Tuesday, 5 February 2019

Give me a dirty look so I know you still love me

As the writer of a blog dedicated mostly to Robocop, I have begun to wonder if art is morally neutral.  Specifically, I was thinking about the ethics of consuming art created by bad people after watching the film Bohemian Rhapsody, and I was helped along by a combination of factors such as the still-fresh-in-my-mind recent viewing of the always-watchable Lindsey Ellis' visual essay,  Mel Brooks, The Producers and the Ethics of Satire About Nazis  and the sight of Alistair Campbell yet again trending on Twitter because his moral authority in true Hitler Loved His Dogs And Was A Vegetarian fashion* has been reasserted thanks to his opposition to Brexit and the fact that One Million Dead Iraqis would be harder to interview on The Last Leg - I mean, One Million Dead Iraqis would certainly be funnier than the Last Leg, but having them on would present people in the UK with the difficult mental hurdle of actually acknowledging One Million Dead Iraqis and how they might have become dead in the first place and who might be responsible, so I can understand Channel 4's preference to platform a myopic war criminal instead - Alistair can play the bagpipes, don'tchewknow.  What a delight.
Anyway, the Last Leg, in helping Campbell's rehabilitation, and in satirising people with no platform of their own, and in - I poop you not - causing one of their own fans to have a nervous breakdown after ridiculing her on the show for ascribing the wrong peace award to Jeremy Corbyn**, continue a trend I've been noticing more and more in the media of satire switching its target from the powerful to the powerless.
I suppose I really first dedicated some of my typically Robocop-filled mental real estate to this matter when someone put forward the notion of Black Mirror as the new Twilight Zone and I thought "No, Black Mirror is too dark for that", as Twilight Zone's creator and primary writer, Rod Serling - a fascinating character once lambasted by a  superior officer while on active duty in the Pacific Theater for wandering around daydreaming on an island that was literally half occupied by Japanese soldiers - was an optimist and his darkest tales are cautionary, while Black Mirror's creator, Charlie Brooker, is... well, let's say he is not noted for upbeat delivery or heartwarming moral fables, preferring to make tv shows about how technology and social media in particular is ruining lives and causing the destruction of society, a surprisingly conservative outlook from someone held in quite high esteem by leftists.  Yes, I know, I shouldn't ramble on so much and instead get to the point otherwise it'll just be the Robocop post all over again, but this time it's different because I have clearly written "ethics of consuming art created by bad people" and "modern satire targets the powerless" on a notepad.  I've learned my lesson.  Not enough to write down why these two things are linked, I grant you, so let's hope this post comes together in the end.
Black Mirror is not the new Twilight Zone, because Black Mirror punches down.  The Last Leg also punches down*** (and, y'know, reinforces dominant media narratives even when they are provably false and/or directly harmful to the programme's viewers).  Bohemian Rhapsody is an enjoyable film, but its consumption aids the financial viability of its director, Bryan Singer, whose issues I shall not go into here since they require trigger warnings, and it also glosses over the issue of Queen breaking the cultural embargo on apartheid-era South Africa.
Is it ethical to watch Black Mirror, The Last Leg, or the films of Bryan Singer?  I don't really think I am equipped to answer this in a satisfying way as the solution likely does not involve Robocop, and before you ask: no, my referencing Robocop does not represent an attempt by me to introduce a touchstone element of moral or legal absolutism through which I might unravel this ethical tangle by retreating at the last to the rule of law or societal consensus as the future basis of my actions, I just really like Robocop.

* Hitler wasn't that keen on dogs and wasn't a vegetarian, this was image management - and given people are still banging on about it nearly 74 years later, Hitler clearly had a great PR team and centrists needn't work as hard on his behalf as they currently do.

** But the presenter later apologised... for not getting permission to broadcast the video footage.

*** If I was a better writer, I could figure a way to work into the post how the satire in Robocop targets the excesses of corporatism and consumer culture rather than the populace, but here I am writing this observation in the footnotes like a total chump.

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