Saw Women Beware Women at the National Theatre. Jacobean play by Thomas Middleton, written a little after Shakespeare. It's technically a tragedy, but has a lot of black comic touches: had the audience in stitches at times.
The verse is less convoluted and a lot easier to follow than Shakespeare's. Felt like less than its three hours to me, though some of the critics disagree. There are two plotlines which feel a bit cobbled together: they don't interact much. One concerns a young, eloped couple, when the corrupt Duke of Florence takes a fancy to the teenage wife. The other concerns a dutiful daughter whose father wants to marry her to a grotesque idiot of good family. It's not really a spoiler to say that the Jacobean tragedy ends in a bloodbath of grotesque revenge.
The sexual politics seem a little peculiar to modern audiences. There's a harrowing pre-rape scene, but she gets resigned to her new status very quickly.
The production is very elaborate, with a 1950s theme. There's a rotating stage with an elaborate set, a clever semi-transparent projection, showers of gold, a live band providing songs, incidental music and live numbers for the dance scene. It seemed a bit over-the-top at times, maybe because the last play I saw was at the bare stage of the Globe. But the £10 sponsored seats are amazingly good value as usual. Good, convincing performances all round.
The ending didn't quite work for me: there's an elaborately choreographed near-dance masque on the spinning stage, with most of the dialogue removed. It's an impressive spectacle, but I quite lost track of who was killing who and why.
Overall though, worth seeing: flashy but good value.
What I'm Reading
Flat Earth News is journalists Nick Davies book about the decline of journalism, mostly in Britain. Wasn't expecting to be shocked by it as I thought I knew how bad things were, but it's worse than I thought.
Cost-cutting has led to collapse of most local and investigative journalism. Instead there's "churnalism": journalists sit in offices frantically rewriting press releases. Fact-checking is non-existent, some journalists blatantly make stuff up, others bribe their way into government databases ("the dark arts").
Davies mentions some instances of owners interference, but mostly he attributes the decline to simple cost-cutting: there simply isn't time for journalists to do more than serve up the PR they're given on a plate.
He talks about "electric fences" that discourage journalists and subeditors from reporting touchy subjects or powerful people. These can be either litigation or powerful lobby groups who can be mobililized into letter campaigns.
A couple of things that stuck out.
In politics, the number of government PRs didn't really go up under Labour: the system was pretty much in place. Alastair Campbell has become a hate figure, but nobody was actually forced to listen to him: mostly the journalists depend on him because they can't be bothered or don't have the time to cultivate alternative sources.
The Daily Mail often makes things up, or aggressively distorts its stories. There is a strong racial bias to its coverage: he quotes a journalist who got a phone call to turn back as he was halfway down the motorway as they'd found out the crime victim was black. But as Britain's most consistently profitable newspaper it actually has more investigative journalists left than anyone else, which allows it to shape Britain's news coverage: they generate the stories which are churned by the rest of the media.
Davies also makes an interesting point that news is increasingly dependent on press agencies, but they see it as their job simply to report on statements verbatim, without judging their accuracy. So even when they do their job, a critical step of fact-checking is missed when their accounts are sent straight out.
I expected the book to end on some kind of semi-optimistic citizen journalist note, but he doesn't seem to think there's very much hope. He likes the Centre for Public Integrity, but thinks blogs provide mostly an echo-chamber for wild rumours. He quotes a study of Google News that on one day it showed 14,000 stories on its front page, but these were actually accounts of the same 24 news events. He has a vague hope that digital newspapers may lower the cost of production so that more journalists can be afforded, but it seems pretty implausible to me.
Overall though, a fascinating and hugely important book. If you need any two books to inform you about modern British politics and media, this is one: Peter Oborne's The Triumph of the Political Class is the other.
Belately saw Let The Right One In. Swedish movie where a bullied pre-teen falls in love with a vampire. Deserves its reputation: brilliant movie combining a gritty feel with a touching romance and some brilliantly bizarre scenes. Has to be seen.
Science. No evidence behind TSA terrorist-body-language scheme (/.) McDonalds fries at home. Thorough debunking video of Viscount Monckton on climate change. Brain not fully developed until 20s or 30s.
The Michigan Central Depot is a hulking, bombed-out turn-of-the-century train station that’s constantly used by papers and magazines as a symbol of the city’s rot. The only problem is, aside from looking the part, it doesn’t have too much to do with any of the issues it usually gets plastered above. It’s owned by a billionaire trucking tycoon, not the bankrupt city; it was shut down back in the 80s, not because of any of the recent crap...
In addition to being a faulty visual metaphor, the train station has also been completely shot to death. For a derelict structure, it’s kind of a happening spot. Each time I passed by I saw another group of kids with camera bags scoping out the gate. When I finally ducked in to check it out for myself, I had to wait for a lady artist from Buffalo, New York, whose shtick is taking nude portraits of herself in abandoned buildings, to put her clothes back on. Afterward I was interrupted by a musician named Deity who was making a video on the roof.
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