A Journal of the Plague Year Day 62

Tuesday 19th May 2020

Having exhausted all possibilities on Netflix, blocked by algorithms, I resorted to watch one of the latest offerings, Extraction. Starring Thor Chris Hemsworth, getting ever more typecast into the action hero role of the Great White Hunter. Set in Bangladesh, what a welcome surprise! No Hollywood film would ever think that as a film location, with few even knowing the difference between India or where, what and who it is on a map. Ask your average Joe and Josette on that side of the pond what they think of Bangladesh and the likely answer will be ‘what?’ and if lucky, followed up by ‘poor’ (this side we have enough Bangladeshis, notably running most of our ‘Indian’ restaurants, to know what their food tastes like, and that insofar, they exist) .

So what a refreshing take to think hundreds of millions round the world would now be introduced to the country, inevitably exposed to the culture, the backgrounds, the characters.

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The opening shot however was not encouraging.

There is a certain mustardy filter that has become a meme among US films, actively promoted by Hollywood and almost every Netflix production. That whenever setting a scene in the Global South (read: poor and hot) you cast a yellow glaze on all things -redolent of a dusty, dirty atmosphere. Dhaka, the capital of 21 million, was seething with it, as if a sudden sand storm had just blown in over the jungles and the world’s largest river delta, that sees in 4x the annual rainfall of London. Welcome to a giant broiling city of mass poverty, open drains and endless grit, like a Star Wars or Dune location (incidentally all scenes were actually filmed in India).

This should be called as to what it really is, a poverty filter, and racist projection.

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Mexico is particularly prone to this same cast, the minute one steps over the border from a sunny California, and just as avoidant of the glittering city centres in favour of seamy bordellos, desert ranches and shantytowns.

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This has its roots in the US Army office in Hollywood. When hiring out its weapons, fatigues and aircraft carriers it does operate a PR scheme alongside one has to agree to. This is understandable, who’s gonna lend out work if the crew in question is seeking to take down your establishment? Akin to gearing up a production and helping in all advice, while they advertise how shit and baby-killing you are.

This office has guidelines to toe, and Hollywood has fallen into step. Note how Western (read: White) locales have a certain blue tinge that psychologists put as making audiences alert, whilst promoting a sense of cleanliness and calm. However you’ll have to up this tint if dealing with Eastern Europe (notably Russia) to make it uncomfortable -overtly cold, calculating and emotionless, rife with degradation and akin to any horror flick. Meanwhile, we’re getting conditioned to warm colours equated to dirt, as any non-Western, poverty stricken nation is assumed to embody.

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The seminal film that influenced a lot of this was Saving Private Ryan, whose use of desaturated colours became iconic. This in turn led to Black Hawk Down, a film notable in the fact it had to run past an Army and White House committee for approval. Directed by Ridley Scott, its beautiful cinematography and gritty realism at battle proved to be an operatic groundbreaker. Telling the true story of the chopper crew attacked by a mob in Mogadishu, and the ensuing gunfight that killed 19 American soldiers (and led to the withdrawal of the US from Somalia), it showed harrowing shots of firsthand experience.

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One scene shows a Somali woman yelling angrily at the soldiers amidst the bullets. The soldier gallantly tries to avoid hitting her, hissing repeatedly at her to scram, but in the end he’s forced to shoot and she goes down, mad robes flailing. That snapshot employs the gritty realism the film was noted for, portraying the true-to-life decisions of every soldier, and winning the audience over in droves. -Or did it truly portray things? The reality was not that a few civilians were caught in the crossfire, and that the soldiers ummed and arred about taking one or two belligerent, bloodthirsty innocents down. It does play a bit like Zulu, the civilians shown dancing and gibbering like animals even as they’re fired at.

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Journalist Mark Bowder who wrote the book on the Battle of Mogadishu even complained about the fake ‘realism’ in their translation. In reality over 1,000 Somalis died in the battle, not just militia but hundreds of civilians callously mown down -albeit posthumously portrayed as armed with AK47s and rocket launchers jumping out in the warren of streets -or that these women and children were being used as human shields by their own militia. The mob mentality against the US ‘peacekeeping’ presence in the conflict had been long united by the highest rate of collateral civilian deaths since the Vietnam War, with 500-600 killed (inc. militia) and 2,000 wounded in that short time, plus high profile murders, torture and assaults on civilians committed by US soldiers.

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Anyhoo, I digress. This isn’t so much an anti-US diatribe (all warring countries commit the same acts of violence and crime abroad – in Somalia Canadian soldiers were also caught torturing civilians), but a stab at the complicit narrative that democracy installs. As philosopher Jacques Ellul points out, democracies have just as extant a use of propaganda as autocracies, exacerbated by the fact just five right-wing families control most of the world’s ‘free’ media.

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Anyhooooooo, back to the film. Yes. Great for the acrobatics of camera, with some almost seamless shots following the violence from room to room to window to falling to bouncing to the landing crash below, or out one windscreen into another as the explosion hits. One pounding shot lasts 12 minutes. Directed by Sam Hargrave, the stuntman double for Captain America, these are fight scenes as memorable as the Matrix trilogy, though not as groundbreaking. However, it does fall into a pit of the dated action movie, the formula being the Great White Straight Man/ White savour meme rescuing darkies and mostly shooting them down too. It is a different time these days, and Rambo is no longer as poignant or searingly poetic.

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It is the kind of cliché where the American Aussie hero is repeatedly bulletproof even from machine guns a few feet away, is lone in his rescue of the locals, with superior strength and skillsets to be in foreign awe of, and is heartbreakingly haunted by the past. The foreign roles are extras, the one woman (immaculate, ball-breakingly ruthless) hinting at a love history and nothing more, the villains (cackling, hand-rubbing, sadistic) as single-faceted as a stage demon allows.

As farce it’s delicious for the ride, though it does repeatedly, weakly try to pretend it’s Jane Austen (with guns). You’d easily enjoy it if you forgot the attachments. But fuck you, too late. Nazi baby killers.

 

As mentioned, Bangladeshis watching this film will be offended for sure. Why Bangladesh? Well, no other country would have their police force mown down as the forgettable baddies, populating each bloodied action shot as unit after unit is gunned, stabbed, run over and er raked multiple times in every available body part as they bumble onto screen. The action starts off in India, but decamps to Bangladesh to portray the entire police as corrupt and in league with the venomous, casually torturing drug lords.

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Imagine this, let’s take the NYPD. The head honcho of the force gets in league with the cities local mafia don, and orders the arrest of the hero and his rescued kidnap victim. Does Hollywood then wordlessly allow every policeman turning up to become bullet bait, making up the majority of a body count of 183? There would be outrage. No reviewer’s picked up on that, despite castigating the film for its plot and ridiculous scenarios, yet missing the disconnect with respect in a portrayal of a people.

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This is why the film had to be set in a forgotten, forgettable small country and shot outside it -not India (too large, too important), not Mexico (too close), not the Middle East (too sensitive), not Eastern Europe (too White, the audience might notice/ identify). Despite having a population of 165 million, none of them matter, none of their voices deserve to be heard.

To finish off, some images of the city. We’re not going to pretend it isn’t poor, it isn’t sweatshoppy, it isn’t hot and steamy. But there’s more to it than a vast, festering crime-slum. Welcome to Dhaka.

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Garment workers protest for higher wages in Dhaka

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Yesterday

Tomorrow

 

 

A Journal of the Plague Year Day 13

Monday 30th March 2020

 

Well, I came across this today, that’s doing the rounds on social media. Very heartwarming, and oh so together in our time of collective need. I’ll add a lovely little transcript below.

 

I can’t wait for a year’s time when all of this is a distant memory. And there’ll be a corona baby boom because all the lovers were loving. And there was a rise in small businesses because all the entrepreneurs had a moment of stillness and creativity.

And all the children remember nothing but a time when all the mums and dads were at home drawing and playing ballgames. And be the time we all got to stop and be present.

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We will remember the time when health was the first priority. And we learned new ways to use fresh produce to feed our families. We will remember the laughter and fun on Tick Tock, Facetiming with our friends and family each day.

Date nights in the house and home P.E. workouts with Joe Wicks. A time when our real heroes in the NHS urged us to stay at home for the greater good. And our country showing us hope by turning Wembley and the Angel of the North blue.

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And we were all forced to think outside the box and dream of new things and reinvent old ways. And for once even amongst the chaos there was community. There was a global rise in togetherness. And as the streets were quiet our homes were bustling with love and laughter.

That time is coming soon, just like any other crisis before it. This will all be a distant memory. Things we’ll listen to our children discuss in the classroom that we share with our grandchildren.

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So to you: I know it’s unsettling, but focus on the silver lining. We’re all in this together. And there’s so much beauty to see.

 

Ah bliss, what happy memories. How we’ve all misconstrued this time together as a global catastrophe, when we coulda just framed it as the middle class Western staycay it really is! Yes, laughter and fun on social media, online workouts with hot C-list celebs, our homes ‘bustling’ with love and laughter. No Indian states to cross, no windowless Jo’burg shacks to stand in, no queueing outside US gun shops, no anti-Asian racism, no decision on which Italian patient to let die, no Iranian mass graves to dig, no parents or grandparents to watch succumb, from afar.

At a time when spousal and child abuse levels are skyrocketing, when the internet is saturated with finger-pointing, hate speech and pandemic politicking, when state after state is refusing to help its neighbour, and near a thousand people a day are dying in Italy alone, this may well be all that’s needed. Ah what a breath of fresh air! Let’s sweep it under a lovely chenille rug, all cuddly and warm, the betrayed social contracts, economic exploitation, global posturing, political corruption and massive societal cracks that had always lain beneath, all gone! No matter that the chintz-happy carpet’s now scraping the ceiling.

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Maybe they should do one for the Syrians about long distance hiking, timeless desert vistas, dieting opportunities, natural tans and the great outdoors with daytime fireworks. And the lucky 5% who can afford the average $20,000 for a Mediterranean cruise + tour package after, discovering new cultures and selfie ops across Europe. Whilst playing British bulldog with the authorities and organised crime to the tune of 10,000 missing kids by 2016 alone.

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Or the hale, healthy spirit of togetherness that is the Delhi-Uttar Pradesh border right now, where millions of happy hikers are about to embark on a historic reenactment exercise, in memoriam to the holocaust trails of Partition.

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https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/nishitajha/india-coronavirus-lockdown-migrant-workers

As a random snapshot of our socially distant spirit today, word is the EU may dismantle from sheer selfishness given how moot it’s suddenly become: so-designed for precisely these scenarios yet refusing to help when presented. Given that Germany and Netherlands have blocked a rescue package (claiming the Southern states too greasy, too profligate with their spending and can’t be trusted, as they die in their thousands), Italy may well bow out, taking along Spain and Greece.

Retail may collapse en masse around the world, as does the gig economy, a Great Depression, mass unemployment, extremism and instability, while Russia and China look to make headway using the crisis. And the US, like a beauty contestant trapped under a beaching, floundering Trump, made ballast by big business and an army of enablers, don’t even get me started.

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We may all be in this together, but you don’t get to see ‘so much beauty’ by sticking your M&S tote carrying, Sky-subscribing, Hollyoaks-watching, window-twitching, wife-swapping, Mail-reading, Chelsea-supporting, Starbucks-swilling, picnic-making fucking head in the sand, after you took your fam in the 4 wheeler to Dover, against the govt advice. Yeah bring a flippy kite and pretend you’re exercising you highly entitled VIPs.

Now is a chance to change in this reset button, to fight for your livelihoods and your kids’, not believe this is all just another global funnel of experience upon you – just you -to temporarily waylay your Godgiven lifestyle. Yes, how ‘unsettling’ it’s all been. The fact the insecurity and destitution we live in now, is what billions live through as a norm all their lives to supplement and supplicate you. And it doesn’t have to be like that and never did, and we can change it together.

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The earnest, beseeching Geordie accent (voice o the workin people, aye!), brimming with righteousness (imagine her as a proud, overworked nurse) grates to say the least. I think that’s what got me most, the way they picked her and their idea as to what she should embody. Swear to God, they’re targetting people who don’t read.

Someone commented after the vid: ‘Everybody doing their part to help the greater good. I cannot think of anything more British’.

How apt, the white picket walls already outlined as the rest of the batshit diseased battle it out beyond (and on that note the most charitable populace happens to be the Iraqis). Play this to the Syrians, Venezuelans or Iranians, who are fucked to the nth degree without ICUs, masks, scrubs, sanitisers or meds thanks to our sanctions, let alone a billion sub-Saharan Africans and claim we’re in it together, for the greater good. That Joe Wicks puttering about in his pistachio sitting room and denizen to a better you, will lift their spirits.

They could at least have used better examples, rather than the usual offerings catering to our self-serving, facile narcissism, borders drawn.

Gwaaan, pay it forward. I dare ya:

 

 

In short, it is an embodiment of everything that is wrong with our world. That Toon nurse satanic, probably poisoning babies. It’s just too much of a cliché that we mollycoddled Westerners get blindsided to everything, everyone else, even in this circus of shit on our doorsteps, busy laying our scented candles in a trail to the vast sucking arsehole that’s become the bathroom.

Bah fuckin humbug.

Ok, sorry. Really need to get out more. Rant over.

And in other news…

Let’s get closer to home. And breathe.

Yes, people need support. People need a lift, in a time when we’re under house arrest. We need something to look forward to. Even if it is an idiotically entitled video, though a coupla kittens playing with a giant Malteser of shite would have had a greater impact, sensitivity and societal brainwork. Imagine their little mittens all pat pat patting it, trying to get it through the cat flap, that little, little gaawjus little tail, rubbing their lickle fat faces in it! Ah, togetherness.

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On that note, last night was a true, slightly jarring respite.

Thanks to watching Beauty and the Beast (live action version) with an ecstatic J, who has a big thing about objects coming to life and being invested, similar to his antiques work and art degree and everything ever (the fab scene where the operatic armoire jumps off a balcony to battle bad’uns being the best thing that’s ever happened). Doing our best to ignore the dodgy CGI for Beast and Emma Whatserface’s constant earnestness, but the singing and dancing and the fact it was candlelit elevated it into every tealight-burning vigil for world peace. I even took a snap, to show my grandkids one day.

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So yes, thoroughly enjoyed that, cosying up on the sofa like a giant fat dormouse, while cuddling my M&S tote. Flipping channels on Sky Box Bundle Badass News, on the way to catch my Hollyoaks Xmas Special 2004 re-run, I heard 25 million people will fall back into poverty (classed as surviving on less than a fiver a day) in China alone after this month, and that India is now seeing a humanitarian crisis the largest the world will likely ever see again, stories with less hits than the shocking issue that millions of garden centre plants will have to be binned across our great and beautiful land.

Thank you Simon Jack, business editor for the BBC:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-52098436

I hear the Little Mermaid’s next. Can’t wait!

So hey, that’s the way things are. Let’s be together, or maybe let’s not and say we did.

For as a great poet once said:

Down here all the fish is happy
As off through the waves they roll
The fish on the land ain’t happy
They sad ’cause they in their bowl
But fish in the bowl is lucky
They in for a worser fate
One day when the boss get hungry
Guess who’s gon’ be on the plate?
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Yesterday

Tomorrow