Paxman documentary attempts nationalist whitewash

Rah Rah Britain. God save the Empire. God save the King

Rah Rah Britain. God save the Empire. God save the King

It’s the 100 anniversary of WW1. A conflict that did more to shape the world we live in today than any other single conflict or event in the last century. Possibly even the last half a millennium. WW1 deserves to be remembered and discussed. Lessons should be learned from it.

Before going onto the discuss the documentary I should probably just express my own understanding of WW1. I enjoy reading about history. I have read enough about the subject to get a somewhat detailed but in no way expert idea of it. WW1 was on balanced caused by German’s who wanted to the war and they should bare a lot of responsibility for it. There were however, perfectly valid reasons for Germany’s actions in triggering the war. British politician’s going back to the 1890s deserve blame for the decisions they made that stoked the fires of the conflict.

So in general Germany did want the war to get ‘a place in the sun’ but there is enough blame and incompetence with the Russian, French and British leadership to show them as the upper class insular twits that they were. Now onto the documentary.

Jeremy Paxman’s documentary is a complete failure to analyse and understand WW1. It is an attempt at an historical whitewash. It is inaccurate and grating. Let’s begin with the presentation of the program starting with the music.

The music sweeps from being triumphalist when Britain is going well to being downbeat when it is feels a more sombre moment is called from. It is blatant emotional manipulation. It is stomach churning. It is like this supposedly serious documentary has been scored by John Williams.

Now lets turn to Paxman himself. He is an excellent quiz show presenter on University Challenge and interviewer for Newsnight. His strength is his sneering put downs and sarcastic quips. Shorn of this for his documentary narration skills his delivery is poor. Although I am sure he is sincere he seems unable to convey this to the camera. Added to this is the fact that he is not a professional historian or even lover of WW1 history and boy does this fact show.

Britain is painted as hapless victim. The show accepts that Britain had the “greatest empire the world has ever seen” but still paints us as the plucky underdogs who had never fought a war anywhere. There is some truth to this narrative in terms of the size of the BEF compared to Germany’s force at the outbreak of war, but this fact is grossly and distortingly overplayed.

hardcore historyIt is important to remember that the BEF were the only wholly professional force at the outbreak and that the defensive was king in this war. These factors allowed the BEF to punch above its numbers. If you want to find out more about this I would recommend Dan Carlin’s ongoing series on WW1 which makes this Paxman documentary look like it was made by a child.

The show focuses on the drive to recruit volunteers to the the army. It paints this in gloriously patriotic terms. The men who signed up were patriots. At no point however, does Paxman look at how this patriotism was being manipulated. Streets were cornered off for recruitment and bands played. The establishment was recruiting cannon fodder by putting on a show. Paxman fails to investigate how this was done and what were the motives of the authorities that did so. He doesn’t do this because it is ‘A’ to clever for this show and ‘B’ might present the British establishment in a less than glowing light.

The low point of the show is the description of Lord Kitchener as an “intensely moral man”. Kitchener spent his military career killing off ‘natives’ in colonial wars and believed in ‘the white mans burden’ and such racist nonsense. He cannot by any modern standard be described as “intensely moral”. He is also the idiot who came up with the idea of ‘pal’s battalion’ to increase recruitment, because why not kill off as many member of one community together all at once. The show of course fails to examine the concept of “Pal’s battalions” in any seriousness.

I will give some credit to the show though. The photography of WW1 it uses is top notch. It did give a sense of the times. It was clear that the full weight of the BBC was behind its production. It also showed me just how much like Lord Kitchener Stephen Fry’s Blackadder looked. Their mustaches really did match. So bravo Stephen Fry.

Also the coverage of the shelling of the coast of Britain by the German Navy was something I had never heard of. It’s just a shame that Paxman and the BBC didn’t put the materials to better use.

If you want an interesting and thoughtful pop culture examination of WW1 try both the podcasts ‘When Diplomacy Fails’ and Dan Carlin’s “Hardcore History”. Both of these are more accurate, balanced and interesting than the jingoistic nonsense that the BBC has put out in this documentary.

Sadly, I fear this documentary has set the tone for the £50 million plus that has been green lit to remember WW1.

2 out of 5 stars (It only gets 2 stars for the excellent original pictures used)

Things to look forward to in 2014

With 2014 just starting off I thought I would take this opportunity take a look at the TV, films and books coming out in the next twelve months that I am really looking forward to.

Harry Dresden is back

It was almost 12 months ago exactly that I first started to read Jim Butcher’s fantastic Dresden Files. So engrossed was I in the world of the Chicago wizard that I raced through all 14 books in about three weeks.

Its fair to say that I am looking forward to the next book Skin Game. I would be excited for a new Dresden book regardless but the plot details we have sound (and I don’t use this word lightly) awesome.

The plot details are as follows according to Jim Butcher’s site

Harry Dresden, Chicago’s only professional wizard, is about to have a very bad day….

Because as Winter Knight to the Queen of Air and Darkness, Harry never knows what the scheming Mab might want him to do. Usually, it’s something awful.

He doesn’t know the half of it….

Mab has just traded Harry’s skills to pay off one of her debts. And now he must help a group of supernatural villains—led by one of Harry’s most dreaded and despised enemies, Nicodemus Archleone—to break into the highest-security vault in town so that they can then access the highest-security vault in the Nevernever.

It’s a smash-and-grab job to recover the literal Holy Grail from the vaults of the greatest treasure hoard in the supernatural world—which belongs to the one and only Hades, Lord of the freaking Underworld and generally unpleasant character. Worse, Dresden suspects that there is another game afoot that no one is talking about. And he’s dead certain that Nicodemus has no intention of allowing any of his crew to survive the experience. Especially Harry.

Dresden’s always been tricky, but he’s going to have to up his backstabbing game to survive this mess—assuming his own allies don’t end up killing him before his enemies get the chance….

Yep, I will be reading this the moment it comes out.

Interesting Sci-fi movies

The last few years have included a lot of really dumb and bad sci-fi movies like Transformers and Looper. 2014 looks like it might be something of a sea-change as post-inception and cloud atlas film makers attempt for expansive and interesting science fiction movies.

The Wachowski Siblings have got ‘Jupiter Ascending’ out this year. I’ve really enjoyed their previous work (The Matrix Trilogy, Cloud Atlas) and the Jupiter Ascending trailer looks interesting.

Along with Jupiter Ascending is ‘Transcendence’ directed by Wally Pfister of Batman fame and Christopher Nolan’s ‘Interstellar‘ and the new X-Men. It could be a banner year for sci-fi films despite the upcoming new Transformer Blockbuster.

Archer Season 5

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If you’ve read me review of the book ‘How to Archer’ you will know I’m a huge Archer fan. The new series should be hilarious. Although my comic con spies tell me that the cast and writers are promising something different from previous seasons. I’ve got Kenny Loggins on speed dial cos they might be about to enter the DANGERZONE.

Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History

Carlin’s Hardcore History is easily the best podcast/history related program that is going. So well researched and large are his episodes that they are essentially audiobooks. He still manages around five a year however which is pretty good. The next one cannot come soon enough.

The World Cup

I’m a big football fan. The World Cup is a once every four year opportunity to watch lots of high quality football. Please don’t humiliate us England.

Lastly more posts on this blog.

Let the craziness begin!

When football clubs get new owners get new owners its a bit like royalty in the old days. For every Elizabeth I or Charlemange there is an incompetent Edward the Confessor or a bat-shit crazy Caligula. As Dan Carlin of the Hardcore History podcast pointed out in his latest episode it makes for interesting history even if you wouldn’t want to be personally involved. On a much smaller scale (almost, some might say, less important scale) this isn’t too dissimilar to football chairman. For every Sir Jack Hayward or Oil billionaire there is a Venky family. And whilst you wouldn’t want the latter people within a solar system of your own beloved team seeing them in charge of someone else’s club has a car crash can’t look away quality.

This season there have been hints at the crazy owner dynamic at work. Mike Ashley hiring Mr Kinear and thus putting a really professional face on the club. Cardiff’s owner changing the team colour (technically last season) and making a 23 year old friend of his son assistant manager. Hull’s owner seeking to change the name of his team. For sheer stupidity and consequence nothing so far will beat Fulham and there new owner Mr Shahid Khan making Rene Meulensteen head coach alongside of Martin Jol! Fulham’s new owner had two choices stick by Jol or get rid of him. Sacking Mr Jol may well have been a mistake (although he deserves it in my opinion) but at least it would have been decisive. A bold move to clear out the deadwood and start again. Especially since the new guy, Rene Meulensteen, is a top quality coach with bags of experience coaching in the premier league. As good a choice for a manager as is possible for Fulham to make.

On the other hand sticking with Jol could have had an upside. Afterall they are only in the relegation zone on goal difference and only a quarter of the season has gone. They are not yet detached from the pack like Palace are. Jol could have turned things around there is plenty of time. Like sacking Jol keeping him in charge was a perfectly acceptable choice. Keeping him and hiring Muelensteen as head coach alongside him was not however a good choice it blunts the benefits of either choice of action. The old regime is still there stopping any new manager bounce but the new guy also undermines the old regime betraying the advantages of stability. Simply put no one will know who is in charge. Who picks the team? Who do I go to to ask questions? The whole thing is a mess and just like when such a system was tried at Liverpool with Evans and Houiller it will end in disaster. Jol will now certainly depart the club but that event will now take longer wasting precious time that Fulham cannot afford. This decision may just have relegated Fulham. What is worse I’m not sure that the new owner will be willing to invest the time, money and effort to get them win promotion back.

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