Category Archives: Review

Married at first sight: A review (mainly of the concept)

There was a show on Channel 4 recently called “Married at first sight” in which the basic premise was that a group of psychologists, anthropologists, an Anglican vicar, and so on, would discuss and match up two random strangers, who would only meet on the day of the wedding and see how it would pan out.

It was interesting, I’ll give it that but as a Catholic, I think marriage is a serious, eternal commitment. It is binding yourself to someone for the rest of your life and beyond the grave. It shouldn’t be taken lightly. It certainly shouldn’t be done for entertainment purposes. That, to my mind, devalues marriage.

Obviously, a programme like that that lays bare a dystopian view of marriage, and it has to get past the commissioning editors (the people who pick TV shows) and to do that it was framed as an “experiment”. They framed this experiment as, if two people were matched using scientific methods (like all dating sites use but e-harmony makes a point of saying they use it) then if they had an arranged marriage on the basis of this, would it work?

Now, this is only going to attract two sorts of people. It will attract desperate people and opportunists. They may feign curiosity, but no-one makes a life decision as big as marriage, out of curiosity. Nothing is as involving to a person’s core as the person they share a sexual relationship with. That is the Catholic view, but I have a lot of atheist friends and they seem to share that belief when I’ve shared it with them. Given that it involves something so core, it shouldn’t be the subject of a television programme as these are human beings. Inevitably, someone will, as someone did, get deeply hurt and driven to tears. The programme was well produced and presented but watching the inevitable happen was actually rather unpleasant. I think the science of it is interesting, but in a series such as this, to describe it as anything other than entertainment is misleading. It is called an experiment to try and validate the selatious nature of the show.

If dating sites use this logic, how many times daily are these logarithms run and how many potential partners are identified? Of those potential partners, how many result in them actually meeting, or having a relationship, or an intimate relationship? Crucially, how many people, with time and space given, actually end up marrying the person that the dating site says is best? If it doesn’t happen in the real world, why would it work in a controlled environment? Even when they do, are those marriages successful? It is a naive concept to thing that this would work and could be done ethically and it was opportunist of the show’s production team to exploit that curiosity. People generally don’t end up marrying people as a result of what a dating site says because it is generally a bad idea.

One general rebuttal that I’ve heard in response to this is that if the marriage doesn’t work out, there is always divorce. In my opinion, if divorce is something you are considering on your wedding day, you really shouldn’t be getting married. Marriage should be a rest of life commitment and not something done to get viewing figures.

If indeed, it were a genuine experiment and there was a genuine desire not just to make a television show but to see if an arranged marriage based on dating website logic could actually work, then the ethics must be considered. Given the subject matter of the experiment it would be wise not to use human subjects where possible. This is why, if it were an experiment, it wouldn’t actually need to take place. Given the immense human and emotional hurt, and spiritual collateral damage that could be involved in something like this, it would make sense, if the outcome could be theorized or predicted, not to actually use people in the experiment. In this particular case, it can. The idea for this show experiment actually comes from a Danish show experiment that has been exported globally so that there are several international versions of this show experiment. In all of the other versions the outcome is overwhelmingly similar. In the Danish one, the couples are divorced. In the Australian one, all but one of the couples are separated. The American one is the same. Therefore it does not take much of a leap that in the English one, at least one couple would fail and very few couples, the exception rather than the rule, make it past six months, let alone a year. A marriage failing, however dubiously entered into, is always an emotionally draining and stressful experience, as I can personally attest to having witnessed several of them break down.

In summary, this show has a really interesting concept, but it turns extremely dark and very disturbing when it becomes apparent that these people are being drawn into an obviously doomed situation, one that will undoubtedly damage them, and at that point, the show ceases to be a piece of fun entertainment and just becomes depressing.

If we strip away the illogical instruments of reason from this situation, we examine it logically and pragmatically. If we remove subjective elements from this, such as love, emotion, it can be seen to be hugely damaging in ways other than spiritually or soulfully, marriage is contract. It is a hugely complicated legal contract and one that can be enforced through the courts. Radmacher vs Granatino [2010] UKSC 42 is a legal case that declared that pre-nuptial agreements are not legally binding. There is therefore no guaranteed legal protection for anyone from being legally bound to someone they might not want to be bound to. Signing any document, especially one as legally important as a marriage contract, should always be given due diligence and consideration, and to enter into such an arrangement with someone that one doesn’t know could potentially be devastating. I can’t see how they could have factored the UK’s strict marriage laws into the making of the program.

To quote the Simpson’s “You have given a chance for everyone to express love In its most purest form — a binding legal contract.”

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Game of Thrones and why I can’t watch it

I have tried to be one of the popular kids. I have tried to get into game of thrones. I have tried and I have tragically failed. Every time I have watched a snippet (I have never been able to watch a full episode without falling asleep or screaming at the television in frustration) I have always been able to disseminate what the story and twist will be as it is usually ripped exactly from Shakespeare. The Sun Newspaper, that bastion, benchmark and guardian of all that is culturally important to England, and in particular English literature, points out, time and again, that Game of Thrones is basically Richard II. Later plot lines have been ripped from Henry IV Part 2 and Richard III. It is pointless watching something when you know how the story will finish. It is no longer thrilling. The fact that I stayed awake during GCSE English basically means that this holds no truc with me. How nobody else seems to be able to see this I don’t know.

On social media, people keep coming on my timeline saying “No Game of Thrones spoilers”. I say this, if you don’t want Game of Thrones spoilers, don’t Google “the Wars of the Roses” because that will give the whole thing away.

I imagine when they were brainstorming for Game of Thrones, that it went something like this:

“Right, I’ve got an idea. Of all the Shakespeare plays, the ones that people have read the least are the ones about historical Kings of England and the Wars of the Roses. Why don’t we rip them off and pass them off as an original creation? I mean, we’ll have to juggle a few things, like instead of saying “Now is the winter of our discontent” we’ll change the metaphor to “Winter is coming” or something like that, but essentially, if we take those books and just change all the proper nouns, we’ll have ourselves a winner. Of course we’ll throw in the exciting things that Shakespeare left out like sex and gore, because you know, we’re selling this to the lowest common denominator and they need stuff like that to stay interested and let’s throw in a dragon or two to thicken out the story a little bit but I think that should work. We just need a title, something like “Game of Thrones” only, y’know, not so lame…”

EDIT: On June 5th, responding to criticism about how a lot of the characters get killed off, George R. R. Martin wrote an open letter in which he said that Game of Thrones is a toned down version of Shakespeare. It’s very interesting. Click here to see it.

The Big Bang Theory: Sheldon’s fascination with Cornwall, Trains and Computers

I absolutely love the Television show “The Big Bang Theory”. The central character in it, Sheldon Cooper, every now and then references Cornwall. He also references his love of trains. He also references his love of computers and technology.

I grew up in the small Cornish town of Torpoint. Torpoint has only ever given the world one famous scientist, John Langdon Down, who was the first person to properly isolate and diagnose “Down’s Syndrome” which is named after him. I do, however, take a great interest in all of Cornish history, not least its scientific history.

Despite Cornwall’s quaint, idyllic and somewhat spiritual nature, it actually has a proud tradition of scientific discovery. Four of the things that defined the twentieth century, the car, wireless telephony, the train and the computer, were either invented in or significantly developed in Cornwall.

Sheldon and trains

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Outside Tyack's Hotel in Camborne. This was the destination for the first ever journey by automated carriage so is thus home to the world's first ever car park.

When I was younger (in the picture above I was 23) I would make a point of expressing my Cornish heritage. There was a £2 coin out at the time that had a steam locomotive on it. It was commemorating Richard Trevithick. Trevithick is a Cornish name so I thought I would read into him a bit more to find out who he was and what he did. Richard Trevithick harnessed the power of steam in the early 19th Century. He attached it to a carriage making the first ever automated carriage (or car) which was powered by steam. The first ever car journey was from Illogan to Camborne. The locals celebrate Trevithick Day every year to commemorate this. In 1803 he put his steam engine on rails and thus the steam railway was born.

How Sheldon Cooper, with his twin fascinations of Cornish history and trains has overlooked this, I don’t know.

Cornwall’s contribution to Physics

Cornwall is the home of Humphrey Davy. Aside from inventing electrolysis, he also isolated several elements on the periodic table, filling in a lot of the blanks. Penzance’s most famous son even has an element named after him.

Davy also had one of the most famous physicians of all time, Michael Faraday, study under him, fostering a deep connection between him and Devon/Cornwall as well.

Guglielmo Marconi, the father of modern telephony and radio communication developed transatlantic wireless communication and the place that he sent the first wireless message  from Europe to North America was from Poldhu in Cornwall.

These scientists aren’t on the periphery of science but in fact are what most of modern physics is based on. The fact that Sheldon references Cornwall without referencing these scientists in the same breath.

Computing

A mere 25 miles from Cornwall is a small town called Totnes. It is a fairly unremarkable place but it is noteworthy for a very good reason. In the 19th Century, mathematician Charles Babbage came up with the difference engine which is the modern forerunner to all computers. He is often referred to as the “Father of computing” and is a proud son of Devon.

Sheldon, history and Cornwall

The fact that these are specifically Sheldon’s interests, I found it odd that he has never told the history behind these things. That would be understandable but history and specifically the history of science is a passion of his. All the more remarkable is that he has referenced Cornwall several times, one might have thought he would have joined the dots.

Of course Sheldon Cooper is a fictional character, played by an actor, an exceptionally accomplished actor, called Jim Parsons. The character is written for Jim Parsons, so while this loose end isn’t picked up by “Sheldon” it probably should be by the production team.

Yay! A new middle class ghetto in Torquay! Yay! *rolls eyes*

So, today, I was in Torquay. The whys and wherefores of why I was there aren’t important, but I was there and I hadn’t been in over a year.

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Me at Torquay Station

I’ll happily admit it. I’m a bit of a tramp. I have been letting myself go for years now. I’ve become accustomed to it. I’m fine with it. I used to work in Business Data with a good wage, now I’m scratching around for whatever work I can get, and I don’t get much. I’m at peace with that.

I have a taste for the trampier things in life. Long gone are the days where I could stride into a London City pub and order a bottle of champagne. [For the record, I have only done that once, and it was in the globe, on London Wall]

When I was younger I was a beach bum too. I remember a favoured haunt of mine for dates at the age of sixteen was Paignton. I once went on a date with a German Girl. Her name was Nicole. She was constantly travelling. I suggested a date one day. We were very young, maybe only fifteen or sixteen, so it was very innocent.

When we were in Paignton, she hopped off the train to use the toilet and it left the station without her. The bemused look on her face as the door was closing and the train was pulling out of the station has stayed with me for some years. If I close my eyes I can still see her face, puzzled, in a “what’s happening?” kind of way.

We managed to remedy this by meeting up at the next stop, Torquay. We walked along the beach and suddenly the heavens opened. We dived into a café/bar called “MOJO” which was very much the buzz word at the time, given the Austin Powers films. It was the sort of place that was well kept. It had the appearance of a beach shack. One could easily imagine people coming in from the beach in a wetsuit, covered in sand and God knows what, and they wouldn’t have looked out of place at all. I remember Nicole and I being sat there having a drink from the relative tranquillity of their terrace as rain lashed the beach. It’s one of those memories, that for no particular reason, has stayed with me for some time.

See, I was brought up on the ride side of town. I lived in the best area’s (Billacombe, North Road, Peverell). I was privately educated. We were the first in our street to have a computer. I was the second person in my school to get a mobile phone. My sister was third. Despite all this I found as I was growing up that I actually prefer the trashy beach bar full of dreamers over London wine bars. I don’t know why, it just seems like the sense of formality in a place like that is somewhat enforced, whereas at a beach bar I can just be myself. It’s always been the same with my family. A really privileged upbringing followed by a swift race to the gutter. We enjoy stories at the dinner table, not about our experiences of high life, but of times we’ve been slumming it and used our wits to survive.

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Ok, this wasn't take in Torquay, or anywhere near, or close to the time of the events I'm describing, I just like the photo.

On my birthday in 2013 I was living back in Plymouth. I suggested we do Paignton and Torquay. We got leathered. Then in vain we went to look for Bar Mojo so I could reacquaint myself with a valued and treasured part of my youth. As Jewell would say I wanted to revisit a place that was a “sanctuary of the soul”. It wasn’t there. It was closed, presumably because my birthday is in February and Torquay is mainly a summer place. Then I went to Torquay with my then girlfriend in the Summer of last year. There was scaffolding outside. I presumed they were doing the place up. I didn’t mind, though I quite liked the shabbiness of it. This time I swore I wasn’t going to be let down. I swore I would go to bar mojo and in its place I was greeted with this.

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A block of flats with several middle to high end eateries

They knocked down my beach bar and replaced it with a block of flats, presumably for holidaying Londoners, and a spraying of the same chain restaurants that they could find on any suburban high street up that way. It’s not special. It doesn’t engage specifically with the soul of Torquay. It stifles it, packs it up, and sells it to people who want to buy into the soulful ways of the southwest without realising that they have to destroy our soul and our spirit for us to be able to accommodate them.

Am I bitter because I lost my favourite bar? Absolutely, but it runs a little deeper than that.

All across the country these flats are springing up. High end, expensive properties with restaurants downstairs that cater to a certain clientele of person. They move into dilapidated buildings, like Royal William Yard in Plymouth or Park Hill in Sheffield stripping away everything that was great about these buildings, turning them into sterile blocks of flats designed for people who can (or more importantly think they can, or like to pretend they can) afford them in the vision of what they think it is to develop a property. A senior Plymouth property developer who has a massive undertaking coming up referred to these properties as middle class ghettos. I think we are going to be oversubscribed with them soon. That’s what they are though, ghettos, of snooty, snobby people.

There must be demand for this sort of thing or they wouldn’t exist. One can be sure that the demand doesn’t come from the local population though.

I don’t a middle class ghetto. I want to sit in my shabby bar, nursing a pint while I watch the sand soak up the rain. Such is life.

Anastasia, the film, and Rasputin

I caught the film Anastasia on film 4 this afternoon.

This film portrays Rasputin as an evil man who wanted to murder Anastasia Romanova but in reality he tried to secure a truce between Russia and the central powers which would have ended World War One far more quickly. Far from him wanting to murder Anastasia, Anastasia’s brother in law, most likely killed him.

If we add this to the fact that he was Prince Alexei’s main carer and looked after most of the Romanov children. He was a good friend to the children, occasionally, how close he was to them drew concerns, but there was never any malice or bad intentions perceived. He had no part in their death and spent his life trying to keep them safe, so why would he want to kill them?

Questioning the historical accuracy of this film is an easy task, not least because this film was made in 1997, when the historical myth that Anastasia had escaped the Bolshevik secret police somehow and was living in hiding was prevalent to the point of being accepted as fact. This proved untrue when Anastasia’s body was found in woods outside Yekaterinburg in 2011.

What I found of huge significance though was the evident agenda and bias portrayed throughout the film. The film portrays Russia as a land of glory and jewels but the revolution happened because the poor were starving and living lives of hardship and poverty at the expense of the opulent lifestyles of the ruling classes. Battleship Potemkin was a mass propaganda piece and while I don’t seek to glorify or dismiss the social human cost of Leninism or Stalinism in Russia, I feel the status quo at the time in revolutionary Russia was so unequal that it could not be maintained or sustained. This film is made my 20th Century Fox, and promotes and endorses a top heavy society where wealth is hoarded by a few individuals. I find that the best way to find out the opinion of an organization, particularly a media one, is to witness their retelling of a true story and see what perspective they tell it from. Disney often puts a slant on social justice and anti-authoritarianism. I find it funny that as soon as Fox gets their hands on a story about the Russian Revolution, the children’s hippy carer and spiritual leader is an evil murderous psychopath, the orphanage leader is a bitter money hungry woman and the heroes are the servants of the Russian Court. I find it a clear endorsement of capitalist royalism in stark constrast to Disney’s communist values which I find hugely interesting.

Badults – Possibly the worst program I have ever watched

The BBC were hyping Badults as a great new program. I watched the first episode. I then watched five minutes of the second, but only because I couldn’t find the remote. I was torn when considering registering my disgust on twitter.

See, here’s the thing when it comes to making a television show, it takes effort. I remember the first sketch I made and it was painful to do. We spent three hours planning, eight hours filming and my friend spent two weeks editing. All for forty seconds of footage. Thus, by that reckoning, badults would have taken a good six months to make. I don’t want to trash six months of someone’s work.

Why did I register my disgust? Because it is, quite simply, the worst program I have ever seen in my entire life. I’m not joking or exaggerating either. I have never seen anything worse than it.

Of course I took to Twitter and everyone else was saying the same thing or similar things. There were a notable few that weren’t saying that but they seemed to be die hard fans and friends and relatives of the people who did badults, while the rest of us normals were quite vocal in how much we hated it.

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One question that was regularly asked was “how did this even get commissioned?” and I subscribe to that view. If the public didn’t like it, and it was despised on social media, then surely the critics would like it. They didn’t. No-one, apart from a couple of loyal fans and the casts family and friends liked it.

A few Sundays ago, they put Badults between Family Guy and American Dad in a bid to attract more viewers. All they attracted was more derisionary comments. They’d just made a larger group of people hate it.

Some stuff on BBC Three is good to watch. Other stuff like Sun, Sex and suspicious parents, one can sit through. Badults is beneath that. It is “turn over the channel before it comes on” bad.

Over the weeks the number of negative comments on Twitter dwindled, not because people warmed to it, but simply because there were fewer and fewer people watching it.

The fact that it got commissioned was bad. The public hated it. It was hated on social media. The critics hated it. It somehow got commissioned for a second series though. My question is how?

Oh, yeah, and if you do see it on TV, do yourself a favour, don’t watch it.

Jerry Springer is the most intellectual thing on television – Here’s why…

As a man who constantly seeks enlightenment, I have found it in the strangest of places. One person who I feel embodies the wisdom that I seek is Jerry Springer.

I can appreciate the classics and the classical world. In only one other place have I seen something similar to what Jerry Springer offers. It was in the Theatre in Argos (the oldest city in the world) in Greece.

A few thousand years ago, the municipal leaders would round up the dregs of society and get them to fight each other for public amusement. The public would be told that those fighting each other in the theatre had problems with each other and after a brief shouty argument, the whole thing would descend into a comedic fight. It was never about sorting out problems, it was always about the Theatre of it. The Romans adapted this for their gladiatorial battles, in which no-one would die, it was just about the theatre of it, kind of like wrestling. As real as it all seemed the whole thing was faked/set up.

That’s what Jerry Springer does, almost exactly. He rounds up the dregs of society and gets them to make fools of themselves and fight each other for public amusement. I’m certain that everyone that partakes in the show is fully aware of what’s going to happen.

I don’t know what desire society or the mob has in terms of seeing it and being entertained by it but they do. Figuring it out gives me lots of food for thought.

So watch Jerry Springer and if anyone judges you for doing so, simply tell them that it’s what man has been doing for thousands of year and that there is a classical wisdom being portrayed therein. Approaching it from that view point will make you look at it differently and that’s why I love it and think it is the most intellectual thing on television.