Sunday, July 29, 2012


The logo was a fail, the intestinal Orbit tower was a puzzle, the security was a bit of a mess but the 2012 Olympic opening ceremony was just right: fun, exciting, uplifting, eccentric and quintessentially British. 
     On Friday night, Danny Boyle was king of the world  and deservedly so.  What a wonderful job he did of defining Britishness when Britons themselves have been wondering recently what that meant.  Often mistaken for stuffy, phlegmatic, dour, reserved, self-deprecating, under-stated, class-conscious, tea-swilling, monarchist fox hunters, the Olympic Brits surprised the world (and occasionally, themselves) with their colorful exuberance and multi-cultural enthusiasm. Even the Queen got into the Olympic swing of it.  “Good evening Mr. Bond,” she said in that unmistakable and un-contradictable voice. Wouldn’t you have loved to have been there when they pitched her the idea?  And how breath-taking and travel-inducing was that beautifully photographed panorama of London during the James Bond helicopter flight? The IOC owns and jealously guards that footage, but look at this “making of”  video shot in May 2012. 
     Didn’t you feel comfortably enveloped by the familiar sights and sounds in the opening ceremony soup?  No need to be British to know JK Rowling, Voldemort, Shakespeare, Hugh Grant, Mary Poppins, Mr. Bean, the Beatles, Queen, Muse and the delicacy of Thomas Heatherwick’s work, so beautifully represented in the Olympic cauldron, a flame sculpture, not just another ”bowl on a stick," as he put it.  British culture has influenced and entertained the world for centuries.
     By the way, did you notice SHREK in the movie clips?  Shrek?  A DreamWorks film franchise, based on a character created by an American cartoonist. Was he included because he has a sort of Scottish accent?  Because he’s voiced by Mike Myers whose parents were English?  Or just because Danny Boyle likes him? 
     The only down side of the opening ceremony was NBC’s atrocious decision to ignore the live ceremony and delay broadcast six hours for New York and nine for Los Angeles. By the time we could see it, I had already “watched” the ceremonies on Twitter via the witty live tweets from London and New York so the surprise factor was gone and NBC's Matt and Meredith’s what-me-be-be-interested-in-something-that’s-not-American dumbed-down commentary was shamefully shabby and ignorant.  
     Excuse me NBC, do you not know the world is now connected by social media, not to mention the Tim Berners-Lee’s world wide web and we all know who JK Rowling is and what she wrote, no need to provide condescending explanations for the ignorant peasants.  Endless interviews exclusively with American athletes and coverage of American events and medals only is very pre-digital, not to mention jingoistic. Please broaden your horizons and stop with the delayed broadcasts and showing only the US gold medal winners on the podium without even mentioning the silver and bronze medal winners. The Olympic Games is an international event and all events and awards should be covered live or you insult the spirit of the Olympics as well as your viewers.                                                   

Sunday, July 22, 2012


Every time people are mowed down by a young male who thinks he’s living in a movie or a video game, we hear the same words: unthinkable, tragedy, guns don’t kill people, I have the right to bear arms, investigation, debate, gun-control, loner, how? why?  
     Why? Because guns are easy to buy. Unthinkable? No, predictable. These shootings are a needless and predictable tragedy. If guns were not so readily available, these killings would not happen. If movies and video games didn’t depict and glamorize  gratuitous gun violence, these lonely, deluded young men wouldn’t need to shoot people to get attention.  
     When not mentally deranged, the gunman's motive is usually notoriety or revenge and underlying that, loneliness.  News media toss around the word “loner” as though it were a disease. But what does it mean, really?  Isolated, alienated, lacking human contact. Loneliness kills in more ways than one.  
     According to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, 60 mass shootings occurred in the United States since the January 8, 2011 massacre in Tucson, Arizona when Gabby Giffords and thirteen other people were wounded and six people were killed by an insane gunman. (If he was insane, why did he have a gun?)

There were more than four hundred and thirty mass shootings in the US in the last seven years. . . 430!       
How long are we going to tolerate recurring mass murders?  Do we want to be one of the victims? Do we think life is so cheap that we'll continue to allow it to be taken by anyone who wants to be on the news?  
     People don’t need guns. We need a “well-armed” militia (army, police force) not a well-armed populace. Multiple annual mass murders are what happens when you have a well-armed populace. 
     No other country allows its population to be massacred like this. Cops, metal-detectors and pat-downs at the multiplex are not the answer.  Strictly enforced gun laws so people can’t buy guns so easily in the first place will be more useful. The number of dead in gun massacres trumps any arguments against strict gun laws.
     If you think the US should have the same freedom from gun massacres as other countries,  sign the petition here, speak out against guns, against gratuitous violence in films and video games, refuse to vote for politicians who don’t have the guts to stand up against the gun lobby and the NRA.
     And be kind to the next shy, aloof person you meet. You may help avert a mass murder.                                             

Sunday, July 15, 2012


When people say “It was like a movie” after experiencing a hurricane, a flood, a lottery win, I want to scream. Movies are like life, not the other way around (unless we're being Cartesian which I don't think is the case). Movies are inspired by real life and real life is all about what exists and actually happens, not what should or might be.  Movies on the other hand are often about what should and might be and that’s one reason we love them.  But life isn't organized into neat thrills like Disneyland, shit happens to all of us. Magic too.  Random events can happen to anyone for no reason. Terrible things sometimes happen to nuns, just as wonderful things can happen to serial killers.  Just deserts are rare in real life, unlike the movies.  
Wailing “How can this be happening to me?” is just plain arrogant.  Why shouldn’t terrible things happen to us?  Terrible things aren’t punishment, neither are good things a reward.  They're just real life.  We like to take credit for good stuff and blame bad stuff on exterior forces.  Like  taking credit for our successes and blaming our failures on our parents.  We comfort and reassure ourselves with unrealistic sayings like: 

    Every cloud has a silver lining
    It’s always darkest before dawn      
    Everything will be all right.       


But in real life everything won’t necessarily be all right.  The idea that there's a rosy plan for everyone’s life and everything happens for a reason is comforting but unlikely.  You only have to watch life in the wild to see that.  But those are animals, you may say.  Well, so are we.  Our thin veneer of civilisation can’t hide the fact that, when nobody’s looking, we are still capable of behaving like the animals we are; our primal instincts are still strong, our basal ganglia still tell our cortex what to do before we wrangle our actions into acceptable behavior. 

Of course reality is not always harsh.  It can sometimes be thrilling.  Seeing the Arc de Triomphe looming through the platane leaves for the first time was thrilling beyond words for me and in no way like a movie.  It was far, far better than a movie because it was the real thing, with Paris sounds and smells and sights and the feel of Paris air on my skin.  None of that can be put in a movie, it can only be suggested.  And that’s why we love movies, for their suggestions of life.  Even when they suggest horror and fear and sadness.  We can walk away from them because that’s all they are, suggestions of reality.  
Unlike life.