Archive for January 20th, 2009

20
Jan
09

Do they annoy people just for fun?

The social welfare office has been dicking me around again. When I went to collect the dole today the lady in the post office told me there’s no money there for me. So off I goes to the office to see what’s what.

Apparently there was some complication with my file during the week. They lost some letter they were supposed to have, but this wasn’t a major issue, they said, the money was sent out. “Well, tell that to the girl in the post office,” says I. “No, you don’t understand,” replies the woman (who I must admit was quite nice about it), “it’s been sent to a different post office.

So, for no real reason and without feeling the need to tell me, these guy saw fit to send my payment to a different post office. I mean, why? Do they do these things for a laugh? Maybe they think I need the exercise. God knows what part of north Dublin my payment will be in next week.

20
Jan
09

The first tragedy that matters, at least

The front page of today’s Irish Daily Mail really irked me quite a bit. I found the declaration that the suicide of Patrick Rocca is the first tragedy of the recession quite insulting. Now I don’t wish to make light of anyone’s suicide, or add to the pain of the families who have to deal with it, but I find it hard to believe that The Daily Mail has investigated every suicide in recent months and concluded this was the first one that was a result of the recession.

I say this with some certainty as a friend of my father, a man very popular in the town I grew up in, hanged himself shortly before Christmas. Of course it’s wrong of me to guess why he did this (there were money issues, but other issues too), but the Mail is equally wrong is this regard, and it seems perverse to me that the death of my dad’s friend can be disregarded so easily. Mr Rocca’s death may have put Ireland’s “business and social elite in shock”, but that doesn’t make it any more important.

There is also the issue of how the way this was reported will affect those close to Patrick Rocca. When I was in college I was told the way to report suicide was to publish the details without including the victim’s name. I believe this is what various suicide agencies ask of the media. Of course this was not possible in Mr Rocca’s case, being the public icon that he was, but I think the Mail could have shown a lot more consideration than to publish the story as a full front-page splash.

20
Jan
09

Battlestar Galactica and the Gilded Age of American Television

Tonight Sky One begins broadcasting the second half of the final season of Battlestar Galactica. I’m a huge fan of this programme and I’ve been looking forward to this for months. There are many reasons why I love it, but chief among them I think is that it’s the one sci-fi show that stands up with the so called Gilded Age of American Television.

Television – particularly American television – was at one time considered the lowliest entertainment medium. Critics like Mark Kermode could freely admit they ignored the medium altogether. Then The Sopranos came along and suddenly TV realised it was allowed to be brilliant. It was followed by such sublime wonders as The West Wing, The Wire and Six Feet Under, the latter being a show I truly loved despite my desire to hate anything Alan Ball is involved with (American Beauty was unwatchable to me). These shows easily matched and in some instances surpassed the flair and style of their counterparts in film, while their serial nature allowed a level of characterisation previously reserved for literature. This was the culture to which Battlestar Galactica attached itself, and unfortunately no other sci-fi programme has seen fit to follow suit.

Instead sci-fi television has become preoccupied with hi-concept nonsense involving one central plot arc that envelope the entire series. This format was pioneered by 24, becoming standard with the success of the unnecessarily perplexing Lost and the downright awful Heroes (sorry, Heroes fans, but the whole things is basically a Marvel comic without costumes). The attraction of these shows is that they generate a lot of water-cooler/internet-forum chatter, making them much easier to market. Of course BSG too has all these elements, what with its “who’s human and who’s Cylon” baitings and the almost eternal mystery of what condition will Earth be in when and if it’s found (as it turns out, bloody awful). The difference is that BGS didn’t do this at the expense of real, self-contained drama. Each episode is fully fleshed out and stands up on it own (except for one or two duds), rarely feeling like it’s going through the motions.

Of course when discussing BGS one must look at its frolicking with allegory. With the military-industrial humans and the evil religion-bent cylons, the show is obviously trying to say something about the war on terror. However, much like The West Wing, Battlestar Galactica is fully committed to avoiding easy solutions. These allagorical roles are often muddied and occasionally even completely reversed. For instance, when Admiral Cain turn up she served to highlight the worst excesses of Neocon dogma. And the episodes set on New Caprica, where the put-upon humans resorted to using suicide bombers against their occupying cylon forces, were such a naked critique of the Iraq war that they might as well have called it New Fallujah

The visual effects also deserve a mention. The centurion cylons may look a little plastic, but the battle scenes are simply gorgeous and are equal to the best that Hollywood can deliver. For example, this (ok, the shitty Youtube video doesn’t do it justice, but you get the idea). What I love most about this particular episode is the almost incidental way the battle takes place. Despite the beauty of the visuals, it’s merely a side-story. The real tension of this episode is the deathly battle of wits between the two captains. It sums up why I love Battlestar Galactica.

So that’s it. If you’ve nothing else to do I suggest you watch this tonight. You could do a lot worse (like Heroes).