Friday, 27 May 2016

Five Friday Favourites: Punk

I like Punk music... or rather I like a lot of what Punk music I've heard. It's a period I still associate with the end of the 1970s and I think it can get caught up with a lot of other styles, New Wave and what would become Goth, and New Romantic. Often we present that as a linear thing, but I'm not convinced it was. I suspect that most of them were just there, bubbling away and coming up in a series of events. It is confusing. I love Tom Rollins Band's Power in the Darkness, and it appears on Punk anthologies... but it's not actually Punk.

Which is a pain, because I like the song (and sod it have Power as a freebie anyway because the rant is brilliant).

I've tried to avoid bands who became Goth later on, or American Punks (the latter simply because I don't like their music as much). It is difficult, there's a lot of crossover between scenes, something that makes me feel I may be being controversial by choosing a New Model Army track. UK Decay get listed as Punk, when I know Goths also lay claim to them (they performed in black because it hid the stains... and accidentally started a fashion trend).

I confess that though I like the Sex Pistols, I've steered clear of them. In part, that's because they feel like a cliche, but also because they were a boy band put together to sell clothes, and I'm not sure it's fair to include them. It seems pretty typical that a manufactured band is the one we mostly remember.

Splodgeness Abound: Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps

Bouncy, simple and fun, this is a great little track, that oozes energy and makes me want to dance about.

The Buzzcocks: Ever Fallen in Love (with Someone you shouldn't)

I love this track for its energy (yeah I know), and the vocals pop, pop, pop as it goes along.

New Model Army: Here Comes the War

This is one of those songs that I love... but I'm not sure if it's Punk. I'm not sure New Model Army are Punk... although they are listed as a Punk band on Wikipedia. They've been branded by many scenes and subcultures and they fit, and don't fit into all of them. This song just speaks to me, its anger feels so authentic, and it reminds us that it's okay to be angry, that we need to be angry at times, no matter what people in authority tell us.

The Vapors: Turning Japanese

Love, love, love this.

That's all.

The Passions: I'm in Love with a German Film Star

Again, I'm letting Wikipedia be my guide... probably foolishly so. I love this song, and I thought it was a good way to get a female musician onto what's a bit XY dominated so far. I do wonder if it's a bit too languid to be a Punk song and so falls into the 'fuck it' camp of choices.

Here Comes the Science Bit

This post is part rant, part commentary. I fear it's uninformed, misinformed and orphaned. It comes from a part of me that has watched internet science enthusiasts wax lyrical, long and loud, over the indignities that their love is subjected to by the media and by general knowledge. There are videos railing against how unscientific Science Fiction often is, or how terrible the reporting of science is in the news.

I can understand why this irks, though I feel that in many cases the complaints miss the point and that in the modern age very little is factually reported or without spin. There is a plethora of sexing up and soundbite media as the networks and newspapers grow more desperate for an audience. The received wisdom is that the internet is killing traditional media, and this hasn't helped with communicating anything complex. Added to the fact that newspapers, in particular, are shedding journalists and sub editors like nobody's business (though not I note editors who seem to be trousering more and more cash despite the warnings of their industries impending doom) and it's no surprise that standards are slipping .Often press releases will simply be reprinted in the body of the newspaper without any questioning. in the same way that industry wires are transferred. The process of gathering and printing news is growing ever slighter and those hacks that do have full-time gigs are often so hurried and stressed they don't have time to work pieces properly. Investigative journalism, contrary to the impression granted by both the MPs expenses scandal and the Panama Papers, is increasingly rare and what does go on is largely a matter of putting in Freedom of Investigation requests and going from there (as far as I can tell). We should applaud the fact that Private Eye still maintains the Paul Foot Award for investigative journalism as I'm sure it encourages the practice to continue.

In addition to this, we should bear in mind that everything is targetted towards a demographic, The most pertinent example of this is Lord Beaverbrook's assessment of the Daily Mail: that there should be something to frighten the reader on every page. In the same way, this piece from Yes Prime Minister catches the spirit of it well. I imagine television works the same way, and has the added wrinkle of being akin to a public lecture, a sole voice addressing the many and needing to make it all as understandable for a complete novice as it is for someone who is at least a journeyman in the subject, A friend's daughter is dinosaur mad, and complains that anything on TV about palaeontology is simple; I feel the same way about history programmes (unless it's something like the history of food)

This problem extends across all of Knowledge (a term I use because I grow increasingly convinced that school subjects are artificial divisions to make them easier to teach, and that even the art/science divide is essentially bunk), I hope my example above demonstrates that it's a widespread issue, not something that is only affecting STEM subjects. In the UK the education system is poor, I'm afraid to say, and I know for a fact that History often vanishes from the school curriculum as schools scramble to meet their literacy and numeracy targets.

There is a feeling, to me, that there is a scramble towards science, not for the love of it but as a way to make money and that, just as the media has become increasingly driven by Capitalism so too is education. I've seen people in comments under Guardian articles argue in all seriousness that the study of anything but hard science should be abandoned at University level as if it doesn't matter if artists, economists etc are trained, educated and able to do their jobs. It all feels very materialistic as if only designing and producing the next level of technology is important.

Part of this feels as if it contributes to a rejection of social science and deeper philosophical thought; something we see in the embracing of genetics and biology to explain behaviour and social trends. Issues like poverty, deprivation and so on seem to be swept away under the blanket of hard work or bad genes. It makes it hard not to feel as if genetics is in danger of becoming almost a junk science, something that's thrown out to simply wave about in an effort not to do anything to help the poor. Similarly, political and economic theories seem to have vanished out of the public sphere, perhaps a sign of the 'they're all lazy bastards' or 'it doesn't matter because x, y, or z, will stop anything we do' attitudes that are so prevalent (in this context it is easy to see why nationalistic parties are becoming popular across the world, they offer the spectre of control, without letting on that it's only an illusion. The ability to control our own economy and politics slipped out of the bag long ago).

Similarly, science seems to be pushing the sexes and genders farther apart. Men are men, women are women and ne'er the twain shall meet. We use terms like female brains and male brains, both terms that seem to have sprung from gross generalisations, This is despite the fact that we have seen changes to both masculinity and femininity, and our expectations of both sexes, within the last century. The obsession with pink for girls would seem very strange to the Victorians, who dressed their boys in the colour for example,

We have ceased to try and understand society and, sad to say, it feels as if the science enthusiasts' interest ends at the laboratory door. It is left to writers to try and interpret what is happening, and the pace of scientific discoveries is so fast now that they find it impossible to keep up. I fear our concepts of how our world works is hopelessly out of date. William Gibson has said that the SF community missed the mobile phone's ascension for instance, and so we had no fiction to discuss their usage. The same is true of the way that policing is changing, moving away from the bobby on the beat to a more forensic approach. In Japan mobile phone signals are collated so that in the event of an earthquake people can be found more easily.

Science Fiction writers, in general, seem to be either setting their works so far in the future that it makes no difference or in the past to avoid the problem of science changing the rules of what they can do, making their work obsolete. This last happened to Warren Ellis' series Global Frequency, which had super duper advanced phones in it. Within five years the industry had caught up with him, and he struggled to make the next iteration. The other point I would make about SF is that while it does strive for scientific accuracy... it's there to tell a story, to take us out of ourselves for a bit and that means you sometimes have to gloss over the facts in favour of a piece of whimsy. Otherwise, you can kiss most of the things we wonder at on the page or the screen goodbye.

This may explain not only our sense of anxiety but also the very idea of future shock, where we are unable to settle and adapt to our world properly. Everything really is moving too fast, and humans as much as machines now seem to be in danger of becoming obsolete. Where once you learned your skills and got on with it, now it feels as if you must retrain every year or so, learning the new systems the IT people throw out.

It also contributes to the way we talk about science, the dumbing down is used to explain it... but not explain it at the same time and to make us want stuff. That's the point of it all at the end of the day, our lovely masters in the political sphere don't want us to think, or understand, only to consume. Newspapers and TV networks want your money, not your understanding and if you think they're really there to educate you, well, you must come from a country which gets the BBC.

I'm interested not so much in science as the way that it gets used in society. Nobody foresaw the rise of sexting, or bullying, in the same way that nobody could have predicted that cars and televisions have led to the demise of 'communities' in the sense that politicians use the term, or even the humble pub. With technology attributed to the rise of depression as we become increasingly isolated, it's obvious that the fruits of science are not always positive.

Where we go from here I'm not sure, Science is important, and it needs to be studied (though it would be nice if it was kept to the practical realms rather than being used for what feels as if it's just SF with numbers attached). I feel, though, that if the uses we put science to become dehumanising or isolating we should question that, and ask if it's actually useful.

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Six Things I'd Like to see in the MCU

The end of Phase 2 left the MCU in a strange place. Introducing the first non-American superhero in the form of Black Panther suggests that the movies are going to take a more international flavour from now on, something that introducing the Ancient One in Dr. Strange certainly hints at. The situation is more complex, with the official Avengers team potentially down to being Team Iron Man and nothing else, and Team Cap in the wind, presumably spreading out all over the globe to deal with stuff under the radar. Given that Thor and Hulk are presumably off planet at this point, I assume we won't see them get involved in the events on Earth until Avengers 3, at which point it will be interesting to see which way they go on the Sokovia Accords.

In the meantime, we should remember that Marvel actually has a lot of work to do to get the stage set for Thanos' invasion. We still do not know where two of the Infinity Stones are (Time and Soul respectively), and as the details of the second Guardians, film are still shrouded in secrecy it is unclear where we will see them. Tempting as it is to assume that the Soul Stone will appear in Dr. Strange, if Adam Warlock turns up in Guardians, we will have to see as traditionally the artefact is associated with him. Also, bear in mind that so far Thanos has none of the Infinity Stones in his possession and that as a result we have a handful of movies to see him assemble the Infinity Gauntlet. It may be that the first segment of the Infinity War films will be dedicated to that, but I feel that we need to see the Gauntlet completed by the end of the first film, presumably with a shot of a defeated Avengers team at his feet (so that we can have a 'putting the band back together' arc in the next one).

There are a handful of things I'd really like to see in the Marvel films, though, both from a world building point of view and from pure geekery.

1) More International Heroes

Image result for Alpha FlightWe have seen American heroes, and of course the Asgardians, but really outside of the USA, super powered beings are vanishingly rare. I hope that we will be treated to a growing number of heroes from the rest of the world, even if it's only in cameo roles. I have always felt that it's very silly that there's so little activity elsewhere. It would be nice to see a level of Real Politick here, with Russia, China, Germany, etc, striving to have their own champions. This would make particular sense now that the politicians have got involved and put restrictions on the Avengers. From a comics point of view, this would not be particularly hard, especially given the way that Marvel have shown themselves willing to adapt their heroes to the big and little screens.

Image result for marvel comics union jackOf course, this also chimes with my desire to see a British hero in the films. As Captain Britain may be tied up with the X-Men deal Marvel signed with Fox in the late 1990s, it would be great to see Union Jack, perhaps as a British version of Black Widow or Captain America, deeply ensconced with the UK's own version of Shield (and a World War 2 set film with Jack working secretly while Cap gets all the headlines would be perfect and explain why they do not know each other). It would also allow Marvel to introduce Alpha Flight, Canada's team of superhumans, and in a move that would surely please the Chinese market, to make the Ascendants part of the universe.

2) The UN Meddling

Linked to the above point, and to the comment earlier about how few Avengers there are now, it would be lovely to see the UN bolstering their numbers through a series of interventions, perhaps insisting that a new Captain America, one with the White House's approval steps up to the team, or that someone like the Abomination be drafted so that he can work his sentence off via superheroics.

It would also be good to see Tony Stark (or is that Stank?) being forced to work more at bureaucracy and office politics to get his way around the likes of Thaddeus Ross. What might be even more fun is if they were to introduce a team of ringers, characters like Thunderstrike or Red Hulk, so that as viewers we see them get defeated and then have the real deals take up the baton in the second Infinity War film.

Image result for US AgentA quick note on if they do go this route (which is unlikely, I am just spouting off on the internet after all), I suspect that the new Cap would neither be Falcon or Winter Soldier, but rather someone like US Agent, a man very much of this time rather than a man out of it. We have seen a  heroic Captain who goes against the government when he has to, doing what is just rather than necessarily legal. It would a change of scene, possibly, not a welcome one, to see an alternative and to have it firmly established that he is not really meant to be liked.

3) The Nova Corp 

Image result for Nova ComicsWe saw them in Guardians, but the Novas were not really like they are in the comics at all, where far from flying little ships they have super suits and are basically the Green Lanterns of the Marvel Universe. It would be so cool to see them introduce that into the MCU, I would seriously squeal if they introduced even a prototype suit in the next Guardians film.

4) The Elders of the Universe

Image result for the collector marvel
Again, this is something that has been hinted at. In the comics, the Collector is an Elder, a being of cosmic power who has dedicated his existence to one particular activity (can you guess which one?). It would be fun, for the others to start showing up, perhaps as onlookers for the Infinity War, perhaps even taking bets on the outcome.

It would add a new dimensinon the universe and be just a cute little nod to the universe's legacy.

5) Winter Widow

One of my wife's desires, rather than strictly being one of mine, in the comics there's a romantic relationship between the Winter Soldier and Black Widow, and she would very much like to see that on screen. Perhaps in the Black Widow film?

Image result for winter soldier black widow comic

6) More Villains

While the bad guys we have seen so far are great, it would be nice to see more and not necessarily the ones who die at the end of the film. There are so many good villains out there (and it would be nice to see Marvel move away from using their staples of Thanos and Hydra, because that is starting to feel a touch old). The likes of the High Evolutionary would be nice to see, perhaps as a way to examine Scarlet Witch's power more?

Anyway that's my list, what would you like to see?