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Newsnight Review: Friday, 6 February, 2009

Sarah McDermott | 15:24 UK time, Friday, 6 February 2009

Here's Kirsty with details of what will be happening tonight in Newsnight Review:

I'll be joined by my guests Marina Hyde, Richard Coles and Ann Leslie and we'll explore the curious life of Benjamin Button, as told in David Fincher's Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Its technical wizardry (which defeated several other big name directors) puts Brad Pitt's head on various bodies so that we can see him live his life backwards in the company of Daisy (played by Cate Blanchett) who is living hers the right way round. The screenplay by Eric Roth (Forrest Gump) was embroidered from a slight fantasy tale by F. Scott Fitzgerald, and is a peculiar love-story-meets-Boys -Own-Adventure. And it's won 13 Oscar nominations.

If Spring Awakening sounds like the title of a joyous frolick, it is anything but. It's a Tony Award winning Broadway musical based on a dark story of sexual repression, rape, abuse and suicide, and it started out as a play by the German playwright Frank Wedekind. Such was the explicit nature of the material and its portrayal of sexually ravenous teenagers it was banned instantly in Britain and Germany when it was published in 1891. Now an indie-rock musical, the director Michael Mayer has brought the US production to London, but has cast British actors.

Lily Allen's second album It's not Me, It's You is full of pop songs about drugs, failed lovers, older men, and ... George Bush, in her trademark mockney, chatty voice. It sounds like the soundtrack to her life at the moment, or at least the life we know through her command of MySpace and her frequent appearances in the tabloids. It has some great tunes, and funny lyrics - she's a bit like a young (rich) Squeeze.

Meryl Streep is on a roll, with the frothy The Devil Wears Prada, the apparently irresistable Mamma Mia, and now an Oscar nomination for her part as Sister Aloysius in Doubt, directed by John Patrick Shanley from his screenplay of his 2004 Pulizter Prize winning stage play. Set in the 1960s in The Bronx, the formidable and forbidding nun is in charge of a church school, but is discomfitted when a charismatic priest arrives, played by Phillip Seymour Hoffman. She hears the suspicions of a young nun that the priest is engaged in an inappropriate relationship with a young boy and sets out to destroy him. Is she right, or wrong? I'll be talking to Meryl Streep (watch a special extended version here) and we'll be talking about the question of Doubt...

Do join us at 11pm.


  • Comment number 1.


    Running an eye over the content of tonights offering, I wonder I Ross might be promoted?

    Next Week: Aberration of the Magi.

  • Comment number 2.

    This is was a very lame newsnight usually the best of the show is contrasting veiws. Tonight its an easy grouping no-one really challenging each other and the judgement is frankly embarrassing. A bunch of oldies big-ing up Lillie Allen- suggest there all spending too much time in the Graucho Club.

    Old people should quit trying to review young people music the only think they didn't say was groovy. Everyone was excessively critical of the US outfits which made the praise of Allen all the more embarassing - do they get a bonus from pushing UK acts.

  • Comment number 3.


    Watching/listening to all the gushing over Lily Allen's new album last night I wondered how much thought is really given by Newsnight presenters and their guests as to how much of the credit is appropriately assigned? Look at the credits for songs on Allen's first album and the people she worked with on the second. Note her lyrics, accent and where she comes from. Similarly, look at all the people in the background who prepare material for Newsnight presenters, and all those people who write the speeches and papers for Obama, Brown, Cameron etc.

    Conclusion: The media and politcs is largely a business of fabrication, scripting, deception and highly dubious accreditation - fantasy/entertainment.

  • Comment number 4.


    Well said Jaded Jean. It is also notable that all BBC/political pundit debate is ritualised. It is important not to bring down the opponent with a coup de grace, as the game will end.

    Meanwhile, any interview that might be broadcast from a studio, is 'conducted' in the street, and all reports become performance art with audio-visual enhancement.

    It is all SHOW BUSINESS.

  • Comment number 5.

    #3 & #4 - The BBC is just a broadcast version of the tabloids. So, what did you expect? Serious journalism? With your licence fee? Have you gone out of your mind? If only we could shut the BBC down...well some of us can dream...

  • Comment number 6.


    Your points well taken NonEnglish. But there is hope in The News Quiz - Radio 4.

    This week one of the panel has used 'Gay German in a construction that left no doubt it had pejorative undertones. It was repeated uncut today. i have heard o complaints.

    As a wall-eyed, slap-head, of minimal colour, I think we might be seeing the green shoots of normality peeping through the top dressing of banal manure.

    All sing: "One eye on the pot, and the other up the chimney" (The Drummer and The Cook).

  • Comment number 7.

    "Conclusion: The media and politcs is largely a business of fabrication, scripting, deception and highly dubious accreditation - fantasy/entertainment."

    The media and politics is a culture, it's as simple as that. It's a culture with rules (which includes Barrie's observation that it is important not to bring down an opponent), and a goal - to sustain itself. As long as members stay within the rules they are not culpable. But the rules are not based on equality or meritocracy. The rules are based on manners and high levels of social aggregation, loners have to show some sign of genius in order to remain in the culture. Manners require deception by defintion. Social grouping is a form of entertainment by definition - passive in the case of theatre, participatory in the case of chat shows.

  • Comment number 8.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 9.

    doctormisswest (#7) Perhaps, but trivially so perhaps, as it just takes two people to make a culture. Here the point was that much of what's credited to people is falsely credited (it's part of what's known as 'The Credit Assignment Problem'). This is now endemic within our celebrity culture as it dumbs down in a vain pursuit of equality. In fact, it could be said that this has become its defining feature. Our pretentious celebrity culture is essentially the ('postive' side of) the irrational ad hominem fallacy writ large.

  • Comment number 10.


    But if the rules say: "No pointing out that the emperor is naked" we are surely, by our compliance, agreeing to "live within the lie".
    Is that healthy or sustainable - mature even? I am reminded of fake wrestling on TV, of years back.

    As for 'high levels of social aggregation' that pulled me up sharp. Are you sure doc? Perhaps I have misunderstood 'aggregation'.

  • Comment number 11.

    Barrie - have you read Jane Austen? - that's where it all began - the emergence of polite society in Regency England/Europe. It actually works very well. As those who are members are wont to mention, the only people who criticise are those who can't get in. Yachts are important seedbeds for making policy, as are cocktail parties. When I joined a top university I was gobsmacked how many social functions we had, but they all greased the wheels of the department's functioning. How one behaves at such events is as important as how one performs in the 'office'. The ruling/policy-making class is essentially a very polite culture - and that means competition has to be psychological - hence the ubiquitous use of deception, but everyone participates and so it is a level playing field. Blair, Mandhelson and Hoon are really very good at it, Brown is hopeless. Blears and Smith are amateurs. Chakrabati is trying to re-write the rules of the game. I don't think she'll succeed. Eventually, if she wants to remain in the corridors of power, she will tow the line on etiquette in public debate.

  • Comment number 12.

    doctormisswest (#11) The trouble is, the rules have broken down through dysgenesis - Jane Austin knew a thing or two about assortive mating. The British Civil Service used to be a bastion of codes - it was an urbane, gentleman's, businesss (if somewhat hard-nosed). That all changed in the 80s through Thatcher's (USA backed?) anarchism.

    Most that passes for modern 'culture' is subversive and it's time Newsnight Review and more of its viewers, woke up to this and treated it for what it is rather than celbrating it.

  • Comment number 13.


    Misery me - I am illiterate (or perhaps illiterary). I read novels in my youth but then found fact (hypothetical of course) more to my liking. (Still do.) So Jane and I are not acquainted.

    But I did work a year in (West) Germany in 1969, and was delighted to find a lot more etiquette practised by default.

    In a similar vein, I have sampled 'secondary modern' school and grammar and found they were both excellent courses for horses (always accepting school is unnatural). Neither I, nor anyone I met there, seemed to feel a failure; especially when metalwork stood in for Latin. Just think what a bore Paul Merton (GCE metalwork) would be, if he quipped in that dead language!

    I'll get me tablets.

  • Comment number 14.

    The rules have broken down with the decline of anglicanism - the rules were derived from anglicanism, pretty much, be polite and keep yer nose clean

    Ay, and the GPO used to be part of the civil service, a la lark rise to candleford - you could trust the post office in those days!

    I don't see current culture as anarchistic, there is chaos at the fringes, but the central administration is still well-ordered, if a little misguided

    "Most that passes for modern 'culture' is subversive" - how is that a problem, JJ? would you prefer mass military displays in trafalgar square? shoot the pigeons, bring on the tanks!!

  • Comment number 15.

    doctormisswest (#14) "I don't see current culture as anarchistic, there is chaos at the fringes, but the central administration is still well-ordered, if a little misguided

    "Most that passes for modern 'culture' is subversive" - how is that a problem, JJ?"

    Here's how:-

    I don't know why you don't. Anarchism means minimum government, minimum regulation (see some informed comments on the scale of the current economic crisis). It was the model peddled by Hayek and other economists and politicial 'scientists' from the Austrian/Chicago Schools. It has
    become synonymous with Liberal-Democracy which is anti-statist and anti-nationalist to the point that governance itself is now deemed quasi-nazi. This is how Hayek sold it, i.e that the planned economy was a road to serfdom.

    Human Rights, Civil Liberties, equalitarianism, people's choice and especially 'the market' as the exclusive means whereby value is determined, are all tools whereby anarcho-capitalism in the Rothbardian/Hayekian/Friedmanite sense that I have been using it, has been thrust upon us and sustained by the 'nouveau intelligentisia' in recent times, and those who laud nationalism, preservation of the UK as an entity (rather than a bunch of EU NUTS), planning, a large Civil Service, traditional values, etc - risk being shouted down as a fascists. Is it any wonder we have bad behaviour in our schools, rising violent crime, a prison populatin which has doubled in the 20 years etc etc?

    Do you note any of the characteristics of adolescent narcissism in all that? I reckon it's an inevitable consequence of the expansion of Higher Education with people who should never have risen that far. Their peer reference is relative, and they don't see it has been degraded through expansion.

    Given what you have said, this will require some careful thought on your part, I suggest.

    This is not an insult, it's meant to be helpful.

  • Comment number 16.


    See what I said earlier regarding the gross failure of appropriate credit assignment, out narcissistic, largely feminiine celebrity culture, the corrosive, pervasive, and endemic extent of spin determination of value to appreciate my analysis of Newsnight Review's approbations as symptomatic.

  • Comment number 17.

    i agree with much of your analysis but I don't see how anti-nationalist governance becomes quasi-nazi if the nazis were nationalists

    i see it as some rather naive middle class liberals who got hoodwinked into thinking they were being led into an internationally socialist utopia whereas as you point out blair sold the country to the highest bidder leaving us to deal with an internationally capitalist/feudal dystopia

    by the way, if you're interested Andrew Marr yesterday morning on Rad 4 presented an interesting debate on free speech - the debate remains unresolved but the concensus seemed to be that academics should be allowed freer speech than lay people.

  • Comment number 18.

    doctormisswest (#17) "I don't see how anti-nationalist governance becomes quasi-nazi if the nazis were nationalists"

    The German National Socalists were a left wing party which believed a planned economy with a focus on Germans and the family as the only way out of negative population growth and economic chaos brought about by Liberal-Democratic anarcho-capitalists. Their nationalism has always been portrayed as evil as it dispossesed those who insisted on trying to live as an endogamous group within the state, at what was perceived to be at the predatory expense of others. One has to remember that the 1917 revolution in Russia was an attack on the Tsarist state which was deemed to have excluded one particular group more so than any other because of its endogamy/predation on gullible people. Was there any truth to that or was it a viscious slur?

    What you begin with above is not what I wrote. New Labour is certainly not nationalist. It has continued to break up Britain as the Conservatives were doing. New Labour is a member of the Socialist International (which I regard as made-over Trotsykites/Anarcho-Capitalists along with other Social/Liberal Democrats). I think one has to look at what these groups do, not at what they spin verbally. One has to ignore the latter o at least only judge it in conjunction with what actually happens.

    The way to encourage an electorate not to be statist is to bombard them with horrors about what statist govenments allegedly do: Nazi Germany, the USSR, N Korea, Iraq, Iran (strained a bit) and Islamo-Fascism generally... Such anti-state propaganda reinforces Anarcho-apitalism domestically (all three parties are essentially just minor variants on a theme here). The spin doctors only go soft on the PRC because it has the West by the purse-strings.

    This propaganda is vulnerable at the moment given the recent exposure of the venality (but legality) of what the Financial Sector has been up to, i.e. gross profiteering by speculation and toxic dumping of risk on a very gullible public.

    BFTA, SAG, OSCAR you name it, it's all narcisistic rubbish which panders to the dysfunctional (look a how the nuclear family has been sabotaged effectively guaranteeing a rise in narcissism). Sadly, it's largely women and feminised males who figue at the front end of this industry you will note. Who controls it?. This is just group politics I hasten to add. But it is hypocrisy and self-delusion to make out that it does not go on. People just don't want others to see it for what it is because that would be bad for group business interests. That's freedom and liberal-democracy.

    This is no slur, it's just a fact based on the marketing data. Note how the 'Islamo-Fascists' (and interestingly, Orthodox Jews) treat their females. Why? Why are they vilified for doing this? Ask what financial purpose this vilification may serve in terms of emerging markets.

  • Comment number 19.

    Please discourage interruption by presenter and guests; it detracts from the pleasure and the stimulation to which your viewers look forward.


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