World War One and Jeremy Paxton’s existential dread

March 31, 2014


In the projection of his professional persona, Jeremy Paxton conceals and reveals his personal anxieties

Jeremy Paxton is one of England’s best-known media celebrities. He has became the inquisitorial voice of the BBC’s Newsnight programme [1989- present] and with little shift of style, the inquisitional voice of University Challenge. Building on these achievements, he has produced literary works often with grand themes of British achievements. He is currently fronting one of the BBC’s series to mark the events of The Great War of 1914-1918.

The other Jeremy

His style is combative and ironic. Some years ago, in 2009, listening to a radio interview,I mistook him for another celebrity Jeremy. Only at the end of the interview did I discover I had been listening to the equally combative and ironic Jeremy Clarkson of Top Gear. Clarkson is arguably the greater financial asset to the BBC, and equally assiduous in cultivating a controversial and discomforting personal style. In the earlier post, I made tentative analyses of the behavioural styles of each.

I return to this topic as Newsnight Jeremy is making an acclaimed contribution to the Nation’s commemorations of WW1.

The mask of control and the mask of command

Leadership studies sometimes refer to the mask of command. Both Paxton and Clarkson show the mask of control, beneath which lurks the existential fear of losing control. The leader inspires confidence by concealing the natural human feelings of despair and weakness. For Paxton, the TV interview, and the quiz with answers to all the questions provided to the interrogative quiz master provide ideal situations to act out his concealed anxieties.

On the dark side

I make no claims for the validity of these observations. They may be rooted in my mistaken reading of Jungian psychology. They just make sense to me. They confirm my belief in the nature of the concealed dark side of the persona of some of the leaders and celebrities who gain cultural acceptance.


Sherlock Holmes series on BBC TV illustrates charismatic infatuation

January 26, 2014

The recent Sherlock Holmes series on BBC Television was launched in a sustained and skillful blaze of publicity. Its impact suggests an explanation of charismatic influence

The advertising hype created a teaser over the apparent death of Sherlock at the end of the first series two years earlier. The character in the original Arthur Conan Doyle stories survived a fall. The viewers were now invited to explain the survival of the Sherlock as played by Benedict Cumberbatch

The Holmes Watson relationship

Two themes dominated the first of the three episodes. The first was How did Sherlock survive the fall from a high building? The second was the intense homoerotic nature of the Holmes Watson relationship.

The Marmite factor

The reaction of viewers to all episodes was intense. The reviews released a quite astonishing emotional outpouring of replies. Fans demonstrated the so called Marmite effect [you love it or loath it, with little cool or rational reactions displayed] Nearly a thousand comments appeared hours after the Guardian review.

For the first two episodes reviewers tended to be rather lukewarm towards the production, acknowledging outstanding elements of acting and plot but rather unsatisfactory coherence and more than a whiff of smug self-indulgence. The third was widely regarded as by far the most dramatic and compelling to watch.

The infatuation effect

As evidenced by the thousand comments [of the first two and more unsatisfactory episodes for the critics], a sizable proportion of fans were infatuated by the mega-star of the series, Holmes played by Benedict Cumberbatch. For this group, the overwhelming emotion was unconditional expressions of love, coupled with anger at those who expressed any signs of disappointment in the production.

Is this a clue to the nature of charismatic leadership?

Possibly. At least there is a suggestion of a line of research into followership and charisma. The vulnerability induced in followers by the charismatic leader could be studied through investigation of the concept of celebrity infatuation.


Sex, lies and a very British scapegoat: TV review

December 23, 2013

Fifty years ago, and the British establishment is rocked by a sleazy political story …

An ITV Documentary [22nd December, 2013] presented the so-called Profumo affair of the 1960s with interviews with remaining personalities. Its thrust was that the society osteopath Stephen Ward had been scapegoated by more significant establishment figures, on largely false immorality charges.

Wards’s suicide as his court case was reaching an end served as a convenient but temporary pause before the story built up to its place as a footnote to contemporary British history.

Fifty years on

Fifty years on, and the two young women at the heart of the case remain culturally potent. Christine Keeler lives in drab obscurity in sheltered accommodation in South London. A remarkably vibrant Mandy Rice-Davies is very much alive and in the public eye, and her recollections dominated the programme. As had her court appearance half a century ago, part a Pygmalion figure, part Becky Sharpe. Her cheerful absence of remorse or guilt was one of the few upbeat aspects of the bizarre tale neatly captured in the title Sex, lies and a very British scapegoat.

Andrew Lloyd Webber

It was fitting that its anchorman was none other than Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber. His musical about Stephen Ward is running to less than rave reviews in the West End at present. His marginal involvement with some of the main players at the time has turned the affair into a serious cause for him. He has raised the matter of Ward’s innocence in The House of Lords.

A bit of a turkey

The musical seems likely to be deemed a bit of a turkey. The ITV programme may have been an attempt to rescue it. In any event it offered an interesting revisiting of the sex and security scandal of the 1960s.


BBC SPOTY: Pretentious, sentimental, compulsive viewing

December 16, 2013

The BBC is extremely proud of its Sports Personality of the Year programme [SPOTY]. It combines much that is admirable and more than a little that is embarrassing and self indulgent

You know when a program has achieved cult status when the BBC gives it a cozy acronym or an abbreviated pet name. ‘Strictly’ [Come Dancing] and MOTD [Match of the day] are examples. SPOTY is another.

SPOTY bigged up

Each autumn, SPOTY is tirelessly and shamelessly bigged up by the BBC for several months. It has grown lengthier and more pretentious, decade by decade, for sixty years. It is tempting to have a rant about wasted money of license payers who are also hard working tax payers.By way of contrast MOTD at least remains cozy and relatively low budget and rather unchanged despite the intrusion of new technology, and countless replays of controversial refereeing decisions.

No vote fixing this year

So, SPOTY for 2013 came and went [December 15th, 2013]. One theme this year was avoiding any scandal of vote fixing. The concern was palpable and great effort went into the changes. This partly because of the rise of the mighty on-line betting industry, partly because the BBC is nearly paranoid about SOTY [scandal of the year]. Evidence abounded of potential SOTY bloopers. For example, the extra care to acknowledge disabled sporting figures, since the time they forgot to make suitable arrangements for athletes in wheelchairs, a few years ago.

Don’t forget the gals

Two women were added to the ten finalists after a twitch in the direction of a SOTY story earlier in the year. In a nice touch, John Inverdale, an appropriately cozy and lovey commentator, was banished from the show after inappropriate remarks he made last July about Wimbledon ladies winner Marion Bartoli. And all was made fine by having Marion announce one of the prizes, and having Marina Navratilova hand over the big one to Andy Murray, who, you may remember, won the gentleman’s singles at that same tennis tournament.

And the winner is …Andy Murray

The bookies had made Andy Murray overwhelming favourite. This could have also been the stuff of SOTY because Andy wasn’t present. In the build up to the SPOTY, there was some quite anxious discussion about whether Andy should be banned from receiving any award, because he had chosen to remain in Miami training and recovering from surgery.

PAOTY

Which brings me to PAOTY, the newly installed patronizing award of the year. The winning award was to a nice couple of ‘unsung heroes’ from Wilmslow, who had done much needed work to promote basketball in that neck of the woods. The interview seemed to have had the virtue of being completely unprompted and unrehearsed. A true contender for PAOTY.

Why didn’t I switch off?

OK. So the programme was pretentious, sentimental, and bling-heavy. Why didn’t I switch off? Why was the trusty remote not put to use? I don’t think it was only because of the promise of material for LWD. Truth is, SPOTY, despite all its other features, makes compelling watching. Like a cozy horror movie.


The Escape Artist with David Tennant is brilliantly acted but has a bin liner of a plot

November 13, 2013

TV Review

The Escape Artist [BBC I, Oct-Nov 2013] had an ingenious central idea, lots of brutality and blood, and good acting by a superb cast. Unfortunately its dramatic impact was frequently stalled by a bin liner of a plot

In each of its three episodes, the watchers in our household uttered cries of frustration at clunky plotting rather than of horror at the almost obligatory scenes of blood and violence meted out by almost obligatory psychopath. Wife victim returns to lonely cottage where she has seen creepy said psychopath; Slick Barrister Tennant seeks revenge v cunningly with implausible plot line [another ‘Oh no it’s not that one’ moment].

They used to say Naomi Chambers could model a plastic bin-liner and make it look good. David Tennant almost pulled off the bin-liner trick, but even his acting couldn’t sustain the dramatic thrust of this bin-liner of a production, written by David Wolstencroft (creator of Spooks).

Other views

Other reviews have been cautiously ambivalent, with mentions of great acting mingling with references to the ludicrous plot and the violence. As Grace Dent of the Independent put it with irony

[I]f I’m going to sit through another “And you’ll never guess what? He cut her vagina off! And then he shoved it in her mouth!” sort of drama, then I’ll choose one with Tennant, Okonedo and Kebbell. And let’s be fair here, the victim did return to a deserted cottage where she’d seen the killer previously. A good defence lawyer would say that she was asking for it.


Boris Johnson, Feel-Good politician

November 10, 2013

TV Review

Unedited Notes on watching a repeat [Nov 9, 2013] of the BBC documentary of Boris Johnson

He tends to ignore ‘Network of social obligations’. Quote from His House master at Eton

The Darius Guppy affair. Friend who called to ask Boris for an address to help Guppy beat up a journalist

On challenged, sometimes presents his bumbling but endearing style in public rather than denying wrong-doing

Became editor of Spectator and broke his word not to stand for parliament in 2001.

Sacked for lying to Tory leader Michael Howard about an affair

Stood for London mayor backed by Prime Minister and school friend Cameron

Can show discipline when needed, but very chaotic otherwise.

Rivalry with Cameron intensifies after Cameron becomes PM

Another affair…”he’s our Berlusconi, only funnier” [Private Eye editor Ian Hislop]

London riots may have put his re-election as Mayor of London at risk

Said to be the only ‘feel good’ politician in land

Implies he is a serious contender for PM. Prospect offered with less than ringing endorsements

Missing: did I miss any mention of his unpopularity on Merseyside after ill-judged remarks over Hillsborough in a Spectator editorial?

What did we learn about Boris?

What did we learn about Boris? Not a lot that was not already in the public domain. Will he become Prime Minister? Probably not, but the public mood of disillusion of conventional politicians remains high.

The Boris publicity wave rolls on

In the days after posting the above, Boris continues to make media headlines. Click here for a video clip of his claim to be pro-immigation. [Warning: it may come with irritating plug ins]


Trust Me I’m a Doctor reminds me of Tomorrow’s World

October 28, 2013

A new BBC series promises to debunk popular medical myths. Its approach reminds me of an earlier popular science approach, Tomorrow’s World

Another of the series, Trust Me I’m a Doctor [TMID] had its showing this week [October 24th 2014].

TMID is presented as helping the lay person to gain insights into medical advances. Tomorrow’s world [1965 -2003] attempted to do a similar educational service for scientific and technological discoveries.

There is much to admire in the intentions of the original scientific programme, and in this new ‘medicine for the masses’ effort. I had some serious concerns about the original, with its remorseless enthusiasm for the new and quirky. I have rather similar concerns over TMID.

The worship of the wow

Tomorrow’s World sought to popularize by bringing out the wow factor in scientific discoveries. TMIF has that familiar worship of the wow on medical matters. The slight hint of irony in the title may be significant.

The approach of TMID

The approach of TMID is to challenge conventional wisdom to reveal another hidden possibility. The BBC blurb put is like this

Going behind the headlines to give you the definitive answers to your health questions. Can you be fat and fit? Could you improve your health by staying in bed longer? Should we all be taking an Aspirin pill to help us live longer? Michael Mosley is joined by a team of doctors who use their expertise to get to the bottom all those health claims.

My concern with the approach

My concern with the approach is that it is too easy to start with a loosely framed generalization and arrive at a conclusion which itself is as dodgy as the conventional wisdom it challenges, backed up with ‘clinical evidence’. The definitive answers are not as definitive as might be hoped for. In the episode, the framing went as follows:

One is made of fruit. The other is caffeinated. So a smoothie is a healthier option than a coffee, right? Don’t be so sure, says Michael Mosley, as he weighs the evidence.
Which is healthier – coffee or smoothies? It seems obvious that the answer must be a smoothie. After all, drinking coffee is a necessary evil, while having a smoothie, made from fruit, is part of your five-a-day. But when you look into the scientific studies they reveal something much more surprising.

The dangers of the either-or

I suggest that something conceptually dodgy is going on when a complex issue is reduced to an either-or. Despite the ‘evidence’ from clinical trials, I was left unconvinced. If the original question is “what is healthier for me, as an individual, drinking coffee or smoothies?” I find no satisfactory answer. The clinical trials provided statistical evidence of factors associated with medical benefits and disbenefits [if that’s the right word] of smoothies and of coffees. I won’t be watching the unfolding series.

Is TMID good for your understanding of up-to-date medical knowledge?

Now there’s an interesting question… we are asking two doctors whom we trust to comment for a future post.


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