drug kingpin Gus Fring in “Breaking Bad”).  The Traveller community has a role to play.  There is a small woman who is the UK representative of a Colombian drug cartel; she wields a machete with both skill and vehemence. As someone who once lived in Belgium, I appreciated the addition of a visibly eccentric Walloon gangster named Florian de Groot (literally “Florian the Big”), who rides around on an electric scooter.

Edward wants to extricate his family from this mess; however, Susie Glass (Kaya Scodelario), scion of the drug dealer family that has firmly planted itself on the Duke’s property, works at cross purposes at nearly every turn. Money is the chief lubricant and a corrosive agent: betrayal is a constant. There are few permanent alliances; everyone is climbing over each other to be on top.

It is a wild ride and largely an enjoyable one. There is much to admire: first, the plot always kept me guessing. I couldn’t see the full trajectory of the characters until near the end. 

The series could have resorted to a cheap cliche as a plot point, specifically there could have been a romance between Susie and Edward. Despite some hints of romantic potential, love is definitely not in bloom. Susie and Edward are first and foremost business associates. Here, Ms. Scodelario deserves credit: she portrays Susie as a hard-nosed, hard-edged character almost entirely devoid of sentiment. Her eyes are clear, sharply focused, and only very rarely fill with tears.

There is love in this programme, but it is mainly familial. Edward does what he does because he wants to protect his wayward brother and keep the other members of his family out of the fray; personal ambition does not appear until towards the end. Susie loves her foolish boxer brother despite his clear errors. There is an intriguing, Lady Chatterley-esque subplot involving Geoffrey the groundskeeper and Lady Sabrina.

Another strong point: Vinnie Jones was excellent as Geoffrey; he dominates every scene he is in with an air of wisdom and strength. He may very well be the heart of the series. I recall when he transitioned from playing football to acting that there were some doubts. This performance should erase any which remain. He is, above all else, a consummate showman.

There are also substantial political messages embedded in this programme. For example, a statement by one of the criminal characters highlights Edward’s ease of transition into the world of drug dealing. It’s said that the English aristocracy are the “original gangsters”. They had acquired land and still hold it on the basis of what their ancestors could grab. I thought of Balzac’s statement that “Behind every great fortune lies a great crime”.  The programme presents a number of landed estates; no doubt at least some were built on slavery, the opium trade, and likely worse.

If the programme has a weakness, it’s that the characters are sometimes too extreme.  Edward is so strong he is almost a monolith. He keeps his nerve even after seeing someone hacked to pieces; yes, he is a soldier, but surely that kind of violence would be unfamiliar even to him. Freddy is so dissolute he is beyond all but the most marginal redemption. The dumb are extremely stupid, the stoned can barely string sentences together. Taken too far, this can make some of the lesser players seem unreal.

Another flaw is the near-total absence of the police. If drug gangs were indeed fighting for control of the UK, you would think the authorities would take an interest. There are no visible law enforcement characters. 

Nevertheless, these are minor complaints.  The run up to Easter is often devoid of entertainment; it’s when toxic candy floss programmes like “Married at First Sight” attract the most listless audiences.  “The Gentlemen” wipes away boredom with a shotgun blast.  I hope that this is not the last visit we make to the Duke of Halstead’s estate; I suspect it won’t be. 

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No Filters, No Limits, No Romance

March 14, 2024

“Who the devil do you think you are?” This question has special resonance in England. If it’s asked in America or France, it is a query that merely demands identification. Do you have a valid pass, sir? In England, there is another layer: it contains an element of class snobbery, are you a member of the elite, sir, in which case, no pass required.

Of course, these rules are not hard and fast: in America, neither Beyoncé nor Elon Musk would even be asked. It’s a pretentious question. I have not heard it used “in the wild” for a while. It has, however, been frequently used by writers of period dramas.

There is something about Regency England that has taken hold of the world’s imagination. It doesn’t require much searching to find people who are breathless with anticipation for the next season of “Bridgerton”. Last year, the viewing public fell in love with “Queen Charlotte”, a fictionalised version of the relationship between King George III and his wife.

But why? “Queen Charlotte” was not devoid of difficult truths: for example, it highlighted the barbarity of medical treatment in the past, particularly for those with mental health issues. “Bridgerton” is not all fiction: the “ton” existed. It was a viperish, judgemental, gossipy elite, which could turn on an unfortunate individual in the blink of an eye. The rules of etiquette were suffocating and often obtuse. Yet there is hefty demand not just for these programmes but for anything to do with Jane Austen and other period dramas and novels.

I personally found “Queen Charlotte” touching because though much of it was fictional (it is highly unlikely that Charlotte, offspring of the ruling family of Mecklenberg-Strelitz, had substantial African origins) it did tell a true love story. George III clearly adored his wife. They had 15 children, sadly not all of whom lived to adulthood. Also, I suspect Queen Charlotte was a formidable character; her portrayal by Golda Rosheuvel (“Sorrows! Prayers!”) probably contains more than a kernel of what she was really like. According to the historian Janice Hadlow, Charlotte thought “obligation was more important than personal happiness”.

Furthermore, there are no reliable reports of George III having any other paramours; I wish the same were true of his profligate and dissolute successor George IV. Nevertheless, George and Charlotte’s romance was a tale for the ages, one that should resonate and inspire generations to come.

However, it may very well be that what we most enjoy is the stuffiness, the hard inflexibility of rules, yet love poking through cracks in its surface like a flower emerging from an imperfection in a neverending slab of concrete. The rules say one thing, the heart says another: how can the two align?

Almost every great story, or rather, one that bears repeated reading, contains not only richly detailed characters but also significant challenges. This is true regardless of genre: in “Lord of the Rings”, the Hobbits of Middle Earth must take a long and arduous journey to Mordor to destroy the One Ring. In “The Good Soldier Svejk”, Svejk climbs over the foothills and barriers erected by Austro-Hungarian bureaucracy to survive military life. Charlotte and George navigate through the treacherous waters of British royal politics all under the watchful eye of the vicious “ton”. Sometimes characters fail to overcome these challenges, leaving a concluding sad echo. Nevertheless, the barrier, the challenge appeals to something deep in human nature. We are a problem-solving species. We appreciate most that which was won with effort.

This is an era of no filters and few limits. I cannot know what it is like to be a female online. However, the sheer number of women who state up front that they do not wish to receive pictures of a man’s genitals nor any private messages tells us something significant. Our instant access to information and services has created an expectation of instant gratification of every impulse. Incels, with their petulant, insolent, and downright toxic demands for access to women’s bodies are a by-product of this age. Who the hell do they think they are?

In contrast, the bygone rules of etiquette, the pomposity of the “ton” seem positively civilised. People should get to know each other. Both parties should curb desire until they are sure. There should be challenges and obstacles which highlight character, intent, and behaviour. We secretly long for such things and this makes its way into the continuing obsession with all things Regency and Georgian.

I used to work for the University of Southampton. The university remains a major centre of research into 18th century women’s writing. It has a strong relationship with Chawton House, where Austen lived for a time. I have sat in Jane Austen’s kitchen. As I waited there for a colleague, I noticed the number of tourists on the grounds. The enrolment for studies of Austen’s writing was healthy. I knew intellectually that romance back then was not all fancy balls, candlelight, and claret. The works of Esme Louise James and Kate Lister have made this particularly clear.

However, there is something there. Perhaps it is the thought of looking at someone with pure love that has painfully built over time, and yet unable to say it because of society’s rules. The beloved knows and feels the same but also is bound to respect the same strictures. Love expresses itself only when it is greater than the ties that restrain it, i.e., when the rest of the world no longer matters. If there are no constraints, then how do we know the profundity of emotion? Without fear of consequences, what kind of risks are we taking? Without the confines from within or those imposed by society, how can desirous impulses be channeled into art, science, and acts of heroism?

This is not to say the Georgian period was wonderful. Slavery was prevalent in much of the world. The majority lived lives, as Thomas Hobbes would state, that were “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”. Books about medical treatments at the time are a catalog of horrors. Esme James has highlighted that syphilis was a persistent health problem in London. There was a lot of hypocrisy; despite the far greater transparency afforded by the current era, hypocrisy has not left us.

However, as Francois de La Rochefoucauld stated, hypocrisy is the homage vice pays to virtue. In our efforts to be authentic we may have gone too far. We have given ourselves too little of the ideal to which to aspire and be hypocritical about. We switch on “Bridgerton” and pick up “Pride and Prejudice” to scratch this itch. Who the devil do we think we are? We are, perhaps, more romantic than we thought.

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March 13, 2024

I started working with the internet in 1995. I remember my boss calling me into his office on a cold January day. He was a taciturn Finn and thus always matter-of-fact in his utterances. 

He said, “I’m going to have your work computer hooked up to the internet. I think it might be important.”

As the years passed, I have frequently wished I could send him a gift. My early exploration of the Internet defined my career. I quickly learned how to create web sites; later, I helped firms transition online. One of my first major jobs was to assist a company that previously published technology recruitment ads in glossy magazines. While they eventually folded, thanks to my efforts, they did have a website and managed to survive for longer than they might have otherwise. That experience taught me how transformative the web would be.  Later, I took up roles in Amsterdam and Antwerp; I have seen the world. Internet technologies still define my work; my Engineering PhD was an analysis of online communities.

I fondly recall the early days. There was no Amazon, no Facebook, no Google, and Microsoft was a late arrival. Web forums with limited user bases was our social media. Because of the lack of centralisation, it felt more open. People who had hitherto found it difficult to be heard suddenly had a powerful new channel. Monetisation was barely achievable. Web page sizes were a big concern because many users were still using dial up modems. 

Perhaps the best aspect of the early web was the sense of hope: I could have conversations with people all around the world. We could share what was going on in our lives. Eventually, social groups cohered; we looked forward to merely talking. It was magical. 

This is not the world we live in now. I am aware that when this blog began, the iPhone was less than a year old. Since that time, connected devices have taken over our lives. We talk to smart speakers in our homes to control our thermostats and light bulbs. We ask those same speakers to play radio broadcasts from distant lands: this aspect remains magical.  

And yet, we are now disenthralled. Large firms dominate now: I do my best to buy from etsy and eBay, but it is difficult to avoid using Amazon.  For example, if I want a turbo brush for my discontinued vacuum, Amazon is most likely to have a replacement.  I can and do buy books for cheaper via Bookmail on eBay; however, if I need a Python coding manual in my hands within 24 hours, Amazon is the most sensible option.

Furthermore, Google is so ubiquitous in search that its very name has come to mean “search” itself.  Social media platforms round up attention, segment it, and shove us into algorithmically driven bubbles which reinforce our beliefs and perspectives.  A stark reminder of this arrived earlier in the week.

I am on the left; I am also pragmatic.  These are not contradictory qualities. As I am on the left, I dislike Donald Trump and the entire clown car crew that follows in his wake.  I am also pragmatic: I ask, what is the best way to see him off? 

I do not claim to have any specific answers. However, I think we need to understand how the internet has changed. The aforementioned bubbles are not a bug, but rather a design feature in a world in which attention drives revenue. For every Khaby Lame reviving the spirit of Buster Keaton, there are at least several incel “influencers” telling frustrated young men that feminism and “woke culture” are to blame for their woes.

We on the left need to recognise that we also inhabit bubbles. For example, during the recent Academy Awards ceremony, the comedian Jimmy Kimmel read out a post by Trump disparaging him and his hosting abilities. Kimmel responded with the quip: “Isn’t it past your jail time?”.  My immediate circle chuckled; I smiled too.

But then I remembered: this is my bubble. The algorithms have presented me with like minded people who come from a similar background. Those same algorithms present something very different to other audiences. To a factory worker in Akron, Ohio, for example, this episode may seem like it’s a sneering elite looking down their nose at Trump. This factory worker may accept that Trump is not an ideal character but at least he throws a punch at well-heeled fools that know nothing about his life and how difficult it is.  It is via this means that far from living up to the promise of universal connection, the internet has become a tool of infinite division. Fact, truth, and reason are lost in the maelstrom of heightened emotions. Now democracy itself is under threat.

How can this be remedied?  I believe part of the solution may lay in our choices: for example, every time we buy a book from BookMail, a few pounds or dollars are taken out of Jeff Bezos’s pocket.  We also need much stronger antitrust action to prevent consolidation of the attention economy; it is a nonsense that any one firm’s name becomes totally synonymous with the functions it performs.  No one says “Ford” when they are talking about driving a Toyota.   

I recognise that I am a romantic with an exaggerated sense of nostalgia.  I frequently think about some of the first web forums I chatted on; I recall hitting the refresh button, waiting a few seconds for a reply from someone far away, and my breath catching as the page reloaded.  Yes, some things are far better now. If breaking news is available, I’d much rather have a phone vibrate in my pocket than have to wait for my modem to make screaming robot noises before I access the information.  Back then, we referred to the internet as “new media”. An older technology guru warned me that one day that it would just be called “media”.  He was right. Disenchantment came; it’s too bad that the bright dream turned so dark. 

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Review: “One Day” starring Ambika Mod and Leo Woodall

March 12, 2024

A woman and man kissing.

Sadness can be beautiful. There can be grandeur in melancholy, poetry in tears. Because depression is a mental health menace (Britain for example is second only to Uzbekistan in suffering from poor mental health) we’d rather not talk about this. An appreciation of the somber side of life doesn’t go well with a dose of Prozac.

Hence, “One Day” is refreshingly different: it is a portrait of a romance but it is painted in generally dark colours. There is regret, memory, tears, bitterness, and yet it is beautiful.

The premise is straightforward: each episode takes place on July 15, Saint Swithin’s Day. It begins in 1988 and ends in 2007. The main characters are Emma (played by Ambika Mod) and Dexter (Leo Woodall). They meet at a University of Edinburgh graduation ball; both are celebrating completion of their studies.  At first glance, they do not appear to be naturally suited. Emma is studious, bookish, and from a working class background. Dexter is a child of privilege and a party animal; he mainly coasts through life thanks to his charm and good looks.

Mod and Woodall make this unlikely romance work. We believe from the get-go these characters are completely in love with each other. There is an easiness of interaction between them. They banter naturally.

Furthermore, much of their performance is beyond words: it lay in facial expressions and in their eyes. It is as if the actors genuinely feel the emotions flowing from the script. There are scores of big budget features and Oscar winning performances which are not nearly as effective.

Despite their obvious attraction and passion, Dexter and Emma have a chronic inability to be together. After leaving university, Dexter becomes a television presenter. Although Emma has hard-won academic credentials, she languishes for a time as a server in a restaurant. Dexter in particular is maladroit; for example, he offers Emma a tip while visiting her restaurant with his latest paramour in tow.  The programme provides subtle digs at Britain’s class system via scenes like this. The story makes us feel that Emma’s path should be easier and Dexter should not have had quite so much handed to him on a silver platter.  However, there is a change in the weather, the winds of fate blow them together and pull them apart.  There are episodes in which one or the other is absent. 

This lack is a master stroke: love can be most felt in a void. There is a scene in which Dexter stares at a ceiling in the darkness and is reminded of a night that he spent with Emma.  He laughs involuntarily; his nervous titter conveys his longing.  The realism is remarkable: love affairs are generally not straightforward. There is a lot of crashing into brick walls, arguments, and unresolved issues. Emma and Dexter’s story is completely believable because they make bad choices which have awful consequences. They fight and make up. They struggle. But is love without turbulence merely a fiction? As such, fiction that portrays love that is not easy to attain or maintain may resonate with greater truths.

Also, I am generally not a fan of portrayals of sex on screen; as with films like “Basic Instinct” it often is mere titillation in the service of marketing. “One Day”’s scenes of passion work precisely because they mainly focus on the characters’ faces; we do not see them fully nude. Ms. Mod’s visage in particular shows pleasure but also the explosion of love long suppressed and its realisation. According to the Slovene philosopher Slavoj Zizek, a fantasy realised is a nightmare.  These scenes indicate that it may not always be so.  Rather, it can be the expression of feelings which are beyond the descriptive power of words.

The series also masterfully handles time: 1988 may feel to some as not being terribly long ago, yet since then there have been many remarkable changes.  We follow developments in music and technology: the soundtrack provides the tunes which inhabit the years.  At one point, Emma receives a gift of a Nokia phone; it has a extendable antenna and black and white LCD screen.  She makes it clear this is an extravagance; this little touch tells us much about where we are. 

Similarly, when Emma sits down to write her first book, she does so in front of a computer running Windows 3.1 and with a cathode ray tube screen. I do not recall any mention of the internet except for a brief reference to email. It may have served the narrative for it to take place before the advent of widespread social media. The story probably would have been less effective if Emma and Dexter followed each other on Instagram, and thus had less need to “catch up”.

Many reviews have singled out Mod’s performance: there is no doubt she is the heart of the series.  However, Woodall deserves credit for exploring loss, grief, and the sheer beauty of desperate sadness that Dexter feels from being without Emma.  Dexter learns slowly what he instinctively knew from the first moment: Emma is the love of his life.  When he is without her, he tries to fill the void with alcohol, drugs, and parties.  Nothing inhabits the chasm in his soul.  Without her, he stumbles and falls in the dark.  In romantic dramas, love is often exemplified by flowery expressions, a bouquet left on a doorstep, and the ring of wedding bells. In “One Day”, it comes from the knowledge that Dexter is only whole when he is with Emma (and vice versa). With her absent, memory becomes as real to him as the present day. 

“One Day”’s writers knew when to stop.  It concludes precisely when we are certain of the future and requires no further embellishment. We remain with melancholic delight and painful rapture. 

The worst thing that could happen is if the writers, spurred on by the success of this series, felt tempted to write a sequel. We do not need this tale to be extended; that may not be narratively possible. Furthermore, a repeat of a similar storyline is unlikely be as satisfying. I would urge Netflix to let Emma and Dexter’s tale stand alone. It will be all the greater, and worth more rewatching because of its singular sad beauty.

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Review: “Napoleon” starring Joaquin Phoenix and Vanessa Kirby

March 10, 2024

Major motion pictures about Napoleon are few and far between. In my opinion, the best is “Waterloo”. It starred Rod Steiger as the French ruler and Christopher Plummer as his main rival, the Duke of Wellington. This film debuted in 1970: my inability to name another epic about the same topic at the same scale, tells me something about this genre’s scarcity. Perhaps weirdly, “Waterloo” was a joint Italian / Soviet production and filmed in Ukraine.

I particularly liked how “Waterloo” provided detailed, believable portraits of the main characters. Rod Steiger’s Napoleon is brilliant, neurotic, clearly in decline and he knows it. Plummer’s Wellington is upper crust, clever, self-assured to the point of arrogance, and filled with the prejudices and foibles of the English aristocracy. “Waterloo” utilises a “whispering monologue” technique, which I have only seen elsewhere in the 1984 version of “Dune”, to indicate what the characters are thinking. In “Waterloo”, this method provides additional effective exposition.

“Waterloo”’s concentration on a single battle shows the conflict was close run; if Wellington’s Prussian reinforcements arrived later, Napoleon could have possibly won, reasserted his authority, and extended out the Napoleonic Wars.

I had this predecessor in mind when I approached Ridley Scott’s “Napoleon”. Early indications were promising: Scott picked Joaquin Phoenix to be the emperor. Phoenix has a notable talent for playing disturbed characters; he portrayed the lascivious, unstable Roman Emperor Commodus in “Gladiator”. He was impressive as the murderously deranged Arthur Fleck in “The Joker”. He knows what it is like to be in a role that flirts with the edge of sanity and goes beyond it. Surely, Napoleon was not beyond his grasp.

Scott suggests that Napoleon’s great love Josephine was the key to the man’s meteoric rise, and her later absence was a significant cause of his fall. Vanessa Kirby uses seductive power in her portrayal of Josephine; her experience playing Princess Margaret in the early series of “The Crown” serves her well. She plays the courtesan and the empress with equal skill.

There are additional positives. Scott clearly knows how to stage a battle; the massacre better known as the Battle of Austerlitz is dramatically enhanced by a stark palette of frozen white, midnight black, and contrasted by bright red plumes of blood. Other battles are similarly brutal and terrifying. There is no glory in Napoleon’s wars. However, the breadth of the film prevents going into too much detail about any of Napoleon’s triumphs and defeats. Scott wants us to assume his genius; we do not really see the intellectual effort and leaps of insight that were key to his success. This makes failures, such as the invasion of Russia and the burning of Moscow, less dramatic and interesting.

This brings us to the film’s main issue. It may very well be it suffers because it tries to do too much in the space of a little under three hours. In contrast, “Waterloo” may be more effective precisely because it is concentrated: we don’t need to see Napoleon’s previous triumphs, Steiger’s Napoleon uses mention of them to bolster his generals’ morale.

Furthermore, Steiger’s Napoleon gets visibly angry and upset, is fussy, and feels his mortality to the point of hypochondria. Phoenix’s Napoleon mainly wears a mask of calm, if not indifference; we see little of the charisma that propelled him to near-mastery of Europe. He seems to rise because of tactical and strategic nous, some luck, and little else. Steiger’s Napoleon has space to show his administrative skills: there is a scene in “Waterloo” in which he dictates letters to several secretaries almost simultaneously. Phoenix’s interpretation is difficult to square with legal innovations like the Napoleonic Code.

There is one particular scene which highlights the stark contrast between the films’ approaches. After Napoleon’s initial defeat, the Allies exiled him to the island of Elba. He stages a comeback, taking his small force back to France. En route, troops belonging to the recently restored Bourbon monarchy block them.

Both Steiger’s and Phoenix’s Napoleon step out in front of their soldiers to speak to the men in their way. In “Waterloo”, we see Steiger clasp his hands behind his back, the tensed grip. We see the nervous glimmer in his eyes, beads of sweat on his forehead. As he speaks, we, the viewers, are conscious that he is taking a great gamble. The tension is palpable: the Royalist troops have their guns aimed at Napoleon’s chest. We know the history, but had one Royalist pulled the trigger, it could have ended then and there. The frightful silence breaks when a commander shouts “Fire!”. Then, a soldier faints and the remainder rush to join Napoleon.

Phoenix’s portrayal achieves none of this. There is very little tension, if any. It is as if he is asking “You with me?” and gets a tepid “Yeah, sure” in reply.

Scott’s addition of Josephine should add depth; it does not. She basically controls Napoleon with sex and blatantly cuckolds him. We hear quotes from letters written by Napoleon indicating his frustration with her behaviour. We see Napoleon admit to Josephine that without her he is nothing, and he makes odd humming noises and stamps his feet when he wants to have sex with her. She clearly tolerates rather than enjoys the rather curtailed, perfunctory act. I don’t believe this adds anything to our understanding. Steiger’s portrayal showed plenty of mental aberration without this element.

Like “Waterloo”, “Napoleon” injects the Duke of Wellington into the story. Rupert Everett took up this role and executed it with his usual panache. However, unlike Christopher Plummer, he had limited material with which to work. His meeting with Napoleon near the end of the film, though fictional, is well done. The contrast between Everett’s and Phoenix’s acting styles made it seem like the Duke was more saddened by Napoleon’s exile to the remote British island of Saint Helena than the emperor. Perhaps Scott wants us to believe Napoleon was in deep denial. However, given how generally flat Phoenix’s Napoleon is, I don’t think so.

Previously, Napoleon was available on Apple TV for £19.99; I heard if I waited long enough that it would be available without extra cost. I held off. I’m glad I did. I have watched “Waterloo” many times; I doubt I’ll be inclined to watch “Napoleon” again.

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The Writing on the Wall

March 9, 2024

The Conservative government in Britain is on its way out. Everyone knows it, including the government itself. They are desperately trying to mitigate the impending disaster by implementing minor tweaks including a reduction of National Insurance charges. They may as well throw pennies into a well and make a wish. They could sacrifice a goat, burn incense, run around fields naked in the moonlight. It will not help.

In Chapter 5 of the Book of Daniel, the Babylonian king Belshazzar calls the prophet to his feast to explain the meaning of a supernatural message written on the wall: “Mene mene tekel upharsin”. Daniel interprets the text; it states “God has judged and you have been found wanting”. According to the Bible, the king was killed that night and Darius took over.

Sometimes God speaks in silence. Nothing is (likely) coming to help the Conservatives. The country will judge because the government has been found wanting. The inevitable becomes ever clearer as more and more cabinet ministers are disgraced or recycled into roles that do not suit them. For example, Grant Shapps, the current Defence Secretary, has had 9 roles since the Conservatives took power in 2010. In addition to his present job, he has been Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Home Secretary, Secretary of State for Transport, Minister of State for International Development, Chairman of the Conservative Party, and Minister without Portfolio. Was this because of any exceptional skill on his part? Considering the discernible lack of improvement in all these areas, this seems unlikely. Rather, he likely rose because his errors were merely less spectacular, particularly in contrast to the likes of Liz Truss, who survived as Prime Minister for less time than a head of lettuce succumbs to rot. Brexit, an ill-thought out project asserting a useless sense of sovereignty, has made the country poorer. In contrast, Shapps’s failures seem trivial. He is merely a minor actor in this farce.

Things pass. We reach an apogee; then, entropy is inevitable. All great empires that rise must fall. Rupert Murdoch may get married again at the age of 92, but this is no magic elixir to restore his youth. Allegedly, when a Roman general paraded in a triumphal procession through the capital, a slave would stand behind him. The slave was there to issue a reminder: “Remember, thou art mortal”.

We either accept this truth or we don’t, but it lands upon us anyway. Some, using Dylan Thomas’s apt phrase, “rage against the dying of the light”. This brings us to the phenomenon of right wing populism.

Since circa 1492, the world order has mainly been dominated by white Europeans and their offshoots. White Europeans took over the Americas and felled the peoples living there mainly via disease. Brutal military expeditions overran sophisticated empires like the Aztecs and Incas. The Spanish took so much gold and silver they inflicted inflation upon themselves.

White Europeans enslaved and trafficked Africans to the New World to produce commodities the European markets wanted including sugar and cotton. Europeans controlled the Far East and collected spices. Europeans took over India, beat down and humbled China and demanded the right to sell opium. Europeans later split up virtually the entire continent of Africa without reference to the people living there. Later, they toppled governments like Iran’s which could potentially disrupt the supply of oil. Only nations which followed the European model, e.g. Japan, provided a challenge; Japan defeated Russia in a 1905 war. The facts are not in dispute. But there was always an end point coming.

Birth rates in Europe and America have declined below replacement levels. The environment is under increasing threat due to pollution; our economic model is slowly killing us and science is working overtime in an attempt to salvage the situation.

Furthermore, minorities, religious, ethnic, and otherwise living in Western nations have rightfully asked the questions arising from history and demanded the dignity they are due. Also, China has the second largest economy in the world and produces a vast of array of products the West consumes. India is now the most populous nation in the world and its economy is growing rapidly; the country’s role in information technology is assured.

Things pass: the age of the white European man is ending. Trumpism, Brexit, and similar phenomena in other countries is all part of a singular rage against the dying of the light. The avatar of a typical populist party is an angry white male living in a rural area. To salve the anxiety brought about by change, populism offers closed doors and hostile slogans. It provides nothing that will actually improve anyone’s lives. Media pundits and others wonder why this electorate is not moved by facts: but rage at being increasingly irrelevant is impervious to truth, just as a toddler denied an extra helping of pudding will not be moved by a nutritional label. Sometimes the avatar isn’t even a white male: Alabama Senator Katie Britt is a recent prominent example. Her exaggerations, dramatic and otherwise, are a plea for security against change, even if that surety is an illusion. Even when the populists get their way, as with Brexit, the ends are all dead. Britain is slowly grasping this; the Conservatives are doomed and recent polls show increasing evidence of Brexit regret.

Nevertheless, these are dangerous times. People raging at the dying of the light have created a lot of damage and can do much more. Indeed, they could plunge us into catastrophic darkness. Trump could still be elected President and unleash horrors in a misguided attempt to turn back the clock as he shakes his fist at Heaven.

However, decline is inevitable: the demographic that voted for Brexit and the Conservatives is dying away. Trump is 77. The walls, symbolic and otherwise, are temporary dams to prevent the future from arriving. If we want to preserve anything positive, such as the democratic and intellectual structures which enable power to be consistently challenged, and the institutions which progress science, we should remember that change is going to happen whether we like it or not. We must adapt; for in the end, the writing is always on the wall.

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Inflation: A Deadly Poison

March 4, 2024

After my Swedish grandmother died in 1996, my family and I sorted through some of her belongings.  We found a few German-language books among her personal effects.  Hidden in their dusty pages was a hastily printed Deutsche Mark; I was struck by how crude and jagged the text was.  It was my grandmother’s souvenir from Germany’s experience with hyperinflation.

My grandmother went to Germany for her education; on the surface, this was a very strange choice. Her mother, who probably was bipolar, insisted.  The Allies had recently defeated Germany in the First World War.  Her school was unpleasant. My grandmother once recounted the harrowing tale of how her inflamed tonsils were removed. They were extracted without anaesthetic; she was awake for the entire ordeal.  Soon afterward, her father brought her home, much against the wishes of her mother.

I never got to talk to her extensively about this period in her life; she seemed inclined to forget.  However, she did remember the hyperinflation of post World War One Germany and how insane things became. 

As part of the Treaty of Versailles, Germany agreed to pay heavy reparations to the Allies; this completely destroyed the German budget.  In order to pay its bills, the government literally printed money.  As this money had nothing behind it except the empty promises of a discredited government, it rapidly lost value.  Once you start down this path, it’s difficult to stop: the government kept printing money, and more money kept on chasing the same amount of goods.  As the British museum curator Neil MacGregor stated, sometimes police caught counterfeiters because their notes were better than the ones the government produced.

Eventually Hjalmar Schacht, a new finance minister, brought the situation under control. He created a new currency called the Rentenmark, backed by properties owned by the government.  Schacht was no hero: he eventually became finance minister for Hitler’s regime.  American loans via the Dawes plan also helped stabilise the situation.  However, the experience of hyperinflation wounded German national pride; this added fuel to the fires which would eventually spread across Europe.  After the war, the Bundesbank made controlling inflation a top priority.  This is still part of the European Central Bank’s DNA.  

Inflation kills governments: it felled Jimmy Carter’s Presidency. He didn’t win a second term.  Inflation plagued the British to the extent they were willing to embark on a radical monetarist experiment with Margaret Thatcher in 1979.  

While the present situation in America is nowhere near as bad as it was in the Seventies, and it is vast distance from the German experience, nevertheless, prices are signficantly higher than they were prior to the pandemic.  There are a number of causes: the pandemic exposed weaknesses in the supply chain.  Russia’s invasion of Ukraine disrupted energy supplies and agricultural production.  While the rate of inflation has slowed, it has not gone into reverse.  

President Biden faces many challenges to secure re-election. Many Democrats wonder why people aren’t happier, after all, America’s rate of inflation is much lower than other countries.  Unemployment is low.  The stock market is booming.  Wages are finally catching up.  However, if the price of food does not reverse to its pre-pandemic levels, it is difficult to see anything other than a decline in the standard of living.  Inflation makes saving seem like a fool’s errand, particularly with the low interest rates the banks currently pay.  Inflation erodes any sense of stability.

Not all of this is Biden’s fault, nor under his control.  The Federal Reserve sets interest rates, not the President; it does so based on its independent judgement.  Biden can influence events abroad but not control them.  The Founding Fathers may have done the country a disservice by making the President both the Head of State as well as the Head of Government.  Many nations, including Germany, have separated the roles so that the Head of State is there to unify the nation around symbols and messages, and the Head of Government is there to do the dirty work.  Combining these roles may have elevated the President to a level of perception that it does not merit.  He is not a God King, yet if the land prospers, we attribute it to works by his hand, similarly if the land bleeds, we ferociously blame him.  

Inflation is not the only major election issue.  However, elections now are won or lost due to fine margins.  Biden may have difficulties because inflation has had this pernicious, poisonous effect.  While Biden has mitigated the issue with the Inflation Reduction Act, it has not gone away, nor has it been forgotten.  Memories of inflation persist in the collective consciousness as the Germans have shown. 

Biden should address the issue head on. He should say that though he and the Democrats have done much, there is still much to do.  A dysfunctional Republican House can achieve nothing.  He needs to access a Bill Clinton theme and show that he feels the pain of the American people, particularly those in the heartland who feel the squeeze on wages most acutely.  Trump has no answer to this issue either, apart from suggesting drilling for oil will reduce the cost of energy; that is not sufficient.  Biden has better and wiser advisors; they should own the economy as an issue and hammer home their advantage.  

At the moment, however, this is not happening.  I don’t know if it’s due to a lack of sharp communications or perception.  Either way, the election will remain a tense, nervous affair.  Neither defeat nor victory are certain.  That’s too bad because given the quality of the opposition, Biden should be romping home.

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The End of a Second PhD

February 28, 2024

I finished my second PhD on January 11th. This further degree, in Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering, proved to be a stark contrast to my first, which was in Creative Writing. I recall the exact moment of completion: I was sitting at my desk in front of my computer. Earlier, I walked for 2 miles in the winter chill: I dropped off my car for repairs. My exhaustion wasn’t just physical: I had passed a tough 3-hour viva exam on December 7th. Like many who go through this process, I was given some thesis corrections to do. I completed them during the Christmas break and sent them back to the examiner with a changelog. 

I knew it was possible that there would be more corrections to do: this is how it was with my first PhD.  That time, I completed the final round of editing as I sat with my laptop at a Starbucks near London’s Embankment Tube station. It was busy with the chatter of people ordering flat whites and hazelnut lattes; it was close to Christmas so the familiar variants of Jingle Bells and Sleigh Ride played in the background.

However, my attention focused on the somewhat dim screen of my old Samsung machine. I hoped fervently that the end was in sight. At last, I remember an email to the administrator: the examiner stated he was happy for my doctorate to proceed. After this, I drank my coffee, and then made my way to where I was staying in town. There was a pool there: there were very few people around, so I felt free to strip down to my bathing trunks and float in the lukewarm water, staring at the ceiling for at least an hour.

This time, I wanted to avoid several rounds of corrections, so I tried to be thorough and systematic. Still, it was somewhat surprising when the message from the internal examiner arrived: it said “Congratulations”. He informed the doctoral college office. I went onto the “pass list” and the university library published my thesis online. I was officially awarded my second doctorate on January 24th.

A lot of people have congratulated me. I am happy about finishing.  My feelings, however, are generally subdued. My studies have been part of my life for so long it’s difficult to grasp that it is all over. Two days ago, I logged into the student self-service portal and found a message stating I had left the university.  I froze for a moment.  I stared at the screen. There was a link on the page which indicated what one could do if this record was erroneous.  However, it’s not an error.  I completed my studies.  I have left.  The university has kindly granted me another year of access to my academic email but soon enough, I won’t even have that. The university cancelled my Microsoft 365 subscription. My student ID has expired and I won’t get another. I finished.

I tried to stay; I found an MBA course and applied, only to discover that it wasn’t going to run again until 2025. Thus, no matter what, I am leaving. The campus, which I have seen in every season, when both the trees were bare and full of leaf, and when the sun shone and the rain fell, is no longer my happy place. I keep telling myself, “it’s over”. I look at my confirmation of award letter daily: I finished, I did it, it’s done. 

There will be one last hurrah; it will be a glorious day in July when I graduate. I will put on doctoral robes and receive my certificate, which I will scan and save. 

Also, my new qualification comes with privileges: I applied to become a Member of the Institution of Engineering and Technology.  I recently received a letter approving my application. If I so desired, I could load my business card full of acronyms. I am merely glad that I am officially a “professional engineer”.

After my last PhD, I went to Paris and wandered around in the warm sunshine for a weekend, pausing only to visit a gallery featuring Monet’s works. I recall looking at his large canvases featuring lily pads sitting amidst cool pools of water, my breath catching as I looked at the detail of his brush strokes. This time, I hope to go to Vienna and listen to Mozart and Bruckner in the evening.  During the day, I hope wander its streets under blue skies.  I will drink coffee, maybe have a slice of Sachertorte and read a book by Stefan Zweig.

And then what? This question repeatedly buzzes around in my brain. An MBA program at another university accepted me; I could also do an MSc related to Energy and Climate Change. Presently, I am waiting to find out if I have been accepted to a program related to Artificial Intelligence and Ethics.  I will continue my quest for knowledge.

Will there be an end? I think about what I gained by doing my first PhD: my imagination and emotions ran free. I not only wrote my thesis, I wrote an additional novel and a great deal of correspondence. Furthermore, I added many posts to this blog. 

My second PhD compelled me to think in a more logical, structured, and scientific way.  I have become more organised, more precise, more technical. In a way, I feel stronger.  I recall going into my first viva: my shirt collar was open, it was afternoon, the sky was dark and I clutched a copy of the Quran and said “Bismillah” 21 times before going in.  I had a Tom Baker Doctor Who scarf which I wore for luck.  This second time, I ironed my shirt; in addition to my Doctor Who scarf, I wore a cardigan and bow tie (another Doctor Who reference, “Bow ties are cool”), I wore highly polished boots in the same style as the 11th Doctor. 

I was ready to have my brain bent about confidence intervals.  The examiners asked other, harder questions. At one point, an examiner asked if I wanted to take a break: I said “No”. After I finished, I thought I hadn’t succeeded. But, I made it through.  The examiners told me I “did a good job”. Afterwards, I drove home in the rain and the dark and promptly collapsed once I got through the front door.  

In the end all such efforts have a hard limit: I know a fair amount about two specific subjects.  I can’t take it with me. After I leave this life, my only references will live in obscure corners of the internet.  But at least I did what I could to be as knowledgeable as I could be, as intelligent as I could be, as thoughtful as I could be.  Perhaps, in the end, that is enough. 

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Review: Married At First Sight Australia, Season 10

April 26, 2023

Married couple with a large knife

I generally don’t watch “reality TV”. I remember when British television launched Big Brother. It was baffling. It was as if the contestants were lab rats in a maze and we were watching them eat, sleep, and claw each other.

The firm behind Big Brother, Endemol, apparently has gone in for an even more torturous psychological offering, “Married At First Sight”. On a rainy weekend when little else seemed fresh, I watched it. 

The premise of the show is straightforward, a panel of three “experts” have supposedly screened thousands of applicants. They selected twelve couples to take part in a “unique social experiment”. Specifically, these couples have never met prior to their “wedding day” (in reality, a “commitment ceremony”: if the marriages were legally binding, this would likely create enormous difficulties).  The couples go away on honeymoon for an unspecified amount of time, though it is probably no more than a few days. 

They then spend the bulk of the experiment living in tiny flats in a hotel in central Sydney. Each flat has a kitchen, a small living space, and a bed.  In order to squeeze 36+ hours of television out of the experience, a film crew records nearly every argument, disagreement, and yes, sweet moment.  The few furtive glances of the crew make clear that they are burdened with gear and unlikely to be a comfortable presence.   

The three “experts” compel the couples to perform a number of activities, some harmless, such as hugging each other for a few minutes. Others, such as rating the other brides or grooms in order of attractiveness are far more disquieting. The programme also makes the couples attend a weekly dinner party together: arguments often break out during these events. Following this, the couples meet with the “experts” to review what happened during the week. The “experts” then ask each couple if they wish to stay or leave the experiment. In the case of a deadlock, the couple is required to remain. In situations of catastrophic breakdown, the unhappy participant may be permitted to depart regardless.

It is highly addictive. However, I suspect I would have been less inclined to watch it if it featured any other country. In many ways, the programme is an advertisement for Australia. It appears to be a land rich with gorgeous landscapes, beautiful beaches, dynamic cities, and fashionable hotels.  Had all the action been in a far more mundane location, it wouldn’t have much of its appeal.

As I watched it, however, it became clear that this programme capitalises on the audience’s highest aspirations and its lowest appetites. To want love, to be in love, is noble in and of itself. It transforms life from a matter of mere survival into a meaningful journey that is shared with another. Simultaneously, the programme feeds the same instinct that enlivened the mob at the Roman Colosseum: to watch people make each other bleed.

We are led to believe that the three “experts” personally selected the couples and know them well.  Given the sheer number of applications this seems unlikely.  It’s possible that there is a research team which selects three types of couple. They may try to find a percentage who will be a good match.  Some may be in a more grey area.  Finally, there may be some that are likely to explode immediately.  It is unclear how aware the participants are of this potential calculus.

There are clues to this set up being in place. One couple, Ollie and Tahnee, provided a striking example of a well-suited pair: the cameras frequently went to them for relief from the chaos.  One individual, Harrison, appears to be a potential sociopath: he seemed to enjoy turning couples against each other.  He was so remorseless and unwilling to accept blame for his actions I wondered if he was considering running for public office. He has all the ingredients for a successful political career in the Trump Era.  His partner, Bronte, often wore a glazed, possibly brainwashed expression.

Perhaps a more obvious clue arose when two new couples arrived after a couple of relationships exploded early in the process.  The telltale couple was Hugo and Tayla.  A one-to-one conversation that Tayla had with one of the “experts” said much: she seemed controlling and demanding to a deranged degree.  They paired her with Hugo, a softer, more accommodating character.  I believe the producers were creating a “villain” narrative by putting such a couple together: Tayla made it obvious early on that she found Hugo unattractive and uninteresting, she was rude and dismissive, and even compelled him to sleep on a bench during their “honeymoon”.  Had the “experts” been trying to change Tayla for the better, they probably would have paired her with someone she found physically irresistible but would not tolerate her behaviour.  

The motives of the participants are not always clear.  When they are, the programme is particularly devastating.  For example, Season 10 saw the introduction of the first participant of Indian heritage, a dentist named Sandy.  She became involved despite her parents’ strong reservations, and stated she was inexperienced in relationships.  I believe her; I also believed her when she expressed her deep desire to find her person. 

Sandy’s match was Dan, a Digital Marketing business owner. His stated profession made me wince. I have worked with the internet since 1995, and seen many “Digital Marketeers” come and go. It is often a fly by night business, particularly because technology evolves so quickly. A quick look around social media later on provided potential evidence that his idea of digital marketing isn’t terribly clever, indeed, it could be rather tawdry. He has been accused of buying (fake) Instagram followers. Dan did not strike me as the sort of person suited to Sandy’s needs. He was not. I don’t believe the producers of the programme cared. Indeed, Sandy’s intense pain given what she sacrificed probably made for better television in their eyes.

The programme also presents a rather unflattering portrait of Australian men: I lost count of the number of references to “drinks” and a “boys’ night out”.  One fellow, Adam, who said he was an entrepreneur “in the crypto space” (which should be an instant red flag) went out on one of these nights. He kissed a bride that wasn’t his, went back to his apartment and had sex with his bride. He then tried to convince the wronged husband that he was imagining things and did not tell his bride the truth until forced to do so.  It was only when the betrayal was completely obvious that the other men turned on him.  There was an almost unspoken “bro-code” among the husbands: this rule compelled them to keep bad behaviour to themselves.  Only rarely was this broken; it was notable when it was.

Positives were few and far between. However, the few real relationships which have grown out of this programme have been tested to destruction. If you are still in love with someone despite having endured the aforementioned conditions and compelled to provide a running commentary besides, it is entirely likely you have struck gold.  But like striking gold, this is vanishingly rare.

I believe this programme should be discontinued. Its tapestry contains a distinct and unmistakable thread of cruelty. The truly lonely who are so unfortunate to be chosen will likely be broken, the malevolent will thrive, and the cynical will profit. It is compelling, like watching any other disaster. But we shouldn’t confuse calamities with entertainment: if we do, we could become desensitised.  This programme is on its tenth season. It is alarming to think what wreckage it will need to make a success of an eleventh.

And a final word….

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Me And My Blog

Picture of meI'm a Doctor of both Creative Writing and Manufacturing and Mechanical Engineering, a novelist, a technologist, and still an amateur in much else.

By the Blog Author