Scenes from 2017 #1



On realising that Morph is a person of colour


A few months ago, my daughter bought ten episodes of Morph using an Amazon Fire tablet on which I had neglected to apply parental controls. I punished her by forcing her to watch Morph, even when she wanted to watch something else. It was while supervising one of these punitive viewings that I first realised: Morph is a person of colour.

As soon as I saw it, I couldn’t understand how I’d never seen it before. The only colour-related impression I had absorbed from watching Morph as a child was that Chas, Morph’s antagonistic friend, had a sort of sickly pallor.

Which is to say, Chas looks like me, whereas Morph is a rich, orangey brown colour, like Denzel Washington – and so are his grandfather and his friend Delilah. It’s obvious once you see it. They are a predominantly non-white group, with one incorrigible white member who incessantly misbehaves – a dynamic that appeals to me because I’m a white metropolitan self-loathing leftie.

I immediately Googled, “Morph is a person of colour” to see whether Morph’s non-whiteness was common knowledge, but there were no relevant results on the internet, suggesting that I might actually be the first person to notice. 

When my wife got home from work I told her that Morph is a person of colour. She wasn’t convinced. “He’s just clay,” she said, only hesitating when I showed her a picture of Morph standing next to Chas.

I pointed out that Morph isn’t made of clay. He’s made of plasticine, which comes in every colour, meaning that his hue represents a choice made by a person. “Still,” she said, which is code for, “you’re wrong but I can’t be bothered to explain why.”

Resigned to investigating the Morph question alone, I tried to remember how I perceived the character when I was nine. Perhaps I didn’t detect the superficial tonal differences between Morph and Chas because, as a child, I hadn’t been exposed to the wider connotations associated with race in society.

I don’t remember knowing a single non-white child at my primary school in suburban Kent, but according to my Morph thesis it’s perfectly possible that I actually grew up in a vibrant multicultural melting pot and have no memory of this because race is – quite rightly – not worth registering for a child in the way that, say, the ability to draw sharks is (hello Grant Hughes.)

So that’s the explanation for my erstwhile colour-blindness concerning Morph: I watched it before cultural conditioning forced me to perceive race.

Even though noticing that Morph is a person of colour was a clear sign of lost innocence, I was pleased that I had. It made me see the program in a new light. Suddenly Morph was a gently progressive project, depicting characters of all races and types without making their inclusion about race, paradoxically emphasising the irrelevance of skin colour by making it almost impossible to notice, which is how it should be.

Unfortunately, my thesis started to fall apart as soon as I realised that Morph also features a blue character (Gillespie), a character made of tinfoil (Folly), and a dog which is actually a nailbrush. There are no blue or tinfoil humans, allowing for the distinct possibility that the creatures in Morph aren’t supposed to represent real humans at all, even though they are humanoid in appearance.

alienThis would explain why I found Chas mildly nauseating as a child. Morph is the colour of the clay we played with in school, and the clay I dug up at the bottom of my garden. He’s not actually made of clay, but he belongs to a class of mouldable, malleable things of which clay is the archetype. The colour suits him. Chas, on the other hand, is a weird, insipid alien colour that signifies nothing, and alien things are bad (unless, like Gobbledegook – left – they are supposed to be aliens).

Unfortunately, this explanation paints me in rather a bad light. It suggests that as a child I was suspicious of deviation from norms within a category. Just as I spent ten years refusing to eat sausages because I once ate a sausage that tasted slightly different from the other sausages that I had eaten, I unconsciously recoiled from Chas on the grounds that he didn’t look like the idea I had formed in my mind of what a clay person should look like. In other words, I thought like a racist – albeit, in my defence, never about people.

All of which leaves me none the wiser on the question of why I suddenly came to perceive Morph as a person of colour in my late 30s, or why I am evidently the only person to see him this way, though I expect I am unconsciously obeying a tacit instruction by my beloved liberal media to be more mindful about race and diversity.

When I realised that Morph is a person of colour, I interpreted his unacknowledged non-whiteness as a sort of collective racist delusion. People expected a character devised by a white man, appearing on a show in which only white people appear, on a channel overwhelmingly populated by white people, to also be white, and so they assumed he was white in defiance of the visible evidence. I congratulated myself for not falling prey to this delusion.

But you could side with my wife and argue that nobody thought Morph is a person of colour for the same reason that nobody thought Chas is white: because they are both imaginary and made of plasticine.


Julian Assange makes plea for copies of Razzle following internet shutdown

assangeWikileaks founder Julian Assange has made a desperate public plea for copies of Razzle, after losing access to the internet.

Speaking from the balcony of the Ecuadorean embassy in London, Assange called on the public to send him copies of Razzle, Fiesta, and Readers’ Wives to help him survive his toughest test since taking refuge in the embassy four years ago.

Assange’s internet access was removed after he was caught interfering with the US election by leaking information designed to damage the credibility of democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.

“I bitterly reject becoming involved in this attempt to undermine American democracy,” a tearful Assange bellowed from this balcony.

“In fact, I renounce literally everything I’ve ever done that might have contributed to my being cut off from the internet. It wasn’t worth it.”

Onlookers describe a pale, gaunt Assange who seemed on the verge of losing hope. Friends of the Australian fugitive have joined his pleas for issues of Razzle, claiming it may be his last hope of survival.

“Mr Assange has been a very naughty boy,” a consular spokesman said, “and as a result we have restricted his internet access until after the US election.

“But we’re not monsters,” the spokesman added. “We have arranged to provide Mr Assange with a man size box of Kleenex, and will send all his meals to his room and hang a Do Not Disturb sign on his door on the day that his internet access is restored.”

A lame cartoon #71


The playground: a habitat diagram


Saving Private Ryan: the only WWII film in which the Nazis are the good guys

sprSaving Private Ryan is a weird, contradiction-riddled film.

It throws gritty, gut-wrenching realism in its battle sequences together with preposterous Hollywood whimsy in its dialogue and in the psychology of its characters. It shows us how awful war is, but then expects us to believe that Private James Francis Ryan of Iowa would rather continue fighting in one than go home to his bereaved mother.

And, more generally, the whole thing makes no sense. I’m not a military man, but I’ve seen Band of Brothers so I’m pretty much up to speed on most matters of military strategy, and I find it extremely unlikely that somebody as important as a company commander (i.e. the equivalent of Winters in BoB) would be risked on a weird commando mission. Nor do I accept that the army would actually have misplaced Private Ryan so completely. There are radios.

Even Tom Hanks is all wrong in the film. The way the rest of the characters talk about him makes it clear that he’s supposed to be some gruff, forbidding, awesome figure. He’s a super soldier, assembled from GI parts. His background is such a closely guarded secret that his men place bets behind his back on what his civilian job might be.

But also he’s Tom Hanks. Lovely, avuncular, wisecracking Tom Hanks. Not the grim Tom Hanks of Road to Perdition, but the nice Tom Hanks of everything else. His soldiers could just ask him what he used to do for a living – at no point in the film does he come across in a way that suggests he would take offence or withhold the answer.

That’s the weird double-ness of Saving Private Ryan. It’s uncompromisingly gritty and truthful in some respects, but utterly unconvincing and flimsy in others. The overall effect is like watching an episode of Sesame Street filmed in the bad bit of Aleppo.

But the most interesting thing about Saving Private Ryan is that it may be the only film set during the Second World War in which the Germans are incontrovertibly the good guys and the Americans (no other allied nationality is depicted) are the baddies.

This may seem like a surprising assertion, but it is completely correct. Just look at the evidence.

The Germans

There are a number of moments in Saving Private Ryan when you might find yourself getting cross with the Germans. Here are a few of the most obvious ones.

1 – When they subject the Allies to an unrelenting barrage of machine gun, sniper, and mortar fire on Omaha beach.

2 – When a German soldier who was spared execution by Captain Miller (Tom Hanks) then goes on to possibly kill Captain Miller during the final battle.

3 – When a German machine gunner kills Private Wade (Giovanni Ribisi).

4 – When a German SS soldier beats Private Mellish (Adam Goldberg) in a fight and stabs him in the heart with his own knife.

5 – When a German sniper shoots Private Caparzo (Vin Diesel) while he’s holding a little girl and trying to help a family.

6 – When a German machine gunner keeps shooting the runner in the French village even though he’s obviously dead.

And here is why you are wrong to get annoyed with the Germans in each of those cases.

1 – That was their job.

2 – That was his job.

3 – That was his job.

4 – Not only was that his job, but he tried to console Mellish by whispering, “Gib’ auf, du hast keine Chance! Lass’ es uns beenden! Es ist einfacher für dich, viel einfacher. Du wirst sehen, es ist gleich vorbei,” which roughly means, “Give up, let it happen, it will be simpler, you’ll see, it’s nearly over.”

5 – That was his job, and it’s significant that the girl and her family were unharmed.

6 – As Miller himself points out, the shooter must ensure that the messenger is unable to deliver his message. That is his job.

Of course, you can make a sort of overarching argument that ALL of the things done by German soldiers in Saving Private Ryan are evil, since the Germans were fighting for Hitler, but I think this is an unfair generalisation. While many German soldiers, and particularly SS soldiers, must have shared Hitler’s suspicions of the Jews, it would be unreasonable to simply assume that every soldier felt this way. In fact, the only reference to anti-semitism in the entire film is made by an American, Private Mellish (see below.)

I prefer to give people the benefit of the doubt – even German soldiers in the Second World War – but if you like you can chalk ‘being a German soldier’ up as a tally on the ‘evil’ side of the ledger. Even so, that’s 6-1 in favour of ‘not evil’.

The Allies/Americans

Now let’s look at the Allies/Americans. If you watched Saving Private Ryan from the starting assumption that the Germans are the baddies and the Allies are the goodies in the Second World War then it’s possible that you didn’t really register the many war crimes and unspeakable acts committed by the Americans in the film, because you were too busy cheering them on. Here are a few you might have missed:

1 – During the battle at Omaha beach, American soldiers storm the German bunkers at the top of the cliff and clear them with flamethrowers. As the flaming German soldiers hurl themselves over the side and down the cliff, one American soldier says to another, “don’t shoot. Let them burn.”

2 – Shortly afterwards, two American soldiers shoot two Axis soldiers as they desperately try to surrender with their hands up. While rifling through the pockets of the dead soldiers, one American soldier asks the other what the enemy soldiers were saying, and his friend makes a callous joke. In fact, the unfortunate soldiers were trying to tell the Americans that they were Czech conscripts.

3 – In the Normandy village, Sergeant Hill (Paul Giamatti) knocks over a beam, which in turn knocks over a brick wall, revealing a small party of German soldiers who had been hiding. A standoff ensues, during which both sides frantically attempt to negotiate a peaceful outcome. Then Captain Hamill (Ted Danson) appears and simply shoots all of the Germans.

4 – After an assault on a German machine gun post during which Wade is killed, several American soldiers attempt to execute the last surviving German soldier extrajudicially, and are only deterred from this course of action by Miller’s revelation that he usually works as a teacher and doesn’t particularly enjoy being at war.

5 – Corporal Upham (Jeremy Davies) shoots the German soldier whose execution he previously helped to avert after taking him prisoner on the bridge at the end of the film. And then he lets the other prisoners go. WHOSE SIDE ARE YOU ON UPHAM?

6 – Upham fails to intervene during the fight between Mellish and his killer. The German soldier who wins the fight passes the cowering Upham on the stairs, peers shiftily around the corner, and runs off in the direction of the fighting. In the moment it’s natural to attribute the German’s apparent shiftiness to the fact that he has just murdered somebody, but a sober examination of the facts shows that he was simply doing his duty by killing Mellish. He only looks shifty because he should have killed Upham too, and would face a court martial if his clemency were to be discovered.

7 – Mellish taunts German prisoners of war by brandishing his Star of David and saying, “Jude, Jude.” Now, this is a difficult point. There’s no question whatsoever that the Nazi programme was unspeakably awful, but is it fair to just assume that all of the German prisoners were anti-semites? Many of them were probably unwilling conscripts, perhaps with Jewish friends. It’s even possible that the German soldiers themselves had one Jewish parent or grandparent, and it’s equally plausible to suppose that – like the unfortunate capitulaters on Omaha beach – they weren’t even German.

But these are all details. Just as there’s an overarching argument against the Germans because they are putatively fighting for Hitler and his unbelievably evil military aims, there’s a case to be made that the entire mission in Saving Private Ryan is immoral. After all, it’s a story about six people – Miller, Wade, Caparzo, Mellish, Horvath, and Jackson – dying to rescue one person – Private Ryan.

This travesty doesn’t escape the film-makers, who have the central group of characters complain frequently and at length about their predicament. And, for good measure, the moral mathematics of the situation are explored elsewhere, such as when Miller meets a pilot whose plane crashed, killing several, because it was weighed down with a sheet of metal installed to protect a single high ranking officer.

Basically, as depicted in Saving Private Ryan, the American military high command are arseholes.


Whatever way you look at it, the German soldiers are the heroes of Saving Private Ryan. They behave themselves impeccably throughout, only kill when the situation calls for it, rarely fire the first shot, and even show mercy when an enemy soldier is exhibiting signs of emotional distress.

The Americans, conversely, behave like psychopaths. They beat and shoot prisoners of war, cruelly decline to put men who are burning alive out of their misery, make crude generalisations about the racial beliefs of captured German soldiers, and sacrifice several lives for the sake of one for no other reason than crass sentimentality.

The irony is, the Germans actually were the bad guys of the Second World War. Not only was their overall goal deeply iniquitous, but their conduct in Normandy was far more likely to be cruel and barbaric than that of the Allies, who tended on the whole to behave themselves. Saving Private Ryan isn’t even a balanced account, like Band of Brothers was, depicting good and bad behaviour on both sides.

It’s basically a film about Americans being stupid, cowardly, and cruel to a German army that deserves much better. I’m not sure this is intentional.

Elation in Trump camp as groping tape promises to distract from debate performance

trumpDonald Trump’s advisers are reportedly expressing relief ahead of Trump’s second debate with Hillary Clinton, following the timely emergence of a recording in which Trump boasts that his star power enables him to grab women “by the pussy” unchallenged.

There are even suspicions that Trump’s election strategists leaked the tape themselves in a bid to distract the world from the things that Trump is likely to say during the second presidential debate on Sunday night.

Insiders claim that there has been growing alarm at Trump’s preparatory notes, which are written in the candidate’s trademark gold crayon.

“He uses almost no full-stops and a LOT of epithets,” one unnamed adviser lamented. “And there are no, like, spaces between the words, and he doesn’t seem to understand how capital letters work.

“But most of the pages are just drawings,” the adviser added. “He specialises in fighter jets shooting giant women in the tits.”

While the first presidential debate was widely judged to have gone in Clinton’s favour, Trump was able to recover from this by urging his base to watch a nonexistent sex tape featuring an immigrant whom he had previously derided for being overweight.

Trump’s camp is confident that the groping tape – which also features a member of the Bush family because, it is believed, that’s just what Republicans are like – will be sufficiently distracting that only minimal attention will be paid to the many rambling asides and non-sequiturs that Trump is planning to make on Sunday.

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