Tag Archive: Christian


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.

Love vs Honour pic 1.

This kind of thing is a little unusual for me, for a couple of reasons. First and most obviously, I don’t typically post book reviews on here, though perhaps it is something I will begin to do occasionally.

Second, this particular book – a novel called ‘Love vs Honour’ – was written by someone I know and speak to on a regular basis. I’m being honest about that because, while I have tried to judge the book in as objective a manner as possible, I cannot know for sure how much my thoughts and overall opinion on it have been influenced by my personal knowledge of said individual. Usually I would, for obvious reasons related to my own integrity, steer clear of reviewing a product in such a case. I’m passionate in my belief that any reviewer who finds themselves in a situation where they may hold back from being as open and honest as possible regarding the information they provide about a product (in order to, say, try and boost sales as ‘a favour’ to someone else, or equally to criticise it simply because they do not like the author personally), should really not be reviewing that product at all.

However, I am making an exception in this case partly because of the nature of the subject matter, and also because I do not believe I am breaking the aforementioned principles by doing so. I have approached this book as honestly as I could, though I share the above information with you so that you can judge for yourself. That is, after all, the essence of what reviews are about: giving you the information you need to make an informed decision, and that includes any hint of bias on the part of the reviewer. You may indeed, in the end, think of me as biased, and should you form that opinion, then I am at least satisfied that I shared the information with you necessary to do so.

On to the book itself then. Love vs Honour (by Simon Dillon) follows a Christian guy and a Muslim girl, who meet and find themselves promptly falling in love, though interestingly without the usual romantic hyperbole that typically goes along with that. The characters are in love, but it feels real and authentic, rather than some fantastical fairy tale story. Obviously their respective beliefs present certain difficulties, if not between them, then certainly when it comes to their families who, to varying extents, seem to be caught up in the dogma and vitriol of their religions. To the point where Johnny and Sabina, the two main characters about whom we now speak, feel they cannot tell their parents about their feelings for each other, as it becomes apparent on both sides that this sense of love is the crucial element missing from their family lives – at least on the surface.

Against this backdrop their love quickly blossoms, and the fact that it feels so real is crucial – because they’re soon planning to deceive each other’s families in order to keep in touch beyond the weekend on which they met. For this to happen, one might think their own conviction to their religions would have to be somewhat in question (as a ‘good Muslim’ or a ‘good Christian’ would presumably not go along with such a deceptive scheme), and it is. This is exasperated, if not caused by the fact that they are in love, which is a feeling that neither of them have so far experienced within their respective belief patterns and is, therefore, perceived as more powerful than either of them. This becomes a theme played on throughout the novel, as the difficult situations they face eventually extend beyond the boundaries of their relationship.

Though the book handles its love story well, that is not, for me, its greatest strength. Nor is some of its early dialogue and character development, which I frankly found to be a little awkward. Rather, this is a novel most impressive in its overall accessibility. Romance is not typically my chosen genre to read, but the book does not rigidly define itself in this way.

Likewise, while it offers balanced and fair portrayals of both Christianity and Islam, it does not openly take a stance on either – instead presenting the facts and opinions of the characters within its narrative who do hold those beliefs, and letting the reader decide for themselves. Or not, if they so wish. The book does not hold you captive with an agenda of its own, even if a slight bias towards one of its two religions can be seen when observing the story as a whole. Its overriding message is one that I believe will be felt by anyone with natural human empathy, regardless of your personal beliefs – it does not forcibly attach such sentiment to a particular religion, even if there are understandable hints towards the author’s own convictions.

This honesty and open-mindedness in the novel’s storytelling is the main reason I wanted to highlight it here on this blog. Frankly I find this to be a rare thing in stories told by authors with certain religious convictions – they often use this form of art as little more than a propaganda tool, rather than enjoy it for what it’s meant to be. It is possible to have a strong message in your work and not force it down your reader’s throat, or feel that you must trick them into accepting that belief themselves. Too many Christian stories (I can recall a couple of semi-mainstream movies that recently did such a thing) present a manufactured, often sugar-coated version of their belief system in order to portray a narrative that is not entirely honest with itself, let alone the rest of the world. Christianity is not a perfect ‘religion’, nor does it know all the right answers, even though it follows a perfect man who did.

Even should you find yourself disagreeing with me on those finer points, I think this book will be an enjoyable and eye-opening read from whichever stance you take. If you couldn’t care less about that side of things and are instead interested in a decent love story, the novel delivers on that as well – just don’t come expecting a masterpiece that will change how you view the genre.

It’s not a long book either, less than 300 pages, and is very nicely paced so it won’t take you long getting through it. Frankly it is also cheap enough to be worth a second thought, even if you have your doubts as to whether it’s for you. In my case I didn’t think it would have resonated quite the way it did, but then again, one could argue I initially felt compelled to stick with it due to reasons mentioned above.

You can download the Kindle version of the novel here. Also available in paperback.

Religious art pic 2.

If you intend to write as truthfully as you can, your days as a member of polite society are numbered, anyway…” – Stephen King

I’m not here to talk about religious paintings. Or maybe in a way, I kind of am.

Let me preface this by highlighting that there are a lot of people who, given the opportunity, would like to control the lives of others. It is not a character trait limited just to the stereotypical dictators throughout history. Many crave it, others are rightly wary of it; that feeling of some kind of authority over another person, though one may justify it with righteous thoughts related to “only looking out for your own good” because they care about you so much.

We fear to lose that which we love – and often try to protect against this fear by controlling the object of it. You can likely recall such occasions in the past when you were on the receiving end of this kind of thing and, depending on what kind of person you are, you would probably have reacted in one of three ways: by submitting, rebelling or simply not caring.

Within Christianity, as within any religion, indeed within any group or commonly held worldview, there can be found these individuals who were first attracted to it because some part of them enjoys the social organisation it gives – and the subsequent opportunity for control over others that it can offer. Indeed it is often an inherent desire to have some outside force controlling their own lives, with the perceived comfort and security that comes with it, which first makes one open and willing to accept any religious claims at all.

This, I think, is why many prominent Christians (rather like North Korea and other dictatorships throughout history) fear art specifically, though they may not openly admit or even be aware of it. Of course, art that tells them they’re right about everything is usually fine. But the problem is, most of it tends not to play by such rules – and if it does, certainly doesn’t rule out breaking them.

Anything that hints, however subtly, that they or any part of their worldview may be wrong, often ultimately represents the enemy. Precisely because it dares to suggest, and present differing ideas; introduces concepts or reinvents old ones; holds the capacity to help people think clearly about things that may have been previously clouded in their minds, and then decide for themselves.

If one is secure in their beliefs, which can of course (and unfortunately) include some of the most extreme forms of dogma, there is little chance their minds will be changed by alternative viewpoints, nor am I necessarily saying they should be so easily swayed – but what I am referring to is more those who cannot accept or understand alternative viewpoints at all, and become offended just because other people dare to think differently from them. From here, their desire for control over others may become more apparent, as they look to mould everything around them to fit their own point of view.

Art is, indeed, a battleground for the free-thinking mind. And as one of those people who enjoys seeing ignorance squirm, raising its voice when confronted by an idea it can’t yet comprehend; who sighs in exasperation at those who gleefully declare they’ve won an argument only because their worn-out adversary walks away from it, I see art as vital to our cultural progression in whatever form it takes.

I say our knowing that many Christians will use the ‘in the world, but not of the world’ excuse to get out of paying any real attention to what secular art might have to teach them. Most art is, after all, full of sin – that includes ALL of it, not just whatever isn’t to your taste. You may think the old Western ‘cowboys and indians’ stories, in which indigenous native Americans were portrayed as frightening animals ripe for slaughter by the heroic white men who invaded their land, were somehow less sinful than wild rampant sex scenes and excessive swearing?

No; the difference between the two (aside from obvious genre/ narrative conventions) is mainly that the latter is under no illusion about itself and isn’t afraid of being so blatant about it. In fact if I had to choose which I have usually found to be more artistically tasteful, there is little question for me: it would be the latter, though this kind of thing should of course be judged on a case by case basis.

If art’s intention is to do anything, regardless of whatever beliefs or worldview may lie behind the eyes of its artist, it is to reflect our perception of the world around us. It is, in its purest form, an interpretation of life. This can be its greatest strength – for that reason, I’d consider it inherently dishonest were it not full of this thing Christians call ‘sin’ in some sense (allowing, of course, for appropriate exceptions – though even within some of the most wholesome children’s stories there can be found dodgy themes lurking beneath light-hearted exteriors). Art reflects this earthly reality in different forms, whether for you to get offended over or mindlessly enjoy, and it’s not really for me to decide which of those categories you fall into when you consume it.

Yes, it is a minefield out there, but it’s a glorious one of self-discovery as you find out where your own strengths and weaknesses lie as it pertains to personal taste. That is something only YOU can discover, no matter how much others may try to force something down your throat, or say you’re a bad person simply because of an opinion that’s different from their own. Though many of us would admit; you can’t really have what you like without also having to deal at some point with what you don’t. Because art, like anything created, is based on and reflects the individual tastes of the artist who creates it – for as many who have the same taste as you, there will be many others who do not.

Apologists for art, one of which you may consider me to be after all this, are known for saying it should be provocative. I think it certainly should be, but the only thing provocation really means is to instigate an emotional reaction. Often this reaction is positive – laughter, love, empathy. But it can also be very offensive. In fact it is arguably when art is at its most offensive that we can actually learn much from what it’s trying to communicate. Offensive material stands out and catches our attention – you must give it that, if nothing else. Whether it does that simply for the sake of it (which it has every right to do, if one so wishes), or to make a greater point is, of course, a different kind of debate.

Recently I was fortunate enough to attend the UK premiere of an Irish film, Patrick’s Day, in which the director stood up beforehand and said something to the effect of “I hope you enjoy my f**king film… if not, Spongebob is showing in the next screen.” The comparison could not be more fitting – Spongebob, a light-hearted children’s movie not likely to cause any real offence, and Patrick’s Day, a film about a 26 year old schizophrenic man who’s spent his whole life under the care of his over-protective mother before falling in love with an older woman bearing secret suicidal tendencies. One of these films left its audience with much to consider about a subject they may have been ignorant of beforehand… the other, was nothing more than silly entertainment that I question is really worth anyone’s precious time or money. What kind of person you are will likely define which represents which for you.

This, I think, was precisely the director’s point. Those who did not enjoy Patrick’s Day, perhaps due to the uncomfortable way it made them feel, are likely the kind of people who prefer a light-hearted, easy going film such as Spongebob. Also, by freely swearing in an environment otherwise considered ‘polite’, he sent a message to the audience that if they were easily offended, they should probably brace themselves for more to come.

It told me: here was a filmmaker who was not afraid of making a film that would confront and openly challenge its viewers – and you know what? Considering its main theme was mental health, one of the few topics still broadly misunderstood and brushed under the carpet by many in today’s society, I was delighted by this man’s sheer audacity.

After all, mental illness is far from polite. It can be rude, obnoxious, hurtful and even dangerous. These are just some of the reasons many people are uncomfortable approaching the topic. Often, whichever side of the ‘carer/ cared for’ divide one falls on (Patrick’s Day portrayed both perspectives in an impressively honest and heartfelt way), these are things to which you must become accustomed. Mental illness is a killer of polite conversation if ever there was one.

I felt towards Patrick’s Day the same way I feel about films in general – that they are vital for helping us understand more about others and ourselves, useful for exploring certain subjects that are harder to tackle in everyday conversation, and can be a vehicle for communicating the perceived faults of others (or indeed, ourselves) without having to bluntly say it to one’s face.

So what does any of this have to do with Christianity? An interesting question; one you might pose as if ‘Christianity’ is somehow separate from everything I’ve been talking about thus far. As if it is some tangible thing one can grasp in their left hand, while films and other forms of art are grasped in their right – rather like the divide between ‘religious’ and ‘secular’.

But of course many circles in contemporary liberal Christianity would scoff at the thought of being considered ‘religious’. We don’t follow religion, they say, we follow Christ. And I certainly see the merit in that sentiment – no one is ever truly happy being compartmentalised by those who casually judge from the outside looking in – yet many of them risk becoming hypocrites. They readily categorise other aspects of everyday life into stereotypical boxes, while scorning the idea that their beliefs should be confined to the umbrella term of ‘religion’, without realising these tendencies are pretty much the same thing.

Films, for them, might become the immoral cause of rising violence and premarital sex because of the images they portray. Video games are senseless entertainment for teenage boys. Even religion itself, the thing they find so frustrating to be associated with, is seen as a caricature: some emotionless system of rules and misguided authority, those within it hopelessly deceived – when the truth is that every ‘religion’, while sharing certain similarities, has unique qualities that mean it’s probably just as big an injustice to broadly label them as such.

My point, though, is that in acknowledging the act of ‘following Christ’ as more than a simple religious act in the traditional sense, you would presumably be ready to accept that this equally broad term I’ve been using called ‘art’ is not so easily classified either. Furthermore, these two things are not actually so separate at all. There is no real divide, aside from that which people like to create themselves.

One might say Christ is sovereign; in that case, all of this falls under Him. You might well see him reflected in everything you watch, read, play, or any other activity you enjoy partaking in – even despite of everything else you see there that is considered ‘sinful’. You would only be following His example; when Christ looks at you, does he not see something worth loving despite the sinfulness of it?

Art can make you question what you believe, and why you believe it. In that sense, some think it dangerous. Why do you follow a religion or God? Why do you not? What do you support with your money? Who or what inspires you? These are the questions to which answers help contextualise one’s life, and I think they are personal answers everyone should know. Think about why you know those answers; what led you to them? Be prepared for new information that might make you think twice. This is the kind of thing art has taught me, though with all of it, as with everything else, I take a pinch of salt.

Storytelling through art, whether in the form of a painting, a piece of literature, film or however else you define it, has the capacity to communicate ideas, beliefs and/ or concepts better than simple words could. It can help us deal with things otherwise left unspoken, communicating them in creative and interesting ways. You may like the way some do it; others you might detest with a passion. And that’s all fine.

I myself can think of numerous examples when I have felt both ways about certain storytellers (and I use the term very loosely in some upcoming cases) who – in sticking with our theme – have presented their Christian beliefs through art. Thankfully, if the reception and wider impact of their work has shown anything, it is that good quality always rises to the top, regardless of the worldview held by its makers.

On one side, you have films like Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas, which had a ‘resounding’ victory at the Golden Raspberry Awards earlier this year. This followed other overtly Christian films such as Heaven is for Real and God’s Not Dead from 2014, the latter of which was deservedly panned critically and came across as nothing more than a naive propaganda piece to the average discerning eye.

Kirk Cameron’s subsequent reaction to the negative reception that greeted his film – calling those who disliked it ‘haters’ and ‘atheists’ – showed that the man had no interest in whether or not his movie was actually any good by reasonable objective standards. Rather he wanted to see his own set of values promoted through any means necessary, with anyone who dared not like his style degraded for not agreeing with him.

This situation prompted some thoughts within myself at the time related to these questions: what should a good ‘Christian’ film, or any other Christian work of art for that matter, actually look like? Is a film like Saving Christmas, only liked by those who feel a strong sense of loyalty toward its clear intentions, the best you can hope for or expect as it pertains to conveying a specific Christian message? Is that message even necessary to put the Christian ‘spin’ on something? Are Christians going to learn at some point that to criticize something does not mean you’re working for the devil? Otherwise how would we feel free to judge the difference between good and bad quality at all within Christian art/ media, if to say something’s bad is only going to garner derision and accusations from your peers?

Well, those are questions to be thoughtfully considered and hopefully answered another time. On the other hand, there are many positive examples of Christian art that has found mainstream success. In fact one of the greatest fantasy tales of modern times, Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, was bedded in Christian beliefs, from its characters to its mythology. Ironically though it is one many Christians would be wary of, for its elements of witchcraft, sorcery and of course the fact that it is ‘fantasy’ in the first place, therefore demanding a fair suspension of disbelief if one is to find their own meaning and enjoyment in the story. This accessible nature – not to mention Tolkien’s legendary attention to detail – was a large reason the tale found such mainstream success.

Of course I cannot talk about Tolkien without also mentioning one of my other favourite writers, C.S. Lewis, who felt Christianity was a means by which to see the world more clearly, rather than an excuse to remain ignorant of it. A filter, if you will, through which you can view not only the real world, but also fantasy and myth, which were particular interests of Lewis during his academic career alongside Tolkien at Oxford.

To Lewis, Christianity did not negate the importance of diverse storytelling; rather, it illuminated and enhanced the need for it. As the sun shines light on the physical world around us, so Christianity can shine light on our creativity and imagination in a way that helps us better contextualize and understand the things it produces. And likewise, how this creativity comes through in filmmaking, even if we should disagree on the finer details of how it is used in the end, is glorious. I daresay Lewis would have agreed, if he had shared the same passion for movies that he had for literature (the two are, after all, of the same extended family).

Writers like Lewis and Tolkien represented a more refreshing approach to Christianity in storytelling than the otherwise drab options available today. They both felt stories, fantasy in particular, and by extension the world around them as they understood it, didn’t have to be restricted or dictated by their beliefs, but rather set free by them. They took unique approaches, but Christian elements can be clearly seen in both of the respective classic stories these writers are most famous for.

Not that I’m saying we should just go backwards and copy what’s already been done in the past. For the pure sake of originality, I’d love to see new ideas emerge and different styles embraced. Some themes have been played out across all art over many centuries (I swear if I hear one more Hollywood trailer talk about someone being ‘the one’ to save us all in their perpetual regurgitation of cardboard cut-out Christ figures…) – to try something different would, in artistic terms, restore some respectability to how Christianity is viewed in the public eye.

So no, I’m not here to talk about religious paintings. In fact what I’ve written on this topic thus far probably comes across as a rambling selection of thoughts better suited to a book where they’d presumably be fleshed out in a more structured and detailed fashion. Perhaps I will do that. For now I’m happy just to leave it here, and hopefully, just maybe, it will have encouraged you, should you have taken the time to read through it, to come with your own considered conclusions.

The Water Diviner.

"I did it! I became a Director!"

“I did it! I became a Director!”

It seems appropriate that The Water Diviner should get its UK release over the Easter weekend. A film for all the family, with a feeling of deep spiritual significance; it is one of the few truly conservative Christian-friendly recent movie releases. Even the most easily offended are unlikely to find something to hate about it. Aside from the fact, maybe, that it’s directed by Russell Crowe, ‘the guy from that Noah film’ last year which dared to take liberties with its source material.

This being Crowe’s directorial debut, one cannot blame him for coming up with what feels like a rather safe effort here. A ‘historical fiction’ drama, the film sees main character Joshua Connor, played by Crowe himself, going in search of his missing sons thought killed in conflict during the first World War. Upon discovering that one of them could still be alive, and led by an unknown (almost prophetic) compulsion which people will likely attribute to God’s divine guidance, Connor intensifies his search for the lost son in the same way a shepherd refuses to stop pursuing a lost sheep – even should that sheep not wish to be found.

Along the way Connor becomes romantically involved with a recently widowed Turkish woman (French actress and former Bond girl Olga Kurylenko); a plot detail I would have found more believable had Connor himself not just buried his own wife before setting off on his journey, after she committed suicide in the film’s opening. This element contributes to an overall feeling of ‘going through the storytelling motions’ – I got the sense that the only reason The Water Diviner contained romance at all was because it is simply what one puts in the script for any typical big budget historical drama.

Interestingly my favourite parts of the film had little to do with the characters themselves or their relationships with each other. It has a couple of political statements in mind regarding war-time ethics and the fine moral lines that are sometimes crossed by those whom we would otherwise consider to be the ‘good side’, in order to get the best outcome for themselves. The film does have something useful and informative to offer about Turkish-British-Greek relations in the aftermath of the first World War, and Turkish cultural norms are also challenged, in this case predictably for the sake of love. But in truth none of these things are unique concepts that had me excited about this film.

That The Water Diviner tied with The Babadook for Best Film at this year’s Aacta awards (the Australian equivalent of the Oscar’s) was, I think, indicative of a certain conflict within some sectors of the film industry when it comes to pleasing their audience. On the one hand, it represents a great injustice that these two films are made out to be equal in their quality. As directorial debuts go, Jennifer Kent blows Crowe out of the water. Hers is simply the superior film by far…

Yet I know many in an average audience may disagree. Those who don’t like to be provoked to think too much about their viewing experience will perhaps prefer The Water Diviner; a film that wears its heart and all of its other components on its sleeve. You have here all the parts necessary for a typical ‘feel-good’ experience, with a conservative romantic subplot and a happy ending to follow a story of tragedy. If that kind of thing sounds good to you then, by all means, don’t let the fact that I found the film to be a distinctly average, unoriginal movie harm your enjoyment of it.

For the rest of you, The Babadook is available now on DVD and Blu-ray.

5 / 10

"I'm just going to sit here and watch you as you read. 'Cos I'm creepy."

“I’m just going to sit here and watch you as you read. ‘Cos I’m creepy.”

Judging from some of the outraged reactions Christians have been having towards the Fifty Shades of Grey movie, released on Valentine’s Day, you’d be forgiven for thinking it signals the end of wholesome cinema (such a thing never existed) and/ or will somehow lead all females everywhere to actively seek out abusive relationships (just as certain video games actively encourage little boys to be violent, right?) – and most of all, is a terrible way for couples to use their day of ‘celebrating love’ if they should go and see it.

Wait a minute… I’m pretty sure Christians have traditionally degraded that last one because of the commercially driven way in which Valentine’s Day is typically viewed. Or does this secular ‘celebration of love’ (kept alive mainly by the outlets that want you to buy their flowers and chocolates) suddenly become your best friend when you have something more negative to compare it to?

Now, I could have written a number of different pieces on the topic here. I could have dissected not only the above points, but also discussed how, no, there doesn’t exist any evidence to suggest that abusive relationships have suddenly risen in the past few years since the Fifty Shades of Grey novels first appeared on the market.

Even if abusive relationships had risen in this time, correlation does not equal causation. What I mean by that is: just because a woman who may have read these books also happens to be in an abusive relationship, does not automatically mean the two are directly linked, or that one caused the other. While I can understand why you’d be eager to make this link (after all, abusive relationships are a horrible thing and you may feel emotionally charged about the subject to the point where you’ll look to find the nearest possible cause to blame), that’s a very big jump to assume.

I’d hope most people can see that, but it seems many don’t, including this article. Some would look at that situation and say such a conclusion is ‘so obvious’ that you have to either ‘be completely blind’ or ‘living on another planet’ not to see it. Actual evidence usually has little effect on such a closed mindset.

Those who are genuinely concerned about the kind of message these novels give, along with its subsequent film adaptation, understand that I’m right there with you on that. I don’t think the books had any great literary value and the film, while I likely won’t be giving it my money, is apparently, according to early reviews, actually an improvement on them. In fact, if anything I’d daresay it lessens the worrying tone of the books that came before it. Take this quote from Total Film’s review of the film, which it awarded with a distinctly dull two stars:

“What makes Fifty Shades so anticlimactic is that it actually starts promisingly: the light-touch first half is actually pretty funny, to the extent that it feels like a good movie-within-a-movie, a smart parody of the source material. It wills you to laugh at some of the dialogue and scenarios the book wants you to take seriously: a line like “I don’t make love – I fuck. Hard.” was surely designed for ironic whoops rather than genuine cooing.”

This film is not promotional material; it’s not something that’s going to lead every female watching to think the kind of sexual bondage it features is some dreamy thing to actively go out and seek; it doesn’t portray itself as taking any moral high ground. It sounds rather more like some kind of caricature of our society’s fascination with sex. And all Christians have that fascination as well. Don’t pretend you do not. You may approach it differently, you may contextualise it differently, but sex is a natural human instinct, important to all of us in some way whether we’re abstaining from it or actively enjoying it.

That’s the heart of the real frustration here for some people: the fact that others have different tastes to them. Believe it or not there are people out there who do find the bondage thing genuinely kind of sexy. There are many women who love the idea of a ‘bad boy’, if not the reality of him. It is these individual preferences to which this film (very clearly a fiction narrative) primarily appeals, and that it has reached such a large audience should tell you there’s a lot of them out there. Yes, even among Christians; hence why the more conservative see this text as such a danger. They don’t think these individual tastes are things other people should have.

Again, I reiterate that underneath the exterior, I don’t think the Fifty Shades story carries positive undertones for men, women, or storytelling in general. It pained me that the books became so profitable, and it pains me further still that the film gets a big Hollywood release. Even more, it pains me that everyone is giving it the attention it wants by talking about it. I debated whether I should do so myself, wary of giving the film extra publicity that it could really do without. As I have also mentioned before: the best way to prevent others becoming more interested in a particular film, book or video game (if this is truly what you want) is simply to starve it of your attention. For many things that rely on making a profit, this is the best way to stop supporting it.

However, that’s not really my point here. The reason I’m not going to write a fully detailed piece on this whole affair is because I’ve coincidentally already covered everything I have to say in a previous article: my piece about freedom of expression, which I posted just over a week ago. In that I also touched on how and why violence in video games is not in any way related to violence in real life (despite what American sensationalist media has tried to spoon-feed its society); there is quite simply no existing evidence to support such an audacious claim.

But now, some are latching onto Fifty Shades of Grey in the same way. Now they’re going beyond saying “I wouldn’t recommend you see this movie for these reasons” to saying “this movie is a downright evil piece of trash that sets out to destroy the lives of all women”. I’m sorry, I can’t agree with you there. Any criticism of the movie should be made with integrity at least, and from all reasonable accounts, it doesn’t come with ulterior motives to win innocent girls round to its seductive ways. It is instead, from what I’ve heard, rather dull. Though from the point of view of some critics, that makes it worse than the somewhat tempting, sensual piece some of you would prefer it to be.

So what do I consider a reasonable account? One that is balanced, for starters, one that looks at both sides and takes more things into account than just “I think this and am going to win others over with passionate words”. A good article is one that shows it has been researched, that its facts and arguments have foundation outside of the whims of its author. Passion is great, but not more important than truth. And I’m afraid a great many of you often use the former to exaggerate or even fabricate the latter.

My final point is simple, and it is pertinent to those Christians who misinterpret this movie as another form of ‘us against secular society’. Actually, there are a great number of negative reactions to the whole Fifty Shades saga from that end as well. This is generally considered a ‘lowbrow’ story, and isn’t exactly being celebrated by secular critics. It is quite far from a broad secular attack against Christianity or sexual values (which, despite your feelings to the contrary, are subjective to each individual) and, frankly, would have been a more interesting film if it were.

Short of asking you to be more tolerant of other people’s opinions and possibly, even for a moment, expand your horizons beyond your own individual tastes, I don’t know how much clearer I can say it… Though I’ll try simplifying the dilemma for those who may be confused by the stance I’m taking on it:

If you’re a Christian, there are some who recommend you don’t go to watch Fifty Shades of Grey. I’m one of them. I don’t think you’ll enjoy it – in fact I don’t think many people in general will enjoy it – and you’ll have to deal with the derogatory looks and comments you may be on the receiving end of from certain other members of your congregation next time you’re in church. But ultimately I would also say, if you were overly curious to see what all the hype is about, then it’s fine for you to go to watch this movie. You have a choice, and it’s your own personal responsibility to ensure it’s an informed one. This film’s not out to destroy your soul, or force you into the type of relationship you’d otherwise be uncomfortable with.

Not enjoying it really is the worst thing that can happen in this case. Nothing more, nothing less. Though as it is an 18-rated film (at least here in the UK), I trust you won’t be taking your young sons and daughters along.

creative expression pic.

It was a significant Christmas/ New Year season for this thing we call artistic expression. Over the months of December and January we’ve seen a petition succeed in getting Grand Theft Auto V withdrawn from certain outlets in Australia and New Zealand; The Interview have its initial release cancelled due to terrorist threats from a group linked with North Korea; Hatred get pulled from Steam Greenlight without consultation from its service users in an unprecedented act from Valve; and of course, the tragic Charlie Hebdo shootings in response to an offensive printed cartoon of the prophet Muhammad.

Two of these I have previously touched on – the second in another article I wrote at the time. The third received least mainstream attention out of the four, due no doubt to the much smaller scale of its publisher. The last has been written about, spoken about, dissected and argued over at length over the past month and hardly needs my input to say anything that hasn’t already been said.

Together, though, all of these situations form an interesting narrative of where art, and the artists producing it, stand going forward into the rest of this century. On the one hand you may argue recent events show greater attempts at control and inhibition; a subsequent lack of freedom to say what one truly feels needs to be said. But conversely I think the reactions to all of them are what the future will focus on – what it will see, is an outcry in defense of things like decision-making and the right to hold your own individual thoughts and opinions. What some perspective will show is, in fact, a victory for the sides that came under attack in these instances.

That’s not to say it didn’t come with a high price. In the case of the Charlie Hebdo shootings, their freedom of expression came at the terrible, unjustified price of eleven lives. Yet if those same journalists who were murdered could be given the choice, I’m not sure they would’ve changed anything about what led to their deaths – to do so with such foreknowledge, would have been to say this sort of violence actually works. Whether or not you agreed with their decisions or their opinions, you must realise that for them to have then changed their opinion on threat of death, if they had been given the option, would not have been a victory for anything but fear.

It all sounds so absurd. You can’t force someone to change an opinion to suit your own – sure, you can try fooling them into it using propaganda, and if you must do so that’s certainly the classier method, but there is a good reason this hasn’t led to lasting success for those groups or governments that have relied on it. Sooner or later, people wise up to it. Sooner or later they begin to see behind the curtain. At that point they will arrive at an important choice; whether to form (and act on) an opinion of their own, or stay quiet for (perhaps) the sake of their lives, at the expense of all that makes them a unique individual.

However, I’m jumping ahead of myself there. And I don’t want this post to bear too much of a condemnatory tone, as the best way to fight the forces you disagree with is not through empty threats or angry, isolated statements, but rather with balanced, persuasive arguments and (ideally) evidence to back them up. Such conviction is what drives me to use my free time to do this kind of thing, after all.

Let’s start at the beginning – of December, that is, when the first of these newsworthy topics emerged.

December 3rd/4th: Target AU, K-mart and a major retailer in New Zealand pull Grand Theft Auto V from their shelves because it is apparently “not a product our customers want us to sell”. This was due to a petition started on 29th November and clearly written by people who had never played the game but were keen to sensationalise its contents to suit their own ends. By 3rd December, this petition had 40,000 signatures. On 4th December, Target AU withdrew the game from its shelves as requested, though precisely why they were doing so remained unclear. If it was to protect the ‘little boys’ whom the petition claimed this game was having such a bad influence on, then they should not have been marketing a clearly 18-rated game towards that demographic in the first place.

Grand Theft Auto V is actually one of the most beautifully detailed games on the market...

Grand Theft Auto V is actually one of the most beautifully detailed games on the market…

In their subsequent statement in response to the petition, Target AU seemed to imply they were making this decision to satisfy their customers following “extensive community and customer concern about the game”. However, this petition did not actually represent the majority view of their customers, and there was no indication given that Target had widened the net to take other views into account.

Moreover the woman who started the petition did so after seeing clips of the game on YouTube. One does not need to look too closely at it to get a sense of the offence caused by said ‘YouTube clips’ (we can’t account for the possible bad taste of the gamer who posted them, nor can we really know whether they were in bad taste or if the petition is simply exaggerating, and forgive me for being cynical but I’d place my bets on the latter). It claims in the opening paragraph that “the incentive is to commit sexual violence against women, then abuse or kill them to proceed or get ‘health’ points”, going on to say “GTA V literally makes a game of bashing, killing and horrific violence against women”, while it “links sexual arousal and violence”.

Wow, that sounds like a pretty horrific game. Maybe I’d sign a petition too if such a game was really being marketed towards boys. The trouble is, that description is not representative of Grand Theft Auto V in the slightest. While it is possible to kill people (men and women) in the game, this alone is not its overall ‘incentive’. Furthermore I’m confused by the use of the term ‘sexual violence’. True, you can choose to sleep with prostitutes. True you have the capability to commit violence against them if you really wish (just as you can do so against most other people in the game world).

However, this is not encouraged or seen as mandatory in order ‘to proceed’, and the two acts are not directly linked at all. It is possible to have sex (though the act is never explicitly shown) and commit violence but to commit ‘sexual violence’? It sounds like you’re making up your own narrative there.

GTA V’s ‘health point’ system, if that primitive term is what we’re using, isn’t linked to killing or violence in the game, nor is there any special reward for treating women as the petition describes, and in fact there is much more violence committed against men than women in the overall plot.

Also I must clarify, if further clarification is needed, that in my own experience of a very enjoyable play through of Grand Theft Auto V, at no point did I myself feel outwardly violent, or abusive towards women, and certainly not sexually aroused by such things – nor did the game ever intentionally try to spark these connections in the mind of its player. If other gamers have these experiences while playing then I’d daresay they have certain underlying issues that have nothing to do with the game itself and should probably seek help, or at least have a (presumably) much-needed conversation with someone they trust. And as an actual player and consumer of this product, frankly I feel more qualified than the petition’s author, who is neither of those, to determine its potential qualities and the effects it can have on other gamers.

Basically I’m trying to highlight that this petition is blatantly misrepresentative of the game, and this kind of thing is especially important to me because it itself is representative of a larger consensus that video games serve no better purpose than playthings for little children and adolescent boys. Furthermore it tries again to link violence in video games with violence in real life (for which there is literally no evidence in support). This is all summed up in one seemingly authoritative yet grossly misleading statement from the petition; “Games like this are grooming yet another generation of boys to tolerate violence against women”.

You may be one who also finds the content of GTA V to be crude and offensive. You may find the very idea of what it lets you do through your own free will to be abhorrent. That’s your opinion, and it’s fine. You don’t have to buy the game or expose yourself to it if you have no wish to do so. However, when you then see a petition like this you may feel excited by the fact that other people agree with you, and more than that; they are claiming this game is a great burden and possible danger to your sons and daughters. Future generations are at stake and it requires action! And when it’s put to you like this, your inclination of not liking this game, or any game in general, could be only one small step away from subsequently branding them all evil and thinking you need to ‘protect’ future generations from their influence.

See how easily people can get caught up in something because it was presented to them in a convincing way? But make no mistake: this petition is based on no evidence, therefore should not have been successful, and the only way it got so much support was through fear-mongering in its use of sensationalised wording.

...don't you agree?

…don’t you agree?

In normal circumstances sales figures would tell a retailer whether or not customers are happy with a particular product. After all, if you don’t like a product, you don’t buy it, and by not buying it you are not supporting it, and this is ultimately the deciding factor for any business when it comes to the decision-making process of which products they should continue selling. I realise that high sales figures don’t necessarily correlate with the best products (as someone who still loses sleep over the fact that the general public contributed to Transformers: Age of Extinction becoming 2014’s highest grossing film, it hurts me as much as anyone), but it is still the right of the consumer to decide for themselves what they give their money to. In this case the consumer’s decision was taken out of their hands, and that’s the main problem.

Having said that, this decision – even more curious considering it came over a year after GTA V’s original release on PS3 – by these few retailers on the other side of the world will have no lasting impact on the game’s success in the long run. Grand Theft Auto V is still the bestselling entertainment product of all time, and that will be its legacy. What’s important here is the principle of the matter – what it could mean for smaller publishers and studios who don’t have the kind of commercial success behind them that the GTA series has. Which brings me to our second case study…

December 15th: A video game called Hatred, developed by the appropriately named Destructive Creations, is pulled from Steam Greenlight after briefly appearing on the service. Now, for those who are not PC gamers, this will need a little explanation; Steam Greenlight is a service through which gamers can help choose which games are added to Steam (hence being given the ‘green light’). Steam itself is a digital distribution service – basically somewhere gamers can go to download current releases. So Greenlight is kind of like a preview service to the real thing, partly to gauge how a game may be received but mainly just to check that it actually works gameplay-wise.

Developed by a company called Valve, Steam is very much a service for the users. However, on this occasion, Hatred was pulled from Steam Greenlight without consultation with its users. So the users, who usually decide which games to approve, were for some reason (which remained unclear) not allowed to make the decision for themselves this time around. This was a pretty unprecedented move by Valve, as far as I know.

Further context gives us a hint as to what they may have been thinking. Hatred is, after all, a pretty unprecedented game itself, at least as far as its content is concerned. In it you play as a merciless serial killer who goes on a ‘genocide crusade’ for no reason other than that he passionately hates humanity. Sounds tasteless, I know, and probably not a game I’ll be investing my time in at any point soon, but I’d still argue that it is important for games to be able to touch on these kinds of things without people suddenly concluding that gamers “can’t handle it”.

Hatred pic 1.

Psychopaths have been portrayed in movies for many years, so why are games seen as inferior in the topics they’re permitted to tackle? You could argue it’s different because a game actually puts you directly in control of a character rather than observing from a distance, but I think this makes games more effective, not less, at tackling taboo issues. The idea that one is going to turn into a serial killer purely from playing this game is rather absurd, considering how unattractive the experience is, and someone who has the capacity to genuinely enjoy killing other people will have, as I said before, other issues that will be present regardless of the media they’re exposed to.

If anything, allowing one to experience the effects of such things first-hand, in the direct shoes of a character, is more likely to put you off ever wanting to try it in real life, providing it’s done effectively courtesy of good game development (as a side note, there is actually closer evidence to suggest this kind of thing than there is for the ‘video games cause violence’ argument).

Think of rape, for example. Yeah you may cringe at my mentioning it and you might not like even thinking about it, but that taboo right there is precisely why so many rapists get away with their crime, and predominantly why so many people are disgusted when video games even dare suggest approaching it. To tackle the issue, to show the horrible impact it can have on a woman, or indeed a man, is a very good thing if it helps to educate those who perhaps don’t appreciate the awful psychological effects it can lead to in a person’s life. Video games have the potential to explore this in even greater detail than films ever could, if they’re given the freedom to do so, precisely because they do put you directly in the shoes of a character.

I firmly believe video games must be given this liberty, to achieve these kinds of effects and truly take their place alongside books and films as a respected artistic medium. Yet despite being at a development stage where they do have the capacity to tackle such topics, they’re being creatively stifled by a mainstream society that still thinks any game which doesn’t appeal to children or teenage boys is somehow inappropriate. For as long as that mode of thinking persists, publishers and developers are going to be much less confident in their creative freedoms.

Curiously, on December 16th, only a day after Hatred was removed from Steam by Valve, it reappeared with a personal apology from Gabe Newell (co-founder and managing director of Valve). Was he not involved in the original decision? What were their reasons for taking it down in the first place? Such questions remain unanswered, leaving us to fill in the rather obvious blanks, and the game was subsequently approved to Steam on December 29th. As far as its sales figures go, time will tell on that one. But whatever the reaction from the industry, the least this game will do is get people talking about issues they could easily have gone without talking about, and I think that can only be a good thing in the long run.

You're up, Kim Jong...

You’re up, Kim Jong…

December 16th/17th: Sony pulls American ‘action comedy’ film The Interview from theatrical distribution before it’s even released. Another somewhat unprecedented move that I have already covered, though there is some helpful further context I could set…

In June 2014, the North Korean government, having gotten wind of the film’s production, threatened ‘merciless action’ if the film’s distributor (Columbia Pictures) went ahead with the release. Thus release was delayed from the original date of October 10th to December 25th, while the film was apparently edited to make it more ‘acceptable’ to North Korea (this itself, if true, was an absurd concession, though the planned Christmas day release was perhaps a sign that certain powers sought to maximise profits from their headline-making film). In November, Sony’s computer systems were hacked by a group believed to have ties to North Korea, the “Guardians of Peace” (GoP), who branded the film a “movie of terrorism”.

On December 16th, the GoP threatened terrorist attacks against cinemas that dared show the film. No evidence existed to suggest they even had the means of carrying out said attacks, though the threat alone was enough for a number of North American cinema chains to cancel screenings ‘in the interest of safety’ on December 17th. Sony it seems had ‘no choice’ but to cancel the film’s release – after all, they would have been left with a pretty farcical situation if they had went ahead with it but cinemas refused to actually screen it.

Despite initially saying it had no plans to release the film, Sony has since done so digitally and opened the film in a limited run in selected cinemas. It has consequently become Sony’s most successful digital release, earning $40 million in digital rentals alone. While they may still ultimately lose out on the money they could have gained with a full theatrical run, there’s no question that The Interview’s unorthodox publicity has played a large part in boosting sales for what is actually, from all accounts, a rather average movie. So ultimately, we could justifiably ask: who’s the real victor in this situation?

The film has also, somewhat abruptly, arrived on UK shores (literally; it opened theatrically today). I inevitably feel inclined to see it myself for a review, at which point I will give my final thoughts on what it potentially means for a film industry in which an average movie can become the most talked about of the year, while something like The Babadook goes largely under the radar. In that sense there is an injustice here.

In another sense, though, it was incredibly encouraging to see prominent public figures, including President Barack Obama, stand up for the right to make such a movie as this, even though it does contain offensive content from North Korea’s point of view. While we could question whether someone like Obama was speaking up more because the precious pride of his country was at stake (it was, after all, a little humiliating that North Korea was essentially holding their film industry at ransom), this vocal support for ‘freedom of expression’ was nonetheless a heartening reminder of how highly regarded movies have become in modern culture. They can now offend entire countries and be defended for their right to do so.

To be ‘offended’ in this way is perhaps not quite the great injustice some make it out to be – in fact usually we can learn a lot from sensing it within ourselves – and even if it was, this again represented a simple case of “if you don’t like it, don’t buy it”. We know ultimately, of course, North Korea didn’t want the film to be shown only because it could harm the god-like status their leader holds, thanks to the intense propaganda created by their government. Is showing this status to be potentially false an ‘offence’? From some within North Korea, it certainly is. Does this make it wrong for a movie like The Interview to contain such provocative suggestions?

Whether you think it wrong or not is beside the point; being permitted to make this distinction for ourselves in the first place is the real point. And it is the very idea of this kind of conversation happening at all that North Korea found inherently offensive, which represents the real problem. This leads on nicely to my final case, which actually bears a few striking similarities to this one.

Now before I continue, perhaps it is best that I preface the following with a caution. I know some of you reading this may feel stronger about the Charlie Hebdo situation than you felt about the previous cases. I am no exception.

Not only would I defend Charlie Hebdo’s right of freedom to print the offensive Muhammad cartoon that led to this tragedy, I also unequivocally think it was the right thing to do artistically, for similar reasons as I have detailed above relating to how North Korea views its god-like leader. The situations are largely similar; the main difference here is that we live among Muslims in our own country. It can be a little more difficult when those voicing their offence are somewhat closer to home.

But when it comes to how we view religion there exists another taboo, both inside and out, that says their own respective god-like figure should somehow be immune to the critique and (dare I say) satiric mockery that we would apply to most other things deemed more ‘acceptable’ targets. This is largely due, I think, to the negative arguments, insults and bitterness that already exist in interactions between certain groups and their subsequent need to become vigorously defensive over their own beliefs – some of which dictate that all others must be wrong. If Charlie Hebdo has shown us anything, it is that this current climate has to change (and ‘Je suis Charlie’ may just be the spark that triggers it) – because these murders ‘in the name of…’ are exemplary of how dangerous it can be.

I’m not saying you need to simply ‘get used to it’ or that you have to like opposing views to your own. The same rules apply to the likes of a Charlie Hebdo magazine as in any other situation; if you find it offensive, you’re under no obligation to give it your support or your attention. But you must accept that other people will, and other people do, and this is within their freedom of choice to do so. You have no right, for as long as you are human like the rest of us, to take that away from them. You’re welcome to give them reasons why they shouldn’t support something or give it their attention, but when you start using unnecessarily dramatic language and picking things out of thin air to pass of as ‘facts’ in support of your own biased argument (as was the case in the above GTA V petition), you are being dishonest not only with that other person, but with yourself. I understand it’s tempting to do this kind of thing when you feel passionate about a particular subject, but in relaxing it a little more, it’s not unthinkable you could actually learn something new from those you would otherwise consider your opponents.

This train of thought all stems from an incident on January 7th at 11.30am: two masked gunmen, armed with assault rifles, force their way into the offices of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris. They fire 50 shots while shouting “Allah Akbar” (Arabic for ‘God is the greatest’), killing 11 people and injuring 11 others.

On January 11th, about two million people including more than 40 world leaders gather in Paris for a rally of national unity – a further 3.7 million people joined in demonstrations across France. The phrase ‘Je suis Charlie’ became a common slogan to show solidarity and support for those involved in the tragedy and communicate one clear message: our freedom of expression is worth defending in principle, even when we don’t necessarily agree on how to use it.

The remaining Charlie Hebdo staff team has continued weekly publications; issue No. 1178 sold out a print run of seven million copies in 6 languages. This is in contrast to its typical French-only 60,000 run. Again this is exemplary of the aggressor’s tactics backfiring on them; in the modern era, with the news coverage that a story of this kind receives, a tragic story inevitably turns into profitable publicity. Sentiment is a powerful marketing tool, after all.

Many more people have witnessed the Muhammad cartoon now than would ever have been the case otherwise. Those who killed in his name have only succeeded in degrading it further, rather than instilling the fear they sought to create. Ultimately, Charlie Hebdo has become a kind of martyr for free speech; in the end it seems quite the opposite of the death knell for ‘freedom of expression’ that some have made it out to be.

Yet in their first issue after the attack the remaining team didn’t call for any reaction except forgiveness, alongside a tearful cartoon of the prophet Muhammad on the cover. No, this wasn’t a stubborn sign that they wouldn’t back down; it was a sign of solidarity, not against Islam, but with it (albeit in their signature satiric style, which looks likely to remain intact going forward). For all the criticism that has gone their way since this incident happened, I think it was the classiest response they could’ve given. Not one of fear, but of forgiveness, humour and even an offer of friendship, from a team that have lost many of their own closest friends.

But I don’t find their ‘humour’ funny, you may respond. And here’s a little secret: neither did I. The cover that provoked this whole situation isn’t exactly hilarious, or even well drawn (perhaps that was the problem). Heck, like most of you I had no idea this magazine even existed until a few weeks ago. I didn’t care before all of this happened and I’m not suddenly rushing to buy a subscription now. They can go back to their own niche market when all of this has subsided and none of you have to endorse them or pay them any more attention. Ironically, I think religious extremism has already done enough of that in this case.

Whether their style is to your own personal taste or not is, again, beside the real point. This entire post covers my best attempts to explain why, and moreover, what that real point actually is. But perhaps one final ironic comparison will help, both to punctuate what I’ve been trying to illustrate and to eradicate any suspicion of bias you may have of me.

You see, I’m far from the only one to have realised the ignorance of that GTA V petition. It was exemplary of how much you can distort the image of something when you take certain parts of it out of context. And there were some hilarious tongue-in-cheek responses to it, as many other people started coming up with absurd petitions of their own to highlight the faults of the original (satire once again proving it’s the best mode of cutting through that mythical curtain).

None of them highlighted this to better effect than this petition to ‘withdraw the Holy Bible from shelves’, which uses much of the same language as the GTA V version (and incidentally has 62,000 supporters to GTA V’s 48,000). Like its GTA counterpart, it takes the Bible completely out of context, portraying it in a way that seems more bloody, more violent and more abusive to women than GTA V could ever be. And you know what? When you decide to play by these rules, that’s exactly what the Bible becomes; a bloody, violent, misogynistic text.

If you’re a Christian yourself, you can probably recall a point when you’ve been left frustrated by others labelling the Bible in this way. Gamers who’ve played and know GTA V well, will feel a similar way when people put the kind of ignorant labels on video games that this GTA V petition did. If you can understand that thanks to such a tongue-in-cheek illustration, then we likely find ourselves on the same page in relation to everything else I’ve talked about here. Or maybe not, and that’s fine too.

Conversations are fine, and many opinions have been changed because of them. But one must understand that for someone else to have a different opinion to you is also fine, and changing it accordingly should be their choice to do so. If they do that because you’ve won them round with a persuasive case, that’s great; certainly a better victory than if you’d done so through deception.

I think most of us would agree on that. But if, perhaps, you’re one who thinks you already have all the right answers to which you must only ‘win others round’ using the occasional scare tactic, word trickery or verbal abuse, I’m afraid you may be left frustrated, even disappointed, by the direction society is heading in.

“…the character of a society depends more upon what men think of themselves than upon what they really are.” Centennial, James Michener.

A word of warning: if you consider unemployment a valid reason to put your feet up while at the same time feeling pretty good about yourself, you’re not really who I’m writing for. It would seem in that case you’re surviving unemployment just fine, unlike a great many others, and I’m not going to be the bitter person who berates you for that. In fact, an individual bitter about having to work while others don’t is much more the kind of indirect reader I’d like, for reasons that will soon become apparent.

Now for those of you who are currently unemployed and are wondering why it’s not as fun as everyone likes to make out, the last thing I want to do is come across as patronizing. This is a common feeling for you I’m sure; all the advice employed folk try to give you is coming from a position of assumed superiority, and some can only see your current situation as a reflection of overall character. You may even have begun thinking like this yourself.

Though I’d like to say I wouldn’t fall into such fallacies here, I nonetheless thought long and hard about whether I should write this post at all. Job or no job, this label alone would never make me an expert. For a label is really all it is. I can speak only from personal experience of living under the dreaded banner of unemployment between September 2013 and May of this year. In the end, I realise that I am essentially no different a person now than I was then – though my personal thoughts and feelings may have been different at the time, as yours may be now. And that’s fine.

This is why we must always carefully consider context when it comes to fair judgment. Indeed it is why I take so long setting the context for this post by way of lengthy introduction.

What I am about to do is attempt to pass on what I have learned about how unemployment, and furthermore the working world in general, operates. Some of what I have learned concerns the value of integrity, self-confidence, general health and the (occasionally negative) effects that social interaction can have on your decision-making process.

I have learned that the government uses terms like ‘job security’ or ‘job creation’ as justifications for some very questionable ethical decisions, and that many people are happy to go along with some proposals only because of the jobs they will create. The jobs issue has largely become the holy grail of both local and national politics.

This is partly because they have helped perpetuate the notion that income support and welfare benefits are a great burden on the typical working man, as is the one who benefits from the system while ‘the rest of us have to go out and work, paying for others to sit at home’. I have even known some Christians to carry this attitude while at the same time having a ‘heart for the homeless’, as if the two are not inextricably linked.

Perhaps what helps justify the separation between them is this: one has grey areas that can be exploited, while the other is pretty black and white. It is those grey areas, and the people who exploit them, that indeed tell us there is something wrong with the current system – though our government’s answers to the problem will only, I think, serve to exasperate it.

In order to ‘encourage’ job seekers to find employment, they have introduced further demands to make the experience forcibly more uncomfortable for you. Requirements for the amount of weekly applications you must make are incrementally increasing – as if the problem stems from you not doing that in the first place. You spend precious hours recording innocuous details of jobs you have applied for, essentially as proof that you have done so. It does not really matter what the job role is. Just that the check boxes are ticked off on your record, so you can get the money they are holding ransom.

The consensus says you are somehow too privileged in your present state. After all, you don’t have to work like the rest of us. You have multitudes of free time on your hands, right? If you weren’t being forced to apply for the next administration role or doing another online search, you’d be partying all-night and sleeping until lunch every day. Because that’s just the kind of selfish person you are. Living luxuriously while most others live in relative misery, taking advantage of all those poor folks who are struggling along in jobs they don’t like so they can pay for you to watch television all day.

You’re a leech on the system, a piece of dirt on society’s shoe. You are less than working class. You are like a criminal who needs to be tagged and kept track of. If you’re let out of sight, it’s suspected you will get away with not working forever. And that would be so unfair to the rest of us. So we will make you feel like all of these negative things, and say it is for your own good. You must be made to feel immensely uncomfortable in order to then feel extra ‘motivation’ to work and gradually become respectable, like one of the nice chaps that the rest of us are.

While this excessive description may sound exaggerated, it is close to the truth of how most ‘job seekers’ in the U.K. are broadly seen and treated. Yet I can’t believe any of it is really based on truth in the vast majority of cases. If unemployment was supposed to be fun then I, along with so many others, must have missed something at the time.

Why, then, does this image persist? The structured system that we are blessed enough to have in this country was originally set up as a way to help those in need while they looked for paid employment. But it now feels more like a handout through gritted teeth to an unfashionable group of people they want to ship into the nearest generic job to get off their books. Not for your benefit, but for that of their flailing system.

After a few months experience of this, you’re likely to be at least slightly depressed. You may soon be at the point where you no longer care what jobs you’ve applied for or what training course they kindly recommend. You only want to get out of this self-deprecating cycle and are willing to do whatever it takes to do so, even if it means working a job that you feel completely unsuited to. And that, I’m afraid, can create further cycles that you may be stuck in for five years, a decade, maybe even the rest of your working life.

So this is definitely something I see as a serious long-term issue, though I’m left with a decision now, as to whether I should continue focusing on the problems of the overall system or on helping the individual cope with it and through it. The latter was my motivation for writing this post so I will try to stick to that. But the former will not go away, and at some point there does need to be wider change – even if that means completely scrapping some of the privileges we have in this country. I’m not trying to demean those privileges; rather I’m saying we should not be made to feel so guilty about them.

If the government were to genuinely assist the unemployed, a good first step for us all would be to realise that the issue of money is not really the root of all difficulties someone will encounter when not working regularly. That root problem is lack of work in itself.

This leads me to my core point, which is more like the obvious rule no one likes to acknowledge: work is good. If you resolutely disagree with that simple statement then I’d daresay there are one of two things wrong; either bad experiences through working jobs you haven’t enjoyed told you it is merely something to be endured for a certain amount of time, or you have an illness or psychological ailment that prevents you from being able to reach your working potential. In the latter category I would include such things as laziness, lack of energy, insomnia, among other conditions that affect mental and physical performance.

Snobbish reactions may retort that by categorizing in this way I’m somehow giving lazy people an excuse for not working, but understand that this loses sight of my point. Work is not simply a chore that people are somehow ‘getting away with’ when they don’t partake in it. Let’s please drop that inherent thinking on both sides. While work should not be actively avoided, nor should we turn our noses up at those avoiding it. Because I suspect both would be misunderstanding the issue around which arguments are being formed.

Think, for example, of how you felt last time you completed a particular task well, and how you then feel when you do not complete said task well. The fact that we can make this distinction between doing something well and not doing it well, and the differing ways they make us feel, should give us a bit of a hint about ourselves.

That hint leads us to this: our species thrives on taking pride in our achievements. When one realises the positive psychological effects of good performance whether in completing a desk job assignment, playing sport or even cooking a good meal, the conclusion naturally follows that work (if done well) is supposed to be a joy. Laziness is just one factor that would rob you of that joy. It can be devastating in the long run, and frankly, it is not an intrinsic decision that someone makes any more than they would make a decision to be sad or happy, shy or confident.

There are always other contributing factors, and in this sense it is very much a genuine psychological condition – albeit one that someone can fight through and recover from. By all means they must; just because someone may struggle with laziness does not mean they should think it an excuse to stop trying.

Of course it is also naïve to think that a lack of trying automatically equals laziness in every case. You may lack passion for what you do on a daily basis and wrongly think this to mean you’re some kind of horribly lazy person because you don’t always feel like working as hard as the next fresh-faced fellow employee.

This is another attribute that many people unfortunately do not consider when looking for work; if it is not something you want to do, you are naturally not going to feel as passionate about doing it as someone else who does. You will end up struggling to give your full effort in the tasks assigned to you. Bearing this in mind, it then comes as no surprise when you encounter an office worker struggling along while observing how many others working in an area such as retail are more content with their jobs.

Yes, some people are most definitely passionate about working in retail, and you can always tell the difference between those who are and those who are not. That is no bad thing; if retail is what you are passionate for, let no one tell you it is a dead-end job. Though you may want to be aware of the background ethical practices of the store or chain you end up working for… the waters of those major industry names are very murky, and are a big reason why I personally have fought hard against succumbing to retail work in the past couple of years. Often the problem is not the job itself, but rather those who are providing it.

Upon sensing the tone of this piece, you may accuse me at this point of being unrealistic. Out of touch with how the world operates. A naïve young man not really understanding anything about actual priorities in life due to not yet having a family of my own, or blinded by the luxury of further education and a benefits system enabling me to supposedly pick and choose a job at my leisure.

Others, they will say, are not so fortunate as this. Sometimes you’re in a position where you have to take any job offered to you, even should you hate the very thought of it. Sometimes there is just no other option. Now, it could (and I think does) sound a little ridiculous to make such a claim while living in a first world country like the U.K. – perhaps you should try living in one where the phrase no other option would seem all the more pertinent – but I digress.

Even were the above points about my situation true, and some of it certainly is, I am not sure how that would change my underlying argument. My points about ethics and passion for your job still apply whether you’re in a position to appreciate them or not. So let’s say you’re bending your own ethical views, or instead remaining willfully ignorant of certain ways in which your company operates, in order to feed your family? That does not negate those ethics. While you may garner some sympathy from me, it would not change the overall problem. Thus I think it best not to end up in such a situation if you can help it.

However, the issue I am currently attempting to tackle is unemployment itself. Whatever the reason you find yourself unemployed, whichever job you’re trying to go for whether for passion, love, money, or to simply escape the dreaded four walls of your house, there are some basic principles you can follow to make that potentially long hard journey somewhat lighter.

The most important of which is not ‘eating well’ or ‘getting regular exercise’ (you should be aiming to do these things anyway), but finding something useful to do with your time. This will be difficult, because much of what the Job Centre will have you doing is not a useful way to spend your time. But there will be occasions when you definitely need a break from that, from being made to feel you can only get a job by having your hand held from application to interview.

It is important that you don’t just fill these occasions with ‘spending time with friends’ or watching a movie, however nice these things are to do. Instead, try to fill it with something that could be confused with work: a nice kind of work which you actually like doing.

I had my ‘thing’ right here. You’re reading it now in fact. I liked writing, so a few years ago I started a blog; a blog that has occasionally felt like work, if only for the amount of effort I have put into it. This very piece you’re reading is close to the kind of writing you could expect to find in any gainful writing-related employment. Granted, content would need to be streamlined a bit more and… Anyway that’s not the point!

Often I would change my environment for this, such as heading to a coffee shop or even occasionally to the local pub. For writers this change of setting is especially important; you get to soak in a particular environment or group of people in a way that you simply wouldn’t do when you visit these locations with friends. You may even find a source of valuable inspiration you could not have found at home.

Now, I do realise two things; first that you may not be a writer yourself and therefore do not consider this information applicable. Second that it’s generally expected of the unemployed to just sit at home all day, aside from their rare trips out of bed to view the décor of the Job Centre, so it may come as a mild surprise that I did not. Well, if you truly fulfill the criteria of the latter, I’m afraid you will go crazy before too long, and I’m not talking strictly figuratively.

I’m convinced that home in general is a terrible place to do most kinds of work, though if you have to I would recommend you assign a room or specific private place exclusively for it. This is why the more middle class among us venture out to find houses with a spare room: it provides potential office space if nothing else.

Of course you may not be in that position, nor may you be interested in writing. Though I would recommend journaling during this period at least, if you can stick that – you’ll need some method to air your frustrations, and this is one of the best ways to straighten out your thoughts if you would prefer others didn’t see your emotional side.

For those who do not like writing at all and certainly would not consider a job in which you have to do it on a regular basis, I’m sure that energy exists within you elsewhere. Maybe you fancy yourself a bit of an artist instead, or a keen photographer? Perhaps you like to think you’re a good talker and know how to handle technology; in the past ten years YouTube has exploded, providing you with an invaluable outlet for your potential talents.

My point is simple: there will be something, however slight, that compels you to produce some kind of work, and this can take more forms than you might think. One of the biggest lies unemployment can tell you is that you are unable to do this; it can make you feel like you’re incapable of working like everyone else, or you don’t have anything to offer. But this will only be the case if you let it be. It is never too late to start on something fresh; something that actually helps you feel like a valuable, respectable human being.

Should you still feel you would not be able to do this because you, in your own words, don’t have a creative bone in your body, then there are always other tasks you can do. The thing is, only you will truly know. Besides, I would ultimately wager that every person has that creative bone – but the longer it goes without being used, the harder it gets to dip into it. Some people never explore their creative potential and so end up feeling they have none. Creativity requires initiative – it is not something you can wait to be directed towards by someone else. When you do take that initiative, you may find some untapped potential. While unemployed, it is always worth a try.

Lastly, and I make this final point with a little trepidation because some like to go to stubborn extremes with it; be wary of the advice that is all-too-willingly given by certain people. As a writer, frankly if I listened to all of the well-meaning advice others have given me, there is little chance I would have ever considered myself good enough to get paid for my skills. To achieve goals you do need encouragement from some close friends. But to be honest, most of what will get you where you want to go comes from an awful lot of self-determination and will power on your part. Having some idea of what you could achieve, you must then dare to trust your instincts (whether for better or worse).

Periods of doubt may cause you to waver in that, and it is almost impossible to get through without encouragement from somewhere. It’s best to get that from someone close, who believes in you a little more than the average person – allowing for instances when, of course, you just need a telling off for being too unrealistic or unreasonable. If you’re confident that person/ those people actually know you well enough to speak with some wisdom on the matter, then it is obviously beneficial to listen and make changes accordingly. I would discourage you from extending this liberty to everyone though.

My conclusion is, in the end, the most basic point I have tried to make here: that work does not have to be directly related to a job, and therefore unemployment need not sap you of all confidence. Much of the problem that exists stems from how people think of work itself; whether something to be hastily avoided or drearily put up with. It is neither. It is, in fact, the only thing that enables us to survive. Without it we would not have discovered fire, or been able to hunt for meat to cook on that fire, or built shelter to comfort us for the following day’s hunting, when the thrill of surviving another day would take hold of us again. The most important question of all may indeed be the most primal one: where has that fire gone?

Annabelle image 1.

Upon watching recent horror film Annabelle a few weeks ago, it got me thinking about the current state of the genre – in particular the trends we’ve seen in American cinema in recent years. As I thought more about this I decided the typical review just wouldn’t do on this occasion, so I would write a full essay instead. This is partly because, in order to fully comment on the qualities that Annabelle has or does not have, it is worth setting some context about how we got to this point first. And I think we can only really start in one place: The Exorcist.

While The Exorcist may be ‘loved’ by many in the film industry for its revitalization of the horror genre back in 1973, there are reasons why, in hindsight (which is all I’ve ever had in relation to this film, having been born over fifteen years after its release), I view it less favorably than some other horror movies. In part, this can simply be put down to personal taste. My cultural preference has typically been for the East and their treatment of horror as ‘fear of the unknown’, an evil presence that isn’t necessarily named or revealed but is always felt.

This is why The Shining (Kubrick, 1980), while not an Eastern film, is one of my favourite horror movies. It’s why I became so interested in the brief J-horror resurgence between 1998-2003 that produced such films as Ring (Nakata, 1998), Pulse (Kurosawa, 2001) and Dark Water (Nakata, 2002), all of which rank amongst my personal favourites.

The Exorcist certainly has an evil presence, though it is steeped predominantly in Western religious beliefs – Christianity, and the devil as our main enemy. It is not shy about revealing this to its audience through Christian (or more appropriately: Catholic) imagery from the start. Far from building on a blind fear of the unknown, its focus is on trying to make this story seem as authentic and known to us as possible; it is, after all, supposedly based on true events, and the majority of the audience, even should they not hold strictly to the beliefs this film advocates, are at least vaguely open to it by virtue of their cultural heritage. These foundations were a large factor in why the movie proved so effective at the time, and why its label of ‘scariest film ever made’ has stuck.

I don’t really have a problem with any of that. Like I said, it’s about personal preference as it pertains to what you find more frightening, and I still admire The Exorcist for being one of the most powerful films ever made. I don’t have any more gripes with it on an aesthetic level that I wouldn’t otherwise have with Jaws (1975) or Aliens (1986), which are also considered classics of American cinema. But the fact is, within the field of Film Studies, one does not simply judge a film by its individual quality, but by the context of its production and overall impact on the industry in the years following its release.

Of those films, Jaws kick started the trend of the ‘summer blockbuster’; when Hollywood would selectively pour all of its efforts into marketing one or two of its biggest movies for release between June and August, to take advantage of a time when everyone is in good seasonal spirits. To an extent this has been balanced out in recent years, as major film studios saw the benefit of significantly pushing their top movies during the Christmas season as well. We’ve seen this happen most clearly with Avatar (2009) and the Hobbit films, while Star Wars Episode VII (titled The Force Awakens within the past few days) has been confirmed for a speculative release date of December 18, 2015 – meaning that, if anything, Hollywood has since identified Christmas as an even more lucrative market than summer has typically been for its very biggest draws.

Regardless, Jaws showed how a good marketing campaign and oversized budget could produce results for getting audiences into the cinema. Aliens would go one step further, providing a blueprint for every generic popcorn action thriller to follow.

You may argue Star Wars did that in 1977, but no: ‘how to write a well-structured plot’ was the gift George Lucas’ space opera gave specifically to the American blockbuster (a trick Lucas himself learned from Akira Kurosawa and his 1958 film Hidden Fortress), to the point where almost every modern screenwriting class will reference it. Indiana Jones (in Raiders of the Lost Ark, 1981) became the typical portrait of what a young Hollywood action hero should look like, something that Aliens did not achieve on a large scale despite its portrayal of Ellen Ripley as even more of an action heroine than she already was in 1979’s Alien.

No, it did something subtly different than either of those other two movies. Aliens was the first to truly show Hollywood studios how much audiences liked overly illogical scenarios and continually exaggerated fight backs from a hero on the verge of death, facing up to overpowered adversaries. Most of all, though, it was an extremely successful sequel, and the fact that it was so full of action and cheap humorous lines in the face of danger told the business-minded people in power that this should be replicated if other movies were to be a financial success. You can see its creative influence strewn through the Transformers series and even the Marvel Cinematic Universe, to name two examples of the kind of film that now dominates our mainstream movie landscape.

Similarly, The Exorcist sent an emphatic message that the use of a specific set of tropes, such as demonology and possession (of innocents specifically, or a woman at the very least), were perhaps the most effective way of creating a profitable horror film that would both scare and pull at the heartstrings of the average viewer. The Exorcist was certainly effective at doing this. It sets out to shock its audience with juxtaposing imagery of evil and innocence, and manages to pull it off with aplomb.

That was 40 years ago. Fast forward to 2010’s Insidious, a curious hybrid of East and Western horror techniques due in no small part to the influence of a director (James Wan) who was born in Malaysia and lived in Australia before moving to California. The simple notion of a house being haunted by who-knows-what was one I enjoyed, up until the second half of the film when it becomes about a demon (albeit a creepy looking one) who wants to take possession of a little boy. It slightly marred what was, for me, one of the most original concepts for a horror movie in years, and showed that horror in the West was still struggling to get away from a fascination with the demonic at its roots.

You see why I found this to be a problem? Whether or not a certain thing works well for scaring people (and The Exorcist did very effectively scare audiences with its chosen subject) is not what I’m concerned with. Rather, what I’m thinking about is whether or not that thing has been done before, and how many times it has been recycled since. Originality, creative output, open-mindedness – these are attributes that contemporary Hollywood cinema often finds itself short of.

I understand that there have been exceptions, such as David Lynch’s Eraserhead (1977), a number of movies by David Cronenberg, I’ve already mentioned The Shining, and The Sixth Sense (1999) was a refreshingly conventional ghost story. But these are considered exceptional films for the very reason that they don’t represent the majority, and one can hardly deny that handing out the ‘demonic’ label to any evil entity haunting a white middle class family is the default position of some American horror movies.

Annabelle, a spin-off of The Conjuring (2013), is as guilty of this as any film I’ve seen. It features a husband and wife who are about to have a baby, when the doll of the film’s title comes into their possession (…no pun intended). After an unfortunate encounter with a murderous duo representing a cult intent on summoning the devil, the Annabelle doll appears to have a spell cast on it that allows a demonic presence to latch onto it.

Cue a number of set pieces I actually quite liked, including an atmospheric scene where one of the characters has a Silent Hill-esque encounter with their demonic pursuer in the basement. However, once you realise where the film is going; after a Catholic priest is called upon for help and it is revealed “the devil” only wants the baby, you may find yourself thinking you’ve seen this all before.

That’s because you have, though in the end you may not mind paying for it, as you’ll remember enjoying similar films previously. I enjoyed parts of Annabelle too, albeit in the same kind of way that one enjoys eating McDonald’s or playing Call of Duty – it’s a recycled form of pleasure/ entertainment that provides quick thrills but from which you’ll gain nothing meaningful. You could argue there’s not much wrong with that, and maybe you’d be right. Hollywood’s familiar formula may do for you exactly what you want it to: provide that crucial bit of escapism away from the depressing patterns of real life.

Understand, though, that you’re not really making this decision for yourself. You’re going to see a Hollywood movie because Hollywood has told you to. By the clever design work that goes into their film posters, the well-edited content they carefully select for trailers, even the strategic placement of those trailers on the reel of a film of the same genre… I compare these films to McDonald’s because that’s exactly what they’ve become. A product that only finds its way into your wallet due to practiced marketing techniques and the spoon-feeding of ultimately unsatisfying content that makes you come back yearning for more.

For as long as films like Annabelle – whether they be a spin-off, prequel or sequel – continue to coax viewers like me to go and see it, the American horror genre will not move forward. Of course the key question is one I have avoided up to now; what exactly do I mean by ‘move forward’?

It’s a statement that, much like the rest of this essay, may not have crossed my mind had I not also watched another recent horror film that completely restored my enthusiasm for what the genre can achieve. It both paid homage to the past and brought something entirely fresh to the table. That film is The Babadook (Kent, 2014), and reviewing it in the gushiest of fashions shall be my next glorious task.

Industrial revolution image 1.

It can be easy to forget how unhealthily prosperous we are in Western society. Much of humanity has drifted away from the ‘hunter-gatherer’ context in which we were created to thrive, and is now largely dependent on office jobs, fast food and mortgages to survive. Our minds and bodies protest in depression, obesity and drug or alcohol addictions – conditions that result almost entirely from our drab capitalist environment, inspired by the industrial revolution. It’s an intriguing crisis of modern society, intriguing because much of our society is still willingly ignorant of it.

The hardest work is now perceived to take place in front of computer screens for 8 hours a day or more. Time off is considered being able to watch some television or drive to the gym in your car to jog on a machine before driving home again. You will continuously hear that all of this is necessary, in order to ‘make a living’. To earn money for paying off mortgages and supporting your families, or to make a difference, whether it is ultimately for the world, God, or yourself. This is what we are told it is all about; some greater good that you are striving for. Your ‘prosperous’ life may seem terrible now, but it is all for a great purpose.

You may wonder what any of this has to do with my title for this piece. Well, I thought setting some context for one of the contradictions of Western society (that being the fact that we are prosperous, but profoundly unhappy about it) might be useful in making my overall point.

Never has our collective prosperity been more apparent for me than this past summer. As news emerged of people regularly being beheaded in Iraq, civilians blown up in Israel and Gaza, Christians fleeing from their homes all over the Middle East, the disconnect between our side of the world and theirs couldn’t have been more obvious.

Western ears perked up rather late to the atrocities. Even once they did, our leaders – you know whom I mean – have been very hesitant to take any action in regards to fighting for justice, for fear of resurrecting bad memories of their own historic failings. Only once it became apparent that these religious extremists intended to bring the war eventually to us have we truly accepted the urgency for action.

Forget the unfortunate thousands who have already been brutally murdered, beheaded in many cases, in their home countries; the security of our own shores is of paramount importance here. This is the philosophy we’ve been taught, and it is one you may subconsciously adhere to even if you have chosen to write a blog or article about the horrors of it. Only in hindsight will these horrors truly come to light in ways that will make people say, how could we have let this happen?

At this time, I can only regard such matters from the perspective of my own Christian worldview. I’m aware though, that writing a blog entry about how horrible these atrocities are is ultimately not going to have any more impact than the various secular news articles – most of them as well written and emotive as anything I could do – that cover the same thing. So this is not what I intend to do. Frankly, I just don’t have the kind of influence that could make a real difference globally.

There are others in my ‘field’ that have been gifted with this kind of far-reaching influence; a platform that could, and should, be used to guide other Christians in how we should react to these matters. They are the well-known Christian pastors that have shaped this generation of evangelical leaders.

I’m talking about the likes of John Piper, Francis Chan, John MacArthur, Mark Driscoll, to name but a few, though I could list off twenty more. Any of you ‘fans’ of these famous pastors will rightly have just put your guard up and wonder, with apprehension, where I am going with this. Am I about to join the club that criticizes other Christians and therefore supposedly harms the integrity of my faith?

Well, yes, if that’s how you want to put it. Though I won’t be taking any sides. I won’t be saying MacArthur is right and Driscoll is wrong, because as in most cases, neither is ever entirely right or entirely wrong.

The common accusation that we are harming the faith by criticizing each other openly must also be subject to context. In many cases it has proven simply to be a convenient loophole, especially when the Christians we are referring to have willingly engaged with secular culture up to this point.

When it’s going well, and the wider community is growing to love them as much as their church congregation does, they may talk about how much of a blessing the Internet is in this modern age. How they are thankful beyond words to a graceful God for the amazing impact their ministry is having both further afield and closer to home, as their church continues to grow.

But as soon as they realise that this global exposure also means global accountability that could have a less than positive effect on their ministry… well, their attitude may change somewhat. All of a sudden the Internet becomes troublesome. All of a sudden, certain issues should be dealt with ‘inside the church’, and certain people should ‘keep their opinions to themselves’. Unless their opinion is a positive one; in that case, they may become useful again.

For me the truth of this, is that the church can’t have it both ways. If we are going to open ourselves up to our culture, in any context, then we must accept that our failings will be subject to the same attention. After all, isn’t this one of our motivations not to have failings? Isn’t it why our leaders need to be beyond reproach?

So let’s admit the problem here is not that everyone talks about those failings; the problem is that they are there at all. And no, I am not saying that I don’t have failings myself, and I understand John 8: 7. But the sinful woman in that passage was not someone with the kind of influence that the average Pastor has, let alone one with Celebrity status.

I am going to use Pastor Mark Driscoll as a case study, not because I have anything against him personally, but because it seems he is the best example of this in evangelical Christianity today. Others have been in his position; unfortunately it seems few have made quite as many mistakes as Pastor Mark.

Driscoll originally opened himself up to the exposure he has gained, and accepted the accolades (from both Christian and secular sources) when they came. He was interviewed on secular news stations about his New York Times bestseller Real Marriage when it was released. This was admittedly a fantastic opportunity to discuss Christian values in a forum that Christianity, certainly the reformed brand of Christianity that Driscoll aspires to, rarely receives otherwise.

At the time it was, anyway. All of the positive recognition Driscoll received (both for himself and the values he preaches) through the success of this book was arguably undone earlier this year, when it emerged that Mars Hill, the Seattle church where Pastor Mark is locally based, had paid a marketing company a significant amount of money in order to manipulate sales figures of Real Marriage.

You may protest that this is actually quite a normal and common thing to happen in the publishing industry. In which case, I would then ask if you think it’s fine for Christians to go along with something because it is normal and common by cultural standards? The answer to which has perhaps been distorted more than ever over the past decade.

Driscoll’s reputation has only been harmed further in recent months, as more disconcerting stories began emerging from Mars Hill. There was the leaking of some disparaging comments Driscoll had made on a forum back in 2000, although that happened fourteen years ago and should not, I think, factor too much in our opinion of a clearly more mature man today.

Much more concerning for me were the numerous rising accusations of a bullying culture at Mars Hill, coming both from fellow members of the leadership team and former congregants of Driscoll’s flock. These rumours have existed for a while, but it seems that as more people have spoken out, the more were given the courage to also talk about their experiences. Because now, with everything else that has emerged, they feel that the rest of us might actually listen to what they have to say.

As a man, I am sure that Driscoll is, on the surface at least, a cool guy to hang around with. But I wonder if he is cut out to be a pastor at all. The problem is, as I think the rest of us are starting to realise, the ability to embody masculinity and connect with people as a charismatic talker does not make a good pastor. In fact these things should be secondary to a caring heart that wants to leave no sheep behind.

Unfortunately I suspect these lines may have been blurred by Driscoll’s celebrity status and presence among other Christians. Blogger Adrian Warnock conducted interviews with him first in 2006, and secondly in 2008 after Driscoll had spoken at a Newfrontiers leadership conference in the UK. Warnock has been firmly defensive regarding every single Driscoll controversy, probably because of this personal attachment; a connection that many other Christians feel they have despite never having met him.

It is hardly surprising in Warnock’s case. Newfrontiers as an entire movement have been pretty enamoured with Driscoll since he gave them a heartfelt prophecy at that 2008 conference, which has shaped their subsequent direction and overall vision. It reportedly left most of their leaders in tears as they stood to give him a standing ovation, so moved as they were by Driscoll’s mode of deliverance when he spoke from the stage.

I have no doubt that many of the younger leaders subconsciously aspired to be like him. It is only natural; they wanted to grow their churches as Driscoll has done with Mars Hill. Driscoll himself told them they needed to be doing this better and faster at their own conference, almost coming across as one of the wise apostles; a trusted sage at the grand old age of 36.

Many of these leaders would now be very quick to speak up for their dear brother’s strengths over his weaknesses, as other fine pastors such as the universally respected John Piper have done, though it saddens me that this happens seemingly without much care given for those who have been gravely hurt by Driscoll, whether it be as a result of his impersonal leadership style or oppressive extended ministry.

Of course, you may say I just don’t understand. You may say it is inappropriate for me to even give an opinion on this, just like all of those other bloggers who apparently ‘don’t have anything better to do with their time’. I should perhaps stick to my fun little film reviews and let the intellectual, theologically trained, more experienced grown-ups deal with these mature issues away from the prying eyes of those who criticize.

Well, if that is the case, if Christianity is becoming something that the ‘common people’ on the ground level are discouraged from giving an opinion on, then I should think we are truly on our way back to the dark ages.

This, you see, is the greatest gift the Internet can give: a voice to those who previously would have had none. A voice, therefore, to those who have been hurt by Mars Hill church, and who have thankfully not been brushed completely out of sight, out of mind by aggressive ‘church discipline’.

I can understand how frustrating it is for those in authority – especially because not everyone can know all of the facts at any one time, and usually end up having an emotional outburst rather than approaching issues with open thoughtfulness. But the moment those in authority try to use it to take away our voices is an overstretching of that which God has given to them. For even He has not used his authority to take away our dissenting voices – despite the fact that, when it comes to God, none of us yet know all of the facts regarding his majesty.

When you take the stance that these kinds of issues should be dealt with exclusively in-house, you risk creating situations like the infamous child sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church, which was covered up for years due to a tribal attitude that said this is our problem; we’ll deal with it ourselves. Despite the fact that this was a crime for which the perpetrators should have been jailed long before any of the news emerged on secular media. This is not simply a problem confined to the Catholic Church either, as this story, involving another bestselling Christian author (Joshua Harris), shows.

The church is not above the law of the land though and, bearing those former details in mind, I almost dread to think what the world would be like if it was (in fact, we need only look back through history to see the clear answer). Fallible leaders lead imperfect churches, and they are subject to flawed people.

And here, finally, I hope to have fully illustrated the real problem I have with ‘Celebrity pastors’. They are not called this by accident. The attention they have gained is only what we have given them. In the end, one realises that Mark Driscoll and the hype surrounding him was our creation, not his. This normal yet charismatic preacher gained momentum as more and more people fell in love with his well-practiced yet dynamic style.

We evangelicals apparently find it more interesting to talk about doctrinal issues and church discipline, than the fact that Christians in the Middle East are dying without the basics of food, water and shelter.

I have not heard Piper or Driscoll or any of the aforementioned pastors use their platform to call Christians to global action in light of recent events. They seem more caught up on issues of personal integrity or biblical application in the context of the Western workplace. And they have little choice, because many Americans trust these pastors to help them cope with the unhappiness of their prosperous lives.

In fact I would not be surprised if they thought the long-term solution to the Middle East crisis was to ‘gradually make them more like us (Americans)’. This is, after all, how Western society has traditionally approached such issues. It all makes me start to wonder whether we are in danger of losing sight of who Jesus really was, by carving out this industrious, self-assuring culture for ourselves. For as long as we continue to focus on the names and the allure of celebrity pastors over His, I fear we may already have.

 

*Others have written more eloquently than I have here, about what we can learn from Driscoll’s problems specifically. Check out this article as among the best of them. Now, I take my leave of this contentious issue.

A Clockwork Orange.

Disbelief.

That’s the primary emotion people exhibit when I state that A Clockwork Orange (1971) is predominantly a religious film with a very Christian message. Religious in the sense that it blatantly shows the worship of the judicial system by stout politicians out of touch with the real needs of young working class citizens; Christian in the sense that, above all else, it promotes the concept of free will, and displays the consequences when this is prohibited. The film even teases this thematic comparison at one point, so I don’t think it is an altogether speculative idea.

Yet, try to argue this openly with anyone and you’re likely to be greeted with the same sense of ironic mockery that Stanley Kubrick himself must have experienced when A Clockwork Orange was released. After production wrapped on 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Kubrick had decided to relocate from his native New York to England. His reasoning was simply to escape the growing hooliganism in his hometown. You could say, then, that focusing his next movie on this exact topic wasn’t the wisest of choices for someone on the lookout for a quiet getaway, but Kubrick was never one to work within an assigned box; even if that very box was the society in which he was living.

Kubrick would remove the film from circulation soon after its release (the only film-maker to do so independent of his profit-hungry studio) for fear of his own safety when people started copying the events portrayed in it. You get the feeling he kind of misjudged British society when he decided moving here was an optimistic choice, right? But focusing on this would be to miss the point entirely; that point being the actual movie itself.

Our main protagonist, if we can call him that, is Alex DeLarge (played by Malcolm McDowell in one of his most iconic roles): large in personality and, presumably, some other areas of his anatomy, if the obvious play on words is to be read into. Blame Anthony Burgess (who wrote the original novel which Kubrick used as the source text for this film) for that. Also attribute to Burgess the credit for the creative and unique way of speaking that Alex and his ‘droogs’ use throughout the movie; a mixture of English and Russian slang known as ‘Nadsat’.

The movie has a certain dreamlike, hypnotic quality to it that isn’t easily forgotten. While it can be argued that this is true of most Kubrick films, A Clockwork Orange displays this quality at its most effective level of potency. For me it still feels uncomfortable watching the movie today, less because of its vulgar content and plot, more because of the sheer nightmarish shine radiating off the screen, with Alex’s voice and laughter echoing through your head long after the final credits roll. This is arguably where the films greatest strength lies, and it was something that few directors aside from Kubrick could have achieved.

On the subject of plot, we see Alex and his friends travelling around town during the evenings, free from the humdrum of parental rules and schoolwork. Having a bit of innocent fun, one would presume. And then…

We soon realise that this fun is not so innocent, as Alex’s version of ‘fun’ involves beating up the homeless, breaking into the homes of innocent people and raping helpless women. It can be quite disturbing material if you haven’t been forewarned before watching, yet this was precisely the desired effect Kubrick would have wanted from his audience.

It is also worth pointing out that the sex and violence in this film are not there for gratuitous purposes, as is the case in so many other mainstream productions. Their purpose is to make you feel uncomfortable about what you’re watching. They don’t provide the entertainment of this movie; rather, Alex’s personal journey as the story progresses does this. That journey inevitably takes him to prison, where he is selected as a candidate for a new version of shock therapy. This subsequently creates feelings of nausea when he tries to repeat his old crimes upon release, and therefore appears quite effective.

But the thorny issue of individual human rights comes into question. When Alex catches the media’s attention after enduring torture (some would call it simple revenge) from his formerly tormented tormentors, and then attempting suicide, the very same politicians who thought this form of enhanced societal control was a good thing immediately backtrack. They’re soon shaking Alex’s hand for the adoring cameras, after promptly curing him of his new ‘disability’.

By the end of the film we are left with the uneasy feeling that Alex was merely a pawn in an experimental bigger picture. After being cured, he is allowed back into society, and Kubrick, in all his controversial glory, hints in the final scene that Alex simply went back to his old notorious ways. Kubrick is merely illustrating a much more significant point, though. People must be allowed to choose their path, even if they are destined to choose the wrong one. Stories don’t always end with the main character learning from their mistakes.

To focus on the intricate details of Alex’s life as an individual within society, rather than the reverse, would be to miss the overall idea of the movie. It’s a story of morality, certainly, but not necessarily Alex’s specific morality. He is a means to an end, much like many of Kubrick’s characters.

Boosted by a classical soundtrack that provides an almost horrifying juxtaposition to the images it accompanies on screen, A Clockwork Orange represents Kubrick at his mercurial best. While this movie may not be to everyone’s taste, there’s no denying that there never has and most likely never will be another one quite like it.

Try disbelieving that.

10 / 10