Monday, 13 November 2017

RRR - Community Radio

I'm wondering whether the children of today actually know what a radio is, and moreso what a radio station happens to be. In an era of Spotify and Netflix, the traditional methods of broadcasting are slowly dying. In fact one of Australia's television stations has gone into voluntary administration and has since been purchased by CBS. While TVs are struggling to survive, I sometimes completely forget that radio even exists, and sometimes I am surprised to hear that it actually still survives. While video didn't necessarily kill the radio star, they fact that I can jump onto Spotify and listen to what I want to when I want to really changes everything.

Yet I grew up listening to the radio. I still remember when we would sit in the lounge room with the radio on and a tape in the cassette deck waiting for a song to come on, and if it was one of our favourites, then record it. Okay, that changed a little when I had enough money to purchase records and tapes (and later CDs), but right up until I finished university and started my first (and so far only) full time job I would wake up to the news blaring out of my bedside clock radio.

Not quite a clock radio, but you get the picture.
Anyway, the reason this post came up is because the State Library of Victoria has these free exhibitions in one of their rooms, and this year it was on the community radio station RRR. Mind you, having not grown up in Melbourne, and in fact having only been here for five years (and never having listened to any radio while I've been here as well), I'm not at all familiar with the commercial radio stations, let alone a small community radio stations. As such, I'm probably not a huge expert on this, nor overtly sentimental either, yet the exhibition itself was still quite interesting.

Community Radio

Community radio differs from mainstream radio in that they are independent and not beholden to corporate interests. Most of my young years were spend listening to one of the two 'rock' stations in Adelaide - 5KA (on the AM dial, but they later moved to the FM dial and became KAFM) and SAFM. I started off with 5KA but I remember friends telling me that SAFM was much better so I ended up switching over to them. Later I would listen to the local Christian radio station, and in particular their heavy metal hour. At university I ended up switching over to Triple J, which was a national, government funded, broadcaster.

Triple R appears in 1976 after a broadcasting license was issued by the then Whitlam Government who was interested in developing Australian culture. The radio station started on the RMIT (Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology) campus, but quickly outgrew it's premises. The station itself has been funded mainly by sponsorship and subscribership. Over the time the station has faced financial crises, threats of closure, and corporate takeover, all of which have been overcome. However, I do wonder whether the rise of the internet, and the population's movement online is going to keep it going.

One of the first initiatives of the station was to publish a monthly magazine - Radio City. The magazine would talk about the daily happenings at the station, as well as information on other activities, including benefit concerts. Further, unlike the station itself, the magazine was permitted to carry advertising. However, after 27 issues the magazine was ceased, due to financial problems.

The radio station, being a community radio station, doesn't have much in the way of paid staff. In fact many of the people who work at the station are volunteers. I remember back in university a couple of friends managed to score a spot on the university radio station (though I have to admit that I never listened to them). As for RRR, this is also the case, but like with a lot of stations, many of the presenters actually develop a loyal following, which does help.

The purpose of the radio station was basically not to be like the other, commercial stations, but instead to provide educational content (which is not surprising considering the university origins). Mind you, having a radio station where you actively listen to it rather than have it playing in the background isn't really the style of radio station that works. People actively watch television, but the radio is generally background noise. Yet this has worked, and RRR has survived and flourished.

All About the Music

The question is raised as to whether they played music, and the short answer is yes. The question I guess then is what style. Well, looking at some of the play lists it certainly seems to be rock, and also more alternative (Jane's Addiction, Jesus & Mary Chain, the Ramones - gee, these bands go back a while). Yet, the term 'Alternative Rock' didn't really come up until the nineties. During the 80s I there didn't seem to be an 'alternate' rock scene. Well, there was, but that tended to consist of bands such as Metallica, Megadeth, and Iron Maiden. Yet this was heavy metal, and it tended to have a limited following, and certainly not one to justify a radio station if its own (though they did have 'heavy metal hours' on some). One experiment they did try was easy listening over the summer months.

The music style has always been eclectic and diverse, though at first it had a punk leaning (and this was back in the 70s). However, the station has always had a focus on local and the alternative music scene. There is no set play list, which means that the presenters are free to play whatever music they like, and to also generate a discussion around music. The one thing that brings all of the presenters together is their love of music, whether they be musos themselves, or are simply passionate about music. In fact many of their subscribers came about by turning the dial and suddenly discovering that there was a station that played their style of music.

Anyway, here is some Jane's Addiction:

Another thing about RRR was that they would look for up and coming bands, usually by scouring the pub scene, and bring them into the studio. They weren't the only station to do that - Triple J also did a similar thing with their unearthed series (and it seems as if Triple J was based on the model established by RRR). However this is something that commercial stations didn't do - if you wanted airplay on them you had to have already been successful. In fact many well known Australian bands found their fame through RRR. Though, the suggestion that these stations scour the pubs for unknown bands is a requirement to play a certain amount of Australian, and local, music.

Operating the Station

For most of it's life, RRR worked out of leased premises. This can be rather problematic, particularly when the owner decides that they no longer want a radio station on their premises, or they sell the building to developers. RRR moved a couple of times, but after learning that there last lease was not going to be renewed they decided that they would run a fundraising event to purchase a property. This they managed to do, and bought an old lingere factory which now houses their offices and production studios.

An exhibition on a radio station isn't going to be an exhibition is it doesn't actually show you how they work. The centre of the production is the mixer, one of those big machines with lots of buttons, knobs, and levers. The various sounds are fed into the mixer, which is then passed through the system to be sent as a signal up to the broadcasting tower. These towers are usually high up (and in Melbourne that is Mt Dandenong), and then broadcast out across the suburbs to the home and cars. Interestingly some homes had splitters, due to the antennas picking up both television and radio signals. However, my radios all had their own antennas.

As for presenting (or DJing, as the lingo goes), Tony Biggs, who started off in Brisbane, moved to Sydney to present at Triple J, and then found himself as a presenter in Melbourne, describes the art of being able to string a number of songs together so that the listeners feel engaged. However, talking is also a key element in it. Mind you, the art of being a talk back presenter seems to be able to simply spew out rubbish for the length of your show. Yet you can't just say anything because you need to engage the audience. If the audience doesn't like what you are saying then it doesn't matter what tunes you play, they are simply going to tune out (in the literal sense).

Of course they also have a sporting section, and when it comes to sport, at least in Australia, then you have the larikins. This is the route that RRR took. A lot of sporting content tends to be quite bland and boring. Mind you, my Mum still listens to the football on the radio - she rarely, if ever, watches it on television. My uncle is the same, suggesting that he grew up listening to the matches on the radio, and it just come second nature to them. As for me, well, I need to watch it on television, and when it comes to commentators, I generally turn the volume down. As for RRR, well, their segment is quite outlandish and irreverant, which adds a greater dimension to it.

Another thing that RRR does is be involved in the community. One thing that they stage is an annual community football match, which is used to raise funds to support sport and arts for the disadvantaged. Not only is there a football match, but there are also other events, including music. Then there is the parade down Fitzroy Street during the Melbourne Fringe, something that I haven't been aware of as yet, and probably should get around to checking out the next time it comes around (and I've probably missed that this year).

Anyway, here is a song by the Jesus and Mary Chain from their debut album to finish this off:

Creative Commons License

RRR - Community Radio by David Alfred Sarkies is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. This license only applies to the text and any image that is within the public domain. Any images or videos that are the subject of copyright are not covered by this license. Use of these images are for illustrative purposes only are are not intended to assert ownership. If you wish to use this work commercially please feel free to contact me

Monday, 6 November 2017

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead

I have to admit that I simply love this play. I first heard about it in Highschool when my English teacher mentioned it while we were studying Hamlet (and back in Highschool studying a book actually took around a month, particularly since we would read it aloud in class) and described it as a play where two minor characters from Hamlet take centre stage. Mind you, we never actually read the play, or had much more of a discussion beyond that, but his comments had piqued my interest. Anyway, there was a movie that had been done (thanks in part of the assistance of Tom Stoppard since, as it turned out, the play was so complicated that he was the only person that was able to put it on screen), and a few years later I ended up watching it. Needless to say I ended up rolling on the floor in  laughter.

Anyway, here is a trailer I found on Youtube:


Since that time I have watched the movie again and again, and even read the play (namely because I wanted to get an idea of how it was originally performed) but I had never seen it on stage - that is until recently when I discovered that the stage to screen productions had decided to bring it to one of the cinemas in Melbourne. The other interesting thing was that the play starred none other than Daniel Radcliffe, of Harry Potter fame. It seems as if he is doing his best to attempt to escape that stereotype, though no doubt if it wasn't for Harry Potter he would be little more than a relative unknown. As it turned out he played the role really, really well - he was incredibly funny, he delivered his lines beautifully, and for most of the play I had completely forgotten that he was that dorky little kid that defeated Voldemort.

The Play

As I have previously mentioned, Rosencrantz and Guildernstern Are Dead is a play about two minor characters in Hamlet - Rosencrantz and Guildenstern - and of course the players. However I can't actually say that it has a plot - it doesn't. Rather, it simply drifts from beginning to end, in a rather absurdist and dreamlike quality, with much of the action of Hamlet being played out in the background. In a sense it is basically about Rosencrantz and Guildenstern trying to make sense of the absurdity of their lives, and the fact that they really don't seem to have any control, or any ability to break away from their ulimate doom - their death. The play is basically a continual dialogue between them with the action of Hamlet occasionally breaking through, and also the chief of the players bringing his own thoughts to the equation, thoughts that don't always seem to be appreciated, if only because they don't necessarily bring any comfort to our two protagonists.

The interesting thing is that Tom Stoppard seems to always have his finger in the pie whenever this play is produced, probably because he is the only person who is able to make any head or tail of what is going on. When they attempted to turn it into a film, the story goes that it simply didn't work out until Stoppard stepped in and took over the reins. Radcliffe, before the play, takes us on a tour of the Old Vic, the playhouse where the play was staged, and mentioned that during rehearsal Stoppard would sit in this specific chair munching on lollies (namely because he loves lollies).

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead seems to take the concepts of absurdity that had been developed by Beckert and give it more life, and make it much more presentable. For anybody who has seen a performance of either Waiting for Godot or Endgame would know that Beckett isn't the most accessible of playwrights. Sure, I love his plays, but they seem to exist in a place that could effectively be considered nowhere. In a way he strips everything away and simply has a minimal amount of characters pretty much spurt rubbish and has us leaving the theatre, scratching our heads, wondering what on Earth had just happened. However, Stoppard takes Beckett's ideas and places them back in the real world. Okay, this is the only play of Stoppard's that I am familiar with (and his travesty that happens to be Shakespeare in Love simply doesn't count), but he helps us appreciate the absurdity of existence much better than Beckett was ever able to do, and it does it in a way that leaves us laughing.

All The World's A Stage

There are so many themes in this play that it is going to be impossible to be able to touch upon all of them, and anyway, I still have the film sitting in my cupboard that is probably going to come out again sometime so I that can explore this play again sometime in the future. However, I will try and touch upon a few themes that grabbed me this time around, and one of them happens to be the concept of the theatre. The thing is that the players are major characters in the play, and they explore something that Shakespeare in the past has explored - namely that we are actually players in a show in which we are the stars. However, the thing is that Stoppard's understanding of this stageshow is that it is an absurd comedy.

One of the things that comes out is that an actor ceases to be an actor unless there is an audience. The offense that the players took when our protagonists slipped away during a performance is tantamount. The thing is that without an audience they are little more than mad fools playing make believe. However, they simply had no opportunity to see that the audience had gone until there was a break in the performance. Up until that time they were simply so engrossed in playing their parts that there was no opportunity to see that their audience had vanished. In a way the only thing that gave them purpose, that gave them meaning, was the existence of the audience. Without the audience, there is no meaning to their existence.

Then there is the question of the roles that they play. When times are good they can pick and chose the roles that they will play, however when times are tough, the roles that they can play are limited, and if they are to survive, they need to be willing to literally prostitute themselves to anybody who is willing to give them money. This part of the play while, being quite sexually explicit, was more debaucherous than erotic. Eroticism is something that one can only afford when one has control - when one has no control, and one has no resources, it isn't eroticism, it is little more than prostitution. It is interesting that there players were effectively androgynous, with the exception of Alfred, who was the one that would be prostituted.

One of the lines that stood out to me in the numerous times that I have seen this play is that 'it all must end in blood'. While I will focus more on that a little later, the thing with the play, and the world being a play, is that it is an incredibly bloody play. While you can have rhetoric and romance, you cannot dispense with the blood - blood is demanded, and blood is essential. There is no happy ending in the play that is life - it all ends tragically for each and everyone of us. However, as I look at it, it is not a question of the fact that we all die, it is the way in which we die. While we die, we need to be in the mind that it is not our goal to escape death, but rather to die well. Unfortunately this is not always going to be the case, but more on that later.

The Importance of the Bit Players   

Unfortunately, unless you are one of the select few, we are all bit players in the play that happens to be our life. Sure, we may be the main characters, but in many ways we have little control in what is going on. In reality the world moves around us, and history inevitably marches forward, and many of us have little to no ability to change the course. This is one of the major themes of the play because our protagonists are simply powerless to not only change the destiny of others, but to change their own destiny. No matter how hard they try, the main players simply ride roughshod over them. They have to power to sway, or control Hamlet, and they have no power to be able to please the king. In a way, while they are players in the grand play, they have little to no ability to be able to sway the outcome of this play.

Yet one may argue that even the major characters have no power to change the course of history, In Hamlet it isn't Claudius, or Hamlet, or Gertrude, that has any power to change the end - the end has already been written, and they are inextricably drawn towards this end. No matter how much they try to change this ending, to introduce their own scheming plans, the end has already been written, and it is an incredibly tragic ending. However, while they are the actors, whose choices continually move them towards that tragic ending, they only exist with an illusion of freedom. However, they aren't spectators, they are the actors.

So, in come our protagonists, who are bit players. They have no control over the events, just as the main players have no control, yet they have an important role - they are the audience. As Horatio says at the end of the play, he is the one that has witnessed the events, and as a spectator, he is the one who is destined to tell the story to generations down the track. However our bit players, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, also have an important role - Stoppard has allowed them to tell their story, and it is a story of trying to make sense of the absurdity around them. Sure, they have no power over the events, but they are commentators on these events - they are attempting to understand the absurdity that is life, and helping us see the brighter side to this pitiful existence. They may not have any power, and their destinies are tragic, but they are able to help us see that life isn't always dark and miserable, but it is a comedy, albeit a dark comedy, of which we sometimes need to step back and laugh.

There Is Always the Blood

So, I should finish off with something that many of us try to avoid, yet is a certainty for us all - death. Our protagonists are correct when they chastise the players on the fact that they really don't understand death. Sure, they are able to portray death in many ways, but there are two things that they can't do - make it authentic, and make it watchable. The chief player points this out when he tells the story of the actor who had been condemned to death for stealing a sheep. They managed to convince the authorities to have him die on stage, but it didn't work, because his knowledge that he was going to die meant that he was not able to get in character. As our protagonists point out, they cannot really portray death because once the character dies, the actor gets back up again. They aren't the characters, they are just actors playing a character - a fraud, a realistic fraud, but a fraud nonetheless.

The specture of death hangs over the play from beginning to end. Starting off with the absurdity of them tossing 95 heads on a coin in a row, to the final scene where pretty much everybody dies (with the exception of the players). Yet it is a dark comedy, and we are laughing all the way through. The play helps us come to terms with the certainty of death. Sure, it doesn't offer us hope, or meaning, because in the absurdist comedies there is no hope or meaning, but it puts a perspective on the world in which we live - death is a certainty, there is nothing we can do about it, so we might as well just learn to enjoy life, to have a laugh, and to simply accept the inevitable.

However, one of the reasons that I can learn to love life, and to laugh, is because of my beliefs. However, the problem is that not everybody is in the position that I happen to be in - life is tough, and it is full of pain and heartache - we simply cannot expect people to simply laugh when a loved one is dying of cancer. However, I still believe that we are fooling ourselves if we live life as if there is no hope, and no purpose. I believe that there is a purpose, and while a majority of us happen to be bit players, having little to no power to change to course of events, we are reminded of the butterfly, the one whose wings flap that causes a hurricaine on the otherside of the world. You see, no matter how small a part we play, we all play a part, and we all have a purpose. The problem is that in most cases we simply will not see the impact that our actions will have in times to come.

Creative Commons License

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead by David Alfred Sarkies is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. This license only applies to the text and any image that is within the public domain. Any images or videos that are the subject of copyright are not covered by this license. Use of these images are for illustrative purposes only are are not intended to assert ownership. If you wish to use this work commercially please feel free to contact me

Monday, 30 October 2017

Dreaming of Sheep - Blade Runner

When I first saw the teaser trailer for Blade Runner 2049 I was intrigued. At first I thought it was just another remake with Ryan Gosling playing Deckard, however when Harrison Ford made an appearance in that same trailer I realised that it was actually a sequel. As such, upon discovering that after almost forty years we would be revisiting the world of Blade Runner I decided that I wanted to revisit the original story, starting off with the book (which, until recently, I have never read), and also watching one of the eight versions of the film. Originally I was planning on simply watching it at home, but I then discovered that my local cinema was screening 'Blade Runner: The Final Cut', so I decided that I would go and watch it on the big screen (which I don't believe I have actually done until recently).

There the film and the book are actually quite similar, but in a way the story is a little different (for instance in the film we don't have Deckard being arrested and taken to a 'fake' police station). However, the major theme, that of identity, is generally the same. Also, there is a difference in terminology - for instance in the book the replicants are referred to as andy's (short for androids), and the term Blade Runner isn't used either. However, the main theme about how four Nexus 6 androids escape to Earth and the Blade Runner Deckard has to hunt the down is the same.

Dick's Version

A friend of mine, who happens to be a pretty huge fan of Phillip K Dick, suggests that novels aren't really Dick's strong point. Personally, I'm probably inclined to agree in that I have found that his short stories tend to be of a much higher quality (though the only novels that I have read so far are Man in the High Castle and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep). Yet while the film and the book are similar, there is also some rather distinct differences. First of all Deckard is married, so while in both the film and the book he sleeps with Rachel, in the book the question is raised as to whether he is actually having an affair.

Another thing about the book is that the Earth is actually pretty much uninhabited. Sure, there is a suggestion in the film that only those who are fit enough are eligible to live in the off world colonies, leaving only the sick, lame, and those who are simply not interested back on Earth. However, while in both the film and the book, most of the animals are become extinct, in the book owning a real animal is actually a status symbol - a symbol which requires you to put it on display outside your apartment for everybody to see.

Also, the book is set after a rather devastating war, so much of Earth has not only become depopulated, but is also uninhabitable. The image you get is of deserted buildings and apartments inhabited by loners, with nobody else around. However, rather interestingly is that having now read the book, and watching the film again, I have noticed that there are some elements that seem to pop up in the film - yet in a way they seem to a series of disconnected scenes, created by a film maker that had an idea as to what he wanted, but wasn't really all that sure on how to but it together.

Scott's Vision

One of the major differences between the book and the film is the setting. Where as Dick's vision seemed to be of a world that had been devastated by war, in Scott's vision we have are taken into this cyberpunk world that is dark, wet, and incredibly crowded. In fact Ridley Scott's film is reminiscent of the old film Noir detective stories such as The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep. Actually, the one thing that Blade Runner isn't is an action film, which is in part why I am starting to feel a little disenchanted with the upcoming sequel. From the teasers it seems to be about a replicant who is building an army, and that is a lot more action orientated that the original.

The thing is that Scott's film is a detective film set in a cyberpunk like world. It is a world that has been ravaged by industrialisation, to the point that all of the animals have died off and are only in possession of those who have enough money. As for the world, it is a crowded world that is forever raining, and it wracked by pollution. In a sense it seems to build on the idea that was first espoused in Neuromancer, except that it gives us a visualisation of this world, and almost serves as a warning of one of the potential futures which we face. It is a harsh and barren world, one that is covered by city, and in which the sun never shines.

However, maybe that has something to the with the rather Film Noir aspect to it. It takes the form of a detective film, which follows on with the tradition of the old noir films of the fifties. Yet while it is dark, it is not a dark look at the present, but a dark look at the future. Whereas the noir films seemed to part to look at the dark underbelly of what some considered to be a perfect society, this vision shows us that the future isn't all that bright and rosy, and in fact could be quite terrifying.

An Issue of Identity

This is one of the key themes that not only permeates the book and the film, but also quite a lot of Dick's writings. For instance the question is raised as to whether the replicants are human or not, and the closer they come to becoming human, the more difficult it becomes to being able to detect what they are. This is why in the film they are constructed with four year life spans, namely because they are so much more powerful that your average human that there needs to be a failsafe built in case they escape (as they have done). The other thing is that they are so life like that there is actually difficulty in being able to tell them apart.

This is why a test was created to read their emotion. It is interesting that at the opening to the film we have one of the replicants being given the test, and he is so put off by the questions that he ends up snapping and killing the person giving the test. However, we then have Rachel being given the test and are told that even after a hundred questions Deckard is still not quite certain whether she is human or not. However, we are told that she is in fact a replicant, even though she doesn't even know it herself.

Interestingly we also have the issue of the animals in the book (which doesn't make it into the film). The whole point behind the title is that Deckard actually has an electric sheep on display, though nobody actually realises that it is a fake. The funny this is that these animals actually serve no purpose whatsoever other than as a status symbol - the rarer the animal you have on display, the greater the status you have because it is a symbol of wealth - and this is despite the fact that they actually serve no purpose whatsoever.

This idea of owning a useless item as a status symbol is something that seems to resonate in our society quite a lot. Cars are one thing, as are houses. Well, suggesting that cars are useless is sort of devaluing them more than they probably deserve, but in reality they are a symbol not so much of individualism but also of isolation, two things that are not necessarily the best traits of our modern Anglo-American world. However, while the latest BMW might have all the fancy bells and whistles that you would expect a top of the line and state of the art vehicle to have, in the end you are still paying a premium for the name, and also in a way you are paying money for a status symbol.

Yet there seems to be a lot of pressure on people to confirm to these status symbols, as was indicated by a German that I spoke to who worked for Audi. His position was that if you lived in Germany then you were expected to purchase, and drive, a German made vehicle - anything else was basically a symbol that you were either poor, or a cheapskate. In fact we live in a society where a person who is frugal with their money is actually viewed with suspicion and scorn - words such as stingy and cheapskate regularly apply to them, though ironically not so much the word prudent.

End of the Cycle

Years ago I remember a Christian industrial metal band named Circle of Dust released a song named Course of Ruin. This song had selective samples from the film, and generally focused on the concept of death. While we are all faced with the inevitableness of death, this is much more so when it comes to the replicants, who have a mere four years in which to experience life. Of course, as is the nature of robots, they technically should not be aware of the span of their life, and its inevitable conclusion, yet it seems that the more advanced the robots become the more self aware they become.

One wonders whether it is possible to program a computer to fully understand the nature of death, or is it something that sets us humans apart from machines. Okay, animals also have an understanding of death, which is why they tend to be timid, and also display self preservation survival techniques. However, it seems as if an understanding, and appreciation, not just of the finality of death, but also its mysteriousness, is something that not just makes us human, but also makes us self aware.

Yet it is clear that these replicants are self aware because they are aware of their mortality. In fact the whole purpose of the trip to Earth is so that they can meet their maker and somehow reverse this mortal aspect of their lives. Interestingly enough, the whole invocation of deity comes about with the phrase 'it is not everyday that you get to meet your maker', and also when asked about whether he can reverse this process, the reply is simply 'I'm sorry, but that is a little out of my jurisdiction'.

This is another part of the film that confronts our modern lives - that of our endless quest to stave off death. Yes, it is true that death of final, and heart wrenching, but it seems that many of us go to extraordinary lengths to stop it. Simply walk past the local gym and you will see rows and rows of people on the equipment keeping fit so that they might live longer. However, as I look at them I sometimes wonder whether their lives are actually all that fulfilling. In some cases, like other aspects of our society, working out at the gym can actually be a very solitary exercise.

The other thing that I notice is the extraordinary amount of money that is being poured into the medical fraternity. In fact I have seen here in Australia the government fund two cancer centres in two cities - these two buildings focused on attempting to combat a single disease, though it is one that is incredibly devastating. Yet sometimes I wonder whether there is some selectiveness in the way these diseases are being combated. AIDS for instance, because it is a disease that attacks people that live certain alternate lifestyles then it was pushed lower down the list of important diseases to combat. However, I still remember back in the days when having aids was a stigma that literally outed you as being a member of an undesirable underclass. Fortunately this has changed somewhat, though the destructive nature of the disease is still being felt world wide.

Looking to the Future

This version of the future is rather bleak - both in Dick's novel and in Scott's film. However, not every picture of the future is all that rosy and beautiful, and sometimes this can serve as a warning to us all. Mind you, Dick wasn't necessarily interested in painting bleak pictures of the future, but rather addressing the nature of the human identity in an increasingly post-modern world. In fact the rise of individualism has almost created a fluidity in our identity, and I am not necessarily talking about gender identity here, though this is one aspect of it (and while I could discuss some ideas regarding Gender identity I think I'll leave it for another time).

Yet the question of the barrier between an android and a human is an interesting one. Sure, these days it is pretty obvious what the difference between a construct and a human is, but as we head into the future, and such technology increases, this line slowly but surely becomes ever more blurred. Is a genetically engineered human that is implanted into a womb through IVF treatment and born naturally an android or a human - how about a normal human featus that is grown in an artificial womb, and brought into the world through artificial processes in which the human body is no longer needed (in my mind they would both be human, but they were examples of how far we have moved away from the biological processes that we have relied upon for millenia).

One interesting thing is the idea of robots being used as, well, sex toys. Okay, this isn't necessarily flagged in some of the more purer sci-fi shows, but it is out there, and is also something that is suggested in both the film and in the book (namely because Deckard sleeps with Rachel in both). The question is whether Rachel is a human in this regard, and since she is an artificial construct, can a true relationship really exist. I guess the end point is will it be possible for a human to marry a robot. This may sound absurd, but consider that fifty years or more ago the idea of two males (or two females) getting married as not so much considered absurd, but was actually impossible.

Another idea that has been floated is whether Deckard is actually a replicant. This is something that comes about every so often, and there is even a significant segment on Wikipedia about it. Mind you, this is something that never really crossed my mind much, and my initial thoughts is 'no, he is not'. However, there is the origami unicorn at the end, that he picks up when he leaves the apartment with Rachel. Gaff has indicated that he knows about Rachel, and the suggestion is that he also knows about Deckard. However, Dick never intended there to be any ambiguity, nor did Ford, Scott, or the screenwriter. Yet, this is something that is thrown in at a later date for some ambiguity.


There is some rather interesting religious imagery in the film, some of which I have touched above. Of course there is this idea of one meeting their maker, though that is also a phrase that is referred to people dying. Yet the wikipedia article also equates the replicants with fallen angels in that they have come from offworld in an attempt to locate the person responsible for their life span. Yet interestingly, the Bible also mentions that one of the reason that humanity's lifespan was shortened significantly was due to the immense amount of destruction that could be wrought if we were allowed to live hundreds, or even thousands, of years.

One of the striking images though is the scene at the end where Roy holds a dove to his chest, and also stretches out his arms in a form of crucifixion. Many action movies would have the protagonist kill the antagonist at this point, but not only does Roy hold off from killing Deckard, but Deckard doesn't kill Roy either. In once sense it could be seen as lazy writing, until we note that the striking thing about the film is that Roy dies of old age. This is something that has stuck me since I first watched it as it sets it apart from many of the other films out there. The dove is also an interesting image, because it symbolises the ascension of a spirit to heaven.

However, I think I'll leave it at that, and refer to the Wikipedia page for any further ideas regarding the themes in Blade Runner. Instead, I'll now jump over to the more recent film.

Years Later

As it turned out, the sequel was nothing what I expected, which is probably a good thing. While at first I didn't want to say anything about it, for fear of spoiling anything for anybody, this post has been deliberately published at a time when one can assume that most people who have wanted to see it have already seen it, so I guess I can openly speak about the film. However, before I touch on some of the themes, I should say that the film does retain the film noir style of the original, though we do switch between a world of endless rain and blistering desert. It is also a detective mystery, and unlike the original, we aren't given all that much to go on, with bits and pieces slowly released to us, and also a curve ball that leads us thinking one way only to realise that we were misled all along.

Like the original film, the sequel continues to raise the question of identity, though we are given another thing to think about. Our new hero, who is a replicant himself, discovers a box buried under a dead tree (though the existence of trees, even dead ones, are almost non-existent) which contains the bones of a replicent. Well, that shouldn't be too much of a concern, except that it comes about that this particular replicant was pregant. This is the game changer because it raises the possibility that not only are they human, but they actually have souls.

As I have mentioned about, there is this ongoing exploration as to the nature of humanity, and this continues in this film with the existence of the child. In fact, the whole film is about attempting to locate the child. Obviously there are elements that want the child dead, and erased from history, because its existence may mean that replicants actually have rights. Then there is the question as to the identity of the child - is it natural or artificial. In a way it is both, particularly when we discover who the father is, though the nature of the father is also pretty much up in the air.

However the film brings in something new - slavery. Replicants are slaves, and have always been slaves. They are a disposible workforce, and are able to do things, and work in places, that humans aren't able to. Since they are considered artificial constructs then their nature is considered set - because humans made the replicants, the replicants are possessions of humans and can be bought and sold, and owned. There is no question of whether a replicant can go free because they aren't human, and they don't have a soul.

Then there is the question of dreams, and whether they are real or not. The thing is that in Blade Runner, at least where the replicants are concerned, dreams are implants. However, what if we start implanting dreams into humans - what does that do about the nature of our identity, and does that change our basic nature. Are we defined by the sum of our memories, and what happens to us when our memories change. However, this issue is probably something that best be left for another film at another time - and I'm sure we all know which one that is.

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Dreaming of Sheep - Blade Runner by David Alfred Sarkies is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. This license only applies to the text and any image that is within the public domain. Any images or videos that are the subject of copyright are not covered by this license. Use of these images are for illustrative purposes only are are not intended to assert ownership. If you wish to use this work commercially please feel free to contact me

Monday, 23 October 2017

The Draftsman Degas

As I have mentioned a number of times across both of my blogs, there are a number of exhibitions, and museums, that I have been to that I simply haven't got around to writing about, and with the list of things that I could write about forever growing I feel that I'm not going to be struggling for topics any time soon (though I note that one of the things that I haven't been writing about is computers, but then again they were sort of a filler between other things, such as plays and exhibitions, which isn't really needed all that much any more). Anyway, after traveling halfway across the world to visit some of Europe's greatest museums I arrive back in Australia to discover that they have an exhibition on at the NGV of none other than another impressionist - Degas. A friend of mine who worked at the gallery pointed out that the reason that I didn't see any Degas in Paris was because they were all here, but honestly, I had never heard of Degas until this exhibition, and even then I was more frustrated at the lack of Renoir at the Musee D'Orsay than the lack of Degas.

So, Degas is basically an impressionist, and from what I gathered from the exhibition, he was probably one of the first (beating Manet to the punch). Like many of the impressionists that came after him, Degas was basically interested in painting the ordinary and the everyday, and also painting them in their 'natural habit'. He particular favourites were dancers and the horse racers, and the ever popular prostitute (though he was hardly the only impressionist painter that liked painting prostitutes, though for some reason I can't imagine being able to wander into a brothel these days and be allowed to paint anybody in there, particularly if you want to take some photos beforehand). However, unlike the other impressionists, who tended to paint out of doors (or en plein air as the French would put it), Degas preferred to paint indoors.

Okay, while the exhibition was entitled A New Vision, as is typical of me, I prefer to use my own title, and I was originally going to call it 'The First Impressionist', but I'm not entirely sure if he is actually the world's first impressionist painter. However, what did stand out with regards to his works was that, unlike the other impressionists, he preferred to use pastels, and also preferred drawing as opposed to painting. In fact much of the exhibition involved drawings he did of not just complete people, but of parts of the body such as the arm - no doubt practicing things such as capturing movement, and exploring the nature of the body. In a way Degas was more a draftsman than he was a painter, and with that in mind we will now dive in to the world, and art, of Edgar Degas.

The Early Days

Degas was born in Paris to a mix of nationalities - his mother was Creole (French-American) while his father was Italian. His father was somewhat an artist and a musician, and during his childhood spent his time mingling with the artists and the collectors of the upper echelons of French society. His mother died when he was a child, and he had two younger brothers and two younger sisters (which, obviously, makes him the eldest). As with a lot of children of the upper classes, he was enrolled into an exclusive school where his father expected him to pursue the study of law. However Degas was an artist, and much to his father's disappointment, ended up at the Ecole des Beaux Arts (the School of Fine Arts). Mind you, art isn't necessarily something you learn, it is something that you are born with, and one of the best ways to become an artist is basically to practice (it is, in my mind, the same with writing - it isn't something that can necessarily be taught, but you develop your writing skills by writing). As such he never completed his education.

Hilliar De Gas
One of the major subjects of his early years was his family, which honestly isn't all that surprising. However, after dropping out of school his father kindly funded a three year sojourn in Italy, which sounds very much like the modern gap year that many of our younger ones take between highschool and university, or even just after university. There was an academy in Rome where he could have spent his time, particularly since it was state sponsored, and those who succeeded here tended to go on to bigger and better things. However, instead Degas spent his time wandering the galleries practicing his style by copying the works of the great masters, which is something that I still see happen today - it is quite common to wander through a museum and see people sitting in front of a painting sketching it (where as I simply take a photo - though I am surprised that with the number of photos that I take nobody has thrown me out).

One story that is told is that his grandfather, Hilliar Degas, summoned the young Edgar to his villa in Naples where he was basically commission to paint a portrait of him. It is notable that his grandfather was actually a pretty wealthy individual, being a retired stockbroker and banker, who also loved art. Degas painted an image of him and his children based on Titian's painting of one of the popes, and it is interesting to note that even though Degas did copy a lot of the works that he saw down in Italy, he also added his own styles to it, creating something of his own unique work aspect.

Painting the Past

In around 1859 Degas returned to Paris where he continued to paint, this time spending his days in the Louvre (as many a budding artist seems to do these days - there were plenty of them sitting in front of their favourite paintings) once again copying the works of the old masters. As a side note I wonder whether one of those paintings happened to be the Mona Lisa because back in Degas' day nobody actually thought all that much about it - in fact it was basically just another painting among many, and not a particularly impressive one at that. However, when it was stolen around the turn of the century (or fin-de-siecle as the French say), people suddenly started to take notice, but then again I digress.

Anyway, he spent his time creating works of art that focused on history, namely stories from the Bible, Ancient Greece, and the medieval period. In a way this was simply going with the flow since the popular subjects of the time were either portraits, still lifes, or historical paintings. However the times were changing, and Degas was putting his own style into his works, and when one of his medieval works went on display at the Paris Salon, it was basically ignored. In a way this was probably the turning point in Degas' career when he realised that even though he was infusing his own personality into these works, in the end they were simply more of the same.

Yet let us consider his painting of some Spartan youths training. While this painting represents a scene from classical Greece, it differs from many of the paintings of this style in that it doesn't explore the extra-ordinary, or the mythical, but rather the ordinary. Here we have a collection of Spartan youths, being watched over by Lycurgus, the Spartan Lawgiver, as they train. However, there is also the suggestion that this is reflective of a Spartan mating ritual, where the males seek out worthy females so that they might be able to produce offspring worthy of the name Spartan. Sure, this might be historical, but instead of exploring the mythological, Degas is exploring the ordinary, the key theme that would develop throughout the impressionist movement.

Here we have another of the historical paintings, and similar to the previous one, this is also set in ancient Sparta, a subject that seemed popular with Degas. The interesting thing is that Sparta, unlike Athens, was not a centre or art and culture, but rather state that focused entirely on military prowess and creating the strongest, and most formidable army (despite the fact that two of the times when they had the opportunity to actually fight an invading army, they conveniently had a religious ceremony on). In a way, this is once again a focus on the ordinary, something that many of the painters of the day shunned. In a sense portraits were of popular, and noble, people, not of the ordinary worker, which why painting historical paintings of ordinary people as opposed to the myths and the legends was so confronting.

Meeting Manet

In 1862 Degas made a friend that was to have a serious impact upon his artistic journey - Eduard Manet. The thing with Manet was despite the fact that his paintings would regularly appear in the Paris Salon, he was one of those artists that would also flipped the birdie to the traditional styles of painting. Manet embraced a style that he called il faut etre de son temps, or to put it in rather vulgar English - get with the times dude. Manet knew that the artistic world was changing, and he wasn't going to be left behind, and it is clear that Degas also wanted to join him on this journey. It is this introduction that Degas found himself acquainted with the artists that were to be known as the impressionists - Renoir, Monet, Cezzane, et al.

Henri Rouart was another acquaintance of Degas', and an old school buddy. However, where Degas became an artist, Rouart became an engineer and made significant advances in the art of refrigeration. They met again during the Franco-Prussian war where as chance would have it, Degas found himself under Rouart's command. From this relationship a friendship developed and Rouart became a patron not only of the arts, but of the impressionists in particular. This was obviously a boon for these artists, particularly since the establishment wasn't all that keen on their work.

This is the first of Degas' Ballet paintings, of Mademoiselle Eugene Fioce. This is a painting of her appearing in the ballet The Source (a ballet that I'm not all that familiar with, but then again I'm not a huge fan of the ballet). The thing about this production was that live horses appeared on the stage. Emile Zola noted that the painting has a strange quality in that it appeared that it was of a horse drinking at a spring rather than of a ballet, and also that it appeared to be a Japanese print.

Day at the Races

Horses were one of Degas' passions, though not in the sense that he spent every waking hour down at the track trying his luck on the latest tip and spending his time hanging around with the bookies. Rather he had a fascination with the horses and being able to capture their movement on canvas. In fact being able to capture movement was one of Degas' goals in painting, particularly since up until this time paintings tended to be static - in a way a moment captured in time and placed on canvas. However Degas wanted to go beyond that and explore the nature of movement and whether it is possible to capture it on canvas.

In Degas' time horses were ubiquitous in the sense that cars are ubiquitous in our day and age (despite the fact that I don't actually own one - car or horse). This animal was everywhere, and it fascinated Degas. In the way that he developed his style by mimicking the old masters, he also practiced painting horses through copying the animeliers, who specialised in capturing horses and other animals. In a way these works would lead him onto his more famous works, and that is of the ballet dances.

The Dancers

Degas' friendships with a number of musicians at the time brought him into contact with the world of the ballet. However, it has been suggested that Degas' paintings were crafted in the studio as opposed to behind the scenes at the various venues, including the opera house that was destroyed by fire. However, since Degas was connected, he no doubt had access to these behind the scene venues, and I suspect probably spent his time here watching the dancer's practice, and also practicing his skills by sketching what he saw. Yet Degas didn't consider himself an artist that worked in nature, but rather an artist that worked in a studio - in a way he was really only able to create his works in the comfort of his own home as opposed to out amongst the population. Also, the first paintings that Degas sold were the ballet dancers, and one of the reasons that they were so popular was because the bucked the trend in exploring the realism as opposed to the romantic ideal of the time (and also the way we view his paintings today).

Degas actually petitioned the Paris Opera to give him a backstage pass, but they were quite reluctant to do so and he only managed to get it in 1885. When he did receive it he was basically a regular, though this started to taper off when the musical style began to change. Mind you, by the time he received his pass he had already created his monotype, which was based on a best selling book Le Familie Cardinal, which was written by one of his high school friends. The concept behind this book was that it examined the illicit liasons between the young and poorly paid dancers at the opera and many of the gentlemen that would frequent the area. In fact Degas even incorporated them into some of his paintings as dark figures who lurked out the back.

The House in New Orleans

In 1872 Degas went on a trip to New Orleans where he stayed for five months with his mother's brother. He was running a wine export business which was being funded by the Degas Bank back in Paris. It was here that he painted a couple of pictures, one of a house and one of a cotton export business. The interesting thing is that New Orleans still has an incredibly strong French influence, and is actually considered to be more Cajun than American. This makes it stand out a lot since it is surrounded by the deep south.

The painting that landed up in the exhibition was a pretty complicated one as it involves fourteen men all working and demonstrates Degas' passion for the works of the Dutch masters and in particular their guild paintings which had a similar theme and style. However, we must remember that Degas was an impressionist, and one that focused on capturing movement as opposed to capturing a moment in time on canvas. While it isn't necessarily one of his most complex, it does demonstrate much of his skill.

The Final Years

In 1875 Degas returned to etching, something that he had let slip for a while, and for the next five years basically focused all his attention on these works. One of the major focuses during this time was the female nude. By 1876 he had fully developed the style, and had become one of the best etchers at the time. Instead of using the term of a drawing made with thick ink, he instead referred to it as a monotype, and had the dark background, where there would be ink on the back, and the light background where the etchings would be made directly onto the plate.

Around this time Degas also returned to working with pastels, which was something that he had original picked up in Italy. This is one of the reasons why much of his art actually appears the way that it does - unlike many of his contemporaries Degas shied away from paints and experimented with other mediums. One of the topics he worked one were not just female nudes, but nudes in the act of washing. This raised quite a few eyebrows as it would have been near impossible for Degas to have had access to women in the bath, unless of course they happened to be in a brothel. This, no doubt, gave rise to quite a number of rumours.

Near the end of his life Degas began to work with landscapes, though many of them were created from memory. Like his other works, he used pastals, but in creating them from memory he would also add quite a lot more vibrancy to them. His statement was that he would stand at the door of the coach and look around, however also referred to these landscapes as imaginary landscapes. In 1898 he made a further attempt into a landscape, and proved that one did not need to travel half way around the world but could also create such scenes from their own backyard.

In 1857 emperor Napoleon III opened the Longchamp Racecourse to the West of Paris and over the years the popularity of racing grew, especially among the middle classes. In fact at one time the noise of the crowds were so loud it was suggested that it could be heard all the way from the Eiffel tower. In one sense the popularity of the races here was comparable to the Melbourne Cup where many people who care little about the races through most of the year suddenly make themselves known. In a sense it is more a question of fashion and being seen than actually having any interested in the horses. While I did have a pastel work based on this, it was actually from a private collection so I have since deleted the photo (because I wasn't supposed to take a photo of it). Instead I will finish off this post with a pastel of a woman arranging her hair.

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The Draftsman Degas by David Alfred Sarkies is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. This license only applies to the text and any image that is within the public domain. Any images or videos that are the subject of copyright are not covered by this license. Use of these images are for illustrative purposes only are are not intended to assert ownership. If you wish to use this work commercially please feel free to contact me

Monday, 16 October 2017

Julius Caeser - A Question of Tyranny

It was a pretty big weekend with Book of Mormon on Friday, and then Julius Caesar on Saturday. Mind you, since Julius Caesar is one of my favourite Shakespearian plays I was going to go and see it, but then again it is also a Shakespearian play, and one that isn't performed all that often, so it was going to be a no brainer that I was going to see it. Fortunately Monday was a public holiday, so I also had some time to sit down and write some thoughts about it (as I am prone to do).

The play was performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company and is one of four Roman plays, the other three being Coriolanus, Antony and Cleopatra, and Titus Andronicus. While I didn't get to see their version of Coriolanus, I have seen a film version (which was nothing short of awesome), and also another minimalist version of the play about a year ago. As for Julius Caesar, other than reading the play multiple times, the only version I have seen is a really bad American version where Brutus has an American accent that basically put me off the entire movie. Mind you, in this version the actors all had English accents, but a part of me is able to tolerate that.

In one sense you could say that Julius Caeser is simply an historical play that lives in the Roman past and one may wonder what it has to say to our times, however Shakespeare never did things by halves, and he certainly never did anything simply because he had a good idea at the time - there was a purpose behind the production of this play, one that not only spoke to the audiences of his time, but one that can even speak to us today, particularly in the era in which we live.

My favourite Painting of Caesar

A Little Bit of Background

I probably don't need to go into too much detail with regards to the story because, I'm hoping, that we all know who Julius Caesar is, and what it was that made him famous. Okay, I should be honest and admit that until I went to university the only thing that I knew about Julius Caesar was that he was a Roman, that he was an emperor (which was incorrect, as I discovered), he was murdered by his best friend Brutus, and that he had a big nose (thanks in part to the Asterix comics). However, beyond him being the regular antagonist in the Asterix comics, and making some statement along the lines of Veni Vidi Vici, that was pretty much about it.

I didn't think he actually lived to be this old!
However, when I went to university I decided to study classical studies, in part because I loved Dungeons and Dragons, and classical studies dealt with Ancient Empires (and magic, and monsters). While at first I did it to fuel my imagination, the more I studied it the more I came to realise the complete lack of imagination that went into the various worlds, and novels, that the creators of Dungeons and Dragons came up with. Furthermore, I came to realise that history was a lot bloodier, and much more exciting, than my high school history classes painted.

The thing is that Rome of the Republican period was anything but stable. Sure, the Republic had survived since Brutus murdered Tarquin, but it was always going in and out of turmoil. When Brutus removed the king and established the Republic, it was a question of Freedom for the upper classes, but the problem was that there was always a further push for freedom from those from below (with the exception of the slaves - any revolt would be brutally crushed, as Sparticus discovered). As such Rome stumbled from crisis to crisis, attempting to put in place measures to restrict the power of one man, but to also give as many people the ability to voice their opinion. What eventually happened was a series of checks and balances that simply went nowhere.

The play opens with Caesar entering Rome, triumphant. Just previously he had been at war with Pompey, another Roman figure, and the republic had split along these lines. Caesar was victorious, however he refused to deal with the enemies that had survived - a few decades earlier there was another dictator, Sulla, who had systematically killed all of his enemies and Caesar simply didn't want to follow in his footsteps. However, that was a big mistake as his enemies eventually conspired against him and murdered him, which plunged Rome back into Civil War and emerged as an empire.

A Question of Power

Like the Greeks before them, and like the modern democracies in which we live today, the Romans did not like the prospect of one man having too much power. The thing is that the maxium of power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely holds true then as it does now. The problem was that in attempting to blunt the power of any single man, very little was able to be done. Further more, the further down the chain you go, the less power the people had, and there was always an agitation for the lower classes to have just as much power as did the upper classes - in fact whole wars were fought over this one issue.

These days we still have memory of the horrors of what a totalitarian regime can do - Hitler, Stalin, and Pol Pot come to mind. However, this wasn't necessarily the problem that the Romans faced. This wasn't an issue of protecting minorities, because the minorities didn't matter - you were either a citizen or you weren't (though this aspect of nationalism is starting to raise its ugly head again). No, the question really came down to how much power does the citizen have - is it defined by one's citizenship, by one's wealth, or by one's ability to persuade the crowds.

Yet this wasn't an issue in Shakespeare's mind, and in fact this is the wrong question if we look at the play through modern eyes. The thing is that Shakespeare lived in a Monarchy. Okay, it wasn't a totalitarian state, but it still had the power concentrated in the hands of one person, in the case of this period it was Queen Elizabeth. In a sense Shakespeare was not too concerned about this power corrupting those who held it, but rather what would happen if the people decided to remove the person holding the power.

A Question of Stability

While it wasn't in living memory, a lot of Shakespeare's plays are written with one eye looking back on the War of the Roses. In fact a whole slew of plays were written about this chaotic time, culminating with Richard III. In a sense what concerned Shakespeare was not so much one person having too much power, but rather what would happen if this person were to be violently removed. In one aspect he points back to the chaos of the War of the Roses, but in this play he points us back to Ancient Rome, and an incident that no doubt would be known by many of the educated in the audience.

The problem with most revolutions is that they generally do not have an eye on to what comes after. This is probably why Rome experienced such a degree of instability - Brutus murdered Caesar, but that left a vacuum, and it was a vacuum that simply wasn't able to be filled. Shakespeare is also pointing at this incredibly turbulent time in Roman history, that the fear of one man having too much power lead to another period of bloodshed and instability, and this is the message that he is trying to get people in his time to hear. The thing was that there were people that didn't particularly like Queen Elizabeth, in the same way that there were people that didn't like James, however in Shakespeare's mind, it is better to have a tyrant on the throne, and to have a country in chaos.

This becomes much more evident as we look at history from our perspective, particularly with regards to France and Germany. The French Revolution got rid of the monarchy, but let to a period of turmoil that lasted for twenty five years, only to find itself with a king back on the throne. Germany lost World War I, and removed the Kaiser, only to find itself with an even worse government down the track. Okay, in Germany's case, there was also problems arising from the victors demanding their pound of flesh, but the thing was that there was no plan in place to deal with what comes after.

This is why when young people, socialists mostly, cry for a revolution, I cringe. You see, what they don't understand is that revolutions never turn out the way that they want them to. Sure, what we have may not be prefect, but they ignore the reality of past revolutions. Lenin managed to overthrow the fledging constitutional monarchy only to discover that the people actually didn't want his brand of extreme communism, so basically did away with elections and banished anybody who opposed the Bolsheviks. We all know what eventually happened in that scenario.

So, we have a rather bloodless way of removing governments that we don't particularly like, and a way to keep tyrants out of power - these things are called Constitutions. However, that doesn't necessarily mean that we are out of the water, because even if democracies have a way to keeping tyrants out of power, and removing governments we don't particularly like, we should remember than Shakespeare actually wasn't a big fan of democracies.

A Question of Populism

This is where I come to my final point, the reason why both Plato and Shakespeare didn't like democracies, and that is the problem of populism. The thing is that people will say anything and everything simply to get themselves elected - we have seen this time and time again in our period of late stage capitalism. Further, if we look into the past we see that this was one of the major reasons that the Athenian democracy collapsed, and that was because demagogues (or populists) managed to sway the people to their will and that allowed their rather idiotic plans to succeed where the ones based upon reason and fact were to fail.

In fact I see this as an issue with climate change, particularly with a survey released by the Australian government - what would you prefer, clean energy or cheap energy, and of course everybody is going to say cheap energy. What this survey failed to do was suggest that clean energy was also cheap energy. It seemed to sway the debate by suggesting that you can't have both, you can only have one or the other. Further, the question of facts always takes a back seat. For instance, do you want welfare or do you want to be wealthy, suggesting that welfare means that you won't be wealthy. How is it that people always vote against their interests - because the demagogues change the narrative to make it appear that their interests are with the demagogues.

Shakespeare regularly shows the problems with fine sounding speakers, and none is more clear than the oratory scene in Julius Caesar. Here we have Brutus take the stage and convince the people that it was right to call Caesar a tyrant, and thus remove him from power, and the people are swayed. However, Brutus makes a big mistake, and allows Mark Antony to also speak, and with fine sounding words, he completely changes the narrative, and it is an incredibly clever way he does it as well. The thing is though that at the start the people had been swayed one way, and all of a sudden they are now of the opposite opinion.

In fact the speech is so well done, I probably should include a video of Charlton Heston delivering it.

A Question of Loyalty

I want to finish off with a few words on Brutus, because I feel that he is the central character in the play. Sure, Caesar straddles the play like a colossus, and the focus, from beginning it end, is him, but Brutus plays an equally important part. The reason I say that is because the play is not a tragedy of Caesar, but a tragedy of Brutus.

The thing is that throughout the play Brutus is torn between his friendship with Caesar, his loyalty to his country, and his honour to his ancestor. Brutus was the direct ancestor of the Brutus that slew Tarquin, and he is painted as having the responsibility of preventing a tyrant from taking the throne. Yet, he is always unsure, knowing that not only is Caesar a friend, but also has the potential of becoming a tyrant and undoing everything that his ancestor had established.

It is his ancestor that Caesar's enemies play on, suggesting that the Rome they know will be come if Caesar has his way. Sure, he rejected the crown three times, but that is the way that tyrants work - they gain power by refusing to take power. Yet Brutus is truly a tragic figure because he knows the direction that Rome is heading, and knows that Caesar is the one that can bring stability. However, his lineage says otherwise because he cannot step back and do nothing.

However, I'll bring it to a close here with the final lines spoken by Mark Antony:
This was the noblest Roman of them all:
All the conspirators save only he
Did that they did in envy of great Caesar;
He only, in a general honest thought
And common good to all, made one of them.
His life was gentle, and the elements
So mix'd in him that Nature might stand up
And say to all the world 'This was a man!'

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Julius Caeser - A Question of Tyranny by David Alfred Sarkies is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. This license only applies to the text and any image that is within the public domain. Any images or videos that are the subject of copyright are not covered by this license. Use of these images are for illustrative purposes only are are not intended to assert ownership. If you wish to use this work commercially please feel free to contact me