An Open Mind is a Learning Mind.

I’m one of those people who needs to write. I’d go so far as to say my health – perhaps my very survival – depends on it. That isn’t me trying to sound melodramatic.

No, I, like many other writers, consider writing not simply a hobby or a method of making money, though it can and does fit easily into those categories. When I say I’m a writer, I’m saying it is as important an activity as eating or sleeping; to go without it for too long leads to moodiness and agitation.

Naturally with writing, one also ends up reading. To write means to record ideas on paper, and one can’t do that unless you’ve first gathered inspiration to form ideas worth recording. Ideas, information and knowledge are things I’ve treasured along with writing from a young age. In more recent years I’ve also become passionate about the importance of establishing the difference between ‘opinion’ and ‘fact’, whether historical or current, and the methods by which we go about establishing said distinction. Do you believe stuff based on evidence? What, in your mind, constitutes evidence? Hint: it isn’t always what people try to say it is.

To think about this is, I think, especially vital in the age of the Internet, where we’re exposed at ease to many opinions often presenting themselves as fact, and vice versa. Unless you want to believe everything, or nothing, or just stick to the inherent bias you grew up with, then you had better develop an eye for what constitutes evidence and a good argument. There’s a lot of bullshit out there, but that’s not to say I don’t value the Internet extremely highly; it has led to my generation becoming arguably the most open-minded of any generation before us. Growing up with so many easily accessible ideas around us has, in general, been healthy.

I find it hard being around people who do not care about these things, who may accept ‘truths’ just based on bias rather than applying critical thought; I find it offensive, and insulting, to see and hear that kind of thing in my presence. I’m not easily offended but this, you could say, is one of my ‘triggers’. Journalistic integrity and freedom of speech are two of the absolute pillars of a free-thinking society, while censorship lies at the opposing end of the spectrum (to be clear, by censorship I do not mean age ratings on products like movies and video games, which are often helpful and entirely necessary).

In my mind the acts of writing and critical thinking go hand in hand, though I know this is not the case for everyone – as I have read plenty in which it was clear the writer was not a critical thinker. Nor must one be particularly intelligent to write a lot, though to be a good writer (volume written doesn’t necessarily correlate with quality content) requires knowledge, not only of your craft but of the world around you.

Naturally then, the best writers also tend to be among the smartest, though it would depend on your point of view pertaining to how we should judge this kind of thing. Do we judge a writer by how clear and concise their style, or by how much knowledge they communicate through it? I suppose the best of them have both qualities. I certainly like to strive for both.

I grew up in a relatively ‘free’ family environment, with parents who weren’t overly strict and didn’t force any particularly weird rules upon me. It was an environment in which I was free to play video games, watch films, and read books without having to worry about which ones were ‘banned’, though at the same time neither of my parents were especially interested in those things and did not therefore instil any inherent bias for or against either. Each medium played their part in helping me grow up relatively open-minded and with an understanding that the world was bigger than my own little bubble.

To an extent, I do consider an open mind to be a privilege; one that many other people who grow up in different family environments aren’t encouraged to have (not that I was particularly encouraged towards it, but it wasn’t heavily discouraged either). Would I really have had the same learning opportunities, the same privilege of experiencing different sides to the world at an age where my mind had not yet grown hardened to them, had I grown up in a strict religious family for example? Likely not.

I find it a great shame when parents take it upon themselves to mould their children into who they want them to be (“for their own good!”), rather than allowing that child the space to discover themselves as an individual. This doesn’t just happen within fundamentally religious families either, and it isn’t always obvious. But as the subject of religion is a sore point for many, including to an extent myself (which I will explain a little further on), let’s stick on it for a moment.

Looking across the history of Western civilisation, our society and culture in the UK, US and Europe have been moulded by Christianity to the point where people have grown up believing – often subconsciously, before coming to ‘know Christ’ and being ‘born again’ later – in God, particularly the version of him portrayed in the Bible. Horror movies and literature in the West often portray demons or the devil himself as the source of all evil. In a court of law, people must place their hands on the Bible in some vague appeal to their conscience; a reminder that God is watching and they’ll be somehow punished for not telling the truth in front of Him.

Not that I want to get too deep into that issue here; what I’d rather do is illustrate how our ability to be open-minded about stuff can be inhibited simply through the culture or environment in which we grow up. If you grew up in the UK like me, you’ll be familiar with our inherently Christian culture. The US is similar, if not worse when it pertains to a Christianised culture, though the secular/ religious divide is arguably more extreme (or at least, more vocal) there as well. The UK, while moderately liberal, is also less willing to voice concerns over things like our monarchy, when we really should.

Now, I think it’s fine for people to acknowledge they’re not ‘open-minded’ about certain things, so long as they are aware of it. PC culture would dictate that we need to be respectful of everything, to the tiniest detail, but we’re all inherently different to begin with and naturally aren’t all going to see things in the same light. Some people don’t like swearing, others do. Some of us like eating meat, others don’t. People on either side, or somewhere in the middle, should be able to live how they want. Don’t rely on the approval of others for that. Equally, don’t expect everyone to be fully accepting of it.

Each of us have our inherent biases; open-mindedness is being able to recognise that bias and acknowledge there are people who’ll be coming from a different point of view. So long as that point of view doesn’t cause or advocate harm to others – which, again, is where religion can pose a bit of a problem – there’s no reason we can’t all respect each other as fellow humans while acknowledging our differences and not getting offended over stupid shit.

My own bias plays in to how I’m writing this article. Why is it, for example, that I feel the need to say swearing is okay, when really most people don’t need to be told that to do it anyway? Or why I focus on the importance of respecting points of view other than your own? Well, it comes back, again, to religion, more specifically Christianity; a religion that did not dictate too harshly how I should live my life growing up, but did at least subtly hold me back from fully expressing myself. Looking back on it, and seeing the effect it has on others as well, it’s clear this is what it does.

The unique thing about Christianity – at least, the Protestant side of which I have direct experience – is that it does not say you must obey its rules, and yet you kind of do, because if you don’t, it means you don’t really love Jesus and will go to hell anyway. A little slip-up is okay, but you must live the correct lifestyle consistently if you’re a ‘proper’ Christian. And boy, being told you’re “not a true Christian” is regarded as the highest form of insult. It’s something they’ll use against me, to discredit my own experiences, because in their eyes only someone who was “never a true Christian” could ever wish to turn away from it.

In many cases, Christians will use that one line as an all-encompassing excuse not to truly engage with issues raised by those who disagree with them. In fact, in my years of being around Christians, I can say in hindsight that many of those relationships, in the interest of ‘accountability’, involve carefully examining each other to determine whether one is a ‘proper Christian’, and each will make their determination, whether privately or publicly, about whether someone else is.

Christianity is supposedly about choosing to do the right thing through your own free will. But free will, of course, only goes as far as our inherent bias lets it – and this religion knows that all too well. It teaches the ultimate form of bias – that when we get to heaven, we’ll want to obey God without question, out of free will, because that will be our inherent nature. For now, on earth, we must deal with our ‘sinful’ nature, which wants to do bad things against God.

I’ll continue on that diatribe another time – there is so much more to say – but for now rest assured I’ve managed, though it has taken a lot of work, plenty of inner conflict, self-justification and thorough research, to largely let go of the hold Christianity had over me growing up and even up until a couple of years ago. Which isn’t to say, of course, that I have anything against Christians as people, though they can’t seem to help but take it personally (and I suppose one can’t blame them, if they believe with honest conviction) when others tell them they think their religion isn’t true.

The single biggest factor in breaking free from the confines of certain aspects of a religion, or anything else, relies on someone being open-minded enough in the first place to even consider whether they might be wrong. Of course I’m not saying that one necessarily leads on to the other (plenty of open-minded Christians have helped carry it out of the dark ages – while many conservatives/ traditionalists/ fundamentalists would claim that’s precisely the problem), but it’s certainly rare for anyone to leave their religion unless they’re open-minded enough to consider something other than what they’ve been conditioned to believe is true. They could, having considered everything else, still settle on Christianity being the truth, and I wouldn’t begrudge them that; it’s their prerogative to believe what they want, just as it is mine.

But if you consider it impossible for yourself to be wrong about something as ‘big’, as important as this, then you’re going to see opposing viewpoints through that specific lens. And naturally you’re going to shut yourself off from learning specifically why people might hold different points of view, because in your mind, in your version of reality, they’re already wrong and you – say, through the Bible – already have all the answers you’ll ever need.

Or maybe it’s more that, deep down, you’re terrified of realising you were wrong, having to admit it to others, and the damaged relationships that would inevitably result from that. I can understand that concern. I’ve seen it before, in people who stick with the Christian lifestyle not because they passionately believe in it, but because they perceive it to be simpler than the alternative, especially if they have a family of their own or friends who look up to them for spiritual support. The amount of Christian pastors hiding this kind of secret – feeling the weight of responsibility to ‘lead the flock’ and fear of letting them down – would shock the everyday church-goer.

I have realised I may need to pad what I say a little here, for those who may not know the full context surrounding my current opinions. First, if it seems I am overly negative towards Christianity, now or at any point to come, this is not necessarily an attack on its principles or even on the faith itself. Many Christians I’ve known are the liberal type who do not adhere strictly to everything the Bible says, or take what it says literally in the face of all scientific evidence to the contrary. Those people are Christian simply because the lifestyle makes most sense to them, and that’s fine.

However, let’s bear in mind what I said about bias. I am a UK citizen, yes, but more than that: I was born and lived in Belfast, Northern Ireland up to the age of 18, at which point I moved over to England for university.

Now, I’m going to assume any potential readers won’t quite realise the significance of that, so I’ll divulge some more. In Northern Ireland, as most people will know, we have a bit of a history of conflict; a kind of Irish ‘civil war’ as such, originating from when Ireland joined the UK a few centuries ago largely against the will of the Irish people. Long story short, back in 1922 the Irish Free State was formed as Ireland won some measure of independence from Britain (though they still had to abide by an ‘oath of allegiance’ to the UK until achieving full independence via a referendum in 1937).

At the same time, the predominantly unionist (that is; loyal to the union of the United Kingdom) six counties of Northern Ireland decided they wanted no part of Irish independence from the crown, and this country itself was technically formed in 1922 as well. Republicans (that is; those who are committed to seeing a fully independent Irish republic) have always held issue with this, just as unionists held issue with southern Ireland trying to take what they saw as their British identity. Even today, Northern Ireland sits in a unique position, in which its residents can claim to be Irish or British and neither would be lying; we are, after all, entitled to dual citizenship from birth should we so wish to claim it.

A large part of the origins of that conflict between Ireland and the UK was this: Ireland was largely a Catholic country, whereas the UK, at that time in the 1700s and continuing since, was protestant. So while technically you could say that means they were both ‘Christian’, no. Trust me, growing up in Northern Ireland it’s impossible to see ‘Protestant’ and ‘Catholic’ as equally Christian. You’re either on one side or the other, and our version of ‘peace’ is tolerating the other side while those old grievances still reside in the back of our minds.

For me growing up in a predominantly Protestant area, I naturally also grew up with that bias. But now, at this stage of my life, I see it all for what it is. Some others of my generation – usually those who have not ventured outside Northern Ireland to live for any sustained amount of time – still hold that strong sense of bias, and probably always will, as I firmly believe it becomes harder and harder to let go of built-in beliefs the older you get. None of us want to feel we wasted years of our lives being wrong about something after all, so as time goes on we’re more likely to make excuses to ourselves that help us keep believing it, partly also for the pride of being known as someone who ‘sticks to their convictions’ rather than someone who ‘flip flops around changing their mind’.

The elephant in the room when it comes to religion and conflict in Ireland, of course, is the claim I made to myself and others for many years: that the violence perpetuated in the name of God was committed by those who “weren’t truly Christian”. This is like what I said before; Christians justifying actions they don’t like by those who seemingly share their faith by simply disregarding it as “not the God I believe in”. If other believers aren’t acting the way you think they should, just keep yourself happy by saying they’re not ‘proper Christians’ and move on, free of any guilt and/or responsibility on the part of your own personal faith in God. Something similar is happening on a more global scale with Islam currently, but I won’t be touching that hot topic here.

Obviously we shouldn’t paint everyone with the same broad brush. We’re individuals, and we’re human, which means we all have different tendencies. Some of us gravitate more naturally to violence, though again there are environmental factors influencing that. Still, it’s undeniable: the Irish ‘troubles’ have their origin firmly rooted not just in patriotism but in the religion that goes hand in hand with it.

Christians on the outside looking in may try to justify their own belief in the loving nature of God by claiming they don’t represent him, but that’s precisely why they were fighting. Unionists would resist Irish rule “for God and country”. In their place would you not do the same to defend your own deeply rooted convictions/ beliefs? The men on the ground, murdering each other for a higher cause, were doing it because they believed it was God’s will in both cases, on either side – and it would not have been uncommon to see those same men in church on a Sunday morning, having taken part in terrorist acts during the week and planning more for the week to come.

All of this leads up to where Northern Ireland stands today. Belfast itself is an impressively modern city, attracting tourists from around the world and parts of it, particularly the city centre, looking a world away from the depressingly grey colours associated with the 1970s. I truly enjoy being back for the most part.

But it’s not all great. Our government serves as a stark reminder of our recent history, not only in its finely balanced unionist/republican divide (to get into the intricacies of it would be too complicated a matter to delve into here) but in the hold that religion has over us. Gay marriage is still illegal and our majority party, the DUP, have vowed to continue blocking it (while consensual gay sex was only decriminalised in 1982). Abortion is only legal under extremely strict criteria, and Northern Irish women often need to travel to England for private treatment to carry one out. Bars and clubs are forbidden from serving alcohol before 11.30am (whereas in England you can grab a beer from 7am in Weatherspoon’s if you feel so inclined).

Whether you feel strongly about the above issues or not, it’s indisputable that Northern Ireland feels a little left behind, even when compared to other regions within the United Kingdom. Of course, we have enough conservative Christian unionists living here that our population is generally happy with things as they are, as they see it as sticking to the rules set out in holy scripture. For me, I feel almost embarrassed by this stuff, and can’t see myself ever coming back to live long-term in Belfast unless certain things change.

Living in England introduced me to many Christians who were more open-minded than the kind of Christianity I’d always known in my homeland. And well, I’ve simply carried on from there, never really wanting to stand still, always keen to learn more. I don’t feel any blind loyalty to one way of thinking, and I don’t consider myself a nationalist in any sense of the word.

There’s one other element that went into all of this that can’t be discarded; in fact it may be the most important one of all. I mentioned earlier, near the beginning, how films and video games had been an important part of my childhood. One can’t be truly passionate about either of these mediums without encountering other cultures in the process. Two of my favourite video games, for example, are the survival horror game Silent Hill and its classic sequel on the PS2 (both developed in Japan), which first introduced me to the subtle elements of atmospheric horror unique to Asia.

Around that time, J-horror was also starting to take the film industry by storm, with Hideo Nakata’s Ringu inspiring a 2002 Hollywood remake starring Naomi Watts. That ended up being rather short-lived, with Ju-On: The Grudge (2003) and its 2004 American remake coming along at the tail end of it, but it can be attributed to sparking my interest in Japanese cinema and, more broadly, Asian culture. Why is this significant? Well, naturally, the more you see of the world, the less you feel you lie at the centre of it. Perhaps something I read recently can help sum it up; “A stolid attachment to a monolithic set of institutional forms becomes much more difficult when one is constantly faced with the beliefs and disbeliefs of many other traditions” (from Ghosts and the Japanese, Michiko Iwasaka and Barre Toelken, introduction).

This, I believe, is why many Christians steadfastly refuse to openly engage with other ways of thinking; deep down they know it could lead to them questioning themselves and ultimately ‘losing face’ should they begin to doubt their own faith. So they build caricatures and stereotypes of other worldviews and belief systems, because that makes it easier for them to paint themselves as the ‘enlightened few’ who have the One truth. Martin Scorsese’s recent film Silence summed up the inherent cultural differences and conflicts between East and West quite succinctly I think.

Sure, Christians may go on ‘missions’ with a view to ‘evangelising’ to those caught up in cultures they see as less enlightened, but they do not truly engage with the existing culture they meet when they get there, aside from the actions one must take so as not to appear awkward – such as taking your shoes off at the door when entering a home in Japan, for example. Even at the peak of my faith I could not help but feel a little awkward and uncomfortable at the idea of ‘mission’ to spread the gospel to those we see as less fortunate than ourselves. They’d return talking about how they ‘learned so much’… but I wonder how much they did learn, really?

I wanted to set this context so that anyone reading may understand my point of view a little better. I’m not saying others who were to go on a similar journey to myself would come to the same conclusions. I know some may read what I say about religion or Christianity and say “well, that’s not my experience”, and that’s cool. This is just me. Find your own way, but don’t let that way be dictated by blind loyalty, dodgy reasoning or a fear of changing your mind. Who knows… letting go of those things may help open the doors to something new.


How political correctness helped fuel social discontent and radical politics.

The surge in ‘political correctness’ in Western society over recent years has helped fuel a push-back from the far right in politics… as well as the rise of extremist groups like ISIS (not that I want to get into war or foreign policy decisions here – but their hatred of our ‘privileged’ Western way of life also cannot be ignored). Now, we have to figure out a way of dealing with it that doesn’t only include what we’ve been doing up to this point. It will need something more.

Mainstream politics is changing. The UK government earlier this year campaigned hard for remaining in the EU, only to be humiliated when 52% of the voting public showed they weren’t listening, or at least didn’t want to. In the US election, Hillary Clinton was very much the candidate of the ‘establishment’; for whom supporters claimed her experience alone qualified her more for presidential office than counterpart Donald Trump. It’s true; if the presidency was a normal offer of employment for which prospective candidates had to submit a CV and go through an interview for the job, Clinton would have been a shoe-in, and was still seen as such even in the democratic environment where we should know anything can happen. Those at the top became complacent, thinking people would vote the way they ‘should’ vote, trusting that the majority would ‘see sense’ and that things would inevitably go the right way.

For too long the US establishment mistakenly looked at Trump as the underdog – someone who perhaps would provide an easy opponent against whom the Democrats could guarantee the first female president. I won’t get too much into party politics here, but let’s just say if it had been Bernie Sanders going against Trump in this election, I daresay we would have seen a different outcome; but nor would so many people be in uproar right now at the fact that a perceived sexist misogynist pig could get as many votes as a woman whose greatest attribute, aside from her gender (which I’m sure the Democrats hoped would suffice), was ‘experience’.

Politics for so long has been about a cult of personality; to the extent that most who considered themselves ‘decent’ people thought there was no chance anyone could possibly vote for a candidate like Trump. Rather than trying to answer the concerns raised by Trump regarding the establishment, concerns clearly shared by those planning to vote for him, they instead called into question his character – something which many of his supporters actually considered secondary. Yes, some people dared not be offended so easily. Quite a lot of people, as it turned out, hadn’t bought into the politically correct mindset that dictates we must all be offended by certain things.

Yet that mindset is still being pushed in the aftermath of this election, and (to a lesser extent perhaps) the EU referendum that preceded it. Those who have voted for personal reasons this year have been largely labelled racist, misogynist or a variety of other general labels, thrown by people over the Internet to strangers they don’t know, based on the perception created by a minority who’ve taken to bullying others in public places without being openly challenged for it. People would rather take a recording with their phone and/ or condemn the actions online later, when they’re back in their safe space.

Everyone’s brave when they’re given a keyboard with which to fight their own little battles. But put them in the midst of an actual problem or confrontation, and that’s when your politically correct cultural bubble won’t protect you. We’re part of a generation that hasn’t had to fight any great wars; we’re subject to a movement that seeks to somehow convince us that words are the real enemy, that being offended is the real evil.

Speaking of online labeling, it is the emergence of mass social media usage that has given rise to a greater cultural awareness of how things work, including politics… People are more aware than ever of the kind of corruption that occurs at the highest level. True, president Obama has shown us that it is still possible for the establishment to inspire the general public; all it really takes is charisma, which I’m afraid Clinton just did not have. Many people now consider a vote against this establishment as a victory.

Notice as well, how when people look back at Obama’s tenure as president, their first thought won’t be that he was only elected ‘because he was black’. No, he is perhaps the most charismatic leader of modern times, and it largely helped carry him through two terms. The social justice, politically correct movement wanted Hillary Clinton to be president mainly so they could say we had elected the first female president. But these things shouldn’t be forced; when a candidate comes along who is able to engage with people, as Obama did, and to a lesser extent as Trump has been able to do, they will find success. It would be shallow, not to mention quite insulting for anyone to claim that Obama was elected for his colour rather than on merit; it would be equally insulting for a woman to be elected president just because she was a woman. There will be a female president in the near future, I’m sure of that; but it will be someone who is able to bring people together and inspire others better than Hillary Clinton could do.

From another perspective, things have happened during Obama’s time as president that has gradually seen people who may have voted for him previously, now be turned off. The rise of ISIS means we are living in a different world now than when Obama was first elected, and their undeniable association with the Islamic faith has provided an extra incentive for single-minded people to vote for the kind of rhetoric that Trump – and the ‘leave’ side of the EU referendum in the UK – has come out with (though don’t me wrong, I acknowledge – unlike some other people – this was only one small part of the campaign, and for a lot of people, an insignificant one). As the ostracism of Muslims and other minorities may only serve to push them into the manipulative hands of extremists and greater hatred of us in ‘the West’, we could be heading for an uncomfortable few years to come.

We’re seeing now that political correctness is laughable in the face of extremism. It serves to reinforce our privilege. That is not to say, of course, that we shouldn’t respect each other, that we shouldn’t value different opinions and viewpoints, but the balance has been unsettled. PC culture has gone too far in trying to force a polite society in which everyone thinks a certain way and doesn’t offend each other.

Being around people who think differently from us, those who have other opinions we may not be used to, is healthy. Even getting offended from time to time is healthy. It’s how we learn. Respect for each other isn’t something that can be forced; it’s something to be earned. There is supposed to be a balance somewhere, in which we feel comfortable in being ourselves but at the same time don’t think everyone else around us should be the same way.

Our PC culture has gone some way to unsettling this balance, and the drastic push back from the other side is something we are now seeing take form. Because many people feel they’ve been forced into accepting everything, from other cultures to other lifestyles, opinions and viewpoints, they now want to close the borders instead (to cite one example).

This culture of being afraid of offending each other has made Western society reluctant to call bullshit when necessary. Then someone like Trump comes along, who says things the establishment would dare not say, who in the process freely and willingly risks offending whole groups of people, and in doing so speaks to a group who felt the same way as he but were reluctant to say it openly.

It’s something new, something that a lot of people haven’t seen in the mainstream for a very long time… They’re so used to everything being polished and orderly, of politicians saying the right things, smiling at the right times, looking perfect for every photo opportunity. They’re tired of the comfortable political system that has formed in the years since the latter stages of the Cold War, at which point countries in the West had really begun to get their houses in order and set up some kind of peaceful political structure.

Western countries like the US, the UK, most of the EU, became comfortable with their ‘system of structure’. Then along comes a catastrophic event like 9/11, an attack on this way of life and in some ways the catalyst for the problems we’re faced with today, and everything began to change again…

When the structure comes under attack, people start looking around for who’s to blame, and we inevitably begin to point fingers at each other, letting our minds become clouded as we’re bombarded with various conflicting messages in this digital age. Granted, in 2001 it was easy to see who was to blame – those evil people over there in Iraq who don’t share our treasured Western values. Therefore we had to invade them to get our ‘revenge’ and stand up for these values; an action that began a chain reaction leading to where we find ourselves today. That certain things have since come to light regarding the Bush administration (I won’t be going into them here, except for the use of one key word: oil) is in no small part to blame for the major loss of faith in ‘the establishment’ and the rise of an outsider like Donald Trump.

One must remember, the ‘digital age’ is still relatively young – social media itself has only hit its ‘boom’ period during president Obama’s tenure in office. Up until around 2008 it was still somewhat niche. Now everyone talks about ‘giving us a like on Facebook’ or how many Twitter followers they have… and this has changed how the population thinks, it has changed how we communicate. It can be used to communicate messages positive or negative, of hope or despair, on a mass global scale in a matter of seconds, and everyone wants to get involved to show they have a voice. They want to be acknowledged so they feel their opinion has value.

Some who voted for Trump will have felt that their voices weren’t being heard, either by the establishment or by those of us who try to impose political correctness on others. Many of them we don’t see on social media, probably because, again, so many of us refuse to engage with those who think differently on issues we feel strongly about. We think Facebook and Twitter are good barometers of the broad social climate, and are then shocked to find out half the country might dare to disagree with us.

And how do we respond? The only way the Internet knows how; by broadly labeling, throwing insults at people we don’t know, and panicking that the world we live in may not be the perfect cosy little one we thought political correctness had achieved.

But the digital age also provides hope for those who think everything’s suddenly gone to shit. Things like racism and bigotry will phase out of society over time, as people are exposed to more stuff and naturally become more educated – the Internet is perhaps best used in this capacity. I don’t deny that racism and bigotry helped swing the vote in both ‘Brexit’ and the US election. Yes, there were a LOT of voters voting who were not racists and bigots, but that doesn’t allow us to discount the fact that those things DID swing the vote in both cases, because both cases were narrow victories. We know by the rhetoric that was being thrown around by the campaigns in both cases beforehand, and by those who feel they’ve been empowered in the aftermath.

American citizens need to remember that slavery of human beings of a different colour to white folk is still a relatively recent tragedy, and something their country has never really dealt with. Racists do still exist, that’s the undeniable and unfortunate reality, but there are now far less of them than there once was, and no, Trump’s victory does not automatically imply that half of the US is still overtly racist.

Education is relentless in the long run, and the answer to our concerns is to keep strong in our own convictions and beliefs. History has shown us that hate and bigotry doesn’t win. But it is also now showing us, perhaps, that the other extreme of political correctness doesn’t win either.

More of us need to be willing to stand up to things like racism when we see it on our doorstep. To not be afraid of offending people by calling out bullshit if it is for the greater good. To accept that different opinions exist, but they do not necessarily imply evil intentions.

Perhaps politics in 2016 has helped wake some of us back up from our complacency and realise this once again. We’ve become too comfortable, too reliant on ‘political correctness’ to make the world a nicer place rather than doing the hard work ourselves. Too worried about what people say, rather than focusing on what people do. Trump is a fine example of someone who’s taken advantage of that, and stepped into the void created by the failed US political system, of which Hillary Clinton was the finest model. If she had been half as radical as her opponent with her message, we wouldn’t be here now – but the best reason her supporters could come up with for voting Clinton was ‘experience’. That’s not what American or British people wanted this year; their message was “enough of the status quo”. Mainstream politics needs to step up and listen if it wants to win them back.

LFF 2016, Uncategorized

BFI London Film Festival – Highlights.


Granted, this piece is almost a month late – in fact I think it’s almost one month to the day when I started writing it – but it’s been a pretty busy time for me lately.

This year’s BFI London Film Festival was one of the biggest and best ever. Here I’ll be offering an overview of my favourite movies from my time there, though if you want to read a little more about the festival itself and see the full selection, head over to the BFI website.

London Film Festival has typically tended to be a good barometer of the year’s best films and 2016 has been no exception – a number of the films screened will be deservedly gracing numerous end of year lists, and it also showcases the main contenders for awards season next January and February. Unfortunately though I wasn’t able to see all of them; this isn’t my full time job after all. What I’m going to give you here are 15 films I think deserve special mention out of the selection of screenings I was able to attend while there.

Screenings that I missed and are therefore not featured here, but films that will inevitably feature in awards season, included: Damien Chazelle’s La La Land (expected in the UK early next year), Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Amy Adams (which I have since seen and will review separately), Amma Asante’s A United Kingdom with David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike (opening night gala), and Ben Wheatley’s Free Fire (Brie Larson looks excellent in it and will be a Best Supporting Actress nominee for sure – closing night gala).

So, not including the above four, here are 15 of the best from this year’s BFI London Film Festival:

15. Le Mechanique de L’Ombre (Scribe)

A French espionage thriller that takes the genre in an unexpected direction, feeling fresh and original because of it. The story of Monsieur Duval, a depressive alcoholic with little else to distinguish him from the average middle class office clerk, who loses his job and is forced to take on work transcribing secret telephone conversations on behalf of a shady employer. When he seemingly overhears a murder on one of the conversations, Duval finds himself getting sucked deeper into a mysterious plot despite his unassuming nature… This one likely won’t be getting much of a wide release in the UK, but it’s worth checking out on DVD or Blu-ray. I won’t claim Scribe is anything spectacular, but it’s one of the more entertaining thrillers I’ve watched in recent times.

14. Magnus

A cool, crisp documentary on the life and sharp rise of Norwegian chess prodigy and current chess world champion Magnus Carlsen; as a big fan of the game and of Carlsen’s unpredictable, ‘intuition’-based playing style, this one appealed to me straight away.


At a brief 75 minutes, the film never drags and in fact may be considered too short by some. But for me that length is perfect. Carlsen himself is a reserved figure, an unashamed introvert who has no problem being rude in social situations to read about chess and further his mastery of the game. Often, in fact, he’ll seem lost in the space of his mind, his ‘own world’ – and we see how lonely a place it can be as well, with even the family and friends who he personally values so much unable to comprehend what goes on in his head. A bite-size gem of a movie.

13. Graduation

Romanian director Cristian Mungiu shared Best Director at Cannes this year for this family drama focusing on the socio-political environment of Romania. It also provides an insightful look into parenting and the notion of how far one is willing to bend their integrity in order to give their children the best life possible (which, in this case, is ‘escaping’ Romania via a scholarship to Cambridge). A typically masterful European movie made with skillful insightfulness, and unbridled honesty pertaining to the often-curious patterns observed in human behaviour.

12. Goldstone

Sequel to 2013’s Mystery Road (one of the more underrated movies of the past few years – check it out), Goldstone sees the return of aboriginal detective Jay Swan as he attempts to solve a missing persons case that inevitably turns out to be linked to a larger plot.

This is a smart sequel, possibly an even smarter movie than its predecessor. It doesn’t simply pick up where Mystery Road left off; rather, Jay Swan has changed considerably as a character due to certain things that have happened in his life since his last outing. The film doesn’t rush into revealing these details too quickly, instead settling into a groove dealing with this movie’s independent storyline, which also means anyone who’s never seen the first movie can enjoy this film without needing to. For those who have seen its predecessor, trying to work out what’s changed with this central character – you may not recognise him to begin with, such has been his change – adds an extra element of intrigue.

Otherwise, Goldstone deals with themes like human trafficking, capitalism, and aboriginal natives being driven off their land by rich white men for the sake of (what else?) expansion and profit. When all’s said and done, this film is probably deserving of a higher place on the list, if it weren’t for the emotional connection I had with certain others to come.

11. Queen of Katwe

Just released widely in UK cinemas, Queen of Katwe is set to be, I hope, Disney’s biggest hit of 2016.


Based on the true story of Ugandan chess prodigy Phiona Mutesi, Queen of Katwe is another film that first jumped out at me because of its subject matter. It turned out to be much more than just another movie about chess, though. Yes it has the feel-good vibes one would expect from a movie of this nature; yes, it is undoubtedly one for the entire family to enjoy (and probably my favourite ‘family movie’ of the year). Having said that, there’s still a ‘rare’ quality about this film; considering it’s a full-scale Hollywood Disney movie set in Uganda, with an exclusively black cast.

I shouldn’t say “if there’s only one film you see this week, make it this one” in a week when I, Daniel Blake is also released, but I certainly want to at this moment.

10. Frantz

Francois Ozon has made some of my favourite films over the past few years – In the House and The New Girlfriend were two of the best movies of 2012 and 2014 respectively.

Frantz is another departure for the talented director; filmed predominantly in black and white, it’s an unconventional romance set in France in the immediate aftermath of the First World War. Uniquely the character of Frantz himself only appears in flashbacks, the story revolving around a German man who knew him during the war travelling to France to meet his family. French-German relations of the time period are examined from both sides, as the film begins in France from the perspective of a German, then ends in Germany from the perspective of a French character. Colour is used sparingly in the film, but is effective when a transition takes place. This is another great outing from Ozon.

9. Paterson

Adam Driver hasn’t been short of attention in Hollywood since starring as Kylo Ren in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. He’s found a role here that would define him, if he hadn’t already played one that inevitably will instead.

He plays title character Paterson in this film, a poet who lives in the city of Paterson, New Jersey. A bus driver by day (a trade that allows him to overhear some interesting conversations as the hours tick away), Paterson and his wife live a rather idyllic yet simple existence that feels right out of the American blue-collar storybook. In the evenings and at weekends, Paterson works on his poetry, which, while somewhat unspectacular, helps make him increasingly endearing as the film goes on. We end up connecting closely with this character despite his otherwise uninteresting lifestyle.

His dog in this film also gives an admirable performance; having won the Palm Dog award at Cannes for ‘best performance by a canine’. Paterson is due for its UK release in late November and may well be one I revisit soon.

8. Ma’ Rosa

A strong contender to pop up in the ‘Best foreign language film’ category as an entry for the Philippines, Ma’ Rosa is a stark portrayal of the struggle people have with everyday poverty. Central character Rosa is a mother and wife who casually sells hardcore drugs from her corner shop – out of necessity to ‘get by’. She comes across like a mother to the small, intimate surrounding community and so magnetic is lead actress Jaclyn Jose’s performance (for which she won Best Actress at Cannes) that at no point can you bring yourself to judge her from a moral high ground. Set during rainy season in the Philippines, the film has a kind of eccentric beauty about it, though a good portion of it you spend inside a police station over the course of a night in which police corruption is also exposed. Look out for this one next year.

7. Arrival

It seems inevitable that Denis Villeneuve is set to become this generations Spielberg, Kubrick and/ or Ridley Scott all rolled into one. His previous work has shown similarities to them – he’s set to inherent the Blade Runner franchise with his next project – and Arrival feels like the sci-fi Spielberg and Kubrick would have made if they had worked on one together (A.I. doesn’t count).

Arrival isn’t my favourite Villeneuve movie; that mantle still belongs to the lesser-known Enemy, and I admittedly preferred Sicario to it as well, personally. But let that not take away from the overall quality of this film. It is one of the best, and one of the smartest of 2016. It also has a global theme about different countries and nationalities working together to avoid catastrophe, which should resonate particularly well with people when it is released this week considering our current socio-political climate.

Amy Adams is set to be a frontrunner at the Oscars for her performance in Arrival.
Amy Adams is set to be a frontrunner at the Oscars for her performance in Arrival.

6. The Handmaiden

Korean director Park Chan-wook (of Oldboy fame) returns with a film containing scenes that may rival Blue is the Warmest Colour in their raw, visceral portrayal of lesbian sex.

Obviously depending on your point of view, that could make or break the experience. But The Handmaiden really isn’t about that; rather it’s a winding love story that follows anything but the traditional narrative path, in which characters and their relationships are constantly in question. At least two major twists take place that change your perspective on what came before, giving the film an “I have to see that again” effect. It’s one of the best films of the year, without a doubt. It may even be Park Chan-wook’s best film to date.

5. Christine

Christine is set during a time (the early 1970s) when knowledge of mental health in America was still at an alarmingly primitive stage. The result is an experience that is at once sad and tragic, while you’ll also breath a sigh of relief that we no longer live in such times. Rebecca Hall gives the performance of her career as news anchor and journalist Christine Chubbuck, who shot herself live on air in 1974. The footage hasn’t been available anywhere – presumed destroyed – for some time, resulting in the story becoming somewhat of a modern myth; but it did actually happen, and at the time was as shocking as the portrayal here of elements leading up to the event. Christine herself was suffering from something; whether it was bipolar or a similar disorder is unclear, as though it is heavily hinted at, such diagnoses were non-existent at that time. This film is essentially the story of a woman who battles with demons yet is ultimately unable to defeat them. There was no happy ending for Christine Chubbuck, but thankfully nowadays there is for many who suffer as she did.

4. Chasing Asylum

An eye-opening look at Australia’s rather brutal anti-immigration policies in recent years; a documentary for which its makers took a genuine risk of two years in prison to release. Seeing its content, it’s not hard to work out why.

Honestly, this is a film that I believe everyone needs to see. Not a comfortable experience, especially considering the building anti-immigration sentiment in our own country, but you owe it to yourself to check out this documentary, regardless of the opinion you bring in or take out of it. This kind of thing is what can prevent mass stupidity in our own population and/ or government.

3. Personal Shopper


Kristen Stewart continues to defy critics who have lamented her acting ability by giving one of the best performances of the year in Personal Shopper – a different kind of ghost story in that it’s not part of the horror genre. There are a couple of potentially frightening scenes for sure, though they will intrigue rather than unsettle you. In general that’s what this film does; set out to intrigue its audience rather than spoon-feed them some cheap popcorn thrills. Stewart plays a young woman whose brother is recently deceased, and whom she believes is attempting to contact her from ‘the other side’. She and her brother were previously psychics, supposedly able to communicate with the dead, though Stewart’s character brings a healthy, refreshing skepticism to the story, preventing the whole thing from becoming eye-rollingly cheesy. Instead there’s an understated quality running throughout this film, right up to an ambiguous ending, that I loved. Others may feel differently depending on taste, but it’s one of the most original movies I’ve seen this year.

2. My Life as a Courgette

Forget what anyone else says – this is the best animated film of 2016. A French-Swiss stop motion that comes in at a compact 67 minutes, it’s the story of a little boy who is sent to an orphanage after the accidental death of his alcoholic mother, where he meets a group of other small children who’ve all lost their parents in various tragic circumstances. Like any top quality animated movie (indeed as 2015’s Inside Out also did very well), it grants the respect to children that they’re able to ‘handle’ serious issues such as the death of loved ones, loneliness, love, and there’s even subtle – yet entirely innocent – references to sex. It’s equally hilarious and incredibly sad. The stop motion on display is also an excellent work of art. Nominated as the Swiss entry for Best foreign language film, I’ll be shocked if this isn’t one of the favourites to pick up that award in February.

1. George Best: All By Himself


Admittedly this is a somewhat sentimental choice – I’m allowed one occasionally! – but George Best: All By Himself is also one of the most insightful documentaries I’ve seen in recent years. It doesn’t necessarily tell us anything new about one of the world’s best footballers, but it shares an emotional, engaging account of the boy from East Belfast who became football’s first celebrity superstar in the midst of the ‘swinging sixties’ in Britain, and you’ll likely come away from it feeling you know him better as a person than before.

I emphasise that because in recent years it feels like people don’t really look at Best as a normal person – rather, as a flawed genius who ruined his career on the football field because of his obsessive love of alcohol. And that he certainly was – but there was more to the man. All By Himself showcases a boy no different from any of us, who became swept up in a celebrity culture that the football world itself was unprepared for, and one in which he was unable to find any guidance or help, being the first to have experienced it. Growing up in East Belfast myself, this documentary obviously resonated with me, and while I wouldn’t hold any objective claim to it being the best film overall, it was my most memorable experience of this year’s festival.

Now I had been planning to write more in-depth reviews for some of the films here; as we’re at the stage where a few of them are being released widely – Arrival this week, and Paterson coming up as well – I’m instead going to post larger reviews of those films as they come. A notable exception from the above is Nate Parker’s The Birth of a Nation, which I did see at the festival, and I did point out beforehand as a potential contender for Best Picture at the Oscars… Well I’ve changed my mind on that and will be writing a longer review in this case, as I think this film and the context surrounding its production raises some interesting issues worth a larger discussion.


Quick (or not so quick) Update.

Here’s what I have planned for this blog in the near future, in case anyone thought I’d given up on it.

Video games: my ’20 Years of PlayStation’ series is still ongoing. Next on my to-do list are two of the greatest horror video games of all time, and two of my favourite games in general: the original Silent Hill (1999) and its 2001 sequel. I figured it would be fitting to get both of these out – or at least one – by the end of the month, as we are in ‘Halloween’ month after all.

Speaking of which, around Halloween time last year, while I was making the case for why the horror genre is not only great but essential, I promised another film essay, focusing on The Babadook. Granted, I kind of slipped on this one, though it’s always been on the backburner, and hopefully I will also have it out by the end of October. Believe me, I’ve thought so much about this film – my top film of 2014 – that it won’t be too difficult getting a detailed analysis down in coherent words and clicking publish. I had in fact already started working on it around this time last year.

Looking back in my ‘film essay’ category I see that I haven’t in fact published one here since last July, which really is too long, especially considering I was going along at a pace of around one per month up until then. There are two others I have planned immediately following the next: Nightcrawler and Ex Machina, arguably two of the most overlooked films of the past couple of years, and certainly two of my absolute favourites, so I want to do them some justice.

Originally I had planned my ’20 Years of PlayStation’ series to, like my plan for film essays, proceed along at a pace of around one per month. Obviously that hasn’t happened for various reasons – not that I’ve just been sitting around, rather I’ve had other things to focus on in the time being – so what I’m going to do with that is, at the very least, get out the two Silent Hill articles (because honestly writing about either of those is an almost limitless joy), then write up something about Final Fantasy VIII (1999), my favourite childhood game and one belonging to a series that frequently splits even its own fans. I’ll be making my case for why VIII, rather than its predecessor, was the peak of the series overall.

After those, I’ll assess whether it’s worth continuing ‘20 Years of PlayStation’ at all. In reality it will probably end with the year 2016 (as we will then technically be into 21 years and so on), and I’ll instead focus on more modern stuff again.

I’ve also been working on an article focusing on the issue of performance enhancing drugs in sport, after a year in which we’ve seen a few high profile cases of doping offences and accusations. That one doesn’t entirely follow the politically correct narrative – I think along the lines of allowing some PED’s to be used in a controlled manner, rather than banning everything outright – but I’m writing it mainly to shed some light on the stuff that people tend to overlook when it comes to ‘cheating’ (the blanket term for any offence) in sport.

Otherwise, there are four other prominent ideas for articles that I want to finish and publish here by the end of the year. Those are, first: a piece tackling the issue of review ethics and people who deride critics for any reason, from simply being a butt-hurt fan to those who accuse us of just being ‘haters’ who don’t know how to enjoy stuff.

I have a strong belief when it comes to critique; that it should not tell you what to think about a film, video game, or whatever the product/ service may be, but rather it should help you develop how you think about them. Reviews above all should inform the consumer – they’re not about telling people what they should or shouldn’t enjoy as if there’s some objective standard. Something I love may be something you hate, because everyone has different tastes; but the detail I give about that thing should be enough to tell you how you’re going to feel about it, independent of my own opinion.

Linked to this but worthy of its own article, I’m going to go into the impact that films, video games and books have each had on me personally in terms of my own development. Certain aspects of modern society actively discourage critical thinking and open-mindedness – in fact, I think it’s always been like this, but today’s culture of political correctness means we hear things like “you can’t say that” more than ever, especially on social media (my advice: whatever kind of person you are, it’s healthy to have less of that in your life).

That’s why I think this is important. Art is vital for helping people think outside the confines of the masses; it’s why I value artistic integrity and freedom of expression so highly. Many people who have a single-minded approach to issues in life, on the other hand, don’t. I heard a statement recently that stuck with me: an open mind is a learning mind. Rarely has a truer statement been made throughout history.

My final two planned articles for the year have been an even longer time coming. They are: my Best Films of 2014, and Best Films of 2015.

Now, obviously I understand that most people who like to do this sort of thing prefer to do an ‘end of year’ list and leave it at that. It’s like a nice way to wrap up the year in film, but for me none of those lists are definitive. Not that I’m saying mine would be, though here’s the thing; I consider a film that comes out in 2014, regardless of where it first comes out, to be a 2014 film.

For example, a film released in the UK in, say, early 2015, yet features heavily in awards season, is undoubtedly a 2014 film (Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash, for instance) – because the Academy Awards reward the best films of the previous year. Said film will have been out in the US a few months before, but many of us living elsewhere would not have had a chance to see it yet, and it is therefore, by default, left off the list.

From my perspective, then, to make a list at the end of a calendar year would feel a little silly, bordering on dishonest, as the best films released in the UK that year would only represent around half – if that – of the year’s best films overall. I like world cinema; films from Europe, Asia, or elsewhere. And usually it takes a year or so to catch up on films from those places as their releases gradually filter out across other regions. I prefer to include those in my lists, as I want the list to be as definitive and conclusive as possible.

The other thing to note is my dislike of limiting said lists to a ‘top ten’, again usually done for efficiency (I understand; critics are busy, and wrapping up a compact top ten list at the end of the year is simpler than the method I’m currently advocating). The ‘best’ films of a year may not be limited to just ten – or perhaps in an extremely dry year, there wouldn’t even be ten worthy of inclusion.

Now, most critics actually agree with this to an extent; hence why they do some ‘honourable mentions’ that don’t quite make the top ten. For me that’s curious (why name-drop if you’re not going to detail your reasons?) but again I sort of understand why one would – it saves time, and essentially a ‘top 10’ is more marketable than, say, a ‘top 13’. I have more flexibility in my personal schedule and don’t see why I would restrict myself in that way when I’m not required to.

So basically, my lists will feature the best films of each year, whether it’s 10, 12 or 15 movies long. The 2014 list is almost ready to go and realistically I hope to have that one posted here by the start of next month. 2015, hopefully by the end of the year, and as for my 2016 list, well, I’m thinking Summer 2017 at the earliest. The good thing is, as I’m about to hit another film festival – my second such event of the year – I’ll have a decent head start on a lot of the biggest films to feature in awards season coming up. I’ll probably be writing an article around Oscar time too that will give large hints as to the films I found most impressive over the past year.

One final thing… I plan to do brief film previews (yes I am capable of writing shorter pieces!) every Friday. This will give me an opportunity to look forward to some new movies that catch my eye – that won’t necessarily get the mainstream marketing treatment – and share it with you guys. I’m frequently finding new stuff to get excited about so there’ll be no shortage of things to write about here, and I figure it might be useful to have a category for which posts are regular and somewhat set in stone going forward. That way, one could turn up here every weekend and know they’re at least getting something new, even if I haven’t otherwise written anything of great existential meaning.

Speaking of existential meaning, I’m off to prepare for one of the best times of the year: London Film Festival.


Let’s complain about politics online.

What’s my problem with politics now?

Just look at the power struggles in the Conservative party… Was this referendum all about their little leadership contest? Apparently David Cameron, Boris Johnson, George Osborne and Michael Gove were best friends during their days at Oxford and it seems now their ‘friendly’ rivalries have spilled over to become the epicentre of a pivotal point in the UK’s history. The unfolding (melo-)drama really is like something out of a Shakespeare play. Haven’t we established already how out of touch these guys are with the needs of ordinary people?

Who has any idea where we’re going from here? When will Article 50 be triggered? Will it be triggered? Or, a question I believe not yet settled: should it be triggered?

The referendum may have answered the question of whether the majority (however narrow) of the British public want it to be – and I wouldn’t argue with the outcome – but that is not the same question.

Is it really so preposterous, if we take all the point scoring and nitpicking out of this, to suggest a ‘leave’ vote doesn’t automatically settle the issue once and for all?

Besides, how do we think the leave campaign would have reacted if it came out 52-48 in favour of Remain? I can imagine Nigel Farage standing up in the European parliament and saying he still “wasn’t giving up the fight to one day take Britain out of the EU” regardless of the result…

It’s kind of like the Scottish referendum issue that’s once again raising its head – there would have been another chance for us to come out of the EU if it was the best decision, in the country’s best interests… What we’re seeing now isn’t in the country’s best interests at all. What we’ve seen in the past week, with the deception, game playing and name calling at the top tables, has been enough to see at least some of those who voted leave now express regret that they did so.

Where’s the common sense in modern day politics? Is democracy really that cut and dry? Is it really that inflexible, to the point where, once a decision has been made on one single day out of 365 in a year, it is then set in stone regardless of anyone’s opinion – indeed, regardless of the facts on the table – following on from that?

This is the path on which dictatorships are born… In this case, while it may sound silly, we are being dictated to by democratic rules. By politicians who continue to say what they think we want to hear. Remain campaigners now saying we need to commit fully to leaving – because their loyalty lies with the majority, albeit in this case a narrow one.

You might disagree. How then do you justify shutting down the opinions of the 48% who did not agree with you? Oh, I agree we would have had a similar situation if ‘Remain’ had won… But the difference being, that everyone would have expected ‘euro-skeptics’ to continue to voice their opinions going forward anyway, and we would have had to listen. Their dissenting voices are what would have kept the EU and our own government accountable. It would have been essential that they didn’t just ‘shut up’ once the issue had been settled (because we would’ve known, unless Remain had won by a landslide, that it wouldn’t have been truly settled).

For some reason, though, the 48% who voted remain are now being told they have to ‘shut up and accept’ the outcome. Well, I really don’t think you should; I don’t think any of us should have to ‘shut up’ and accept any result we’re not happy with.

Apparently we should just ‘accept that we lost’ if we dare to suggest Brexit might – just maybe – be a bad idea (as if because 52% said so, it suddenly becomes a good one). The thing is, I don’t think ‘accepting we lost’ is our problem. Surely the ‘remain’ camp knows damn well that it lost. My problem (as I can only speak for myself) is with what looks like coming after that.

If this is what democracy means – that when you lose the vote, you therefore lose your voice – then it has indeed failed us.

Besides, it’s already been acknowledged – it was acknowledged within hours of the result – that some voted under false pretences, thinking certain things would happen that have since not happened. Many of us suspect that’s only the start of it.

Yet still, we are seemingly bound by this vote as if it is law? Only because these politicians care more about their careers (by pandering to each other and the 52%) than what’s in the best interests of the country? That is unacceptable!!

So what are the rest of us going to do about it? Shall we let ourselves leave the EU without a fight, and see our future go up in smoke? Or shall we stand up and be counted? Are we prepared to admit, no matter which way we vote in any situation, that we might have been wrong?

Or let our pride take us out of the EU and into possible oblivion… That is what I believe we’ll get for stubbornly ‘following the rules’ of democracy and listening to those who say it’s impossible to change our minds on this. It isn’t impossible – yet. Our fate with the EU is not set in stone until Article 50 is initiated; at which point it really will be full throttle, no turning back, for better or… no, for worse I’m sure.

The people still have a chance, a window of opportunity before it snaps shut, to stand up and fight this. For 48% of us, our voice isn’t being heard, nor will it be heard as long as we’re trapped under that 50% threshold. That’s probably the sad truth. We’re no longer the government’s chosen audience.

We need to try and change that. Otherwise, the farcical situation we’re seeing now regarding the Conservative and Labour leadership might only mark the beginning of the much bigger farce that ‘Brexit’ will be known as.

P.S. On politicians: these guys (naming no one in particular – just assume I mean the majority) may soon realise that treating people as if they’re stupid no longer works in politics. In their world it often seems to revert back to primitive name calling and accusations designed to discredit the opposing side. Hint: humans have a natural inclination to rebel if given the slightest reason. Most of them don’t have the balls to do it openly, but a voting booth, rather like the Internet, gives them the opportunity to do so without having to deal with the immediate consequences. This referendum may have been one such example, with a ‘leave’ vote representing a prime opportunity to ‘stick it to the man’.

Fair enough, most of us think for ourselves anyway but for those who were torn on which way to vote in this case, the government’s attitude may just have been the tipping point, and in coming across as (dare I say) rather arrogant in their campaign, they in turn partly ensured their (our) own defeat.


A message for Britain, or the no-longer United Kingdom.

Britain, you’re not the victims.

This vote didn’t represent the valiant fight for “independence” from tyranny that some are claiming. Though I see the tragic irony that it should happen 100 years on from a generation whose fight did secure the freedoms we have today.

Rather, in 2016 you were one of the central pillars for a EU that stood as a symbol for standing together and helping each other.

A place where people forced to flee from their homes or wishing to provide a better life for their families felt they could come to prosper or, equally, depend on for protection. A place where they felt they’d be welcomed with open arms.

I was proud of these values. I was proud to be British… until the early hours of Friday morning.

At which point my heart sank. The profound sense of sorrow I felt, unlike anything I ever thought I’d feel in relation to a democratic vote. Because usually, democracy goes the sensible way – usually you can count on common sense prevailing even when parties like the BNP or UKIP gain momentary support in certain seasons.

My tone should give away my allegiance – I voted remain, 100%. At no point leading up to the referendum result did I truly believe more than half of the country wouldn’t. ‘Stronger Together’ was the Remain campaign’s slogan, and as I’m sure this country will soon come to realise, it wasn’t just simple rhetoric or a line that looked good on posters. It was a fact. It was common sense.

The only way I can describe my prevailing emotion last Friday morning, and I didn’t fully understand it at first, was grief. Grief for a country I’d previously been proud of. For my national identity – for a place I’d called my home for the first 26 years of my life, now undergoing a change that would, in the long run, make it – and most likely the rest of Europe – look a very different place. Possibly a similar place to how it looked 100 years ago. I foresaw it (possibly, if not certainly) changing into something I didn’t really want anything to do with.

To be clear, I’m not here to dissect the wildly varying ‘facts’ and opinions of the referendum campaign. Enough people will do that, and the answers, though some of us believe we already see the writing on the wall, will become all too clear in due time. I hope beyond hope that ‘leave’ campaigners were right in at least some of their assertions. The future of the UK depends on it.

But then, should our concern really just be for our own country? How this vote affects the rest of Europe (even, dare I say, the rest of the Western world) is just as, if not more vital…

How will we be viewed in the history books as a result of this pivotal vote? Pre-referendum, Britain was a country looked at with admiration by those less well off. Our position of privilege in the world had been used to help others over ourselves. We were actually not far off living out the fundamental Christian values our nation often stakes claim to.

As of last Friday, we’re celebrated across other EU states and further afield in a very different way. In more uncomfortable ways… By right wing parties rubbing their hands together at the thought of using this vote as leverage for pushing through their own agenda… By Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump, who both endorsed ‘Brexit’ for reasons I dread to imagine at this moment.

By ISIS, who will use this as further ‘evidence’ that the Western world seeks to ostracize peaceful Muslims and wants nothing to do with them. You may have seen for yourself in the past few days; some British people, whether they may be a small-minded minority or not, are helping support that rhetoric.

A large portion of ‘leave’ voters would take this as a veiled accusation of racism and claim they’re obviously not racist, that’s not why they voted that way. Perhaps they may even have that Eastern European friend they’ll point to in an effort to try and prove it.

Obviously I’m not saying you are racist here, though I’m also not going to hold back certain truths just out of fear of offending sensitive people, or painting with too broad a brush. We all do it at certain points, and I’m in no mood to fine-tune everything I say here or double check all my bases and ask what every single individual person might take from it.

If what I say does not apply to you, I hope you won’t be offended. I am not, after all, directing it towards you personally. But let’s be real; we’re all seeing the narrative out there. We’re all seeing what at least some ‘leave’ voters represent, and as for the rest of you, well… you’re not entirely without responsibility. This is the situation you’ve helped present us with. Now I’m going to proceed to share some of the other images I have of those who gleefully voted ‘leave’, based on my own reading of this campaign and the current socio-economic climate…

Those who voted leave likely aren’t the kind of people who were worried about money, in the sense that they don’t have much savings, or at least if they do, were painfully ignorant about what announcing the UK’s EU departure would do to its value. The pound has dropped significantly since last Friday and while it has somewhat stabilised, it will be quite some time – if ever – before it comes anywhere close to its value pre-referendum.

This means changing your currency when you go abroad will give you less money to spend. It means our country in general will be poorer. Regardless of what trading deal we strike with the EU, even if it’s the most magnificent one we can all imagine in our wildest dreams, it will still not be as good a situation as it was when we were in their exclusive group.

Sure, we’ll “get by”. We’ll prove we can do it without them. We’ll prove we can be an independent country – just one nowhere near as prosperous or influential as it was or could’ve been.

We’ll need to cough up much more capital if we hope to maintain what we currently have, let alone achieve any growth. We’ll be seen as less financially reliable, less able to repay loans if they’re given. One way or the other, the UK will end up paying out more, not less (the leave camp may once again claim this is scare mongering, saying we do not know yet what kind of deals we may strike, but it is a simple statement of fact that comes with no longer having the benefits of being in the EU).

What area in England voted 60% remain, after all? It’s no coincidence that it was London, where the most economically prosperous Briton’s live. And those living in the capital who are upset at the current situation likely have the value of their pocket in mind.

I understand that if you are from a more working class background and do not have any great willingness to improve your prospects any further than they are currently, you of course would not care so much about this. You may even be one of the unemployed who likes to complain that you “can’t get no job” because the migrants have taken it, and you’d rather not work too hard to make yourself a more desirable potential employee. Therefore it’s probably in your best interests to drag everyone else down with you, in turn improving your own prospects while those who’ve worked hard to find financial success have to pick themselves up again – they’ll be able to do that easier than you in any case, for better or worse.

I’ve heard from people in both camps that they were voting “for future generations”.

Well frankly I fail to see how being out of the EU does anything for Britain’s next generation, short of embedding in them the propaganda that “we don’t need them – we’re great on our own”. Their prospects, if we care about such a thing, will naturally be more limited no matter what deal we cut on their behalf with the EU; a EU that we can no longer influence in a positive way from the inside. We’ll just moan and complain from the outside instead; that part of our British culture won’t change. Only now, we won’t have a seat at the table.

Again I think there was something of a social class divide here; a working class family who thinks their children may continue along such lines may indeed benefit from being out of the EU. There will naturally be less competition because less EU nationals will be coming to this country – which also means less skilled workers available, less money spent locally and nationally, all the while we’re spending extra to import goods from other nations… The outlook, even at its most optimistic, has us less well off economically than we ever were inside the EU, with all the natural benefits that brought us. I imagine that supposed £350 million we sent to the EU every week would in the end have seemed a small price to pay for the range of benefits we reaped. But we will now discover this harsh, painful reality quite slowly in the next decade.

Now the curious thing about my reaction to all of this, I’ve come to realise, is my use of the terms “we” or “our” – I suppose this is the result of my considering myself inherently a British citizen, and by default of birth in possession of a British passport (which may, in time, lose some of its prestigious value), because it’s certainly not the result of considering Britain my exclusive home, or a place in which I imagined spending the rest of my life. The truth is I didn’t beforehand nor do I now consider my future to be in the UK, but certainly current events will help determine how I look back on it and whether or not I return with any frequency; perhaps even the terms of my exact departure.

So one could argue this vote doesn’t particularly affect my immediate plans, and that’s probably correct, especially considering it’s going to be at least two years before anything significant changes in the UK. One could argue this was also the case with many other young voters who voted the same way as I; primarily for the freedom of movement and increased education or business opportunities the EU presented. Trust me therefore when I say: it’s the rest of you I’m more worried about. This is why you’ve see some of the older generation, not all of whom are out of touch, state how sorry they now are for the next generation, who will have to bear the main brunt of this decision.

I think recent market fluctuations – with the pound way down, then up, then down again, and finally stabilising but nowhere near where it was before last Friday – and hard line taken by the EU in the early stages of discussions show already that the Remain campaign’s pre-referendum warnings were not just the ‘scare-mongering’ they were labeled as.

David Cameron, realising the scale of the task that now lies ahead and likely without the first clue himself how he would possibly negotiate a good deal for the UK on exiting the EU, has left it all up to his successor (a man the rest of us won’t envy), while leave campaigners are also eager to emphasise that there is ‘no rush’ on initiating Article 50, perhaps realising now that it won’t quite be such a simple job as they had previously insinuated.

In any case, the UK is in for an awkward next two years at the EU table, with other members likely already thinking about subtle ways they can make things harder for us. The whole situation as it stands doesn’t exactly feel deserving of the glorious – bordering on hilarious – declaration of independence that ‘leave’ voters rushed to declare so eagerly last Friday (even though our actual independence – and yes, I feel uncomfortable referring to it as that – won’t happen for another two or even three years from now).

You see, the thing is, it clearly is in the best interests of both parties to continue an amicable relationship. Remain and leave campaigners would surely agree on that (unless, perhaps, your name is Nigel Farage). Therefore, from a common sense point of view I’d argue it’s pretty nonsensical for us to have even considered leaving – as we already have as amicable a relationship as we could’ve hoped for. It must now change drastically; if it doesn’t, then why bother?

I don’t say that because the idea of leaving and having our ‘independence’, as people have called it, is necessarily an unattractive one. Don’t get me wrong, I saw the argument and understood it, but never thought it realistic and even right up to 5.50am last Friday was hoping the British public wouldn’t create such an unnecessary problem for themselves.

As the government, leave voters and the rest of us are now realising, you can’t have it both ways. The EU will be strict about what benefits we can retain. This isn’t a case of keeping what we like and throwing away what we don’t. Make no mistake, whatever happens; a lot of people are going to end up hurting in the short term as a result of ‘Brexit’ when negotiations are complete. We may retain a decent relationship with the EU, but it obviously cannot ever be as close as it was. When they begin to make decisions we don’t like, we won’t be able to influence or stand in their way, having lost our seat at the decision-making table.

Prominent leave campaigners have not yet figured out what their plan is. Their primary target was to win the campaign – and a fair few of them have been conspicuously silent on what’s to happen next, aside from prematurely suggesting that Britain will retain some of those aforementioned benefits we actually rather like. But let’s remember there’s two affected parties at this table, and the EU want what’s best for them, not us.

It is true they need us to some extent; but I believe we’re also relying on them not to throw us in the dirt. They may struggle with the shock of a EU without the UK initially; but they would manage… Whereas we are now kind of dependent on help from elsewhere to survive as the isolationist little island we’ve become. Ironic that, isn’t it, considering this was supposed to be our great “independence day” (a long, protracted, drawn-out 2+ year independence at that)…

Predictions are all we can ever make, no one can see the future – one can’t expect politicians to provide the exact answers or figures on this kind of thing. Where the establishment goes wrong is in thinking they need to – hence the promises they often fail to keep, and the resulting frustrations that were partly what led to 52% of British citizens voting against the very thing our own government recommended we stay in for national security and stability. Our initial instinct so often is to assume they’re just full of shit.

Those who voted Remain were not wrong either for being concerned, and one thing I’ve hated is how both sides seemed to try hitting each other with ‘facts’ when the real fact is, none of us could be sure how this would all turn out. All we did know was that leaving would present the vast uncertainty (in so many areas) that we now face – and the opportunities it would take away to be replaced with that uncertainty.

Somehow ‘leave’ campaigners, and by extension those who voted that way, have managed to convince 52% of us that uncertainty is a good thing, because it ‘might not’ turn out as bad as they say. Maybe not, but it certainly won’t be any better than what we had before. Though if it somehow were better, that would consequently spell doom for the EU… You can start to see the circular problem here, right? Think about it.

In my view, no one wins. Someone will lose, and it’s more likely to be the UK at this point. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit part of me would like to see Britain squirm under the increasing pressure.

Yes, perhaps that makes me a terrible person. The fact that I’m already working on plans to leave myself may be seen as ‘jumping ship’. The leave voters would either claim to be glad to see the back of me or say I’m a sore loser. They perhaps think I should instead stick around to help the rebuilding process of supposedly great “British independence”, though I’m not sure why, as I was among those who wondered why a rebuilding process was ever necessary when we already had a perfectly good structure in place.

Really think about that for a moment. Did Britain truly look like a country that needed some declaration of ‘independence’? I suppose some would say yes; but their evidence would likely involve assumptions of what would happen in future, rather than what’s in front of us right now. Again, whatever now happens in the EU in future, we are no longer there at the table to offer a voice. They could now do the most nefarious shit imaginable, without the UK’s input, if they so wish.

I personally found it somewhat ironic, if not insulting, if not the idea for a crazy satire, for ‘leave’ voters to claim independence when that’s not something we’ve ever had to fight for; rather, many countries have instead had to fight for independence from us. We spent much of our history imposing ourselves on others, taking without giving, only to then willingly vote to turn our backs when we started putting more into the EU than we got back out of it (in the view of some).

Before the voting results I thought there would one day be films made or books written about what might’ve happened had the UK voted to leave the EU. When I woke last Friday morning I thought perhaps I had stepped into that kind of story, only it felt like a nightmare. This stuff feels like it is supposed to be fantasy. Somehow, I can’t quite imagine authors wishing to tell the story of what would’ve happened if Britain remained. Where’s the drama in that?

In the end, long story short (or vice versa, as the case may be), I’m just not sure this ‘UK independence’ is something I want to associate with. Rather like 52% of the British public, I’d prefer to say, “screw you guys, I’m looking after myself”.


Here’s an example of a good movie trailer…

I know what you might be thinking. What makes this trailer particularly good and others not? Well, this trailer doesn’t force the entire film’s plot down your throat. It leaves something to be desired – teasing you with a short sequence of scenes that don’t make a lot of sense in isolation but hint at a bigger, more sinister picture…

Interestingly the last trailer I saw that I felt was as well done as this one was for Star Wars: The Force Awakens – another J.J. Abrams film. Sure, this guy’s not perfect, but he is one of the few of the current generation of directors in Hollywood (with the exception of Spielberg and Scorsese, who I suppose are still considered ‘current’) who genuinely understands, respects and appreciates the art of good storytelling in cinema. Dare I say he’s even approaching ‘auteur’ status (I suspect those who get snobbish over the term may have a problem with my usage of it in this instance); which, by extension, allows him more creative control over the marketing of his films.

Trailers for Abrams’ films are quickly becoming the only ones I can bear watching (as it pertains to mainstream cinema at least) without getting irritated that they’ve spoilt too much of the movie.

Some may say they do need more than this in a trailer to be intrigued enough to see a film, in which case we’re probably not going to agree. I like to be surprised when I see a new movie, rather than know too many details beforehand. When I watched the second Batman v Superman trailer a few months ago, I found myself wishing it didn’t give so much away especially when, let’s be honest, everyone who is a fan of either of its two central characters will be going to see the film anyway. That trailer actually went some way to diluting the hype I had for the movie beforehand.

So here’s what I’m going to do. Any time I come across a movie trailer I find interesting, I’ll share it here and comment on what to expect from the movie. This way I’ll also have more of a chance to talk about films that I don’t see at the cinema to review immediately, which will naturally extend to foreign movies that are harder to come across in certain parts of the UK – where I’m currently living, it isn’t always easy to see the films I’d like to see.

I’m going to do this because from my point of view it has become just as important to reward this kind of marketing campaign (over the heavy-handed kind that is commonplace in Hollywood) as it is to reward good movies. Otherwise, the Transformers series and others like it could continue to dominate this industry indefinitely.