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Newsnight Review: Friday, 23 January, 2009

Sarah McDermott | 16:31 UK time, Friday, 23 January 2009

Here's Kirsty with news of tonight's programme:

Frank Skinner, Natalie Haynes and Tony Parsons try to answer a big question... Where do you draw the line? Sexual taboos, comedy, cults, bodily functions, gay politics and Hollywood's hand on history.

We begin with Scandalous, Russell Brand's new stand up tour - his first big outing since the Andrew Sachs affair, in which he returns to the controversy with gusto. "In my head", he says, "I'm always at the top of the news - and then I really was." Our panel will review the show, debate whether he was right to devote so much of the show to the scandal, and discuss whether comedy been tamed since the Ross/Brand farrago.

Milk - the biopic of the man who was the first openly gay official in any US administration - has picked up ten Oscar nominations, including one for Sean Penn. He plays Harvey Milk over the eight years of his campaign for office in San Francisco throughout the seventies, and his subsequent assassination. I've been speaking to director Gus Van Sant. He first wanted to make this film 15 years ago, but it has turned out to have contemporary resonance as California has just banned same sex marriage. Does the film downplay Milk's lifestyle while celebrating gay politics?

We stick with Hollywood's version of modern history with Valkyrie, the true story of the last plot to kill Hitler, in the beginning of 1944. There's been huge controversy around this story of the officers who were part of the German Resistance. Tom Cruise plays Col Claus von Stauffenberg, who actually detonated the bomb beside Hitler. Cruise's belief in Scientology has caused waves in Germany, where it's regarded as a totalitarian organisation and the government considered banning it.

And then some very sticky moments. Wetlands is a first novel which has sold half a million copies since its publication in Germany. Written by the High Wycombe born star of German TV Charlotte Roche, and now out in English, it is a voyage around her 18 year old character's private parts. Throughout the story Helen prods, pokes, smells and inserts implements into her nether regions in her hospital room where she is recovering from a serious accident after shaving around her haemorrhoids. Is it porn, or a feminist tract?

Do join us later.


  • Comment number 1.

    "Tom Cruise plays Col Claus von Stauffenberg, who actually detonated the bomb beside Hitler. Cruise's belief in Scientology has caused waves in Germany, where it's regarded as a cult rather than a religion, and as such is banned. "

    Why the focus on the trivial Scientology? I hope there'll more critical discussion about how films such as Valkerie, Schindler's List, Frost/Nixon and so many others which have come out of Hollywood are as much vested interest political propaganda as they are entertainment. It doesn't suffice to say that nobody pays any attention and that it's all just for fun. It isn't.

  • Comment number 2.

    I have to agree with you JadedJean - the focus on Cruise rather than on the political agenda of some movies should not be a more important discussion. Why is a movie on a failed assassination plot against Hitler currently being made? Does it have anything to do with people's inability to cope with failed political ideologies or is to harken back to a more perceived politically pure period?

  • Comment number 3.

    "Cruise's belief in Scientology has caused waves in Germany, where it's regarded as a totalitarian organisation and the government considered banning it."

    Hmm it's changed. OK. The problem for recent generations of Germans is that immediately after WWII, as part of the denazification programme to 'liberal-democratize' them, their parents were taken on horror tours and generally treated rather harshly o they would give up their unspeakable thoughts of a centrally planned economy as part of the partially implemented USA Morgenthau (plus Dexter-White) Plan. This suited Stalin, as the USSR calculated that this would probably make the West Germans hate the allies (so they provided lots of horror material). As a consequence, lots of left-wing types found their way into government. Things aren't always as obvious as they seem, and when the allies caught on (part of which was the Soviets were using USA plates to print money and then exchanging them for dollars) they did a volte-face and implemented the Marshall Plan instead. Still, they kept peddling Liberal-Democracy and painting totalitarianism blacker than black as that made the evil Central-Planning Soviets the new bete-noir.

    Who WERE the bad guys? Bet the panel won't touch on that, but it is topical.

  • Comment number 4.

    #1 JadedJean...good blog.

    FYI : Stauffenberg did not detonate the bomb in the Wolf's Lair. He put it in a briefcase, placed it under a table, and left the hut. Another participant at the meeting , irritated by the location of the case, moved it to his other side minimizing the impact on AH.

    Not seen the film yet ...but 'looking forward' to it.

  • Comment number 5.

    ...discuss whether comedy been tamed...

    people with talent are not tamed. they don't need to be.

    here's how to insult people on TV.

  • Comment number 6.

    Von Stauffenberg should have stayed in the room seen the job done even if it resulted in his death, the war would have ended a year early and countless thousands of lives saved. On a quirk of fate decided the course of the war. it is ironic that in today's confrontations religious fanatics have no problem in 'staying with the case'. Von Stauffenberg was a very brave man but not 'religious' enough.

  • Comment number 7.

    1) being anti-Bolshevik (which was what the Tripartite Pact and the rise of Hitler, and WWII was really all about) isn't 'raving anti-Semitism'. At the time, the Bolshevik movement was widely regarded by all as a Jewish conspiracy by almost all, including Stalin who after expelling Trotsky spent the 30s purging the original Bolsheviks having told the German communists that their future lay with Hitler. It was, and still is, convenient to conflate classes - it isn't the 'semitism' per se that ever drives the hostility - it's the competitive sophisticated group politics, financial opportunism and nepotism. Charges of anti-semitism are just an egregious, aggressive defence which is part of this hegemonic battle.

    2) We are not all born equals. People who think otherwise would do better to learn a little biology, think about height, educational attainment, and try to be a little more sceptical when listening to what appears to be impressive rhetoric. It usually sounds good like most fiction because it's disconnected from reality.

    3) WETLANDS.........oh dear Newsnight, that was as bad as Russell Brand.

  • Comment number 8.

    Did Russell Brand remind anyone of a younger Billy Connolly? Same clothes, same hair, same beard, same noise impressions, but where's the banana boots? ; )

  • Comment number 9.

    Speaking of the film Valkyrie, which I won't be seeing anyway. I heard an historian talking about this bomb plot against Hitler. He stated that Stauffenberg wanted Hitler dead because Hitler was losing the war. So the film isn't even accurate.

  • Comment number 10.

    Where do I draw the line? If Frank Skinner uses bad language it is not a problem. It may be bad taste but I can turn off. If he takes his clothes off that may be a lack of decency but again it is not a problem. I can look away. If he and Kirsty were to phone me in an attempt to harass or bully me and they did that during a live broadcast, that would be something quite different and that is where I draw the line. Bullying is unacceptable but what gets me really mad is that presenters like Kirsty don't get it. Phoning an old man in order to embarrass and humilliate him is bullying. It may involve bad taste and a lack of decency but that is not the point. The point is that it is bullying and if that is allowed on the radio then how do we stop bullying in schools and in places of work. So please Kirsty and please BBC, stop farting around with questions of taste and decency and take a stand against bullying. That is where I draw the line.

  • Comment number 11.

    tortoise4square (#10) Nicely put.

    Look up Narcissistic Personality Disorder (one of the Cluster B, Axis II Personality Disorders in the US DSM-IV-TR - ICD-10 is a little different).

    Devaluation is what they do 'best', they can be oddly charismatic, and VERY abusive/destructive. It's an understatement to say that we seem to be reinforcing this behaviour these days. There are lots of these people in the media (and politics/power), which is hardly surprising.

  • Comment number 12.


    We have the term 'killing with kindness' long established in English expression. That must surely be a form of bullying? An attractive person can passively bully an unattractive one. Someone good at the Times Crossword can bully through its rapid completion. An eloquent debater will bully a less fluent one. The informed can bully the uninformed. The easy winner can bully the loser, just by winning?

    Is it just that what Ross and Brand did was unusual? That, being mostly animal, we bully most of the time, to establish a pecking order, and the vulnerable FEEL bullied for much of the rest?

    Might it be that (as above) 'alpha' may properly bully 'omega' but the crass R and B reversed the process and reaped the whirlwind?

  • Comment number 13.


    barrie (#12) The bottom line is prevalence in professions/trades. I've touched on those in Financial Services via a link to Hare's work, and as to the entertainment industry, it speaks for itself daily.

    What we should be noticing is that some professions dispropotionately attract and celibrate (reinforce) classes of behaviour which are demonstrably detrimental to the stability of society as a whole. The fact that many don't see this (albeit, for many, not until very recently with respect to the arrogance and mendacity so prevalent in the Financial Services sector) doesn't mean that there isn't a major problem. That problem is anarchism, and as Paul Mason's thread reiterates, it's pre-meditated anarchism, as I've asserted ad nauseam, and a rollback seems unlikely as the reason we're at this point is because the regulation and statism has been rendered anathema through systematically conditioned fear through shrewd politically correct abuse of the 'free' media.

  • Comment number 14.

    Comedy Lecture.

    comedy and tragedy are two parts of the greek trilogy [philosophy being the other one]

    it is one part of a mean analogy. It is an art and what function does that art serve? in the light of understanding its purpose we can decide how successful it has been?

    Should anyone claiming skill not also be able to explain the relationship between comedy, tragedy and philosophy?

    socrates take the point that anyone who can write a comedy can also write a tragedy [and vica versa] . So maybe that could be a test? Anyone who claims skill in comedy can prove it by writing tragedy.

    there is a more interesting lecture on comedy that explains how comedy fits into the greek classical trilogy of performing arts.

  • Comment number 15.


    But they insisted on wrapping insight up in a thick layer of allegory - not unlike the therapeutic dream, as analysed in Jungian therapy. I seem to remember the two aforementioned, meet in the story of Midas who, having come upon the sleeping Silenus, must BIND AND THEN AND WAKE HIM whereupon some vital information would be imparted.
    There you have a Greek myth that tells us the value of the remembered dream (often an 'upon waking dream') BUT WE MUST BIND IT i.e. hold on to it's content if we are to gain. Fascinating stuff.

    Off to follow your link now.

  • Comment number 16.

    there is a video in the same series that deals with Jungs Psychology and Alchemy in relation to the Hellenic Tradition called Platonism and Alchemy. [on google video - NN board won't let me llink]

    it shows how they developed allegory from the divided line. allegory is optional.

  • Comment number 17.


    Many thanks for the link Bookhim, a whole new seam opens up. I would love to watch the entire series but 'the guru' does do my 'ed in a bit with his ponderous guruness. (:o)

    I intend to watch it again with my No2 son and his lady, and we will then dissect. And you made it possible! Thanks.


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