Monday, 28 November 2016

Richard II - A King Without Friends

Well, it seems that within a period of two months I have managed to see Richard II twice, the first was a DVD that I had ordered of the Royal Shakespeare Company production starring David Tennant, and the second one being a production by the Globe Theatre. Actually, I had no idea that the Globe version was going to be showing at one of the local (or not so local as the case may be because it did take an hour and a half, by train, to get from my home to the cinema) cinemas when I watched the DVD a little while back, though as I have mentioned in my previous post (though having a look at the date that it was posted - 5th May - I'd probably be more accurate in suggesting that I watched it quite some time ago), the lack of good plays in Australia means that I am more than willing to make the trek to see another version.

Anyway, as a friend of mine, who I ran into as I was leaving the cinema, said: I won't be watching Richard II for a long time now. The problem I have though is not that I have already written a post on the play, but that I also have The Age of Kings and The Hollow Crown on DVD ready to watch. Mind you, the Hollow Crown is only the first four plays of the history cycle while the Age of Kings is all of the plays (though it is also in black and white). Unlike Hamlet I felt that I probably wouldn't be able to write anything more on this particular play, however by the time the play had finished I felt that there was enough to justify a second post (especially since I like to write a post on every play that I see).

With regards to plot I won't rehash what I have already written back in May, however I will give a brief rundown just so you don't have to jump to another post. The play begins with Richard ascending the throne as a child, but then jumps to the last few years of his reign. Two of the lords have a dispute and Richard decides to arbitrate, however the negotiations break down so they decide to resort to trial by combat. Richard once again intervenes and banishes both of them, one for life and the other for a shorter period. Once that has been settled he heads off to Ireland to fight a war, however when he comes back he discovers that Henry Bollingbrooke, one of the nobles that he exiled, has returned and taken the throne. In fact he discovers that pretty much all of the nobles have thrown their lot in with them. After a lot of misery and soul searching, he is murdered, and upon learning of this Bollingbrooke, now Henry IV, decides that he must go and purge this bloodguilt by a pilgramage to the Holy Land.

Stage and Screen

Watching another production in the cinema makes me wonder what is actually better - the stage or the screen. Okay, considering that for me to see a play at The Globe I have to purchase tickets to London, pay for a hotel, and also pay for the tickets (as well as some other incidentals), jumping on the train and going to the cinema certainly is a lot easier, and cheaper. However there is something magical, a je ne sais quoi (which is actually really bad French, however it is generally used in English to describe something that words can't actually describe), about going to the theatre and watching a production performed live. I guess it is how the Mastercard Ad goes - there are things in life that are priceless, and for everything else there is Mastercad (suggesting that while the experience of watching Les Miserables in London might be priceless, you can at least use your Mastercard to get there). In a way, it is probably quite similar to difference between listening to David Bowie on CD and seeing him live in concert (not that that is possible anymore).

However, ignoring the fact that the cinema allows a lot more people to be able to watch something, and it is a good thing that the British are now releasing their plays for the screen - which means that we don't have to travel all the way to London just to see a play, and then discover that the sessions that we wanted to go to have been sold out (if you want to see a play in London it is advisable to book in advance - well in advance - when I went over there to see Les Miserable my cousin suggested that I book in advance, and I managed to get the last ticket on sale, though I left A Midsummer Nights Dream a little too late, and even though I could still see it, it is not on the night that I had set aside to see it - oh well, more time to spend in Brighton). Oh, and not to mention that The Globe happens to be one of the most uncomfortable theatres I have ever been to so I guess I would go for a cinema seat any day.

However I've only been talking about the theatre, and the cinematic releases that have began to flow on from the theatre (though this is surprisingly a fairly recent phenomena), I haven't actually spoken about the made for cinema productions. A lot has changed since the old, low budget, BBC productions - these days Shakespeare can actually be a pretty pricey production. However, what the cinema offers that the stage doesn't is a much more realistic setting. On the stage there is still a lot of imagination required (which is another really good aspect of the stage), whereas the only restraints that you have with the cinema is the money you can spend. Mind you, when it comes to the cinema Shakespeare actually isn't a huge money spinner, which is why the productions tend to be hobbies as opposed to major cinematic releases.

Another benefit that these productions offer is that I can watch a Shakespeare in my lounge room whenever I want, though you are still limited in what is available. However, with the theatre the production will change based upon who is doing it (though the two productions of Richard II that I saw were actually quite similar).

Til I Have Told This Slander of his blood

It seems that the dispute between Thomas Mowbray and Henry Bolingbrooke is irreconcilable. Bolingbrooke claims that Mowbray squandered money that had been given to him by Richard on his soldiers, while Mowbray claims that Bolingbrooke is lying and he is only making these accusations to tarnish his name. In fact this dispute pretty much reaches the point where they literally want to rip the other's throat out. The problem is that Richard doesn't want to take sides, nor does he believe that a fight to the death is actually going to reveal who is telling the truth, which is why he intervenes.

Mind you, being kicked out of the country by Richard is pretty much suggesting to Bolingbrooke that Richard doesn't believe him. Thus it is not surprising that he eventually returns to take the throne for himself. In calling Mowbray to task he is attempting to bring corruption to the King's presence, but has instead been punished for doing so. Mind you, even though Richard only banishes Bolingbrooke for a short time does little to calm his nerves - obviously the king doesn't want to be seen playing favourites, and as such punishes both of them, though even though he is given a shorter period of exile, he is still being exiled.

Watching it does make me think of how disputes tend to evolve. In fact in many cases they evolve to a point where the original foundation of the dispute has literally been forgotten. I have had the unfortunate experience of working in a litigious environment for most of my working life, and in this environment we see how disputes arise. Mind you, the disputes that I have dealt with tend to be minor compared to some areas that I know about - such as family law - when the dispute literally sinks into the parties slinging mud at each other. However, the basis for pretty much most disputes seems to evolve around money - it is interesting how money can cause so many fractured relationships.

Then we also have disputes between countries, and in similar cases many of these disputes have begun long in the past and the origins of them are lost in the midsts of history - by now both sides passionately hate each other, but have no idea as to why they actually hate each other - they just do. Mind you, like civil disputes (which tend to involve money) international disputes, especially the ones that have been going on for centuries, tend to involve land, and they are not necessarily border disputes either, such as we have with Northern Ireland and Palestine - both countries were invaded, but, in particular Northern Ireland, people have been living there for so long that the place has literally become their home, and if they were to be forced to leave then there would be nowhere else for them to go.

When Our Sea-Wall Garden ... Is Full of Weeds

The intermission in this production occurred between scenes III and IV of act III, though I have to admit that I am not an expert on Shakespeare so I generally am unable to tell which act and scene we are in when watching a play (even a play that I am really familiar with, such as Hamlet). Anyway, when the audience returned (and me a little late as usually, namely because I didn't know how long the intermission was going to be) I was confronted with a scene where the queen is in the garden with her handmaidens and a couple of gardeners.

The pivot upon which the intermission rested was between the final fall of King Richard and the ascension of King Henry. Okay, Henry hadn't ascended the throne yet, but it was clear, at least from Richard's eyes (and that of his allies) that everything was hopeless - all of his allies had joined Henry and he is only left with a handful of supporters - which ironically includes the church. Mind you, in those days the church had an awful lot of power, however it is clear that this power was waining, particularly since Henry ignores the Archbishop's objection to him taking the throne, even with Richard abdicating.

However there was one line in this particular scene that stood out, and that is the reference to the garden being full of weeds. This is a perception only, but it shows how one's perception can differ from another's. In the eyes of the queen (even though it is the gardener that makes this comment), her world has collapsed, and the the once beautiful kingdom, and palace, in which she lived, was now racked by chaos. Mind you, that doesn't necessarily mean that the kingdom has descended into chaos - it hadn't - it is just that the queen's world has descended into chaos.

The weeds refer to the king's enemy, and the garden is no doubt his kingdom. Weeds have a nasty ability to take over a garden without you realising what has actually happened. This is the case with King Richard - while he was in the kingdom he was able to remove the weeds from the garden, but as soon as he had left, there was nobody left to remove the weeds - at least nobody he could trust. It is like a gardener who spends his days constructing a beautiful garden, but leaves the care of the garden into the hands of a couple of untrustworthy apprentices. Without proper care, a beautiful garden will be destroyed, and once the weeds have taken over it can be very difficult removing them and restoring the garden to its former glory.

Surprisingly, this was taken at Monet's House

Are You Contented to Resign the Crown?

Act IV, Scene I is the scene where the crown passes from Richard to Henry, however there is a huge reluctance in Richard to do so. In fact we see Richard torn between not wanting to let go of his authority, yet wanting to get rid of it as quick as possible because of the weight and heaviness that it bares upon his soul. In a way he has discovered the true burden of kingship, and the mistakes that he had made by not choosing sides in the initial dispute between Bollingbrooke and Mowbray. In a way Richard left for Ireland too quickly and didn't remain in the kingdom to make sure that Henry wasn't going to make a move for the throne. Basically Richard didn't make sure that his flanks were secure.

Throughout the play, at least from when he discovers that Henry has launched a successful coup, there is the constant turmoil in the kings heart - he doesn't want to let go of the crown for this is all he has known, yet the burden of the crown is so heavy that he cannot wait to get rid of it. However, a part of this reluctance is that he doesn't want to willingly give it to Henry, yet Henry doesn't necessarily want to take it from him by force. Mind you, defacto authority already rests in Henry, namely because all of the powers that be have flocked to his standard - any resistance is small and is easily crushed.

Ay, no; no, ay; for I must nothing be;
Therefore no no, for I resign to thee.
Now mark me, how I will undo myself;
I give this heavy weight from off my head
And this unwieldy sceptre from my hand,
The pride of kingly sway from out my heart;
With mine own tears I wash away my balm,
With mine own hands I give away my crown,
With mine own tongue deny my sacred state,
With mine own breath release all duty's rites:
All pomp and majesty I do forswear;
My manors, rents, revenues I forego;
My acts, decrees, and statutes I deny:
God pardon all oaths that are broke to me!
God keep all vows unbroke that swear to thee!
Make me, that nothing have, with nothing grieved,
And thou with all pleased, that hast all achieved!
Long mayst thou live in Richard's seat to sit,
And soon lie Richard in an earthly pit!
God save King Harry, unking'd Richard says,
And send him many years of sunshine days!
What more remains?
It seems that Richard has a choice between stepping down to a humble life, and to a life in prison (or even death). He ends up landing up in prison, or at least imprisoned in his castle (which was a common fate for deposed kings, or at least political enemies that the ruler really wasn't able to kill for fear of turning them into a martyr). The thing is that nobody actually wants to give up a position of authority - having a position of authority gives one status amongst their peers, and to lose that position means to lose that status. In fact being stripped of a position of authority can be an incredibly humbling experience, yet people don't like being humbled - instead they see it as a form of shame. When one is stripped of their position it can be very difficult for them to face their peers again.

Peace They Have Made With Him Indeed

Henry returns to England as soon as Richard leaves, which is clear that Richard really doesn't have a huge amount of authority, particularly since he loses his kingdom as soon as he leaves his kingdom. A strong king is able to maintain his throne even though he is absent from it - as was the case with Henry V, who went and fought wars in France, yet was able to return to his throne (though it is noteworthy that he executes all his enemies prior to leaving for France).

The thing that struck me was that nature of England at this time. It wasn't just the situation where England ended at the Channel - England has huge territories in France. Mind you, exiled kings and lords would regularly flee to France to plot their return to England, however Edward III had conquered huge swathes of territories during his wars on the continent. Mind you, the continent wasn't necessarily as secure as the home counties, meaning that an exiled lord could easily raise an army in the French territories.

However, a successful invasion of England, as is demonstrated with Henry VI, and William III, is to have the support of the nobility in the home counties. With support from the nobility a sitting king has little ability to retain his title - in fact James II was deposed without a drop of blood being spilt (though that is a little bit of an exasperation). In many ways the political nature of the kingdom at the time was quite similar to the modern party political structure of the day - a prime minister only holds authority when they have the confidence not only of their party, but a majority of parliament - as soon as they lose that confidence they lose their position.

Henry is depicted as the stronger monarch - he is always in armour, or at least he is until he ascends the throne, and when he does he still dresses in black. Richard, on the other hand, is always dressed in white. It seems as if these two colours portrays their character - black represents strength while white represents weakness. Mind you, in those days there was little place for a weak king, particularly one who could not control their subjects, especially the nobility. Without the support of the nobility, the King's hold on the throne is tenuous indeed.

However, even though Henry took the throne by force, it seems that he does not believe that he has the right to kill Richard. Sure, he is the king, yet he seems to believe that while he has taken the throne through the confidence of his nobility, he can't actually kill Richard. Sure, he may have said, as is repeated by Exton: 'Have I no friend will rid me of this living fear?', yet he seems to say this as an afterthought, and not actually meaning anybody should go through with it. As such, when Exton does perform the deed, not only is Exton banished for his crime, but the King, who didn't think what he said would have any consequences, believes that he must now cleanse himself of a crime against God - it is fine to take the throne with the confidence of the nobility, but to kill a king, even a deposed king, is a crime against heaven.

Creative Commons License
Richard II - A King Without Friends 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

Sunday, 20 November 2016

The Interweb - Evolution of a New Media

I have to admit that the nature of the media has changed an awful lot since I was a kid. I still remember when the only home computers were little more than games machines and the internet consisted of a dial-up modem where you would connect to text based bulliten boards. Mind you, the humble dial-up is actually quite old - they were around in the eighties, though the original dial-up modems looked a lot different to the ones that we are familiar with.

Actually, these are called analogue modems
Anyway, I'm just going to have a brief overlook of how the nature of media has changed in the 21st Century, and while I'll been looking at how a number of websites have disrupted the traditional media, I won't be specifically looking at any of them (I'll save that for another post). Firstly I'll look at how media existed in my childhood, and then how aspects of the media have been undermined by the rise of the internet.

Mind you, the traditional media has no one to blame but themselves for their decline namely because they could see this shift coming from a long way off. In fact I recently read a book about journalism in the 21st century, and how during the 90s a number of newspapers saw the opportunity with the rise of the digital age, but due to their conservative nature, did nothing about it. However, when the tsunami of the modern internet hit them they were too far behind the proverbial eight-ball to actually do anything about it.

Traditional Media

Back when I was growing up the media existed in three forms - the newspaper, the radio, and the television. Of those three the newspaper is the oldest, dating back to the 18th century and the rise of the middle class. Radio began to appear when the radio was invented, as did the television, though the introduction of these new forms of media was slow because not only had the price drop to allow the average punter to afford one, but the infrastructure (such as television and radio stations) needed to be built. I remember a teacher in high school telling me that he went onto an American warship when he was a kid (during World War II) and seeing televisions, but none of them worked because the infrastructure had not been built in Australia. However, the rise of the radio and the television never managed to undermine the newspaper as the internet has.

The thing with the traditional media was that they didn't necessarily make their money from people subscribing to their services (and in Australia, up until the early nineties, there were only five channels in the capital cities and they were all free to air), but from advertisers, and when it came to advertising the newspaper was the king. The thing with television and radio is that their ads could only exist in a point in time - such as during a commercial break. Once the break was over the commercial was gone. Mind you, that wasn't a bad thing for the television stations because if a company wanted it's product to reach more audiences then it had to buy more airtime, or airtime during a time when a lot of people would be watching - prime time. It was a lovely little money spinner for the TV and Radio stations.

However newspapers had something that television and radio couldn't offer - cheap advertising space that didn't rely upon point in time: the classifieds. The thing is that the traditional media didn't sell content to viewers of readers, they sold an audience to the advertisers, and the newspaper's biggest money spinner was the classifieds section - here the ordinary punter could pay a fee and attempt to sell a car, or a kitchen cabinet, or an employer could advertise for staff. In fact the only way somebody could get rid of unwanted goods was to advertise in a newspapers (or sell them to a second-hand store, though you could generally get a better price if you sold it directly).

The other thing that the print media (newspapers and magazines) offered was opinion and content. The thing is that the barrier to entry was incredibly high, and if you wanted somebody's opinion on something there would be countless magazines where professional writers would provide that opinion. Mind you, due to the barriers to entry, only certain views would be available through this media, and the editor had a final say with what was printed, and what was not. Mind you, some fringe opinion was available, particularly with the socialists who would flog off their newspapers on the street corner, however what you have available in your local newsagent was the only opinion you had access to - whether it be political, or what the latest movie was like. 

However, the internet was going change that, and change it a lot.

Dumping Useless Stuff

I remember when I first heard about ebay. I was in my first year of law school and I was doing a project for contract law. One of our team members worked for a computer company and he was on the ball when it came to the latest technology and developments. At the time I had already had three years of experience with the internet, but I still didn't know about everything that was out there, and one of these developments was going to take the classified world by storm - Ebay.

Basically the website began when the developer wanted to build his pez collection, and realised that the internet created the opportunity to connect with people that he normally wouldn't have been able to connect with. However, what his development (or should I say invention) did was that it cut out the middle man - the newspaper. Instead of resorting to ringing up the local newspaper and placing an add in the classifieds section, you could simply create an Ebay account and list your item for sale. The other thing that Ebay offered was a much greater audience - in fact it offered a world wide audience. The traditional classifieds were limited to either a city, or a small part of the city, where as Ebay opened up the entire world.

Mind you, classifieds weren't just limited to Ebay, and even now you have other sites, such as Gumtree, that are nipping at Ebay's dominance. Ebay may be been the first, and the most well known, but they are not the only one. However, many of these other sites generally pick up people that have become disaffected with Ebay. What the internet offers though is a much greater audience. In the former times one would only be limited to the people who either bought, or happened to read, a particular newspaper, however these days it doesn't cost anything to browse on Ebay, or Gumtree, or even Amazon, which means that the audience is a lot more fluid.

Other sites, such as and have also eaten into the newspaper's traditional source of income. With the rise of the internet, websites have also appeared to bypass the newspaper, and the associated costs, in selling big ticket items. Carsales is now the major website that people visit to purchase second hand cars, though buying a second hand car through Carsales probably doesn't lessen the risk that one would face when buying a car from the newspaper, but then again does anybody trust a second-hand car dealer.

The same goes with While it is a lot easier, and cheaper, to advertise houses, and open inspections, the real estate industry still has its talons dug deeply into the housing market. However, these days people don't buy the newspaper to find out when the next open inspection is, rather they jump onto the internet (and you can actually buy cars, and houses, over Ebay as well).

Hiring the Lackey

I remember back in the days when I was looking for a job, both before I returned to school and afterwards. Every Wednesday and Saturday I would buy the newspaper, open up to the job classifieds, and peruse them for a job that I was qualified to perform. Mind you, back in those days you either had to hand write, or type out, your resume. In fact I remember some employers would even specifically request a hand written resume. Once again the internet has changed everything, and the traditional way of looking for work has changed a lot (or at least the way I would do it - the best way is still going from door to door and networking).

The rise of the internet has stolen this role of the newspaper as well. In fact I haven't bought a newspaper in ages, particularly to look for a job. These days I just jump on the internet and peruse the job sites. Actually, this makes looking for a job much easier because it doesn't matter if you forget to get the newspaper because the website is always there, and it is updated in real time. Also, you can put your resume up on these sites so that potential employers can approach you - it is much easier to put yourself out there now because employers will actually peruse the internet looking for candidates.

Actually, the internet has also given rise a professional networking sites, the most well known being Linkdin. I am hesitant to use the word social because it actually isn't a social network, it is a professional network. In fact what Linkdin does is that your network can endorse you for various skills, and this actually makes it a lot easier for potential employers to look for the right person to fill their position. Okay, I do have a Linkdin account, however I rarely, if ever, actually use the site - for some reason I prefer to use the traditional employment site, not that I have actually been looking for work over the past few months.

What's the Movie Like?

Okay, newspapers generally didn't have a huge section dedicated to book and movie reviews, or at least from what I can remember, however there where always specialist television programs and magazines for that. However, the internet has once again changed all of that. Mind you, I rarely, if ever, paid any attention to the opinions of journalists as to movies, namely because more likely than not our tastes would differ. Instead I would generally refer to friends who had either read the book or seen the movie. Still, the traditional media would be a go to source for opinion on such things.

However, once again, the internet has opened up a vastly different world. In fact, the problem with the traditional media is that you generally only got one, maybe two, opinions, and these opinions generally didn't reflect those of society at large - everybody has different tastes, and those tastes generally don't coincide with that of the columnists. However, what we now have are sites such as IMDB (the Internet Movie Database) and Rotten Tomatoes for films, and Goodreads and Booklikes for books. I won't go into details about the pros and cons of these sites, but rather indicate what they actually do.

What the internet has allowed is for people to put their thoughts about either a movie or a book for others to consider. Mind you, the algorithm usually coallates all of the reviews (usually by the star rating) and produces an average rating for the movie. Some even split the ratings between the professional and amateur reviewers (not that there is actually a huge difference). Some sites even function as a form of social media platform, which means that you can connect with people who have similar tastes and see what they thought of a book (though I have yet to find a movie site that is actually a social platform - from what I can tell Rotten Tomatoes isn't a social site, and IMDB definately isn't one).

Actually, the social media sphere has gone even further to include businesses (though some, such as Zomato, are limited to restaurants). Here we can not only find a business, but also find out from others what this business is like. This provides a much wider dimension than the yellow pages used to do, enabling you to actually know what a service is like as opposed to simply finding a service in your local area - it is all well and good to find a local plumber, but what we really want to know is if this plumber is any good. The problem with this though is that out of all the internet users, only about 5% (or something like that) will actually put up a rating - they say that of the internet, 80% browse, 15% comment, 5% create content. Still, at least you can get somebody's opinion.

The Blogosphere

Talking about comment, there used to be the time that the only time you could get somebody's opinion was to either talk to a friend, or to read the newspaper, and I have to admit that newspaper opinion tends not to reflect my own opinion. However, the rise of the internet has create a forum for anybody, and everybody, to put their own opinion up for people to consider, to read, and to interact with. Mind you, platforms such as Facebook and Twitter allow this, but they tend to only offer a limited amount of space (and generally you only post links).

However platforms such as Blogger and Wordpress allow for much deeper discussion and opinion, and also allows people to follow the opinion of those that they tend to agree with (namely because, at least in my case, I just end up getting angry with people who have an opinion that is a polar opposite to mine, but then again this could be the cause of the immense polarisation we are seeing these days). As such, I can read from a much wider range of opinion thans simply the limited opinion that we have with the newspapers and magazines.

Actually, blogging is much, much more than just opinion - it allows you to write about anything - book and movie reviews, literary and political discussion, or simply having recepies for cakes and hints for a variety of DIY projects. However, what this is doing, once again, is killing the traditional media. In days gone buy, if you wanted recepies, or DIY tips, you would go to the bookstore, or the newsagent, and purchase either a magazine or even a book. These days you simply type in 'Chille Con Carne recipie' into Google and suddenly you have a multitude of recepies pop up for you to try out. Actually, it goes much further, because if I want to learn how to use Unix, or even how to create a webpage, I can simply go to one of the many sites as opposed to getting around to visiting a bookshop and buying a book.

The New Television

The internet has even changed the nature of television. Okay, while direct streaming services such as Netflix (among many others - each of the television stations in Australia has their own subscription based streaming service) the internet has also created the opportunity for people to produce their own videos, and in fact their own series - Youtube is probably the benchmark, but there are other video services such as Vmeo, that also perform a similar role. However it is Youtube that has really changed the nature of the modern media.

Out of all of the traditional forms of media, radio and television probably had the highest startup costs. The reason for this was bandwidth. In Australia (and in other places), not only did not need to set up some really expensive infrastructure, but you also needed a license to be able to run your own television channel, and not surprisingly these were quite limited. In fact the amount of time and energy to provide content was enormous. However Youtube has changed all of that - you don't need a license to set up a Youtube channel, nor do you need to continually provide content (though you probably need to spend money on decent equipment if you want your work to be of a professional quality).

For instance I have a Youtube channel with consists entirely of trains, trams, and ferries:

Oh, and we can't forget the good old cat videos:

Actually, Youtube is a lot more than just train and cat videos (though by looking at some people's play lists you would probably not realise that) as you can probably find anything and everything on here. In fact one friend of mine told me that some guy has a channel dedicated to elevators (though it makes me wonder what he is looking at on Youtube because you simply don't accidentally stumble across elevator videos). Actually, you can even access paid content, such as movies and television series, which I like because it means I don't have to fork out money for Netflix (because I don't watch that much television these days), and I can still watch movies that I don't want to buy since pretty much every video store in my local area has closed down.

Anyway, I'll finish this off with another cat video - enjoy.

Creative Commons License

The Interweb - Evolution of a New Media 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

Sunday, 13 November 2016

Playing the Trump Card

Disclaimer: This is probably a topic that coul be considered very controversial, and could result in some really heated discussions (not that people actually comment on my posts, but just in case). I am not writing this post as an expert, or even understanding American culture beyond what I see on Hollywood, but rather as an outsider who simply wants to throw a few thoughts down on the internet. While there might be those out there that disagree with me (or mis-interpret what I have written), I will say that I am not a particularly big fan of the guy, especially with his mysoginistic, racist, and homophobic views. I do understand that there are people that believe we have become too soft and need to harded up a bit, but I don't believe that anything gives us the right to be abusive or a bully.

Once again, unless we have been living in a cave in the middle of the Hymalyas, or in a Yurt in the frozen wastes of Siberia cut off from the rest of the world, I'm sure we all now know the result of the American Presidential Election - the guy who was basically written off as a joke from the word go, the guy whom nobody believed could actually become president, the guy the the world pleaded with the United States not to vote for, the one whose big mouth has earned him the name (at least where I am concerned) of 'The Trumpet' is now the President Elect of the United States.

Am I surprised - No; am I shocked - no; do I think the world is going to end - no, not really, but it certainly is going to be a lot difficult for some people, especially in the United States, in the coming years. Honestly, what surprised me is that the media is acting as if such a thing could never happen - seriously, if Pauline Hanson and two other extreme right one Nation senators can be elected in Australia, and Tony Abbott elected on a platform of three word slogans, mysoginistic outbursts, and empty promises then anything is possible. On the other hand look at the choices - seriously, I would have been more surprised if Hillary won considering that she is not particularly liked and basically represents the establishment.

Then again, doesn't Trump also represent the establishment - okay, he is not actually a member of the political class, and comes into the scene from outside the Beltway, however he is still an incredibly wealthy man who is probably on really good terms with many of the career politicians. The thing is that he is not your typical American politician, which is interesting since it appears that Presidents seem to come into the job from outside the Beltway (which was the case with Carter, Regan, Obama, and now Trump). As for shocking, no I don't think so, considering the sad fact is that there are still a lot of extreme right-wingers out there that Trump was able to connect with (and then there are those who, despite being appaulled at Trump's rhetoric, simply could not bring themselves to vote Democrat, or even Hillary).

The Spin

The way I see it, and I am certainly speaking as an outsider (even though if you travel out into the Australian bush you will encounter a very conservative, redneck, anti-stranger mindset there as well), is that one of the main reasons that Trump won is that he appealed to a core constituency in much the same way that Obama appealed to his constituency - this is what Romney, Clinton, and Cain lacked - they were insiders, and as such they didn't understand, and weren't able to relate, to the people that they were trying to get out to vote for them. However Trump, and in the same way Obama, was able to give these dissaffected people hope, with Obama the people of colour, and with Trump the white working class. In a way, just as Labour in Australia have lost touch with their core constituencies, the Democrats have lost touch with theirs (though I have always envisaged the while working class voting Republican while the latte sipping intellectuals of the cities voting Democrat).

The question that is raised is how much of his rhetoric is Trump intending on following through with - sure Obama campaigned on closing Guantanamo and ending the wars, however America is still at war in the Middle East and Guantanamo is still operating. However it seems that Trump may not actually follow through with his promises, such as kicking Muslims and Mexicans out of the United States, or imposing tarrifs on imported goods. Let us consider a couple of these for a moment.
Mexicans: the one thing that comes to mind when people talk about Trump it is the idea of building a wall between the United States and Mexico, and making Mexico pay for it. Personally, I don't think this is going to happen, and Mexico is already saying that they will refuse to pay for it. Seriously, short of military intervention, how is Trump going to force the Mexican government to pay for this wall - send them the bill? Take them to court? As for Mexican immigrants, or illegals that some Americans I have spoken to have referred to them - considering that they are an important part of the American economy I don't see them being kicked out anytime soon, especially due to their role in the agricultural and domestic service industry. Sure, they may be stealing jobs, but that is because they are willing to accept much less, and work much longer hours, than the average American, which means that they are a much more attractive workforce than legal American citizens.

Globalisation: Another thing is the suggestion that Trump will tear up the trade treaties that have cost Americans jobs, and to impose tarrifs on imported goods. Well, considering most goods are now imported, and a bulk of them coming from China, I don't see that happening either. The problem is that these goods are cheap, and as soon as you start smacking tarrifs on them the price of these goods suddenly go up. The idea of tarrifs was to protect the domestic industries, and to make goods manufactured at home as competitive as those manufactured in countries where the cost of production was much lower. The problem arises when there is no domestic industry to protect, which means that the end cost of the products suddenly go up. Also, if Trump were to impose tarrifs on imported goods you will find other countries doing the same.

Sure, there is this faint hope that maybe he will start tearing up these trade treaties that have resulted in a lot of hardship and suffering from many around the world, but I have a feeling this is not going to happen - Trump doesn't seem to care about people outside the United States, only those inside - the idea of tearing up these treaties is a question of jobs and growth, not human rights, intellectual property, and having the freedom to pirate A Game of Thrones without fear of being sued for doing so. In the end Trump is a businessman and if there is one group that you can be assured that he will be looking after only one group - business men.

Cleaning Up Washington: Well, I think it is pretty evident that this was one massive furphy that Trump trooted out on the campaign trail. In a way is sounds like John Howard's (a former Australian Prime Minister) concept of the core and the non-core policies - that is the ones that are kept and the ones that are discarded. However, the thing is that you aren't actually told with promises are core and which promises are non-core until after the election (though it is quite clear, as Tony Abbott found out, that people generally don't buy that argument). However, Trump allegedly claimed that he would crack down on lobbyist access to the president and for staffers becoming lobbiests for a time after leaving government service. Well, it seems as if that isn't happening, especially since his staff is now being packed full of lobbyists.

Locking Up Hillary: I suspect that this had a lot to do with the emails, however the suggestion is that he won't be doing that now, not that him making that suggestion was actually a good, or comforting, thing. Apprently the backflip is that he is now going to leave it up to the justice system to deal with Hillary, and the FBI have since indicated that they won't be pressing charges regarding the emails. Mind you, I'm not at all that familiar with the contents, or the whole issue, with the emails, however if the Democrats are going to claim that it was the whole email scandal that cost them the election then they may need to sit down and do a bit more soul searching.

In fact, there are suggestions that he may have already started backtracking on quite a few of his promises and showing a different side now that he is president than when he was on the campaign trail. Remember, Trump was one of the key figures behind the birther movement, but all of a sudden, when he is sitting in the Oval Office with Barrack Obama, he now calls him a 'good man'. There is even a suggestion that he won't be repealling Obama care. Okay, there is a difference between what is said on the campaign trail and what is done in reality, but it appears that the Trumpet has taken this to a new level - as if he will say anything to get elected, but have no intention whatsoever of following through with any of his promises.

Response from the Left

Once again the Left and the Right are butting heads, but this is the nature of the polarisation of our society. When the Supreme Court ruled in favour of Gay Marriage there was an outcry against the Left's 'softness' and the fact that they burst into tears every time somebody says something even mildly offensive. However, the question of offense is always going to be a difficult one to address - where do you draw a line between 'toughen up and get over it' and 'I'm sorry, I probably shouldn't have said that'. In reality it is actually a very, very fine line, and I can see issues on both sides of the fence. Sure, I agree that it is wrong to persecute the LGBT community, but what about when the court rules against a baker that refuses to bake a wedding cake for an LGBT wedding? In a way the left is getting up in arms over this, but when it comes to boycotting Israel because of their actions in Palestine then it is okay (and note that it is actually illegal in England to boycott Israel). 

The same is the case with companies - when the Conservative government was elected in Australia one of their plans was to make boycott's illegal. This sort of flies in the face of free trade, and also raises the question of what is actually a boycott. The thing is that if I have a company that refuses to do business with another company for whatever reason I shouldn't then be compelled by the government to do business with this company - it goes against the principle of free trade. Okay, there are some professions, such as the legal profession, where you aren't allowed to refuse to represent somebody on the grounds of ethics, but that has more to do with giving people equal access to justice as opposed to forcing somebody to bake a cake, or to purchase our uniforms off of a known human rights abuser.

Yet the Right are making accusations against the Left for being cry babies because their candidate didn't win. Well, as it turned out their candidate lost back in July when Clinton took the Democratic nomination, and many of them gritted their teeth and voted for the candidate that they didn't really like. However, we must remember that for eight years Obama has been facing an incredibly obstructionist Republican party who refused to compromise on anything (in much the same way that the Conservatives in Australia, who are held hostage by a handful of extreme right wing politicians, refused to compromise on anything the Labor Party proposed). However, when the tide has turned there is an automatic expectation that we 1) give this particular person a go and 2) seek to find a common ground. Well, as it turns out, the common ground where it comes to most politicians (and politically active people) is my way or the highway - I have seen this time and time again, in both the left and the right, that I really don't want to indentify with any of them.

What Can We Expect

Personally, more of the same. Okay, the left aren't going to be happy, and they will be out in the streets protesting pretty much everything he does - but then again Obama faced the same opposition throughout his presidency. As for Trump, sure, there is going to be this short term ethusiasm from the white supremecists and the extreme right wing of the nation, as well as a surge of nationalism, but I wouldn't expect all that much to change (with the exception of a shift the right right in economic and domestic policies). Sure, he campaigned on getting rid of Obamacare, but it now seems as if this may not eventually happen (though I have to admit my ignorance on the way Obamacare works). In a way I am expecting to see something similar to the Regan Administration where Regan was basically the figurehead and the country was run by his advisors.

Then again isn't this what the President supposed to be in reality - a figurehead. Sure, he signs off on laws but in the end it is his advisors that make the decisions and the recommendations, and in many cases the President simply goes along with them - he did pick them, and there is a pretty good reason why he would have picked them - they know what they are doing and they agree with him. In a way the President is not much different to being the CEO of a major corporation, something that Trump is. Okay, there is the political storm that one needs to navigate, but in many ways there is little difference between that and big business.

Look, I am no fan of Trump, and I am certainly no fan of his extreme right wing, mysoginistic, racists comments such as 'grab them by the pussy'. In fact that is the one thing that stands out about this guy - his incredinly chavinist attitude towards women, as if they were little more than an object for his enjoyment. Mind you, some have suggested that Tony Abbott was Australia's version of George W Bush, but in reality, compared to Tony Abbott, George Bush was actually a half decent person (even though I didn't agree with a lot of his policies). However, it seems as if, instead of us following America's lead, America is following our lead, particularly since Tony Abbott is known for his constant attacks against Julia Gillard, Australia's first female Prime Minister, and comments such as 'ditch the witch'. Mind you, the amount of crap that Julia had to put up with as Prime Minister was amazing, and is a testiment to her ability to stick it out.

Creative Commons License

Playing the Trump Card 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

Sunday, 6 November 2016

Ajax in Iraq

While I have been to a few shows at the Adelaide Fringe Festival, in my mind it is more of a two week party than a showcase of theatrical performances that are generally not picked up by the mainstream theatre (or are simply so amateurish that the mainstream won't touch them). From what I recall of my time in Adelaide the Fringe basically consisted of an opening parade, the Garden of Unearthly Delights which was little more than a number of bars, a Ferris wheel, and tents where you will encounter the weird and wonderful. Mind you, as the Fringe has grown in popularity, so have the number of areas that are attempting to mimic the Garden of Unearthly Delights.

While I may have had a lot of fun over my time at the Adelaide Fringe Festival, the Melbourne Fringe tends to come and go without me actually realising that it is on. Maybe this has something to do with Melbourne being the cultural capital of Australia, and their Fringe Festival is just one of the many annual events (such as the Comedy Festival, the Spring Racing Carnival, and of course the Grand Final Public Holiday). It could also be that it coincides with the Footy Finals which means that people are more interested in the bread and circuses that happen to be sports as opposed to what amounts to amateur theatrical productions. Actually, when I come to think of it, those who happen to be interested in theatrical productions tend not to be all that interested in sport, and vice versa. So, maybe it is that, unlike the Adelaide Fringe, the Melbourne Fringe simply isn't mainstream.

However, as I was sitting in a pub waiting for friend to bring me a beer I found a magazine sitting on the table in front of me which was outlining the various productions that were currently on. Being somewhat curious (though not expecting all that much) I decided to have a look through it, just in case something caught my eye. As it turned out, after posting a review of Julius Caesar on my Facebook page, one of the followers made mention of a production of Julius Caesar that was on at the Frige. Unfortunately it seems that I missed it, however what I didn't miss was a modernised production of Sophocles' Ajax. Actually, as soon as I discovered that there was a performance of Ajax on I pretty much cancelled my plans for Sunday night and made sure that I was there as the doors opened.

A Greek Tragedy

Okay, maybe if it happened to be a Shakespearian play people might have an idea as to what the plot was, however since it is Ancient Greek more likely than not the average punter has no idea what it is about. Sure, they may have heard of the Trojan War, or Achilles, and Odysseus, but they probably have no context whatsoever to put them in. Sure, the story of the wooden horse that was placed outside the gates, that happened to be loaded full of Greek Soldiers, and was brought into the city in the belief that it was a gift from the Greeks to say sorry for laying siege to their city for ten years. As it turned out, it wasn't a gift, but a trap, and during the night the Greek soldiers hidden in the horse crept out, opened the gates, and a mass slaughter ensured. It is from this event that the term 'beware of Greeks bearing gifts' originated.

However the story of Ajax, or Aias as is known in the Greek (Ajax is his Latin name, and for some reason seems to remind me of a cleaning fluid, namely because there happens to be a cleaning fluid named Ajax) occurs a little before the trick with the horse, though a short while after the Iliad, namely after Achilles was killed. The thing with Achilles was that he was supposed to be immortal as his mother had dipped him in a river as a child, however his invulnerabity didn't include his ankle since that was where his mother held him when he was dipped in the river (which is interesting because there is a similar thing with Sigfried from the Nibelungenlied). Actually, this whole story about the heal is actually a later addition because there is no mention of the heal, or Achilles' invulnerability, in the Illiad.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, Achilles is killed when Paris hits him with an arrow. The legend has it that the arrow hit him in the heal, but it could simply be that Paris got a lucky shot, maybe in the neck, since I am still trying to work out how somebody can actually be killed by an arrow in the heal. So, many of us have probably heard of how Achilles died, but the play Ajax is about what happened afterwards - the thing is that Achilles was a pretty powerful soldier, and his armour was pretty impressive, and when he died his armour was up for grabs and the two front runners were Ajax and Odysseus. The thing with Ajax is that he is your typical soldier - a grunt. He is good at what he does, that is killing people, but when it comes to interacting with others be basically sucks (a lot like me in some ways). However Odysseus is famous for his guile and his trickery, and when Achilles' armour comes up for grabs, Odysseus is able to sway the audience over to his side, thus leaving Ajax out in the cold.

However, all of this happens before the play begins because the bulk of the play deals with Ajax's response to what he sees as a betrayal. When he discovers that the armour has been awarded to Odysseus he flies into a fit of rage and goes and seeks out those who he believed betrayed him to kill them. However, Athena clouds his mind and instead of killing Agamemnon and his ilk, ends up killing a bunch of sheep and goats. Still, this doesn't go down all that well, particularly since these sheep and goats aren't there for decorations - they are the army's food supplies. The play then focuses on Ajax's guilt and torment, which eventually leads to his death (by his own hards). Yes, I know that may sound like a spoiler, but when we realise that the original audience already knew the story, the fact that I told you that Ajax kills himself is a moot point - the play wasn't about what happens at the end, because the audience already knows what happens, it is about how we get to that point.

A Modern Interpretation

One of the big problems with staging Ancient plays in the modern period is that not many people actually know anything about them. Sure, I have seen a production of Antigone, but that wasn't a production that stuck close to the original play but rather one that took a modern twist. The thing with Greek plays, and in fact with any plays, is that they can be rather expensive to run. For instance, the Greek plays would have what is known as a Chorus, which could be anywhere of up to fifty actors who would sing and provide commentary on the story. The problem these days is that most companies that are willing to stage a Greek play simply could not afford a Chorus, and even if they could they certainly would end up running at a loss - fifty actors, even if they are little more than extras, are still pretty expensive. As such most modern productions tend to dispense with the chorus, or if they do use them they only have a handful of actors (this version of Ajax had no Chorus and only four actors).

The other thing is that many of us aren't all that familiar with Greek history and culture. Sure, we may have heard of the Trojan War, but in a lot of cases that is probably thanks to Brad Pitt. We have probably also heard of the Greek Gods, but once again we can probably thank Clash of the Titans for that, and even then Clash of the Titans is definitely not faithful to the original story (and it doesn't even have anything to do with the Trojan War - it is the story of Perseus and Andromeda).  Okay, I probably shouldn't knock Troy because I thought that it was actually a pretty cool movie, but the thing is that it only gives us a glimpse, and a rewritten glimpse at that, into the world of the Ancient Greeks.

However, what is particularly noticeable is that while the action, and the setting, may be thousands of years from our own time, the themes behind the play are just as relevant to the world we live in today, particularly when we are talking about life in the military. I have actually read a couple of books where the authors have taken Ancient Greek stories, in particular the Iliad and the Odyssey (as well as Heracles Furens), and extrapolated them to help us understand that the struggle of the Ancient Greek Warrior is the same as the struggles our soldiers face today.

This is probably why the play was not only set in the contemporary period, but why the director suggested that the action occurred in Iraq (and interestingly there is a play doing a circuit of the United States called Ajax in Iraq). It is interesting that most of the dialogue occurs between Ajax and Tecmesa, who not only happens to be Ajax's wife, but also a native Trojan. Like the Greeks at Troy, who took Trojan wives, soldiers in Vietnam would take Vietnamese woman as wives (or simply concubines). Honestly, I am not so sure if the same thing happened in Iraq, but it certainly happened not just in Vietnam, but wherever troops were deployed - while the women apparently started off as prostitutes, in a number of cases the relationships would end up growing a lot deeper. What I thought was a really good aspect of the play was how Tecmesa prayed on the Muslim prayer mat at the beginning, and the end, of the play.

Yet the director tried to keep as much of the original as possible. Sure Ajax carried a modern assault rifle, and Odysseus carried a modern pistol, but they constantly referred to the region that they were stationed in as Asia (even though these days we would refer to it as the Middle East, or more specifically Turkey because I don't envisage Turkey as being in the Middle East). The thing is that in the Greek World it was the Mediterranean (or Middle Earth) sea that was the centre of the world - everything to the north was Europe, everything to the South was Africa, and everything to the East was Asia. As we are well aware this division has remained with us to the present time.

Understanding PTSD

Back in university I studied the Greek Tragedies, and took a specific subject that looked at the Greek and Roman writers. During my studies Ajax was one of the plays that I looked at, and I have to admit that I loved it from when I was first exposed to it. In a way it follows Aristotle's rules of tragedy to a tea - it sticks with the unity of time and place, and Ajax is the classic tragic hero with a fatal flaw. Not only that but the play ends badly, really badly, for all involved. Sure, this modern version has Odysseus comfort the mourning Tecmessa and her child, but what we are seeing is the play being brought into the modern world - in the world of the Ancient Greeks people who weren't Greeks simply didn't have any identity in their world.

However, the thing that struck me with this play was how well Sophocles understood the nature of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. What we have is Ajax's honour being undermined, and in a fit of rage launches an assault against those who he believed undermined his honour. The interesting thing (and I am a lot more specific in my Goodreads review because I wrote that back when I was working in Personal Injury) is that we see Ajax's descent into depression that ultimately results in him killing himself. However, while it is placed in the context of a war, and of a soldier who has given his all and is not rewarded as such, it could be viewed in many other ways as well.

The thing with these Greek plays is that we are dealing with the officers of the army as opposed to the ordinary soldier. Mind you, in the world of the Ancient Greeks everybody would end up in the army, especially if you were either Spartan or Athenian. The Spartan society was geared entirely towards war and all Spartan citizens were effectively trained as special forces soldiers - if you couldn't handle the training, which involved being cast out of the city as a child to survive against the forces of nature, then you were not worthing of being a citizen of Sparta. With the Athenians it was a lot different - the Athenians had a democratic society and its citizens were free to pursue their own goals. However, that didn't mean that you were excused from playing your part in the wars. The thing with Athens (and pretty much all of the other cities in Greece) was that they didn't have a standing army. In fact, with the exception of Sparta, standing armies simply did not exist. If an army was needed then the ordinary citizens were called upon to play their part. However the catch was that the ordinary citizen needed to also provide their own weapons and armour, which means that the poorer segments of society would end up rowing boats.

The point that I am raising here is that war was a natural part of the Ancient Greek's life (and more so the Ancient Athenians, particularly since this play was performed in front of a bunch of Athenians). In fact, the world in which we live, in which very few, if any, of us actually join the army, let alone see action, much of what goes on in this play, and many others, would probably go over our heads. The thing is that we live in a society that is effectively at peace, and even if there is conscription (which there isn't, and will unlikely appear in the future since any government that attempts to introduce it is doomed to spend the next number of years in the political wilderness), most of us would never see action, especially in the world of remote controlled dromes. 

However, in the world of the Ancient Greeks this was not the case - if you were at war, and you were young, and male, then you would be expected to fight. Sure, many historians make mention that World War I was the first instance of total war, but in reality back in the world of the Ancient Greeks, if you were at war then the entire society was at war - there was no escape from it. Even though it has been over half a century since our entire society has been mobilised for war, and the only wars that we have fought since the end of World War II have basically been bush wars at the fringes of our empire. This wasn't the case with the Greeks - each generation had their own wars, and everybody experienced the tragedy, and the horror, or war, and needed a way to be able to deal with it - this is where the tragedies came to in to play - they existed to help the returned soldiers deal with the horror of war.

Modern War

I want to finish off here with a quick discussion of weapons. In the play we had what in effect was action in the modern Middle East with assault rifles and improvised explosive devices. Back in the days of Sophocles it was much different - swords, shields, and arrows. Battle back then was up close and personal, and a lot less mobile. Armies would meet on the battlefield and slug it out manno-a-manno. You knew who your enemy was, and you knew who your friends were. However these days it is much different, and I am not talking about our experiences in World War II, I am speaking about Iraq. Here we don't know who the enemy is, we don't know where the trap is being laid - every step outside of the camp is dangerous. Further more this isn't the case where the camp is safe and the outside is dangerous - even the camp in dangerous.

I paid particular attention to the events that occurred in Iraq, partly because I considered that it was a really, really bad idea that we went in there in the first place. While at first it seemed like we had won, it pretty quickly degenerated into an insurgent war. In a way this is exactly what happened in Vietnam - in fact Iraq was almost a rerun of Vietnam, with the major exception that when we pulled out of Vietnam the region stabilised to an extent. This hasn't happened in the Middle East because our intervention in Iraq resulted in the Arab Spring, which has effectively completely destabilised the region, and all we need to do is look at the never ending war in Syria and the rise of ISIS as evidence of this.

However, this version of Ajax was clearly set in the Middle East, even though the suggestion is that we were still in Anatolia. In the original play Ajax kills himself, however in this play his death is left up in the air. Sure, we see Ajax shoot himself in the chest, but this isn't the end - Odysseus is then left to determine the cause of his death, and there is a suggestion that they believe that he was killed by an enemy sniper - we were told that they were lurking in the area. Okay, he finally works out that he actually shot himself, but he doesn't actually reveal that to anybody - in a way a death by sniper is much more honorable than suicide.

Anyway, I wish to finish off by making mention that as a performance this was really, really good. While they had diverged somewhat from the original play, and modernised the language quite a lot, they maintained the original themes and the idea of the dishonoured soldier and the fact that the Greeks understood quite clearly the nature of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Creative Commons License 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