Thursday, May 28, 2015

Drawing a line under the spandex apocalypse - Mad Max: Fury Road

If you like exercises in style, you'll love Mad Max: Fury Road.

I liked it a lot, yet in that difference between like and love lies something I want to talk about.

Like many successful fantasy and science-fiction films - Conan The Barbarian and The Fifth Element spring to mind - Fury Road can be understood as a sort of visual poem.

So much thought has gone into the look of the film that it staggers me. The cinematography, vehicle design, the costumes - the way every character is designed and presented as an archetype from the pages of a graphic novel - all of it is nothing short of brilliant. The same care and attention seems to have gone into someone on screen for 30 seconds as it has to those characters who carry the story forward.

It's very rare that I'll see a film with that level of commitment to an aesthetic and make it work harmoniously, outside of the meticulous replication of the period drama or the complete control offered by animation. And let's mention in passing here that director George Miller was also responsible for both Happy Feet films... 

Avoiding the post-apocalyptic power-trip

Fury Road doesn't reject plot, but sketches it with the clean and simple lines of pulp fantasy and SF. The great thing about pulp is that it tends towards the condition of mythology - great themes like redemption, revenge, competition for resources, tyranny and freedom rise to the surface without needing to be spelled out. And don't challenge the primacy of the visual experience.

It's also to the credit of the script that it avoids the Freudian pitfalls a film depicting the post-apocalyptic power-trips of manly men could so easily fall into. Making Charlize Theron's Imperator Furiosa the real protagonist and rescuer of the villain's chattel-slave wives (who all grasp their own agency over the course of the film) inoculates the film against explicit or implicit misogyny.

Meanwhile, Tom Hardy and the rest of the cast do a tremendous job of suggesting purpose without need for supernumerary dialogue and extensive backstories. The contrast to Avengers: Age of Ultron on all these points is striking.

Drawing a line under the spandex apocalypse

Mad Max began in the shadow of the oil shock - but with every episode the series has moved further away from any loose association with reality into future kitsch. With Fury Road, the latest and greatest installment, some sort of final stylistic yet ultimately hollow destination has been reached.

It could be the best translation to the screen of baroque post-apocalyptic tropes. It might be the most Games Workshop-esque film ever. It's certainly a darn good film. But when all's said and done, Fury Road remains an act of self-cannibalisation, devouring the original trilogy and thirty years of artistic responses in cinema, comics and in games to create a definitive pastiche. 

It might be a breathtaking, brilliant exercise in pastiche, but it's still a pastiche. And in that lies both its limitation. 

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Julien's grassroots social media skill-share

Earlier this week, Julien Pritchard, the Campaign Support Worker for Birmingham Friends of the Earth, ran this rather excellent social media skill-share in his local group.

He's generously given permission for me to post his session plan here, while we think of an opportunity to share it more officially.

All thoughts welcome - especially if you can try it out and feedback your own experiences.

By GoogLiction (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Awful Green Things From Outer Space

From the Bring & Buy sale at Beer & Pretzels, a blast from the Towcester Wargames Club past: Awful Green Things From Outer Space.

And unlike many things from my teenage years, it's just as good as I remembered it. :-)

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

A thirty-seat strategy for environmentalists

This post starts with a disclaimer: I don't do political strategy for Friends of the Earth. But, I do get to think about grassroots organising a lot, and the two areas inevitably interconnect. This blog is also my personal space for thinking out loud, and what I write here is no way an official view from me or my employer. Capiche?

Bearing that in mind, here's a quick suggestion of one way environmentalists might begin to get the issues onto the political agenda over the next five years.

The problem

Whether you're a glass half-full or half-empty person, it's safe to say that the General Election confirmed the view that the environment needs to be higher on the political agenda than it is. Now, this isn't a party political point - in fact it's hard to imagine an election result earlier this month where this didn't hold true. 

And we can all discuss the undeniable merits of ignoring Parliament - at least some of the time - and getting on with making change happen on the ground, man. But I still believe we need, at the very least, the enabling consent of Westminster, its willingness to let a transformation towards a sustainable future happen.

And let's not forget that legislation (and campaigns for legislation) - like The Big Ask and the Climate Change Act - can be game-changing.

A solution

One solution - I freely concede, a very partial one - would be for environmentalists to concentrate some of our grassroots organizing efforts in the areas where MP's (and later, prospective MP's) really need to listen to their public - the most marginal Conservative seats in the country.

Let's say - the top 30 most vulnerable seats, numerically speaking. as a starting point.

That would mean beginning a dialogue with those representatives going forward. Building a body of evidence that their constituents support the environment. Asking them to support local environmental projects and - ultimately - national campaigns.

It implies engaging local political parties, and yes, the local authority too. It would certainly benefit from finding and working with allies so that we can have this conversation with the best, most representative and loudest collective voice we can muster.

The local awareness raising on climate over the next 6 months leading up to the UN climate talks in Paris - that so many organisations support or are involved in - could provide an excellent framework for this. The great thing about this campaign is that it's as strident or as gentle as you want it to be (or your MP can cope with).

And from a grassroots organising perspective, it would of course also means building our strength in those areas. From now.

The seats

A big thanks to super volunteer Mandy Staunton, who pointed me towards this list of marginals here (all the way down to Enfield North - that's your top 30)

There's a good even spread across England and Wales - around half of them in areas where Friends of the Earth - never mind any other group -  already has a known presence. In some, a very strong active presence. In others, people who we can support and nurture. In still others, an opportunity to organise and find new allies.

Doubtless, some of the constituencies might prove unworkable, for political or practical reasons, or perhaps just ill luck. But if we can begin that dialogue, start to shift the political debate in even 20 of those constituencies in the next year, we would have made an investment which we can build on for the rest of the current Government.

As I said at the start - this is just a thought-piece. But it's certainly one on which I'd welcome your thoughts.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Seven alternative election proposals