The wrong side of History (and some parallels)

At Noumenal Realm some of us often have a conversation that goes to the effect of: when history judges us individually and as a period, I wonder how we will be judged. Perhaps we will be on the wrong side of history about certain issues. There were some people who thought that 100 years ago, a war would be the best thing for the morale of a general public. Michael thinks that being a meat and fish-eater (particularly of Cod) will make him seem abhorrent in the future as these commodities (that’s how we see them today) are so scarce yet deeply affect biodiversity and wider sustainability concerns.

I woke up to find two stories that I thought were notable. The Sochi mayor (city of the upcoming Winter Olympics and Paralympics) claimed that there were ‘no gays’ in Sochi. This parallels to me the denial of the existence of disabled people in Russia late in the 20th Century. Isn’t such a denial both ridiculous and ignorant? Yet our time and during the cold war, it was ideologically motivated to say whether being non-heterosexual (‘gay’ is such a limiting catch-all term) is a choice.

I see on the BBC front page that there is a discussion of a counter-campaign from an ‘ex-gay’ group that imitates Stonewall’s advertising. This is our zeitgeist.

Going back to Sochi, I find it interesting how there is going to be a Paralympian series of games, from the same country that denied the existence of disabled people. There’s very much a parrallel here, by virtue of the fact that a politician would use the same rhetoric of denial of existence to a group of people we now accept – well, that’s not to say its unproblematic to live with disabilities with regards to social or economic and political discrimination (it certainly isn’t unproblematic).

More parrallels: George Takei, of Star Trek fame, has an influential Facebook page. One of the really interesting things he points out (excepting for the really naff visual puns he puts up) is that there’s a parrallel between the discourse between same-sex partnerships and inter (intra?)-racial marriage in the Jim Crow era. Much of the ‘junk science’ of race studies in the 19th and 20th Centuries might be said to be ideologically motivated, another example of how our historical perspective shows a bit more insight with hindsight. Yet inter-racial marriages (I hate that term) is hardly now an issue of legislation and, although there may be social sanctions on the basis of what communities we belong to (and that’s very relative), it’s hardly considered an issue of law. What difference is it does it make between where one is born (or grandparents, parents etc), versus what their status of hormonal development was during the embryonic stage? Pointing out such parallels make the distinctions we make in law seem based less on informed prejudice but social and ideological presumptions.

(A post by Sinistre)

Reading Marvel’s ‘Civil War’ and ‘AvX’, or “The counterpoint of Marvel Characters”

Lately we at Noumenal Realm have gotten very much into comics and graphic novels. Although we mostly read the Marvel stuff, there are a few indies and other things that we pick up on from time to time. I would like to discuss an issue that has been on my mind for a while. That is the interesting personal perspectives of certain iconic Marvel Characters in recent years. I will talk about Captain America vs. Iron Man and then briefly the more recent Cyclops.


Steve Rogers vs. Tony Stark: allies and opponents


In the Marvel Civil War storyline, there was a discussion about registering superheroes. The heroes divided into a pro-registration and anti-registration camp. For me this was a really politically salient narrative, in a decade where the discussion on curbing freedoms in the name of safety was a hot topic in the light of national security issues in the US and Europe, those Marvel writing bods touched on a nerve that divided the Avengers, and many other heroes in the 616 continuity.


Steve Rogers was anti-registration. People work from their own individual goodness to get involved with heroism, and it is not up to the state to both mandate and control this. Rogers also had a concern that registration meant that many heroes who kept anonymous, such as Spider-Man, couldn’t function as they remain anonymous. Heroes such as Spider-Man keep anonymity as a way of protecting those he loved, of course that never seemed to work for him in actuality.


Tony Stark was pro-registration. The government mandating superheroes would allow for a more centralised and organised distribution of the United States and their defence needs, if they were registered. There would also be a way of checking on heroes, think of the old phrase: “who watches the watchmen?”. By having a government approval, superheroes will have someone to be accountable to.


This difference in ideologies represents the truly beautiful and complex relationship that Stark and Rogers has. As people they are different, as political orientations go they are also different, but they also often work together for the same goals. The civil war storyline represents how fragmentation can happen from differing views, but perhaps how arguing out these differences is a necessary part of governance. For a comic saga that involved lots of ‘fights’, I very much enjoyed the political undertones of the civil war.


Cyclops and ‘Pax Utopia’


In the later ‘Avengers v X Men’ storyline of last year, Captain America and Iron Man had their own little revelations betraying a glimpse into their inner character. Iron Man was so desperate to find a way to understand and defeat the Phoenix force, that he discovered a spiritual faith, and began to think in spiritual terms, acknowledging the powers of characters like Iron Fist. Steve Rogers also had a revelation: that changing the world only comes through consent.


When, through a bizarre accident, Cyclops and four other X-Men the great power of the Phoenix force, they begin to remake the earth. There are scenes of bio-engineering and terraforming arid land, where the X-men impute themselves as a saviour to the world. Cyclops also proposes that the world’s representatives in the UN must accept world peace, so says the powerful Cyclops.


There’s that old saying of ‘power corrupts’. The Phoenix force fed into Cyclops’ ambition of the world, but also highlighted his darker aspects, such as his constant fear of being persecuted as a mutant, and never being approved by humanity wider. Cyclops’ forced peace, or Pax Utopia, is a definite reference to the old Pax Romana, which Kant considered as a viable model for world peace. If there were a single sovereign to rule all others, there would be no cause for war. Accept the Pax or face the consequences.


There were moments when the Avengers thought that it might be worth accepting this vision of the world, but Steve Rogers points out that such a peace was bought too easily. Real change has to be hard, has to be consensual and has to engage with people’s real disagreements and grievances. What Cyclops did was an oversimplification to world problems. I loved the AvX storyline for this insight I had in reading it. It’s also much easier than Michael slowly reading ‘The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire’, just saying.




Some musings on Social Media

Editorial: In place of an extended discussion this week I am going to summarise some responses which formed a group discussion between us at Noumenal Realm. This discussion was on the topic of Social Media.

Destre on Social Media

Perhaps I might speak of some of the goods of social media. I have been able to network with people professionally and carry on conversations that would otherwise have taken the spaces of seminars, lecture halls or other such private forms of correspondence. I love the capacity to debate issues abstractly through the medium of facebook messaging (although not by wall post discussions). I find a certain democratising element to the medium. Of course like any medium, it is up to people using it to practice it well.

Sinistre on practical applications

I can distinguish my level of contacts by what social networks I am on. Facebook friends are personal people I know or used to know, and a few online friends; Twitter followers are a mix of robots, people I’ve admired in journalism or entertainment or maybe even some people I’ve personally met, but for whom it might be awkward to add on a personal Facebook. For example, I have a great motivational gym class instructor who has quite funny and pithy things to say. It merits a Twitter follow but not a Facebook friendship. For me strict demarcation is neat. I also find it practical to have twitter blasting away and seeing odd little Guardian/Huffpo news/’news’ articles. I also find twitter useful to remind me when my favourite TV is on.

Antisophie on self presentation

If I wanted to greet someone affectionately in person, I would. Social media seems to emphasise the ‘being seen’ aspect of social interaction, without the actual interaction. In that sense it is artifice. We have written on this blog about Goffman and the moral nature of self-presentation, giving a very poor vision of the social-moral animal defined by constructions such as the definition of the situation. To me, media such as Facebook, local forums or even professional/specialist networks are simply about being seen or being heard, and less about things happening, actions being performed. It emphasises the worst of human nature and the populist herd mentality. The emperor has no clothes in the world of social media, and artifice is queen.

Michael on potential utilities

I have been using blogging platforms, tweeting, Facebook and specialised networks, for example: Streetlife and Project Dirt, as ways of connecting with groups and individuals of similar interest. I have found social media and the various showy things about them to promote the community garden project I have been involved with. I have unexpectedly found an odd merging of people I have personally met (through networking or personal friends) following me on the @noumenalrealm account.

I am a sucker for keeping records. I love reading reviews on Foursquare of restaurants. One particularly nice bit of advice was that the tap water costs an extortionate amount in Mr. Wu’s in London’s Chinatown. I have made a few friends of mutual interest when it comes to fitness, from the social network Fitocracy. I think that Fitocracy has had a large part in my interest in keeping active. I am as awkward with social media as I am in real life about sharing anything.

I am painfully self conscious that what one might say reflects some sociogenic aspect of them. Everything is politicised, mediated through social categories like say class. This includes one’s vernacular, the kinds of interests they have, or the things they may consider  to be apt to talk about.

I think perhaps the most disjunctive thing is that the things I tweet are violently different from the things I might talk about in everyday life. Despite having a blog where I like tweeting about music and blogging about books and intellectuals, my actual life surrounded by everything except black metal, or Modern Philosophy texts. The fact is, I hardly read that much, and my music listening is exceptionally varied beyond the things I say that I ‘like’. My (again, another interest-oriented network) shows my true guilty pleasures, the fact that I listen to a lot of non-music audio like audiobooks or podcasts, and that I like listening to music I am unfamiliar with. Social media may be a deceitful way of playing up one’s interests against how one is in the face to face social domain. When most people ask, I really actually hate talking about Kant or Adorno. Perhaps my face to face self betrays my bad faith in a manner that tweeting or Facebook updates cannot

David Hilbert on Unification

At the end of David Hilbert’s Mathematical Problems, Hilbert goes into the details for his motivations for what we may call unity of science thesis. These reasons are as poignant today in my view as they were in his own time. Motvations could be summarised thusly:


  • Divergences/fracturing mathematics into subdisciplines will mean specialised areas will not engage with other areas outside their specialism

  • The most important innovations are driven by simplicity, more refined tools and less complication.


The first thesis is a problematic of overspecialisation and genrefication of any kind of academic research. Becoming so niche that one is essentially writing for a peer group that is too specific and few. Perhaps this is inevitable in the world of industrial research and constant innovation. If we are to believe that subdisciplines and specialisation are a necessity, then we cannot understand Hilbert’s second thesis, of parsinomy. Granted, more needs to be elaborated if such a unification thesis were to work. Unification has its own problems, but there is a bonus to clarity and it is a matter of fact that many great scientific innovations are of the sort that unify and simplify seemingly irrelevant areas (Maxwell Equations or Relativity for example).

 The conclusion of Hilbert’s lecture is as follows:

The problems mentioned are merely samples of problems, yet they will suffice to show how rich, how manifold and how extensive the mathematical science of today is, and the question is urged upon us whether mathematics is doomed to the fate of those other sciences that have split up into separate branches, whose representatives scarcely understand one another and whose connection becomes ever more loose. I do not believe this nor wish it. Mathematical science is in my opinion an indivisible whole, an organism whose vitality is conditioned upon the connection of its parts. For with all the variety of mathematical knowledge, we are still clearly conscious of the similarity of the logical devices, the relationship of the ideas in mathematics as a whole and the numerous analogies in its different departments. We also notice that, the farther a mathematical theory is developed, the more harmoniously and uniformly does its construction proceed, and unsuspected relations are disclosed between hitherto separate branches of the science. So it happens that, with the extension of mathematics, its organic character is not lost but only manifests itself the more clearly.

But, we ask, with the extension of mathematical knowledge will it not finally become impossible for the single investigator to embrace all departments of this knowledge? In answer let me point out how thoroughly it is ingrained in mathematical science that every real advance goes hand in hand with the invention of sharper tools and simpler methods which at the same time assist in understanding earlier theories and cast aside older more complicated developments. It is therefore possible for the individual investigator, when he makes these sharper tools and simpler methods his own, to find his way more easily in the various branches of mathematics than is possible in any other science.

The organic unity of mathematics is inherent in the nature of this science, for mathematics is the foundation of all exact knowledge of natural phenomena. That it may completely fulfil this high mission, may the new century bring it gifted masters and many zealous and enthusiastic disciples! [David Hilbert, 1900]


The idea of plural narratives

Plural histories

Something that has been on my mind of late is the idea of historical/cultural narratives that rely very much on stories which are often told. There are many kinds of stories which people deem significant and which are significant which are often told or have some aspect of it disputed: the story of the HIstorical Jesus, for instance, or the discovery of the Americas. The World Wars and the rise of Nationalist Socialism are other examples of narratives often told. But of course they are not the only stories.

Lately I’ve been thinking about how emphasising some narratives may undermine others. To emphasise unitary or specific narratives can both posit or prime non-rational assumptions about such a period of history. I am reminded of the kind of person who can only talk about the little they know about a subject even if its not relevant, and who is not content with an humble ignorant silence or agnosticism.

There are narratives which are not well known, but does that mean they are forgotten? It may be said. To not know that attributed first known composer of written music scores was a woman, is not as well known as it should be, is something that if we do not know about, we may not even think about. This I may consider a form of erasure. Likewise, it is said that many of the early writers of Tin Pan Alley established their careers through the uncouth musical genre known as ‘Coon Song’. Some things are ugly in history that if we forget, let the attributed get away with what they did. To some extent there is a moral character to our remembering and our histories: we remember the great achievers and celebrate them, and we should also remember those who should be shamed. We should not forget the shamed of history, of course we can also revise and dispute who we valorise or demonise.

There are many narratives in a single epoch. Some stories are told too much and it is the repetition that people become obsessed with, instead of the story. I am tired of hearing the anecdotes about Immanuel Kant and how he knew when it was 3pm. Why not the anecdotes about the influence of his friend Joseph Green? Reading the Black Metal anthology recently explores the other scenes that emerged, including USA black metal, where it was said that Depressive Suicidal Black Metal was developed.

I guess I’m reminded of this particularly today because the infamous nature of Varg Vikernes being on the news lately. Every mention of Burzum (and that includes this piece) increases the cult of what the early 90s scene was, and the potentially overhyped nature of it reminds me of that old saying ‘if you had all the pieces of the ‘true cross’ you’d have enough wood for a forest’. What about the other scenes that emerged within the Black Metal aegis, such as in Greece.

The other day I was having a conversation with my actor friend about the idea of a theatrical version of Star Wars. My friend suggested that would be a logicially ambitious project. But I suggested that (I was also simultaneously explaining my approach to musical score-reading), one must have an interpretation of the text rather than creating a literal facsimile. The Empire Strikes Back would work in my view as a drama if we focussed on specific situations, persons and mentalities. The Battle of Hoth from the perspective of a Rebel Soldier about to die; the engineers inside the Executor Star Dreadnought as they go to Bespin; or the inner worries of Lando Calrissian in his offstage behaviour away from Solo and Organa. There are many stories to tell, and being a judge of the multiplicities is an interesting critical question. What I would say to summarise though is: there’s no single history.


Geriaction: Reviewing three recent action films

We at Noumenal Realm have been pining for an excuse to get together, usually this takes form with going to the cinema and then ending up at a dive pub/club or some variant of that. We’ve been looking forward to seeing the following films: Bullet to the Head (dir. Walter Hill, starring: Sly Stallone) ; The Last Stand (dir: Kim Ji-Woon, starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger), and Die Hard 5: Live Free or Die Hard (dir: John Moore, starring: Bruce Willis). After seeing these films, I think the reasonable conclusion to make is that these films are pretty dire. The following post will go into the specificities of this appraisal, as well as address cultural themes within these films.

Geriaction as a genre

There is larger recognition of a sub-genre in action films: namely that of the aging action hero. These films have come to be known as geriation (a portmanteau of geriatric and action). Following the success of films like the Expendables, action films have experienced a cinema revival in that most action films have been oriented to the ‘straight-to-DVD’ (formerly ‘straight-to-video) model.

Action films usually commonly to have starring actors who were a bit off the usual youthful appearance a little bit older. Stallone’s Rambo character was constantly drawn back into combat situations after a career as a soldier; Schwarzenegger’s John Matrix character in Commando also possesses a world-weariness in terms of his refusal to willingly go back into combat. Let’s not forget Danny Glover’s character Murtagh’s catchphrase: ‘I’m too old for this shit!’.

Geriaction is not the veneration of the slightly older action hero, its the veneration for the retirement age variety of action hero. The kind of hero whose age pushes the boundaries of what we assume persons from their mid-fifties onwards would be capable of. Part of me thinks that these films are a cynical vehicle to retain some semblance of a career for those individuals whose physicality and proximity to gun battles were the bread and butter of their acting career, another part of me thinks that this is an interesting perspective on the activity and potential of a baby boomer generation who have taken the spotlight for so long; as well as a sociological commentary on how (mostly men) are physically active later on in life.

Some cynicism

I think its fair to say some comments on gender are appropriate. It’s kind of nice that the action heroes in Bullet to the Head (Bullet), The Last Stand (TLS), or Die Hard 5 don’t follow the cliche of having a romantic dimension to their character. It almost, and I say almost, makes them look like they might not be action heroes of the misogynist and sexist variety of yesteryear. This is a bit of a stretch to argue this case though.

While the protagonists in these films are aged males, aged females are virtually invisible. The most notable women present in these films display obvious attractiveness although their not strongly within the male gaze focus. The most notable women in these films have interesting relationships with the leading actor. In Bullet, the lead female is Stallone’s daughter and a key plot element, who represents the moral compass that is non-existent in Stallone’s Bobo character, athough she does unfortunately form a ‘damsel in distress’ plot moment. The female lead in TLS is an ambitious police deputy who is very career minded and dedicated to her duties, which contrasts to one of the other (male) deputies. It is fair to say that action films in recent years have gone a bit of a way since the crassness of films like Commando or Total Recall in terms of gender. Something should be said of the presence of gender in Jason Statham’s Transporter trilogy, which supposedly tried to create an homosexual protagonist, although this is more of an apocryphal story and non-canonical.

Some remarks on male aging

In Northern nations, it is fair to say that living standards have continually improved, which has led to lots of various health related side effects. One issue is that the improvement of female health has become relevant to issues of contraceptive health, with issues such as the improved viability of pregnancies or contraceptive treatments in ages that were not as physically possible before. There is also an ongoing problem, which has little attention, of how to deal with an aging population, which in turn has implications on wider governmental and social agencies. The UK has a currently running drama-comedy, Derek, which addresses the social issues about the elderly.

Aging is a cultural issue: there has been so much emphasis on youth, where youth is a valuable quantity, that looking young has become an industry for the older. I also suspect that with improved living standards there is an issue of difficulty of how older people find their place in the world. Stallone’s character in Bullet to a large extent does not even acknowledge this issue, although Bullet and Die Hard 5 address aging in terms of parenting adult progeny. The emphasis on Die Hard 5 is McClane’s relationship with his son and trying to repair the damage that was done from being career focussed during his son’s formative years and the negative impact that has had, to some extent Bullet explore this as well to a lesser degree. Its interesting to portray adults as still children to a parent, as well as men taking to parenthood as a large part of their identity.

In TLS, Schwarzenegger’s character is a mentor. Someone who has been there and done that, and has a weariness about the consequences of living a life of action and adventure, balanced with the reality of the terror of an armed dispute and the psychology of being in that situation. As a mentor, Schwarzenegger’s character also attempts to better his charges and lead by example as a role model. In these ways films of the geriaction sort can reveal pathways of the aging male.

Trope: the ever changing villain

One characteristic of Bullet and Die Hard 5 was the ever changing villain. These films had so many double cross-betrayals from the villains that it made one not care about the plot. The plots seem to be overly complicated and underdeveloped. The identity of the ‘true’ villain in Die Hard 5 changed around 3 times at least and by the third time it was kind of obvious who the villain was at the end, with no surprise at the triple/quadruple crossing that has transpired. Bullet to the Head by contrast had a senseless double-cross. The ‘main’ villain happened to be the henchman who happens to be in the big fight (another tropey staple of action films). The main villain (spoiler) was Keegan, Jason Momoa’s character who had very little development except for a few background conversations about his history and mentality.

There was an interesting monologue at the end of the film: a key plot point of Bullet was that a convoluted conspiracy unfolded that unveiled the manipulation of government contacts to create a building contract, the final fight was at the site of one of these buildings that were to be rebuilt for some kind of gentrification building scheme. Momoa’s character points out how there is a placard celebrating the lifesaving efforts of the fire service to save people from that very building over 100 years ago. Momoa’s character points out how their nobility is ignored and nobody remembers the heroism inside the building as its history and literal foundations will be built over for some political short term social project. The senseless nature of this forgetting to Momoa is what he finds objectionable and becomes important to his moral outlook, which is an attempt at his justification for his senseless betrayal at murdering his employer at the end of the film. The problem is, this aspect of the film is under developed and these themes are only drawn out tenuously.

Trope: ‘I’m getting too old for this shit’

One of the other lazy tropes of the film, which is essential to the geriaction genre, is that the hero of the film is physically old, although they might still be pretty badass and can hold their own in the action, they still have back complaints and other such things associated with aging. When the hero gets hit, it takes them a bit of a while to get back up again, and in a sense this is realistic, in another it represents a little bit of suspending one’s imagination. Action films used to be about suspending the imagination with certain physical feats (such as Rambo’s ability with an explosive tipped arrow, or that bit in Timecop when two bullets hit each other), however the suspending of imagination comes from thinking that a sixty-something year old man is capable of stopping a convoy of criminals crossing the US-Mexico border, or John McClane’s escape from an helicopter crashing into a building.

The aspects of dealing with aging seem not to be a worry for just the old, but signifier of a wider cultural preoccupation with aging and decay for all men. As someone who reads Men’s Health and other magazines, a fair few pages are devoted to products targeting ‘anti-aging’ or ‘preventing hair loss’, and the unfortunate thing is I too buy into the whole cultural worry of aging. Another interesting feature of the geriaction film is that the protagonist cannot single handedly eliminate their main villain, but they must do so with the support of their younger charges. In Bullet, Stallone’s character nearly defeated Momoa’s character except the latter kept coming, then it was only through the help of his young sidekick that he was saved. Die Hard’s McClane and son worked as a pair in a fairly equal partnership in order to defeat their foes, McClane Jnr (played by Jai Courtney) is a physically imposing character who displays just as much, if not more ability to be the action hero to his veteran father.

Trope: The gen Y younger guy

Another aspect which is interesting about these geriaction films is the aspect of the Gen Y younger guy. The Gen Y younger guy is the ‘next generation’ or ‘potential future’ of the protagonist’s moral project. In TLS, a young deputy shows ambition to work in a busier and more dangerous police department and asks the Sheriff for his support in the former’s application. The token Gen Y younger guy in Bullet is officer Kwon (played by Sung Kang), whose youth and post-racial discourse is a large contrast to the antiquated Stallone protagonist, who is awfully prone to politically incorrect (not to mention ethnically incorrect) jibes at his Korean sidekick. Expendables 2 also exhibits the Gen Y younger guy in the sniper character. I think it is interesting how the Gen Y type character is usually second fiddle to the baby boomer protagonist. Almost as if in a commercial and a sociological sense: the younger generation is not given a chance to succeed and is often in the shadow of the baby boomer who will not step down.

Courtney’s McClane Jnr character is portrayed as someone who is not taken as seriously by his father initially, his work diminished as ‘spy shit’ has both humorous and demeaning effect, both to the efforts of a younger generation trying to make it on their own, as well as to anyone outside of that generation who made it in the 80s.

A common feature: a disposable plot

These films, it is fair to say, have exceptionally convoluted plots. It is fairly transparent that these geriaction films are marketed not because of their directors, or even the majority of their casting; but because of the leading actor who is guaranteed to bank at the box office. With the case of Bullet, this was not the case. Apparently the film did worse than ‘Stop or my mom will Shoot!’. It is an utterly cynical thing to put these films out when they display obvious low quality in terms of their storyline and are an obvious vehicle to promote star power. Mark Kermode pointed out how the censorship ratings for Die Hard were potentially manipulated to maximise their audience: create a lower rating to get as many younger people as possible, and then put in the originally more violent scenes on DVD release to maximise an audience on that front.

Political themes – guns, vigilantism, role of the state and individualism

These films had political themes, although it could have just have easily been missed in the otherwise dull plots. The acceptance of possessing arms is quite covertly accepted and taken for granted. There are varying views on the perspective of vigilantism: TLS emphasises the authority of official state agents, but on the other hand points out the importance of taking a stand against what you believe in and reporting wrongdoing. In Bullet, Stallone’s character is repeatedly told that his job as a hitman will not go without consequences from the younger sidekick. There are interesting dynamics between these films about the role of state agents and the individual. Die Hard goes strongly along the individualist line, as in most of the premises of the Die Hard films, McClane’s character is often unassisted by police or military and acts alone to save the day..

Conclusion: Why I will still watch asinine films

These films have discernable themes, tropes and so forth, however it is fair to say that one has to look fairly deeper than the shallow plot to find it. It’s utterly cynical to deride these films, in a sense it is also hypocritical as if a new Die Hard came out in a few years time, I’d probably go and watch it. It’s a cheap thrill and often production companies like Lionsgate know their targeted audiences all too well – not a great film, but I’d see the latest one when it comes out. Oh Geriaction, what’s next?


When the BBC disappoints, and Vice Magazine impresses me

Sometimes people speak of how alternative media such as blogs and less paper based news formats speak to the end of journalism and news media as we know it. Sometimes I wonder if the traditional media are doing it themselves.

As many of you might be aware, yesterday announced the passing of Venezuelan Leader Hugo Chavez. I found out mainly through Twitter. I was actually watching BBC news at the time, where the pressing stories in the first hour were the following stories which seem to be of public importance:

  • Manchester United going out of the Champion’s league after defeat from Real Madrid and contestable referee decision (in fairness Britain is a country that celebrates football so sports news isn’t completely unmerited)
  • Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, informally known in magazines as Wills and Kate, announce gender of their child – erm, so the BBC are quite big on deference, and its true that there is a lot of international public interest (for whatever reason) on this subject – but I would quite prefer this kind of news to be on E!
  • Justin Bieber causes outrage by being 2 hours late to performance – parents demand apology – erm – this was seriously considered headline news for television.

It is for this reason that I normally think about looking at other news networks. Al Jazeera for instance, or RT. I’m a little bit tired, annoyed even, at the level of irrelevance at news stories sometimes. I grant that there are lots of things of public importance that are pretty depressing, like the economy, and all the issues that are related to the economy. However those are of great importance to an informed democracy.

Also a good news agenda should introduce stories that we don’t normally think about. With that in mind I have lately been admiring Vice magazine and their website. In  a sense I am desperately shocked that I would ever have to admit this, but I find that the reportage and breadth of topics addressed by Vice magazine to be very enlightening – Vice magazine are often known for a degree of cynicism, having very unusual and sometimes just gross stories, however they then come up with things like ‘calling out the Thigh Gap phenomenon‘ (warning – contains objectification) or their story on the invisible minority of gay Palestinians. I’m currently part of a blog where one of my jobs is to monitor news stories and report on interesting things, I always am in favour of linking to Vice stories, but the very informal writing style, and gratuitous use of words like ‘fuck’ make me think twice about the audience I want to link this to.

I have to face it. Vice Magazine are doing a great job, I consider them a good news source in a world where the Guardian puts forward transphobic articles and ignorant commentary from people who basically say ‘I told you so!!1′ about the 2008 GFC without too much awareness of that old thing called ‘post hoc ergo procter hoc’, or when the BBC think news about Justin Bieber and a guy who dresses like Batman is proportionally important. Many Vice reports are outright crass and in fairness the publication doesn’t make a reputation for being too serious. However it says a lot when something like Vice can be cutting edge when it comes to having their ears to the ground on social trends.