Nope. it’s 30 years later. Which, despite being the most logical, inevitable and obvious thing in the world, I never saw coming. Back then it just didn’t seem feasible that the world would reach 2018 at all and (when regarding it in the round) the imminent demise of the planet and human civilization had its pros and cons. Sure, we had all come to enjoy breathing and living but then some of that air was being used up by people like Bros singing ‘I owe you nothing’.
So, swings and roundabouts really. Yes, we were all living with the certainty of eventual incineration by apocalyptic nuclear holocaust but, you know, a world that can produce Die Hard can’t be all bad.
Looking back on it from a distance though 1988 was a very seminal year. Some stuff happened in 1988 that you never noticed at the time even if you had reached an age to give a shit.
Like what, Edison?
I’m glad you asked. Many of you will not remember 1988 in any great detail but you should because 1988 was the year we got the warnings. The faint tremors before the main quakes or, (for film fans) the ripples in the glass before the T-Rex turns up. You will be surprised (I was) to realise that back in 1988 the internet actually existed – The World Wide Web didn’t but the internet did and to celebrate that a guy created the first computer virus. It was called The Morris Worm after its creator and the poor chap had intended to map how big the internet was but only ended up shutting lots of it down for days and weeks. It cost millions.
That one event kinda sets the tone. Was it an existential threat? No, but it wasn’t a step forward either.
Like any year 1988 had its good and bad, mostly bad. If you give a vague description of something that happened that year then you could be talking about most years since.
Massive oil rig disaster – Piper Alpha in the North Sea, 165 lives lost but, you know, Deep Water Horizon and all that.
Plane downed by bomb – assailants unknown – No, not Flight 307, Flight 103 over Lockerbie.
Famous singer dies – in 1988 it was Roy Orbison but there have been a few since.
American politicians mired in scandal over foreign policy (I grant this could be any month not any year but in this case it was Iran/Contra)
A guy called Osama bin Laden started a new band called Al Qaeda. On reflection, bad thing.
But it wasn’t all bad. Or, at least, we didn’t think so at the time. Mikhail Gorbachev instituted an idea called Perestroika and the chances of that atomic annihilation receded somewhat. It led to Glasnost and eventually the Berlin wall coming down.
(In 1988, West Germany was still a thing)
After causing a million deaths the Iran/Iraq war finally came to an end.
The soviets withdrew from Afghanistan and the first episode of Home and Away aired. I will leave you to decide whether these were good or bad.
It all sounds so incredibly distant and yet incredibly familiar at the same time doesn’t it? Even when humanity starts to fix things it just seems to be a precursor to f**king it up in a slightly different fashion.
Case in point – Northern Ireland
This was Northern Ireland in 1988.
I lived in Northern Ireland for a time, slightly before these events, and I remember this one vividly. It faded though as it was subsumed by its own consequences – there were counter attacks, reprisals… it was not good. 10 years after this the Good Friday Agreement was made and now, for the sake of brexit, it is all under threat. Moronic politicians in their London bubble who seem to think of a hard border as a minor inconvenience need to have longer memories. This was not a minor inconvenience. I have visited Northern Ireland since and in a tour around the town the guide stated in bubbly Irish brogue.
“You come at a wonderful time in our history. No one is getting shot these days. it’s brilliant”
This is Dr James Hansen in 1988. He looks a little different now but he is still kicking around to see the fruits of his labour – which I am sure he would love if there were any. What’s he doing here in this photo? He’s telling Congress that climate change is man made and is an existential threat to the planet. Or at least, to the humans and other animals fond of air, water and temperatures lower than Venus. 30 YEARS AGO!
We’ve actually known about global warming for a lot longer than that but this was the first time someone had spelled it out and put the science together in easy to understand language. 30 years and we are in worse trouble.
Why? Because we aren’t very good at seeing the big picture. We aren’t inherently honest with each other or ourselves. And when we do try and be honest people tend to look at us as if we are insane.
Back in 1988 the internet wasn’t ready for Facebook and the only way humans could get a raw and unadulterated look at themselves by shouting at each other was through the only type of social media we had back then. I give you Talk Radio.
Why not have a listen…
There;s a reason we keep saying ‘Same shit, different day’.
I work with young people a lot and some of them have had a pretty rough start in life. I could tell you stories but.. well, those are their stories to tell not mine. The thing is though that whether the young people have had all the advantages in life or not I have noticed a disturbing trend. More and more of them have not seen Star Wars. It used to be that in a class of 30 you would have 16 who had seen Star Wars – and I hate to say this dear reader, but that number has fallen – and it has fallen by a significant amount. We were working in a school in Drumchapel. Glasgow…
To Scottish readers I will not need to say more than Drumchapel. Billy Connolly used to mention it in his set. It was the very epitome of poverty and it is better now… but not that much better.
The class had about 28-30 kids in it. All taught by a young, good-looking Irishman named Michael (obviously) who had made a film with them the year before – and that film had won a prize – we were part of the prize. For a single afternoon we brought along the big cameras and tried to show them a little of what it is to be a film maker. It was tough going.
One of the kids (We’ll call her Senga) was so gallus (Glasgow word, look it up) that she could hardly function in normal conversation – seriously, she had such a compulsion to be a smart-arse (she was 10) that it was nearly impossible to get a conversation going. I shall, naturally, give you an example. We set them a task.
You have five shots to convey a single word. You can’t use that word verbally – you can’t write it down and show it. You have to think of a way of showing that is entirely visual. Senga was in a group of five or six. Their word was ‘Lost’.
So we set all six groups, including Senga’s, to work and some of them started furiously drawing pictures and writing down what they would do – but not Senga’s group. In fairness, they might have been ready to do it but just having Senga there rendered the task impossible. She wasn’t about to let a single statement or idea go unchallenged. So I went over to help them out. I wouldn’t be giving them ideas but if I could just tease some out of them…
‘What word is it?’ They whispered it to me – Senga, eyed me with suspicion, ‘Lost’
“Right, well what if you lost something? What would you do?”
Blank stares – as if the concept of losing something had never occurred to them and seemed unlikely ever to happen.
“What would you do, say, if you lost your schoolbag?” Enter Senga – this chat has gone on long enough.
“Ah’d git ma mammy to gie me anither wan.”
“Okay then – what if it was something you really cared about?”
And I cast my eyes around them all, trying to think of what these small alien creatures might give a shit about. And all I could think of was…
“Ah’d git ma mammy to gie me anither wan” replied Senga, quick as a wink.
I looked to the ceiling and wondered ‘Were we like this?’ And we probably were. I know I was a smart-arse in p6 and probably at other times as well, but I think these kids are different in some regards – they have more, but I think they see less. For all that Senga has a big mouth and the occasional barb, for all that she access to the whole world through her phone she actually seems less aware of the world – and of what things mean.
I am not berating one little girl – she is merely an example of the many that I see – there are some who have harnessed the power at their disposal but they are few and far between. The others seem content to stare into their screens and somehow contrive to see nothing.
Which is why we try to teach them film literacy – how to look at a work and see what else there is apart from the obvious. To see what lies beyond the flashes, the explosions and the kisses.
In that Drumchapel class less than 5 of them had actually seen Star Wars and even those that had seen it had not really seen it.
What do I mean? Well, before you go congratulating yourself on your random superiority think of this ‘Have you REALLY watched Star Wars? Here’s the opening 3 minutes. It is a master work of film making.
So much is achieved in these 3 minutes I no longer feel guilty about loving this film from the very outset. For all those people in my life who have no idea what I do for a living here is a small sample of it, with a few ideas of things that I see when I watch this movie. The points made are nowhere near all I could talk about but they give you a hint.
I could talk about the sound design as they wait to see what comes through the doors, I could talk about the shadows that fall across the ship as it is consumed by the larger vessel. It’s a perfect example of efficient story tellling. Star Wars. First shot is people having a war with the backdrop of the stars – it doesn’t come much more efficient than that.
But for Senga (and many like her) it seems that the efforts made by film makers are almost beneath her. I’ve seen this time and time again in classes – the skills of the film maker go entirely unseen. Star Wars is a fairy tale and it has layer upon layer in its construction. But if I were to ask what it is about I would get…
‘A war in the stars, obvs!’
I don’t know what it is but the generations unfortunate enough to come after me seem to be missing out on their Star Wars moment. When the film came out originally it took months to get here from the USA. I had read the bloody book of the movie before I saw the movie. I remember it well. I spent hours looking at the 16 pages of photographs.
And that meant trying to imagine the movie before I had even seen it. I was playing the film in my mind and then watching it on a screen made all the bigger because I was so small. It was utterly enormous and transforming.
But now Senga watches things on her phone, or on a laptop or a tablet or (rarely) a TV. I asked a class yesterday what their favourite movie was – and got hardly one answer. Granted that these are not kids blessed with self-esteem or skills in public speaking but when asked ‘Okay, what was the last thing you watched?’ one lad answered with a fight clip from Facebook and most of the rest cited youtube.
Subtext, layers of composition, craft… all of these things are being diminished both in the written word (you want me to read??!) and in the moving image as the smaller screens take over. We are not getting art from these devices – they are merely distractions that do not expand our minds but shut them down. The constant babble a replacement for the difficulties of thought.
“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”
Blaise Pascal, Philosopher, 1654
Those distractions are cheaply made. Two gamers playing Minecraft costs very little to produce and edit. What need have they for precision lighting or exact camera placement or complex sound design so that the movement behind the door reminds us more of an enormous beast than it does of machinery? They have no need. None at all.
It is then monetized – with each view being very cheaply paid for by advertisers.
But these are only the financial costs – the true costs are much higher and altogether unseen.
Attention spans diminishing, standards on a race to the bottom so that we can have ‘views’. In the same way that we have lost that passion for reading in many of the young so we will soon lose the ability to watch and understand an entire movie. Subtext will cease to exist for many.
Senga and her like have access to everything and so value nothing. Her media consumption comes in gobbled chunks that have no mental calorie content and instead of being satisfied they simply leave her needing more.
Of course, her Mammy can always get her anither wan.
A family friend has a father in his 90s. He’s French and therefore was alive and in Europe in the 1930s. He is currently very worried about what he sees happening both in France and elsewhere, because he’s seen this before.
To be honest, you would have thought that once was enough – but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Having been down that road once I would have hoped that the destination was clear; that there were no deviations, no forks whereby another terminus might be reached.
This information seems to be of no interest to some. And make no mistake, there’s a lot of information. Remember this?
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
There are many different versions of it as the man who said it did so in many different places and it has been adapted many times since by those in need of it. My point here is that the history is not hard to find and it is the same process. The names of the groups are not important, what is important is the fact that they are split into different groups. Why, is important.
Because that is what is happening now.
Across the world it is the weakest who are attacked. The illegals with no paperwork, women, the sick, the gays and the poor. Just as Pastor Niemoller would begin his recitation with small groups and move on to bigger ones so the powers that be focus on the weakest to begin with. Those who have the fewest allies amongst the general public.
And all the while we are told that there is great danger from outside – that the Muslims are coming.
Because the system isn’t working, that’s why. The increasing population of the planet and the increased longevity of that population have placed a strain on the natural and man-made systems that keep us alive. Eco-systems and economies are failing and although there are answers to specific problems those in charge baulk at making the big changes that could set the balance right.
The activist with the placard, or sleeping outside the offices of the Wall Street bankers, will tell you that this is greed; Pure evil. And, sure, there might be an element of that – but it isn’t just that.
Any changes required in a corporation or a country would, in their own opinion, place them at a disadvantage. You can pay people a living wage, absolutely, but when your competitor is paying them a quarter of that – in a country where legislation is lax – then you are now in the business of losing money. Corporations can’t handle that. Countries can’t handle it either.
What we need is fundamental change and greater co-operation across groups and borders – but that requires imagination and selfless service – which we aren’t going to get. Why?
The leaders, when pressed, do what lots of us do – they blame someone else. The trouble is, that the someone else wasn’t the trouble in the first place, so blaming them won’t fix it.
Let’s have an example.
For years they have been blaming Europe for anything and everything. Only now, as we prepare to leave Europe does the harsh reality sink in. There won’t be more money – there will be less money. That isn’t working so… it’s the immigrants.
Blaming immigrants isn’t going to fix anything either, because they aren’t the problem and eventually this fact will become glaringly obvious. They add more to the economy than they take out.
Here in the UK we are looking at ten years of stagnant wages whilst prices rise. That is to say, for the next ten years we will be getting steadily poorer. You could throw out every immigrant in the country and all you will have done is made the price of food go up. You will have left Europe and all that will have happened is that you made businesses less competitive.
The tax receipts will plummet and more austerity will follow.
Guess what happens next?
They’ll have to find someone else to blame – or take harsher measures against those they already blame. And we move onto the next line in Pastor Niemoller’s speech. It might be the Muslims, the gays, the scientists and intellectuals, the incurably sick…
Which won’t fix it either. Because they aren’t the problem.
To paraphrase the bible somewhat – we are building a house on shifting sand but when we discover the house is crumbling and unstable we seem to be looking at every place except the right place. We are fixing the doors, changing the roof and painting the walls when what we should be doing is building a house somewhere else.
Blaming separate groups only leads to a constant search for the next group to blame. And down that road lie the camps.
Inequality breeds hatred, war and death – it is time to move from those shifting sands.
Many will think I am exaggerating, that this could not happen in our modern world.
These are the immigrants who were removed from the ‘jungle’ camp in Calais. The photo above is their shelters being burned.
My question is this.
Do you know where they are? You personally, do you know where these people are right now?
According to the newspapers at the time those who did not choose to leave by other means are in dozens of ‘centres’ across France. An English newspaper ran a graphic at the time…
Well, that must be all right then. There you go, they’re all across France and there’s not a cloud in the sky. Looks quite nice.
Do I think these refugees have been disappeared? No. I don’t. But the fact of the matter is that I don’t know where they are right now and the public at large generally forgot about them as soon as that camp was destroyed. If you think bad things can’t happen then you haven’t been paying attention.
This should have been a triumph for the UK. Here were people willing to suffer untold deprivation, travelling under incredible hardship and willing to cling on to the underside of a truck – risking death – just to get to the United Kingdom. There was a chance to take the lead, to move away from the old mentality of fear and to show how it should be done. To stand on the international stage with the moral authority to make bold moves.
Some will tell me that I am naive. That these geopolitical issues cannot be solved simply and that we should be listening to the will of the people. That this road is the only road available and our leaders are plotting the best course open to us. To which I say…
You honestly believe these people have your best interests at heart? That they have the slightest clue what to do to make this better?
Earlier I mentioned that greed and selfishness and evil was only part of the problem. These two fannies are a large percentage of that evil.
It will get worse.
My last post on here was so long ago that I don’t even remember writing it and that’s not because I have been idle – quite the contrary – I have been busier than ever with things like the Scottish Youth Film Festival. But when I thought of this page the other day I mulled it over and found myself nodding.
‘It’s about time’ I thought.
For reasons too numerous to count and too personal to explain completely I have to make some changes in my life. Which is vague, I know. The short outcome is that I am removing my focus from local politics and that I will be changing this page to better reflect what I am doing from this point on.
I will be 50 next year and I have not selected the title of this post by accident. There are still many things I want to do and making the community better is still one of them and if I had all the time in the world I would still do it. But I don’t so a choice had to be made.
Those who know me well will be aware that I became a father late in life and that I have two young daughters whom I love more than anything in the world. My friends also know that I like to write stories, make films and make people laugh through my work or my social life; I like to be on stage, I like to be at the heart of things – where the life is…
Perhaps a younger man would have had the ability to do the community work, run the projects, spend time with the family and still pursue his creative interests – but I am not that young and the time I have left to me for those things has to be rationed carefully.
Add to that the recent developments in the wider world – where ideologies I find utterly hateful seem to be on the rise – and it occurs to me that as much as I would like to leave my daughters a better community I ought also to look at leaving them a better world as well.
So, I have decided that I don’t have the time to pursue the local change I wanted. I’m afraid I don’t have the desire to spend years in dull rooms speaking with dull men about even duller subjects.
Over the past years I have introduced the fireworks, fought for the community centre and created the Scottish Youth Film Festival. Is that enough? No, not by a long shot. Apologies for that. But my shift is done.
I actually have two Facebook pages: One for work and one for personal stuff. One where I could help the community and one where I could be myself. I will be conventrating on the former from now on but to all those who voted for me – or stopped me with a kind word at one of the events. Thanks.
It’s time to spend my days writing and being with my family, following my own dreams and enjoying time with my friends as well as campaigning for a fairer world.
Most importantly I need to be able to do all that whilst being me – creative (I hope), irreverent (polite way of saying it) and unimpeded by the conventions of politics. In short, to be Scott Mackay
I know what many of you will be thinking.
It’s about time.